Week 17 brings just three games with no playoff implications, meaning that picking games should come with better predictability than the typical final-week slate. No one has to worry about Brock Osweiler coming in for Peyton Manning except for a few token junk-time snaps, if even that.
Here are some early preliminary lines and analysis for three of the most intriguing calls.
|Panthers @ Falcons||CAR -7.5||CAR|
|Ravens @ Bengals||CIN -6||CIN|
|Steelers @ Browns||PIT -7||PIT|
|Jaguars @ Colts||IND -13||JAX|
|Jets @ Dolphins||MIA -6.5||NYJ|
|Texans @ Titans||TEN -7||HOU|
|Lions @ Vikings||MIN -3||MIN|
|Redskins @ Giants||NYG -3.5||NYG|
|Packers @ Bears||CHI -7||GB|
|49ers @ Cardinals||ARZ -7||SF|
|Rams @ Seahawks||SEA -10||SEA|
|Broncos @ Raiders||DEN -12||DEN|
|Chiefs @ Chargers||SD -9.5||KC|
|Bills @ Patriots||NE -9.5||BUF|
|Bucs @ Saints||NO -12.5||NO|
|Eagles @ Cowboys||PHI -6.5||PHI|
Jets (+6.5) cover vs. Dolphins
The Jets have turned things around after a midseason slump that derailed their playoff hopes. New York has won two of its past three games, and Geno Smith and the offense are finally starting to resemble a passable unit. After failing to score 20 points in five of their previous six contests, the Jets have reached that threshold in each game during the aforementioned three-week stretch.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, come in reeling after a 19-0 beatdown at the hands of the Bills. The most obvious issue for Miami is its putrid offensive line play from last week, as the unit surrendered seven sacks. However, as Andre Fernandez of the Miami Herald notes, the disappearance of the running game may prove equally concerning this week:
The Dolphins’ inconsistency running the football has been one of the biggest problems in their defeats this season. But Sunday was one of the worst and broke a trend of solid games in that category.
The Dolphins ran for 125 yards or more against the Jets and Steelers and mustered 89 yards against the Patriots before a dismal 14 yards on 12 carries against the Bills. The Dolphins are 6-1 when rushing for more than 100 yards as a team this season.
“I just did not feel at any point that of those 12 carries our longest run was 3 yards,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “We really haven’t had many explosive runs this year, which is not good. We need to continue to build towards that. A lack of productivity in the run game caused me to veer off into another direction.”
The Jets are a team built to exploit their advantage in the trenches. New York ranks ninth in yards per carry and tops the league in allowing the lowest rushing average to opponents. If Smith can take care of the ball with even reasonable success, the Jets may replicate the inside-out blueprint that Buffalo demonstrated last week.
49ers (+7) cover vs. Cardinals
The Cardinals are the hottest team in the league, having won seven of their past eight and with just one home defeat on the season. However, making them touchdown favorites over the Niners seems a bit high.
For one, San Francisco has already beaten Arizona, and the 49ers are a better team than they were in Week 6. The same is true of the Cardinals, of course, but the 49ers offense has taken off since Michael Crabtree's return to the lineup. Crabtree has drawn coverage away from the frequently blanketed Anquan Boldin, opening up larger windows for Colin Kaepernick.
Those receivers could prove the difference against an Arizona defense that had success against a similar quarterback last week in Russell Wilson. Though Wilson was able to extend plays with his legs, the Cardinals secondary covered the Seahawks' less-than-impressive receiving corps admirably, stifling the Seattle attack.
If the Cardinals lose contain of Kaepernick from the pocket this Sunday, they may not have as much success covering the 49ers downfield. This is a game the Niners could certainly win outright, and getting a touchdown is a gift.
Bills (+9.5) cover vs. Patriots
Don't be fooled—despite their 41-7 romp against the Ravens, the Patriots are not a team that will easily blow out even inferior opponents. New England has a tough time executing efficiently for 60 minutes, something the Patriots have demonstrated against the likes of the Browns, Jets and these Bills in Week 1.
Buffalo does present some interesting challenges for New England. The Bills quietly possess one of the league's best front sevens and have gotten to the quarterback a league-best 9.3 percent of the time, per TeamRankings.com. The Pats' makeshift offensive line held up admirably against the Ravens last week but will need a repeat performance to give Tom Brady and the timing-based passing game enough time to thrive.
Moreover, it appears starting quarterback E.J. Manuel at least has a chance to play. According to ESPN's Mike Rodak, Manuel practiced on Tuesday, though it is unclear whether or not the rookie is entirely comfortable with his gimpy knee:
EJ Manuel (knee) present for the start of Tuesday's practice— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) December 24, 2013
It's dangerous to read into body language, but EJ Manuel hardly looks pleased with his warmup. Reporters' access to practice is now over.— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) December 24, 2013
Regardless, the Bills figure to keep things close against the Pats, even if Brady and Co. are likely to find a way to pull out the win in the end.