It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of the 2013 NFL regular season. You mean, after Sunday, I’m going to have to wait seven months to watch the Jacksonville Jaguars suck at football or a Houston Texans quarterback throw a touchdown pass to the wrong team again? The agony!
At least Santa Goodell left a number of exciting matchups under the tree for professional football fans to enjoy this weekend. We have two win-or-go-home contests featuring the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. A number of teams are hanging on the bubble needing a victory plus help to qualify for the postseason.
The top seed in both conferences is still up for grabs. The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos each need a victory to secure home-field advantage. All the chaos and confusion should make for great football theater (if you’re a guy who enjoys sitting on the couch glued to the television all day while drinking beer and eating as much food as possible). Women also love Week 17. … That’s a lie.
The final Sunday of the year is by far the hardest week of football to handicap. You don’t know which players are playing or who’s sitting depending on a team’s playoff position and the disposition of their coach. Motivation can sway from one moment to the next depending on results across the league. Really, if the Sultan of Sides was smart, he’d be content with the year and sit this week out, but where’s the fun in that?
A 9-7 mark last week raises our record to 130-96-14 for the season. For those of you attempting math in Kasilof that’s a 57.5 winning percentage. It would take an impossible 16-0 run this Sunday to sneak over the mythical 60 percent mark we’ve tried so hard to achieve. Do you believe in miracles?
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! Good luck this weekend. We’ll see you in the postseason.
@ Atlanta Falcons +6
The Carolina Panthers enter the final week of the season at 11-4 with an opportunity to secure a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. The Panthers have won 10 of their last 11 games after a 1-3 start. Atlanta’s season is mercifully coming to an end after another late collapse in San Francisco last Sunday. It’s hard to imagine Carolina letting this game slip away with so much at stake against a 4-11 Falcons team that suddenly is allergic to winning. Panthers win 26-14
Baltimore Ravens @ CINCINNATI BENGALS -6
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens travel to Cincinnati to face the division leading Bengals with their postseason hopes hanging in the balance. The 8-7 Ravens are battling a number of teams for the AFC’s final wild card berth. Getting a necessary ninth win on the road will be a challenge. The 10-5 Bengals are undefeated at home this season and Baltimore carries an uninspiring 2-5 mark as the visiting team. Baltimore’s hopes of a repeat end this Sunday in Cincinnati. Bengals win 30-17
@ Tennessee Titans -7
The Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans are set to square off in a battle of strong Toilet Bowl contenders. Tennessee is one of the blandest organizations in the NFL. You have to go all the way back to the Steve McNair-Eddie George era to find a relevant Titans team. The season can’t end soon enough for the Texans. Titans win 23-20
@ Indianapolis Colts -11
The AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts will host the downright vicious Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday in a game that promises to remain interesting well into the first quarter. The Colts have an opportunity to improve their seeding in the final week with a victory. Playing a Jaguars team well-versed in meaningless football should leave Indianapolis in a good position. Gus Bradley has kept his Jaguars oddly competitive despite serious talent limitations. True to form the Jags will compete but fall short of pulling off the upset. Colts win 28-21
New York Jets
@ MIAMI DOLPHINS -6
The New York Jets were eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday. With just one week to play it appears that embattled coach, Rex Ryan, will roam the sidelines for the final time as a Jet in Miami against the Dolphins. Miami let a golden opportunity slip away last week in Buffalo, falling to the Bills 19-0. The loss dropped the Fighting Fish to 8-7 and now Miami needs a victory over the Jets and help to reach the playoffs. Fortunately for Dolphin supporters the Jets, led by inaccurate passer Geno Smith, are hardly equipped to win a road game. Dolphins win 24-17
@ Minnesota Vikings -3
The Detroit Lions chased their tail for another week, losing 23-20 to the New York Giants at home to fall out of playoff contention. If there is a coach in the NFL that has earned the right to lose his job it is Detroit’s Jim Schwartz. Minnesota is a really bad football team but they’ve continued to play hard the last few weeks. So how do you side with a Lions team that has shown more “give up” than any team in the NFL this year? After a series of games Detroit had to have and failed to get, it makes sense they would win this meaningless contest. That’s Detroit football. Lions win 30-20
@ NEW YORK GIANTS -4
When Lord Roger released the 2013 schedule a Week 17 matchup featuring the Washington Redskins and New York Giants was an intriguing matchup. That’s no longer the case. The 3-12 Redskins’ season ended weeks ago. The team was so far removed from contention that struggling sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin was benched to preserve his health for when the season ended. That really happened. The Giants have struggled to a 6-9 mark but coach Tom Coughlin has the team playing hard which will be enough against Washington. Giants win 24-17
@ STEELERS -7
The 7-8 Pittsburgh Steelers have fought their way back into playoff contention after a miserable 0-4 start to the year. The team still needs a victory over the Cleveland Browns and a lot of help across the AFC, but that’s better than a lot of teams this time of year. Cleveland is struggling with injuries and ineptitude as yet another Browns season will end in disappointment. Steelers win 30-17
GREEN BAY PACKERS
@ Chicago Bears +3
In one of the better games of the weekend the Green Bay Packers visit Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears with the winner claiming the NFC North division crown. An anemic Bears defense won’t be thrilled hear that Aaron Rodgers will be returning to lineup for the Packers. If Rodgers is able to shake the rust off quickly it could be an embarrassing day for the Bears defense. Chicago hasn’t seemed right since the return of their own quarterback Jay Cutler. In a winner-take-all contest siding with Rodgers over Cutler is an easy decision. Packers win 35-28
@ Oakland Raiders +12
The Denver Broncos are one victory away from securing the top seed in the AFC and a much-needed, first-round bye. Peyton Manning surpassed the single-season yardage and touchdown record last Sunday. An intelligent person would expect Manning to add to those numbers facing the feeble Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are turning to athletic passer Terrell Pryor to spark the team against the heavily favored Broncos. Theory often falls short of reality. Broncos win 41-14
@ PATRIOTS -9
The New England Patriots still have slim hopes of attaining the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Brady Bunch would need a win over the Buffalo Bills (likely) plus a Denver Broncos loss (unlikely) to claim home field throughout the playoffs. Buffalo played the spoiler role beautifully a week ago, turning the Miami Dolphins into canned tuna with a surprising 19-0 performance. Can the Bills pull off another upset against an AFC East rival? Not a chance. Darth Belichick will have the Patriots in top form for their final tuneup before postseason play. Patriots win 31-17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ N.O. SAINTS -13
The New Orleans Saints are 7-0 at home this season defeating their opponents by an average of 17.4 points per game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-6 on the road this year losing by an average of 8.6 points per game. New Orleans is still for playoff positioning and trying to gain so momentum heading toward the playoffs. Tampa’s season ended weeks ago and its players appear ready for winter vacation. Saints win 38-13
San Francisco 49ers
@ CARDINALS +1
Arizona has a very strong football team. The Cardinals are 6-1 at home and 10-5 for the year. Last Sunday the team became the first to defeat the Seahawks in Seattle in over two seasons. Unfortunately, Arizona still finds itself on the outside looking in on the NFC playoffs. The Cardinals must get a win over the rival 49ers and have the New Orleans Saints lose to sneak in. If both Arizona and New Orleans win the Cardinals would become only the second 11 win team in NFL history (in the wild card era) to miss the postseason. Cardinals win 23-21
Kansas City Chiefs
@ S.D. CHARGERS -9
This contest is why picking winners against the spread in Week 17 is so challenging. The Chargers are battling for a wild card in the AFC. San Diego needs a win and losses by the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. Both Miami and Baltimore kick off at 1 p.m. EST. That means the Chargers will learn if their season is alive or finished before their game against the Chiefs kicks off. Knowing which Chargers team shows up Sunday is impossible. Kansas City has been a feel-good story for the NFL. Lost in the team’s remarkable improvement from a year ago is how poor the defense has been in recent weeks. Kansas City is locked in as the fifth seed and is planning to rest their starters. A motivated Chargers team rolls Kansas City’s second string. Chargers win 34-20
ST. LOUIS RAMS
@ Seattle Seahawks -11
The Seahawks has lost two of three but remain in position to secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. All Seattle has to do is score more points than the visiting St. Louis Rams this Sunday. I don’t know if the weight of expectations has slowed Seattle down but the Seahawks aren’t playing their best ball in December. St. Louis is the type of defense that gives Seattle fits. This game makes me nervous. Anti-Jinx policy re-instated! Seahawks win 17-14
@ Dallas Cowboys +7
Could this game be setting up any worse for the Dallas Cowboys? The winner of this Sunday Night Football NFC East showdown will claim the division title and a complementary ticket to the postseason. Chip Kelly and Nick Foles have the Eagles offense operation at near Oregon Duck levels. Philadelphia is averaging 39.3 points per game over the last three weeks! I’m sure Dallas’ defense is excited. Adding insult to injury, Cowboys QB Tony Romo is hampered with a bad back. This matchup has the feel of a classic Cowboys meltdown in Jerry World. It’s who the Cowboys are. Eagles win 47-20