Happy New Year, all.
Week 17 has arrived with a bang, but for some teams, it will end with a whimper. After four months of often futile efforts to predict who will do what, where, and to whom, we finally have arrived at perhaps the least predictable week of all.
Some of the possibilities in the AFC were straightened out last week, but this last round of regular season play comes with plenty of balls left in the air. Feel free to interpret that statement any way you like.
The NFC playoff seeds are almost as uncertain as in the AFC.
Here in Patriot Nation, we know our team is in, so we are sitting back to enjoy a good Sunday of football. Most of the regular crew is here to offer their insights into what shapes up to be one crazy day in the NFL: Doug Baker, Glenn Card, EA, and yours truly. We are only missing Steve Frith, who would be here if he could.
We will continue to post our selections throughout the playoffs, but I want to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have been kind enough to follow this series through the regular season.
As for the rest of the posse, it has been a pleasure collaborating with you, and I look forward to the postseason.
Now, let’s get to it.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
DB: The Colts realized that they weren't going to go 19-0 so they gave up a game in hopes they don't choke like they usually do in the playoffs. They obviously are not going to be play their starters this week, or hard, so even though Buffalo is awful, I think the Colts lay down for them. And hopefully they lay down in the playoffs too. Buffalo.
EA: I don't care who the Colts decide to play in this one, I have a hard time believing they'll lose.
GC: Unbelievable as it was to see the Colts sit starters and give up on the possibility of an undefeated regular season, I wonder if this tactic really does them any good in the postseason. We've seen the Colts do this year in and year out, as great as the team has been this decade this strategy has not served them well.
TR: Sitting starters doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but then, I’m a Patriots fan, stubborn by nature and always looking for the best possible outcome in any game. It’s a dubious tactic anyway, but Caldwell will undoubtedly do it again. He’ll play the starters until they get a good lead, which should take about five minutes. Buffalo just wants to get this mess over with, so those five minutes should be good enough for a Colts win.
DB: Good bye Eli! And good riddance Giants. Take Minnesota to win at home.
EA: The Giants are done for the year, while the Vikings are going to the playoffs. Their seed could be anywhere, still, so aside from playing in front of a home crowd there will be some motivation for the Vikes to play their 'A game' for this one.
GC: The Giants are done for the year and they can't even play spoiler against the Vikings. The only thing that might happen is if the Giants win they could possibly help knock the Vikings down to the fourth seed and take away their bye week. Vikings win this home game.
TR: What happened to the G-Men this year? Whatever it was, it’s still happening, and the Vikes want that coveted second seed, so Minnesota will win this one. Even if Favre sucks.
DB: Wow, Atlanta sure ain't what they were last year but they should beat Tampa Bay. Falcons will come out on top.
EA: Both of these teams have been done for awhile, and despite pulling out a 'W' against the Saints last week, don't think the Buccos will fare too well against Atlanta.
GC: The Buccaneers had some surprising wins this year against some of the NFL's best, but the Falcons are going to be gunning for the winning season to make it back-to-back for the first time in franchise history. The Falcons will put on a show with a commanding win.
TR: The Falcons are a more talented team than the Bucs, so even though there is nothing on the line here, I have to think Atlanta will take this one.
San Francisco @ St. Louis
DB: The 49ers are an up-and-coming team and it sounds like Steven Jackson isn't playing this week. The 49ers have pride and are playing a really bad team. San Francisco wins the finale.
EA: I’ll take the Niners, easy.
GC: The 49ers did a lot to help them get back to their winning ways this year, and I really liked the way they played with heart. The Rams, on the other hand, are going to need that first-round pick next year, as they can use all the help they can get. The 49ers end their season on an up note with a win.
TR: San Francisco has come a long way toward renewed respectability, and they will just get better next season. As for St. Louis, well…I hope the draft is kind to them.
DB: Pittsburgh still has something to play for, maybe, long shot, but still…Pittsburgh.
EA: LaMarr Woodley just came out this week saying to reporters that he thinks the Bengals and Patriots will "lay down" against their opponents this week because they don't want the Steelers going to the playoffs. Maybe if the Steelers wanted to go so damn bad, they would take care to beat loser teams like the Bears, Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns. They would have secured their spot by now. Hopefully the Dolphins give 'em hell in Miami and send the defending champs home without a chance to repeat.
GC: The defending champions, the Steelers, have been brought low this year, but they could still make the playoffs. Miami wins this home game convincingly, but it's not going to do them any good either except for prides sake and to avoid a losing season.
TR: As inconsistent as the Steelers have been this season, it's reasonable to believe that they will end the season uninspired and on a low note, even when their hopes for a postseason gig depend on it. Miami is full of surprises, and they are playing at home with a slim chance of making the playoffs, so I’m looking for a Dolphins win. Yes, there is one unlikely scenario that would put them at the sixth seed. Can you believe it?
DB: Who knows what to make of this game? It really depends on what the Saints do with their starters. They squeak out a close one against the Panthers to end their season on a high note. New Orleans.
EA: This is a pretty meaningless game, although Matt Moore will probably continue showing why he deserves to be starting QB over Jake Delhomme. The surprising thing is, the Panthers, as bad as they have looked at times this year, could still end up 8-8 with a win over their division rival. They almost did it earlier this year, so I'll take the Panthers in a home-field upset.
GC: The Saints are perfect team on the road in 2009 with a 7-0 record away from the Superdome. They will nail the Panthers to the wall and go into the playoffs on a good note.
TR: The Saints have nothing to gain by winning at this point, and the Cats did give New Orleans a bit of a fight earlier in the season. Sean Payton will be looking to rest some starters, but if I were in his place, I would be more concerned about regaining some momentum. If Carolina has any pride left at all, and if Julius Peppers wants another fat contract somewhere next season, the Panthers will give the home crowd something to remember them by until next season.
DB: Who cares? Chicago.
EA: Pheeeeeeeeeeyew! This matchup stinks so bad I can smell it all the way over here in the Twin Cities! Jay Cutler did the unthinkable and threw more touchdowns than interceptions against a pretty stout Minnesota defense last week, so he should have a pretty easy (SHOULD being the keyword) time having his way with the Lions.
GC: These two teams are done for the year; they can't even compete for higher draft choices. Since they are done, I'll pick the home team. The Lions show the home crowd what they might have to look forward, too.
TR: The coin is in the air, here it comes, tails it is. Detroit. Well, they are at home, anyway.
DB: I have no idea what Bill B will do with the starters. But I think regardless of what happens, we find a way to beat Houston. Take New England.
EA: Bill wouldn't give anything away on a conference call this week, but he did give a hint that the regular starters will at least be playing. For how long is the key, however. If the first-stringers stay on the field for the first two and a half quarters or so, it may be enough to win, despite going on the road to play a motivated Texans team seeking its first playoff berth in team history.
GC: The Patriots are in the playoffs either way, but I'm betting they'll try to put this one away early before they pull any starters. Besides, the Texans have been the bane of my picks all year and I promised myself I wouldn't pick them to win anymore.
TR: Houston has picked up the consistency level this year, and they have a good shot at winning this one. Belichick, on the other hand, isn’t going to pull a Caldwell. He will play his starters until he figures the game is put away. He will go for it on fourth-and-two if the situation arises. He is Bill.
DB: Browns continue to be pretty awful. Jaguars still have a faint heartbeat left. Pick Jacksonville.
EA: At 7-8, the Jaguars are still theoretically in the hunt, so expect them to be motivated for that win, just in case many of the other teams in the wild card hunt lose their games this week. Despite their routing at the hands of the Patriots last week, the Jags should pull out a win against a suddenly warm Cleveland Browns team.
GC: The Jaguars have a chance to make it into the playoffs with some help. The only thing they can do to help themselves is win this game. They're not going to let the Browns get in the way.
TR: I can’t imagine Jax letting this one get away, even if they are on the road.
DB: This is going to be the game of the week: A showdown in Dallas for the NFC East. These two teams have at times, over the past few years, put on a very entertaining game. I find this one hard to call because I think the Eagles are playing well, and Dallas usually goes into a swoon at this point in the season. But I just have a gut feeling that Dallas is going to pull this one out at home. Take the Cowboys.
EA: I'll take the Eagles, but this should be a heck of a game.
GC: It's possible that these two teams could play each other two weeks in a row. If all the stars align Dallas could end up with a bye week. I think the Cowboys help their cause with a home win.
TR: The Eagles could wind up with any seed from two through six, and unless my vision (and math) is worse than I thought, so could the Cowboys. Every time I predict a “great game,” it isn't, but this sure looks like a good one to me. The Eagles are playing like winners, so I see a close win for them on the road.
DB: It's funny how many times this year that I've picked the Seahawks to win only because it's a ho-hum game with no significance. That's true again this week, and I'll take the Seahawks again only because they are playing at home.
EA: Tennessee's season is all but over after a heartbreaker in San Diego last week, and Seattle didn't have much of a chance this year to begin with. I'll take the Titans, though, as they are a far better team than the Seahawks.
GC: It's funny how many times this year that I've picked the Seahawks to win only because it's a ho-hum game with no significance. That's true again this week. The Seahawks only because they are playing at home.
TR: It doesn’t matter who wins this game, but I believe Vince Young still has something to prove. And then there is Chris Johnson, who should run all over the Seahawks, winding up at the top of the Space Needle. I have to go with the Titans.
Washington @ San Diego
DB: The Chargers could start their cheerleaders in this game and still win. Take San Diego.
EA: The Chargers secured the No. 2 seed with a win over the Titans, so don't expect their starters to come out for more than a little over a half in this one. If they don't open a big enough lead before yanking.
GC: The Redskins have nothing to play for except pride. It's not going to be enough against this Charger team at home.
TR: With that two seed firmly in their grasp, the Bolts won’t play their starters for much more than the time it takes the Skins to realize that they are hopelessly overmatched. Oh, wait, they already know.
DB: Will the Ravens finally stick the gun in their mouth and end their misery? Will they find another stupid way to lose a football game? They have a lot to play for but they are playing the Raiders. I think Baltimore pulls this one out and heads to the playoffs. Baltimore.
EA: The Ravens are still in the playoffs, but they have a lot of competition. On paper, this looks like an easy win for the Ravens, but the Raiders have done such a good job at playing spoiler this year, I won't rule anything out.
GC: The Ravens’ only possible way into the playoffs is through the Raiders with a lot of help from other teams. Baltimore keeps its playoff hopes alive with a win.
TR: Anything can happen in Oakland, but the Ravens will be playing with a lot of heart and praying for a playoff shot. I can’t pick against them, and I don’t want to.
DB: The Chiefs would love nothing more than to knock off their rival Broncos, but it won't happen this week in the Mile High city. Take Denver.
EA: The Broncos are still in the playoffs after a tough loss to the Eagles, but they could use another win here for extra measure. Should be an easy one at home against Kansas City.
GC: The Chiefs could play spoiler in this game against the Broncos and knock them right out of the playoffs. Because they are playing in mile high I'll give this win to the Broncos and keeping their playoff picture clear.
TR: I don’t see how the Chiefs will put up much of a fight, not at Denver.
DB: What a weird feeling for teams to be playing each other going into the playoffs and really only seeding might be at issue. I like Green Bay in this one, just because I never know what Arizona team is going to show up. Take the Packers.
EA: As the standings are right now, these two teams are scheduled to play each other on Wild Card Weekend. With the entire NFC playoff picture in place, do not be surprised if we see the starters play about a quarter or so before getting yanked so as to avoid giving away too much intel to the team they'll face a week later. The Cards are deadly at home, so I'll take them, even matched up against a white-hot Packers team.
GC: This should be a good game and it is possible that these two teams will also be playing each other again next as well depending on the results of the rest of the NFL games. I'm giving the Cardinals the home win in this one.
TR: The Cardinals could still snatch that second seed in the NFC if they win here and both Minnesota and Philadelphia lose. I don’t see all that happening, but the Cardinals should come to play. Green Bay is looking at a the fifth or sixth seed and have less to lose. Arizona shows up.
DB: This will be a close game and it will depend on what the Bengals do with their starters. I just don't see Cincinnati starting everyone the entire game. Like last week, the Jets will be given the game, and given a playoff berth. That's not how it's supposed to be in the NFL, but that's how it is for the Jets. Take New York.
EA: As a Patriots fan, my eyes are on this game. As it stands right now, the Pats and Jets are matched up for Wild Card Weekend. If the Jets win, it will stay that way. If the Bengals win, our foe would probably become the Ravens. Despite having a very tough defense, I am more comfortable hosting Mark Sanchez and the Jets for the playoffs than Joe Flacco and the Ravens. So, unfortunately, I find myself having to cheer for the Jets for the second straight week. Yippie.
GC: The Bengals are in but the Jets have to win this one to go to the show. I believe the Jets have enough gas in their tank to make it to the playoffs, but we'll see where they go from there.
TR: The Jets need this game to have a shot at the playoffs, and the Bengals don’t. Unfortunately for a couple of other teams, including the Patriots, the outcome of this game has potentially important ramifications in the postseason scenario. The short story is that the Jets must win to stay alive, and the worst that could happen to Cincy is a drop from three seed to four. A motivated Jets should defeat cruise-controlled Bengals.
And that, my friends, is the view from New England.