It’s still hard to get accustomed to Week 17 not being the final week of the NFL regular season, but this is just the penultimate weekend. Lots of playoff and draft slot jockeying going on, sometimes with the very same team…
Be safe out there on Saturday night! New Year’s Eve is a night when a lot of people who don’t normally imbibe will drink. Those of you (like me) with teenage drivers--make sure they’re aware of the perils of the night.
- Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans (+9.5): There’s a very real case to be made that the Titans are the worst team in the AFC over the last six weeks. They’ve won once in that span and last week fell to the lowly Texans in a game where two-win Houston legitimately looked like the better team. I don’t think the next team from Texas they host is going to treat Mike Vrabel’s dilapidated unit (8 players are out and Derrick Henry is on the doubtful side of doubtful) any differently.
Cowboys 33, Titans 12
- Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5): The NFC South title is on the line here. Tampa Bay wins the division with the win at home, but the Panthers tie it up and seize the tiebreaker if they can win for the fourth time in five games. Sam Darnold has played well in that stretch, and interim head coach Steve Wilks is performing like a guy who should keep the gig full-time.
Carolina’s ability to rush Tom Brady without blitzing is the key to this game. If Brian Burns can get home on the pass rush against a beat-up Bucs line, it’s going to be a long day for the home team. Remember the first game between these two, a 21-3 Carolina win back in Week 7. Since that time, the Panthers have improved and Tampa Bay has not. I’ll ride the hot hand and the road team.
Panthers 24, Buccaneers 21
- New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks (-2.5): Very important game in the playoff picture in each conference. The winner of this game has vitality, the loser is basically flatlined. With Mike White back at QB for the Jets and the Seattle offense still just not clicking, gimmie the road team.
Yes, I just picked the Jets to win an important road game in January. It’ s been a long year…
Jets 23, Seahawks 20
- Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-5.5): Chicago has won once in the last 13 weeks. Their top pass rusher is rookie safety Jaquan Brisker. Their top receiver for this game is Equanimeous St. Brown, but he could be out with a concussion. The Lions have the better St. Brown brother in Amon-Ra, and the Bears defense will struggle to stop him. Good test for the Lions defense after an abysmal outing in Week 16--can they rebound against Justin Fields and a bunch of practice squad refugees?
Lions 30, Bears 17
- Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5): This will be the second-to-last game in J.J. Watt’s illustrious career. Tune in, if only for a little bit, and catch the Cardinals DE while you still can. More on Watt and his legacy coming in this week’s $.10.
Falcons 22, Cardinals 20
- Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-2.5): The Dolphins are in do-or-die playoff mode but have to travel to New England with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. Tua Tagovailoa is out as Miami’s QB with another concussion. Bridgewater is capable, but playing the Patriots in January in Foxboro is a tough ask. The good news for Miami is that Matt Patricia is still running the Patriots' offense. That gives Miami a chance to outscore New England even if the Dolphins play third-stringer Skylar Thompson at QB.
Dolphins 24, Patriots 17
- Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (-13.5): The era of interim head coach (checks notes) Jerry Rosburg begins in Denver with a seemingly impossible task. Go into Kansas City and try to beat a Chiefs team that still has something to play for in the AFC postseason position jockeying. Teams do normally get a bump in the first game of an interim coach’s reign, but the Broncos and Russell Wilson need about 30 bumps stacked on one another to pull this one off.
Chiefs 32, Broncos 16
- Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (-3.5): The Giants clinch a playoff berth with a win. The Colts sew up a top-5 draft pick with a loss. I’m not going to overthink this one…
Giants 30, Colts 20
- New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles (-7): The Saints have quietly won two in a row and do have a shot at winning their division even though New Orleans has less than half of Philadelphia’s wins on the season. Very hard to ignore the old Bill Parcells axiom here.
Eagles 25, Saints 21
- Cleveland Browns at Washington Commanders (-2.5): Washington head coach Ron Rivera has made the curious switch back to QB Carson Wentz, benching Taylor Heinicke after a couple of mistakes against a great 49ers defense. It’s a panic move in my eyes, and I suspect some Commanders players share my vision. If the Browns can actually catch the ball--they dropped 3 would-be TDs last week in the loss to the Saints--they’re fully capable of catching the Commanders in an awkward spot and ruining Washington’s playoff aspirations. That I’m picking Washington is an indication of my confidence level in the eliminated Browns and their mistake-filled offense.
Commanders 23, Browns 20
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (+3.5): I get that the Texans pulled off a nice upset win last week. However, the early line here (set by ESPN’s fantasy pick ‘em) seems grossly ignorant of how well the Jaguars are playing. Jacksonville seizes the AFC South destiny and avenges the Week 5 loss at home to Houston.
Jaguars 29, Texans 17
- San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders (+5.5): The Raiders have benched Derek Carr, apparently for good. Time to bench any and all expectations for the Raiders to win.
49ers 33, Raiders 8
- Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-2.5): I’m not sure from whence the narrative that the Vikings have nothing to play for has sprung. But I don’t buy it whatsoever. I’ll believe Green Bay’s recently upticking defense can stop Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, Dalvin Cook when I see it. They could, but I’m not forecasting it.
Vikings 37, Packers 31
- Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5): It’s still very strange to list the Rams as a road team in their home stadium. Normally SoFi Stadium is more than half-filled by fans of the road team, but what happens when the road team is also a home team? These are the vexing conundrums that keep me up at night…
Chargers 28, Rams 16
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-3.5): The Steelers present a weird trap game potential for the Ravens, who draw the Bengals in Week 18 with a chance to win the AFC North--but only if Baltimore survives against bitter rival Pittsburgh. This is not your typical Ravens team of recent vintages. Alas, it’s also not a good enough Steelers offense to take advantage.
Ravens 24, Steelers 20
- Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals (+.5): What a great matchup to end the week! Two of the three leading candidates to win the AFC square off in a game that will go a long way toward determining home-field advantage. The Bills have won six straight, but the Bengals’ win streak is now at seven.
The Bills defense is the key here. Joe Burrow and his merry band of weapons are on fire and well-coordinated. Buffalo’s defense has also been aflame lately, suffocating the Bears, Jets and Patriots with a hiccup against the Dolphins they also managed to survive. I think that somehow, some way, the Buffalo defense gets it done and sets up Josh Allen for a potential game-winning drive. I love Bengals DC Lou Anarumo and what he’s done, but I’ll take Allen in that situation.
Bills 25, Bengals 23
So. Many. Bowls. I only have interest in a select few…
Orange Bowl: Clemson 33, Tennessee 24
Sugar Bowl: Alabama 27, Kansas State 20
Fiesta Bowl: Michigan 35, TCU 26
Peach Bowl: Georgia 41, Ohio State 28