Week 17 Matchup Predictions
Buccaneers (6-9) @ Falcons (13-2): Falcons' head coach Mike Smith says that his team will be playing to win the game, but it's hard to imagine him rolling with his starters for the full four quarters when his team already has the top seed in the NFC locked up. With their most important skill position players - Julio Jones and Roddy White - both banged up this season, it would be wise not to risk further injury, and any injury to Matt Ryan would squander their Super Bowl aspirations. The Bucs have lost five straight, but I think they'll want to go out on a positive note and be ready to take on an acquiescent Falcons team.
Buccaneers win 24-20.
Jets (6-9) @ Bills (5-10): Well, McElroy, you had a good run, but now Mark Sanchez is back under center! Head coach Rex Ryan is playing musical chairs around Tim Tebow, bringing McElroy from third string quarterback to starter last week, and Sanchez from third string to starter this week, all while Tebow sits still as the backup. Rex claims he's rolling with Sanchez because he knows the Bills better than Tebow, but that's a giant heap of garbage - Rex just doesn't want to risk Tebow winning the game and having the media all over him asking, "Why not sooner?" Anyway, Sanchez is terrible, and he's now been demoralized and taken out of his usual starting quarterback routine. I think he'll struggle to move the ball on the Bills, despite their 31st ranked scoring defense.
Bills win 24-17.
Ravens (10-5) @ Bengals (9-6): The Bengals are locked into the second wild card spot, so they're essentially playing for nothing. However, with a young team, head coach Marvin Lewis stressed that he wants to build up momentum going into the playoffs. The Ravens, on the other hand, can only get the 3rd or 4th seed, meaning they will not have a first round bye and will have one week of home field advantage, regardless of what happens on Sunday. I don't think the Ravens will be as keen on winning this game as the Bengals will be, and with the Ravens struggling on the road this year, I like the Bengals to get their desired momentum going into the playoffs.
Bengals win 27-20.
Bears (9-6) @ Lions (4-11): The Bears have everything on the line in this one. Their playoff scenario is simple (I'm ignoring tie scenarios) - they have to win and the Vikings have to lose. With the Vikings facing the Packers, the Bears have to feel pretty good about their win-and-in outlook (can you guess who I'm picking in the Packers game?). The Lions have been a monumental disappointment this season, their biggest issue probably being their turnovers. The Bears, who force the most turnovers in the NFL, will give them fits as they play their hearts out on Sunday.
Bears win 24-19.
Jaguars (2-13) @ Titans (5-10): The Jaguars hung in there with the Patriots last week, while the Titans were destroyed by the Packers. In addition, the Jaguars beat the Titans just over a month ago, but I still think the Titans are the better team in this matchup (I use the term "better" to mean "not as terrible"). The Titans are actually somewhat capable of both running and throwing the football, while the Jaguars have no run game and an inconsistent passing game. Chris Johnson will have his way with the league's 31st ranked run defense as his team gets the win.
Titans win 21-16.
Texans (12-3) @ Colts (10-5): The Texans have a shot to claim the top seed in the AFC with a win (if the Broncos lose), but could also drop to the third seed (no first-round bye) with a loss (if the Patriots win). The Colts, on the other hand, are locked into the fifth seed, and while rumor has it that they'll be playing their starters and going for the win, they aren't likely to have as much energy as the Texans, who have a lot on the line. I'm picking the Texans for the same reason I picked them in their first matchup with the Colts - the Colts are ranked 24th in giveaways and 30th in takeaways, while the Texans are ranked 2nd and 7th, respectively. Combine that with what these two teams are playing for and you have your winner.
Texans win 28-21.
Panthers (6-9) @ Saints (7-8): Both of these teams are essentially playing for pride, but that didn't slow the Saints down last week, when they topped the surging Cowboys in Dallas. The Saints will now return home, where it's always terribly difficult to beat them, to face a disappointing Panthers team. Since October, the Saints are 7-4 with their losses coming to the Broncos, 49ers, Falcons, and Giants. The Panthers are much more like the seven teams the Saints beat than the four teams they lost to.
Saints win 34-28.
Eagles (4-11) @ Giants (8-7): There's only one thing on the Giants' minds right now, and that's getting this win. There is no scenario in which they can backdoor their way into the playoffs with a loss. Sure, a lot needs to happen for them to get in, but none of it means a thing if they don't win. Michael Vick is being thrown back into the fire for the Eagles, getting his first start since Week 10. Despite the Eagles beating the Giants earlier this season, and the Giants getting crushed in their past two games, I can't see the Eagles beating this historically resilient Giants team.
Giants win 27-21.
Browns (5-10) @ Steelers (7-8): I doubt many people had the Browns just two games behind the Steelers at this point in the season. The Steelers were eliminated from playoff contention last week, but if any coach could get his players to bring it together for one more good game, it's Mike Tomlin. The Steelers still have the top ranked defense in the league, and I can't possibly see the Browns getting enough offensive production to top Big Ben and the Steelers.
Steelers win 23-10.
Chiefs (2-13) @ Broncos (12-3): The Broncos have the second seed in the AFC right now, but could move up to the top seed or down to the third seed depending on what the Texans and Patriots do. I imagine they'll be out there to win this one, and it won't be too tough with the 2-13 Chiefs headed to Denver. This game really just comes down to Peyton Manning vs. Brady Quinn.
Broncos win 31-17.
Packers (11-4) @ Vikings (9-6): The Packers have the NFC North locked up, but they'll almost certainly need to win if they want a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Vikings are in a must-win situation as well, so I think this will be one of the more competitive games of the week. However, the Packers have won nine of their last ten games, and the Vikings will be forced to keep up with Aaron Rodgers behind their strong run game and 32nd ranked passing attack. I love the Vikings, but I think they'll fall just short of their playoff dreams.
Packers win 24-20.
Dolphins (7-8) @ Patriots (11-4): The Patriots currently have the third seed in the AFC, but could get as high as the top seed if the Texans and Broncos both lose. The Patriots are a veteran team that knows the importance of a first-round bye, so they'll be out there trying to get themselves that coveted week of rest. With the top ranked total offense and scoring offense, I don't expect the Dolphins - who score the 25th most points in the league - to be able to hang in there with Tom Brady in New England.
Patriots win 30-17.
Cardinals (5-10) @ 49ers (10-4-1): Justin Smith showed just how important he is to the 49ers' defense last week by watching the game from the sidelines while Marshawn Lynch went beast-mode all over the field on Sunday Night Football. Diagnosed with a torn triceps, Smith is unlikely to return this week, but the Niners won't need him against a Cardinals team that has an offensive line built like swiss cheese. The Cardinals have lost ten of their last eleven, can't put up points, and can't defend the run. The 49ers will play smashmouth football and easily top the Cardinals at home.
49ers win 27-13.
Rams (7-7-1) @ Seahawks (10-5): The Seahawks are 7-0 at home this season and are coming off three straight merciless victories, winning by an average of 50-10. I like what the Rams have done this season under Jeff Fisher (especially on defense), but how could I possibly pick against the Seahawks right now?
Seahawks win 28-14.
Cowboys (8-7) @ Redskins (9-6): This is what it all comes down to in the NFC. The NFL rightfully flexed this game to prime time on Sunday night, and it will have huge playoff implications. The Cowboys can knock the Redskins out, the Redskins can knock the Cowboys out, the Cowboys can knock the Giants out... the list seems infinite, and is all based on what happens during the day games on Sunday. I think this game will be tight. The Cowboys just lost a heartbreaker to the Saints, but had won five of their past six before that. The Redskins have won six straight and haven't turned the ball over more than once since October 21st. As for who I think will win, I'm thinking the same thing I was when these teams played on Thanksgiving - Robert Griffin III steps up on the big stage and tells anyone who for some reason doesn't think this kid is the real deal that this is his division. He'll make an "if you want to win the NFC East, you have to come through me" type statement with a huge game on national television. It won't be easy, though. Tony Romo has stepped up in some big moments this season and won't just roll over while RG3 lights up the scoreboard, but he won't quite be able to match the rookie's magical ability.
Redskins win 30-27.
Well, folks, it's been a fun regular season, but don't forget, there will still be plenty of games to pick in the playoffs, so I'm not going away just yet.