For the Win - Week 17
Updated 12/30 by Jeff Pasquino, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
Ah, yes - Week 17 - my favorite week to pick football games. Everyone is giving 100% and there's no chance of any halfhearted efforts or mailing in any games - right? Sure.... Well, I'm going to try and do my best here and see what shakes out, but everything could change by the time the late games kick off on Sunday. Let's just play this by ear and see how I think things will shake out, shall we?
There's actually some very meaningful games despite it being the final week of the year, so let's get going with this week's slate of games:
Note that the lines and Over/Unders are taken from VegasInsider.com.
INDIANAPOLIS (+6) at BUFFALO
The Colts left a very bad taste in their collective mouths last week with the loss to the Jets as they pulled all of their starters. While I expect Peyton Manning to play no more than the first quarter, Buffalo is just not any good and Indianapolis will get Curtis Painter ready for a virtual start against a tough defense. The Colts defense should be able to hold Buffalo under 20 points, so as long as Donald Brown can put up solid numbers and find the end zone I expect Indianapolis to win a close game or lose by no more than three. Pick: Colts.
NEW ORLEANS (+4.5) at CAROLINA
The Saints need to step it up and get a win here despite them having backed into the top seed in the NFC playoffs. After a bad loss to Tampa Bay last week, New Orleans does not want a losing streak heading into their bye. Carolina is playing quite well with two consecutive upsets against the Giants and Vikings, but I still like picking a motivated Drew Brees. Week 17 is a weird one, and that's why you can get a 13-2 team getting points, so I'll take them. Pick: Saints.
NEW ENGLAND (+8) at HOUSTON
The Patriots are not known for packing it in late in the season, even with seemingly nothing at stake. Traveling on the road to a team that has some playoff hopes likely means that Bill Belichick will have all his players up and ready to finish on a high note to get ready for their opening home game the next week on Wild Card Weekend. Houston does have solid offensive weapons with Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub, but Randy Moss and Tom Brady really got it going last week and should easily cover this line. I like the money line in this one as well (floating around +300) as you won't see the Patriots getting points against a 8-7 team very often. Pick: Patriots.
MINNESOTA (-8.5) vs. NEW YORK GIANTS
Minnesota simply must get a win before heading into the postseason, and with a home game against the Giants, a team that was thoroughly decimated by Carolina last week, Minnesota may be getting just the right opponent for Week 17. The Vikings lost a heartbreaker on the road in Chicago on Monday Night Football, but keep in mind that they were brutal in the first half and finally got in gear in the final 30 minutes to come back and nearly get a win against a divisional opponent on the road. It was tough sledding for the Vikings who are built for home games and love to play on the turf. Look for Adrian Peterson to break 100 yards and Brett Favre to also have a big day as he will go throw for throw against Eli Manning. Both quarterbacks are good fantasy bets against weakened secondaries but I will go with the team with a better run offense and run defense and the club who really needs the win. Pick: Vikings.
SAN FRANCISCO (-7) at ST. LOUIS
The 49ers are playing good football right now, while the Rams can't wait until 2010 starts. There's zero incentive for St. Louis to get after this game as if they lose they will get the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Steven Jackson did not suit up last week and may be rested again as the questionable Keith Null gets another start. Alex Smith is carving up defenses right now for San Francisco as he tries to impress everyone to keep his role as the starter as San Francisco starts looking towards next year. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, along with Frank Gore, should provide plenty of firepower to cover a touchdown. The 49ers are also motivated to get to 8-8 and build on that for 2010. Pick: 49ers.
ATLANTA (-2) at TAMPA BAY
The Falcons are trying to finish the season on a high note and get to a 9-7 record, finishing the year above .500 for the second year in a row and represent the first time in franchise history that they had back-to-back winning seasons, dating back all the way to 1966. Tampa Bay does not have much to play for, but they will not be rolling over that easy against an NFC South foe. Look for the Bucs to put up a good fight but Matt Ryan is playing very well right now and the Falcons are motivated. Pick: Falcons.
PITTSBURGH (-3) at MIAMI
This game will have the look of a playoff game, but Miami needs so much help (a win and losses by the Jets, Texans, Jaguars and Ravens) that they may pack it in sooner rather than later. I think that they will try their best, but the Steelers are really putting everything that they have into these game lately, eeking out wins over two probable playoff teams (Green Bay, Baltimore) at home and now they have to go to Miami to get one last victory to keep their hopes alive. The Dolphins are struggling in their pass defense right now and Big Ben is throwing very well (such as his 503 yard performance against the Packers). I'll take Pittsburgh for the win and then they'll be intently rooting for Cincinnati that same night. Pick: Steelers.
CHICAGO (-3) at DETROIT
The Bears are coming off of a big win on Monday Night Football at home over Minnesota, a huge back and forth affair that wound up in overtime. Detroit's excitement is the possibility of getting the top pick in the 2010 NFL Draft if the Rams stumble and win. Detroit has just Calvin Johnson to offer, and unfortunately it is Daunte Culpepper once again to close the season at quarterback. The Bears will bring Matt Forte, Greg Olsen and several wide receiver options and likely close out the year with another win as they will take out Detroit by at least a touchdown. Pick: Bears.
JACKSONVILLE (+2) at CLEVELAND
Jacksonville needs a big win here at Cleveland and a ton of help just to have a chance to get into the playoffs. The Jaguars need to win this game and get four of the five teams in contention with them to get a loss (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Houston, Denver and New York Jets) As for the Browns, the two big stories have been Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison as both players are threats to score whenever they touch the ball. The one story line that has not gotten much play is how well the defense is playing right now for Cleveland, and that is what David Garrard and company must contend with on Sunday. Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker must each find the end zone in Week 17 and the Jaguars must find a way to keep the Browns' Cribbs and Harrison under wraps. It will be close so I am going to side with the Jaguars here despite Cleveland's recent success. Pick: Jaguars.
PHILADELPHIA (+3) at DALLAS
Arguably the biggest game of the week, both teams have plenty to play for in this one. Should the Eagles win, they become the second seed in the NFC and win both the NFC East and a bye. Dallas can also win the NFC East with a victory and possibly finish as the second seed but would need a good deal of help. Odds would be strong that a Cowboys victory would make this game a preview of the Wild Card Weekend as a repeat would be likely (Dallas hosting Philadelphia). So what about the game itself? Dallas is struggling to run the ball but throwing it well, while the Eagles are able to do both lately as they are getting healthy at just the right time. Jeremy Maclin is back and so in Brian Westbrook. Miles Austin is an explosive player for Dallas but so is DeSean Jackson. The Eagles are the hottest team in the NFC and with so much at stake I lean towards that trend to continue with the Eagles winning a tough one, 31-24. Pick: Eagles.
BALTIMORE (-10.5) at OAKLAND
The Ravens need this game badly, and they are coming off of a tough road loss at Pittsburgh last week. The Raiders have been an upset threat all year with big wins over Philadelphia, Denver and Cincinnati but Baltimore should be able to head out to the West and get the job done. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are both playing at very high levels and the Raiders are relying heavily on their defense. I expect Baltimore to top 27 points in this one while Oakland struggles to get close to 14. Pick: Ravens.
TENNESSEE (-4) at SEATTLE
The Titans are playing well and the Seahawks are not but let's understand the full story of this game. Two words: Chris Johnson. Tennessee will give him every chance to top every possible rushing record this week for a single season. Johnson needs 62 yards to set a Titan/Oiler franchise record (Earl Campbell had 1,934 yards in 1980). Getting 75 combined (rushing / receiving) yards would give Johnson 2,356 yards from scrimmage, breaking Marshall Faulk's record from 199). Rushing for 128 yards would get him to 2,000 and if he should he get 233 yards on the ground (he did have 228 against Jacksonville this year) then he would break Eric Dickerson's NFL record for a season. Seattle, that's for playing the straight man here. Chris Johnson 21, Washington (State) Generals 6. Pick: Titans.
SAN DIEGO (-3.5) vs. WASHINGTON
The Chargers are the hottest team in the AFC but they have nothing to play for this week. It could get tricky as they also have a bye next weekend, so taking this game and the next one off may not sit well with the players or the fans. The good news is that San Diego can start the first string for the first 20 minutes of the game and build a quick lead against a woeful Redskins who have mailed in efforts against Dallas and the Giants the past two weeks. If Washington can't get up for two divisional games, how are they going to manage to play well as they travel all the way out to San Diego? The Chargers will be up by 17 by halftime and cruise the rest of the way home for an easy double-digit win. Pick: Chargers.
KANSAS CITY (+13.5) at DENVER
The Chiefs played hard against Cincinnati last week and Jamaal Charles has topped 100 yards rushing the past three weeks. Denver nearly rallied against the Eagles last week for a big comeback win but fell just short and now they need to win at home to get into the playoffs. Kansas City and Denver always play tight contests as these two AFC West divisional rivals know each other well. I think Denver pulls out the victory but the Chiefs will cover that big point spread, something like 27-17. Pick: Chiefs.
GREEN BAY (+3.5) at ARIZONA
This one is pretty basic to call here. I think Minnesota wins early in the day, making this game completely irrelevant for Arizona as they will either be the third or fourth seed at that point and could even be slated to host Green Bay if the Packers win this game. With that very likely, I think the Cardinals play this game very close to the vest and rest anyone and everyone that might have a hangnail in advance of a rematch the following weekend. Green Bay will want to impress the Cardinals and show them that they can come into their house and win the following week if that is what it will take, so they will be up for the game and playing much harder than Arizona. That means I like the Packers here to not just cover but to win outright. Pick: Packers.
NEW YORK JETS (-10) vs. CINCINNATI
By the time this game starts most of the AFC playoff picture will have been determined assuming that New England wins, the Bengals will be locked into the fourth spot for next weekend and will host the Jets if New York wins on Sunday Night Football. The Jets are very motivated as they are in the unique situation of not just a win and in game but also facing an opponent that may not be giving their best efforts in a meaningless game from a Bengals perspective. All signs point towards a big win for the Jets and a night off for most Bengals. Pick: Jets.
This section will be different this year, as I will give not only the "Best
Bets" but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 "Star" scale. The more stars, the
more I like that side of the game.
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- NEW ORLEANS (+4.5) at CAROLINA
- NEW ENGLAND - Money Line (+320)
- ATLANTA (-2.5) at TAMPA BAY
- JACKSONVILLE (+2) at CLEVELAND
- TENNESSEE (-4) at SEATTLE
- TENNESSEE at SEATTLE (UNDER 44)
- KANSAS CITY (+13) at DENVER
- GREEN BAY (+3.5) at ARIZONA
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- NEW ENGLAND (+8) at HOUSTON
- SAN DIEGO (-3) vs. WASHINGTON
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- SAN FRANCISCO (-7) at ST. LOUIS
PICK OF THE WEEK: San Francisco 49ers
- OVERALL: 7-9 (43.8%)
- BEST BETS (STARS): 4-7 (36.4%)
- PICK OF WEEK: 1-0 (1-0%)
- OVERALL: 120-116-4 (50.8%)
- BEST BETS (STARS): 102-94-2 (52.0%)
- PICK OF WEEK: 9-7 (56.3%)