After a 2-7 start, I thought I was in for a disastrous week, but I went 3-2 in the afternoon games and won on both Monday and Tuesday night. As it turned out, two of the three doormats (Carolina, Arizona, Minnesota) I dreaded taking not only covered by won outright. Still, that only put me at 7-9, and I head into Week 17 five games under .500. Which means I need to go 11-5 this week to extend the over-.500 streak to nine years and 11 out of 12. I'm a dog, to be sure, especially with all the uncertainty surrounding who will and won't play, but at least the strong finish last week gives me a chance. I actually like this slate as much as one can like a Week 17 one with the Bucs, Bengals, Lions, Texans and Chargers being my best bets.
Buccaneers +8 at Saints
The Saints could get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if the Falcons somehow lose at home to the Panthers, so they should go all out just in case that long shot comes in. Still, it's only about a 10 percent chance, so we don't see them being as up for this game as they normally would, espcially coming off a dramatic win and a short week. The Bucs, on the other hand, will go all out not only because they have a remote chance to make the playoffs (Giants and Packers need to lose), but also because they're a young team on the rise and have no reason to ease up, even if they're eliminated. Back Tampa.
Saints 27 - 23
Bengals +10 at Ravens
The Bengals are coming off a decisive win over the Chargers, and now they're getting 10 points against a team they've beaten outright the last three games they've played. Baltimore is theoretically playing for a first-round bye, but for that to happen the Steelers would have to lose in Cleveland. Otherwise, the Ravens' No. 5 seed is set. Back the Bengals who keep it close.
Ravens 24 - 20
Panthers +14.5 at Falcons
I agonized over taking the Panthers and the big points last week in Pittsburgh, but for some reason feel better about it in Atlanta. No idea why - the Falcons could blow them out, too. But it feels less certain. Back Carolina.
Falcons 23 - 10
Steelers -6 at Browns
After a strong midseason run which included wins in New Orleans and over the Patriots, the Browns have fallen back to quasi-doormat status with losses to the Bengals, Bills and the Ravens at home. Still, I like the points here at home against a division rival that has problems on the offensive line. Back Cleveland.
Steelers 20 - 17
Vikings +3 at Lions
The Vikings looked great on Tuesday night, but they have only five days between games, have to travel again to play the Lions and are likely to be without Sidney Rice. Back Detroit.
Lions 23 - 17
Raiders +3.5 at Chiefs
The Raiders have been Jekyll and Hyde all year, but they haven't lost in the division, and it's hard to know how hard the Chiefs will play. Coach Todd Haley said they'd play the players who give them "the best chance to win the game," but that's typical vague coachspeak when he could have said, "We're playing Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles the entire game." Actually, he couldn't say that because even in games that mattered a lot he didn't play Charles nearly as much as he should have. In any event, it does make sense for the Chiefs to try because if they lose and the heavily favored Colts win, KC would fall to a No. 4 seed. Most think this is an issue because they'd have to go to New England in the divisional round (should they win) rather than in the AFC title game (should they make it), but that's the dumber rationale. Who cares what order you play the games in? The real reason No. 3 vs. No. 4 matters is assuming you make the AFC title game (as you must if you're the Chiefs), then if the Colts won two road games (certainly a possibility), the game would be in Arrowhead, not Indy. That's huge, and it's far more important than if or when you'd have to play New England. But I hesitate to give Haley credit for realizing this because last year I took the Bengals in Week 17 in the same situation, reasoning they'd try against the Jets, and they did not. The Raiders would be six point dogs here in normal circumstances, and 3.5 isn't that different considering it's more than 3 and less than 7. Back Oakland.
Chiefs 24 - 23
Bills +1 at Jets
It looks like Mark Sanchez won't play a whole lot, and if that's the case, I'd expect neither will most of the team's starters. The Jets are locked into the No. 6 seed, barring a Pittsburgh loss and Ravens win, and even then could only move up to No. 5. The Bills didn't put up much of a fight in New England last week, but I think they can hang with the Jets backups. Back Buffalo.
Bills 24 - 17
Dolphins +3.5 at Patriots
This is a coin flip because we have no idea how long Tom Brady and the other key New England starters will play and also because it's hard to handicap the Dolphins, period. What do you do with a team that's 6-1 on the road, and 1-7 at home? This is a warm weather bunch traveling into the freezing cold with nothing to play for. Normally, that's a bad thing. But beating the Patriots and getting to .500 might be incentive enough, and when in doubt take the points. Back Miami.
Dolphins 20 - 16
Giants -4 at Redskins
This is another game that gave me problems. The Redskins fought tooth and nail in Dallas two weeks ago to tie the game late, and they won in Jacksonville last week in a game the Jaguars had to have. The Giants beat themselves against the Eagles, and then the defense didn't bother to show up against Green Bay in what amounted to a playoff game. The Giants have an outside chance to make the playoffs if the Bears (10-point dogs) beat the Packers, and that game is also a late one, so New York will go all out. But now Hakeem Nicks (in addition to Steve Smith) is out, so the Redskins will be more able to focus on stopping the run, something they did not do in the first meeting between the teams. Bottom line, the Giants *should* win this game, but four points seems a bit excessive on the road. Back the Redskins.
Giants 23 - 20
Cowboys +7 at Eagles
This is the line as of Wednesday night. Michael Vick's status is up in the air, but the Eagles offense still has some teeth even with Kevin Kolb, and Dallas is likely to be rolling with Stephen McGee. Still, the Eagles have nothing to play for, so it's possible LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson et. al. get pulled in the second half. I think I have to take the points. Back Dallas.
Cowboys 21 - 20
Titans +10 at Colts
The Colts need to win to lock up the division, while the Titans have for the most part mailed it in since midseason. Of course, everyone knows this, so it should be priced into the line. I have an ill feeling about it, but the pick has to be the Titans. Somehow they cover.
Colts 28 - 20
Bears +10 at Packers
Apparently Lovie Smith says the Bears are going all out, and in theory, they could still get the No. 1 overall seed if Atlanta and New Orleans both lose. But there's about a 96 percent chance that's not the case (90 for the Falcons winning and 60 for the Saints), and the Bears will know the results of those games before this game kicks off. Still, I'll take Lovie at his word, and if he's lying, I still have the points. Back the Bears.
Packers 23 - 14
Jaguars -2.5 at Texans
I get that the Jaguars need to win this game to have a shot at the playoffs, and the Texans will likely be without Andre Johnson. But last I checked Matt Schaub and Arian Foster are still playing, and David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew aren't. In which case, I can't back Trent Edwards as a road favorite even if a win meant permanent world peace. Back Houston.
Texans 24 - 20
Chargers -3 at Broncos
When the going gets rough, the Chargers fold, but this week they draw a soft defense with nothing at stake. Maybe Tim Tebow has superpowers, and the Broncos stay in this one, but there's no other reason I can think of that San Diego won't roll. Back the Chargers.
Chargers 27 - 17
Cardinals +6.5 at 49ers
All year I've been overpaying for the Niners with the expectation they'd finally resemble the team we thought they'd be, and they haven't delievered. I'm going to stop in Week 17. Back the Cardinals.
49ers 23 - 19
Rams -3 at Seahawks
The Rams are so obvious, the Seahawks have to be the savvy play getting three at home even if Jeff Erickson were the quarterback. But I despise the Seahawks so much and hate the Pete Carroll rah rah college b.s., so I'm torn. Can that embarrassingly bad team really make the playoffs? With a home game against the Rams, it can. Back the Seahawks.
Seahawks 24 - 20
We were 7-9 last week to go 115-120-5 on the season. We were 131-122 last year against the spread. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties)