I can’t recall a Week 17 with so much still left to be determined. Playoff matchups, first-round byes, Brees vs. Rodgers and the MVP race, the owner of Andrew Luck’s NFL fate — they’ll all be decided by Sunday’s outcomes.
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I like some upsets, I like some surprises, and I like Tebow. What’s new?
Let’s dig in.
Week 16 record: 9-7
Overall 2011 record: 159-81
Week 17 Cheat Sheet trivia question of the week
With a sack last Sunday vs. the Seahawks, Aldon Smith moved into second place all-time on the rookie single-season sack list. With 14 sacks on the year, Smith is half a sack away from the record. Which rookie from the ’99 Draft class holds the record?
Week 17 ‘Impress Your Colleagues’ water cooler fact of the week
Cincinnati teammates Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are the first pair of rookie teammates in NFL history with 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
Now, on to the picks.
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST games
Tennessee at Houston: The Texans are locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC, but they don’t want to limp into the playoffs as losers of three straight games. They’ll attack this one with playoff intensity. You’d have to imagine Houston would rather play the Bengals — a team they beat a few weeks ago with T.J. Yates — than a Titans team that knows them inside and out. I think Houston’s D suffocates the Titans’ run game and the Texans’ offense does enough in front of a pumped-up Reliant Stadium to eliminate their division rivals.
The pick: Texans 24, Titans 20
Chicago at Minnesota: Almost more concerning than Adrian Peterson’s devastating injury last weekend in Washington was how bad Christian Ponder looked . . . again. Ponder’s regressed considerably over the past few weeks, while Joe Webb’s looked fantastic. The 2010 sixth-round pick led the Vikings on four consecutive fourth quarter scoring drives in Washington last Sunday. Lots of players will be looking to prove something in Vikings purple Sunday. I like the Bears, ending with a win in a season about which we’ll always wonder, “What could have been?”
The pick: Bears 20, Vikings 17
Washington at Philadelphia: The Eagles have won three games in a row for the first time all season. Of course, it’s too little, too late. The Eagles will end the year with another W, likely meaning Andy Reid and Juan Castillo will be back for the 2012 season. In late November, that didn’t seem possible.
The pick: Eagles 31, Redskins 16
San Francisco at St. Louis: You’ve got to feel bad for Steven Jackson. Since he came to the Rams as a first-round pick in 2004, the team’s record is 37-90. Jackson broke 1,000 yards for the seventh straight season last Sunday, joining a list of players that includes Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson. 37-90 is pretty awful. 37-91 is worse.
The pick: 49ers 23, Rams 7
Buffalo at New England: Bill Belichick on last week’s comeback victory over the Dolphins: "We didn’t really do anything well. We didn’t throw, we didn’t catch, we couldn’t get open, we couldn’t block, we couldn’t tackle, we couldn’t cover, we couldn’t rush, couldn’t return kicks, couldn’t cover them. Pick a winner." Who said Belichick wasn’t a great quote? Gimme the Pats in this one, in which they’ll do considerably better in all facets.
The Pick: Patriots 41, Bills 23
Indianapolis at Jacksonville: The Colts have won two in a row, causing a bit of consternation among fans with visions of blue Andrew Luck jerseys swimming in their heads. On the one hand, you love seeing your team show some fight and finish the season strong. On the other, you’re coming dangerously close to opening up the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes to a host of other suitors (who’d trade a bounty to St. Louis for the No. 1 pick). In the end, I think the fans get the best of both worlds — a strong effort to close out the season and Mr. Luck.
The Pick: Jaguars 20, Colts 17 (OT)
New York Jets at Miami: Walking around the MetLife parking lot last Saturday, I saw friends tailgating in Giants and Jets jerseys, drunken Santas in both green and blue, and a fantastic dance battle between a woman in an Ahmad Bradshaw jersey and an overweight man in a Harry Carson replica. The Giants and Jets fans were surprisingly festive and loving. If only Rex and Brandon Jacobs were the same. A disappointing Jets season ends with a clunker. I like the ’Phins, grasping the opportunity to play spoiler in their rivals’ pursuit of a third straight postseason berth.
The Pick: Dolphins 23, Jets 13
Detroit at Green Bay: If you’re thinking the Lions have nothing to play for on Sunday, you’re wrong. The difference between playing the Saints/49ers and the Giants/Cowboys next weekend is immense. The Packers may want to rest some starters in the second half, but should give this one the ol’ college try. I think Detroit beats Matt Flynn and that Matt Stafford hits the 40-touchdown mark with a four-TD performance.
The Pick: Lions 42, Packers 28
Carolina at New Orleans: The Panthers have won four of their past five games, ensuring they’ll be the “hot” team every member of the media is all over in August in the NFC “sleeper” discussion. Somewhere, Tampa Bay and St. Louis fans are groaning. The Saints need this one and will win, but not before Cam Newton has a final fantastic performance to what might have been the greatest rookie season we’ve ever seen. And yes, that includes Adrian Peterson’s 2007 campaign.
The Pick: Saints 38, Panthers 27
4 p.m. EST Games
Baltimore at Cincinnati: What, the Ravens are suddenly going to transform into a good road team because they have to win this one to ensure their first home playoff game in the John Harbaugh era? Cincinnati’s stadium is going to be insane on Sunday, the Ravens nearly lost to this Bengals squad the first time they met, and Cincy’s playmakers are too young to realize they’re not supposed to win this one. Gimme the Red Rifle, and let’s get ready for a Bengals playoff game next weekend.
The Pick: Bengals 24, Ravens 20
Tampa Bay at Atlanta: With the Lions winning in Green Bay, the Falcons’ playoff fates are sealed by the start of their game. Atlanta rests its starters, but still give the Buccaneers first stringers a game. In the end, Tampa Bay wins — ending a mortifying nine-game losing streak — but not by much. Is it enough to save Raheem Morris’ job? That’ll be all the chatter in Tampa on Sunday afternoon. We should know by Monday.
The Pick: Buccaneers 24, Falcons 23
Seattle at Arizona: The Cardinals are 5-2 at home this year with the only two losses coming, respectively, to the Giants in a wacky fourth-quarter collapse and later to a superior Steelers team. The Cardinals nearly pulled off a 23-point comeback last week and will use that momentum for a win Sunday. I loved what the Seahawks and Cardinals did this season. Kudos to both squads for not packing it in after rough starts to the year.
The Pick: Cardinals 24, Seahawks 17
Pittsburgh at Cleveland: Who woke Peyton Hillis up? After a completely forgettable first 15 weeks of the season, Hillis has had 99 and 112 rushing yards the past two weeks. The Browns will put up a good fight (they tend to do that against the Ravens and Steelers), but will lose (they tend to do that against the Ravens and Steelers, too).
The Pick: Steelers 27, Browns 16
San Diego at Oakland: After losing 10 straight in the series, the Raiders have won the past three over the Chargers. A housecleaning is likely in store in San Diego, but I think the Chargers finish a forgettable season with a memorable win, keeping the Raiders from their first playoff appearance since 2002. Philip Rivers may be having a down year, but he’s got some pride. Beating the Raiders in the Black Hole in this one would be a rare bright spot in a dark 2011 season for Chargers fans.
The Pick: Chargers 31, Raiders 20
Kansas City at Denver: If Denver fans aren’t as excited about Sunday’s game as the rest of the country, it’s because they’ve been here before lately. A bunch. In 2006, 2008 and 2009, the Broncos had Week 17 games with playoff berths lying in the balance and . . . lost. Those losses weren’t with Tim Tebow under center, though. I know he looked awful last week, but I think the NFL gets its wish — a Very Tebow New Year’s Weekend. He’ll find a way in dramatic fashion; it’d only be fitting.
The Pick: Broncos 23, Chiefs 20 (OT)
Dallas at New York Giants: Before the season started, I wrote this in my annual “20 Bold Predictions” column: “With their playoff lives on the line in Week 17, the Giants squeak out a victory over the Cowboys in a blizzard: Yes, I’m now predicting the weather, too! This, of course, comes just one week after the Giants eliminate the Jets from playoff contention with a “road” win in their shared building in Week 16. Tom Coughlin’s job is saved." The weather isn’t calling for snow, but I’m still going with the Giants. Look for Giants wideout Ramses Barden — a week after dropping several passes — to come up with a clutch grab in this one.
The Pick: Giants 24, Cowboys 19
WILD CARD ROUND PLAYOFF MATCHUPS IF CHEAT SHEET HOLDS TRUE
6. Cincinnati Bengals at 3. Houston Texans
5. Baltimore Ravens at 4. Denver Broncos
6. Atlanta Falcons at 3. New Orleans Saints
5. Detroit Lions at 4. New York Giants
Reader email of the week
Would you rather watch “Water for Elephants,” “The Notebook,” or any other terrible romantic film on loop for the next 48 hours or watch the past nine Buccaneers games — in full — if given the choice? Which form of torture would you choose? As a Buccaneers fan that’s suffered through this nine-game losing streak, I urge you to seriously reconsider if you chose option B. I’m serious.
Reader email of the week 2
My godson and I attended the Redskins/Vikings game on Christmas Eve. My godson and I worked very hard on preparing a banner in which he stated that all he wanted for Christmas was Mr. Peterson’s autograph on his jersey. This was listed above a TWG mouthguard, PS 3, and a Redskins playoff season. It got the attention of the cameras, but more importantly his favorite player, Adrian Peterson. Mr. Peterson gestured that he would come over and sign the jersey, but to our dismay, he got injured. With only 3 minutes left in the game, Mr. Peterson sent his agent out to retrieve the jersey so he could sign it and requested a picture of my godson and myself holding the jersey in front of the banner. This was a class act! Mr. Peterson, despite being in pain and not knowing his future, kept true to his fans and word. I wanted to share this story with your readers and let it be known what caliber of man Adrian Peterson is off the field. Indeed, all role model for us all! Needless to say, he is my favorite player and my godson will remember it forever.
Dr. Michael Wright
Week 17 Cheat Sheet trivia answer
Javon Kearse owns the single-season rookie sack record with 14.5 in 1999. The Titans went to the franchise’s only Super Bowl in their history that season.