NFL Picks Week 17: Chris Simms' Game-by-Game Picks

Chris Simms@@CSimmsQBNFL Lead AnalystDecember 29, 2016

NFL Picks Week 17: Chris Simms' Game-by-Game Picks

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    The best season of my career wasn’t supposed to end with a Ray Lewis “Squirrel Dance.”

    But it did—and the answer to why my Titans veered off our Super Bowl course couldn’t be clearer after watching the film back in 2008-09.

    Baltimore wasn't only as talented as my 13-3 squad was. It was hotter. It fought and scratched and clawed its way to a playoff berth; new coach John Harbaugh couldn’t afford to rest starters or look ahead. It was clear he made the right choice when his team steamrolled the Dolphins in the Wild Card Round.

    Then they went to LP Field to face my team—its polar opposite in terms of pure momentum. Sure, we were the AFC's best team, but we hadn’t played a meaningful game in a month (including the bye week we earned heading into the postseason). Coach Jeff Fisher gave our first-stringers some time off in Week 17. It bit us square in the ass.

    This year’s eventual top seeds take note: Resting starters to end the regular season and gliding into an off week isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, preserving the mojo of a great year is all that matters.

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

    This time last season, Miami acted as Bill Belichick’s Week 17 speed bump.

    He won’t make the same mistake twice—especially now that Miami will join Belichick’s team in the playoff field. If I know Bill (and I do), he’ll use the regular-season finale as equal parts tune-up, scouting report and statement-sender.

    And he’ll go heavy on the last ingredient. Expect the Pats to feature LeGarrette Blount and the play-action pass in a big way. New England knows its AFC East rivals can’t stop either one; the rest of the playoff field can follow its blueprint after Week 17.

    Prediction: Patriots 30, Dolphins 14

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Here’s a statement right out of the NFL’s summer headlines: No team wants a piece of the Jaguars right now.

    It’s true, albeit four months too late. Interim coach Doug Marrone has worked out some of Blake Bortles’ kinks (at least for now). Meanwhile, Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler Jr. are becoming scary pieces of an already scary defense. They’re growing up right before our eyes.

    The difference in this game boils down to Chuck Pagano. I think he’s safe, but I also think he’s the kind of coach who’d rather have an 8-8 record next to his name than 7-9. Expect Andrew Luck to empty the playbook in order for that to happen.

    Prediction: Colts 27, Jags 23

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (Fox)

    A lot—and I mean a lot—has to happen for Tampa Bay to sneak into the NFC playoffs.

    So the Buccaneers will be a) unwilling to let up just in case the football gods throw them an assist and b) pissed off as all get-out they let their postseason hopes get this dire. Either one doesn’t bode well for Carolina.

    Cam Newton’s team won’t shut it down. It's a proud bunch, but things haven’t been up to par on the defensive side all season. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans know how to capitalize on that weakness.

    Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Panthers 20

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Minnesota’s assignment vigilantes messed with the wrong dude.

    Mike Zimmer is as old-school as any active coach in the game. Something tells me he’ll use Week 17 as his proving ground for the Vikings who can fall in line...and the ones who’ll be shown the door this offseason.

    With jobs on the line, Zimmer’s secondary will show up in a way we haven’t seen since Minnesota’s 5-0 run. Matt Barkley will throw up his usual gimmes, and don’t be shocked if one is taken back for points.

    Prediction: Vikings 19, Bears 16

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Pittsburgh is the exception to my previously stated playoff rule. It needs rest far more than it needs momentum, especially on offense.

    The good news? The Steelers can treat this week like a third preseason game, sit workhorses Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, and still beat the Browns with their J.V. team.

    In doing so, they'll showcase the kind of depth that should have New England's full attention. Remember: DeAngelo Williams is Bell's backup. Eli Rogers is a capable stand-in, too. Even with reserves in, the Steelers offense should still move the ball on the NFL's worst defense.

    Prediction: Steelers 24, Browns 16

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

    If you have a New Year’s Day hangover, may I suggest another game?

    EJ Manuel vs. "Ryan FitzTurnover" won’t be a smooth ride. In fact, it might be the roughest quarterback matchup I’ve seen in a while. That’s saying something.

    Buffalo is the better team. Manuel is not perfect, but at least he has a good-to-great line in front of him and a resurgent Sammy Watkins. One or two big downfield throws should do the trick.

    Prediction: Bills 27, Jets 21

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Jason Garrett could play all his normal starters and risk a huge injury. He could also sit all his normal starters and risk upsetting his team’s rolling momentum.

    I don’t envy Garrett’s next coaching decision. But there’s only one choice to make: play Dak Prescott, play Ezekiel Elliott and keep the well-oiled machine humming.

    That means they’ll be in for a fight. Philadelphia was one or two bad coaching calls away from upsetting this team back in October. This defense hit its turnover-forcing groove last week in the same building. It’ll be close if Garrett goes for it.

    Prediction: Cowboys 21, Eagles 13

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Even with the division wrapped up, the stakes are high for Houston in Week 17.

    How so? Because the game that once looked like an AFC South championship is now Tom Savage’s final tune-up. Win or lose, coach Bill O’Brien needs to find out if his quarterback can handle the entirety of his playbook.

    If a tough test is what Houston’s after, Dick LeBeau is the perfect coach to provide it. His Titans defense will have about 1,746 chips on its shoulder after a letdown performance last week against Blake Bortles.

    Prediction: Texans 24, Titans 21

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Consider this game a trial run for both AFC North rivals.

    On one end, Cincinnati needs to find out if it has a young receiver to plant opposite A.J. Green in 2017. Guys such as Tyler Boyd, Cody Core and Brandon LaFell are good, but they are not what Andy Dalton needs to right the Bengals’ offensive ship.

    It’s all about Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West on the other end. Baltimore found its sweet spot last week, running to set up zone-beating or downfield throws. This game will serve as a chance to try that recipe out a second time in live-game action.

    Prediction: Ravens 21, Bengals 17

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

    San Diego will kick off what amounts to another farewell game in Week 17.

    Somewhere along the line, those emotions will wear off. Football will be all that’s left, and that’s a game Kansas City is better at than the soon-to-be somewhere Chargers.

    I don’t believe Mike McCoy’s team will magically find the answer to the AFC’s most burning question: How do you stop Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill at the same time? Both guys are a matchup nightmare for a Chargers defense that has wilted in the last quarter of play.

    Prediction: Chiefs 31, Chargers 20

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

    The Raiders have one game to turn their biggest nightmare into a fairytale right out of Disneyland.

    How? By beating the reigning Super Bowl champions. By forcing the rival Chiefs to play Wild Card Weekend. And by sewing up the No. 2 overall seed—and an extra week to work with backup Matt McGloin.

    That won’t be a cakewalk with Denver’s defense, so Latavius Murray better stretch before Week 17. He’s in for a workload comparable to the one he got the last time these two played. I’m confident he can replicate his numbers behind Oakland’s big, nasty line.

    Prediction: Raiders 19, Broncos 17

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Seattle’s offense hasn’t been trending in the right direction for the NFC playoffs, so there’s no better time to stuff the stat sheet against San Francisco, right?

    Fool's gold will be had by the pound in Week 17. It’ll look like Russell Wilson has plenty of time to throw. The running game should sync up. And even without Tyler Lockett running deep, other receivers (Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse) should separate.

    Same goes for the defense. Seattle outclasses San Francisco on that side of the ball, and it’ll show Sunday. The question is whether it’ll show in the postseason.

    Prediction: Seahawks 21, 49ers 9

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Larry Fitzgerald might walk away from football after Week 17, but not before Bruce Arians and his staff sends him out in style.

    One week after finally jump-starting the deep-ball offense, Arians will dial it up again—this time for No. 11. Expect this game to feature tons of targets and catches his way.

    Los Angeles won’t be able to stop it. Even with Aaron Donald up front, its defense is far too vulnerable versus downfield throws. Fans might be clamoring for the Chargers to relocate when this game is over.

    Prediction: Cardinals 23, Rams 13

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)

    When will Atlanta’s defense get the credit it deserves?

    If not for a Tyreek Hill return, a fake-punt touchdown and a pick-six against Kansas City, this unit would’ve surrendered under 20 points in five consecutive weeks. That’s not just good; that’s Super Bowl-worthy.

    Especially with the offense scoring 30-plus in its last three outings. The key? Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman—the most dangerous one-two backfield punch in the NFL. What they do on first and second down opens up so many things in the play-action game.

    Drew Brees and Co. will come out firing, but even Sean Payton’s Saints might struggle to keep pace against this group.

    Prediction: Falcons 31, Saints 29

New York Giants at Washington Redskins

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Giants players are still required to show up to meetings five minutes early—or else they’re late.

    It’s just the first of many Tom Coughlin standards upheld by his successor. We’ll see the next one on full display this weekend.

    Remember: Coughlin rolled the dice and played his starters in a "meaningless" 2007 regular-season finale. Nine years later and in an identical situation, I have a feeling Ben McAdoo will do the same. These Giants starters will see meaningful snaps into the fourth quarter.

    Big Blue’s offense needs the work, and Washington’s defense seems like just the confidence-builder Eli Manning can use to spark a run.

    Prediction: Giants 21, Redskins 20

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

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    When: Sunday, 1/1, at 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC)

    The Packers are red-hot. They have all the momentum heading into this NFC North title game.

    But anyone who thinks they’ll waltz in and out of Ford Field with an easy win should check the film. This game will be a nail-biter.

    Green Bay’s pass defense is a huge reason why. Think back to the Packers' last two outings; Adam Thielen tore them up last week, and Matt Barkley had passing success the week before. I don’t see that downward trend fixing itself in the regular-season finale.

    Matthew Stafford will match Aaron Rodgers’ success through the air. The main difference—the one that sold me on Green Bay—is that he won’t even have a Ty Montgomery or Christine Michael to carry the ball beside him. Like he's done all season long, Stafford will have to win this one without any semblance of offensive balance.

    Prediction: Packers 26, Lions 24