NFL Power Rankings Week 17
by Robert Ferringo - 12/31/2009
Week 17 is a whole different animal.
There is absolutely no betting experience in sports as Week 17 in the NFL. Which teams are resting their starters? Which teams are tanking for draft position? Which teams are mailing it in? Which desperation team is going to catch two or three lucky breaks in the early games and find itself in the miracle spot of playing for a playoff berth in the late games? Are coaches going to throw caution to the wind and try all manner of trick play, onsides kick or two-point conversions? Even if a team sits his starters against a weak foe, isn’t there a chance that the backups could beat the opponent (see: Pittsburgh over Buffalo in 2005 and Green Bay over Detroit in 2007)?
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Basically, it’s a freak show. And even though there is a week in between games there is absolutely no certain way of knowing how coaches are going to handle this week’s game plans. So keep that in mind when capping this week’s games. Remember that teams in “must win” situations are in those spots because they weren’t very good to begin with. (I’m looking at you, Baltimore and Houston.) And always remember that even though this was a very chalky year, with favorites dominating like they haven’t in several years, anything can still happen in wacky Week 17.
Without further ado, here is a look at my Doc's Sports NFL Power Rankings:
1. New Orleans Saints (13-2) – The Saints have really been on cruise control over the last month so the loss against the Bucs really shouldn’t be that shocking. But the question is whether or not you think that this team can “turn it on” in two weeks. Looks like the line on the Panthers game this week is Carolina around -6.
2. Indianapolis Colts (14-1) – I’m not exactly sure how the brass can be criticized for resting their starters last week and again this week when that’s exactly what Tony Dungy used to do. However, as I’m sure many smarter men than I have pointed out, the only time that the Colts won their Super Bowl is when they were “playing desperate” through December and January.
3. Minnesota Vikings (11-4) – The public obviously still loves this Vikings team, as they bet them up from 7.0 to 9.0 on Monday Night Football before losing outright. This team has lost three of four games and they are proving my point that Brett Favre isn’t the most important player on this team. The defense has struggled mightily without its quarterback, E.J. Henderson. And the reason that the offense clicks is the left side of that line: Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson. But those two have seen their play level off and as a result the Vikings are not the same team they were in October and November.
4. San Diego Chargers (12-3) – Indianapolis, New Orleans and New England and Cincinnati three teams that are likely expected to rest their starters this weekend. All four of them are heavy underdogs as a result. But San Diego has absolutely zero to play for and they are still favored over Washington. Word is that they are going to play their starters and try to keep their momentum going. Now, we’ll see what happens in the second half of that game against Washington but right now it looks like the Bolts will be swinging.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (11-4) – The Eagles outplayed Dallas in their first meeting this year and some really questionable officiating – on their own field – really cost them that game. The underdog is 8-2 ATS in the last 10 meetings and the Eagles are a stellar 20-8 ATS against the NFC. But because Fox picked this game up as their 4 p.m. national game the Eagles will know how the Vikings fared before they take the field. But it’s easy for the Eagles: win and get a first round bye.
6. Green Bay Packers (10-5) – There is a very strong possibility that the Packers could have to fly out to Arizona again next week to face these same Cardinals in a playoff game. Two years ago when the Packers had nothing to play for in Week 17 Mike McCarthy rested a majority of his starters and pulled his quarterback early in a meaningless game. No one is sure if he will do the same thing this week.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) – Cincinnati actually needs Houston to beat the Patriots so that the Bengals can secure the No. 3 seed. Also, having the NFL move this game back to 8 p.m. is an advantage for them. If New England wins than the Bengals can rest their starters knowing that they don’t have anything to play for. This line could steam to as much as +14 by kickoff if word gets out of Cincy resting players.
8. Arizona Cardinals (10-5) – Believe it or not, but there is actually still a chance for the Cardinals to earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC. If the Giants beat the Vikings and Dallas beat the Eagles, coupled with Cardinals win over the Packers, and Arizona becomes the No. 2 seed. Basically, a lot of eyes are going to be on that Vikings-Giants game at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
9. Baltimore Ravens (8-7) – It is just stunning to me how much this Ravens team is its own worst enemy. They had 11 penalties, two negating touchdowns, and a dropped touchdown pass last week in what was their biggest game of the year. Five of their seven losses this season have come by six points or less and four of their losses have been by three points or less. This team is just a couple plays away from being about 14-2. But, again, how can you trust them when all they do is shoot themselves in the feet?
10. Dallas Cowboys (10-5) – More than one person whose opinion I respect has suggested that the Cowboys are absolutely going to mutilate Philadelphia this week. Now, I don’t know if I’ll go that far. But I will say that with about 70-plus percent of the action coming in on Eagles this week Dallas is worth a look. There is a chance that if Dallas wins and some other things happen that the Cowboys could actually host the Eagles again next week.
11. New England Patriots (10-5) – Everyone and their sister seems certain that Bill Belichick will sit Tom Brady and go with Brian Hoyer under center against Houston this week. The Patriots are eight-point underdogs and that is a clear sign from Vegas what they think is going to happen. But I have to say, I’m still not sold. If there is one thing that I’ve learned watching Belichick over the last decade is that whenever you think that you have him figured out he does something that stuns everyone. And I could see him playing his starters for the simple reason that it’s the exact opposite of what the Colts did. What, you don’t think Bill would play those types of mind games?
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7) – How horrifying is it for Steelers fans to know that a loss to the Cleveland Browns is really the thing that is keeping them out of the playoffs this year? I’m not expecting the Steelers to get back up for this week’s game after taking care of the Ravens last week. There is really no way that they should have won that game. The Steelers are 2-7 ATS on the road and this one looks like a swan song to me.
13. Miami Dolphins (7-8) – I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a feeling that Chad Henne is going to be a pretty good quarterback in this league before all is said and done. Before Miami can take a step forward as a franchise they need to establish some kind of home field presence. Miami is a pathetic 15-38-1 ATS in its last 54 home games.
14. Tennessee Titans (7-8) – After a nice five-game covering streak in the middle of the season the Titans have dumped three of their last four games at the window. Chris Johnson needs about 130 yards to break the 2,000-yard barrier. But if Jeff Fisher were smart he would bench his stud running back. He already had 322 carries this year and nearly 370 total touches. The track record of backs the year after such a workload is not a good one. Ask guys like Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander.
15. Denver Broncos (7-8) – The Broncos lost seven of nine games this year and there was no one team that I was more wrong about. During their five-game winning streak I was convinced that they were still no good and would fall apart because of their weak coaching. As soon as I bought in they collapsed.
16. New York Giants (8-7) – Since Plaxico Burress shot himself the Giants are a pretty weak 9-11 SU and just 3-6 SU in December. That Giants defense is one of the worst that the team has had in the past 20 years. All that said, this team has way too much pride to just roll over in Minnesota. Especially after being embarrassed last week.
17. Atlanta Falcons (8-7) – The Falcons made a statement last week that they are still going to be playing hard because they still have a goal to reach. This organization has never posted back-to-back seasons with a record above .500. I think that Matt Ryan will play the entire game this week and I look for the Falcons to play to win.
18. Houston Texans (8-7) – Two benefits that Houston has going into their game with New England is that A) Bill Belichick might be more apt to rest his starters because the Patriots play next week and B) the “Denver system” always gave the Patriots problems. But the issue is that the Texans are a terrible favorite. They are just 3-5 ATS in that role with four outright losses in that role.
19. New York Jets (8-7) – This week the motivation for the Jets is very easy: win and they are in. The total in the Jets-Bengals game is presently at 35.0 and wind could be factor this week. Temperatures in the 20’s, 20-miles-per-hour winds, a Bengals team that may be treating this game as an exhibition, and the No. 1 defense in the NFL should keep the score down in this one. But that also means it may be tough to lay points with the Jets if the number steams up.
20. San Francisco 49ers (7-8) – I wouldn’t think for one second that the Niners are going to be lax in their preparation for the Rams this week. This is where the intensity of head coach Mike Singletary comes into play. Look for a dominating, physical effort out of San Francisco this week as Singletary pushes for momentum into next season.
21. Carolina Panthers (7-8) – The Panthers have covered four straight games overall and four straight against divisional opponents. They are also 7-0 ATS against NFC foes. I think that the Panthers made the right decision in bringing back John Fox. That guy is still one of the better coaches in the NFL, even if he did stick with Jake Delhomme about two years too long.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) – I desperately hope that the Jaguars win this week. That way I’ll be able to pound the ‘under’ on their season wins total next year when it comes out around 7.0 or 7.5. This team is a fraud, capitalizing on a weak schedule to flirt with a playoff berth. Now, are they up-and-coming? Sure. They have some nice young pieces. But this team, particularly this defense, has a long, long way to god. Don’t be surprised if the Jags roll over in the snow and cold again this week in Cleveland. Game time temperatures are supposed to be in the low 20’s.
23. Chicago Bears (6-9) – At least the Bears will have a good pick at the top of Round 1 to address any number of the issues that this team has on defense or the offensive line. Oh way, that’s right, they traded their top pick in the Cutler deal. Oops. The Bears have won three of four trips to Detroit but the favorite is just 3-8 ATS in this series.
24. Cleveland Browns (4-11) – Here is another team that could be set up for a nice bounce back next year. Mike Holmgren is taking over a really good situation, with the foundation of a physical defense in place, a decent offensive line, and few bloated veteran contracts on the books. That offense needs a ton of work though before this team can be taken seriously. If Eric Mangini stays I wouldn’t be stunned if they made a call to try to bring in Chad Pennington, whose stay in Miami might be over now that Chad Henne looks poised to take over. The Browns have won three straight games and have covered six straight heading into this week.
54. Seattle Seahawks (5-10) – I really don’t know how people can be surprised that Jim Mora’s team has completely mailed it in over the past month. No. 1: he’s a Mora. No. 2: did people not watch this guy “coach” in Atlanta. I will say that this week is Seattle’s best role: at home against an AFC foe not used to making the trek out to the Emerald City.
26. Buffalo Bills (5-10) – Let’s take a look at the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterbacks this year: Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm. Gee, I have no idea how this team is picking in the Top 10 of the draft yet again. They need a proven coach and a veteran quarterback, stat, before this franchise becomes the Los Angeles Bills.
27. Oakland Raiders (5-10) – Five times this year the Raiders followed up an outright win with a loss of two touchdowns or more. Now, that said, I actually don’t expect the Raiders to roll over this week against the Ravens. They have beaten Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Denver outright as double-digit dogs and are 5-1 ATS in their last six games as an underdog of more than a touchdown.
28. Washington Redskins (4-11) – The Redskins are just 5-15 SU in their last 20 games and even though they are 5-2 ATS in their last seven they are a weak 8-11-1 ATS in those 20 games. After getting just demolished in back-to-back primetime home games against divisional rivals I really wonder where the motivation is for this team this week.
29. Tampa Bay Bucs (3-12) – It is easy for people to expect the Bucs to come back this week and build on the momentum that they gained last week with their big comeback, overtime win over New Orleans. However, I bid caution: we have a first-year coach that has been pretty terrible for most of the season. He has never had to prepare for this type of scenario. And after reaching a high point last week I think it’s going to be hard to get back up for this week’s action. I think that the Bears might be in a similar position.
30. Detroit Lions (2-13) – Just throwing it out there, but back in August I said to myself that the Lions had improved enough to where they were going to win at least one divisional game. And since I thought that the Bears were going to be the worst of the three teams above them I naturally thought that they would be the team to beat Chicago. Just throwing that out there. Oh, and Matthew Stafford had knee surgery this week. I said all year that A) the Lions probably shouldn’t take a quarterback No. 1 overall and B) they shouldn’t play that quarterback behind that pathetic offensive line. There is no wonder why this team is one of the worst organizations in sports.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (3-12) – Back to the drawing board with this team. But I have to say that with one good offseason the Chiefs could be That Team that goes from 3-13 to 9-7. They need some veterans on the offensive line and some talent on defense. But I feel like this team underachieved this season – losing their best three offensive players, Tony Gonzalez, Larry Johnson, and Dwayne Bowe, for all or part of this year didn’t help – and that they could bounce back next year. In the meantime, they are still one of the worst teams in the sport.
32. St. Louis Rams (1-14) – I can’t wait to laugh at them when they draft a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick this April. The underdog is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings with the Niners and the Rams are just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 against San Fran.
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