Week-17 NFL picks: Intrigue even without uncertainty

Dec 31, 2015, 11:33 AM | Updated: 1:07 pm
The Seahawks need to win Sunday at Arizona to avoid a losing record against NFC West opponents. (AP...
The Seahawks need to win Sunday at Arizona to avoid a losing record against NFC West opponents. (AP)

Ten of the league’s 12 playoff teams have been determined.

Five of the eight divisions have been clinched.

So while there’s plenty of intrigue in the final weekend of the NFL season there’s not all that much uncertainty, unless you consider the champion of the backwater AFC South to be of pressing importance.

That might best be embodied by Seattle’s game at Arizona, which could be a preview of a playoff matchup later in the month, but may also wind up having absolutely no effect on playoff positioning.

With that qualifier out of the way, here’s a look at the week that will be.

New Orleans at Atlanta

The Saints really haven’t been the same since losing in Seattle on Monday in December 2013. Prior to that game – a 34-7 loss – Sean Payton had won 46 of the last 59 games in which he coached New Orleans. Since then he is 15-20 and New Orleans will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Pick: Falcons 23, Saints 16

Baltimore at Cincinnati

The Bengals are without Andy Dalton, and backup A.J. McCarron sprained his non-throwing wrist, but Cincinnati better not be looking for sympathy from Baltimore when it comes to quarterback injuries. After season-ending injuries to Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub, the Ravens are starting the human snooze button at quarterback, Ryan Mallett. The Bengals are still going to be stinging from that Monday night road loss, though.

Pick: Ravens 18, Bengals 16

Pittsburgh at Cleveland

The Steelers have won five of their past six games against the Browns. In fact, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is 14-3 all-time against Cleveland. Pittsburgh lost control of its playoff destiny with last week’s loss to Baltimore, and now needs a victory combined with a Jets’ loss to reach the postseason. On the positive side, Pittsburgh has won seven of its last eight games in December.

Pick: Steelers 37, Browns 20.

Jacksonville at Houston

Gus Bradley is going to be back next year, and he can get a headstart on his fourth season by insuring that no one in the division will finish with a winning record. The Texans are a win away from a division title that would come in a season where they will have started three different quarterbacks in the regular season.

Pick: Texans 34, Jaguars 27

Tennessee at Indianapolis

The two teams that employed Charlie Whitehurst this season are going to square off, and it’s only fitting that the NFL’s most inexplicably affluent backup quarterback will watch this one from the sidelines. See, Charlie hurt his hammy when pressed into duty last week, making this game more notable for the quarterbacks who won’t be playing – Andrew Luck (kidney), Marcus Mariota (knee) and Matt Hasselbeck (old) – than whatever live bodies these two teams wrangle up. The saddest thing about this matchup? Indianapolis hasn’t yet been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

Pick: Colts 17, Titans 13

Washington at Dallas

Washington has won three in a row and there are some people who think Seattle would be better served playing at Minnesota or even Green Bay in the wild-card round. Those people must not have seen Kirk Cousins inexplicably take a knee at the end of the first half of last week’s game.

Pick: Epithets 38, Cowboys 17

Philadelphia at New York Giants

Chip Kelly’s players hated him more than the Giants players ever hated playing for Tom Coughlin, and that’s really saying something. One of the great truisms in sports is that the game after a coach gets fired is an opportunity for the all the players on the team whose coach just got fired to show that HE – and not them – was the problem.

Pick: Eagles 47, Giants 13

Detroit at Chicago

If there’s one game on the schedule that doesn’t need to be played this weekend, it’s this one. Flip a coin and call it good.

Pick: Lions 2, Bears 0

New York Jets at Buffalo

The Jets have won five in a row and are one win away from making the playoffs. One win against the coach who couldn’t get them to the playoffs any of his last three seasons with the Jets. And while you would think that might give the Bills some ammunition, well, there’s about a month’s worth of on-the-record quotes from Buffalo players that would lead you to believe this team – specifically its defense – is not enamored with its head coach. The Bills have won their past four against the Jets, but the Jets have too much motivation this game.

Pick: Jets 24, Bills 20

New England at Miami

The Patriots have clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, and they really should send a fruit basket to the rest of the division. After all, it’s the enduring ineptitude of the rest of the AFC East that has made a run like that possible. Especially teams like Miami, which has lost nine of its last 11 in the series with New England.

Pick: Patriots 24, Dolphins 16

Tampa Bay at Carolina

The Panthers have won five in a row in the series, and they need one win to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Pick: Panthers 26, Bucs 17

San Diego at Denver

The question is how much effort the Broncos expended in that overtime win six days ago, clinching a playoff berth. Denver has won seven of the past eight games in this series.

Pick: Broncos 23, Chargers 20

Seattle at Arizona

A win for Seattle would prevent the Seahawks from playing their wild-card game at Green Bay. Other than that, Seattle is playing to avoid finishing with a losing record in the NFC West. The Cardinals need this win to, well, they may not need this win if the Panthers beat the Bucs. All that tangential importance means that both teams are going to try. Kind of. Seattle is the biggest underdog it has been in any game since Week 7 of 2012.

Pick: Cardinals 34, Seahawks 27

St. Louis at San Francisco

To call the Rams perpetually .500 is to give them too much credit. They haven’t won eight games in a season since 2006. Well, congratulations, St. Louis. Blaine Gabbert and Jim Tomsula and the rest of these sad-sack 49ers are all that stand between you and mediocrity.

Pick: Rams 17, 49ers 13

Oakland at Kansas City

Don’t look now, but the Chiefs have gone from losing five straight to winning nine in a row, and Alex Smith is suddenly pushing the ball down the field like … well … like he never has before in his career.

Pick: Chiefs 20, Raiders 17

Minnesota at Green Bay

Winner gets the division title and the home playoff game that comes with it. However, Minnesota hasn’t won in Green Bay since 2009. The Vikings tied the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2013, but Minnesota hasn’t won there in five years, and two of the four losses in that time came by more than 30 points.

Pick: Packers 24, Vikings 23

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Week-17 NFL picks: Intrigue even without uncertainty