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Week Seventeen Picks

December 27th, 2012

So this is it for the regular season. Which seems crazy to me, because I’m pretty sure the damned thing just started yesterday afternoon. I suppose the good news is that there will only be four games for me to predict poorly a week from now. So that should save all of us a good bit of time. Meanwhile, here’s what not to expect in week seventeen.

NY Jets (+3.5) at Buffalo
And now comes Mark Sanchez once again to not finish what he didn’t really ever start. Looking good, Jets. Looking real good. Buffalo by 10.

Baltimore (+2.5) at Cincinnati
The Ravens at least have the hope of snagging the three seed to play for. The Bengals’ only reason to try would be to prevent the Ravens from getting the three seed so they don’t have to face their division rivals again next week in Baltimore. I’m not sure that’s enough. Better to stay healthy, start thinking about a trip to New England (or maybe, but probably not, Houston; or maybe, but almost certainly not, Denver), and refuse to show Baltimore anything beyond your most basic looks on both sides of the ball on the off chance you do end up having to play the Ravens again in a week’s time. All told, I’ll take Baltimore to win it by a field goal.

Cleveland (off) at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh by an impressive wedge shot to birdie the 12th.

Houston (-6.5) at Indianapolis
I’ll start by saying that I’m always suspicious of the notion that emotion is going to carry a team to victory. Yes, I think it’s in incredible story that Chuck Pagano is returning to the Colts sideline. I know the players must be thrilled for their coach and excited to have him back with the team. I’m sure they’ll play their hearts out for him. I’m just not sure it matters. If Indy wins this game, they’ll win it because it’s hard to sweep a division opponent and really hard to beat a strong division foe on their field. They’ll win it because Houston has stumbled a bit of late and is looking vulnerable. Maybe they’ll win it because Houston has appeared to lack focus in the latter part of the season. All of those things are possible. But I don’t think any of those scenarios will play out. Because the Texans are playing to secure home field advantage through the playoffs, and they’re doing that because they’ve been one of the best teams in the league all season long. The Texans are clearly the better team in this game, and I simply can’t see them failing to seize the opportunity before them. Texans by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (+4) at Tennessee
If you think the Jaguars are bad now, wait to you see them next season with Tim Tebow, the fakest quarterback in the history of fake quarterbacks, taking snaps. Tennessee by six.

Philadelphia (+7.5) at NY Giants
I think there’s a decent chance the luckiest team in football actually falls ass-backward into the NFC six seed. At the very least, the Giants will take out the frustrations of a disappointing title defense on the lifeless, purposeless Eagles. New Jersey by 10.

Chicago (-3) at Detroit
Given the likelihood that the Packers will knock off the Vikings later in the day, a win here would put the Bears in the playoffs as the NFC six seed. And it’s for that reason that I expect the Lions to pull off the upset. Seriously. The Bears are slightly better than the Lions on offense and much better than the Lions on defense. Chicago has a +16 takeaway/giveaway differential, the second best in the league; Detroit’s -12 is the seventh worst. Moreover, the Lions are as adept at finding ways to lose football games as any team I’ve ever seen. This ought to be easy for the Bears. But it won’t be, because the Bears are a team that’s absolutely destined to choke their way out of the postseason. You can feel it. Detroit wins it by a point on the last play of the game.

Tampa Bay (off) at Atlanta
The Falcons, having secured home field throughout the NFC playoffs, have absolutely nothing to play for this weekend. It’s hard enough to beat divisional opponents in the NFL when you actually have a reason to try. The Bucs get outplayed for three quarters, then get handed a victory in the fourth. Tampa by three.

Carolina (+5) at New Orleans
In which the Saints remind the Panthers that the NFC South is their division. Well, not really theirs so much as the Falcons’. But if it weren’t the Falcons’ division, it would be the Saints’ division. Probably. Only maybe not next season. But this one, um, definitely this one … if it weren’t for the Falcons. New Orleans by a touchdown.

Miami (+10) at New England
Something tells me that a Dolphins-Patriots matchup in week seventeen of the 2013 season could prove meaningful for both teams. This season, it only matters to the Patriots, who might (but probably won’t) be playing for the two seed and a bye, and who could (but almost certainly won’t) steal home field through the AFC playoffs, and who probably (though not definitely) will at least need a win in order to hold onto the three seed and the remote hope of hosting the conference championship. No matter how things shape up, New England is going to go into this game looking for a decisive victory that will send them into the postseason on the right note. I suspect the Patriots get what they’re looking for, even if they don’t get everything they may be wishing for. New England by 14.

Green Bay (-3) at Minnesota
Wouldn’t it be interesting if, en route to securing the NFC two seed and a wild card round bye, the Packers ended up opening the door for the Giants, the team that has consistently given them fits in the postseason? No matter. Green Bay is taking the two seed, eliminating their division rivals, preventing Adrian Peterson from getting the 208 yards he needs to break the record for rushing yards in a season, and ensuring that the soonest they’ll see New Jersey is in the NFC Championship — and only if the Giants get past San Francisco and Atlanta first. Packers by four.

Kansas City (+16) at Denver
There’s nothing, not one single thing, about the Kansas City Chiefs that isn’t awful. The Broncos earn a wild card round bye and possibly, but not probably, home field through the playoffs with a decisive victory. The game is over by halftime, and the Broncos come out on top by 20-ish.

Oakland (off) at San Diego
What do you get when the second and third worst teams in football’s weakest division square off with nothing on the line? I don’t know and I don’t intend to find out. Chargers by seven.

Arizona (+16.5) at San Francisco
A win for San Francisco is the difference between going into the playoffs as the three seed (and maybe, but probably not, the two) which means starting the postseason with a home game against the (Giants? Vikings? Bears? Native Americans?) and going in as the five seed and opening with a trip to Washington or Dallas. That’s about all you need to know. Oh, also, the Cardinals are on their fourth starting quarterback of the season. (Poor Brian. I always liked him.) Niners by 21.

St. Louis (+10.5) at Seattle
Yup, the Seahawks are going to win their fifth straight game, extending what is already, by a factor of two, their longest winning streak of the season. And, nope, it doesn’t matter. They’re the five seed and the five seed they shall remain. Let’s see what happens next weekend when the NFL’s two top rookie quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, go head-to-head. Seattle by 14.

Dallas (+3) at Washington
This is kind of it for Tony Romo, right? Either he wins this game and proves that the real Tony is the guy with the impressive regular season stats, or he loses and proves that the real Tony is the quintessential postseason choke artist. OK, sure, this game isn’t actually a postseason game. But it might as well be, particularly for the Cowboys. Because if Dallas wins this game, they’re the NFC East champions. (And, hooray! They get to host the Seahawks next weekend!) If they lose, they’re done. The Native Americans can survive a loss here so long as the Bears and Vikings both lose earlier in the day. But come on, now. You know the Cowboys aren’t winning this game. I know the Cowboys aren’t winning this game. And I rather suspect the Cowboys know the Cowboys aren’t winning this game. They simply don’t have what it takes. Romo throws a costly pick late and Washington take the game and the division title. Native Americans by four.

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