And with that... on to the picks!
* * * * *
Tampa at ATLANTA (NL)
Neither team has anything to live for, but the Bucs' starters can't defend the pass either, and the home field can carry scrubs a long way. I'm also expecting the Falcons, in the light of past playoff failures and with the spectre of being the least imposing #1 playoff seed in NFC history, to care a little too much about this game.
Falcons 27, Bucs 17
NY Jets at BUFFALO (-3.5)
Give me the home team with nothing to play for over the sideshow with nothing to play for. I'm also going to be the only tout in America to write about the Jets without mentioning the scrub QB with the talent for headlines, rather than football.
Bills 20, Jets 13
BALTIMORE at Cincinnati (-1)
The Bengals have nothing to play for and not enough experience to realize that giving in to a division rival in a home game is never a good idea. I also suspect that the Ravens might have found some things out in last week's win, and might be building a little momentum going into the second season.
Ravens 23, Bengals 16
CHICAGO at Detroit (+3)
Pride time for the Bears, and we know the Lions don't have any. Expect this to be a de facto home game for the visitors, who will take advantage of defensive turnovers to make this one a little too comfortable.
Bears 31, Lions 17
JACKSONVILLE at Tennessee (-4)
Two train wrecks, but the Titans have been in full quit mode for a while now -- that win over the Jets in Week 15 was a gift unreceived -- and when your team is this bad, home field is no advantage.
Jaguars 23, Titans 17
HOUSTON at Indianapolis (+7)
The game means everything to the Texans and nothing to the Colts, and the dirty little secret about the Colts is that they really aren't that good; QB Andrew Luck has been carrying this team, especially the toothless defense. Houston has issues in the running game and health, and won't be going very far in the playoffs, but they won't find out about that this week.
Texans 31, Colts 20
CAROLINA at New Orleans (-5)
Just a gut feel here that the Saints aren't going to be able to play a clean game on turnovers, that the spread is too generous, and that the Panthers will run the ball to solid effect. If you managed to survive the first half of the season or trade for him, Panthers QB Cam Newton has been a beast.
Panthers 31, Saints 30
PHILADELPHIA at NY Giants (-7)
I'm having a hard time seeing the Giants coming into this with too much mojo after multiple wipeout games and the death of real playoff hope. QB Eli Manning looks like he's nursing a secret injury, the secondary has been a sieve, and turnover issues are just rife right now. Say this for Coach For A Fly's Life Andy Reid; his team hasn't quit. And New York's really not happy with a mobile QB (Michael Vick) under center, especially one with past success and a de facto audition that's worth his future financial security. (But don't worry, Blue Fan -- my team will still go boots up in the fourth with a turnover. It's what they are.)
Giants 27, Eagles 24
Cleveland at PITTSBURGH (NL)
This is a simple vote of confidence in Steelers HC Mike Tomlin, who will keep his team from making golf dates and give the home team a proper send off. They also have serious vengeance issues following the Charlie Batch turnover game earlier in the year, which is directly responsible for this game meaning nothing.
Steelers 31, Browns 17
Kansas City at DENVER (-16)
The Broncos need this for seeding, the Chiefs are terrible and want the #1 pick, and the home field advantage here is beyond the pale. This will be over by the half, and the Chiefs don't have the firepower for a back door cover.
Broncos 34, Chiefs 13
GREEN BAY at Minnesota (+3)
This won't be a cakewalk for the visitors, as they have real protection issues and the Vikings rush the passer well. There's also a nice noise advantage here, and the Vikings have real playoff hopes... but the Pack want the seeding, RB Adrian Peterson isn't 100%, QB Christian Ponder is terrible and the Pack are finally getting healthy. Look for a third quarter breakthrough turning into a comfortable cover.
Packers 31, Vikings 20
Miami at NEW ENGLAND (-10)
Beware of the Patriots, at home, after a setback... and that goes much more for a December game, in the cold, against a warm-weather team. The Patriots might still be the class of the AFC, and nothing that happens in this game will convince anyone of anything different.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 17
Oakland at SAN DIEGO (NL)
Neither team is any good, but the Chargers have home field and their starting QB. If you are betting this game heavily, you do not have a gambling problem. You are a gambling problem.
Chargers 24, Raiders 19
Arizona at SAN FRANCISCO (-16.5)
Bounce back game, at home, for a team that needs it very badly. The Arizona defense is competent, but the offense can't stay on the field or keep a clean scorecard, and they aren't going to score a touchdown in this game. Which makes the spread manageable.
Niners 24, Cardinals 6
St. Louis at SEATTLE (-10.5)
At some point, the Seahawk Juggernaut will bust a tire; they aren't going to blow every team out, especially if they lose members of the secondary to suspension. But not in this game, and not against this Rams team, who alternate between scrappy and roadkill.
Seahawks 34, Rams 17
Dallas at WASHINGTON (-3)
The second straight year where the Cowboys have a win and in game on SNF in the final game of the year, and the second straight year where they fall short despite having similar talent. It's a heady combination of poor luck, bad coaching and more than a little aging in key spots. Look for the Redskins to take advantage of the first truly enthused and fully committed home crowds in forever, and for QB Robert Griffin III to nail down his rookie of the year award.
Redskins 24, Cowboys 20
Last week: 10-6
Season to date: 113-118-4