NFL Week 17: Injuries Dominate Storyline
It’s all come down to this, the final weekend of the NFL regular season. The NFL has done a great job of scheduling some of the games so that teams looking to improve their status in the playoff seeding (or get in the playoffs at all) will be playing at the same time. This will force many teams to go ahead and play their starters when, if they had the choice, they might rather give them a break.
The AFC has pretty much all their slots filled save one (although some movement is possible) while the NFC still has quite a bit of work to do in determining their six playoff teams. Thus, it comes down to the final Sunday to write this chapter of the 2013-14 NFL season (home team in CAPS, pick in bold, lines from the Mirage in Las Vegas).
Carolina Panthers (-6) vs. ATLANTA FALCONS
The Panthers have perhaps the most to lose should they not win on Sunday. A loss would move them from the #2 seed in the NFC bracket down to the #5 or #6 seed. Although Atlanta has been problematic for some teams late in the season (witness their game against the 49ers just last week), I don’t see them mounting much against a motivated Panther team that is looking for a division title and that week off.
Baltimore Ravens (+6.5) vs. CINCINNATI BENGALS
This is one of the games that can have a multitude of implications on the AFC playoff picture. Baltimore, looking to defend their Super Bowl title, needs a win in the game (and some help) to capture the #6 seed. Cincinnati, while already locked in as the AFC North champion, could move up to the #2 seed if New England loses their final game.
I don’t like the Bengals getting this many points in what should be a slog in the rain in Cincy. I do think that the Bengals will win the game (effectively ending the Ravens drive to the playoffs), but I don’t think that Cincinnati will take the game by more than a touchdown.
Houston Texans vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (-7)
Welcome to our first “it doesn’t matter” game on the Sunday slate. Both teams are out of the playoffs and all Houston has to play for is not being the team to draft first in next year’s NFL draft. It doesn’t matter whether the Texans start QB Matt Schaub or Case Keenum in this game, the Titans will be up for the task in ending what has been a massive disappointment of a season from the Houston team.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-10.5)
Indianapolis, much like Cincinnati, could move up to the #2 seed if both Cincy and the Patriots lose their games. If they lose, they’re still locked into the playoffs as the AFC South champion, but they would logically have only one home game and potentially have to face the Kansas City Chiefs. A victory here is imperative for the Colts and, while the Jaguars have also been quite frisky of late, they shouldn’t have enough to defend the Colts offensive attack.
New York Jets vs. MIAMI DOLPHINS (-5.5)
For the Dolphins, it is simple…win and you’re in the playoffs as the #6 seed (and if you’d have told them that at midseason, they’d have taken it). If they lose, then there are a myriad of options before that #6 seed is determined (I’d get into them, but your ears would be bleeding by the time I got done). Many are thinking that the Jets, perhaps playing for head coach Rex Ryan’s job, will come out spirited for this game, but I see the Dolphins squashing any potential Jet uprising and sealing their slot in the playoffs.
Detroit Lions vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (-3)
Here’s our second “it doesn’t matter” game for the weekend, except if you’re the coaches for either team. The turmoil over Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz’ potential dismissal, as well as WR Calvin Johnson being doubtful for the game, has caused a 5½ swing in the line since it opened. If the game were in Detroit, I might have gone with the Motor City Kitties here; hence, it is in the “Mall of America” Field (formerly known as the Metrodome) and, since it is the final game to be held there, I expect the Vikings to send it off with a bang.
Washington Redskins vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (-3)
Hey, two “it doesn’t matter” games in a row!” It is going to be a tough game to call, though, as Giants WR Victor Cruz is out and, of course, Washington has benched QB Robert Griffin III for the season. Both coaches, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin, may be on their ways out the door, so this is one of those games that could go either direction. If you’re a good sports bettor, this is one you’d stay away from.
Cleveland Browns vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-6.5)
Surprisingly, the Steelers can still make the AFC playoffs, although it is a long shot. They would need Miami, Baltimore and San Diego to lose all their games while taking this tilt against the Browns. If that isn’t motivation enough (they won’t know until they get off the field the results of the Baltimore and Miami games), then they don’t need to go to the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers vs. CHICAGO BEARS (+2.5)
Here’s how much a quarterback can affect a line. Before Thursday, there was no line given on this game, even though it is for the NFC North division title and a spot in the playoffs. Once that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was announced as the starter for the team, however, the line was set favoring the Pack by three.
The winner of this game wins the NFC Central title and the loser is out of the playoffs. I’d like to think that Rodgers could, after a seven week layoff, put the Packers in the playoffs. I don’t see it happening, however, as Packers RB Eddie Lacy is not in good shape, LB Clay Matthews is out and Bears QB Jay Cutler has had a couple of weeks to shake off the rust. The Bears will take this game, but it’ll be a close one.
Denver Broncos (-10.5) vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS
To provide some drama for the AFC playoff race, the Broncos and New England are playing at the same time with some high stakes. The Broncos win, they are the #1 seed; they lose and the Patriots win, they become the #2 seed. Do you really think that Broncos QB Peyton Manning is going to let go of what the team has worked for so hard this year? Add in the facts that Manning is chasing the single season passing record (he’s already broken the TD record) and the team is looking to become the highest scoring team in a single season, expect the Broncos to come out firing until the final gun in this game.
Buffalo Bills vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-7.5)
There’s no reason to even consider taking the Bills in this game. The only reason that may arise is that if, by the half, “Dark Hoodie” (Patriots coach Bill Belichick) sees that the Broncos are romping, he may put his boys on the bench (depending on the outcome of some of the early games). That is the “Patriot Way,” however, so expect to see the Pats bury the Bills and get ready for a run at the AFC title.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-11)
This is a must win game for the Saints. If they were to lose the game and the Arizona Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers, they would find themselves out of the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. With a win and a Carolina loss, the Saints would become the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Do you think Saints QB Drew Brees is going to let this opportunity slip through his fingers? I don’t.
San Francisco 49ers (-1) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS
A tough pick in this game. San Francisco wins and, with a Seattle loss, they become the NFC West division champion and the #1 seed if Carolina loses. Arizona wins and, with a Saints loss, they get in the playoffs as the #6 seed. Since Seattle is playing at home (and needs the win to seal the #1 seed), I expect that San Francisco will come out full force in this game and end the Cardinals’ hopes for the postseason.
Kansas City Chiefs (+9) vs. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The Chiefs have nothing at all to play for in this game. They are locked in at the #5 seed in the AFC regardless of a win or a loss. Depending on the outcome of two of the early games (Baltimore and Miami, who must lose), San Diego may be playing for a shot at taking the #6 seed. I can see the Chargers winning this game, but the Chiefs will keep it close just for appearances sake.
St. Louis Rams vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (-11.5)
There is no way that the Seahawks will give up the work they’ve done with a loss to the Rams at home. If San Francisco wins their game and the ‘Hawks lose, Seattle immediately become the #5 seed and will not have their significant home-field advantage to push them through the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks will hammer the Rams here and sit back for a week to heal.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. DALLAS COWBOYS (+7)
What DRAMA! The winner goes to the playoffs, the loser sets their tee times!
The squad formerly known as “America’s Team” is reduced to starting QB Kyle Orton after Tony Romo’s season-ending back surgery on Thursday. Here’s a bit of a thought by the betting line: the Cowboys, with Romo, opened as a 2½ point favorite; after the news broke Monday regarding Romo’s back, the Eagles suddenly became the prohibitive favorite (don’t think I’ve seen that type of swing in quite some time). The Eagles are going to win this game, but it is going to be a three or four point affair.
Last Week: Made it tough on myself to come out for the season with a better than .500 record. Going 6-10 sets up for the Week 17 slate to determine whether I’m up for the season or not.
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