NFL Picks Week 17: Will Resting Starters Affect Game Results?
After last night’s game between the Vikings and the Eagles, Week 16 is in the books. That means that there is just one week of games remaining before the playoffs start and the excitement begins.
Although fives teams from the AFC and four teams from the NFC have already clinched a postseason berth, many teams still have a lot to play for. Whether it be for one of those final remaining playoff spots or simply for seeding, Week 17 is significant for many teams.
Questions still loom as to whether star players from teams like the Falcons or Patriots will play this weekend, as both teams have already locked up first round byes, but one thing is clear.
One season is ending, but a more important one is just beginning.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-4)
Why Kansas City Should Cover:
The Raiders have a chance to go 8-8 with a win this week, which would end a streak of seven consecutive losing seasons. Still, the Raiders have been atrocious against the run this year—allowing 135 yards per game on the ground—while the Chiefs have the top rushing offense in the NFL. Todd Haley should have his team amped up to enter the playoffs on a high note and the Chiefs should cruise at home.
Player To Watch: Jamaal Charles
The Pro Bowl roster was announced yesterday and Charles was selected as one of the three AFC backs. The explosive 24-year old has rushed for 1,380 yards on a league best 6.4 yards per carry and should once again top the century mark against Oakland. However, if the Chiefs opt to rest Charles or attack through the air, the Chiefs could struggle to produce against a stout Raiders secondary.
Prediction: 30-19 Chiefs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-7.5)
Why Tampa Bay Should Cover:
Although the Saints would need a miracle to earn a first round bye (a win Sunday coupled with an Atlanta loss to Carolina), I expect their starters to play limited minutes. This is a game that Tampa Bay needs if they hope to earn a playoff spot, while New Orleans has already clinched. I’m not sure if the Bucs will be able to win, but it should be a close game that Tampa Bay will be able to cover.
Player To Watch: LeGarrette Blount
Josh Freeman has evolved as a passer, but the key to victory will be rookie running back LeGarrette Blount. More renowned for punching an opponent than his on-field production, the undrafted back has been phenomenal since taking over for Cadillac Williams. Blount has shown surprising quickness, speed and athleticism given his massive frame, and has rushed for 941 yards despite starting just six games. Blount rushed for 164 yards on just 18 carries last week against the Seahawks and another big game like that could lead to a post-season berth.
Prediction: 31-24 New Orleans
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-3)
Why Detroit Should Cover:
Despite the Vikings' surprising win last night over a talented Eagles team, I like Detroit to cover the three-point spread. Detroit is only 5-10, but they have lost five of those games by five points or less, including a highly controversial game against Chicago. Calvin Johnson has emerged as arguably the best wide receiver in football while Ndamukong Suh is on his way to becoming the league’s premier defensive tackle. Minnesota could be hung over from Tuesday’s shocking victory and Joe Webb may struggle against a consistent pass rush.
Player To Watch: Jeff Backus
Backus is one of the most hated players in the NFL, but the Lions' left tackle could be a huge key to victory. The Vikings sacked Michael Vick six times last night, including a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown. Jared Allen is a handful to deal with on the end, but if Backus can buy time for his quarterback, receivers like Calvin Johnson should be able to run all over the Vikings' secondary.
Prediction: 34-13 Lions.
Buffalo Bills at NY Jets (-1)
Why New York Should Cover:
Somehow, a 4-11 Bills team is only a one point underdog IN New York. As much as I hate to admit it, this seems like a pretty safe bet. The Jets will be playing without Mark Sanchez this week as he rests his sore shoulder, but does that really warrant a massive swing in the line? Darrelle Revis will shutdown Steve Johnson and the Bills have very few alternatives at the receiver position.
Player To Watch: Kellen Clemens/Mark Brunell
With Mark Sanchez sitting, either Kellen Clemens or Mark Brunell will get the call for the Jets. Whoever lines up behind center will likely spend most of their time handing off to Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson, especially considering the Bills have the league’s number four passing defense.
Still, it will be interesting to see whether or not these backups can put up decent statistics. The Jets have great weapons in their receiving game with Holmes, Edwards, Cotchery and Keller, so Mark Sanchez could really be on the hot seat if one of these players has a good game.
Prediction: 20-17 Jets.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-4)
Why Miami Should Cover:
This is a game that I would absolutely never bet on unless I had some type of inside information. The Patriots have nothing to gain on Sunday, as they have already locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. By all means, Tom Brady and New England’s other key players should be on the bench, but with Bill Belichick, you never know.
My guess is that Brady plays the first quarter before being relegated to the bench. The Dolphins, on the other hand, should still be playing hard, as head coach Tony Sparano may need a win Sunday to keep his job.
Player To Watch: Tom Brady
This is pretty simple. If Tom Brady plays, the Patriots will cover the spread easily. If Brady sits, the Pats will not cover. He’s the front runner in the MVP race, so make sure to wait until his status for Sunday’s game is clear before betting.
Prediction: 24-21 Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers (-6) at Cleveland Browns
Why Pittsburgh Should Cover:
While the Steelers already have their post season spot locked, their Week 17 game against the Browns is still important. With an 11-4 record, Pittsburgh currently sits atop the AFC North and will need a win on Sunday to lock up a first-round bye.
Player To Watch: Peyton Hillis
In order to claim victory, the Browns need an exceptional performance from Peyton Hillis. In the teams’ first meeting, the bruising back ran for just 41 yards. As a result? He will need a much-improved performance if they hope to upset their division rival. Hillis has shown he can put up big numbers against elite defenses (22 carries for 144 yards in week three’s loss to Baltimore), and will need to duplicate those numbers if he wants to help Cleveland pull off this upset.
Prediction: 27-13 Steelers.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-14.5)
Why Atlanta Should Cover:
After losing to the Saints on Monday night, the Falcons slipped to just one game up in the standings. For Atlanta to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they will need to take care of business against the lowly Panthers, meaning that Matt Ryan and the rest of the starters will likely play all of Sunday’s game. Carolina has been horrendous all season as their quarterbacks have been amongst the worst in league history. The best team in the NFC hosting the worst team in the NFC…hmmm…I think I like Atlanta to cover (but buy the hook at 14 if you can).
Player To Watch: Jonathan Stewart
The Falcons' rush defense has been pretty average this season, so don’t be surprised if Jonathan Stewart has a decent game. The third year back has averaged 108 yards per game over the past four weeks and will be key if Atlanta hopes to cover the spread. If Stewart has a big game, the offense may actually (gasp) score an offensive touchdown. But more importantly, if Stewart can move the chains, Atlanta may not have the time to run up the score.
Prediction: 27-9 Falcons.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-9.5)
Why Baltimore Should Cover:
While the Bengals have little to gain with this win, except the pride of playing spoiler, the Ravens still hold this game as being noteworthy. A loss would force Baltimore to play their first playoff game on the road. However, a victory, coupled with a Steelers defeat, would give the Ravens a first-round bye.
Player To Watch: Joe Flacco
Lisa: Because this game is so important, expect Joe Flacco to have an impressive game. The first time around, the third year quarterback threw four interceptions against the Bengals. But he has thrown just five picks in his 14 other games. With an inconsistent Bengals secondary this season, Flacco will certainly be looking to prove what he can do after a less than satisfactory first meeting.
Prediction: 30-20 Ravens.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (-7)
Why Philadelphia Should Cover:
After an embarrassing loss on Tuesday night against the Vikings, the Eagles will look to rebound when they host the Cowboys. The morale in Dallas may even be lower than the Eagles' following last week’s thwarting loss to the insipid Cardinals. It’s not often you see two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the opening quarter of a ball game, after all. The Cowboys look to have surrendered, and Michael Vick and company will certainly attempt to take advantage of that on Sunday.
Player To Watch: Michael Vick
How could Vick not be the player to watch? He’s the most exciting player in the league coming off arguably his worst performance of the season. Andy Reid confirmed earlier this week that Vick was dealing with a painful quad contusion, so stay tuned to see whether or not it’s Vick or his backup Kevin Kolb that gets the call this weekend.
Prediction: 34-21 Eagles.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-6.5)
Why San Francisco Should Cover:
Throughout this entire season, I have been constant in saying that the Niners are the most talented team in the NFC West.
While Patrick Willis is arguably the best linebacker in football, Nate Clements is still a top cornerback. On offense, Vernon Davis is the most athletic tight end in football and Michael Crabtree and Brian Westbrook? They offer terrific receiving options. San Francisco should be motivated to prove that they are a better team than their record indicates and should be able to win their season finale for interim coach Jim Tomsula.
Player To Watch: Alex Smith
The former number one overall pick could be making his final start as a member of the 49ers (or anywhere for that matter). On the season Smith has thrown for 2,094 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. If he hopes to find a job in the NFL next season, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to show signs of life.
The outstanding play of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie leads an Arizona defense that ranks first in football with seven defensive touchdowns, so if Alex Smith isn’t careful with the ball, he could singlehandedly bring the 49ers down.
Prediction: 28-10 49ers.
Jacksonville Jaguars (-1) at Houston Texans
Why Houston Should Cover:
As awful as the Texans defense has been this season, their offense has been the direct antithesis. Arian Foster has been a revelation, rushing for a league best 1,436 yards, while Matt Schaub has once again put together a Pro Bowl caliber season with 4,117 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Houston will be looking to avenge a Week 10 loss on a last-second Hail Mary. What better way to do that than by ending the Jaguars playoff hopes?
Player To Watch: Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson hauled in nine receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting between these two teams and should once again put up big numbers. The Jaguars' secondary has struggled all season and an elite receiver like Johnson could have a field day.
Prediction: 30-24 Houston
San Diego Chargers (-3.5) at Denver Broncos
Why San Diego Should Cover:
Ranked first in the NFL by a wide margin, the Charger’s defense could certainly give rookie player Tim Tebow fits. The guy put up huge numbers against an inferior Texans secondary, but he also struggled to make the right read. Shaun Phillips is an elite pass rusher that was snubbed for a Pro Bowl nod, so don’t be shocked if he takes his anger out on Tim Tebow and the Broncos offensive line.
Player To Watch: Knowshon Moreno
Tebow is still a work in progress, so the Broncos just might have to devise their game plan around Knowshon Moreno. Gaining over 1,000 yards of total offense and eight total touchdowns, the second year player from Georgia has shown sparks of potential this season. Gaining just 24 yards on the ground and leaving last week’s game with a rib injury, Moreno has struggled in recent weeks. Regardless, if he plays, Moreno will supply a safe option on passing plays for the rookie quarterback.
In fact, the guy could have a solid game against a middle of the road San Diego run defense.
Prediction: 28-16 Chargers
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-10)
Why Green Bay Should Cover:
The Bears have already clinched a first round bye, while Green Bay needs to win in order to advance to the postseason. This means it could be the Bears reserves against the Green Bay starters. If that happens, the Packers could run away with this game.
Clay Matthews anchors one of the best blitzing defenses in football against a Bears offensive line that allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked ten times against the Giants! At Lambeau field, look for Green Bay to leave victorious and wrap up a playoff spot.
Player To Watch: Aaron Rodgers
To be honest, I wasn’t too sure about how Aaron Rodgers would play this past weekend. It seemed reasonable that after suffering two concussions, the former Cal standout would be worried about taking another shot and might be quick to get rid of the football. I admit when I am wrong and I certainly was here.
Looking absolutely fantastic, Rogers was pinpointing pass after pass en route to 404 yards and four touchdowns. It could be tough to duplicate those results against this Bears defense, but it should be fun to watch him try.
Prediction: 28-17 Packers.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-10)
Why Indianapolis Should Cover:
While the Colts are ensured a playoff birth if Jacksonville loses, the team would much rather take care of business by knocking off the Titans on Sunday. Ranking among the league's worst, Tennessee’s secondary could be victimized by Peyton Manning and the surging Colts offense. Manning leads the league in passing yards and could easily pass the 300-yard mark against this sub par Titans defense.
Player To Watch: Chris Johnson
Despite his obvious drop-off in production, Chris Johnson remains the most talented and electric back in football. Against an iffy Colts rush defense, the former Eastern Carolina Pirate could produce a season high in yards. If Johnson is able to rip off a few big gainers and milk the clock, Tennessee could make this a surprisingly close game.
Prediction: 31-14 Colts.
New York Giants (-4) at Washington Redskins
Why Washington Should Cover:
This week, after back-to-back humiliating losses, the Giants need a victory in Washington to keep their season alive. Still, with Rex Grossman behind center, the Redskins' offense has actually been scoring and would love nothing more than to play spoiler this Sunday. In a close game last week, Washington defeated Jacksonville, essentially derailing the Jags' season.
What to look for? Another close game that comes down to a late field goal.
Player To Watch: Eli Manning
Against Green Bay this past weekend, Eli Manning forced throws, misread defenses and generally did everything in his power to lose the game. The former number one overall pick did not look like a Super Bowl winning QB, completing just 51 percent of his passes and tossing four interceptions. Luckily, this week he is facing a Washington defense that ranks 31st in the league in passing defense, meaning Eli should get his groove back.
Prediction: 20-17 Giants.
St. Louis Rams (-3) at Seattle Seahawks
Why Seattle Should Cover:
The 6-9 Seattle Seahawks will host St. Louis this weekend with the NFC West on the line. Seattle’s offense has been atrocious all season long, so they may get a boost from their new quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst will be replacing Matt Hasselbeck, who has thrown just 15 total touchdowns to a whopping 22 turnovers (17 interceptions and five fumbles lost). The Rams are slightly more talented, but with a rookie quarterback playing on the road in such a high-pressure situation, I like Seattle to cover.
Player To Watch: Steven Jackson
All season, Sam Bradford has looked like a veteran in leading his team to a 7-8 record, yet the pressure is on Steven Jackson to produce for St. Louis. As a guy who has never made the playoffs as a starting back, Jackson is in the midst of the worst season of his career with a meager 3.7 yard per carry average.
Action Jackson ran for just 48 yards on 24 carries against San Francisco last week. He’ll look to improve on those numbers against a Seattle defense that allows 123 yards per game on the ground.
Prediction: 24-23 St. Louis