Let’s keep this short and sweet, shall we?
This is the end. All 32 teams started this season with so much hope and promise, but for 20 of those teams the season is going to end in a fiery wreck of defeat and disdain. The other 12 will move onto The Second Season, where glory and riches await the winners and shame and regret cloak the losers.
Week 17 in the NFL season is unlike just about anything else in sport. Of the 16 games on the schedule this week, only about five of them actually matter. That is a whole lot of teams with nothing to play for, and it forces gamblers to spend their weekend guessing which of these millionaire mutants will come to play and which will pack it in on Sunday.
That is not a position I, as a handicapper, am fond of.
It is the holiday season and I am stuck at my in-laws, with a Northeastern blizzard bearing down on my as I type. I have no time to trifle. Here are Doc’s Sports Week 17 NFL power rankings:
1. Denver Broncos (12-3) – Ho-hum. This team is just making football look easy right now. They are boot stomping bad teams and simply toying with good ones (although they haven’t faced much of the latter over the past two months). The Broncos want the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but they need Houston to lose to get it. This team appears to have no weakness. However, I think they have one: turnovers. This team is dead even in turnover margin this year. And that is a huge difference-maker in the postseason.
2. San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) – It’s tough to have this team at No. 2 when they got their skulls crushed in by Seattle on Sunday night. But the Niners had a ton of things working against them going into that game. They beat Arizona 24-3 in the first meeting and the Niners are 17-point favorites this week. But they will be playing at the same time as the Packers. And if Green Bay gets up big then I expect the Niners to pull some starters in the second half.
3. New England Patriots (11-4) – Isn’t that kind of a red flag that this team struggled so much with Jacksonville last week? I can understand a letdown after back-to-back big games against the Texans and 49ers. But it was still a little stunning to see the Patriots pushed around and confused in that first half. The Patriots are just 1-3 ATS in their last four games, and their defense is back at No. 27 in the league. But if you think they may come out flat this week, know that the Patriots are 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 Week 17 games.
4. Atlanta Falcons (13-2) – There is no line on this week’s game against Tampa Bay as the books wait to see which players the Falcons plan to rest. I will give you a hint: all of them. I don’t expect to see any of the main offensive or defensive starters for more than a series. This team understands that its entire legacy may be on the line in two weeks in its first postseason game. They will not leave anything to chance.
5. Green Bay Packers (11-4) – Very quietly, the Packers have become one of the hottest teams in football. Watching them on tape, this team is getting stronger and stronger over the final month of the season, and right now they have to be a team no one wants to play. They need to beat Minnesota this week to lock up the No. 2 seed, a bye, and at least one home game in the postseason. That is all the motivation this team needs. I also think they would rather have the Bears in the playoffs than the Vikings or Giants. So if the Packers get a chance to make that happen I believe they will.
6. Seattle Seahawks (10-5) – If we were basing our power rankings just off of the last month, then the Seahawks, winners of four straight by a total score of 173-47, would easily be the No. 1 team in the NFL right now. This team is just wrecking people, and I don’t expect Pete Carroll to take his foot off the gas this week. However, Seattle is clearly in a letdown spot this week after a peak performance against the Niners. While I am not in a hurry to bet against Seattle at home, I also don’t know if I want to lay double-digits with a team that, essentially, has nothing to play for this week.
7. Houston Texans (12-3) – Houston has more motivation than a current No. 1 seed should have going into the last game of the season. Houston wants to beat Indianapolis this Sunday because A) a win secures home field advantage throughout the playoffs and B) a win sends a message to the Colts that if they meet in the playoffs the Texans are the much better team. Houston needs both. And they need to restore some confidence after a shaky final few weeks of the season. I think this game is bigger for them than it is for the Colts, who are already locked into the No. 5 seed.
8. Washington Redskins (9-6) – The Moment will definitely not be too big for Robert Griffin III this Sunday night in a winner-take-all game against Dallas. But the home team is just 2-7 ATS and the favorite is just 6-23 ATS in the Cowboys-Redskins blood feud, and those trends are impossible to ignore. Washington is smoking hot and seems impossible to bet against.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) – I know it seems like the Bengals don’t have anything to play for this weekend. They are already slotted in the No. 6 seed and they will most likely have to face New England in Foxboro next week. But Marvin Lewis rested his starters in the final weeks of the 2005 and 2009 seasons before Wild Card games and Cincinnati lost both of those games. Lewis has come out and said that he thinks momentum is more important right now, and I expect a max effort from the Bengals this week.
10. Baltimore Ravens (10-5) – Just because the Ravens beat an equally screwball Giants team last week, that doesn’t mean everything is cool in Baltimore. This team is still a mess. And they know it. I expect this group to mail it in this week in Cincinnati and to take the opportunity to rest their important veteran starters. To me, that is a no-brainer. The counter argument is that the Ravens need to win in order to continue to rebuild their confidence and swagger. Please. Rest the starters and let the veterans tear Andrew Luck to pieces next week in the feeble rookie’s first playoff game.
11. New Orleans Saints (7-8) – The Saints last four losses have been against the defending champion Giants, the Falcons, the Niners and the Broncos. There is no shame there. New Orleans is in a revenge spot this week against a division rival. And I’d like to think they want to end a forgettable season with a flourish. But something tells me that this team is set for a little letdown spot. Outside of the shutout against Tampa Bay, the defense has given up an average of 34 points per game since Thanksgiving. The Saints are catching 84 percent of the betting action this week, the highest total of any game on the board.
12. Chicago Bears (9-6) – The Bears need their archenemy, Green Bay, to beat Minnesota this week. But the Bears also need to take care of business on the road against Detroit. The Bears always play great in the Motor City, and they have won eight of nine in this series outright. They have also won five of their last six trips to Detroit. However, the Bears have been outgained in three of the last four meetings with Detroit, and the few things that the Lions do well matches up perfectly with a lot of Chicago’s weaknesses. I smell an upset.
13. New York Giants (8-7) – You can only play with fire for so long before you get burned. The Giants are not a good team right now, and they aren’t playing good football at all. Victor Cruz has been hammered the last month, and his ineffectiveness (six catches, 36 yard last two weeks) has been crippling to the offense. But the main problem right now is the Giants can’t stop anyone. The secondary is in shambles, and their back seven is pathetic right now. The have given up an average of 31 points per game the last three weeks, and they need to win and get help (Vikings and Bears must lose) to make the postseason. I do not see it happening.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7) – Ben Roethlisberger came out and said this week that he likes the Steelers offense. I guess that means he just doesn’t like Todd Haley then. In my opinion the Steelers letting Bruce Arians go was a mistake that is going to haunt this franchise for the better part of the next decade.
15. Minnesota Vikings (9-6) – One big benefit for the Vikings is that both the Giants and Bears play at 1 p.m. EST on Sunday. If both of them lose, then the Vikings will be guaranteed a playoff slot and their motivation for beating the Packers will be gone.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-7) – Maybe I’m just having a Charlie Brown moment, but I have a feeling that things are going to be different for the Cowboys this week. I don’t know what it is, but I just have a feeling this team is going to get the job done in Washington on Sunday. Am I crazy? Both the Eagles (four less) and the Giants (six less) gave up less points to the Redskins the second time they saw them, and I think the Cowboys will be better prepared on defense this time around.
17. Carolina Panthers (6-9) – Ron Rivera needs to stay. Both coordinators need to go. And, as opposed to the Bucs, who have just rolled over in November and December the past two years, the Panthers are showing me something by closing the year strong (6-3 ATS in their L9 games). This team has a solid foundation on the field. Now it just needs to fix the upper management and they could be going somewhere.
18. St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) – I think that El Mustachio, aka Jeff Fisher, really wants this Rams team to finish above .500. And once again he finds himself in his quintessential role this week: underdog! St. Louis has gone 10-3 ATS this year when catching points, and the underdog in the Seattle series is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.
19. Indianapolis Colts (10-5) – As someone who has lost family members to cancer, I couldn’t be happier for Chuck Pagano and his family. I wish him continued health and nothing but the best. But that said, is anyone else worried that his return is going to completely disrupt the mojo that this overachieving Colts team has? He has been an inspiration to his team all year. But in my opinion Bruce Arians deserves to be the NFL Coach of the Year. I think the Colts would’ve been smart to leave Arians in charge and keep Pagano as a figurehead until the offseason, when he could regain control going into next year.
20. Miami Dolphins (7-8) – I wanted to think that the Dolphins were going to be game for a shootout with New England on Sunday. But the forecast in Foxboro is a high of 20 and snow showers. Something tells me that the boys from South Beach aren’t going to be down with that.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) – I predicted last week in this space that this group of losers was going to roll over for its last few games, just like it did last year. And that is precisely what happened as the Bucs got worked over by the Rams. But the Falcons embarrassed Tampa Bay in Week 17 last year. And I expect Atlanta to rest all of its starters. So I can see the Bucs strutting their stuff against the Falcons backups. Because that’s the type of guys that are in this Bucs locker room.
22. Cleveland Browns (5-10) – I feel bad for Colt McCoy, who was held out of practice this week with a shoulder issue. I still think McCoy could be an NFL starter for some teams. But this was his chance to try to prove himself. And perhaps McCoy could’ve shown enough this week against an old, tired Steelers team that someone would’ve taken a flier on him next year. This week’s game means more to the Browns than too the Steelers. But Cleveland may end up starting Josh Johnson, so…
23. San Diego Chargers (6-9) – This week will be the swan song of Norv Turner and A.J. Smith. I would expect nothing less than a blown double-digit lead in front of a half-empty stadium of “fans” that are so apathetic that they can’t even bring themselves to boo. No ending could be so fitting.
24. New York Jets (7-8) – Hahahahahahahahaha.
25. Tennessee Titans (5-10) – There are letdowns after a “Monday Night Football” game, and then there is what the Titans vomited up in Lambeau last week. Good god. And how much longer are the Titans going to drag out this whole, Jake-Locker-Can-Be-An-NFL-Quarterback thing? The guy is awful and the franchise looks ready to waste the next two seasons finding out what should be obvious to them.
26. Arizona Cardinals (5-10) – I still cannot believe this team beat the Patriots, and that the loss is going to cost me a futures ticket on New England this year. That is kind of my season in a nutshell right there.
27. Detroit Lions (4-11) – One of the Great Myths of the NFC right now is that, “Detroit has so much talent”. They do not. They have a couple decent defensive linemen and Calvin Johnson. Beyond that, the Lions are average or well below average in every aspect of the game. That said, I can see these scumbags treating the Chicago game like the Super Bowl, and I can see everyone on this team playing well above themselves this week.
28. Buffalo Bills (5-10) – Losers.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) – Don’t think for one second that Andy Reid doesn’t want to beat the Giants this week. Reid knows the score. He knows he is gone. But after an amazing tenure in Philly he would love to spring one final upset against a hated division rival. And I expect the Eagles to be ready to play this week after nearly upsetting the Redskins last week. One problem though: why the hell is Mike Vick starting? I guess since he killed Reid’s future with the Eagles he might as well be the one to deliver the final nail in the coffin as well.
30. Oakland Raiders (4-11) – I will say that I liked the fight that I saw out of this team last week. As I touched on last week, Dennis Allen knows that ownership is watching him closely. And he needs to show something this weekend against an in-state, divisional rival. There is no way that Carson Palmer will play this week. But that may not be a bad thing. I expect Matt Leinart to start, and I’ll be surprised to see Terrelle Pryor make an appearance unless this one gets out of hand. Again, I think Allen is absolutely coaching for his job right now, and he isn’t in “evaluation mode”.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) – I think that the rumors of Tim Tebow going to Jacksonville are overblown. If the Jags had wanted him – in the draft, or last offseason – they could’ve had him. The Jaguars have covered four straight against the Titans, and I expect at least an effort from this group this weekend.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) – If the Chiefs lose this week they will get the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. There is absolutely no way that the Chiefs will not lose on Sunday in Denver. The Broncos have a reason to win and the Chiefs have a reason to lose. Welcome to Week 17 in the NFL.
Robert Ferringo is a professional NFL handicapper and is working on three of four winning football seasons. He will have a full NFL card this week, including a 5-Unit NFL Total of the Week, and he wants to stay hot. You can check him out here.