Last week, I got through with the 49ers, but while the Saints lost, I doubt too many people had them available... I realize it's been an easy year, but I would love to get through all 17 weeks unscathed.
One note - I'm picking the Broncos here only provisionally, i.e., I want to see what's going on with the other teams - whether some announce in advance that they're tanking it, and whether Brandon Marshall plays. Moreover, in your pools, pot odds may dictate your going away from Denver and to one of the other teams, i.e., if there are 10 people left, and you're pretty sure 9 are taking the Broncos, you must look elsewhere because the payoff would be huge if the Broncos lose and you win. I'll note any changes in the comments.
Week 17 Picks
1. Baltimore Ravens
I like the Ravens (who I used in Week 1) better than the Broncos as a team - if you look at Baltimore's losses (Cincy twice, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Green Bay, New England, Indy), they all came to winning teams, and most of those games were close. But the Raiders have beaten winning teams all year (four of their wins are against the Eagles, Bengals, Steelers and Broncos), and the game is in Oakland, so I was going to go with Denver until Brandon Marshall left practice Wednesday after injuring his hamstring. Without a healthy Marshall, the Broncos offense takes a big hit I give the Ravens an 80 percent chance to win this game.
2. Denver Broncos
This is my pick. I don't trust the Broncos even in a must-win game against a division rival, and weather could be a factor which is often an equalizer. But Denver's better defensively, and Kyle Orton is more consistent than Matt Cassel, though if Brandon Marshall is limited, it severely hurts Orton's upside. I give the Broncos a 79 percent chance to win this game.
3. Buffalo Bills
I hate to back a team that might have Brian Brohm as its starting quarterback, but there's a decent chance Ryan Fitzpatrick will play, and after giving away a perfect season, the Colts are committed to sitting Peyton Manning et. al. for most of the game (there's no going back now and risking injuries after the damage has been done). The game is also in Buffalo, and I imagine the Colts will have a hard time getting up for it. I give the Bills a 75 percent chance of winning this game.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Rather than gambling on whether the Bengals or Patriots will try against the Jets and Texans, respectively, I'd probably take the Niners instead because they'll play this game as they normally would. Going on the road in the division is never easy, and the Rams won't roll over, but as long as San Fran shows up, I expect them to pull this out. I give the 49ers a 73 percent chance to win this game.
5. Minnesota Vikings
They still need this game to have a chance at a first-round bye, and the Giants might be playing out the string now that they've been eliminated in such a disgraceful fashion. There's always the chance that New York tries for redemption, and the Vikings have lost three of their last four, so there's risk here. But even if the Giants try their best, Minnesota still would be favored by five or six at home. I give the Vikings a 72 percent chance to win this game.
6. Tennessee Titans
Seattle is much better at home, and the Titans no longer have anything to play for except getting Chris Johnson to 2,000 yards and helping him break the yards from scrimmage record. Still, Seattle is one of the league doormats these days, and the Titans seems to be enjoying their run even though it fell short. I give the Titans a 70 percent chance to win this game.
7. New York Jets/Houston Texans
If the Bengals try, this is a 50/50 game in New York, but the line is 10 right now, which means the oddsmakers presume Cincy will roll over. It's possible, but if New England loses at Houston - and the Pats are eight-point dogs - then the Bengals could secure the third seed if they win. If you think that's not a big deal consider this. Should the Bengals win two games in the playoffs (and obviously they have to proceed on the assumption that they will), then if New England wins at home in the Wild Card round - as they will be favored to do - then the only thing stopped the No. 3 seed from mattering a lot is a Colts win over the Pats in Indy. In other words, if the Pats were to beat the Colts, then Cincy beating the Jets would determine where the Bengals-Pats AFC title game would be played. Again, the Bengals would also have to win two games for that to happen, but they must proceed under that assumption. If I'm Cincy, I'm going all out, but I have no idea what they'll actually do. I give the Jets a 63 percent chance to win this game. (You can add the Texans in here at 63 percent as well).
It's possible the Saints mail it in with the No. 1 seed locked up. But you have to wonder whether Sean Payton will want to head into a bye week with three straight losses and five games where the Saints were not in sync. So it wouldn't surprise me if the Saints brought it this week. Moreover, the loss of Steve Smith severely hurts Carolina's passing game.