NFL Week 17, the last week of the regular season, is finally upon us. Let's all take a moment to reflect on the year that was . . . okay, enough reflecting, let's get to the picks.
The New Orleans Saints made a huge statement in Monday Night Football, and now they'll want a shot at the division by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday.
The Falcons are going to be pretty upset about losing to the Saints, and they're most likely going to take it out on the hapless Carolina Panthers, so don't look for the Saints to have an easy time getting that division crown.
There's only one spot left to lock up in the AFC, the AFC South title, and all the Colts have to do to get it is win.
Still a lot of interesting games this weekend, and we'll see who's playing out the string, and who is playing for a job next year.
Last Week: 10-6
The New England Patriots have nothing to play for on Sunday and neither do the Dolphins.
Guess which team will be more motivated to win?
If you said, "the Patriots", then you are correct. Bill Belichick simply does not like to lose, and won't let his team take the week off against anybody no matter how meaningless the game is.
I don't think Belichick even likes to lose preseason games to tell you the truth.
The Dolphins are going into the postseason facing the possibility of a complete rebuild, including the head coach. This will be a dispirited team just trying not to get injured.
Patriots 45 Dolphins 6
The Lions don't care about draft position, they want to win games. The Vikings will be coming off of a very short week because of the Tuesday night game, and we won't know who's going to play quarterback for the team yet.
The Vikings have a good defense, but the Lions are now finding ways to win without having a franchise quarterback this year.
The Vikings, quarterback problems aside, now are dealing with an injured Adrian Peterson as well, which further limits the Vikings offensive options.
I'm just thinking the Vikings are done for the year, giving Detroit another win.
Lions 21 Vikings 17
For anyone thinking Colt McCoy is going to have two "rookie" games in a row, think again. Troy Polamalu still is questionable for the game as of this writing, and it's doubtful he'll play per some comments out of the Steelers camp last week.
The Browns are fighting to try and keep head coach Eric Mangini's job, but that decision may already have been made with embarrassing losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals earlier this year when the offense seemed to have an allergy to the end zone.
Mangini plays for field goals, and granted the offense has few weapons, limited talent at wide receiver and a line that's like a sieve on the right side, but conservative play will get you nowhere in the AFC North.
The Steelers, though, are taking the term "conservative" to new levels this year as Ben Roethlisberger continues to be the only weapon on offense. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians continues to misuse Roethlisberger and underuse Rashard Mendenhall, yet somehow the Steelers are the current No. 2 seed in the NFL playoffs.
They've done that on the strength of the defense that now is missing its best player. Still the Steelers need to win more than the Browns do at this point, and it's hard to say the conservative approach of Mangini's offense is going to change.
Steelers 24 Browns 13
Oakland is out of the playoff race, but don't tell that to the Raiders, because that will just make them play meaner and harder.
The Raiders have the second ranked rushing offense in the league, and Darren McFadden has found his rhythm this year. On the other hand, the Raiders have the 29th ranked rushing defense this year going up against Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.
The Chiefs have the top spot in rushing attack, and are ranked 12th with their rushing defense, so you know this game is going to come down to the battle of the running backs.
The Chiefs passing game is ranked 28th, but those numbers are misleading as Matt Cassel's numbers at the beginning of the season weren't spectacular, and Brodie Croyle's start just skews everything.
The Raiders are stuck with Jason Campbell at quarterback, and despite trading for him in the offseason, they quickly lost confidence in him and replaced him with Bruce Gradkowski who now is injured.
The Chiefs don't want to lose this game and go into the playoffs on a sour note, but the Raiders definitely want to finish the season in style.
Chiefs win in a great game.
Chiefs 30 Raiders 24
The Carolina Panthers stood little chance of winning this game before the Falcons lost on Monday Night Football. Now there's zero chance.
This is an NFL team playing a bunch of guys rounded up off the streets, and Jimmy Clausen probably is making his last NFL start for the foreseeable future.
The Falcons will come out strong and then ease up in the fourth quarter once the game is firmly out of reach.
Falcons 38 Panthers 7
The Buffalo Bills know they're out of the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes, so I see them coming out, playing hard and trying to finish the season on a winning note.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will be looking to put up great numbers and continue to show ownership he's worth sticking with for another year or two.
The Jets, under Rex Ryan, with nothing to play for . . . I just don't see it. They haven't played that great when there was something to play for, so why bother breaking down any stats here?
Bills 30 Jets 14
The Bengals have rattled off two wins in a row against a conservative Cleveland Browns team and a surprisingly inept Chargers team.
The Ravens have more talent and more drive to win than the Bengals at this point, and from a statistical standpoint, these two teams really don't match up at all.
The Ravens have a chance at winning the AFC North with a win over the Bengals and a Steelers loss.
Carson Palmer, though, looked a lot better without Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on the field. Third year wide receiver Jerome Simpson caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns last week. The difference now is that Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs probably will be keeping an eye on Simpson, and the Ravens won't be caught off-guard.
Ravens 34 Bengals 24
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to win this game to even have a chance of making the playoffs. The Saints have no intention of losing this game, but there really isn't much to play for since the Saints have locked up a playoff berth.
The Saints can win and still not win the division if the Falcons win. Considering the Falcons are playing the Panthers, you can pretty much pencil in the Falcons as the division winners.
Tampa's record against teams with records above .500 isn't very good, but quarterback Josh Freeman has pulled some amazing performances out of his helmet this year.
The Saints aren't going to look to go into the playoffs on a losing note any more than a bunch of other teams.
Saints 27 Buccaneers 24
It's come down to this for Redskins fans. Rex Grossman. The one and only.
Giants fans are sharpening their pitchforks and preparing the torches to storm the castle of the New Meadowlands if the Giants lose and miss the playoffs. Even if the Giants win, they won't make the playoffs unless the Packers lose.
Mike Shanahan said he was going to change things in D.C. when he came in last offseason, he just didn't tell anyone he was going to blow the whole thing up and start over. If he had been a little clearer about his intentions, fans might be a little more forgiving of the situation right now.
Still, Grossman is the guy the fans have to root for now, and Donovan McNabb will stand on the sideline, bemused grin on his face.
The Giants are a hard team to predict here because they quite obviously were playing with a hangover from the Eagles game last week versus the Packers. The question is whether that hangover lasts into this week.
I'm betting it doesn't, the Redskins inconsistencies rear their ugly heads, and the Giants then wait and see what the Packers do.
Giants 24 Redskins 10
The Jaguars offense was a shell of itself with Maurice Jones-Drew on the sideline. David Garrard, always inconsistent, came out with a poor game last week and the Jaguars lost.
If Jones-Drew can't go this Sunday, then there's pretty much no hope. The Texans defense is showing signs of playing better, even though it's too little, too late.
Even with Jones-Drew, the Texans offense is just better, and the Jaguars are ranked pretty low against the pass and average against the run. The Texans do both well.
The Jaguars seem to be limping to the finale and the Texans are looking to finish on a positive note.
Texans 31 Jaguars 14
How do you break a game like this one down?
The Chargers are eliminated from the playoff race and just got beat by the Bengals despite ranking in the top five of every major offensive and defensive category.
The Broncos are starting Tim Tebow, who still is so raw you don't know what to expect from the guy.
Norv Turner will be retained, so he's not coaching to save his job. Eric Studesville is just happy to be here.
I'm predicting a wild and crazy game, possibly with several lead changes, and going with the home team in absence of anything better to hang my hat on.
Broncos 28 Chargers 27
Something, something, something, something, something, something, something, something, something, somethin, John Skelton, something, something, something, something something, something.
Something, something, something, something, Troy Smith, something, something, something, something, something, something, something, something, something, something, something.
And the the universe folded in on itself in protest of this game.
Cardinals 5 49ers 3
Here's a game that presents its own set of difficulties in predicting. The Eagles will have little to play for going into this game, but they are a team that won't be inclined to just roll over and sit all the starters.
The Cowboys have every interest in winning this game because Jerry Jones will fire anyone who quits on him on gameday.
So this should turn into a very entertaining game, especially if you're a Michael Vick fan. The Cowboys defense gives up big plays, that's just what it does this year.
The Eagles are becoming a better team each week, and it looks like they're going to peak at the right time.
The Cowboys also could be starting Stephen McGee, assuming Jon Kitna can't go because of his strained abdominal muscle.
Going to go with the Eagles no matter who starts for Dallas.
Eagles 24 Cowboys 21
Update: The Eagles losing makes this Sunday's game almost meaningless. I'll revisit this pick once we have a firmer grasp on who is and isn't starting.
The Colts aren't in the mood to lose anymore games this year, and can't risk a Jaguars win upsetting their playoff plans.
The Titans are playing for pride, and not much else.
The Colts are a much better looking team since their November slump, and they now look like they will be able to compete in the playoffs rather than just squeak in and get eliminated in the Wild Card round.
The Titans have an offense that sometimes can put a lot of points on the board and sometimes just doesn't. The defense has been equally baffling this year. They're ranked low in just about every major defensive category, but they've played a handful of good games this year, most of them early in the season.
The Colts won't falter in their march to the postseason.
Colts 28 Titans 13
The Bears still have motivation for this game despite locking up the division. A win means they keep the first round bye. If the Bears lose and the Eagles win their last two games, that bye now belongs to the Eagles.
The Packers need to win to guarantee a playoff berth. If they lose, they need the Giants and the Buccaneers to lose to keep their spot in the postseason.
This game is going to be brutal, and it's going to be a lot of fun. The Packers offense with Aaron Rodgers is a well-oiled machine, and both defenses are tough.
Jay Cutler and the Bears offense definitely have improved from the inconsistency of the first half of the season brought on by a combination of factors, including a swiss cheese offensive line that was giving up sacks at an alarming rate.
But the Packers want this more, and that's who I'm picking.
Packers 20 Bears 17
UPDATE: Since the Eagles lost Tuesday night, the Bears have a lot less incentive to win the game. My prediction stands.
*Facepalm followed by a vigorous rubbing of the temples*
The Sunday Night Football game is for all the marbles in the NFC West. What that means in 2010 is a bad team is going to make the playoffs. But if you win your division, you get into the dance. I'm fine with that, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy watching the process.
The Rams seem to be slightly better than the Seahawks, who might be starting Charlie Whitehurst. I'll take Sam Bradford over Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, Alex Smith, Derek Anderson and John Skelton mashed together like Voltron. In fact, that probably would make the game a lot more interesting to watch.
Sunday Night Football for a playoff spot has never been this boring and meaningless.
Rams 29 Seahawks 12