Kirk Cousins will be in the only playoff QB earning a rest today. Reminder his team is 8-7. (Photo: Keith Allison)
The 2015 NFL season has reached it’s final week and for all but 12 teams, this is the end of football until next September. The Eagles are one of those teams playing out the string, but their game is important from the standpoint that a loss could catapult them into a top 10 draft pick. Mark Sanchez anyone?
But Eagles aside, we’ve got one playoff spot up for grabs in the AFC (Jets or Steelers), a few division titles at stake (AFC West, NFC North), and homefield advantage in both conferences is yet to be decided. Yes that’s right, the formerly 14-0 Carolina Panthers can still finish 2nd in the NFC if they lose and the Cardinals win. And in the AFC, a Patriots loss coupled with a Broncos win sends the AFC playoffs through Denver. The Broncos can also finish as low as 6th if they lose to the Chargers and the Chiefs beat the Raiders. So yeah, lots still at stake here in NFL Week 17.
In addition to picks, I’ll try to nail down the playoff scenarios as best I can and set up the playoff bracket for next week. The Packers/Vikings game obviously has the most influence on the seedings, but a Bills win over the Jets likely sends the Steelers (vs Browns at 1pm) to the playoffs. The Patriots, Panthers, Broncos, and Chiefs all have easy matchups on paper, but anything can happen in division games. Oh and there’s only one team that can rest starters this week – the Washington Redskins, winners of the worst division in NFL history. If you’re ready to drink away all memory of the 2015 NFL season, you aren’t alone. Let’s get to the picks.
EARLY AFTERNOON GAMES
New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills (+3)
The Jets are playoff-bound if they can beat their former coach in his new city to the north. The Bills won’t have Lesean McCoy today, so we’ll see Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee against the Jets #1 run defense. Steelers fans, you can start getting nervous. The Jets have been impressive under rookie head coach Todd Bowles (remember him Eagles fans?) and they’ve gotten a career year from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jets finish the job and snag the last wild card in the AFC.
PICK: JETS -3
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins (+10)
The Pats have been besieged by injuries this season and it gets no better in Week 17 with linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones joining the growing inactives list. New England has locked up at least a bye and they’ll clinch the top seed with a win here, but they’re limping to the finish line. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are fairly healthy and looking to end a disastrous 2015 season on a high note. I don’t think Miami pulls the outright upset, but this looks like one of those ugly 24-20 Pats wins, where they morph their offense into some ball-control hybrid to deal with the injuries.
PICK: DOLPHINS +10
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals (-9.5)
The Bengals will have AJ McCarron in this game, which they need to win to have any shot at a bye. The Ravens will again start Ryan Mallett following their stunning upset of the Steelers last week. I’ll take McCarron in this matchup, which shows why Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is getting head coaching consideration. Hint hint Jeff Lurie.
PICK: BENGALS -9.5
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons (-5.5)
The Falcons are fighting the Steelers for that 20th overall pick, the worst selection since its the highest pick for a non-playoff team. They’ll face the Saints in what could be Sean Payton’s finale in New Orleans. The Saints are, as usual, 2-5 on the road and Drew Brees has been hobbling through these last couple weeks. I’ll lay the 5.5 with Brees hurt and the Saints away from the Superdome.
PICK: FALCONS -5.5
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans (-6.5)
The Texans only have 90% of the AFC South clinched (Colts need several miracles) so they technically need to play their starters the full game here, but one of those starters is still Brandon Weeden and there’s no way in hell I’m laying 6.5 points on him in a game he most likely doesn’t need to win. The Jags have shown they can at least be functional on offense and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win this game outright.
PICK: JAGUARS +6.5 (Note: it’s actually Bryan Hoyer starting. This is what I get for working on the column early. Deserved loss.)
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns (+11)
The Steelers need the Jets to lose in order to have a path to the playoffs, but there’s no reason they won’t take advantage against a Browns team that might be the NFL’s worst. Pittsburgh probably wins this game by 30 points but it won’t matter unless Rex Ryan pulls the upset against his old squad. Steelers fans rooting for the Pats, Bengals, and now Rex Ryan these last two weeks has got to feel strange.
PICK: STEELERS -11
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts (-6)
This has the potential to be the worst game of the weekend. In this matchup, we’ll get the quarterback duel of Zach Mettenberger vs Josh Freeman. The 2015 Colts are remarkably similar to the 2015 Eagles in the amount of hype they received preseason vs their actual results and like the Eagles, they’ll be dumping their head coach quickly following this game. I have no clue what to make of this one, so I’m just taking the points.
PICK: TITANS +6
Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys (-4)
The Skins will be resting starters in this one as they’ve locked up the NFC East and can’t advance higher then the 4th seed. Dallas could likely start Quincy Carter at quarterback and still get a win here. And that’s all that really deserves to be said about this dreadful NFC East game.
PICK: COWBOYS -4 (Note: Cousins started the game and threw 3 TDs before leaving. Again, deserved loss.)
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears (+1)
Not sure what to make of this one either. The Bears are a stunning 1-6 at home, but they’ve played a little better in recent weeks, enough to earn offensive coordinator Adam Gase some serious head coaching buzz. The Lions coach is Jim Caldwell, who’s yet to blink once during his two years with Detroit. The Bears won’t have Alshon Jeffrey, which means ground and pound on offense and maybe 13 passing attempts from Jay Cutler. But despite that brilliant offensive strategy, I’m taking the Lions to send the Bears to 1-7 at home. The Lions have far more weapons on offense than the Bears without Jeffrey causing matchup nightmares.
PICK: LIONS -1
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants (-5)
The Eagles absolutely must lose this game, so of course they’ll win it since it’s the Giants in the new Meadowlands. Pat Shurmur will be coaching the Eagles in his final game with the team against Tom Coughlin, who’s also likely in his final game with the Giants. The end of a era! The Eagles owned the Giants under Coughlin more than any team in recent memory and it’s truly sad to see such an era of dominance end. Hopefully they hire Steve Spagnuolo to replace him.
PICK: EAGLES +5
LATE SUNDAY GAMES
Tampa Bay Bucs @ Carolina Panthers (-10.5)
The Panthers had talked about resting starters vs going for 16-0, but thanks to their loss to the Falcons, they have to play to win for four quarters against Tampa to lock in homefield advantage. They shouldn’t have any trouble against a fading Bucs team, losers of three in a row after a charge back into the playoff picture. Cam cements his MVP case with a big Week 17 win to go to 15-1.
PICK: PANTHERS -10.5
Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs (-7)
The Chiefs can still win the AFC West with a win and a Broncos loss and they should make it 10 in a row against the Raiders today. Oakland finally has some good young talent for the first time in the post-Al Davis world and Raiders fans can actually be hopeful going into the 2016 season. But it’s probably better for them to catch an L today and it’s tough to bet against the Chiefs at the moment (even though we did it last week and won). I’ll take Andy one more time to close the book on another 11-win season.
PICK: CHIEFS -7
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos (-9.5)
The Broncos can wrap up the second seed and a bye in the AFC with a win over the hapless Chargers. It’s amazing a team with Philip Rivers at quarterback could potentially lose 12 games, but San Diego has lost receiver after receiver to serious injury, they can’t run the ball, and their defense employs one of Gus Bradley’s favorite “Don’t Cover Anyone” schemes. Broncos win big and have two weeks to sit on the Brock Osweiler-Peyton Manning decision.
PICK: BRONCOS -9.5
St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers (+3.5)
The Niners are likely to fire Jim Tomsula after the game, ending a hilarious one-year run as the first plumber to ever coach an NFL team. Seriously, has there ever been someone who looked more like they were from Pittsburgh than Jim Tomsula? The guy sweats coleslaw on the sidelines trying to figure out which draw play to run on 3rd and 12. The Rams aren’t better off since they’ll be retaining their inept coach for next year despite ANOTHER losing season. Jeff Fisher could teach James Bond a thing or two about escaping certain death. Rams win because Fisher loves meaningless games.
PICK: RAMS -3.5
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals (-6.5)
The best game of the afternoon could be derailed by a Carolina win, which would set Arizona into the second seed and enable them to rest starters. Bruce Arians likely keeps one eye on the on the out-of-town scoreboard in this one after watching Ryan Lindley start for his team in the playoffs last year. And since the Panthers are playing are playing the Bucs, we might see Carson Palmer in street clothes by the 2nd half. The Seahawks somehow lost to the Rams last week, but I wouldn’t bet on them slipping up twice in a row against the Cardinals’ backups. Easy pick here.
PICK: SEAHAWKS +6.5
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers -3
The is your Sunday Night Football finale for the 2015 NFL season and it’s a good one with the NFC North title on the line. The Packers’ offense has been shaky at best with their unproven receiving corps and Aaron Rodgers isn’t throwing up and down the field like we’re used to seeing. The Vikings clinched at least a playoff berth with their blowout win over the Giants and have gone from 7 wins to 10 (with a chance at 11) in Mike Zimmer’s second season. And unlike past Vikings/Packers matchups, Minnesota is actually getting competent quarterback play from Teddy Bridgewater. But Aaron Rodgers said the Packers will win when it matters and I tend to believe him. Packers take the NFC North.
PICK: PACKERS -3
So if my picks above come to fruition, this is what you’re NFL playoff bracket would look like:
1) Patriots 1) Panthers
2) Broncos 2) Cardinals
3) Bengals 3) Packers
4) Texans 4) Redskins
5) Chiefs 5) Seahawks
6) Jets 6) Vikings
Not a great looking opening weekend for the NFL playoffs (especially Chiefs-Texans), but the rematch of Packers/Vikings is intruging and I’m sure the Redskins remember their 2012 home playoff loss to the Seahawks pretty vividly. It’s truly wide open this year, so next week we’ll do playoff picks and take a look at a couple futures bets and see which of these teams has the best-looking odds to make it to the Super Bowl. That’s it for this week, enjoy your final Red Zone Sunday of this NFL season and LETS GO GIANTS!