Week 17 NFL Picks: Don’t Bother Reading This

weeden

Since the week 17 lines aren’t perplexing enough—what with the complete unknown around which teams are resting players, which teams will try for 30 minutes and then rest players upon seeing certain scores around the league, which teams will be motivated to win or lose and for what reasons—I decided to really up the degree of difficulty with my picks.

I’ve been driving across the country since Tuesday morning. I’ve barely had a minute to check twitter or keep up with any relevant NFL news. I’m writing this column without internet access in the passenger seat of a rental car while traveling between Flagstaff, Arizona, and Los Angeles. (If you’re not up to speed on the situation my wife & I encountered when trying to fly out of Boston this past Tuesday, I suggest you read through my Twitter timeline @rossgariepy or search Twitter for #GariepyRoadTrip2015.)

This should go really really smoothly.

NY Jets (-3) at Buffalo

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 29, NY Jets 18

The Jets clinch an AFC Wildcard spot with a win. All they have to do is turn away the Bills, led by the former New York coach who would love nothing more than to keep the team that fired him a year ago out of the postseason. It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to take the Jets without a second thought considering the circumstances, but I think Rex, with a recent vote of confidence for next year from his owner, will pull out EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK to win this one. I think we finally see a Ryan Fitzpatrick meltdown combined with trickery such as Sammy Watkins throwing a touchdown to Tyrod Taylor.

New England (-10) at Miami

The Pick: Miami

The Score: New England 25, Miami 21

You know where having the internet available while writing this would come in handy? When trying to figure out which of the abundance of injured Patriots players are suiting up for action this weekend. Even with a hobbled offensive line, the Patriots should win by 10+ if—and only if—Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are participating. But I don’t have a clue about their status so I’m predicting a more conservative win for New England.

New Orleans at Atlanta (-5)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: Atlanta 23, New Orleans 20

Atlanta starts the year 5-0, I mentally cash my preseason ticket of “Atlanta over 8.5 wins.”

Atlanta goes 2-7 in the middle of the year, I mentally rip up that same ticket.

Atlanta takes down the undefeated Panthers to keep the bet in play with only the Saints left to beat…I don’t have a clue what to think. Let’s do an emotional hedge here and pick against them. I could still win the pick and the bet if the Falcons win by 3 or less.

Detroit at Chicago (PICK)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 27, Chicago 10

Didn’t the Bears put most of their offensive players on IR this week? I think I saw that when I had two minutes of cell phone reception while driving through Elk City, Oklahoma.

Philadelphia at NY Giants (-3.5)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: NY Giants 12, Philadelphia 9

This game would only be exciting if Tom Coughlin accepted the head coaching job with the Eagles 1 hour before kickoff and coached Philly instead of the Giants, and then Odell Beckham headbutted Coughlin after an out-of-bounds play near his former head coach.

Washington at Dallas (-4)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 21, Washington 6

Washington rests everyone while Jason Garrett gets to use this game as evidence that his team never gave up despite a terrible season.

Also, I don’t know the mechanics of anything RG3 related right now in terms of him being on the active roster, etc, but shouldn’t Washington play him in this game as a final sendoff and a “thanks for the memories in 2012”? Oh, right. With their luck, he tears a knee ligament in the 3rd quarter and the Skins are on the hook for his huge salary in 2016. Nevermind.

Tennessee at Indianapolis (-6)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Tennessee 7

I know there’s a good chance some guy that was on a different team’s practice squad just a week ago is starting at QB for Indy on Sunday, but I gotta go with the Colts because the Titans probably want to stay in position to pick 1st in the 2016 Draft pretty badly. More importantly, a meaningless 10-point win against the Titans in week 17 is a perfect recipe for the soon-to-be-fired Chuck Pagano to give a way too emotional postgame locker room speech that makes the entire country uncomfortable.

Jacksonville at Houston (-7)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 30, Jacksonville 21

A graduate from the University of Belichick, Bill O’Brien isn’t the type to scoreboard watch and pack it in during a meaningless second half after seeing that the Texans have officially clinched the AFC South.

Baltimore at Cincinnati (-9)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 17

Going the exact opposite of the AFC South picks with the AFC North. Instead of both favorites who are still playing for something covering a pretty large spread, I like both underdogs in the North. Baltimore has been far better this year than their results, and I think they have fun making sure the Bengals don’t get a bye.

Pittsburgh (-11) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 24

Johnny Manziel plays just well enough to end the season that the Browns stand pat at the QB position in the offseason. And then Manziel goes on a legendary bender next Labor Day weekend and we all say, “That’s so Cleveland.”

Oakland at Kansas City (-7.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Kansas City 23, Oakland 17

The AFC West is very tough to project this week. The Chiefs are certainly motivated to win this game since they still have a shot to capture the division title, but what happens if they see the Broncos are up by 20 in the 3rd quarter? Then the smart play would be for Andy Reid to pull Alex Smith, Jeremy Maclin and others because their position is effectively locked in.

San Diego at Denver (-9)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Denver 16

Likewise, the Broncos are highly incentivized to win their final game because it would lock up at least the #2 seed in the AFC. If they lose and the Chiefs win, they could fall to the 6th seed. But what happens if the Broncos are up 14 late in the game and see the Chiefs are about to lose? They might go conservative and let the Chargers tack on a late, meaningless touchdown. Who knows?

I’m predicting the Chargers to win outright for one reason and one reason only…the Brock Osweiler vs Peyton Manning debate would get turned waaaaaay up if Osweiler loses and doesn’t look great on Sunday.

Tampa Bay at Carolina (-11)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, Tampa Bay 17

Remember all those things I just said about the AFC West games? It’s exactly the same for the battle for the #1 seed in the NFC. A Carolina win locks up the top spot, but if they scoreboard watch and see Arizona on the verge of losing anyway, the Panthers probably pull all their key players in the 4th quarter. But I’m going to assume the Cardinals will be winning and the Panthers will have to keep their foot on the gas.

Seattle at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 29, Seattle 14

Bruce Arians doesn’t care about what the Panthers are doing. Bruce Arians only cares about winning every game by as many points as possible.

St. Louis (-3.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: St. Louis 19, San Francisco 16

Feels like a 3-point win for someone.

Minnesota at Green Bay (-3.5)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Green Bay 24, Minnesota 21

Also feels like a 3-point win for someone.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 10 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 4 Home Dogs, 6 Road Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 7 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 114-119-7 (8-8 in week 16)

Enjoy week 17. And in case it wasn’t clear in my intro, STAY THE EFF AWAY FROM THESE PICKS AND GAMBLING IN GENERAL THIS WEEK.

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NFL Combo Blog: Week 16 Recap & Week 17 Picks

drew brees

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.”

-Crowded House

philly ticket

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!!

Week 17 NFL Recap: And Then There Were 12

orton

Another fantastic day is in the books for the NFL. Our wallets might have taken a big hit in 2013, but the unpredictability of the NFL season provided the best start-to-finish drama in the history of the league.

It started with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases taking a big nervous gulp on September 5th, when the Denver Broncos put up 49 points, via SEVEN Peyton Manning touchdown passes, on opening night.

It ended with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases bursting into laughter on December 29th, when the Dallas Cowboys, via a back-breaking Kyle Orton interception, choked away the NFL’s final playoff spot.

It was a season-long emotional roller coaster for the common football fan.

And week 17 was a microcosm of the whole thing:

In the AFC:

  • Baltimore and Miami, in what turned out to essentially be “win and you’re in” games, both screamed loud enough for the whole world to hear, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
  • The Ravens were gift-wrapped a game in which Andy Dalton threw FOUR interceptions. But not to be outdone, Joe Flacco threw his own handful of picks (only three) and the Ravens’ putrid offense could only muster up nine points off those four Dalton turnovers. A spectacular 222 yards of offense for the Ravens in a must-win game.
  • Meanwhile down in Miami, the Dolphins were busy giving up 374 yards to the Jets, aka the team ranked 27th in offense according to Football Outsiders. In fact, they let Geno Smith finish the game with a QBR of 90.7. His QBR for the year is 35.9. Oh, and Ryan Tannehill joined in on the interception fun from that other game. He had three of them himself.
  • After Pittsburgh took care of business against Cleveland, they got to watch in horror as Kansas City’s backups pissed away a 24-14 4th quarter lead in San Diego. A Chiefs win would send the Steelers to the playoffs. A Chargers win would send them to the playoffs while knocking out Pittsburgh. This was set up for a dramatic ending that everyone would remember for both the Steelers and Chargers rising from the dead and for the final AFC playoff spot being decided on a final play in an outstanding game…And then the refs provided one very important moment that we absolutely needed in week 17 if you were going to dub this a microcosm of the entire season. The refs blew Kansas City’s 41-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation by not calling San Diego for an illegal formation. The error, confirmed by the NFL, would have given Ryan Succop a 35-yard-field goal attempt, instead of the 41-yarder he ultimately missed.
  • Obscure field goal formation penalty that alters a game and a team’s season. Sound familiar, Patriots fans?
  • So the Chargers get into the playoffs in a somewhat controversial way. They’re 8-8, and while no one expects them to do much, I will say they are easily the most entertaining choice out of those four AFC wildcard contenders. Maybe Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, a throwback Antonio Gates and the combo of Ryan Mathews & Danny Woodhead can get hot and make a game out of it in Cincinnati this weekend.
  • Nothing else too dramatic in the AFC on Sunday. As Denver (#1), New England (2), Cincinnati (3), Indianapolis (4) and Kansas City (5) all maintained the same seed that they entered the day with.
  • The attention in the AFC is going to be devoted to Denver & New England, due to them getting the byes and the Brady-Manning rivalry, as well as to Kansas City because of the franchise’s immediate turnaround under Andy Reid and the intrigue over how well they’ve played all year. But I want to spend a minute addressing the other two division winners who might get overlooked.
  • Indianapolis: Don’t bank on them in the playoffs just because they’ve won their last three games in blowout fashion (25-3 over Houston, 23-7 at Kansas City, and 30-10 over Jacksonville this past Sunday). Remember that those opponents are two awful teams and one that was resigned to its #5 seed fate and probably didn’t give 100%. No, if you’re going to back Indy in January, it’s going to be because they’re battled-tested (six regular games vs playoff teams) and seem to play up to their competition (4-2 in those six games). And if they get past the visiting Chiefs in the wildcard round, they’ll face a team they already beat this year…the Denver Broncos.
  • Cincinnati: Here’s your case for picking Cincy to win it all. They are 2013’s version of the 2012 Ravens. AFC North team with a solid defense that people wrote off because of injuries (Leon Hall and Geno Atkins = Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, etc). They have a young QB who no one has faith in, and who constantly is the butt of jokes from other teams’ fans (Dalton = Flacco). They’re a team that didn’t impress much during the regular season and that is largely being overlooked as the playoffs begin.
  • The difference is that Cincy has even more offensive talent than last year’s Baltimore team.
  • And remember that there was absolutely no indication heading into last year’s playoffs that Flacco was about to put up 11 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions during a four-game Super Bowl run (working against this comparison is that Dalton has looked far worse this year than Flacco did last year).
  • I doubt I’m going to pick the Bengals or Colts to be that longshot team that gets hot and wins it all, but they’ve each got at least a little case to be made.
  • I was watching Peyton Manning shamelessly pad his passing stats against Oakland when Andrew Siciliano, DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel host, told us, “Call it what it is. The greatest quarterback season in the history of the NFL.”
  • And it’s so true. I’m just glad the stars have realigned back to the good old days when Manning is breaking every regular season record while the entire world greases his pole, and Brady and the Patriots are back to winning ugly, getting lucky and being discounted by the national media.
  • Another sign that glory days might have returned for New England? Brady threw a pass in the 4th quarter that was intended for #45, Williams….Who? Apparently D.J. Williams. Unrecognizable players popping up in key spots = another Patriots Championship Days Staple.
  • Amazingly, LeGarrette Blount is now in the “can’t afford to lose him” conversation for the rest of the year. Just like we drew it up when we penciled the Patriots in for 12 wins and a run to the Super Bowl.
  • One AFC-related gambling note: If you didn’t run to your computer to lock in “Oakland +3 2nd half,” during halftime of the Raiders-Broncos game, then you must hate money. Manning had just broken Drew Brees’ single season passing yards record and added four more passing touchdowns to his collection. The Broncos were up 31-0. Me and my 10 closest friends could have outscored the Broncos in the 2nd half.

In the NFC:

  • Not nearly as chaotic in this conference as a late Carolina push against Atlanta, then a New Orleans blowout of Tampa Bay and an easy Seattle win over St. Louis locked the Panthers into the #2 seed, the Saints into the #6 seed and the 49ers into the #5 seed.
  • But I’d like to take a moment to offer a respectful, professional golf clap to the 2013 Arizona Cardinals. After the 2012 disaster known as “Kolb, Skelton, Hoyer and Lindley try to play QB,” the Cardinals put up a fine season with a serviceable Carson Palmer, a hidden running back gem in Andre Ellington and a nasty defense. Ten wins will get you into the playoffs more often than not, but it wasn’t meant to be this year. Thanks for single handedly making a few NFC teams push themselves through the final week due to your constant nipping at their heels.
  • If you got on the Arizona bandwagon around midseason, you were handsomely rewarded from a betting standpoint. They covered eight of their final nine games of the season. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed them so much. I often picked them as my most confident bet of the week.
  • Kind of couldn’t have asked for a better game then Green Bay-Chicago. There was a ref screw job alert when a Bears player got called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty after trying to pull up on a hit against Aaron Rodgers, only he had to use his arms to break his fall and lightly touched the Green Bay QB. There was also player ineptitude when Rodgers fumbled in the 2nd quarter, only all 22 players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass so everyone awkwardly stood around while the ball was sitting still on the ground and the refs refused to blow a whistle. Of course the Packers finally recognized the situation and promptly scored.
  • These are the kinds of plays that determine divisions when your division is full of hot steaming garbage.
  • For Green Bay’s troubles, they’ll draw San Francisco in the opening round of the playoffs…an opponent that causes Aaron Rodgers to angrily mumble under his breath for three straight hours while Mike McCarthy self-induces a coma to avoid making a game-changing mistake and Dom Capers sits in the coach’s box repeatedly shitting himself.
  • And for our third referee screw job reference of the blog, let’s turn to Al Michaels at Cowboy Stadium:
  • “So the Cowboys get screwed on that situation,” said Michaels when a clock glitch turned into a Dallas penalty with five minutes left in the 4th quarter in the division-deciding game against Philly. Gotta love how the refs did not let week 17 go by without altering the course of events for the 2013 playoffs.
  • Another great NFC game, this time decided by ages-old rule that states, “Whichever man lines up behind center for the Dallas Cowboys shall lose games in the most ball-busting fashion possible…it does not matter if his name is Tony Romo or something goofy like Orton.”

So there you have it, folks. Twelve playoff teams’ hopes and dreams on the line over the next 34 days, and eleven bitter disappointments guaranteed.

We’ll be back with separate AFC & NFC playoff previews later in the week. And I might just dig through the archives to find my best and worst predictions from the 2013 preseason.

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!

Week 17 Picks: Giving You Vague Analysis of Every Game to Protect Myself from My Brothers

There are only two ways to explain the debacle I experienced in week 16:

  1. Because I was doing my research and making picks only 20 hours before an eight-day vacation, I was understandably distracted and rushed through the weekly NFL matchups.
  2. My unsustainable good luck from the first three quarters of the season has been slipping back to the average for weeks and it was only a matter of time before I had a sub-.500 week against the spread.

Obviously I’m going to convince myself it was #1. Not only did I go 7-8-1 against the spread, but I also lost my stranglehold on 1st place in both of my season-long pick ’em leagues, AND I might have done irreparable damage to my online gambling account. The problem is that week 17 has just as bad of circumstances for me making picks. I’m rushing to get this post out before I leave Fitchburg in one hour (side note: didn’t get this post out before leaving Fitchburg so I’m now at a friend’s house in Boston ignoring him and his wife so I can get through this). I never got to watch much of the week 16 games because I had to pretend to be social at a party my Dad had that featured roughly 760 of our closest family and friends. I have no feel for football right now, and of course in week 17 it’s impossible to predict which teams are trying to win, which teams are trying to rest and which teams are trying to win but are so bad they constantly look like they’re trying to rest. Just like most fantasy football leagues don’t play games during week 17, I think it’s totally unfair for pick ’em leagues to include week 17. For instance, it’s Friday afternoon and the website I use to see the spreads has only 8 of 16 games with an open line currently. So 48 hours before kickoff, Vegas is confused enough about half of the games that they won’t even publish a spread.

But despite all of that, I should feel an obligation to post my picks. However, here’s the reason why I won’t give a definitive answer in this column about who I’m picking in each of the week 17 games: the two other guys at the top of the standings with me in my big pick ’em league are my brothers. If I post my picks, they will devise a scheme where they team up and go against my picks just enough that one of them beats me out in this league. How do I know they’ll do that? Because they attempted it last week (and it kind of worked), and because that’s what asshole older brothers do. So I will feel extremely exposed if I give my picks. Therefore, welcome to my “week 17 vague thoughts” blog post. I’ll post the line that my pick ’em league is using for each game and then I’ll give a quick thought or two on the game (while leaving you frustrated when I inevitably make a case for both teams winning each matchup).

Chicago @ Detroit (+3.5): So the once mighty 7-1 Bears now need to win this game and hope Minnesota loses to Green Bay in order to get into the playoffs. Of course Detroit is playing for nothing and they’ve looked that way for about 10 weeks. You’d think this would be easy for Chicago. No matter how good Calvin Johnson is, as we saw last week even if he goes off for 300 yards, the rest of the Lions team can’t get out of its own way. I’m leaning towards the Bears but wouldn’t it be just like Detroit to be down 10 with 90 seconds to go and give us one final garbage time backdoor cover?

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-3.5): Remember five games ago when I speculated that Rex Ryan would use every existing combination of Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow/Greg McElroy as his starter and backup QB over these final weeks? Turns out the only reason I was wrong was because they refuse to acknowledge that Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback. So at least the Jets finally caught up to the rest of the American public when they figured that out. I honestly don’t want to see a single live play or highlight from this game on Sunday (along with several other games), but if I had to pick, I’d probably take the Jets with the points because neither team deserves to win by more than three.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7.5): I’m not sure I’d be taking Atlanta to cover 7.5 even if they had a real reason to play on Sunday. And despite what I read about the Falcons treating this like a midseason game and playing their starters the whole time, I don’t know how realistic that is. Isn’t it the Mike Smith M.O. to take his foot off the gas at the exact wrong time? If things start to go poorly for Atlanta in the first half, wouldn’t it make sense to pull starters and concede the game when it really does mean nothing? But shouldn’t I consider that the Falcons may still cover this spread with their backups since they’re playing a team that’s lost five-in-a-row including the last two by a combined 56 points?

Carolina @ New Orleans (-4.5): Another game that doesn’t need to be played on Sunday. Let’s not spend much time on this one. Carolina’s played well lately, but the Saints won their last home game 41-0. It seems like a lot of points to give if you’re backing New Orleans because these two teams might be pretty close from a talent standpoint. I’m starting to really enjoy writing these vague sentences and not having to choose a side yet.

Houston @ Indianapolis (+4.5): Finally a game that matters for both teams! Houston needs to win to ensure a bye…Indy needs to…wait Indy is locked into the #5 seed. But apparently Chuck Pagano will be coaching the Colts for the first time since September. And apparently everyone thinks his young team needs to give 100% even in a meaningless game because they could use the practice/experience. And apparently they want to beat their division rival who just handed them a loss a couple weeks ago. I do think both teams will go full throttle in this one. I’m weary on betting against a Pagano-inspired team at home against a division opponent. I think you can tell which way I’m leaning.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-4.5): And now for the other AFC South “battle.” Meaningless for everyone. Why are the Titans favored by this much? Why are the Titans favored at all? Is there any gambler in his right mind that would even put a dollar’s worth of confidence on either of these two teams?

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-6.5): I think DirecTV can create another channel for the final two weeks of the regular season where only meaningful games are shown. Call it the “Everyone Gives a Shit Red Zone Channel” (or something more clever). Because by my count this is now the fifth game out of the first seven that shouldn’t be shown on TV at all. Gotta feel bad for the Steelers at this point…seems like a year or two of rebuilding is on the horizon. You think I’m about to say that I’m predicting the Browns to win this game outright, right? I actually might convince myself that this veteran Steelers team gets motivated for one final divisional home game to end a shitty year.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-3.5): Does this game really matter? The Bengals are stuck in the #6 seed no matter what, and the Ravens can only be either the #3 or #4 seed. Since New England likely wins later in the day, the Ravens should prioritize health and trying out any possible quarterbacks of the future in this game over actually trying to win it. The big issue with this game is that these two teams could be playing each other again next week. I remember the Bengals resting everyone in week 17 a few years ago when they knew they’d be playing the Jets (that week’s opponent) in the first round. Then they got throttled in that opening round playoff game. I’m kinda liking Cincy to buck the trend and play a real game in this one.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-8.5): In case you haven’t heard, here’s where the Giants are at: they need a win and losses from Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs. Minnesota and Dallas play later in the day while Chicago plays early at the same time as the Giants. This all means the Giants will be trying to win, of course, but I’m skeptical at this point of their ability to beat anyone by so many points. This might be the hardest game to pick against the spread so far…

Arizona @ San Francisco (-15.5): Would you be surprised if I told you I actually found a 49ers fan who’s extremely unhappy that Colin Kaepernick is the starting quarterback? I assumed every 9ers fan was blindly following Jim Harbaugh and backing his decisions—much like Patriots fans do with Bill Belichick—but sure enough there’s at least one unhappy fan. I found him in New York. But he’s a generally unhappy person so I’m not sure if it’s an objective dislike of the benching Alex Smith move. This fan said San Francisco was a Super Bowl team with Smith at QB and that he’s perfectly capable of leading the 49ers to a comeback if they fall behind by two touchdowns (which is the biggest public criticism of Alex Smith the last two years). There’s no relevance to this story for the purposes of picking this game. I’m just trying to fill space while avoiding making the pick. This spread is extremely high, and future Pro Bowler Brian Hoyer is starting at QB for the Cardinals…Considering everyone in the Arizona organization is playing their last game ever for the team (except of course for Larry Fitzgerald who we should probably write a formal eulogy for right away) I might convince myself that they’ll put up a fight.

Kansas City @ Denver (-16.5): Wow, an even higher line than the Cardinals/49ers game! This is the AFC version of that game, almost exactly. Home team might be the best in the conference, playing for a potential bye. Road team is definitely the worst team in its conference with most players and coaches playing their final game in that specific uniform. What do you do with these two lines? Pick the underdog in both and hope to go 1-1?

Green Bay @ Minnesota (+3.5): Pretty simple scenarios for both teams. If Green Bay wins, they get the #2 seed in the NFC. If Minnesota wins, they get a wildcard spot (they could also get it if Dallas, the Giants and Chicago all lose, but that’s pretty improbable). This is a game that’s impossible picturing the Packers losing. But don’t forget that Adrian Peterson went off for 210 rushing yards in the week 13 game between these two teams.

Miami @ New England (-10.5): This is one of the impossible games to predict before Sunday because a lot of it depends on what Houston does in its early game. If Houston loses to Indy earlier in the day, the Pats go into this game knowing a win gets them a bye. If Houston wins, the Pats should feel pretty confident that they’re NOT getting a bye because there’s no way the Broncos are losing to Kansas City (the other scenario by which New England gets a bye). So why would I pick this game ahead of time when that Texans game makes all the difference in the world. This is a prime example of why pick ’em leagues should end after week 16.

Oakland @ San Diego (-7.5): Pass.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-10.5): Technically Seattle still has a chance to win the NFC West and get a bye, but realistically they should be focused on being healthy for their opening road game in the first round of the playoffs (they need the 49ers to lose to Arizona for the division, and that plus Green Bay losing to Minnesota for a bye). Feels like a game they really shouldn’t focus on running up the score, but we are talking about Pete Carroll, master of running up the score and not getting heat from the media about it.

Dallas @ Washington (-3.5): The Cowboys are 2-3 in prime-time games this year. I was hoping it was more like 1-4 so I could make the case that they’re a bad bet in prime-time. The bigger question is why are the Cowboys about to play in their sixth prime-time game of the year? Did we really need to see them on national TV this much? How can you pick against the Redskins at this point? They’ve done everything they’ve needed to do since their week 10 bye; they’ve done it when RGIII had to leave a game in the 4th quarter; they’ve done it when RGIII had to sit out an entire game. They might lose this game, but it would be weird if you picked against them at this point (Side note: If Chicago and Minnesota lose earlier in the day, the Redskins are automatically in the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game…so, yeah…if you make a bet on this game before Sunday night, bet it small, I guess?).