Here it is, the final weekend of the 2013 regular season. Plenty of tears will be shed on my behalf as twenty out of the league’s thirty-two teams will be wrapping things up this weekend while only twelve will survive on. So far the Seahawks, Panthers, and 49ers are the only teams in the NFC to have their tickets punched for January. Divisional tilts between the Eagles and Cowboys as well as the Packers and Bears will fill the #3 and #4 seed while the Cardinals and Saints will do battle in their separate contests in order to go on to the tournament. In the AFC, we have a messy situation with the #6 seed as the Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers all fight for the coveted sixth spot. As an interesting note here, should all four of these teams win their games it would be the Dolphins who make it in and if all four teams lose their games it will be the Ravens moving on. Outside of that, everything makes perfect sense… the Broncos, Patriots, Bengals, Colts, and Chiefs are all good to go and will be battling this weekend for seeding. Yup, that is your typical Week 17 in the NFL; chaotic. Who shall win these games? What will the playoff picture look like at the end of this weekend? All of this and more below!
Sunday, December 29th, 1:00 e.t.
New York Jets (7-8) @ Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Times are tough for the ‘Phins. They are coming off of an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Billikens; a game in which they barely managed more than 100 yards of total offense. Because of that egg, their playoff hopes are in question. Just a week ago the team had all of the confidence in the world, having just beaten the Steelers and Patriots in successive weeks. Now their team self-esteem has to be running at an all-time low. Luckily for them they will be taking on an equally frustrated New York Jets team in Miami Gardens. Gang Green did manage to scrape together a win over the Browns in East Rutherford last week (helped out by Geno Smith’s second-best game of the year), and they will need another strong performance if they hope to down the Dolphins on the road. Miami’s inability to run the ball last week scares me, and things won’t get much better this week when they take on the league’s third best run defense. Can Ryan Tannehill keep his uniform clean on Sunday? I doubt it, he is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL this year. I think the offensive line woes will rear their ugly head in this game and the Jets will take over up front. I’ll take New York in an upset, provided that Geno Smith doesn’t spray picks all over the field.
New York 23, Miami 18
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) @ Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
After laying the lumber to Kansas City last week, it is going to be awfully tough to pick against the Colts (especially when they are playing at home against a mediocre team). However, I’ll entertain the possibility that Jacksonville can come in and play well. If Chad Henne can play four quarters of turnover-free football then his Jags have a chance in this one, as the Colts can be as inconsistent as the weather in New England. If Jacksonville is overly-generous with the ball, then they will be run out of the gym. Andrew Luck, while not always able to sit in the rocking chair behind his offensive line, is a good enough baller to make plays when his team needs them the most. His old buddy from Stanford, Griff Whalen, is coming on in the absence of Reggie Wayne; I like that connection. It sure beats the heck out of Henne-Shorts III or Sanders-Todman (okay, nothing beats Sanders-Todman). Anyways, I like Indy at home to secure their second straight 11-5 season. Banking on a Jaguars win here would simply be asking for too much.
Indianapolis 27, Jacksonville 14
Detroit Lions (7-8) @ Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)
Apparently the Vikings are better without Adrian Peterson in their lineup. How else could you explain their 48-30 romp of the Eagles two weeks ago, followed by the spanking they took in “The Jungle” last week? Of course, I joke, Peterson is a beast. I think he will show it this Sunday when the demoralized Lions come to town. All the way back in Week 1, when these two teams met for the first time this season, A.P. was held to 93 yards (after ripping a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry). Look for him to take his revenge in this one. It’s not like Detroit has anything to play for after getting booted out of the playoff picture for good last week. Pride will be the only thing at stake in this game, and since it is the final game that is to be played at Mall of America Field I am going to lean towards Minnesota to close their tenure out there on a high note. Look for Peterson to dash for 140 yards with a touchdown or two as the Vikes kick the Lions while they are down.
Minnesota 30, Detroit 19
Carolina Panthers (11-4) @ Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
With their eyes on their first NFC South division championship since 2008, I expect the Panthers to come out and play well in this contest. A win over the lowly Falcons would seal the deal for Ron Rivera and friends. However, standing in their way will be those same lowly Falcons that gave the 49ers a serious scare last week at “The Stick”. I don’t see them as an easy out at all, so Carolina should not take them lightly. Roddy White and Matt Ryan have been re-kindling their connection as of late and were in sync a week ago. Meanwhile the Cam Newton-Steve Smith duo looks like it will be shelved for this game (what with Smith’s knee injury). That said, the Panthers will have to rely on their ground game to churn out the “W” on the road. Luckily for them, the Falcons have not fared so well against the opposing team’s rushing attack (ranked 31st in the league). With Sean McDermott’s defense absolutely rolling right now, it is going to be hard to predict anything other than a Panther win here. Hence, my selection of Carolina in this one.
Carolina 24, Atlanta 10
Baltimore Ravens (8-7) @ Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)
After seeing the Ravens crushed on their own turf by the Patriots, and given the way Cincinnati has played at home this year (7-0 with four straight games of them scoring over 40 points), it is tough to pick the road team here. Going into last week, Baltimore was the sexy pick to fill the #6 seed in the AFC. However the whole landscape has shifted after seeing how they came out flat against New England. All of the sudden, that 18-16 win over a choking Lions team didn’t look so good. They barely survived at home against the Vikings (and the Steelers the week before), so it calls to question: just how good are the defending Super Bowl champs? Are they good enough to head into “The Jungle” and snatch a victory away from the Cardiac Cats? I don’t think so, especially not if Andy Dalton decides to play like a hero again. Cincy is still in the running for the #2 seed in the AFC (meaning a first round BYE in the postseason) so they still have something to play for. I like them to finish out their season at home a perfect 8-0 in a victory over the Ravens, who I am quickly losing faith in.
Cincinnati 35, Baltimore 25
Cleveland Browns (4-11) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
Even though they did not have to grapple with the monster that is Aaron Rodgers, the Steelers’ win in Green Bay last week was pretty impressive. Ben Roethlisberger has really kicked his game up a few notches from the beginning of the season and he has his team playing some good football. Unfortunately for the black and yellow, it may be too little too late as their playoff chances remain slim. However, they do have a shot at sneaking their way into the tournament and thus I believe they get the job done at home in this one. This one could be higher scoring than many may think, and it will be entertaining to see the two of the best receivers in the AFC square off (in Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon). Each team will take their shots down the field and we could see a few big plays. When it comes to assessing the deep-ball game, I trust Big Ben to make the throws that count more than I do Jason Campbell. Simply put, the desperate Steelers (who have more to play for) have the edge at home. In fact, given the stakes, I would be surprised if Mike Tomlin and company did not pull out the win at home.
Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 22
Houston Texans (2-13) @ Tennessee Titans (6-9)
Do you remember the last time the Texans won a game? Don’t feel bad if you can’t; it was all the way back on September 15th (Houston fans wish I were kidding), against these very Titans in fact. Sure, these aren’t your daddy’s Texans (or your grand-daddy’s for that matter). Of course, who would want to take ownership of this team given their disastrous season? I have little to no faith in them being able to close out their season with a win given the fact that they are currently riding a 13-game losing streak. I’m not accusing the team of “tanking” here, but if they do lose this final game they will be ensured of a #1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Tennessee, on the other hand, is one of those teams that is a bit better than their overall record would indicate. Playing in Nashville, I have to give them the edge. It wouldn’t shock me to see Houston win here, but I’m riding with the Titans for this one. At least they know who their quarterback is going to be going into this game, and they have a somewhat competent passing game. The Keenum-Schaub combo has been a train-wreck as of late.
Tennessee 17, Houston 14
Washington Redskins (3-12) @ New York Giants (6-9)
When the schedule was released at the beginning of the season, I guarantee that almost everyone would have thought that this game was going to mean something more than it does now. As it turns out, we get two teams who are just trying to play out their schedule and advance on to the off-season (where both organizations are likely to face complete overhauls/changes). In games like these, the lazy man tends to take the more talented team. Too bad it is tough telling which one of these two take that cake. New York did play well enough to steal a win on the road last week against the Lions though and I do think Eli Manning has one good game in him this season. Against the Washington defense (which ranks 21st in the league), I say he plays pretty well. And if you are into bold predictions, I’ve got one for you: Hakeem Nicks scores his first touchdown of the year. Yeah, hopefully this limb I’m out on here doesn’t snap…
New York 20, Washington 13
Sunday, December 29th, 4:25 e.t.
San Francisco 49ers (11-4) @ Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
The end of the 2013 season for the Arizona Cardinals is likely to be on this day, win or lose this game. In order for them to get into the playoffs, they have to hope for a win over the hot 49ers and a Saints loss at home to… gulp… Tampa Bay. Things don’t look good for the redbirds, and since the Saints will be playing at the same time, they do not have the privilege of knowing what their game is being played for before they actually go out and play it. Since that is the case, there is no doubt in my mind that they will give San Fran their best shot knowing that the postseason is on the other side of the door. The way things have gone lately (and really for the entire season), it is hard to pick against Arizona down in the desert, but I am going to do it. I don’t expect the 49ers to pull up for this one; Jim Harbaugh coaches to win in every one of his games. Although each defense is on the same level, the offenses are not. The Niners have the ability to run the ball when they want to, and that is the biggest difference between these two teams. Plus, Carson Palmer will not be able to get away with throwing four picks again this week. I like Frisco to go south and kill the Cards’ playoff dreams with their physical style. Forcing a few turnovers will help their cause as well.
San Francisco 26, Arizona 22
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) @ San Diego Chargers (8-7)
After getting clobbered by the Colts at Arrowhead last week, one would think that the Chiefs will be trying to finish their season on a high note. Andy Reid has been known to rest his starters throughout his coaching career, and as of Wednesday afternoon it remains to be seen whether or not he will. After all, Kansas City has nothing to play for out at The “Q”. Regardless of whether or not the Chiefs play their starters in this one, I like San Diego to go over here. They are riding a three-game winning streak and have been playing some good football as of late. As long as they are not turning the ball over (like they did against Oakland last week) I don’t see any reason why Philip Rivers and company won’t be able to move down the field on offense. San Diego’s defense has also been playing much better down the stretch. Mike McCoy has his troops playing some good football and I see that trend continuing at home against the Chiefs.
San Diego 35, Kansas City 21
Denver Broncos (12-3) @ Oakland Raiders (4-11)
You know, just when I am warming up to the idea of Matt McGloin taking over as Oakland’s quarterback, Dennis Allen goes and pulls the rug out from underneath him and names Terrelle Pryor as the starter for this Sunday’s game. Of course, they are going to need a freaking robot at quarterback if they hope to stand a chance against Peyton Manning’s Broncos. Denver will need to win this game to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As with the Cardinals and Saints, they will not have the ability to know whether or not the Patriots have won their game against Buffalo (since they are the team that will be challenging Denver’s position). That said, you can expect the Broncos’ best shot in this one, and with the way Oakland’s defense has played at home against opposing quarterbacks this season, I do not like their odds. Sorry T.P., looks like you are the sacrificial lamb here.
Denver 41, Oakland 21
St. Louis Rams (7-8) @ Seattle Seahawks (12-3)
After losing at home for the first time in nearly two years, I don’t think Seattle is too pleased. Therefore, Jeff Fisher’s team will be heading into the hornet’s nest this Sunday- towards an environment which is (still) almost impossible for road teams to win in. With a win here, the Seahawks will lock up the #1 seed and earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Much like they have over the past three contests between these two teams, I see the Rams putting up a fight and making things tough on the ‘Hawks, however I do not think they will be able to close the deal. After not losing at Century Link Field in 14 straight contests, it is hard for me to see Seattle dropping two straight games in front of the twelfth man. Give me the Seahawks.
Seattle 24, St. Louis 16
Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) @ Chicago Bears (8-7)
The Bears got smoked in Philly last week and cannot have all that much confidence heading into this winner-take-all game. To make matters worse, Aaron Rodgers will likely be back in the lineup for the Pack this week (looking to extract some revenge on the team that put him on the shelf for seven weeks). Don’t you get the feeling that they are primed to win the NFC North? Chicago and Detroit have had numerous opportunities to shut the door on this division all throughout the year, and neither one of them has. That, to me, is like playing with fire and it is time that the Bears get burnt. Their defense could not stop the Eagles last week and the Packers aren’t exactly slouches in their own rights on offense. Each defensive coordinator is probably going to end up having nightmares after this game, as I see a lot of yardage and points flying in this game. In the end, I say Green Bay gets the job done on the road and wins their third straight division title. Plus, as I said last week, the Packers were my Super Bowl pick; I just can’t go against them now.
Green Bay 45, Chicago 31
Buffalo Bills (6-9) @ New England Patriots (11-4)
Can the Bills clip the Patriots’ legs out from underneath them in Foxboro? I don’t see it happening. Buffalo has the ability to play well on any given Sunday (just ask the Miami Dolphins). In fact, they have fared quite well within the division as they have been competitive in all five of their games (and have fought their way to a 3-2 record against their friends from the AFC East). However, this will all change on Sunday when they travel to Gillette Stadium. With a chance to wrap a first-round BYE up, I don’t think that the Pats will flinch at the opportunity. Their running game last week was something to marvel at as well; LeGarrette Blount looked pretty darn good as the sledgehammer in the lineup. Plus, the team still has Tom Brady (who can still get it done). Simply put, Buffalo does not have the fire-power to keep up with New England should this game turn into a shootout. Because they will be feeling the pressure to win, I like the Pats to go out there and get the “dubya”. It is tough to see E.J. Manuel out-dueling Tom Brady on the road here.
New England 38, Buffalo 24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) @ New Orleans Saints (10-5)
The Saints are coming into this game having lost three out of their last four contests and will be desperately looking for something positive to grab hold of. Perhaps a home game against the 4-11 Buccaneers will be just what the doctor ordered. Barring an unforeseen Falcon win over Carolina this Sunday, New Orleans will be looking for a “W” just to secure their spot in the playoffs down in the Big Easy. I guess you take what you can get, right? Anyways, Mike Glennon has his work cut out for him. He has not had much of a running game to help him out over the past two weeks and his quarterback play has struggled because of it. The Saints have the front-four necessary to stuff the run, so if it comes down to it I don’t see the first year QB leading his team to victory. Also, lost in the midst of how bad the Saints have been on the road this year, these guys are a perfect 7-0 at home this year (winning their games by an average of 17.4 points per game). It is going to be tough for the inconsistent Buccaneers to win on the road in the Superdome, although stranger things have happened.
New Orleans 36, Tampa Bay 17
Sunday, December 29th, 8:30 e.t.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) @ Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
So this is it- the 256th game of the 2013 season, and boy is it a big one. The winner will lay claim to the NFC East while the loser will have an entire off-season to stew in the bile of defeat. The Cowboys suffered a huge blow when news broke on Monday that Tony Romo is likely going to be sitting this one out. Although Jason Garrett has not officially ruled him out, it is not likely he will play. And even if he did, not too many people would have trusted him to go out and win the game for his team after he has failed in this very situation many times before. However, if he does not play I think Dallas fans will realize how much they miss him. Kyle Orton is a very respectable backup and he stands a chance at beating Philly (especially since the game is going to be played in Dallas’s yard), however the Cowboy defense is likely going to be exploited by Chip Kelly’s offense. What it comes down to is this: do I trust a hurt Tony Romo (or a healthy Kyle Orton) to put up points with this explosive offense? I can’t say that I do. Of course, the last time these two teams played, the Cowboys held the Eagles to just three points but this truly is a different team than the one they played back in Week 7. If Philly (and this is a big “if”) can play like they did, or even close to the way they did last week, this one could be over by the half. I do expect we will see a good game either way though with Philadelphia coming out on top. With or without Romo, this Dallas defense is in no position to slow down the most explosive offense in football.
Philadelphia 34, Dallas 24
Week 17 Bonus Predictions-
Upset of the Week: New York Jets over Miami
Sure Bet of the Week: New Orleans over Tampa Bay
Rookie of the Week: Keenan Allen
Offensive Player of the Week: Adrian Peterson
Defensive Player of the Week: Karlos Dansby
Best Overall Offense: Denver Broncos
Best Overall Defense: Seattle Seahawks (We didn’t pull any muscles in this week’s bonus predictions)
So there you have it, my picks for Week 17. I will be back next week to give my predictions for Wild Card Weekend, so be sure to check back in next Wednesday for my thoughts on that. Until then, enjoy the final week of the regular season! For giggles, I have included a breakdown of what I think the playoff scene will look like following this week’s action. Feel free to leave your thoughts.
My Projected 2013 Playoff Picture
#1 Seed– Denver Broncos (13-3)
#2 Seed- New England Patriots (12-4)
#3 Seed- Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
#4 Seed- Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
#5 Seed- Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
#6 Seed- San Diego Chargers (9-7)
Wild Card Match-ups: San Diego @ Cincinnati, Kansas City @ Indianapolis
#1 Seed– Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
#2 Seed- Carolina Panthers (12-4)
#3 Seed- Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
#4 Seed- Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
#5 Seed- San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
#6 Seed- New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Wild Card Match-ups: New Orleans @ Philadelphia, San Francisco @ Green Bay