It’s always a little depressing to write the Week 17 Picks. The regular season is coming to an end, as is everything that comes with Football Sundays for four-plus months. This Sunday is the last chance to put together an improbable parlay or teaser, watch the Red Zone channel, justify eating unhealthy and drinking an abundance of alcohol for 12 hours and feel like it’s not a big deal if you order takeout multiple times and don’t step foot outside or see daylight for the entire day. Week 17 means the end of the regular season, but it also means the start of the postseason, and in Week 17, every team falls into one of three categories.
1. Playing for a playoff berth or playoff seeding.
2. Playing with the goal of trying to make sure no one gets injured before the playoffs.
3. Playing for absolutely nothing.
Here is how each team is categorized:
1. Houston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Carolina, San Diego, Kansas City, Green Bay, Detroit, Seattle, Denver, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati
2. Indianapolis, New England, Dallas,
3. Jacksonville, Tennessee, Cleveland, Buffalo, New York Jets, Miami, Minnesota, Chicago, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, St. Louis, San Francisco, Oakland
So 12 teams need to win on Sunday, three just want to make it through Sunday without a playoff-crushing injury and the remaining 17 teams just want to get through 60 minutes of football and head to offseason and end what has been a lost season.
In both the NFC and AFC only one spot is still up for grabs, but only the NFC South winner as the 4-seed in the NFC and the Patriots as the 1-seed in the AFC are locked into their spots and not one matchup has been set yet. Week 17 is about as perfectly set up as you could want it to be if you’re a Giants fan like me (or a fan of any of the other 16 teams with nothing to play for) whose team is out of it. All I have left are my parlays, teasers and the hope for as much drama as possible to end the regular season.
(Home team in caps)
HOUSTON -9.5 over Jacksonville
Despite a three-game losing streak and being 5-6 at one point, the Texans are still alive for a playoff berth if they can win and Baltimore and San Diego lose. If the playoffs started today, none of the Texans’ eight wins would have come against the playoff team and the only way the 2014 Texans will have beaten a playoff team is if the Ravens find a way in, which of course, the Texans can’t have happen.
INDIANAPOLIS -7 over Tennessee
The Colts are locked into the 4-seed in the AFC and if they can survive Wild-Card Weekend, there’s a good chance they will head to Gillette and serve as the red carpet for the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game. Last week, when talking about the Cowboys-Colts game, I said, “The Colts don’t need it and can focus on staying healthy for the final two weeks before their inevitable first- or second-round playoff loss.” Then the Colts went out and lost 42-7 and proved that if the Colts can get through the first round, which is a big if at this point, they will get rolled in the divisional round on the road. But that doesn’t mean they won’t take the chance to steamroll the Titans here, which the Titans will gladly welcome en route to the No. 1 pick in the draft.
BALTIMORE -10 over Cleveland
Baltimore’s loss last week in Houston cost me a teaser and I wasn’t surprised it did since I have been so adamant about hating the Ravens and wanting them to lose all season. But now they are in a position where they can still make the playoffs if they beat Cleveland and San Diego loses to Kansas City. So I’m fully expecting the Ravens to rout the Browns and for the Chiefs to beat the Chargers, so the Ravens will get in the playoffs.
NEW ENGLAND -5 over Buffalo
The Patriots have nothing to play for. As long as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Darrelle Revis don’t get hurt, the Patriots will consider Week 17 a win even if they don’t win. The Bills lost their season to the Raiders and I can’t imagine them finding motivation to show up in Gillette with four quarters separating them from the offseason and vacation.
New York Jets +6 over MIAMI
Goodbye, Rex Ryan. It was painful watching you nearly make a team quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez become the Kings of the City in New York and it was relieving to watch you lead the Jets back to mediocrity, but the entire six-year ride was enjoyable from a non-Jets fan’s perspective. You gave me the 2010 divisional round win over the Patriots as 10-point underdogs (and more importantly a huge money line) and jump-started the Giants’ Super Bowl run in 2011 after Victor Cruz’s 99-yard touchdown on Christmas Eve. You gave us the memorable lines in the 2010 season of Hard Knocks and gave me plenty of column material over the last five seasons. I think I owe it to Rex to give him a real farewell next week. Even if he was never my team’s coach, he was still a likeable personality, who helped make the game fun during a time when there was plenty of reasons to believe it might no longer be fun. Thank you, Rex. You returned the Jets to where they should be and hopefully without you they stay there.
ATLANTA -4 over Carolina
If the Falcons win, they win the NFC South at 7-9. If the Panthers win, they win the NFC South at 7-9-1.
Minnesota -6 over CHICAGO
I like how Jay Cutler says he either wants to play in Chicago or Tennessee as if he’s established enough that he can pick and choose where he wants to play. And if the Bears don’t want him, why would the Titans? They are the worst team in the NFL and looking at the No. 1 pick in the draft. Does anyone think the Titans would deal that pick in some sort of package to acquire Cutler when he hasn’t started 16 games in a season since 2009? We know what Cutler is and that’s not going to change when he starts the 2015 season at age 32. But I’m sure the Titans will be jumping at the opportunity for the coveted chance to give up possibly having a franchise quarterback for the next decade in exchange for the quarterback that lost his job to Jimmy Clausen.
San Diego +3 over KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs still haven’t thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver this season. In a game that close, I’m going to use that as the reason to take the points at Arrowhead. Zero touchdown passes to wide receivers!
NEW YORK GIANTS -3 over Philadelphia
What would this line have been after Week 13 when the Giants were 3-9 and losers of seven straight and the Eagles were 9-3 and coming off a Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas? Philadelphia -7.5? But four weeks later, the Eagles are three-point underdogs on the road in the season finale after pissing away their near-guaranteed playoff berth at 9-3 thanks to three straight losses in which we were once again reminded why Mark Sanchez was run out of New York and isn’t the answer or future for any team in any city. I wish I cared enough about the Eagle’s demise to listen to Philadelphia sports radio and its callers because I’m sure there aren’t many of either left believing Chip Kelly is a genius, especially after losing a season-ending game to the Redskins, who won for the first time since Oct. 27 when they beat the Tony Romo-less Cowboys. I’m relieved the Eagles were eliminated before January because it’s one less team I have to worry about winning the Super bowl this year.
WASHINGTON +6 over Dallas
The Cowboys essentially have nothing to play for because so many unlikely things need to happen for them to move higher than the 3-seed. So the Cowboys are going to be the 3-seed and host either the Packers, Lions, Seahawks or Cardinals in the first round. (Right now it would be the Cardinals and I’m sure the Cowboys are hoping that it stays that way.) But until then, the Cowboys’ only goal for Week 17 is to be healthy for Wild-Card Weekend and when you’re not really playing to win, it’s hard to cover.
TAMPA BAY +4 over New Orleans
This is one horrible game. Everything I thought I knew about the Saints being unbeatable at the Superdome has been destroyed since they lost their final five home games of the season after having not lost at home during the Sean Payton era since the end of the 2010 season. But after losing 41-10 to the Panthers, the Saints followed that up by losing 30-14 to the Falcons in a win-or-go-home game. That’s 24 points in back-to-back games at the Superdome for the Saints with their season on the line. The Saints as I had known them over the last six year (minus the one year the NFL took away from them) no longer exist.
GREEN BAY -8 over Detroit
When I first thought about this game, I couldn’t see the Packers blowing out the Lions in a game that is the difference between having a first-round bye plus a second-round home game and having to go on the road in the first round. Then I remembered how the Lions played last week in Chicago against an awful team and Jimmy Clausen and it made my decision a lot easier.
SEATTLE -12.5 over St. Louis
When I see what the Jets’ defense was able to do in a game that meant absolutely nothing to them and everything to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, I started to daydream like Lloyd Christmas imagining life with Mary Swanson about the thought of the Seahawks’ defense playing against the Patriots on a neutral field. If the Patriots’ vaunted offense could only put up 17 points in a one-point win at home against the Jets, what are they going to do in a potential Super Bowl matchup against the best defense in the league? The Seahawks have five in a row (and eight of nine) and during the winning streak they have allowed 3, 3, 14, 7 and 6 points. That’s 6.6 points allowed per game in a league that has changed every rule to basically make it so every drive ends in some amount of points.
Arizona +6 over SAN FRANCISCO
I probably shouldn’t be taking the Cardinals here considering they are starting a quarterback (Logan Thomas), who wasn’t good enough a week ago to start over a quarterback (Ryan Lindley), who completed 18 of 44 pass attempts for 216 yards. Granted that start came against the Seahawks and both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton would have lost as well, but I’m not sure the guy who has completed one pass in nine career attempts is going to be much better.
(UPDATE: Apparently after one practice, Bruce Arians decided Logan Thomas wasn’t the best option and decided to go back to Ryan Lindley.)
DENVER -14 over Oakland
Terrance Knighton probably wishes he didn’t guarantee a Broncos Super Bowl win almost two weeks ago. Sure, I thought the Broncos would at least get to the Super Bowl if they could get the 1-seed and host the AFC Championship Game, but now that that’s not going to happen and with the way they Broncos have played for the last month, I’m not sure they will even win their first playoff game now that their bye is in danger. And on top of the Broncos’ current state of disarray, Peyton Manning is being asked and talking about his plans for 2015. Maybe the Broncos can flip the switch in January and look like the 6-1 team, whose only loss was in Seattle in overtime, but that’s a risky plan to believe in.
PITTSBURGH -3.5 over Cincinnati
I don’t feel good about this one, but I would feel better about the Patriots’ chances of being eliminated in the playoffs if they have to face the Steelers and for the Steelers to get to that point, I need the Steelers to be feeling good about themselves.
Last week: 8-8-0