Can you taste that money yet? If you are still going in your survivor pool, you can almost touch it now as we enter the penultimate weekend of the NFL season. I don’t know about you, but whenever I got down this far, alas not this year, I usually offered any other competitors the chance to split the winnings, call it a tie and consider the season a success. But some leagues choose to head into the playoffs if there is a tie after Week 17. Thus, I do tentatively plan to write the first two playoff weeks.
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It’s rather unusual that there is still so much to be decided in the NFL playoff race. Not a single first-round bye has been clinched heading into Week 16 – but that’s likely to change in a big way. Thus, next week we could be looking at several games where favorites will be resting players. But I only see five games on this week’s schedule where both teams could mail it in with their playoff hopes officially over (I’m talking to you Jets).
My top three choices all won comfortably in Week 15 so hopefully you went there or with the Miami Dolphins over Jacksonville. No Thursday games this week, so definitely want until the last minute on Saturday to get those picks in. But I still wanted to get this story to you early so you can concentrate on last-minute holiday shopping later this week.
Carolina vs. Oakland: I think the Panthers finally have gotten it. In the past two games, the Panthers have outscored opponents 40-0 in the first half. Playoff contenders are lucky they don’t have to play Carolina this week or next – look out next year, too.
Atlanta at Detroit (Saturday): Even coach Jim Schwartz admits he has lost the rudderless Lions. If he’s not fired for the effort Detroit put up last week in getting pummeled in the desert by terrible Arizona, then I feel for Lions fans. How can a team with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh be this terrible!?
Washington at Philadelphia: I hate to recommend a road team and I wouldn’t on Washington if Robert Griffin III doesn’t play, as good as Kirk Cousins has been in relief (that draft pick looking rather brilliant now, eh?). But I presume RG3 does and the Skins should set up a potential NFC East winner-take-all next week vs. Dallas.
Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati: I know the Steelers look off and their secondary is in shambles injury-wise. But Pittsburgh backers should feel good about how Ben Roethlisberger played last week, that OT interception aside. I think he’s finally healthy again. The Bengals just can’t beat either the Ravens or Steelers.
New England at Jacksonville: I actually think the Pats don’t cover here as they are bound to have a letdown after back-to-back prime-time showdowns against San Francisco and Houston. But no way they lose, not with a first-round bye still as a carrot.
Houston vs. Minnesota: Texans will want to clinch the top seed and rest up some guys next week. They should just literally put 11 in the box to stop crazy-hot Adrian Peterson and dare Christian Ponder to hit an open receiver.
Denver vs. Cleveland: You know how sometimes you hear a coach says he would like his team to not go into a postseason on a crazy winning streak? Sometimes those teams get overconfident. I presume the Broncos are too smart for that. I almost guarantee you Peyton Manning sits out Week 17 if Denver clinches a first-round bye Sunday.
Green Bay vs. Tennessee: Obvious no-brainer. Packers still hoping for a first-round bye, while it’s a short week for the Titans.
Dallas vs. New Orleans: The Cowboys have everything to play for and can take the NFC East by winning out. And that’s exactly the type of situation in which it wouldn’t surprise me if they laid an egg.
Indianapolis at Kansas City: I have no statistical reason for worrying about the Colts this week, but it’s the Chiefs’ home finale and maybe they win for embattled coach Romeo Crennel. And, hey, maybe Ricky Stanzi gets the call for the injured Brady Quinn – starting to look like that will be the case -- and he’s the next Tom Brady.
Tampa Bay vs. St. Louis: I think the Bucs have quit on coach Greg Schiano. Did you hear an anonymous player asked if it was possible to send Schiano back to college? How soon things change.
Chicago at Arizona: I have absolutely no faith in the Bears right now. How about Jay Cutler for Mark Sanchez? At least Brian Urlacher won’t hear booing and complain about it this week.
NY Giants at Baltimore: I truly have no idea which team shows up on which side. How about Jay Cutler for Joe Flacco?
Seattle vs. San Francisco: Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are scary good right now. But so are the Niners. Wilson has proven to be a brilliant draft pick. Did you know Redskins originally were eyeing drafting him to backup RG3? But Seahawks pounced first.
Dolphins vs. Bills: I used Fins last week. Dog game in every sense of the word. Plenty of good seats available.
Jets vs. Chargers: I am in a state of disbelief that Rex Ryan is going to Greg McElroy over Tim Tebow after Mark Sanchez’s almost humorously pad performance Monday. It’s not that I think Tebow is that good, but WHY did you trade for him? The Jets really need to hit the restart button and clean house.
I am sure all of the playoff-caliber teams listed under the “good” have been used. Thus, I would go with Carolina. Highly doubt the Raiders put up much fight after traveling cross-country and playing at 10 a.m. California time.
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