After a week in hiatus writing up my ‘Best of 2012’ music lists (to be released in the coming days), I’m back for the final week of the NFL season. With a few playoff spots to be determined in the NFC, and some possible seed changes in both conferences, Week 17 should have a lot of drama in store. Here are the Week 17 picks:
(Home teams in CAPS. All lines per Sportsbook.com as of 2:00 PM on Saturday, December 29th.)
BUFFALO (-3) over New York Jets
In a game that has no impact on anything, except draft order and maybe future coaching jobs, I’m going with the Bills for two reasons. One, they’re at home. Two, Mark Sanchez is starting for the Jets. I need not say more, but would like to take this moment to honor one of the greatest NFL GIFs of the 2012 season. Bless you, Mark Sanchez. Bless you.
CINCINNATI (-2.5) over Baltimore
Baltimore still has an outside shot at the AFC’s number 3 seed (the need a win plus a an unlikely home loss by the Patriots to the Dolphins). Meanwhile, the Bengals are trying to avenge a Week 1 blowout loss to the Ravens, as well as keep up their momentum entering the playoffs.
The Bengals are 6-1 in their last seven games, with the lone loss coming against the Cowboys in a wild game were Cincy surrendered a 19-10 fourth quarter lead. I like the Bengals to win this one at home.
INDIANAPOLIS (+7) over Houston
One of the rules of picking games that I’ve learned this season is to never bet against the sentimental favorite. Ever. While the Colts are locked into the 5-seed, the final game of the season marks the triumphant return of head coach Chuck Pagano. Truly one of the most heart-warming stories of the year, Pagano has overcome leukemia (so far, fingers crossed) and has been handed the reigns to a 10-5 team (the Colts were 2-14 just last season). Lastly, the Texans can still win the 2-seed with a win (and even the 1-seed with an unlikely Denver loss to Kansas City), so they’ll be playing for something. Still, with the opportunity to spoil a first-round bye for the Texans, and the return of ChuckStrong, I like the Colts at home.
Jacksonville (+4) over TENNESSEE
Tennessee looked awful in a 55-7 loss to Green Bay in Week 16. I’ve been unnecessarily riding the Chad Henne bandwagon for weeks now, so no reason to stop now.
Philadelphia (+7) over NEW YORK GIANTS
I guess this qualifies for my Green Mountain Coffee ‘Bold Pick of the Week’ (seriously, if anyone ever starts reading this blog, Green Mountain should give me a little kickback for continuously plugging their Bold Roast).
The Giants need some serious help to get into the playoffs. They need to win, plus have Green Bay beat Minnesota, plus have Detroit beat Chicago, PLUS have Washington beat Dallas. I just can’t see all of those things happening (either that, or I’m terrified of what the Giants will do if they get into the playoffs).
In addition, Mike Vick is making the start at QB for the Eagles this week. In what could very well be his final game as an Eagle, and opportunity to prove to the rest of the league he can still play, Vick will come out with a chip on his shoulder. With LeSean McCoy coming back from a concussion, the Eagles will field an athletic offense that may be able to hang with the underperforming Giants.
PITTSBURGH (No Line) over Cleveland
If this photo doesn’t sum up the frustrations felt by Pittsburgh Steelers fans this season, I don’t know what does. After losing three straight, the Steelers can only achieve a .500 record with a win. You would think the Steelers have nothing to play for at this point, and you’d be right.
Still, to accurately predict this game, one question needs to be answered: Who is playing QB for Cleveland? Browns coach Pat Shurmur recently named Thad Lewis as the starter for the season finale. On Saturday, it was announced that the Browns planned to let go of Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert. Coincidence?
I like Big Ben and the Steelers at home over a third-string QB and a coach on his way out the door. Better luck next season, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Chicago (-3) over DETROIT
It’s do-or-die time for the Bears. If they win – and the Vikings lose to the Packers – they’ll clinch the NFC’s 6th seed for the playoffs. If they lose, they’re out, even after starting the season 7-1. I think the Lions are fully capable of pulling off an upset and ruining the Bears’ season, but nothing they have done this year suggests they will actually finish the job. Meanwhile, the Bears are desperate for a win to extend their season and give them a chance to keep playing into January.
Smokin’ Jay Cutler gets another shot at proving he is a big-time quarterback. With the help of some Lions turnovers, I think the Bears get it done and sneak into the playoffs.
Tampa Bay (+4.5) over ATLANTA
I think Atlanta will try to rest a lot of its starters for most, if not all, of this game. Atlanta will have the number 1 seed in the NFC and a bye next weekend, but for now, I’m taking Tampa Bay getting the points.
NEW ORLEANS (-5) over Carolina
If the season would have started in Week 8, this game would feature a matchup of 5-3 teams on the verge of making a playoff push. Instead, thanks to two horrendous starts (0-4 by the Saints; 1-6 by the Panthers), it’s just another meaningless Week 17 matchup of teams with sub-.500 records. I like the Saints at home.
NEW ENGLAND (-10.5) over Miami
The Patriots will be playing for the number 2 seed in the AFC. A win plus a Houston loss to the Colts, and the Pats will spend next weekend at home, resting up for round 2 of the playoffs. There is an outside chance that the Patriots can get the 1-seed with a Houston loss to the Colts AND a Denver loss to Kansas City at home – which would likely be considered the upset of the season. I like the Pats to deliver an impressive win.
Green Bay (-3.5) over MINNESOTA
On Sunday in Minneapolis, Adrian Peterson will go for a record that many consider to be untouchable. In order to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, AP needs 208 yards (he only needs 102 for a 2,000 yard season). He ran for 210 yards against the Pack in the first meeting at Lambeau, so he’s already proven he can do it once this season.
I don’t remember another time when a team was 9-1 and being taken less seriously. Sure, the Packers have had their struggles and their flaws, but this team keeps getting healthier and seems to be peaking at the right time. The Packers currently stand at 11-4, but are literally a blown call and a second half collapse away from being 13-2 and having a chance to clinch the 1-seed.
Over the past ten games, Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 25 TDs against just 4 INTs. He leads the NFL in QB rating and seems to have the Packers’ offense clicking at the right time, especially considering how many injuries the team has suffered, especially among its receivers.
I expect this game to be played down to the wire, and I expect Adrian Peterson to get his numbers (although I don’t think he’ll hit 208 to break the record), but I’m not going to bet against Aaron Rodgers and a team on a 9-1 roll.
DENVER (-16.5) over Kansas City
Denver has to win to clinch the AFCs number 1 seed. They’re playing at home and they’ve won 10 games in a row. I expect Peyton Manning to come out strong and for the Broncos to have the 1-seed locked up by halftime.
Oakland (+10) over SAN DIEGO
I just don’t see how a 6-9 team is ever giving 10 points. Then again, the Raiders just named their new starting QB, so I guess anything is possible in Week 17. Still, with both of these teams having sub par seasons, and the first meeting provided for some pretty sloppy play. With San Diego coach Norv Turner potentially coaching his final game for the powder blue, I’m taking the points and running far away from both of these teams.
Arizona (+16.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
Don’t get me wrong. I think the 49ers will win this game easily. But there are just too many reasons why I think a 16.5 point line is way too high, including (in no particular order):
(1) I still think Colin Kaepernick (while his ceiling is incredibly high) is still susceptible to mistakes that other, more experienced quarterbacks (ahem, Alex Smith) just do not commit;
(2) Way too much potential for a garbage time touchdown to turn a 23-point blowout into a 16-point cover; and
(3) Aside from a 32-7 win against the Bears in Week 11, the 49ers have not won a game by more than 14 points since Kaepernick took over as a starter (including an overtime loss to St. Louis in Week 13 and a 42-13 blowout in Seattle last Sunday).
SEATTLE (-11) over St. Louis
The Seahawks have been absolutely terrifying in their past three games (all wins), in which they’ve averaged 50 points for per game and only 10 against. An average score of 50-10 per game?!? That’s insane.
A win in their home finale, coupled with a 49ers loss to the Cardinals, would help Seattle clinch the NFC West and at least a 3 seed (or potentially a 2-seed if the Packers also lose to the Vikings). With that much on the line, and the way the Seahawks have been crushing teams lately, I can’t imagine this game stays too close.
WASHINGTON (-3) over Dallas
Does it get any better than this? The winner is in the playoffs as the NFC East champ. The loser is likely out (Washington can still get the 6th seed with a loss, a Chicago loss to Detroit, and a Minnesota loss to Green Bay). It’s way more fun to cheer for the phenomenon that is RG3, and the home team, that it is for the Dallas Cowboys, so that’s the way I’m going.
Last Week (Week 15) Record: 10-6
Season Record: 57-47-1
Projected Playoff Matchups
Based on the handy NFL Playoff Machine (thanks ESPN.com), here are my projected playoff match ups. The first games kick off next Saturday, January 5th.
1. Denver Broncos (13-3) – BYE
2. New England Patriots (12-4) – BYE
3. Houston Texans (12-4) vs. 6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
4. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) vs. 5. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) – BYE
2. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – BYE
3. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) vs. 6. Chicago Bears (10-6)
4. Washington Redskins (10-6) vs. 5. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
Once the playoffs are set next week, I’ll be breaking down each of next weekend’s pairings and looking ahead at the potential playoff landscape.