Let me be clear: I hate the all-divisional Week 17. Always have, always will. I have my reasons, and I won’t bore you with too many. One of the big ones is that I think a lot of these rivalries have slower cycles in terms of power shifts, so you can have matchups like Steelers-Browns that stay one sided for 15 years and counting. Speaking of which, Pittsburgh has finished its regular season against Cleveland for seven straight years. Quite a break when you consider what the Browns have been since, like, forever. And how unfortunate — no Sunday Night Football, and no head-to-head matchups that will decide a division (there is only one division still at stake, period). At any rate, since the days of Vikings-Cardinals (2003) and Jaguars-Chiefs (2006) are behind us, leaving us with a lot of one-sided matchups that do not guarantee teams won’t sit starters, here’s what we have, and it’s time for me to make some picks.
Last week: 2-3
Houston at Indianapolis (-6)
This is one I feel strongly about. The Texans have mailed it in more prominently than any team, including the Browns, and DeAndre Hopkins is out. That means the Texans are down to about one true NFL player coming off an embarrassing 34-6 loss to the Steelers on a short week. The Colts have played hard all year, rarely getting blown out, and could have upset the Ravens last week. They beat Houston in November on the road, and should put up a good fight in what could very well be Chuck Pagano’s final game as Indy’s head coach. Pick: Colts.
Carolina at Atlanta (-3.5)
This might be one last chance for me to pick against the Falcons in a spot where it seems like they are set up to fail (again). Carolina rallied from 10 points down to beat the Falcons in Charlotte last month, and are playing for a possible division title and first-round home game. The Panthers are the kind of team that has proven it can hang with anybody, and could be a dangerous foe in the postseason. Atlanta just keeps finding ways to underachieve, and with a playoff berth on the line, why would that change now? Pick: Panthers.
Buffalo at Miami (buying up to +3 at -135)
This feels like the end of the line for the overachieving Bills. Miami has been a real disappointment, yet found ways to give its division rivals fits at home (see: Patriots in Week 14). This could be Jay Cutler’s final game, and all the pressure is on a Bills team that knows that even with a win, their 17-year playoff drought may still not end. Give credit to rookie head coach Sean McDermott for avoiding a losing season, though. Pick: Dolphins.
Jacksonville at Tennessee (-2.5)
The Titans need a win to not only finish 9-7 for a second straight year, but to have a shot at ending a nine-year playoff drought. Because Jacksonville, which ended its own decade-long dry spell, has nothing to play for in terms of playoff seeding, we could see some reserves get playing time for the Jags. That might actually not be the worst thing as far as the quarterback position goes, but it means that a desperate Titans team should have enough to get by, even though all the pressure is on them. Pick: Titans.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-6.5)
Sorry, I’m just not buying it. I think the oddsmakers are trying to generate some Cleveland bets by lowering the number, selling the desperation angle for the 0-15 Brownies and the fact that the Steelers could rest some regulars. But this Browns team is so bad it’s not even funny (well, it kind of is, actually). And Pittsburgh wants to stay sharp heading into January, even though the Jets have a snowball’s chance in hell against the Patriots to potentially give Pittsburgh the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Still, the Browns have a date with destiny, and despite them keeping it close in Week 1 (they only lost 21-18), I don’t see any way they stay within a touchdown of the Steelers in the finale. Pick: Steelers.
Washington (-3.5) at New York Giants
If there was a yearbook section for these picks entitled “selection most likely to fail,” it’s this one. But why not? I’ve been on the Skins for a couple weeks now and the Giants have been toast since about Week 2, but if there ever was a chance to surprise folks, it would be by putting up a gritty Week 17 effort against a division rival. The Giants hung with the Eagles in Week 15, then rolled over for Arizona last week. I’m not asking them to win, just lose by a gentlemanly three (or maybe I should say a “Gettleman-ly three”?). Pick: Giants.