The second half of week 17 will feature 4 teams in “win and you’re in” scenarios. As any NFL fan knows just because you have to win to get into the playoffs doesn’t mean you will win… There’s plenty of ways the week affects each team. You can check out our NFC and AFC playoff scenarios and also see how each game will effect both teams either in playoff seeding or NFL Draft position.
In the early games, there are several significant games as well, but the bulk of the playoff implications are at 4:15 eastern and in the Sunday Night Football game. The playoffs get an early start for the two teams in Sunday Night Football, since whoever wins will win the NFC East. That pick’s at the very bottom of this article where you can find every pick against the spread (taken from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’Em, with home team in ALL CAPS).
Here’s how I think the 2nd half of Sunday will go down, which will also tell you who I think gets into the NFL playoffs, and who will be on the outside looking in:
BENGALS -2.5 over Ravens
Analysis: The Bengals need to win and they’ll be in the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, what stands between them and that wild card spot are their division rival Baltimore Ravens. The first time these 2 teams met, the usually solid defenses actually struggled and Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton were able to move their teams up and down the field. It came down to the very end but the home-town Ravens held on to win 31-24 over the visiting Bengals. Now the location shifts, and Cincinnati hosts the Ravens who are playing for a first round bye. It will be another knock-down, drag out fight between 2 division rivals who know each other well. The Ravens will be without Anquan Boldin who is still recovering from a knee injury, while the Bengals appear to be at full strength with AJ Green set to play through his shoulder injury. I expect Cedric Benson to actually have a good game (his history against the Ravens is as good as anybody’s can be against a good defense), and Andy Dalton and Green to connect early and often as they bring the Bengals to the playoffs in their first year in the league. It’s no sure thing or safe bet, to be sure, since the Ravens are a really good team. Baltimore has struggled on the road and as a Joe Flacco owner in fantasy football this year, I know his inconsistencies and think the Bengals D can get to him. I’ll take Cincinnati in a 20-17 thriller in by far the best late Sunday (4:15) game.
EAGLES (-8.5) over Redskins
Analysis: The Eagles are trying to end their season on a 4 game winning streak and have won each of the last 3 by double-digits. The Redskins have lost 9 if the last 11 since their bye week and their fans are probably more concerned with the draft pick they get for next year. There’s a few quality QBs and the difference between getting the one you want or not could be winning or losing this game. Coach Andy Reid has promised that he’s going to play all his starters for the normal amount including LeSean McCoy who is officially listed as questionable, but will be trying to catch Maurice Jones-Drew for the rushing title. The ‘Skins D may be just what he needs to get it done since they gave up 241 yards on the ground last week against the Vikings (mostly without Adrian Peterson). The Eagles at home will be playing for a .500 season which would still be disappointing due to the talent assembled (remember the dream team thing) and they’ll also be trying to avoid what would be just the third losing season during Reid’s 13-year term as head coach. Whether his run will end at 13 is still to be decided this coming offseason. I do think the birds get this one: 30-10.
Bucs +14.5 over FALCONS
Analysis: The Bucs haven’t won since before the London trip all the way back on October 16. Their run defense has been especially bad, but not much on this team has been good. If you read part 1 you know that I expect the Lions to beat the resting Packers which will make this game meaningless to the Falcons. I think the Falcons win easily, but wisely rest their starters and the Bucs come back enough to cover with a final of 34-24. It’s just too dangerous to give 14.5 points when there’s a chance Atlanta will have nothing to play for and the Bucs trying to save a little bit of their dignity.
Steelers-7.5 over BROWNS
Analysis: The Steelers have beaten the Browns 15 of the last 16 times they’ve played and Big Ben is 13-1 against Cleveland. It’ll be very interesting to see how much Ben plays as he tries to finish his recovery from the high ankle sprain suffered the last time these two teams met. Also injured in that game, Colt McCoy is still out due to his concussion given to him by James Harrison. Harrison and the hard-hitting Steelers defense now have to face Seneca Wallace in this game in Cleveland as they head into the Dawg Pound looking for a 1st week bye. If the Ravens lose and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh gets an extra week to get healthy and as an experienced playoff team, they know the value of that. I expect them to take care of business and beat the Browns 24-10.
Chiefs +3.5 over BRONCOS
Analysis: Kyle Orton will be the story here as he returns to face the team that benched and cut him earlier this year. His replacement is always a big story and excitement seems to gravitate towards Tim Tebow wherever he goes. The real determining factor in this one though, is which version of the Chiefs defense shows up. Since Romeo Crennel took over as head coach they’ve been lock-down against the run which is all that Denver really excels at. Last week they limited the Raiders to just 71 yards and before that held the Packers to just 101. Those teams don’t run as much or as well as the Broncos do, but Kyle Orton, Dwayne Bowe, and a heavy dose of Dexter McCluster could make this a tough game for the Broncos defense which was beaten last week by CJ Spiller and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They’ve given up 40+ in 2 consecutive games and 30+ in 3 or their last 4. I don’t think this one will be high-scoring, but I do think the Chiefs will score. 3.5 is too much to give though since I see Matt Prater doing what he does yet again and kicking the Broncos into the playoffs with a 23-20 win over the Chiefs.
Chargers +2.5 over RAIDERS
Analysis: Carson Palmer and the Raiders have been inconsistent since his arrival due at least in part to injuries and lack of time to work together. The Chargers were eliminated from the playoffs last week when they went down to the Lions, their first loss in 4 weeks. This week they’ll look to bounce back and finish with a win against Palmer and the Raiders. The Chargers play well against the pass (10th in the league) and pass the ball well (6th) which presents the worst possible matchup for the Raiders. The Raiders defense has been very weak during the team’s skid, losing 3 of their last 4, but they were able to hold the Oron-led Chiefs just enough to give themselves a shot this week. If the Raiders win and the Broncos lose they’ll be in the playoffs, but I don’t see how their secondary is going to stop Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates. Both teams will miss the playoffs after this one which I see ending San Diego 28-Oakland 17.
CARDINALS -3.5 over Seahawks
Analysis: The Cardinals D is one to watch for as a sleeper defense next year in drafts. They’ve vastly improved over the course of the year and have been playing well as the season wraps up. The Cards have also been playing very well at home in the desert where they’ve won their last 4 in a row including impressive wins over the Cowboys and 49ers. Last week they played the Bengals close and even though they have no playoff hopes whatsoever, I expect them to go all out on Sunday against division-rival Seattle. These 2 teams met in week 3 in a 13-10 scoring-fest in Seattle, but both teams have come a long way since then. Arizona QB Kevin Kolb will miss this one as well as he continues to battle concussion symptoms leaving John Skelton once again to take the reins. The Cards receivers have been glad to have Skelton as both Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts have seemed to develop a solid connection with him during the team’s recent success. The Seahawks have been on a bit of a roll themselves having won 5 of their last 7 to climb back into the playoff picture before a loss last week to San Fran in Seattle eliminated them. Marshawn Lynch, his skittles, and Tavaris Jackson have made for an exciting season in Seattle, and they may be better served losing this game to improve their draft spot if they’re hoping ton continue their building for the future. This will be a surprisingly watchable meaningless game and I see the Cardinals winning 24-17.
NEW YORK GIANTS -3.5 over the Cowboys
Analysis: I know the Giants were horrible during their November swoon as they’ve lost 5 of their last 7, and I know that they don’t have a running game that’s gotten them anything lately with Ahmad Bradshaw dinged up and Brandon Jacobs struggling. I know all that, but I’ll still take Eli and his receivers (drops and all) against the Dallas secondary instead of banking on an injured Tony Romo to go on the road and win in January. The Giants looked good last week against a still-kicking Jets team, while the Cowboys looked horrible while resting against the Eagles. I’m not a fan of letting games go like that and then expecting your team to bounce back and play well the very next week in a hostile environment. The Giants won 37-34 in Dallas week 14; this week, once again in primetime, I think they’ll win more convincingly, something like 35-17. In other predictions, I think Jason Garrett does stay as head coach and the Cowboys make the playoffs next year.
So according to my picks the playoff matchups next week will be Bengals @ Texans, Ravens @ Broncos, Lions @ Giants, and Falcons @ Saints… On Monday we’ll have the results and the finalized draft order and throughout the week next week individual previews for each wild card game. Enjoy the games this Sunday and then come back next week for all the results and implications… Have a great weekend!
Record last week: 9-7
overall record for the year: 138-102