NFL Week 15 Recap: All the Playoff Scenarios My Brain Can Handle

bengals

In a week where nine of the 15 NFL matchups ended as one-score games, it didn’t really feel like we had an exciting Sunday with lots of close calls. Maybe it’s because for the most part, the team that was winning each game down the stretch ultimately held on and secured the victory. Maybe it’s because the four teams that clinched playoff spots yesterday—New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Arizona—did it without any drama or build-up. If they hadn’t clinched in week 15, they would have in week 16 anyway. And really, the only division-defining game yesterday was Dallas beating Philadelphia (and as you’ll see below, it wasn’t even that backbreaking for Philly).

Kind of a ho-hum weekend for being so late in the regular season.

Lucky for us we don’t have to focus too much on the specifics of week 15. Instead we can look at the broader landscape of the NFL as we quickly approach January football.

The NFC is Tidy, Organized Chaos…

I love how the NFC is shaking out because it’s easy to express what’s going on in that conference without a super long explanation.

There are two-team races in three divisions: the West (Arizona is 11-3, Seattle is 10-4), the North (Detroit is 10-4, Green Bay is 10-4) and the East (Dallas is 10-4, Philadelphia s 9-5).

The losers of those three divisions are competing for the two available NFC Wildcard spots. So for the moment, you have Seattle, Green Bay and Philly technically fighting it out to play on Wildcard Weekend, but there will likely be lots of shuffling to come.

And then of course there are the three NFC South teams “battling” for that division’s automatic playoff berth (Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta).

Every other NFC team beyond those nine is eliminated.

…And the AFC is like a Los Angeles Freeway on the Day Before Thanksgiving

A never-ending clusterfuck.

The clean part is the three division winners that I already mentioned. The dirty part is everything else.

The AFC North is impossible to figure out because three teams have nine wins and one of those teams has a tie on its record. Nightmare scenario for a blogger without the knowledge or time to get into Advanced Playoff Theory.

While those three AFC North teams currently occupy three playoff spots (the division plus both Wildcards), three more teams are right on their heels with 8-6 records: Buffalo, Kansas City and San Diego.

And for the time being, the three 7-7 teams in the AFC are still technically in the hunt: Miami, Cleveland and Houston. I only know this because Bovada still has odds for those teams to win the Super Bowl (albeit not great odds at 500/1).

Compared to the nine teams in the NFC fighting for playoff spots, the AFC has 12 postseason hopefuls.

Rather than try to go through every AFC scenario, I’ll give you just two tidbits:

  1. The Bills are probably eliminated because they currently lose a tiebreaker to Kansas City and San Diego while still having to face the Patriots in New England. It’s highly unlikely they will clear both those AFC West teams by a full game while still facing the league’s #1 team on the road.
  2. Out of five extremely important games on the schedule for week 16, there might be none more important than Kansas City at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the #5 seed in the AFC and the Chiefs are #7. A win by the Chiefs would even up the two teams’ records and give KC the tiebreaker. A Steelers win would just about guarantee them a playoff spot and possibly hand them temporary rights to being the top team in the North (because Cincy may lose to Denver on Monday night next week).

A Few More Playoff Scenarios

Using only my brain and ESPN.com’s Tiebreaking Procedures information, I think I figured out all the scenarios in the NFC. Let’s walk through this together.

The West

  • Seattle (10-4) at Arizona (11-3) in week 16.
  • If Arizona wins that game, they win the West because they’ll have a two-game lead over Seattle with only one week remaining.
  • If Seattle wins, both teams would be 11-4 and Seattle would hold the tiebreaker with two head-to-head wins against Arizona. In this scenario, if both teams win or both teams lose in week 17, Seattle gets the division. If Seattle wins and Arizona loses in week 17, obviously Seattle wins the division. But if Seattle loses and Arizona wins, then of course Arizona captures the division title. In those week 17 games, Arizona travels to San Francisco and Seattle hosts St Louis.
  • Even though the Rams beat Seattle earlier this year, you have to give the edge to Seattle over Arizona right now. With the way the ‘Hawks are playing and the fact that Arizona has to start Poor Ryan Lindley at QB in week 16, you’d expect Seattle to win that game. Then they just have to handle the Rams at home.
  • Arizona gets the consolation prize of heading to an NFC South destination over Wildcard Weekend.

The North

  • Detroit (10-4) at Green Bay (10-4) but not until week 17.
  • Let’s talk about each team’s next game first. In week 16 the Lions travel to Chicago while the Packers face the Bucs in Tampa Bay. I probably don’t need to point out that if both NFC North teams win their week 16 game (highly likely) or both lose those games, the winner of their week 17 matchup will take the division.
  • But let’s say Green Bay loses to Tampa while Detroit beats Chicago. Then the Lions would be one game up on the Packers.
  • If Green Bay then beats Detroit in week 17, they’d have the same record, a split of their two head-to-head matchups, the same division record (5-1) AND THEY’D EVEN HAVE THE SAME RECORD IN COMMON GAMES!
  • They would move onto the fourth tiebreaker, which is their win-loss percentage in conference games. Detroit would win the North because they’d have a 9-3 conference record while the Packers would finish at 8-4.
  • The one other scenario is Detroit losing its week 16 game while Green Bay wins. In this scenario, the winner of their week 17 matchup is once again the division winner.
  • If all that is correct, it means that if Green Bay loses at Tampa Bay in week 16, the Packers will not be able to win the division as long as the Lions handle the Bears.
  • We all know this is coming down to week 17.

The East

  • Philadelphia (9-5) and Dallas (10-4) do not face each other again.
  • First, the easy scenarios: If Dallas wins its final two games, it wins the East. If Philadelphia loses its final two games, Dallas wins the East.
  • If both teams go 1-1 to finish the season, Dallas wins the East.
  • If the Eagles win out and the Cowboys lose even one more game, the Eagles win the East (on account of the division record tiebreaker).
  • If the Eagles go 1-1, they win the division if the Cowboys lose its final two (on account of the division tiebreaker again).
  • The Cowboys finish the season hosting Indianapolis and then traveling to Washington. The Eagles have two road games: at Washington and at the Giants.
  • The nice thing is this should still be up for grabs heading into week 17. If Dallas loses to the Colts and the Eagles beat Washington in week 16, Dallas no longer controls its fate.
  • Somehow, someway, this atrocity of a Washington season is going to play a HUGE role in who wins the NFC East.

Speaking of Washington

The PotatoSkins finally did something right by losing to the Giants yesterday. They improved their draft positioning and made sure that no other team in the NFC East will pick before they do. And of course they couldn’t play a meaningless game without some level of drama being involved. Colt McCoy got immediately hurt, RG3 came on in relief duty, scored a huge touchdown at the end of the first half using his legs and scrambling abilities (a throwback to those long ago days of 2012), and then people started getting ejected when the refs overturned RG3’s touchdown. Just a classic Washington performance.

Anyway, here’s one Washington fan’s depressed response to my comments last week about Jay Gruden being on the hot seat:

I don’t think there’s any way they fire Gruden after one year. I think everyone, especially the fans, recognizes that this mess is not on him. Certainly wouldn’t put it past Snyder to do something batshit crazy like fire him, but I think it’s unlikely. What they will do is a mystery though. People are pretty fed up at this point. Normally that would mean big org changes, but we’ve tried that over & over and it hasn’t worked. We could hire a new GM, I suppose, but Snyder loves George Allen. My guess is they try and sell that we have been rebuilding, blame the shit out of RG3 even though it’s as much the org’s fault as his, trade him for pennies on the dollar and draft a new guy for the fan base to try and get excited about.  Anyways, who cares? They are going to suck for a while.”

Washington has officially sunk lower than Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota and Buffalo. Good job, Dan Snyder.

Questioning Two of the NFL’s Bad Teams

I don’t necessarily believing in tanking or even think it’s possible in the NFL. After all, these players and coaches are being paid millions to show up and play hard.

But when it’s this late in the season and you’re the head coach of a two-win team, you’re doing your organization a disservice if you don’t at least give tanking the old college try.

The most bizarre thing I saw on Sunday was the Jacksonville Jaguars pulling out every trick play in the book to try to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. First there was the surprise onsides kick in the first half that the Jaguars recovered to steal an extra offensive possession. Then there was a fake punt shovel pass for a long completion in the second half. The Jaguars ultimately lost, but what were they doing pulling out all the stops to secure that third win?

The Jaguars didn’t have to do anything special or sketchy to lose this game. They could have simply gone with standard, conservative play. Even if they won’t be using their first round pick on a QB, getting that top pick would produce a HAUL in a trade with a QB-needy team (there are about 37 teams looking for that franchise quarterback).

Jacksonville’s loss meant it got to stay in that exclusive club of two-win teams, but there was another two-win team that may have just screwed itself out of drafting a franchise quarterback in 2015. You didn’t even have to watch yesterday’s games or look at the results to have a solid guess on which team I’m talking about.

The New York Jets, of course.

Since they were facing fellow two-win compadre Tennessee, someone had to exit the two-win club unless they played to a tie. The Jets were on the road and trailing most of the game, but two different times in the second half they rallied and took the lead. Why bother? No team has gotten less out of the starting quarterback position in the past three years, and newly minted Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota is waiting in the wings. The Jets even had a chance to make the Titans proud owners of “The Music City Miracle, Part Two” when Tennessee started lateraling the ball all over the field on the game’s final play. Delanie Walker was making a break for the end zone to give the Titans a shocker of a win, but Dawn Landry of the Jets made the game-saving (season-ruining?) tackle to seal the victory for New York.

I hate what the 76ers are doing in the NBA right now because they are tanking an entire season and slapping their season ticket holders in the face, but to tank a game or two at the end of your season when you’re already eliminated from contention? Every team should do that. Or at least save the trick plays for a game that your owner and general manager also want you to win.

What’s interesting about the Jets’ win is that it could be a construed as an Eff You from Rex Ryan to the front office. “You’re gonna fire me because I haven’t been able to crack eight wins while being saddled with Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Michael Vick??? Fine, fuck you. Here’s that third win that ensures you don’t get Mariota or Jameis Winston. Enjoy Brian Hoyer or whatever other trashy free agent QB you sign, Fuckers!”

Emptying Out the Notebook

  • I only use the phrase “unmitigated disaster” two times each season because it’s such a fantastic phrase. I used it in week 9 to describe my record picking against the spread last year. And for my second and final usage of that phrase in 2014, I’m going with: “Johnny Manziel was an unmitigated disaster in his debut as a starter.”
  • Remember that Manziel took over a 7-6 team, a team that has Cleveland fans clamoring for the playoffs. It’s not like he was handed the keys to the Jaguars where he could toil away for a 3-13 team. People needed him to perform as good or better than Brian Hoyer’s baseline performance (not that hard to do, right?).
  • He finished the day 10-for-18 for 80 yards passing, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, a 27.3 passer rating, and about 46 Cincy players standing over him doing the “money sign.”
  • After I proclaimed that the MVP race was finished a week ago, did J.J. Watt just pop his head back in the room and say, “Are you guys sure you wanna go with an offensive player still?”
  • Aaron Rodgers completed only 40% of his passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 34.3 passer rating.
  • DeMarco Murray was held to 81 rushing yards on 31 carries (averaging 2.6 yards per carry)…although he did have two touchdowns.
  • Peyton Manning and Tom Brady haven’t been putting up otherworldly numbers recently as their teams’ running games and defenses have taken over.
  • J.J. Watt finished his day with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, several QB hits and a pass defensed.
  • I don’t think Rodgers deserves to lose his spot atop the MVP balloting for one bad game, but voters seem to love guys who play their best in December. Luckily Rodgers gets a matchup with Tampa Bay next week to make or break his MVP campaign.
  • For once, a positive word on the Lions…Does Teryl Austin deserve some sort of special recognition for the work he’s done this year? You’re probably asking who the hell that is, right? Apparently he’s the Lions’ defensive coordinator. Their defense was horrible in 2012, middle of the pack in 2013, and now in 2014 it’s the best D in football. This is a 10-win team that has a below average offense, a meh quarterback in Matthew Stafford, a special teams unit that ranks 30th in the league in efficiency and a coach who’s best trait is “I’m not Mike Smith.” Someone deserves a ton of credit for the Lions being on the brink of a playoff berth and division title, so I’m giving it to Teryl Austin, 2014’s Unsung Hero in the NFL.
  • And last but not least, this week’s best announcer quote. I didn’t even have to wait for the weekend for this one. In the first half of Thursday’s game between Arizona and St. Louis, Jim Nantz promoted the upcoming Thursday game of Tennessee at Jacksonville. Without hesitation or any hint of sarcasm, Phil Simms stated, “I’m looking forward to it.”
  • I’m going the other way on this game…it might be the first game in five years that I voluntarily don’t bother watching.

Week 16 picks coming on Thursday.

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NFL Week 11 Picks: You’ll Want To Be Watching These Games

NFL: Preseason-Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings

Some weeks need no fancy introduction. The promise of what’s to come is so good that a writer simply has to go through the games and then get out of the way. No need for a lengthy monologue about the state of quarterbacks or which conference is more dominant.

If week 9 was the equivalent of striking out at a bar, and week 10 was nothing more than foreplay, then week 11 has a strong possibility of being an incredible love-making session, complete with moves you never even knew existed.

Some are even calling week 11 the NFCpocalypse.

We have six very meaningful games:

  • Buffalo (5-4) at Miami (5-4) – Thursday Night 8:25pm ET
  • Seattle (6-3) at Kansas City (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (5-3-1) at New Orleans (4-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Philadelphia (7-2) at Green Bay (6-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Detroit (7-2) at Arizona (8-1) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • New England (7-2) at Indianapolis (6-3) – Sunday Night 8:30pm ET

And two sort of meaningful games:

  • Houston (4-5) at Cleveland (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Atlanta (3-6) at Carolina (3-6-1) – Sunday 1pm ET

It’s nice of the NFL to have all those games spread out pretty evenly in every timeslot throughout week 11. You might say I’m reaching with the two games I tagged as sort of meaningful, but at this point every game’s important for Cleveland while the Texans could still technically be a playoff contender with a win, and in the NFC South, the winner of Atlanta/Carolina would be tied with the Saints for 1st place if the Saints can’t handle Cincinnati.

Other than the fact that no outcome in week 10 was too important to the playoff picture, the other thing that kept it from being a truly entertaining week was that the favorites went 10-3 against the spread. That flies in the face of everything we’ve seen so far this year. Up until week 10, the favorites and underdogs had basically played to a draw. Since that 10-3 outcome seems to be the exception, not the rule, I’d look for the underdogs to cover six or seven of the 14 games this weekend.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

First, an update on the bye teams. After week 12 we’ll be done with byes for the year. Hooray for getting rid of this part of my column and for an easier time comparing teams’ records!

  • Baltimore (6-4): Other than their week 1 loss at home to Cincinnati, which can partly be attributed to the Ray Rice noise, the Ravens have followed a path that was pretty much expected of them. They’ve won all their home games since the opener. They’ve beaten up on bad teams when given the chance (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Tennessee all suffered double-digit losses to the Ravens). But they’ve struggled on the road against above average teams (losses at Indy, Cincy, and Pittsburgh). The good news is they only have two more tough road games this year. The bad news is they play in a division where 10-6 might not be good enough.
  • Dallas (7-3): Those of us who love to hate the Cowboys may not get our 8-8 dream scenario, but 9-7 is definitely in play. And that would be just as disastrous after a 6-1 start. The Cowboys only play two of their final six at home, but interestingly enough, they’re only 3-3 at home this year. They’re actually undefeated on the road. You know what’s especially nauseating about Dallas? Their next four games are all nationally-televised. They have a Sunday nighter at the Giants, then home for Philly on Thanksgiving, then at Chicago the following Thursday and finally at Philly the Sunday night after that. This doesn’t seem fair that I’m forced to watch the Cowboys four weeks in a row.
  • Jacksonville (1-9): It’s not even worth going through their remaining games to see how many more wins they can get. At best they’re a 4-12 team. More interesting is whether or not Blake Bortles can hold off Jay Cutler in the chase for leading the league in turnovers. It would be an extra special accomplishment for Bortles considering he wasn’t playing early in the year.
  • NY Jets (2-8): The Jets bookended eight straight losses from week 2 through week 9 with home wins. Holding the mighty Steelers offense to 13 points was probably their Super Bowl. The rest of their schedule would be pretty easy for a halfway decent team, but they’re looking at 5-11 when it’s all said and done. The only thing they can look forward to is a December 21st game in Foxboro where they could possibly play spoiler to the Patriots’ hopes of a #1 or #2 seed.

And now for the week 11 picks.

Buffalo @ Miami (-4.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 26, Miami 23

Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if these two teams gave us the most exciting Thursday night game of the year? Both the Bills and the Dolphins have been surprising us all season with perfectly competent play. The wildcards in the AFC may still boil down to the North and West runners-up, but at least two teams from the East added some intrigue up to this point.

This is also the most important Thursday night game we’ve seen so far this year, as the loser will likely be a full two games out of a wildcard spot. Wow. Bills and Dolphins in week 11 and it actually has meaning!

I’m all in on a three-point game in this one, possibly an overtime nailbiter to get what should be one of the best weekends on the NFL calendar kicked off.

UPDATE: On Wednesday night, the line was six. When I looked Thursday morning, it was down to 4.5. I can’t find any breaking injury news or extenuating circumstances that would account for this change. All I can think is a TON of money must be coming into the sportsbooks on the Bills. You’ve been warned.

Minnesota @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 27, Chicago 20

In what scenario, short of being held at gunpoint, could someone place money on the Bears right now? Marc Trestman probably made a lot more peoples’ Coach of the Year predictions in the preseason than Coaches to be Fired predictions, but if this disaster continues, someone’s gotta take the fall.

I love getting more than a field goal on the team that’s playing relatively well on no expectations with a bunch of young players learning to win. I’d rather that than backing the team that was overly hyped in the preseason and is currently playing for nothing at this point. That team probably can’t help but wonder who’s losing his job over the next two months. Give me the Vikings to win outright in this one.

Houston @ Cleveland (-3)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Houston 14

The “Brady Backup” Bowl!!

What’s nice for Ryan Malett (and every other shaky quarterback) is that Andy Dalton just lowered the bar significantly for the entire position one week ago. No matter how bad Mallett is in his debut, he can’t possibly be worse than the soon-to-be “maligned” Cincinnati QB.

Tempting as it is to be that guy who predicts a huge Cleveland let down, I’m not taking the bait. This line seems exactly right, the Browns should win by a field goal or slightly more.

Atlanta @ Carolina (PICK)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 30, Atlanta 26

So it turns out Atlanta could be tied for 1st place in the NFC South after this weekend. Words cannot describe how insane that is. I don’t believe either of these teams in this game deserves much of our attention so instead I’d like to discuss, once again, the historic atrociousness that is this division.

  1. The NFC South’s cumulative record is 11-25 (.306 win percentage).
  2. Take away games they’ve played against one another, and the cumulative record drops to 5-19 (.208 win percentage).
  3. Since week 4, this entire division has won five games. Three of those wins have been in games where NFC South teams were facing each other. So in the past six weeks, these teams have combined to win two games against non-division opponents.
  4. According to FooballOutsiders.com, the four teams in this division are all in the bottom seven of overall defensive efficiency in the league.

Anyway, this line is wrong considering these teams might be equal to one another. The Panthers should at least get the respect of being a three-point favorite considering they’re at home.

Cincinnati @ New Orleans (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: New Orleans 31, Cincinnati 27

Whoaaaaaaa! Is this the biggest overreaction line of all time? Or is Cincinnati truly awful and I’m just the last to know it?

My initial instinct was that Vegas set this line knowing Dalton’s infamous showing last Thursday night will be fresh on everyone’s minds going into week 11.

Fair enough. That strategy just may get a lot of people to take the Saints with an unnecessarily high point spread.

Not me though. When the Bengals are off, it’s hard to find a team that looks worse than them. But I still think they have too many good players on both sides of the ball to turn into a weekly punching bag. And yes, Dalton’s performance was historic last Thursday, but he’s not in that Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith territory where every game is a train wreck. If that were the case, even the Bengals wouldn’t have ponied up with the large contract for him over the offseason.

Let’s all just calm down a little and watch the Bengals implode in December or January.

Tampa Bay @ Washington (-7)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 34, Tampa Bay 11

If you’re keeping score at home, this is the second consecutive game where a sub-.500 team is giving a touchdown. This one makes a lot more sense than that Bengals/Saints game because at least the team Washington’s facing is in the running for the 1st overall pick in 2015.

I’m not even bothering with much research on this matchup. The PotatoSkins should win by at least 10. Yes, I know they just lost on the road to the Vikings and barely won a home game against Tennessee last month. It doesn’t matter because the Bucs are just that bad. Maybe the worst team in football.

Denver (-10) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Denver 32, St. Louis 24

For the most part I’ve been staying away from these huge point spreads. But last week when the favorites were busy going 10-3 against the spread, it would have been a good time to take some of those teams favored by 10 or more.

Denver hasn’t won a game by less than 14 points since week 2. When they’re winning, they’re winning BIG.

And it turns out the Rams are going with Shaun Hill at quarterback this week, a 34-year-old who has thrown 13 passes this season and last played on September 7th.

But we’ve reached that time in the NFL season where no matter how hard I try, I can’t be fully objective to Denver. They’re battling my Patriots for a top seed in the AFC, and every loss counts. Most likely the Patriots need at least one more Denver loss to secure the #1 seed. I will try to be objective, but I can’t promise.

So I’m going with the Rams to make it a game.

San Francisco (-4.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 30, San Francisco 23

Too high. This line feels like what an Arizona, Seattle or Detroit would be giving if they were traveling to the Meadowlands. The 49ers are not of that same ilk. I’m weary of the back-to-back flights to the Eastern Time Zone (they were in New Orleans last week).

The Giants are bad, no doubt about it, but they can absolutely stay with San Francisco at home. I know the 38-17 loss at Seattle last week looks bad, but there was a time in the 4th quarter when it was 17-17. It was a deceivingly decent game out of the Giants in tough road conditions.

Eyeing this as my favorite pick of the week.

Seattle @ Kansas City (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 20, Seattle 16

There’s a real chance the Chiefs demolish the Seahawks on Sunday. I can’t make it my favorite pick or say that I’m going to bet everything I’ve got on it because Seattle has earned the right for me to always be weary of picking against them. But they’ve been real bad on the road this year, like really bad. And the Chiefs appear to have one of the true home field advantages in football, backed by a great crowd that’s loving this 6-3 team.

I fully expect the Chiefs to win and fans around the country to continue ignoring what’s going on in Kansas City.

Oakland @ San Diego (-10.5)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 40, Oakland 13

The last time the Chargers won a game was more than a month ago. It just so happens Oakland was the last team they beat before all the injuries piled up and they lost three in a row before last week’s bye.

They’re not all the way back to good health yet, but they’re getting there. And the Raiders are still bad. Not much has changed with them in the past month so I expect this game will get the Chargers back to winning and putting up lots of points.

Detroit @ Arizona (-1)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 23, Detroit 16

Here’s the key question for every parent out there: If your wife had a baby on a Monday night, would you be mentally & physically prepared to perform your job at an extremely high level just six days later?

If your answer is no, you might want to pick against Arizona this week because Drew Stanton’s wife gave birth on Monday night.

So Stanton gets thrust into the starting QB role as of Monday morning, has one week to prepare for the best defense in the NFL, and has a new baby daughter during that same week.

The first version I wrote of this pick had me taking Detroit and saying this is a coin flip game where the craziness surrounding Stanton this week is having me lean in Detroit’s direction, but then I realized one matchup that is absolutely not a coin flip: COACHING.

No matter what’s going on with the Cardinals, we know we’re getting a prepared team that’ll do all the little things and take appropriate chances to win the game when it gets them. With Detroit, well, they have this:

caldwell

This game may very well give us another proof point that coaching does indeed make a big difference in the NFL.

Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 33, Philadelphia 23

A little more thought needs to go into this game than simply penciling in the Packers because they’ve been unstoppable at home. It’s true that their last three home games have seen them win by 32, 21 and 41. But it’s also true that their three opponents in those games were Minnesota, Carolina and Chicago.

It’s very tough to draw conclusions on how Green Bay will perform at home against a fellow playoff contender because they haven’t played any of those kinds of games this year.

As for the Eagles, they’ve won two road games (Indianapolis and Houston) and lost two road games (San Francisco and Arizona).

I guess my pick boils down to the fact that I’m not going against Aaron Rodgers when he’s favored by less than a touchdown at home until further notice.

New England @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, New England 29

What a way to end our Sunday! A key battle between two of the AFC’s best, and unlike the Broncos in their week 9 game in New England, the Colts will probably show up for this one.

This feels like an even matchup if the Patriots are merely “one of the better AFC teams.” But if they’ve morphed into that 2003/2004 Patriots mode, they just may dominate the Colts on Sunday night.

I’d like to think that’s what we’re witnessing, but I’m not going to put money on it. One thing that’s easy to forget because of the blowout over Denver two weeks ago is that Chandler Jones is still missing and he was a HUGE part of New England’s success early in the year. I wonder if this is the game when we remember how valuable he is.

I’m thinking the Patriots fall just short as Andrew Luck gets the ball last and Adam Vinatieri hits yet another key field goal over his old team to win the game.

Pittsburgh (-6) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 36, Tennessee 13

Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to grab the favorite in a game like this. After all, the Steelers are 6-4 while the Titans are 2-7. The Steelers have an offense that put up 94 points in two weeks against much better teams than Tennessee. This shouldn’t be a problem.

But there’s also Pittsburgh’s 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay in week 4, their 31-10 loss at Cleveland in week 6, and the Steelers’ 20-13 no-show at the Jets just last week. Playing down to their competition seems to be a Pittsburgh staple.

But you know what? I can pick this game without even considering how either of these teams might perform on the field. If you’re like me and you think Thursday’s game is going to be close and entertaining, and you think the same about Sunday night’s game, that means you gotta pick a blowout on Monday night because there’s no way the football gods are giving us three awesome games in the three primetime slots in week 11. Just won’t happen. Steelers roll.

If you needed any more motivation to spend all of your Sunday and part of your Thursday & Monday watching football this weekend, just know that in week 12, we’re looking at only three games at most that warrant our attention. The intrigue of week 11 doesn’t come around that often. Don’t mess this up.

Enjoy the games.

Week 17 NFL Picks: All The Insanity of the NFL Season Packed into One Week

old-man-crystal-ball

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!