The final week of the 2011 NFL regular season is here, and with its arrival, teams are frantically attempting to earn playoff bids, homefield advantage or first round byes.  This also means a hectic time for predicting spreads, as some teams with secure bids will rest players, others will not, and on the opposite end, there are the eliminated teams testing out younger players or potentially jockeying for draft picks.  To some degree, Week 17 can fall more under guesswork than strategy.

Heading into the final week, a handful of games will be under the spotlight more than others, specifically the matchups between the Giants and Cowboys, Titans and Texans, as well as the Ravens and Bengals.  The AFC West and NFC East divisions are also up for grabs, and let’s not forget that the Andrew Luck sweepstakes is yet to be determined.

Over in the “Pick Your Knows” department, Week 16 brought a .500-record to my plate, and hopefully I can end the regular season on a high note, even though this year’s numbers will not match that of last year.

Last Week: 8-8

This Season: 123-117

Last Season: 144-112

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With a win over the Cowboys this week, Eli Manning and the Giants would celebrate an NFC East title

It’s once again time to “Pick Your Knows” – the only time it’s not a disgusting habit – and here are Week 17’s scheduled games (with spreads as they appear through CBSSports Fantasy).

Pick Your Knows: 2011 NFL Week 17 Picks Against the Spread

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (+1.5)

Reports state that Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy has said that Aaron Rodgers is unlikely to play the entire game, therefore, expect to see Matt Flynn at QB.  With the Packers already clinching homefield, it’s likely this could be the case for a number of Green Bay’s starters.  The Lions have also clinched a playoff berth, so it’s a bit tricky to predict how this game could go.  With a win, the Lions have a chance to snag the fifth seed in the NFC.  Meanwhile, the Packers are playing at home, where Detroit hasn’t won since 1991.  Calvin Johnson is dealing with a sore Achilles, which should be of concern.  Green Bay will rest its starters some, but McCarthy won’t say just how much.  Detroit might be the safe pick here, but I think Green Bay builds a solid lead at the half, goes to its backups, but Calvin Johnson is hampered, gets rested, and Detroit falls short.  The Packers find a way to get to 15-1, but barely.

KP’s Pick: Green Bay

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (+2.5)

Here’s a game with playoff implications.  The Titans can clinch a playoff berth with a win, plus some help.  The Texans are already in and have no way in which to earn a first round bye.  Andre Johnson will again be limited for the Texans, and the Houston offense has missed a step due to its injuries, scoring 20 points or less in each of its last five games.  When Andre Johnson plays, opposing defenses need to focus less on the Houston run game, but the question remains, how much will he play?  The Texans clearly want to build momentum heading into the playoffs, but will want its parts intact come playoff time.  Mike Munchak has forced aside the Penn State rumors, and should have the Titans motivated.  With a playoff chance in sight, I like veteran Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans to find a way to eek out a close win on the road.

KP’s Pick: Tennessee

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (-4.5)

The Colts have won two in a row, and with another win, could miss out on the top pick in the draft.  Indy coaches and players have also said that they will be playing for a win on Sunday.  Aside from its blowout win over the Bucs in Week 14, the Jags have mostly struggled on offense over the last two months.  In fact, Jacksonville is dead last in the NFL in total offense.  The Colts, meanwhile, have managed to play much better with Dan Orlovsky at quarterback, and have managed three wins against the spread over the last three weeks.  With a Jacksonville offense that’s struggling as much as it is, this spread seems a bit high for a Colts team that is moving the ball more efficiently.  Take Indy and the points.

KP’s Pick: Indianapolis

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-1.5)

The Jets can still make the playoffs, but will need help.  Rex Ryan is clearly under scrutiny, as is quarterback Mark Sanchez and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.  The Jets defense should be taking heat, too, because as a group, they have also struggled most of the year.  Miami was a surprise favorite in Rex Ryan’s eyes, but the Dolphins are at home, and have played solid football over the last two months.  However, Reggie Bush has been ruled out with a knee injury, and has clearly been one of the reasons for Miami’s offensive success.  The Dolphins will score points, but the Jets are clearly motivated with a playoff berth on the line, and desperately want to prove its critics wrong.  New York has found a way to eek its way into the playoffs over the last few years, and it is hard to imagine Rex Ryan not finding a way to at least give his team a chance to earn a berth again.  Jets win on the road.

KP’s Pick: New York Jets

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (+0.5)

This could be a brutal game to watch, what with all the key injuries on both sides.  Adrian Peterson is out for the year with a knee injury, while both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte have been shut down for the Bears.  Christian Ponder is likely to start for the Vikings.  The Minnesota defense has given up 24 or more points in each of its last four games, all losses.  Meanwhile, the Chicago offense has managed just 47 points over its last four games, also all losses.  The result is clearly a tossup game between two struggling football teams.  In a matchup like this, I look to sacks, as well as the home team.  The Bears have allowed the 6th most sacks in the NFL, while the Vikings have the 4th most sacks.  That, plus Minnesota is the home team – so, in what could be the most painful game to watch the week, I’m taking the Vikes to finish 2011 on a high note.

KP’s Pick: Minnesota

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (-12.5)

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KP expects Brady and the Pats to bounce back versus the Bills in Week 17

The Patriots will clinch homefield advantage in the AFC with a win.  After tossing four interceptions versus the Bills earlier in the season, expect Tom Brady to be extra motivated to take his frustrations out on the Buffalo defense.  The Bills continue to deal with injuries, losing two starting offensive linemen last week.  Combine that with the other injuries, and Buffalo is clearly overmatched in this game.  Playing with a purpose, seeking revenge and doing so at home, it’s hard to not see the Patriots – even with its struggling defense – managing to earn the top seed in the AFC, and in grand fashion.  New Engalnd covers in a high scoring affair, knocking off the Bills by at least two touchdowns.

KP’s Pick: New England

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-7.5)

The Drew Brees record has been reached and many are questioning how much time the New Orleans starters will see the field.  Yet, while San Francisco faces the hapless Rams, the Saints still have an outside shot to earn a first round bye.  Both the Niners and Saints play at 1pm, so the results will not be in, and I fully expect Sean Payton to not hold back on Sunday.  Of course, the San Francisco lead could be big, and maybe New Orleans will begin to pull players.  Carolina has also been red hot, and winning four of five.  But while Newton, Smith and the Carolina offense have been giving opponents fits, the Saints have been equally as dominant on turf and at home.  Playing at home and seeking a first round bye, the Saints could easily pull away.  If the Rams stick around long enough against the Niners, I see the Saints covering at home.

KP’s Pick: New Orleans

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-8.5)

Both teams are out of the playoff picture.  Andy Reid says that the starters will play, but some have speculated that the Eagles may play some of their young secondary.  Meanwhile, the Redskins have played better over the last month or more.  In particular, Washington has seen solid play from two rookie running backs, Roy Helu and Evan Royster.  Royster will likely see the field more this week, and could see success against a run defense that has struggled at times.  With the way that each of these teams has performed recently, coupled with the likelihood that some backups could see the field, I’m banking on a game that will remain close throughout, and likely finish with a result of a touchdown or less.  Take the ‘Skins and the points.

KP’s Pick: Washington

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams (+10.5)

The 49ers will earn a first round bye with a win, and facing the struggling Rams, it’s a good bet that it will happen.  San Francisco sports the fourth ranked overall defense and the top rush defense in the NFL.  Therefore, count on the Rams struggling in the run game, which means there could be a need to focus on the pass game.  But with Sam Bradford likely to be out, St. Louis could struggle there, too.  In Week 13, the Niners blanked the Rams 26-0, and St. Louis has managed just 26 points over the last four games.  With San Francisco seeking a first round bye, combined with the Rams’ struggles, it seems a safe bet that the Niners will cover.

KP’s Pick: San Francisco

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-2.5)

Pete Carroll says the Seahawks will play everyone and that nothing will change even with the team having no hope of the playoffs this season.  Arizona may be without Kevin Kolb again, and that means, it could be Skelton to rely on.  Seattle has played much better over the last few months, and has been led by Marshawn Lynch in the run game.  Arizona is ranked 18th against the run, while only forcing three fumbles and allowing 14 total touchdowns.  With that in mind, expect Lynch to have some success, and bank on the Seahawks to complete its strong late season run with another victory.

KP’s Pick: Seattle

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-13.5)

Atlanta and Detroit are jockeying for playoff position, and by gametime, the Falcons will know the result of the Lions-Packers game, therefore knowing what they need to do in regards to seed.  If the Lions can manage to knock off a Packers team that will be playing a lot of its backups, then the pressure will be on Atlanta to get a win.  The Bucs have been horrid over the last few months, losing its last four games by 16 or more points.  Matt Ryan and the Falcons have plenty of success playing at home, and as bad as the Bucs have been, it’s hard to bet against the Falcons to win big, what with a higher playoff seed likely at stake.  Falcons cover.

KP’s Pick: Atlanta

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (+2.5)

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Flacco and the Ravens can earn a first round bye with a win against the Bengals

This is the key game of the week, with both the Bengals and Ravens fighting for playoff berths or playoff position.  The Ravens can earn a first round bye with a win.  Homefield advantage is still a possibility, but the Ravens will know if that’s obtainable considering that the Patriots play an early game.  Cincinnati can snag a playoff berth with a win, and the Bengals also have a home sellout for the first time in a while.  The Ravens won the first matchup in a high-scoring affair during Week 11.  Light rain and cold temperatures are expected on Sunday, and that could mean a low-scoring game that is more focused in the trenches.  With a weapon like Ray Rice and an aggressive defense, I give the edge to the Ravens against rookies Dalton and Green, who have not been put in this situation before.  Baltimore covers, but barely.

KP’s Pick: Baltimore

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (+6.5)

Like the Ravens and Patriots, the Steelers have a chance at a first round bye and homefield advantage.  However, the Steelers need help for either to happen.  In order to win the division or earn a bye, the Steelers will need a win plus a loss by the Ravens and/or Patriots.  Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger is a good bet to play, depending on his ankle injury.  Colt McCoy is likely out again with a concussion.  The Browns kept it close with the Steelers a few weeks back, and this week have the homefield advantage.  But the Steelers have a chance at a bye, and with Baltimore playing at the same time Pittsburgh will likely not know its result.  Expect the Steelers to put the foot on the gas, and cover on the road against the Browns.

KP’s Pick: Pittsburgh

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (-3.5)

This is a huge matchup that will decide the AFC West, with the Broncos earning a playoff berth and the division title with a win.  Meanwhile, Kyle Orton will start for the Chiefs and get a shot against his former team, and against former teammate Tim Tebow.  Per Kansas City interim coach Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs will not lie down for anyone.  Don’t underestimate the ability for a person to get revenge on a former team.  The Chiefs blew a late lead to the Broncos in Week 10, which means it’s not just Orton that wants revenge.  With all this in mind, I expect the Chiefs to spoil Denver’s day.

KP’s Pick: Kansas City

 

San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (-2.5)

Call this the AFC West division decision Part II, as the Raiders can earn a playoff berth with a win and a Broncos loss.  Both teams are playing the late game, so neither will know an earlier result.  The Chargers hope to ruin its rivals’ hopes, and San Diego clearly has plenty of talent to do that.  Oakland has really struggled over the last month plus, only managing two wins over struggling offensive teams, the Chiefs and Bears.  San Diego has a potent offense and is motivated to eliminate the Raiders.  While I see the Chiefs spoiling Denver’s day, I think San Diego will do the same, meaning that Tebow and the Broncos still make the playoffs.  San Diego wins outright.

KP’s Pick: San Diego

 

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (-2.5)

For Dallas and New York, the playoffs start this weekend, with the winner of this game taking the NFC East division and getting into the playoffs as the #4 seed.  For this game, injuries are the key element.  Tony Romo appears ready to play, and will need to stay healthy to give Dallas a chance.  Hakeem Nicks has been hampered by injuries this week, but hopes to see significant playing time on Sunday night.  In a tossup match for the division, I look to the two quarterbacks, with Eli Manning managing a number of fourth quarter comebacks, while Romo has struggled late on occasion during the season, and is dealing with an injury.  That’s why I’m taking the Giants to knock off the Cowboys, reaching the playoffs.

KP’s Pick: New York Giants

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