While working off Wednesday’s helpings of pork pie, turducken, mashed potatoes with gravy, broccoli casserole, chocolate cake, ice cream and roughly a dozen jack & cokes by going on a four-mile run Thursday morning, my brother and I tried to talk through every NFL week 17 and playoff scenario…which games could be meaningless on Sunday if a certain outcome happens earlier in the day, if Team X and Team Y both win, who gets the better seed, which matchups in round 1 of the playoffs are possible, in which scenarios would there be a road favorite in that wildcard round, etc, etc, etc.
Problem is, we didn’t come close to covering everything during that 40-minute run. There’s that much chaos going on as we head into the final week of the regular season.
The easiest way to sum up just how unknown things are after 16 weeks of football: There are still 18 teams that could end up in the playoffs, and only one is locked into a specific seed (Kansas City will be the AFC’s #5 seed). While eight teams have clinched spots in general, many of those teams could significantly improve or hurt their seeding depending on how this weekend plays out.
This Sunday is NOT a day to have even the tiniest of distractions pop up unexpectedly (Get the dog walked, get the fridge stocked, get the bed pan/bucket positioned next to the couch, get the girlfriend/wife out of the house…this is the real deal).
Speaking of how life is totally unfair (oh, we weren’t?), did you know that my girlfriend Julie is 27-20-1 against the spread since she started making picks three weeks ago? That’s better than a 57% win rate. Meanwhile I went 21-26-1 over that same time (44.6%), and I’m something like 95-140-5 against the spread for the season.
Effing A, man.
As has been the case for these past three weeks, Julie and I will both be making picks in this column. But if she continues to pick circles around me through the playoffs, there’s a very realistic chance that the 2014 football picks blog will be retitled, “Julie Makes Everyone Rich Without Even Knowing What She’s Doing…And, Yes, Ross Watches From The Sidelines So He Doesn’t Screw Things Up.”
Here’s your weekly reminder that Julie’s comments are in quotes and my unnecessary additions are in parentheses.
Here are the week 17 picks:
Carolina (-7) @ Atlanta
Playoff Implications: Carolina is in no matter what. Atlanta is out no matter what. But a Panthers’ win would lock up the NFC South and guarantee them no worse than the #2 seed. If Seattle loses and San Francisco wins later in the day, Carolina would end up as the #1 seed as long as they win.
Julie’s Pick: Carolina because Atlanta never wins.
Ross’s Pick: With my season picking against the spread already ruined, would it be so outrageous if I base my week 17 picks entirely on what I want to happen rather than on what I think will happen? I didn’t think so. In that case, I’m taking Carolina to win big. It just so happens that I placed a preseason bet on the Panthers to win the Super Bowl at 40/1 odds. Obviously it’s in my best interest for them to get the #1 or #2 seed. Carolina wins 33-13.
Houston @ Tennessee (-7)
Playoff Implications: None. Even if you combine these teams’ wins, they’d still only be on the periphery of making the playoffs. But Houston can lock up the #1 pick in the 2014 draft with a loss.
Julie’s Pick: “What happened to Houston last week?” (They lost.) “Tragically though?” (Uh, yeah, I guess.) “Houston’s due for a pick-me-up. I’ll pick them.”
Ross’s Pick: Tennessee’s 2-5 home record tells me I shouldn’t be giving them an edge just because they’re at home. Two bad teams…Houston looks like it’s all but quit on the season…but this is one of those games where everyone picks the Titans and Houston randomly competes (or even stranger, wins). I’m taking Houston to cover with a 27-24 win.
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-7)
Playoff Implications: The 4-11 Browns are obviously out (so much for that preseason epiphany I had that they’d sneakily win the AFC North), but amazingly the Steelers can still get in. They need to win and then need a ton of help: Baltimore, Miami and San Diego would all need to lose. I read one article this week that said Pittsburgh had a 2.6% chance to get this final AFC playoff spot. Based on the season we’ve just endured, you just know the Steelers are sneaking in.
Julie’s Pick: “I have to go back to Cleveland. I haven’t picked them in a few weeks. And I don’t like Pittsburgh very much because they seem so mean…they have such angry uniforms.”
Ross’s Pick: Regardless of the unintentional comedy that’ll come from Pittsburgh getting into the playoffs, which I always root for, I’d likely be taking them in this game anyway because Cleveland has been terrible during its current six-game losing streak (not counting their one-point loss in New England). But I just think we’re getting the most bizarre situation possible out of this #6 AFC playoff spot. The Steelers cover with a 41-10 win.
Washington @ NY Giants (-3.5)
Playoff Implications: None, obviously. The Redskins can get the #1 draft pick if they lose and Houston wins.
Julie’s Pick: “Uh, I feel like Washington has to eventually come through for me. I’m gonna pick Washington because I don’t wanna miss the week where they finally win. I’m stuck with them now.”
Ross’s Pick: What a horrible season for Washington fans. The 3-12 record is atrocious, the RGIII/Mike Shanahan drama is weird and embarrassing, but the 0-5 record against the division might be the worst of all. No division takes as much pride in its hatred for each other like the NFC East does. The Redskins have had plenty of disappointing years in the past decade, but they always get a nice lift when they knock off Dallas or Philly to hurt that team’s playoff chances. This year…0-for-the-division. Gross. Obviously they finish it off by going 0-6 against the division. I gotta take the Giants to cover with a 30-20 win.
Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-6)
Playoff Implications: Cincinnati could be the #2, #3 or #4 seed in the AFC. To get that first round bye, they’d need to win and New England would have to lose. If Cincy loses, they fall to the #4 spot if Indianapolis wins. For Baltimore, Christ, it’s complicated. Step 1 is Baltimore winning. If they win and San Diego loses, they’re in (regardless of what Pittsburgh and Miami do). But if the Ravens win, Miami wins and San Diego wins, they’re out. And if all four teams fighting for that final spot lose, the Ravens would get in.
Julie’s Pick: “Baltimore definitely because I didn’t get to pick them last week (since they were playing New England), and I really like their coach.”
Ross’s Pick: My head tells me Baltimore ends up winning. No NFL head coach is more conservative than Marvin Lewis. Even though the #2 seed is possibly on the line, you just know he’s going to take the cautious route and play conservative while giving some guys a little rest. It’s just the way he operates. But…the combination of the Ravens being so inept (see: their offense doing absolutely nothing in a home game against a terrible Patriot defense one week ago), and my rooting interest of chaos being introduced into this final week, I’m picking Cincinnati to win…The Ravens cover, but the Bengals win 13-9.
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-11)
Playoff Implications: None for the Jaguars. Indianapolis is currently the #4 seed and could get the #2 or #3 seed still. The #2 seed would happen if they win and both New England and Cincy lose. The #3 seed’s in play with their win and just a Cincy loss.
Julie’s Pick: “Ooooh, Indy’s been on a hot streak so I’m gonna go with them.”
Ross’s Pick: While it’s unlikely the Colts jump up enough to get a first round bye, they have to play this game as if it’s a possibility since the Patriots don’t play until later in the day. But I just don’t have enough faith in this team to think they’ll continue to win big and cover a spread this large. I say Indy wins but doesn’t cover, 24-17.
NY Jets @ Miami (-6)
Playoff Implications: None for the Jets. Miami gets in with a win plus a Baltimore loss, or a win and a San Diego win (weird as that sounds).
Julie’s Pick: “Miami. They’re probably still riding high from that win over the Patriots and there’s still a lot of people in town for the holidays.”
Ross’s Pick: The Jets have lost their last four road games by a combined 89 points. They lost a home game to this Miami team by 20 less than a month ago while the Jets were still playing for a theoretical playoff spot. The Dolphins have everything to play for, including capping off a stunning resurrection after the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco (aka “the media’s latest example of premature ejaculation”). But I’m banking on craziness so I think the Jets pull this off with a shocking 22-21 win. By the way, does Rex Ryan have a case to keep his job if he goes 8-8 with a team led by a quarterback who might actually be worse than Mark Sanchez?
Detroit @ Minnesota (-3)
Playoff Implications: None, zilch, nada. And we don’t even have a Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson record breaking watch to make us flip to this game on Sunday.
Julie’s Pick: “I kinda lost a little faith in Minnesota last week.” (Does that make her the only person who still had faith in Minnesota up until last week?) “But I know they’re gonna win if I don’t pick them…soooo, Minnesota.”
Ross’s Pick: If there’s a team that can rival the Redskins’ quittingness at this point in the season, it would be Detroit. The wheels could come totally off now. Ndamukong Suh might murder someone. There’s no ceiling on how low the Lions could sink. I’ve got Minnesota with a 30-13 win.
Green Bay (-2.5) @ Chicago
Playoff Implications: Finally, something simple. The winner takes the NFC North and gets in. The loser is out. If Chicago wins, they could end up as either the #3 or #4 seed. If Green Bay wins, they’ll be the #4 seed.
Julie’s Pick: “Chicago for sure. I just like them.”
Ross’s Pick: Hmm…Do you bank on Aaron Rodgers coming back without much rust after two months off? Maybe the bigger question is could Chicago even win this game if Rodgers wasn’t playing? I’m only slightly exaggerating. How can you have faith in a team that no-showed in a nationally-televised game last week with a chance to clinch the division? But it’s not like Green Bay was setting the world on fire when Rodgers was healthy. While this seems like another instance of the Bears getting screwed…all set up to take the division and they happen to draw the week where an Aaron-Rodgers-dying-to-play comes back…I have a somewhat monetary interest in Chicago. I’ll take the Bears with a 26-23 win.
Buffalo @ New England (-9)
Playoff Implications: Buffalo’s playing for next season. The Patriots could know they are at worst getting the #2 seed before this game even kicks off (by way of the Cincinnati and Indy results), but they’ll still be motivated because the #1 seed is theoretically on the line. They get home field throughout the playoffs if they win and Denver loses.
Julie’s Pick: “I’ll just take the Patriots. I can’t really bet against the home team.”
Ross’s Pick: Let this be your first warning that in some of these afternoon games, you might have to deal with the team you picked looking up at the scoreboard, seeing how the team they’re jockeying for position against is doing, and then pulling all of its starters. For instance, what if New England’s up 17-3 at halftime, sees that Denver is up 35-0 in Oakland, and then sits Tom Brady and the rest of the important players for the second half? How pissed are you going to be if you backed the Patriots? But it’s also very tough to make picks and bets based on these longshot hypotheticals. This feels like a game where New England’s crowd helps carry them to a big win. I’m taking the Patriots to win 30-17.
Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-13)
Playoff Implications: Of course none for Tampa. The Saints could walk into this game knowing they can’t possibly win the NFC South and get a bye (if Carolina wins earlier in the day), but they’ll still have to play a real game because if they lose and Arizona wins, they’ll miss the playoffs. So if the Saints win, they’re in, with their seeding being determined by the Panthers’ outcome.
Julie’s Pick: (Responding to the large spread…) “Pssh, no. I’ll take Tampa. New Orleans isn’t even consistent enough for me to bet them at -3.”
Ross’s Pick: The only team New Orleans hasn’t really blown out at home this year is San Francisco. That’s completely understandable. For as respectable as the Bucs have played over the past seven weeks, you gotta think the Saints are up for this one and can win by two touchdowns…but this blog is all about wish fulfillment. And my wish is for the Cardinals to make the playoffs. So let’s go with the shocker of all shockers. Tampa knocks off the Saints with a 20-17 win.
Denver (-12.5) @ Oakland
Playoff Implications: None for Oakland. A Denver win gives them the #1 seed. A Denver loss and a New England win gives the Broncos the #2 seed. A Denver loss and a New England loss still gives Denver the #1 seed.
Julie’s Pick: “Denver might win but I don’t think they’re gonna cover. They’ve had like three big spreads in a row. And that’s too many. So I’m saying Oakland.”
Ross’s Pick: Dialing up the wish fulfillment another time…Oakland rolls Denver by a score of 132-6. Oakland with the big cover!
San Francisco @ Arizona (PICK)
Playoff Implications: The 49ers are in the playoffs, but they could get the #1 seed in the NFC (with a win, a Seattle loss and a Carolina loss), the #2 seed (with a win and Seattle loss while Carolina wins) or they could end up as the #5 or #6 seed. Arizona can only get in as a wildcard and they’d need to win while New Orleans loses.
Julie’s Pick: “San Francisco won last week, right?” (Yes.) “Hmm…I think I’ll go Arizona. I don’t think I’ve ever picked them. Roll the dice.”
Ross’s Pick: Here we go Cardinals, Here we go. CLAP CLAP! Give me Arizona with a 32-18 win.
Kansas City @ San Diego (-9.5)
Playoff Implications: Kansas City is locked into the #5 AFC seed no matter what. San Diego can only get the #6 seed if they win while Miami and Baltimore both lose.
Julie’s Pick: “I’m gonna pick San Diego because…since they don’t have as much seasons like Kansas City, they won’t be thrown off by the holiday. Does that make sense?” (No, absolutely not.) “Like everyone’s not gonna have such Christmas hangovers there.” (Now it makes perfect sense.)
Ross’s Pick: Listen, there are a lot of stay-away games this weekend from a gambling perspective. When so many teams’ motivations to put out a 100% effort depend on how another team is performing in a separate game, you’ve got a recipe for a significant dent in your wallet. But nothing screams STAY AWAY like this game. Both teams could have nothing to play for. San Diego could have everything to play for. Kansas City might decide they don’t want a second AFC West rival in the playoffs and give a little more effort than we’re thinking. If this is a game you’re forced to pick before Sunday kicks off, I guess you go with the Chargers thinking either they’ll be playing a meaningful game, or even if they’re not, the Chiefs might rest enough key players that San Diego can still cover regardless of their playoff chances. I’ll reluctantly take the Chargers to cover with a 37-13 win.
St. Louis @ Seattle (-11)
Playoff Implications: None for St. Louis. If Seattle wins, they are the #1 NFC seed. If Seattle loses and San Francisco wins, the Seahawks would fall all the way to the #5 seed.
Julie’s Pick: “Seattle -11??? I’m starting to like St. Louis so I’m gonna pick them. I still think Pete Carroll has bad luck.”
Ross’s Pick: I know you’re expecting me to make up a ridiculous score that has the Rams crushing Seattle (due to my yet-to-be-identified reason for hating that team), but I’m not going to make it that ridiculous. Just a 77-0 shutout by the Rams that causes Seattle fans to panic.
Philadelphia (-7) @ Dallas
Playoff Implication: The NFC’s other “win and you’re in” game. The winner takes the NFC East. The loser is out. If Philadelphia wins, they’re guaranteed the #3 seed. If Dallas wins, they could end up as the #3 or #4 seed.
Julie’s Pick: “Philly’s another one of those teams I just don’t like betting on so I’m going with Dallas. They’ve been good to me in the past.”
Ross’s Pick: This column is being written before we officially know if Tony Romo can play on Sunday. Odds are he won’t be playing, but there’s still a sliver of a chance. Either way the likelihood of Dallas winning seems slim. Them and Chicago seem to be on a similar path of almost making the playoffs but ultimately putting their fans through a ton of agony (even though I picked Chicago I’m certain I’ll be getting that one wrong). Let’s just assume that Romo won’t be playing and Kyle Orton will be a disaster. Philly wins 34-17. And this somehow gives Jason Garrett another year of coaching because he has the no Romo in week 17 excuse???
My head hurts from trying to make picks while simultaneously getting inside the psyche of each team this week. Enjoy the end of the regular season chaos!