It seems like this season has gone on forever, and so much that we thought we knew back when it started has changed now. Just think about some of the highlights and lowlights -- the replacement refs, the return of Peyton, the rise of the rookie quarterbacks, the brutal collapse of the Eagles and Chiefs, tragedy following tragedy, Chuckstrong - it goes on and on. Through it all we’ve managed to pick more winners than losers, and that’s really the point of it all. In hopes of finishing on a strong note despite facing a tough week where it’s so hard to know what to expect from too many teams with no pressing need to win, here are the straight up picks for the last 16 games of the 2012 NFL regular season:
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Tampa Bay at Atlanta - Neither team has anything to play for this week -- a recurring theme in Week 17 every year -- so we are left with a choice of the lesser of two evils. The Bucs have really come off the rails the last several weeks, and they really need an offseason to rebuild and regroup. Atlanta has clinched home field and just wants to get ready for the postseason. Neither team will be sharp, but the Falcons should be a little better. Take the Falcons.
N.Y. Jets at Buffalo - Another meaningless game. The Jets have been a total disaster, and last week they totally quit -- they didn’t even bother trying to protect Greg McElroy and he was sacked 11 times. Pathetic team, and impossible to choose. Take the Bills.
Baltimore at Cincinnati - Baltimore has secured the AFC North, and there is a chance they could play the Bengals again in the playoffs, so they are going to have no interest in risking injury or giving away secrets here. They will put forth a bare effort, and the Bengals will win.
Chicago at Detroit - Chicago has life, but they don’t control their fate. All they can do is win here and hope for the best. I expect they will. Last week all Detroit cared about was getting Calvin Johnson the single-season receiving record. With that in the books, they are just passing time. Take the Bears.
Jacksonville at Tennessee - You guessed it -- meaningless. The difference here is that Jacksonville is likely going through more changes than Tennessee is before next year, so Tennessee should be a bit more determined. Take the Titans.
Houston at Indianapolis - Both teams have a bit to play for -- home field for the Texans, and a better matchup for the Colts. Houston was embarrassed last week, and I expect them to bounce back well from that setback. Take the Texans.
Green Bay at Minnesota - Minnesota won on the road with Adrian Peterson minimized. Now they are going to be hungry to win again, and they are at home. I won’t pick against them. Take the Vikings.
Miami at New England - New England has little incentive, but they are at home, and Miami has lost their shot at a playoff berth. Take the Patriots.
Carolina at New Orleans - Both teams are playing better now than they have. New Orleans gets the nod here only because they are at home and because the offense is working well in recent weeks and the Carolina defense won’t shut them down. Take the Saints.
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants - The Eagles will just be happy to see the season end. The Giants have lacked spark for two weeks. Ugly game. I’ll take the Giants only because they are at home.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh lost a tough one to see their playoff hopes end. It has been a tough year, and there will be relief that it is over. Cleveland is building to the future with this core, and the Browns will pull off a minor upset here. Take the Browns.
Dallas at Washington - All the marbles are on the line here. As incredible as it seems, I expect that the (red hot) Redskins will win their division. I never saw that coming. They are at home, though, and have a more reliable lineup. Take the Redskins.
Kansas City at Denver - Denver is too good to lose this game. Simple as that. I don’t care who they put on the field. Take the Broncos.
Oakland at San Diego - Another terrible, meaningless game between two teams facing massive changes in the offseason. Take the Chargers only because they are at home, and for the fact that they are coming off a win.
Arizona at San Francisco - Arizona is an ugly team. Arizona on the road against a very good defense is a particularly ugly team -- even if the Niners aren’t completely focused on the game. San Francisco was terrible last week, but I’ll give them a mulligan because of the weather, the injuries, the crowd, and so on. They need to win to clinch the division and they will. Take the 49ers.
St. Louis at Seattle - St. Louis has the chance to finish over .500 on the year, and this proud, building team won’t take that opportunity lightly. This is a tough spot against a good defense, though, and they will struggle. Seattle has played brilliant football recently, and they need to win here to give themselves a chance of winning the division. Take the Seahawks.
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