Another week, another 11 wins. Based on the feedback I've gotten, those eleven Ws were good enough to win more than a couple of office pools. This is our final slate of games all season and I can tell you it's been a pleasure giving you my thoughts on every NFL game this year. I know some of you have had a lot of success with these picks this year and if I've gotten you burned, well, I'm sorry, and I hope you stuck with us long enough for the wins to outweigh the losses.
For what it's worth, we're still eight games better than Vegas on the season, and that's really saying something you guys. Those of you in season-long betting pools are probably looking pretty good. Anyhow, it's the final week and things get really wonky this time of year. For example, there are three games on Sunday that Vegas isn't even touching because there are too many unknowables at play. But where Vegas cowers, we press ever onward with the bold intrepidation of the good and righteous. To the picks, and yes, they're brief cuz Week 17 sucks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
This is one of the games that Vegas has taken off the books, mainly because the Falcons have clinched HFA in the NFC and their fans are currently engaged in the luxurious argument about how much the starters should play. I have no idea how Mike Smith will approach this, although I'll say, for posterity's sake, that I'm in favor of playing your starters at least a half in order to keep players sharp and keep the pedal-to-the-floor mindset that got you there. I'm guessing Matt Ryan and the rest see some meaningful snaps, and if they don't play the whole game, I think the Buccaneers' starters can beat the Falcons' backups.
That said, it sounds like Mike Smith is determined to play his starters the whole (or most of) game, given how bad the Falcons looked a couple years ago when they got pasted at home as the #1 seed after sitting the starters in Week 17. Assuming that's true, I gotta go with the better team at home against one that's imploding*.
I hate picking games like this this early in the week, by the way.
*Kenneth said something funny a few days ago about how the Bucs brought in a hard ass like Greg Schiano to keep the team from tanking in the back half of the season. Haha, Bucs.
THE PICK: FALCONS
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
The battle for the worst team in New York State will commence Sunday morning and I just couldn't care less. I'm taking Buffalo because of BT?HT and also because I am actively rooting for the Rex Ryan era to finish it's inward collapse into detestably annoying rubble. With any luck, it'll be his last game as a head coach and he can trundle back into the comfort of a coordinator position somewhere. I mean if we're going to be forced to hear about every little thing that team does, then lets at least give us some new shit to not care about.
THE PICK: BILLS
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are locked into the 5th seed in the AFC and would be justified in resting their starters, but Marvin Lewis insists he's going to play to win. I believe him, actually, as division wins mean a lot, especially to a young team (as we know). The Ravens have been the class of the division lately and instilling a "we can beat them" mindset is valuable. If the starters play, the Bengals (whose Weighted DVOA is better than Baltimore's anyway) win in front of a very excited crowd.
THE PICK: BENGALS
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Despite the Bears's recent struggles, their defense is still putting up a historically productive season. Per Football Outsiders, Chicago's defense is having the third best year by DVOA in the statistic's 22 year history. The Lions, on the other hand, are Exhibit A that name/fantasy value don't necessarily equate to wins. We all know that Calvin Johnson is having one of the greatest years in terms of total production in receiving history. The less talked-about and less glamorous record is directly related, and that's Matthew Stafford's assault on Drew Beldsoe's single-season pass attempts record.
The Lions throw a lot because they're behind a lot. Their terrible secondary was supposed to be masked somewhat by an imposing front seven, but Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch and the rest have failed to impress, and the team's inability to adapt may very well cost Jim Schwartz his job.
No reason for me to think the Lions don't end the season the same way they've been playing the last two months. Not against a good Bears team that's gunning for a playoff spot.
THE PICK: BEARS
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Bad teams? Home team.
THE PICK: TITANS
Houston Texans at indianapolis Colts
The Colts are a great story, and the Texans have shown their fair share of weaknesses over the last half of the season, but lets not forget that we're talking about the 10th rated team by DVOA playing the 28th. Yep, despite their inspiring 10-5 record, the Colts have been on the right side of enough toss-up games to have a win-loss record a near-unprecedented five games better than FO's true-talent estimation. The fact that this is a home game for Indy gives me pause, but getting caught up in the narratives and getting cute with your picks is how Vegas makes money. You may get lucky now and a again, but talent wins more often than not.
THE PICK: TEXANS
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Cam Newton has been out of this world good lately and I think the future is pretty bright in Carolina, provided they either get new coaching or a new approach. New Orleans has had a mostly successful last couple of months, but they put themselves too far back during their winless start to the season and even though their overall game is coming together, their defense still ranks 31st in the league and while Drew Brees is an immensely talented QB, not even he could save such a dysfunctional outfit without his usual coaching staff.
Honestly, I would pick whichever one of these teams was playing at home, given how mercurial they've been and how evenly talented, albeit in very different ways, they are. In this case, it means the Saints get my nod.
THE PICK: SAINTS
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
It's a shame that Andy Reid has to go out like this, assuming this is his last game as the Eagles' head coach. Reid has long been one of my favorite coaches in the NFL and he's proven very adept at tailoring his schemes to fit the unique talents of his best players. He really has been good enough to get at least one ring on his finger. I wish him the best, and I hope that he can put this extremely difficult year behind him.
I'd love to see Reid go out with a victory against their most hated rival, but I don't think the Giants will be bad enough with their season on the line to lose at home to this Philly squad. Better team, at home, with something to play for; everything about this game points to New York.
THE PICK: GIANTS
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
I'll be honest, it's kind of nice to see the Steelers playing a meaningless December game. I don't even care if they win it, which they will, because you know, Browns.
THE PICK: STEELERS
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
At the beginning of the season, there were probably a lot of people (myself included) that thought this game could have some serious import. The Broncos were pinning their hopes to an unknown commodity in post-neck-surgery Peyton Manning and the Chiefs were a popular bounce-back candidate under a new coaching staff and boasting elite talent in guys returning from injury like Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry.
Instead, the Broncos have laid waste to everything for the last two and a half months en route to a chance at the #1 seed while the Chiefs became the football equivalent of getting a loogy caught in your throat during a wedding speech. Vegas is giving Denver their largest spread of the year at 16 points and they just may get it.
THE PICK: BRONCOS
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
This game is really interesting to me because I thought the Vikings were fool's gold even when they got off to their 5-1 start and when they started to regress, then lost Percy Harvin, I thought they'd tank right through December a la the Bills last year. Adrian peterson, obviously, isn't having any of that, however, and even Christian Ponder perked his game up enough for the Viks to have a chance to play their way into the hotly contested NFC playoff bracket. I don't know the last time I saw a team follow this path through a season, but they're playing good football at the right time and, at home, I'd feel comfortable choosing them over at least 20 teams in the league. Sadly for the longsuffering Minny fans, they draw the white-hot Packers team that's playing every bit as well as the 15-win team last year but the chances of them showing a letdown this late in the season after flopping in the playoffs is unlikely. I expect both teams to be at or near their best on Sunday, but superior talent wins out in this one.
THE PICK: PACKERS
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Let me first say that the Dolphins were much better this year than I expected them to be. I thought they might be the worst team in the NFL during the preseason, but they've since proved me wrong by being a slightly-less-than-average team. Still, this is an excellent (again) Patriots team that has spent the last fifteen years finishing their seasons off as one of the hotter teams in the NFL. Nothing has changed this year as they boast the best offensive DVOA in the league and are a proven December commodity, especially at home. Sure, the 49ers beat them this month, but the Dolphins are not the Niners.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers
First of all, the Raiders are really really bad. Now that that's out of the way, let's take a look at the bizarre series of events that have led to Norv Turner remaining the head coach of the Chargers despite so many seasons of perceived under-performance. Every year, it seems, the Chargers fail to meet the expectations that such talented rosters warrant. Often times, it's a matter of a slow start coupled with a frantic, wild surge at the end to either make the postseason or give management enough reason to think their end-of-season momentum will carry over to the next year.
Unfortunately, the Chargers have been a perfect example of why you shouldn't put too much stock in "momentum", especially between seasons. Septmeber through Novemeber, Turner has gone 28-28 in his time in SD. In Decemeber? 21-3. Ridiculous. And it's only going to get better after they handle the disaster that is this year's Raiders squad.
Think they bring the tortoise king back for another season?
THE PICK: CHARGERS
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
I want the Cardinals to win as badly as you guys do, but I'm not here to pick the teams I want to win. My job is to give you guys the best picks I can, and choosing the single-flowered wasteland of the Cardinals roster to go into San Fran and win a game against one the league's three best teams as they play for a divisional title would be irresponsible of me.
THE PICK: 49ERS
St Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
You know what's awesome? Having a team that goes 8-0 at home. No reason that shouldn't happen on Sunday, given Seattle's recent dominance, their greater talent, and the 12th Man. if you're going to this game, help make sure it's the 49ers that have to handle their business to keep the NFC West crwon out of the Emerald City.
THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
In all likelihood, this game will determine the opponent and location of the Seahawks' first playoff game. Personally, I think Seattle matches up better with the Cowboys than they do with the Redskins but frankly I don't think either team is as good as the 'Hawks. Regardless of who wins this game, I think we'll see Seattle as one of the rare road favorites in the postseason. The Redskins are not only a better overall team than the Cowboys (11th in DVOA vs 14th), they're hotter (8th in Weighted DVOA to 15th), and are at home, which is good for three points on its own. I'm not saying Dallas can't win this game, but I am saying they'll have to be near their best to do it. I'm putting my money on the Redskins ability to vary their running game enough to keep the ball out of the hands of Dallas' vaunted playmakers.
THE PICK: REDSKINS
Jacson's 2012 Record: 160-79-1 (.668)
Vegas' 2012 Record: 151-86-3 (.637)