My run of solid late season weeks continued with an 8-8 mark against the spread. Headed into the final week of the regular season, my record sits at 104-124-11. With several teams resting starters, lines are strange this week. All games will be played on Sunday afternoon. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.
Bears at Vikings (-12) – A win is all Minnesota needs to ensure that first-round bye in the playoffs. They will get it, but the Bears have been tough out all year long. This includes playing the Vikings to the gun during Mitchell Trubisky’s starting debut on Monday Night Football.
Chicago has since figured out that Jordan Howard as well as the defense are the best things this team has going for it. While that revelation likely came a little too late to save the employment of John Fox, it has given some good teams like Carolina and Baltimore fits along with the Vikings. Despite this, Minnesota being the team that has something to play for will get him over the line in this one. Min 21 Chi 17
Browns at Steelers (-6) – Both teams have something to play for here. The Browns are trying to avoid joining the 2008 Lions in the 0-16 club. Should New England stumbled against the Jets, Pittsburgh can earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, Reports of Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell resting for the playoffs tell you how little faith the Steelers have in that possibility.
Cleveland played a full strength Steelers team to the wire during opening week. With Pittsburgh nowhere near full strength for this one, something similar should be expected here. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, the only fitting end to their team’s season would be losing yet another close game to make dubious history. Pit 24 Cle 20
Cowboys (-3) at Eagles- Philadelphia has secured home field throughout the NFC playoffs, but they are banged up. After a shaky showing against the Raiders last week, Nick Foles and the offense clearly need work, but what if he gets hurt? How the Eagles approach this one is anyone’s guess. Dallas is playing for pride here, but Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are a safer bet than anything the Eagles offense has to offer right now. Dal 27 Phi 20
Texans at Colts (-5.5) – This is possibly the worst game of Week 17. Jacoby Brissett has proven to be serviceable at quarterback for the Colts this year despite being thrown in to a bad situation. Chuck Pagano has ran his course in Indy, but the players have pretty much always played hard for him. Expect no different in what is likely his swan song.
The only Houston’s offense had going for it was DeAndre Hopkins who is set to miss his first career game with a calf injury. If the Texans had stayed healthy, what might have been? We will never know. Both defenses are bad here, but the offenses are worse. Brissett has shown flashes of being able to lead an NFL offense. Meanwhile, the Texans have scored 13 points in their last two games combined. They have been forced to go too deep on their quarterback depth chart to truly compete. Ind 20 Hou 10
Jets at Patriots (-15.5)- Do not be fooled by New York’s record, Todd Bowles has gotten more out of this team make anyone expected this year and is very deserving of the contract extension he signed earlier this week.
New England still has to take care of business here to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. So, the Jets have no chance at winning this game. However, they always play New England very tough and the first meeting this year was no exception. To be a good bet here, New York does not even have to keep it all that close. NE 30 Nyj 17
Redskins (-3) at Giants- Both of these team are bad and ready for the offseason. However, at least the Redskins are not calling their teammates “a cancer” and are still playing hard. Expect Kirk Cousins to play well in what could be his last go around as a Redskin. Was 23 Nyg 13
Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) – Seattle is the exact opposite of Atlanta. The Seahawks may be loud and dysfunctional at times, but you can always count on Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll to come through when the chips are down. Look no further than last week.
Ever since the Super Bowl collapse, the same leadership is not in Atlanta. Seattle has a much easier opponent this week, but leadership is why Seattle wins here to force Atlanta to have to do the same to reach the playoffs. Sea 31 Ari 14
Bills (-2) at *Dolphins– Buffalo needs a win and some help to end the longest playoff drought in major American pro sports, but there is no reason to trust them here. Miami has been a disappointment this year, but a home game with a chance to bury a division rival should motivate them.
Slumping offense are worrisome this time of year. Buffalo is not the only desperate AFC team with a sagging offense, but the Bills have scored 20+ points just once since late November. That has to catch up with them eventually, this is the last chance for it to do so. Mia 20 Buf 17
*Panthers at Falcons (-4) – The Falcons get in the playoffs with a win here and may still get in with a loss. This line was made as if Carolina has nothing to play for and that is not the case. The Panthers can still get a first round bye and division title depending on other results. Most important, they need to win this one.
The Falcons have struggled all year to find consistency and beat good teams. They lost to Carolina a handful of weeks ago. The Panthers are the better football team and have been really solid for the last month. Meanwhile, the Falcons were manhandled by the Saints last week and had to squeeze by the lowly Bucs the week before. The cream rises to the top. Car 31 Atl 28
Bengals at Ravens (-9.5)- Of the four teams battling for the final two playoff spots in the AFC, Baltimore is the only team you should feel good about. They are not flashy, but they have a quarterback and coach who have been there and done that when it comes to December and January football. They also run the ball well and play defense. Those two things always translate well this time of year.
We saw the Bengals last best showing for the apparently soon to be departing head coach Marvin Lewis last week. The Ravens take full advantage of a favorable schedule down the stretch to emphatically punch their ticket to postseason. This is the one team New England should be nervous about in the AFC. Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh have gone in to New England and won twice before in the playoffs. Bal 30 Cin 13
*Packers at Lions (-7)- Neither team is playing for anything here, but the Lions folded against a bad Cincinnati team last week when they still had playoff hopes, it is hard not to expect a carryover even though the Lions have more talent. Combine that with the strange statistical reality that Brett Hundley has been better on the road, and that is good enough for me. GB 21 Det 20
*Jaguars at Titans (-2.5) – Tennessee is playing for its playoff life and Jacksonville’s playoff position is secure. Even so, the Jaguars have given every indication that they are playing this game at full tilt.
This means the best defense in football will get a crack at Marcus Mariota and the slumping Titans offense. Mariota has averaged just 224 passing yards for last month and has more interceptions than touchdowns on the year. Nothing we have seen from this offense recently is good enough to make the playoffs. Jac 20 Ten 14
Chiefs at Broncos (-3) – Paxton Lynch will get one last chance to effect Denver’s offseason quarterback plans. The playoff bound Chiefs are resting several starters and giving rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes a look see. The Denver defense is a pretty tough first assignment. Despite the team having an awful year, the defense leads the league in yards allowed.
Given the quarterback matchup, nobody knows what to expect here, Vegas included. Having the home team favorite by a field goal is the catch all line for NFL games. Denver’s offense is woeful, but it is hard to imagine that throwing a rookie quarterback out there surrounded by several backups against Von Miller and company is going to end well. Den 16 KC 10
Saints (-5) at Bucs- For some reason, the Bucs have reportedly decided to retain Dirk Koetter. Despite a ton of young offensive talent, the losses continue to mount. There no reason to think they can stop the tough, physical, and playoff bound Saints from locking down a division title. NO 31 TB 20
Raiders at Chargers (-7) – The Chargers need a win and help, but a playoff spot is realistic. The Raiders will be pesky as they were last week, so, take the points. In the end, the fiery will of Philip Rivers will be enough. Lac 30 Oak 27
49ers (-4) at Rams- The Rams are guaranteed to host a playoff game next week no matter what happens here. Thus, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and several others will sit this one out. With Jimmy Garoppolo still white hot for the 49ers, backups should not be able to slow him down in the season finale. SF 27 Lar 17