The final week of the regular season is here, leaving a handful of teams fighting for playoff spots in the NFC, with four of the six postseason-bound AFC squads battling for bye weeks and positioning.
Thanks to the flex schedule, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys will battle on Sunday night to decide the NFC East, while the Super Bowl champion Giants need a win plus help to even make the playoffs. All in all, it should be an interesting final Sunday.
In regards to picking the spreads, there are a few factors to consider when making your selections during the final week of the regular season. Keep in mind the following:
- Weather: Winter is here and if there are bad conditions on the field, a game can quickly become a turnover-filled mess or a low-scoring affair
- Playoff Position: The question remains whether starters will remain in games. For example, will the Falcons play everyone now that they have the top seed in the NFC locked up?
- Timing of Games: Again, in regards to playoff positioning, teams could “call the dogs off”, if a team playing at an earlier time has affected its overall playoff outcome
Over in the “Pick Your Knows” department, Week 16 brought nine more victories, leaving me nine away from matching my 2010 win total of 144.
Last Week: 9-7
This Season: 135-105
Last Two Seasons: 144-112 (2010) and 131-125 (2011)
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 CBS Sports Fantasy).
Pick Your Knows: 2012 NFL Week 17 Picks Against the Spread
NOTE to my READERS: I’m in a competitive pool and didn’t want to tip my hand this week, hence why I’m posting these picks this close to kickoff. My apologies if it affected your schedule…
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (+3.5)
The Bears need a win plus some help to reach the playoffs, while Calvin Johnson will be seeking to become the NFL’s first single season 2,000-yard receiver. It will be interesting to see how the Lions play at home, when the playoffs are out of the question, but the ability to ruin Chicago’s day is still an option. Major Wright borderline called out Matthew Stafford this week by saying that the QB “kind of folds” under pressure. Combine that with the fact that the Bears were able to hold Calvin Johnson in check during the first meeting between these two teams. The offenses should be the main focus, as Detroit has the NFL’s top passing game, while the Bears (29th ranked pass offense) have the talent, but have been struggling offensively as of late. Then again, opponents have posted a 69.8 QB rating against the Bears, the second lowest in the NFL. Chicago’s defense also has 23 interceptions, more than any other team. Chicago’s turnover ratio is also a +16 compared to Detroit’s -12. Stats aside, I think this line comes down to injuries, specifically on the side of the Bears. It appears that Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman and Matt Forte all will play, while Brian Urlacher likely will not, all key players. The conservative pick – the one that I’m going with – is that the Bears will cover. But I expect this to be a one-score game.
KP’s Pick: Chicago
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-3.5)
Both teams have been eliminated from playoff contention and will be playing for pride. Snow is in the forecast, which should add an interesting twist. To add to it, Mark Sanchez will start again, after Greg McElroy suffered a concussion. The Jets are coming off last week’s loss, where the team allowed 11 sacks to the Chargers. Looking more at the quarterback position, you will see that the Bills have an 81.9 QB rating collectively as a team, while New York’s is at 69.3. Buffalo also has nine more passing TD’s and one less interception. The Bills are averaging 5.1 yards per carry on the ground, compared to the Jets’ 3.8. The Jets are slightly better statistically against both the pass and the run. However, it can’t be ignored that Buffalo has been better offensively and the Jets are a mess, forced to go back to Mark Sanchez. Mesh that in with New York’s lass of pas protection, along with snow expected and the Bills playing at home, and it all adds up to the Bills deserving to be the favorite – and that’s why I think Buffalo will find a way to cover the spread.
KP’s Pick: Buffalo
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-7.5)
The Bucs have struggled over the last month and the Falcons have already clinched home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. As a result, two questions jump out at me: 1) Will Atlanta play all of its starters for any (or all) of the game and 2) is Josh Freeman really providing defenses with “tells” and if so, will he be able to fix that problem before this game? Atlanta coach Mike Smith has said that his team will play to win, but it still has to be a possibility that while that may be true, Atlanta may also choose to rest players in the second half. On the side of the Bucs, one can’t expect Greg Schiano to lie down, as he doesn’t even do that in the final seconds of decided games. Tampa Bay’s pass defense is ranked last in the league, leaving Atlanta’s potent pass game to likely put up points. But again, it comes back to how long they will play, combined with the Bucs’ offense, which has plenty of talented pieces. In the end, this game means nothing to Atlanta, and while Mike Smith says that Atlanta will play the entire game, that’s questionable. Atlanta could have an early lead, only to see Tampa Bay cut into it during the second half. That’s why a touchdown game seems more likely here. Take the Bucs and the points.
KP’s Pick: Tampa Bay
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (+3.5)
With a win, the Packers can clinch a first-round bye, while the Vikings can also advance to the playoffs with a victory. The Vikings are very tough to face at home, but this game still has meaning for both teams, and Aaron Rodgers has been playing at a high level as of late. Green Bay’s 23rd-ranked run defense will have to find ways to slow down Adrian Peterson. Building an early lead would be one way, leaving the Vikings to have to lean more on Christian Ponder and the NFL’s 32nd ranked pass offense (averaging just 168 yards per game). The Minnesota defense holds opposing quarterbacks to an 89.6 QB rating, which is 21st in the league. Green Bay is 4th in that category, which could mean more trouble for Ponder. In the end, Aaron Rodgers will make plays, as he always does. It comes down to whether the Packers can limit Minnesota’s pass pressure, while keeping Peterson from running completely wild. Green Bay can earn a bye here and I see that being motivation enough for the Packers to handle Minnesota’s one-dimensional offense just enough to cover.
KP’s Pick: Green Bay
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-10.5)
The Dolphins have been eliminated, while the Patriots still have an outside shot at the AFC’s top overall seed. Still, New England has struggled over the last few weeks. Snow showers are in the forecast, which could give an additional home field advantage to the Patriots. Tom Brady has made it known that the Patriots are very upset by the team’s overall performance over the last two weeks. Playing in the cold and the wind, I give a major advantage to New England, and with a bye an option, I expect Brady and the Pats to win by double-digits. Pats cover.
KP’s Pick: New England
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (-3.5)
Plain and simple, the winner of this game wins the NFC East. The game was moved to Sunday night, so the Redskins will know if it has clinched a playoff spot or not. Washington will be in before game time if both Chicago and Minnesota lose. No matter what, Dallas will need to win this game to get in. For the Cowboys, DeMarco Murray didn’t play during the last matchup between these two teams and Miles Austin had left the Thanksgiving game early with a hip injury. Combine those two key offensive weapons with the fact that Tony Romo has been playing exceptionally well as of late. With these factors in mind, I like Dallas to keep this game close. With this huge rivalry game deciding the division, bank on a field goal in the fourth quarter to win it. Take Dallas and the points.
KP’s Pick: Dallas
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-4.5)
Both teams are out of playoff contention, yet have been playing well over the last few weeks. Both defenses have struggled defensively, while the offenses have played exceptionally well. Cam Newton and Drew Brees have also been playing at a high level. But it can’t be ignored just how well the Saints have been playing at home lately, plus the fact that New Orleans is seeking momentum into the offseason, especially now that Jay Payton has signed an extension. Saints cover at home.
KP’s Pick: New Orleans
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (+4.5)
The Texans can clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC with a win, while the Colts are likely to be the #5 seed no matter what happens. But while the Colts are likely unaffected in the playoff seeding, the return of head coach Chuck Pagano will be an emotional one, especially in front of the home crowd. Reggie Wayne has also been quoted as saying that the Colts “probably need to put everybody out there”. Arian Foster has been cleared to play. The turnover differential in this game is surprisingly large, with the Texans at a +14, while the Colts are a -14. Combine the turnover differential with how the Colts played last week versus the Chiefs, and you can’t help but favor the Texans. And again, Houston also can clinch the top overall seed, and that should be momentum enough to win by a touchdown.
KP’s Pick: Houston
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (-4.5)
Both teams were eliminated weeks ago and will be playing for pride. The Jaguars will be without Cecil Shorts, which will mean a hit on the offensive side of the ball. Maurice Jones-Drew is out again and will have surgery. That leaves Justin Blackmon as the key offensive weapon for the Jags. Tennessee, meanwhile, will have Chris Johnson trying to finish strong, plus Jake Locker, who statistically has played much better at home. The Titans have struggled defensively, but it can’t be ignored how the Jags have no pass rush and will have limited weapons on offense. Tennessee covers.
KP’s Pick: Tennessee
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5)
Each team suffered Week 16 injuries and the Steelers were recently eliminated from contention. The key to this line will be who plays. Heath Miller is definitely out for the Steelers, while it appears that both Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden are out for the Browns. In fact, it was announced that Thad Lewis – Cleveland’s third-string QB – is starting the game. That alone should be enough to go with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers at home. Pittsburgh covers.
KP’s Pick: Pittsburgh
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5)
Both teams are in the playoffs and the Bengals have announced they will play everyone. Baltimore hasn’t ruled anything out, whether playing everyone or resting a few guys. Either way, the Ravens will host a playoff game, but can’t earn a bye. Baltimore can move up to the three seed while Cincinnati is already locked in at the sixth spot. The Ravens will want to build off momentum from last week’s win against the Giants, and with that in mind, I like the Ravens to keep this one close against a divisional rival that may end up resting players at some point during the second half. Take Baltimore and the points.
KP’s Pick: Baltimore
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (-8.5)
The Giants can make the playoffs with a win, plus a lot of help. The Eagles will go with Michael Vick at QB, with Nick Foles out due to a broken hand. This is an opportunity for Vick, and it could wind up his best game of the year. There’s just something that being benched can bring out of a player. On the other side, Hakeem Nicks is a question mark due to injuries, but Ahmad Bradshaw should be in the lineup for the Giants. Philadelphia has mostly stayed in games over the last month, and with this likely being Andy Reid’s last game with the Eagles, it’s a good bet that the Eagles will play hard in his honor. The Giants should win, but this one will be close. Take Philly and the points.
KP’s Pick: Philadelphia
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-15.5)
The 49ers can clinch the division and also have a shot at a first round bye. With Green Bay also playing a 4 o’clock game, San Francisco will not know if it can still clinch or not. With Seattle playing at the same time, the 49ers will also not know if it has clinched the division. Therefore, winning this game will still be important for the 49ers, but even so, the spread is very high for a team that focuses on running the ball. Brian Hoyer will start for the Cardinals, his first ever start in the NFL. He could struggle against a talented San Francisco defense on the road. Still, the Cardinals have the second ranked pass defense, meaning this group could keep the Niners in check, too. Justin Smith is also out for San Francisco, which should take some pop out of the San Francisco pass rush. That will be necessary for the Cardinals, as Arizona has allowed the most sacks in the NFL. But in the end, if Arizona scores 10 points, that forces San Francisco to have to put up 26 to cover. Take Arizona and the points.
KP’s Pick: Arizona
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (-16.5)
Denver can clinch home field advantage with a win, plus a Houston loss. That’s what gets tricky with this one, as the Texans play at 1pm, and Denver will know the result by then. However, with New England also playing a 4 o’clock game, the Broncos will still be fighting for a bye week – and that’s key. Weeks ago, the Chiefs gave Denver a tough test, but the Broncos are continuing to gel as the season progresses. This is a very high spread, but it can’t be ignored just how well Peyton Manning and the Denver offense has been playing. That, plus Denver’s defense is solid against the run, which is the only way that Kansas City moves the ball. Playing at home, I still see the Broncos turning this one into a blowout, and earning a first round bye. Denver covers.
KP’s Pick: Denver
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers (-7.5)
Both teams are out of the playoffs and will be playing for pride. The Raiders will be without Carson Palmer, which will mean a huge disadvantage to Oakland’s pass game and offense. In Palmer’s absence, the Raiders announced that Terrelle Pryor will start. For San Diego, this is expected to be the swan song for Norv Turner, and that could mean extra effort from the Chargers. San Diego’s pass protection (47 sacks allowed, 2nd most in NFL) has been one of the team’s issues, but Oakland has just 23 sacks on the year, which is the 2nd fewest in the league. Therefore, expect to see more protection for Philip Rivers. So, to recap, Oakland is without its most efficient offensive weapon, San Diego is at home in what could be Norv Turner’s last hurrah and Philip Rivers will likely have plenty of time to throw against a defense that has allowed 26 passing TD’s. That should be all that you need to know. Chargers cover.
KP’s Pick: San Diego
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5)
The Seahawks have earned a playoff spot and can still win the NFC West division. It’s no secret just how well Seattle has played at home, as well as over the last three weeks. If Steven Jackson can establish the run against the Seahawks, then this game should be close, as the Rams have given its division rivals fits throughout the year. Still, Seattle is at home and I can’t sit here and post a ton of stats as to why to pick the Seahawks. Plain and simple, a team that is 7-0 at home and scored 150 points over the three three games, you just have to ride the hot hand. Seattle covers.
KP’s Pick: Seattle