NFL Week 17 preview and predictions

Don’t worry football fans, the playoffs are almost here. Heck, for some teams, the playoffs started weeks ago, and there are some playoff-caliber games going on this weekend, including an actual play-in game amongst teams that should have been eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.

Every Week 17 game is a divisional game, so despite some of them not meaning much for the playoffs, at least bragging rights will be involved in every game.

Anyways, last week was my worst ever record for picks, going 9-7, making my overall record 169-66-1. Hopefully, the regular season cumulates in a better manner.

 

Noon games 

San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7) (CBS)

Line: Chargers by 1. O/U: 40.5.

The only early game where both teams really need a win and are in playoff contention is one that looks a lot like last year’s finale for each team.

A year ago, the Chargers were hosting the Chiefs, needing a win to ensure a postseason berth. Various AFC teams were hoping that the Chiefs would prevail, thus eliminating the Chargers, and giving prospective teams like the Ravens and Steelers the final wildcard spot. Well, the Ravens lost their noon game, while the Steelers prevailed over the Browns.

The Chargers/Chiefs matchup was the lone late game that would have Wild Card implications, and it dod not disappoint. Chase Daniel started that game, in his lone career start. He fared well, throwing for 200 yards, running for an additional 59, scored a touchdown, and did not turn the ball over. In fact, the team did not turn the ball over.  However, the Chargers scored the game’s final 13 points, and won 27-24 in overtime.

Now then, today’s game is a bit different. First off, Jamaal Charles will be playing, while top Charger’s running back Ryan Matthews will not. Matthews ran for 144 yards in the 2013 finale, while Charles, a top three running back in the league, was absent. Also, the Chargers will likely be without Keenan Allen, so their receiving core will be depleted.

Finally, the Chiefs’ kicker who missed the potential game-winning field goal, Ryan Succop, is no longer on the team. His replacement, Cairo Santos, is actually better. So, while conventional wisdom points to the Chargers, there’s a lot of reason to go the other way. Head pick: 27-20 Chargers. Heart pick: 24-27 Chiefs.

Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

Line: Ravens by 13.5. O/U: 37.

Oh, what a wasted opportunity last week was for the Baltimore Ravens. First, the Chargers, who would’ve been eliminated with a loss and Ravens’ win, came back from a 21-point deficit in San Francisco last Saturday night. Then, the Texans laid an egg in Houston, despite facing a quarterback who had never won an NFL game. Now, they need a win, and must hope for a Chargers’ loss to get into the playoffs. Luckily for them, the Browns are still a mess, and will start undrafted rookie Connor Shaw to fill in for the injured Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer, so a win should be guaranteed. Still, this is the Ravens, so it’ll be closer than expected. Prediction: Browns 13, Ravens 27.

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Houston Texans (8-7) (CBS)

Line: Texans by 9.5. O/U: 40.5

If there’s any team still in the AFC Wild Card hunt that I would actually like to see in the playoffs, it would be the Houston Texans. Despite having no quarterback, the team has turned around from last year’s dismal 2-14 campaign. They have a scrappy, blue-collar squad, featuring the NFL’s lone defensive MVP candidate in JJ Watt. He is having yet another excellent year, garnering 17.5 sacks, eight of which have come in the last four games.

Meanwhile, on offense, running back Arian Foster has returned to near prime form. Andre Johnson may be past his prime, but is still capable of making plays on occasion. The team’s other receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, has emerged as one of the league’s best young receivers.

However, despite all this, the Texans need a win, combined with a Chargers and Ravens loss. While the latter is murky, the Texans should have no problems taking care of business. Prediction: Jaguars 10, Texans 28.

Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Washington Redskins (4-11) (FOX)

Line: Cowboys by 4. O/U: 49.

In the nation’s capital, two bitter rivals will square off for what might be the most irrelevant matchup in the rivalry’s recent history. The Cowboys clinched the NFC East with a 42-7 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts at home, and are cemented to the NFC’s third spot. That is, unless they win, and both the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals lose. If that happens, they get a bye. Both teams are facing somewhat stiff, yet subpar opponents, so it is possible.

The Redskins just want to end the season on a high note, and while they have struggled all season long, finishing the season with wins over two division rivals would help mend a few fences. But, I see the Cowboys showing up, playing hard, and completing an undefeated road schedule. Prediction: Cowboys 34, Redskins 23.

Indianapolis Colts (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-13) (CBS)

Line: Colts by 7. O/U: 46.5

The Week 17 Colts/Titans finale looked like a surefire bet for the week’s biggest blowout. That is, until the Colts stepped onto AT&T Stadium last Sunday. They got punched in the mouth early, shied away soon thereafter, and sure looked like a team accepting its fate as a Wild card host.  Still, the Titans are hopeless, and I see the Colts succeeding, regardless of who’s at quarterback. Prediction: Colts 24-13 with Hasselbeck, 34-17 with Luck.

New York Jets (3-12) at Miami Dolphins (8-7) (CBS)

Line: Dolphins by 6. O/U: 42.

Yuck. Both teams are a disappointment and irrelevant. Alas, I’ve only picked one upset, so why not add Rex Ryan’s potentially final game as Jets coach on the list? Prediction: Jets 21, Dolphins 20.

Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (6-9) (FOX)

Line: Vikings by 6. O/U: 45.

In the earlier NFC North tilt, we have two teams that went the opposite way this season. While the Vikings have exceeded expectations, the Bears have been a dumpster fire. As a result, the latter squad may be cleaning house, while the Vikings might be preparing for a bright future. The Bears could, and possibly should be the favorites, but seeing how disappointing they have been, the line doesn’t come as a surprise. I do not believe it will be that one-sided, but I do see the Vikings getting their seventh win today. Prediction: Bears 21, VIkings 24.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at New York Giants (6-9) (FOX)

Line: Giants by 2.5. O/U: 52.5

The NFC East showdown in the New Meadowlands may not have any playoff implications involved, but it could really light up the scoreboard. Both teams have quarterbacks that are hit or miss, running games that can go off on occasion (although the Eagles should be better than they are), and some big-time receivers. Odell Beckham Jr. is a frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and a strong showing against a divisional rival to close out the season could ensure him the award. I see the Giants closing out the season with their fourth straight win, as the Eagles do the exact opposite. It would be the perfect ending to describe each team’s year. Prediction: Eagles 27, Giants 31.

New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13) (FOX)

Line: Saints by 4. O/U: 46.5.

Ah, yes. The “Disappointment Bowl” has arrived! The game in Tampa Bay features arguably the two most disappointing teams in the NFL. The Saints were a dark horse Super Bowl contender, but have floundered in an incredible manner. Meanwhile, the Bucs were not expected to do nearly that well, but two wins is unacceptable for a team many thought could compete for a potential playoff spot down the stretch.

In the end, as fitting as a Saints’ loss would be, I simply cannot pick them to be the Bucs’ first victim in Tampa all season. That’s just pushing it too much. Expect the Saints to actually show up. Prediction: Saints 34, Bucs 20.

Buffalo BIlls (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3) (CBS)

Line: Patriots by 5. O/U: 43.5.

The final early game to be addressed could be quite the scuffle. Although the Patriots clinched the top spot in the AFC last week, while the BIlls were officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Pats could still start their top players. If they do, I see the team that’s won 25 of the last 27 of these matchups, in a close, hard fought game. If not, anything can happen: Prediction: With starters: Patriots 27-17. Without starters: Bills 24-17.

 

Late games (4:25/3:25c, CBS and FOX)

Detroit Lions (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-4) (FOX)

Line: Packers by 7.5. O/U: 47.5.

The best looking late afternoon game is the NFC North championship between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. Earlier this season, the Lions won in Detroit, 19-7. However, that game was in Week 3, and the Packers are a truly dominant team at home. I do not see the Lions getting throttled like a lot of the other teams that have been starched in Lambeau Field, but I do see a Packers victory. Prediction: Lions 20, Packers 34.

Oakland Raiders (3-12) at Denver Broncos (11-4) (CBS)

Line: Broncos by 14. O/U: 48.

The late AFC West showdown has the Broncos needing a win to ensure a bye. They are are 7-0 at home, while the Raiders are 0-7 on the road. Enough said. Prediction: Raiders 13, Broncos 35.

St. Louis Rams (6-9) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4) (FOX)

Line: Seahawks by 12. O/U: 41.

One of the sneakier games of Week 17 takes place in the Emerald City, as the St. Louis Rams, the last team to defeat the defending champions, take on those defending champion Seattle Seahawks. While the Seahawks are coming off a dominant 35-6 victory at Arizona, the Rams enter Week 17 having lost two straight after a pair of dominant shutouts. A win for Seattle grants it the top stop in the NFC, giving it home field throughout the playoffs, just like last year. However, a loss could take away their bye week hopes.

While I see this game being somewhat competitive, it’s clear the Rams are tired. They’ve been fighting adversity all season long, and probably should have won several more games than they did. While I believe this game will be close for about a half, Seattle should pull away late. Prediction: Rams 14, Seahawks 34.

Arizona Cardinals (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (7-8) (FOX)

Line: 49ers by 6.5. O/U: 37.

The other NFC West game also has some playoff ramifications. While the 49ers have been eliminated, having lost its last three games, the Cardinals still need to determine their seeding. A win for them could get them a bye, if Atlanta loses. A win would also give them a chance of getting the fifth seed.

That said, this is the 49ers game to lose. They were clearly the dominant team for most of last week’s game against San Diego, before crumbling late. They also have a starting quarterback worthy of playing in the NFL, unlike the Cardinals. Oh, and this will likely be Jim Harbaugh’s final game coaching them. No question about it, I’m picking the home team. Prediction: Cardinals 13, 49ers 27.

Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9) (CBS)

Line: Falcons by 3.5. O/U: 47.5.

The last late afternoon game to be addressed makes me shake my head in disbelief. Despite the fact that each team has only six wins thus far, the winner will win the NFC South, while the loser will wind up with a top ten draft pick. Alas, that’s what happens when the New Orleans Saints continuously choke like dogs.

This game is a matchup of varying strengths. The Falcons have a terrific passing offense, while the Panthers possess a top ten passing defense. The Falcons have lost three of five, and actually have a losing home record. Meanwhile the Panthers have won three straight games, allowing under 20 points in each one.

Honestly, I wish I didn’t have to pick either team. Both have been bad this year, and it’s embarrassing to know that one of these teams will be hosting either the Green Bay Packer or the Detroit Lions in about a week. But, for the sake of it, I’ll just go with the team that is 5-0 in this pathetic division. Prediction: Panthers 20, Falcons 23, OT.

Sunday Night Football (8:30/7:30c, NBC)

CIncinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

Line: Steeler by 3.5. O/U: 48.5.

The final game of the regular season will determine the winner of the AFC North. After a surprising 37-18 Monday night win agains the Denver Broncos, the Bengals could actually wind up with a first round bye if they win, and the Broncos fall to the Raiders. Okay, forget I said that.

The first time these two teams played this season, the game was actually pretty exciting. That Week 14 showdown saw the Bengals take a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter, before the Steelers reeled off 25 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to close things out. Ben Roethlisberger played a great game, as did running back Leveon Bell. And while Bengals star wide receiver AJ Green caught 11 passes for 224 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown, it was Martavis Bryant’s 94-yarder that was the most memorable passing play of the day.

I see this game being pretty similar the the first go around. I see the Steelers leading a close game for the better part of three quarters, before pulling away late. Prediction: Bengals 24, Steelers 38.

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