Picking games the last few weeks has been pretty difficult. Seriously, did anyone have Tampa Bay beating New Orleans? And what happened to the Giants last week?
The Saints (though they have clinched home-field) and Vikings have fallen back to the rest of the NFC pack a little bit. In the NFC East, the Eagles have won six games in a row -- they haven’t lost since Week 10 against the Chargers -- and the Cowboys have righted the ship with consecutive wins over the Saints and Redskins after losses to the Giants and Chargers. The Packers have also looked solid lately, with six wins in their last seven games -- the only loss coming when Ben Roethlisberger completed a last-second, 19-yard pass to Mike Wallace to steal a victory. All in all, the six playoff teams have already been determined in the NFC -- the Saints, Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Cowboys, and Cardinals -- and all that’s left to determine this week is final positioning.
In the AFC, things are much more hectic. The 14-1 Colts have already clinched home-field throughout the playoffs, so they don’t have anything to play for this week. The Chargers, Patriots, and Bengals have already clinched their respective divisions, with the Chargers also clinching a first-round bye. (By the way, did you know that the Chargers have won 10 games in a row? How did Norv Turner pull that off? And they’ve beaten some pretty good teams over that stretch too: the Eagles, Broncos, Cowboys, Bengals, and Titans.) As for the final two playoff spots, the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, Texans, Jaguars, and Dolphins are all still alive and could sneak in with various combinations of wins and losses among those teams. If the Ravens and Jets win, then they’re both in. But if one or both of those teams falters, look out.
Anyway, for the final time this season, here are my picks for this week:
(Home team is in caps.)
Colts (+8) over BILLS
The Bills are pretty bad; the Colts are very good. But the Colts will be resting many of their starters, not wanting to risk further injuries. However, the bad weather may negate any kind of advantage the Bills would otherwise have on the field, so expect a close game in snowy and windy conditions.
PANTHERS (-7) over Saints
Drew Brees isn't playing. The Panthers have also looked much better with anyone other than Jake Delhomme playing quarterback. Don't be surprised if the Panthers win big.
Jaguars (+1) over BROWNS
The Browns have won three games in a row, beating the Steelers, Chiefs, and Raiders. Oddly enough, their quarterbacks have done almost nothing in those games; they can mostly thank Jerome Harrison and Joshua Cribbs for some outstanding performances. Even though the Jaguars only have a minimal chance to make the playoffs, they still need a win this week to have any possibility of sneaking in. And do you think the Browns can win four games in a row? I don't.
Bears (-3) over LIONS
The Bears looked great last week, so that probably means they'll lay an egg this week. Still, either Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton will start at quarterback for the Lions, who seem to be positioning for yet another high draft pick.
TEXANS (-7) over Patriots
How long will Tom Brady play? As of this moment, no one really knows. My guess is that he won't play at all in the second half, which would give the Texans a huge advantage. Houston desperately needs a win to have a chance, and as of this moment they're firing on all cylinders with three wins in a row. If Brady and the rest of the team's starers play the entire game, the Texans could be in trouble, but I don't think that's going to happen.
Steelers (-3) over DOLPHINS
Two losses in a row have all but ended the Dolphins season, but technically, they still have an outside chance to sneak in. The Steelers, though, have more realistic odds, needing a win and only a couple of losses. Unfortunately, they'll still be without safety Troy Polamalu, who the defense has certainly missed. Still, this is a big game, and the Steelers haven't lost many big games lately -- I'll go with Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh.
VIKINGS (-8) over Giants
The Vikings want that first-round bye, and to get it, they'll have to take care of the Giants. That shouldn't be too difficult, especially since the Giants apparently checked out before their Week 16 blowout loss to the Panthers. Brett Favre and crew have looked a little shaky the last two weeks, but expect them to get back to business this week.
49ers (-8) over RAMS
Move along, nothing to see here.
Falcons (-2) over BUCCANEERS
Ditto, though Michael Turner isn't expected to play.
Eagles (+3) over COWBOYS
Now here's an important game. The Eagles would like to earn a first-round bye (with a win and a Vikings loss), while the Cowboys would like to prevent that from happening while also earning that same first-round bye with a win, a Vikings loss, and a Cardinals loss. Both teams are playing their best football of the season, and each would like nothing more than to knock the other down the totem pole a bit. As for my pick, I just think the Eagles are better.
CARDINALS (-3) over Packers
The Packers don't have much to play for, while the Cardinals can clinch a first-round bye with a win, a Vikings loss, and an Eagles loss. How long Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Warner, or any of the other starters will play is anyone's guess. That's always fun.
BRONCOS (-10) over Chiefs
Anything less than a Broncos blowout would be a big surprise.
Ravens (-11) over RAIDERS
Ed Reed returns for the Ravens. Charlie Frye is starting at quarterback for the Raiders. Enough said.
CHARGERS (-3.5) over Redskins
Philip Rivers may not play more than a few series, but it won't matter if the Redskins can't score any points. The Redskins seem to have given up on the season, and just as it happened last year against San Francisco, flying across the country for the last game of the season isn't going to change that.
Titans (-6) over SEAHAWKS
Chris Johnson is going to have a HUGE game.
Bengals (+10) over JETS
I haven't been able to figure out the Bengals all season, so why wouldn't they keep this game close while they have nothing to play for?
Last week: 5-9-2