Another big week for me, as a 5-1 mark has me at 40-24 (!) for the season. Week 17 is here, which means, unfortunately, all division games and thus a lot of stale, one-sided matchups. Still, there is a lot left to be decided, including three AFC divisions and a whole lot of seeding. Let’s jump into this week’s matchups as the playoff picture will become crystal clear after the Colts-Titans clash on Sunday night:
Last week: 5-1
Season: 40-24 (62.5%)
Carolina at New Orleans (-7)
The only reason I’m picking this game and picking the Panthers is that the similarities to 2009 won’t end — after all, if the Saints lose this game, it will continue to remarkably mirror their Super Bowl year. That season, the 13-3 Saints, who also went 7-1 on the road, lost at home to the Bucs, lost to Dallas, and then lost a meaningless Week 17 game to the Panthers in which Drew Brees did not play. So even if Teddy Bridgewater has his moments, and even though the Cats have dropped seven straight and are down to rookie Kyle Allen at quarterback, somehow, some way, I believe the Panthers will at least get a cover. And maybe on some level the Saints wouldn’t mind losing to keep that 2009 theme going? Pick: Panthers.
Dallas at New York Giants (-6)
It’s always tricky picking these types of games and yet here I go with another one. The Giants put up a great fight in Indy last week, and really want to end on a high note in the form of a 5-3 finish. The Cowboys have nothing to play for and all the motivation for Big Blue should carry the day here. Pick: Giants.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (buying to -14 at -115)
Antonio Brown or no Antonio Brown, this garbage Bengals team, in what will hopefully be Marvin Lewis’ final game at the helm, is completely hapless. They got their gentlemanly cover with some late garbage points last week, but this is a ticked off Steelers team that is way too talented to lose in this spot, and frankly, Pittsburgh needs to flex its muscles after the frustrations of last week’s loss to the Saints. No way Jeff Driskel and the woeful Bungles are putting up any kind of real fight here. Pick: Steelers.
Cleveland at Baltimore (-6)
This is a dangerous deja vu spot for the Ravens a year after falling to the Bengals in this spot last season. Cleveland is red-hot, winners of five of its last six, and beat the Ravens in OT back in Week 5. That was the anemic offense led by Joe Flacco, though, as the Ravens have gotten quite a spark from Lamar Jackson and are coming off a great road win against the Chargers (whom they may well see again a week from now). I do think the Ravens will find a way to right 2017’s wrongs, when they surrendered a late fourth-down touchdown to the Bengals to blow a postseason spot, but it will take a lot of scrapping against a pesky Browns team that is in position to be a force in the AFC North next year. Pick: Browns.
Los Angeles Chargers (-6) at Denver
It’s hard to believe the Broncos have fallen off the way they had. It was just a month ago we were singing their praises after a road win over the Chargers and a home win over the Steelers. But since then they have lost three straight and Vance Joseph has probably lost his job. The Chargers won’t be messing around after losing to the Ravens on national television last week with a division title potentially in the balance. Case Keenum looks like the Case Keenum of old (as in the career backup prior to his magical 2017 season) and now with Phillip Lindsay on the shelf, I don’t see the Broncos having enough to hang with the Bolts in this one. Pick: Chargers.
Oakland at Kansas City (-14)
The Chiefs really worry me as a playoff team. This franchise and, more specifically, its head coach, has a checkered postseason history. Here they are in a big spot against the lowly Raiders just needing to win to capture the AFC West for the third straight year. But Oakland played well last week and the Chiefs did not, leading me to believe this matchup could go similarly to these teams’ first meeting in Oakland in Week 13, the first game KC played without Kareem Hunt. It looked like a blowout early but the Raiders only fell by seven, and once again all the pressure is on the Chiefs here. I ultimately think they’ll win and be the No. 1 seed (albeit a very soft one), but think the Raiders will give them fits throughout. Pick: Raiders.
Indianapolis (buying to -3 at -135) at Tennessee
The Colts are on fire right now, winners of eight of their last nine. Perhaps Josh McDaniels did Indy a huge favor by reneging on becoming its head coach. Andrew Luck is the healthy and hot quarterback entering this one, and the fact that the Colts were pushed to the brink last week and survived only makes me like them more in this spot. Even if Marcus Mariota plays for the Titans, I’m not sure that he and Derrick Henry can keep up with a Colts offense that’s humming right now. And I do hope that Mariota plays, because it just wouldn’t seem right for a play-in game to not have one of the starting QBs (remember Kyle Orton filling in for Tony Romo in the 2013 finale for Dallas?). But my biggest hope for this game? That it doesn’t end in a tie and allow the Steelers to somehow squeak into the playoffs. Pick: Colts.