Another decent week in the penultimate week of the season, and I try to finish out strong but here’s where the story ends for 20 of the 32 teams in the NFL with the conclusion of the 93rd NFL regular season. Of the 12 playoff spots 7 are already claimed including all of the division champions in the AFC; but to the delight of our beloved Commissioner Rozelle way up in his super sky box, there are tons of meaningful games in the finale of the 2013 season. None of the divisions in the NFC have been claimed, four teams are jockeying for the final AFC wild card spot with only one team locked into its playoff slot (KC is the #1 wild card and will travel to the #4 team next weekend) No fewer than 13 of the 16 game this Sunday with some kind of Playoff implications. These games will have the designations in the capsule, I avoided placing the possibility of ties dropping in the mix since the last time an NFL season had multiple tie games was 1997. To no one’s surprise, the Cowboys-Eagles game was designated as the wild card flex game with the NFC East title on the line. The odds are provided by ESPN Scorecenter and are strictly for entertainment and comparison purposes only. SinceI’m tapped out from Christmas and don’t pay off bookies, you’re on your own if you bet the lines and get took.
NFL SCHEDULE – WEEK 17
Sunday, December 29
Ravens (8-7) @ Bengals (10-5)
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati 1:00 (CBS)
Favorite Bengals by 6½
Last Week Ravens lost to Patriots 41-7, Bengals defeated Vikings 42-14
Playoff Implications Bengals have already clinched AFC North Championship; can clinch first round bye with win AND Patriots loss, Ravens clinch wild card with win and losses by Dolphins or Chargers
Fast Fact The Bengals have averaged 34.4 points per game at home this season and have scored 40 or more in each of its last four home games.
The Ravens were the chic pick last week with the “Champions coming together at the right time” talk. There was one small problem, the lack of a running game, limited mobility of Joe Flacco and the suspect schedule finally caught up to them and they got housed by the Patriots (just as your humble scribe said that they would) Now they need help to make the playoffs, which is not very likely facing a Bengals team eager to deep six their hated divisional foes fledgling postseason dreams. The Bengals looked sharp in thrashing a woeful Vikings secondary and if their defense gets to Joe Flacco they will carry the day. With an outside chance at getting a bye, for once the Bengals cash in the opportunity and finish an unbeaten home sked, only their 4th in team history.
Panthers (11-4) @ Falcons (4-11)
Georgia Dome, Atlanta 1:00 (FOX)
Favorite Panthers by 5½
Last Week Panthers defeated Saints 17-13, Falcons lost to 49ers 34-24
Playoff Implications Panthers have clinched a playoff berth and can clinch NFC South with win OR Saints loss
Fast Fact This will be the final game for the Canton-bound TE Tony Gonzalez who is one of five receivers to have surpassed the 15,000 yards receiving plateau, he will retire with the most receptions (1321), yards (15,071) and TD’s (111) of any tight end in NFL history.
The Panthers won a taut duel with the Saints and now are in control of not only the NFC South but a coveted first round bye as well. The Falcons are at the tail end of a most disappointing season and coming off a painful loss at San Francisco where they had a real shot of pulling the upset. Cam Newton continues to blossom before us into a real leader and big game player. The Panthers are playoff bound and will want to finish strong to gain that bye. I see no real reason why the Falcons will be able to offer anything more than token resistance
Browns (4-11) @ Steelers (7-8)
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh 1:00 (CBS)
Favorite Steelers by 7
Last Week Browns lost to Jets 24-13, Steelers defeated Packers 38-31
Playoff Implications Steelers clinch playoff berth with win ANDlosses by Ravens, Chargers AND Dolphins
Fast Fact The Browns have lost in their last nine visits to Heinz Field (1-11 overall)
The brash Steelers are sure that they have destiny on their side…hey they’re the Steelers they always get the breaks and they are sure that they will get them here. First up a cakewalk game against the Browns who are already looking at tee times and the fastest way out of town when this is all over, then as sure as they are sure everything falls their way and they make an improbable playoff appearance, Bully the Bengals and march to another Super Bowl title to lord over all the non-believers. Problem is, though I have them winning this game. It will be a pyrrhic victory since they will soon find out that though the Ravens will lose, either the Dolphins or Chargers will not and the Steelers supposed manifest destiny will look like so much braying in the cold wind of reality of an 8-8 season.
Lions (7-8) @ Vikings (4-10-1)
Mall of America Field @ HHH Metrodome, Minneapolis1:00 (FOX)
Favorite Vikings by 3
Last Week Lions lost to Giants 23-20 in OT, Vikings lost to Bengals 42-14
Fast Fact This is the Vikings final game in the Metrodome as they move to TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota for two seasons while their new facilityis built. The Vikings are 162-89 over the last 30 years at this facility (Not counting the 2010 game played in Detroit after the roof collapse)
The Lions frittered away their playoff chances in stunning loss to the G-Men while the Vikings got straight housed in Cincy by a rampaging Bengals squad. Which team is the bigger mess? The Lions have so much talent on both sides of the ball, yet play maddeningly inconsistent. That is a word that could describe every facet of the Vikings. Their offense played high speed and high scoring against the Eagles two weeks ago only to drop an o-fer on 3rd down the next against Cincy. Matt Stafford could really have his way against a weak Vikes secondary but Adrian Peterson is determined to play in the dome’s finale. The Lions have never played well in the dome and will likely be glad to see it go, having lost 14 of their last 15 visits. Just for the heck of it, I think the Vikings reach deep and pull one out, just to frustrate the Lions.
Texans (2-13) @ Titans (6-9)
LP Field, Nashville 1:00 (CBS)
Favorite Titans by 5½
Last Week Texans lost to Broncos 37-13, Titans defeated Jaguars 20-16
Fast Fact Since defeating the Titans on Sep 15th, neither they nor the MLB Astros have won since.
Both teams are going nowhere but the Titans are trying to finish strong and the Texans are trying to get off the longest losing streak in the NFL in a decade. I’m thinking that the Titans would like to avoid being the one that they couldn’t beat in the division. I also think the Texans started mailing it in a long time ago.
Jaguars (4-11) @ Colts (10-5)
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis 1:00 (CBS)
Favorite Colts by 10½
Last Week Jaguars lost to Titans 20-16, Colts defeated Chiefs 23-7
Playoff Implications Colts have already clinched AFC South Championship and can clinch bye with win AND losses by Patriots AND Bengals
Fast Fact If the Jaguars lose by 7 points they will finish with the exact same record and point differential as they did in 2012 (4-12, -182)
The Jags were being earmarked as possibly one of the league’sall-time worst teams, now they’re looking like just another bad outfit. They won’t even finish last and as mediocre seasons go they will be just another doormat. Facing a Colts team that still harbors dreams of a 1st round bye in addition to home playoff games, the Jags are badly overmatched having scored the fewest points in the league (and it aint even close) and tied with the Raiders giving up the most points in the AFC. The Colts might not repeat the 37-3 shellacking they laid on the Jags exactly 3 months ago, but they won’t be threatened either.
NY Jets (7-8) @ Dolphins (8-7)
Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens 1:00 (CBS)
Favorite Dolphins by 5½
Last Week Jets defeated Browns 24-13, Dolphins lost to Bills 19-0
Playoff Implications Dolphins clinch wild card with win AND Ravens loss or Win AND Chargers win
Fast Fact Since their last road win the Jets are 0-4 losing by anaverage of 34-12
The Jets are playing with some fire down the stretch though many think that their grinning jeering coach is dead man walking. They played well in their home finale and now face a Dolphins squad that many figured would crumble in light of the Martin/Incognito mess but despite their flat performance in Buffalo are still in line to snag a wild card berth, I still like the play of Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace and for some strange reason think the Dolphins will bounce back nicely.
Redskins (3-12) @ NY Giants (6-9)
MetLife Stadium; East Rutherford, NJ 1:00 (FOX)
Favorite Giants by 3½
Last Week Redskins lost to Cowboys 24-23, Giants defeated Lions 23-20 in OT
Fast Fact The Redskins are trying to avoid their longest losing streak in over 50 years and their worst season since 1994
The Redskins are a team in turmoil though they did play heroically in a tough tight loss to their hated rivals in Dallas. The G-Men are finishing strong and put the Lions out of their misery with a come from behind OT win. Though Kirk Cousins is playing decently at QB, he is a place holder. One wonders if Mike Shannahan will be back as coach, the G-Men are as just as much in flux with Eli Manning throwing a bushel of interceptions and will not have the services of Victor Cruz. Are the redskins good enough to win their finale? Ummmm…no.
Pick-New York Giants
Bills (6-9) @ Patriots (11-4)
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, MA 4:25 (CBS)
Favorite Patriots by 8½
Last Week Bills defeated Dolphins 19-0; Patriots defeated Ravens 41-7
Playoff Implications Patriots have already clinched AFC East Championship; can clinch 1st round bye with win or losses by Bengals AND Colts
Fast Fact The Bills have never won in Gillette Stadium (0-12)
The Bills ambushed the Dolphins in their home finale and looked rather stout on the defensive side. Pats stunned the so-called experts with a thrashing of the Ravens and are now in control of the second bye. Though the Bills are playing a lot better as of late, asking them to win in Foxboro is a bit over their skill set as of now, the Pats are aging before our eyes but still have enough in the tank to make a final push into a much needed bye. To the disappointment of the Bengals and Colts fans that were hoping for a rollover, it’ll be the Bills who get rolled up on.
Broncos (12-3) @ Raiders (4-11)
o.Co Coliseum, Oakland 4:25 (CBS)
Favorite Broncos by 12
Last Week Broncos defeated Texans 37-13; Raiders lost to Chargers 26-13
Playoff Implications Broncos have clinched AFC West Championship AND 1st round bye; can clinch home field advantage with win or Patriots loss
Fast Fact The Broncos need 18 points to break the NFL record for points in season and 28 points to be the first team to ever score 600 points in a season; don’t bet against it the Broncos have only scored under 28 points twice this season.
This just isn’t fair; the Broncos finish the season against a pair of dog teams with butta booty soft defenses. If Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles could strafe the Raiders defense what do you think that Manning and all his weapons will do? Keeping a close eye on the game 3100 miles to the east (Its actually 3097 but work with me, folks) Needing a loss by the Pats to assuage their fears of having to travel further than back to Denver the Broncos should make this a moot point by dominating the Raiders who will have 11 seasons running without a winning season.
Packers (7-7-1) @ Bears (8-7)
Soldier Field, Chicago 4:25 (FOX)
Favorite Packers by 3
Last Week Packers lost to Steelers 38-31; Bears lost to Eagles 54-11
Playoff Implications Winner clinches NFC North
Fast Fact The Bears have allowed 11 individual 100 yard rushing games this season, if they allow another it will match the winless 2008 Detroit Lions for the most allowed in a season
The Packers buoyed by the return of their all-everything QB face a winner take all showdown on the Midway, in the 8 games without Aaron Rodgers the Pack went 2-5-1 with the wins by a total margin of 2 points. Manning may be the league MVP, but Rodgers is the team’s most indispensable part of their offense and team and are much more complete with the running of Eddie Lacy and against the soft Bears defense, especially their run defense. The Packers will find the going quite easy. You wonder if Bears coach Marc Trestman is having 2nd thoughts about changing quarterbacks after Cutler played fairly indifferent in their Sunday night, but even with the home crowd, the Bears are not the better team. Yes, a rusty Rodgers will be that much more of a difference. .
Chiefs (11-4) @ Chargers (8-7)
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego 4:25 (CBS)
Favorite Chargers by 9
Last Week Chiefs lost to Colts 23-7; Chargers defeated Raiders 26-13
Playoff Implications Chargers clinch playoff spot with win AND losses by Dolphins AND Ravens, Chiefs are locked into #5 AFC playoff slot
Fast Fact Chargers are 5-0 when RB Ryan Mathews has 20 or more carries.
The Chiefs played extremely flat in their home finale and with another road trip to be determined to a playoff game have nothing to play for. This bodes well for the Chargers who are barreling down the home stretch in a late desperate dash for an improbable playoff spot which included a wild shootout win in Arrowhead a month ago. This game might be meaningless if either the Dolphins or Ravens win earlier in the day though. I’llsay that they Chargers despite having nothing to play for finish out strong.
49ers (11-4) @ Cardinals (10-5)
University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, AZ 4:25 (FOX)
Last Week 49ers defeated Falcons 34-24; Cardinals defeated Seahawks 17-10
Playoff Implications 49ers clinch NFC West with win and Seahawks loss, home field advantage with and losses by both Seahawks AND Panthers. Cardinals clinch wild card berth with win and Saints Loss.
Fast Fact A Cards win would tie a franchise record for win set in 1975, but might still leave them as the 2nd team to miss the playoffs with 11 wins (2008 Patriots)
This is likely the best game anyone east of the Rockies likelywon’t see. The Niners are going to the playoffs and are hoping for a little help to steal the division crown but the Cards are playing like a desperate team and have been a tough out down the back half of the season. I think that behind a crazy crowd the Cards come out smoking and pull the shocker. It won’t matter, because other fates will keep the best team you know nothing about from making postseason noise and the other 6 teams that do make it will breathe a subtle sigh of relief
Pick-Arizona (Upset of the Week)
Rams (7-8) @ Seahawks (12-3)
Century Link Field, Seattle 4:25 (FOX)
Favorite Seahawks by 11
Last Week Rams defeated Buccaneers 23-13 Seahawks lost to Cardinals 17-10
Playoff Implications Seahawks clinch NFC west and home field advantage win OR 49ers loss
Fast Fact A Seahawks win matches the 2005 Super Bowl team for record number of wins.
It was supposed to be the beginning of a month long home stand march to the Super Bowl, but the Seahawks got zapped by the Cards and now the questions and doubt creep in like a Puget Sound fog, the Seahawks are another loss away from falling all the way from top seed to a 5 seed and road playoff games. The Rams are far from a pushover and have been playing a lot of players you’ve likely never heard of like Zac Stacy and Kellen Clemens to a nice late season run. I’m thinking the Seahawks got their wakeup call last week and will leave nothing to chance to lock away the home field advantage.
Buccaneers (4-11) @ Saints (10-5)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans 4:25 (FOX)
Favorite Saints by 12
Last Week Buccaneers lost to Rams 23-13, Saints lost to Panthers 17-13
Playoff Implications Saints clinch NFC South and first round bye with win AND Panthers loss, clinches wild card berth with win OR Cardinals loss.
Fast Fact Saints QB Drew Brees needs 219 passing yards to eclipse 5000 yards for the third straight season extending his record.
The Bucs are playing out the string but look to be the spoiler as the Saints road woes have hurt them to the point that they could be playing their home finale and heading out of their formidable venue to face an uncertain fate on the road. No longer in control of their divisional fate, the Saints will have to win, wait and wonder. The first part shouldn’t be a problem as the Saints Jekyll and Hyde act will be a house of horrors for their guest. Brees should get his yardage and the Saints should romp, but it’shighly likely that the Saints won’t be home for New Year’s or beyond.
Eagles (9-6) @ Cowboys (8-7)
AT&T Stadium; Arlington, TX 8:30 (NBC)
Favorite Eagles by 6½
Last Week Eagles defeated Bears 54-11; Cowboys defeated Redskins 24-23
Playoff Implications Winner clinches NFC East
Fast Fact The Cowboys have the NFL’s worst record in Week 17 games (2-11)
The Eagles could have rested and coasted into this do or die showdown instead they dropped a frightening 54-11 rout on the Bears that shook off thoughts of a look ahead mentality. The Pokes again tottered badly with an overmatched Redskins squad but drove the length of the field to get the win. The wonks that so dearly love Tony Romo point to his drive to win and scream “See he IS clutch.” Problem is Romo is now out with a herniated disk on had surgery on Friday, despite the bleatings you heard from Coach Jerry Jones….uhhh coach Jason Garrett. Head poobah, Jerry Jones was trying to fool everyone into thinking Romo would play but everyone and their brother knew it would be Kyle Orton getting the start. In an interesting side note, the Pokes signed 41 year old Jon Kitna from a teaching job in Tacoma Washington to a backup position (which I know irks Tim Tebow fans) and Kitna will donate his game check to the school he teaches math for. Kitna will only get that one check, because the Eagles sharp run game and hot offense won’t give the Pokes a 2nd opportunity to beat on them. The Cowboys won’tpull this one out and mercifully be sent home.
Pick-Philadelphia (Lock of the Week)
Last Week: 11-5 (Lock & Upset Correct)