Surprise, Surprise. I procrastinated on almost every Christmas responsibility I was supposed to check off my to do list over the weekend, and I’m in a time crunch as I prepare to visit family this week. For that reason, you’re getting a combo week 16 review & week 17 preview. I’ll rip through my picks for the final week as quickly as possible.
As if I needed to add a degree of difficulty to my inept picks, I’m doing this on Monday night based on point spreads that are going to change aggressively over the coming days.
After all, some teams like the Browns and Cardinals are still figuring out who their starting quarterbacks will be this week. It’s safe to say the picks you see in this column won’t be a great guide by the time Sunday rolls around.
Let’s talk a little more about quarterbacks because as you know by now, quarterbacks make the world go round.
- After Rex Grossman passed on Cleveland’s attempt to sign him for one week, the Browns might be stuck starting undrafted rookie QB Connor Shaw. Bonus misery for the Browns: They’re not going to have a clue what they’re getting out of the QB position going into 2015.
- Arizona is starting rookie QB Logan Thomas. This is incredible that the Cardinals will have had four different quarterbacks play significant time in 2014 and they’re 11-4 and heading to the playoffs. Does that make Bruce Arians the greatest coach ever? No! But don’t tell Al Michaels that. (More on this in a minute.)
- Jimmy Clausen had a delayed concussion so Jay Cutler’s already been named the Bears’ starter for week 17. If the purpose of benching him was to keep him healthy for a possible offseason trade in the first place, why would he even be dressing for these games?
As for the rest of my week 16 notes, non-QB category:
- No one’s going to stop me from drafting Odell Beckham Jr. in next year’s fantasy drafts. Even if I have to spend 90% of my auction league budget.
- I guess that means he’d by my vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Considering what his numbers over a full season extrapolate to, you gotta give him the nod. But great job by so many rookies to burst onto the scene this year…Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, and even a running back in Jeremy Hill. The future is bright.
- I heard several announcers and analysts during week 16 say that Oakland’s three wins this year were against Kansas City, San Francisco and Buffalo. The 49ers and Bills are already eliminated and the Chiefs’ chances of making the playoffs aren’t great. For three teams that may have needed just one more win to be playing January football, that sucks to have that one awful loss on your resume. That got me thinking about other scenarios like that. Here’s what I came up with:
- Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh.
- The Jets also beat Pittsburgh. Imagine how different the playoffs could be for the Steelers if they were 12-3 right now instead of 10-5?
- Tennessee beat the Chiefs in Kansas City in week 1. So that’s two terrible losses by the Chiefs. They could easily be 10-5 right now instead of 8-7.
- Chicago, who absolutely qualifies as a bad team, won road games at Atlanta and San Francisco. If the Facons were 7-8 right now instead of 6-9, their week 17 game against Carolina would still be for the division title. But for the 49ers, this is now two losses that directly contribute to the Harbaugh Era ending in 2014 instead of extending at least into January.
- Washington helped make sure the winner of its division wouldn’t be getting a 1st round bye. The PotatoSkins beat Dallas and Philadelphia earlier this year.
- And finally, the Jaguars got their first win this year against Cleveland in week 7. Actually, nevermind on this one because the Browns are probably finishing 7-9 and have many other games to blame for not finishing close to a playoff spot after all.
- Playing down to the competition cost a bunch of teams a playoff shot, and it cost some playoff teams key positioning.
- Another statistical notch in the NFC South’s bed post: The 6-8-1 Panthers are in 1st place even though Derek Anderson has accounted for 33% of the team’s wins at starting quarterback. Anderson has only two less wins than Cam Newton this year even though he’s played in 11 less games than Newton. Anderson might be the MVP of this team.
- DEREK ANDERSON MIGHT BE THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER ON A PLAYOFF TEAM!
- Announcer Quote of the Week, Al Michaels on Sunday Night Football: “If Bruce Arians wins the Super Bowl this year, forget Coach of the Year. He’s the Coach of the Century!”
- To which I say…Slow your fucking roll, Al Michaels. The current century is 14 years old. Arians has been a head coach for two of those years (and you can count his interim head coach year in Indy as a third year at the helm of a team). He reached 10 wins in 2013 and has cracked that total in 2014. But Coach of the Century? I don’t know, how about the guy who has 13 seasons of double-digit wins during this 14-year-old century? Maybe Bill Belichick is the coach of the 21st century until further notice? Agreed?
OK then. Let’s move onto the Week 17 picks.
Jacksonville @ Houston (-10)
- The Pick: Jacksonville
- The Score: Houston 23, Jacksonville 20
No question both teams are going all out in this game. Jacksonville, because they have been all season. Houston, because if the Ravens and Chargers both lose (both playing at the same time as Houston), the Texans are in the playoffs with a win.
The Texans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville three weeks ago by 14, and I think they’ll do it again. But the Jags have an OK defense and I don’t trust Case Keenum so 10 points is too steep for me.
Carolina @ Atlanta (-4)
- The Pick: Atlanta
- The Score: Atlanta 24, Carolina 14
Doesn’t the NFL realize there are millions of us who thrive off schadenfreude, hate-watching, laughing at other people’s misfortunes…I think a primetime Sunday night game for the NFC South title would have gotten plenty of viewers.
With it looking like Arizona and their quarterback dilemma heading to the NFC South winner for the Wildcard Round, there’s a very realistic chance that Mike Smith is coaching in the 2nd round of the NFL Playoffs…after having the worst year of in-game coaching that I can ever remember seeing in my lifetime of watching this sport.
Cleveland @ Baltimore (-9)
- The Pick: Baltimore
- The Score: Baltimore 33, Cleveland 9
Hmm, Baltimore is gifted a game where they’re facing a QB who should be ridiculously overmatched. Where have I heard that one before?
Dallas (-6.5) @ Washington
- The Pick: Washington
- The Score: Washington 22, Dallas 17
The Cowboys are almost definitely locked into the #3 seed. You might think the logical move is to rest key players, you know, if there’s anyone recovering from, say, a broken hand? But Jason Garrett already showed us illogical on Sunday when those same players were in the game during a 42-7 blowout.
If there’s anything that can get a 4-11 Washington team up for a week 17 game, it’s the opportunity to beat the Cowboys. I don’t think Dallas’ heart is going to be in this one.
Indianapolis (-7) @ Tennessee
- The Pick: Tennessee
- The Score: Tennessee 9, Indianapolis 6
Neither team cares to win this one. Indy already mailed it in last week, and they’re most definitely taking it easy this week. When they lose in round one, people will question this strategy. Someday, a Colts coach will have to try playing hard through the end of the season, just to see if there’s something to it. Dungy was an aggressive rester. The man who controls the Jim Caldwell puppet was an aggressive rester. And Pagano seems to be too.
New Orleans (-4) @ Tampa Bay
- The Pick: Tampa Bay
- The Score: Tampa Bay 21, New Orleans 15
A Tampa win would almost guarantee them missing out on the top pick in the draft. But who on New Orleans is even able to get up for this game? Do guys like Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham even play much? Watch out for a Tampa win and sound bytes like this from Lovie Smith after the game: “We always try to win. It doesn’t matter what your record is or anything else. We try to win every game we play.”
San Diego @ Kansas City (-3)
- The Pick: Kansas City
- The Score: Kansas City 20, San Diego 13
This just feels like it’s going to be a particularly intense game. Both teams are fighting for a wildcard spot. (The Chargers get in with a win, regardless of any other results. Kansas City needs help.) Philip Rivers’ permanent setting is turned to “intense.” So is Kansas City’s pass rush. And the Chargers think they owe the Chiefs one after their game in October ended with a KC road win.
NY Jets @ Miami (-5.5)
- The Pick: Miami
- The Score: Miami 30, NY Jets 12
The only disappointing aspect about Joe Philbin implementing Dr. Leo Marvin’s “baby steps” approach when it comes to increasing win totals (7 wins in 2012, 8 wins in 2013, likely 9 wins in 2014) is that it didn’t start at a lower number. I’d love to see him make a mockery of the word “progress” by winning one more game per year for 12 years.
Chicago @ Minnesota (-6.5)
- The Pick: Chicago
- The Score: Minnesota 23, Chicago 20
I’m not sure I’ve ever been less interested in a football game, and yes, I do know that the NFL showed Tennessee @ Jacksonville on national TV just five days ago.
Buffalo @ New England (-10.5)
- The Pick: Buffalo
- The Score: New England 26, Buffalo 21
This was shaping up to be the first regular season game the Patriots have played against an AFC East opponent in thirteen years that I was legitimately excited and nervous about. The Patriots needing a win for the top seed. Buffalo taking their vicious defense on the road to ruin New England’s undefeated year in Foxboro. A hope and a prayer for the Bills to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
And then the Bills went out and lost in Oakland last week while the Broncos handed the conference to New England. Oh well.
This game is a great example of how I think certain lines will be drastically different by Sunday’s kickoff. With nothing to play for, there’s no way the Patriots are putting Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady and some other key players on the field for much time. If any clarity is provided during the week that tells us certain guys will be out, this line will drop by at least four points.
Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-3)
- The Pick: NY Giants
- The Score: NY Giants 31, Philadelphia 23
“Hey now, hey now. Don’t dream it’s over.”
The dream, in this case, lasted nine months and five days. It was a fun shot in the dark on Philly to win it all, especially when they were 9-3.
Arizona @ San Francisco (-5.5)
- The Pick: Arizona
- The Score: Arizona 17, San Francisco 13
Bruce Arians doesn’t seem like a “wave the white flag” kind of guy to me. Seattle’s playing at the same time, meaning technically the Cardinals have something to play for. And that’s good enough for me because San Francisco is firmly entrenched in “they shouldn’t be giving more than a field goal to any team in the league” mode.
Oakland @ Denver (-14.5)
- The Pick: Oakland
- The Score: Denver 34, Oakland 21
It doesn’t seem right that the Broncos could fall to the #3 seed, but that’s the position they put themselves in with Peyton Manning’s four-interception loss in Cincy on Monday night. If the Bengals win in week 17 and Denver loses, those teams would swap spots and Cincy would get that important #2 seed.
With Denver wanting the win but thinking about the health of its team in the playoffs, this is ripe for a backdoor cover by the Raiders.
St. Louis @ Seattle (-13)
- The Pick: St. Louis
- The Score: Seattle 28, St. Louis 17
Shaun Hill is simply a continuation of the ridiculous run the Seahawks have been on in terms of facing some of the league’s worst quarterbacks (Stanton-Kaepernick-Sanchez-Lindley-Hill).
But I’m in for the backdoor cover once the Seahawks pull players after getting an insurmountable lead. (So, the exact same thing that Denver hopes to do.)
Detroit @ Green Bay (-7.5)
- The Pick: Green Bay
- The Score: Green Bay 37, Detroit 18
There’s a small temptation to go with Detroit because if Aaron Rodgers isn’t fully recovered from a tweaked calf or the flu, the Packers may decide that with a playoff berth already locked up, the division isn’t important enough compared to Rodgers getting a lighter than normal day. But, no. You see, an unexpected change at Center almost always equals disaster for the offensive line, and the Lions will be without their starting center, Dominic Raiola, on Sunday because of an “accidental” stomp to the leg of a Bears player.
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (-3)
- The Pick: Pittsburgh
- The Score: Pittsburgh 33, Cincinnati 9
Because why not one more intolerable blowout on national TV to close out the regular season.
I don’t trust Marvin Lewis’ propensity for over-resting & over-protecting his players as soon as they clinch the playoffs. In other words, now that Cincy is officially in the postseason, count on Lewis to effectively forfeit this game, not even trying to climb from the #5 seed to the #3 seed.
This means the Bengals will be heading to Indianapolis in round one of the playoffs, a location where they lost 27-0 earlier this year while putting up only 135 yards on offense.
It looks like we’re heading for a near repeat of last year’s AFC playoff teams and the opposite in the NFC, where it’s looking like four teams could make the postseason that didn’t in 2013.
Enjoy week 17 and whatever holidays you celebrate this week! Only 11 days until playoff football!!