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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: #NFL Week 17 Predictions Review: FINAL REGULAR SEASON EDITION

Week 17 results: 13-3 wins (106-55 .658); 8-8 v. spread (60-101 .373)

Note: Results based on Weeks 7-17. Average week: ~10-5 wins; ~6-9 v. spread. (Games do not = 16 due to bye weeks)

Carolina Panthers 11-4 (-6) @ Atlanta Falcons 4-11 (46): Panthers 27-21 Panthers 21-20
1:00 PM, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)
 
Reasons: The Falcons are one of the worst teams in the NFL, ranking in the bottom 10 in rushing (last), pass defense (25th), rush defense (31st), and scoring defense. They rank 21st in scoring offense, putting them just out of the bottom 10, and that's only due to their 6th-ranked passing offense, which benefits from the likes of Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Stephen Jackson, when healthy. Obviously they haven't been too much together. The Panthers on the other side have a chance to slide from the #1 seed to the #6 seed, a situation facing many teams today as a matter of fact, and come into the game in the complete opposite standing as their opponents - not only are they fighting for a #1 seed, Carolina has the 2nd-ranked run defense, the 7th-ranked pass defense, the top-ranked scoring defense, and fall just out of the top 10 in rushing (11th). All signs point to a Panthers win, as the Falcons are only 3-4 at home, but if there was ever a QB that could f*ck this up it would be Cam Newton. So much for Ron Rivera's hot seat. He went straight to hot.

It figures the Falcons would wait until Week 17 to put in a defensive effort, but Carolina's defense is the one that wreaked havoc, sacking Matt Ryan nine times and returning a pick-six, holding off a last minute surge by the Falcons. Both teams only combined for 36 first downs and 590 yards total offense in the dome. The Panthers had better get their offensive act together if they're going to go anywhere in the playoffs, as they'll either be facing a high-scoring offense or a stout defense at home next week.

Baltimore Ravens 8-7 (+6.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals 10-5 (44.5): Bengals 27-20 Bengals 34-17
1:00 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: 70% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: One of the better games of the weekend the Ravens are either winning and hoping for a 6th seed or going home, while the Bengals could have a bye round one, or could be hosting a round one game at the 3/4 spot. The game should be a defensive battle (both teams rank in the top-10 in all three major defensive categories), especially considering the weather, although the Bengals have one of the best offense in the NFL as well (10th-ranked passing game; 6th-ranked scoring offense). This game is primed for CIN to squander their higher seed chances letting the underachieving Ravens back into the playoffs and make a serious run, but it's not going to happen. If only Ray Rice wasn't 38...

I'm really glad the Ravens missed the playoffs a year after winning the Super Bowl, because not only should they have lost the AFC Championship to Denver and shouldn't have even been there in the first place, and not only because Baltimore foolishly let several of their key players go, including Flacco security blanket Anquan Boldin, and not because the Ravens even more foolishly payed an average to slightly above average QB $120M, and not because as a New England fan I hate the Ravens, but because I predicted they would. When the experts said the Ravens would repeat as AFC Champions and play in the Super Bowl again 2014 I laughed. On the other side the Bengals balled, looking poised to make a serious run in the playoffs as arguably the most talented overall team in the AFC...then bad Dalton showed up and threw four INTs. You won't win 34-17 in the playoffs that way.

Houston Texans 2-13 (+7.5) @ Tennessee Titans 6-9 (44): Titans 24-20 Titans 16-10
1:00 PM, LP Field, Nashville, TN (Weather: 50% rain, mid-50s)

Reasons: Yawn. Seems like our boy Billy O'Brien could be at the helm of this Texans team next season. That would instantly make them better, but that isn't coming tomorrow, so I expect the Titans to end the season on a positive note at home by beating the lowly Texans. It's a game of pass defenses (HOU - 3rd; TEN - 10th), but it doesn't matter because neither of these teams can pass. This will be one of the games with the least attention.

The only interesting thing that came out of this game was former New England coach and Penn State savior Billy O'Brien just accepted the job at Houston to beg the brass not to draft Teddy Bridgewater a or Johnny Manziel.  
 
Jacksonville Jaguars 4-11 (+10.5) @ Indianapolis Colts 10-5 (45.5): Colts 28-20 Colts 30-10
1:00 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The suddenly dangerous Colts have a chance to launch into the 2nd seed if NE and CIN lose, a few weeks after most everyone had them an easy round one opponent. Statistically this game isn't anything to get excited about, but the Colts will be looking to win at any cost as they actually now have a chance to sit home and relax round one, and all they have to do on their end is beat the last ranked team in the NFL.

A few weeks ago the pundits were wondering if the Colts were going to go anywhere in the playoffs coming from such a weak division with so little talent surrounding Andrew Luck. Now these same experts are saying the Colts could be the AFC playoff sleeper. I don't quite see it that way, but they certainly carved up the league's doormat to ensure a first round home game. The Jaguars scored a TD with 16 seconds left, otherwise the game would have been 30-3, all this with the two teams matching plays (70) and nearly matching total yardage (350-379 Colts). They're that bad. The Colts look good, and it's truly anyone's race in the AFC, but lets see if they can stop the suddenly high-flying Chiefs.

New York Jets 7-8 (+5.5) @ Miami Dolphins 8-7 (41.5): Dolphins 21-17 Jets 20-7
1:00 PM, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: 40% rain, low 80s)

Reasons: Last week the Dolphins were being talked about as the most dangerous low seed in the AFC; one week later those same people are wondering if they'll even get in after being shut out at Buffalo 19-0 last week. The Jets will pound the ball (ranked 6th) and stop the Dolphins from running it (ranked 3rd), but you'd have to imagine the Dolphins realize what's at stake and all they have to do is win. I wish this was the end of Rex Ryan, but horrifically it sounds like they might retain him. If you hate the Jets like I do, that might seem like good news, because they're a joke, but seeing him twice a year on the sidelines and hearing him all season is much worse.

So long Miami, what a year. You lost control, regained control, fooled a few people into thinking you balled, and lost your last two divisional games just when you "controlled" your destiny (redundant). It's amazing what the Patriots do to other teams. Thought you beat us? Wanted to celebrate a little? Whoops. I dare you to look at your team's record after a rare win against our Patriots. You won't like the results. They put in so much energy to beat NE that they overlooked a Bills defense capable of beating their offense on the cold, rainy road, and then followed up that sad shut out with another offensive debacle in New York, sealing their fate.  Now on to the good stuff - lawsuits.

Detroit Lions 7-8 (+2.5) @ Minnesota Vikings 4-10-1 (51.5): Lions 27-24 Vikings 14-13
1:00 PM, Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Indoors) 
 
Reasons: When the NFL scheduled this game they thought "Wow, Stafford & Megatron v. Peterson & Jennings for the division crown and a seeding battle". Not so much. The pathetic Lions lost to the hapless Giants in OT last week 23-20 to destroy any chance of making the playoffs, despite having one of the most talented teams in the NFL. The Vikings front office is clueless as they just realized Matt Cassell should have been starting all season. So much for Josh Freeman and so much for Greg Schiano being a psycho. This game literally does not deserve to be watched. Oh yeah, AP is out.

Jim Schwartz was fired. A year too late.
 
Washington Natives 3-12 (+3.5) @ New York Giants 6-9 (45.5): Giants 21-20 Natives 20-6
1:00 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: 100% rain, mid-40s)
Reasons: Ugh. I'm actually not going to review this game. The Giants are awful. The Natives are awful. Reviewing this game gives these teams all they've ever played for: attention. Not from me.

Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin were both fir...oh, they weren't? Hmm...

Cleveland Browns 4-11 (+7) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 7-8 (44): Steelers 27-20 Steelers 20-7
1:00 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: 100% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: The Steelers have miraculously landed in a position for the 6th playoff seed, and they have to beat bitter their division rival, and in my opinion 2013 equal, Cleveland Browns to do it. That won't be an easy task, but as I said last week, I've learned to never pick the Browns on the road, as they have lost every game v. the spread this season on the road with the exception of @MIN, where they won 31-27 on a TD pass with 51 seconds left in the game. Both of these teams can throw (PIT - 11th; CLE - 12th), but both stop the throw (PIT - 8th; CLE - 9th), quite possibly putting the game in the hands of rookie LaVeon Bell, who needs 73 yards to break Franco Harris' rookie rushing record.

Apparently the Steelers got screwed out of the playoffs. I was so sad upon hearing this I didn't even investigate to see if it was true. The Browns fired Chud, and I bet you're shocked. Well the Browns were, claiming no one in the locker room had any clue the axe was coming. great team chemistry. The Browns wasted no time courting Patriots coach Josh McDaniels in the annual league-wide purge of NE coaches. Hopefully he realizes he's not a head coach yet and stays put, although he seems to forget we have a running game. Both teams had such high hopes in 2013...

Green Bay Packers 7-7-1 (-3) @ Chicago Bears 8-7 (53): Bears 27-24 Packers 33-28
4:25 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: 70% snow, high 20s)

Reasons: I heard an expert say this morning that the Bears would win this game by 10 points. I have no clue what that supposed expert saw in this game, one that sees two teams fighting for 4 seeds or bust with their star QBs back together in the same game since last season (Cutler was already hurt Week 9 and Rodgers was hurt in the first series of the game). These two teams have two of the worst defense in the league this season, but have two of the best offenses, and if it weren't for the weather, of which both teams are used to, this might be a shoot out. In one of the toughest games to call this week, one has to go with the Bears at home, especially with the rust ARod will have, something Cutler's already shaken off. GB is not -3 points better than CHI on the road, sorry.

I take back that last line. Although I will never agree that a QB who sat for nearly two months didn't have any rust due to practice (are you kidding me?), but that rust certainly dissolved by games end when The Real ARod threw a dart to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left. Rodgers to Cobb...haven't heard in, well, two months. The Bears had every chance in the world to win this game at home, but gave up two unanswered TDs late in the 4th quarter to give the game to the Packers. You have to imagine if the Bears get a defense again they'll be deadly. But that's next year. This year now we all  have to worry about the Packers & Rodgers in the tournament.

Denver Broncos 12-3 (-11) @ Oakland Raiders 4-11 (53.5): Broncos 34-21 Broncos 34-14
4:25 PM, Oakland Co. Stadium, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny, mid-60s)

Reasons: The Broncos are pretty banged up; they lost Miller last week, Manning is slightly hobbled, and the DEN WRs are not the healthiest. Having said that the Raiders are the Raiders and they've lost seven of their last eight games. The only thing the Raiders do well (8th-ranked run game) the Broncos stop (8th-ranked run defense) and the Raiders have the 5th-worst passing defense. Yikes. If I were DEN I'd be looking ahead and worrying about the health of my old stars as the playoffs near. The Raiders could cover if the Broncos sit starters in the second half, but I still doubt it.

One lousy late TD from the Raiders would have been my second perfect call of the day. That's important in the world of the highly competitive two-man Irish Mob Pick 'Em League. What is the point of this game? The Broncos beat up on a D-1A college team and go home to wait to be beat by one of the hungrier, healthier teams in the AFC. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-11 (+12) @ New Orleans Saints 10-5 (47.5): Saints 30-20 Saints 42-17
4:25 PM, Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Can you imagine NO losing this game and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, especially after claiming it was only because your lord and savior Sean Peyton was suspended for leading a chaotic team that broke serious rules. Never has a team looked so different at home relative to the road, and lucky for them the Saints have chance to lock up home field advantage, but that would require a lot of losing from some other teams that probably won't. A more likely scenario is NO gets 5/6 seed and travels round one, most likely ending their season. The Buccaneers are much better than their 4-11 record, just like the Saints are worse then their 10-5 record, but they're at home, so...

The Saints are in serious trouble. They are absolutely awful on the road and here they go to play one of the most dynamic offenses in the past few years, and that's saying something; to boot the Eagles have improved defensively every week, making NO's task even tougher. This is starting to sound like the NO-PHI playoff preview. That's not fair to TB. Greg Schiano was fired, too.

San Francisco 49ers 11-4 (-1) @ Arizona Cardinals 10-5 (42): 49ers 26-24 49ers 23-20
4:25 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix, AZ (Weather: Sunny, high 60s)

Reasons: It's crazy to think that the NFC West was the laughing stock of the NFL as soon as last year and here they are with a chance to send three teams to the playoffs and have every team at .500 or better. This might be the best game of the day for those not obsessed with the pathetic NFC East, as the Cardinals could go 10-6 and miss the playoffs, while SF will be looking to lock up the #1 seed. Despite the chance to go 11-5 ARZ can only gain the 6th seed, yet SF could go 11-5 and end up as high as the #5. Both teams have top-10 overall defenses, and although SF cracks the top-10 in offense as well, ARZ only averages 1.5 ppg less. One of the closest battles of the season at a pivotal time should produce one hell of a game.

Very few teams have been as talented and tough as the Arizona Cardinals and miss the playoffs, but that's the case for the 2013 Cardinals, most experts sexy pre-season sleeper pick to make noise. At 10-6 in a tough division they certainly did that, but faced a hungry 49ers team desperate to stay at home in the first round. They won, but still have to travel, because not only did Seattle and Carolina win as well, but so did the 7-7-1 Packers, forcing a meeting between the two teams in Green Bay. They could lose there, too. Who said life is fair? Hey, they could have missed the playoffs like their 2013 Super Bowl opponent. 

Kansas City Chiefs 11-4 (+10) @ San Diego Chargers 8-7 (45): Chargers 27-24 Chargers 27-24
4:25 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny, low 70s)

Reasons: Just like the NFC West, the AFC West was also once a laughing stock, yet here they are with a chance to also put three teams in the playoffs, although they will not sport a completely .500 division as they house the Raiders. In all seriousness, the Chargers have a chance here as KC will rest key starters in preparation for the playoffs. Big mistake. In a game like these statistics sort of go out the window because KC will not be at full strength and SD will be playing lights out in front of their home crowd in an effort to make the playoffs, assuming it matters. SD could slip into the 6th spot or be eliminated before the game even begins. So we could have a barn burner or a game that literally doesn't matter, because KC values presumed health over guaranteed seeding.

I knew the score and the winner before the game was even played, but I can't pretend to know how badly the Chargers would've back into that win. 13 unanswered points and a missed 41-yard FG helped seal the Chiefs fate, who had this Chargers team beat. Always be weary of these teams that back into/squeak into the playoffs, they tend to be dangerous (e.g., a 7-9 Seattle team winning in round one, or either of those ridiculous Giants teams). The Chiefs need to get healthy on defense fast, or they will not survive long in these up-in-the-air playoffs.

St. Louis Rams 7-8 (+11.5) @ Seattle Seahawks 12-3 (43): Seahawks 30-20 Seahawks 27-9
4:25 PM, Century Link Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: Fog, low 40s)

Reasons: How can the Seahawks lose this game?

They couldn't. These two teams combined for 427 total yards, 158 of them coming from the offensive juggernaut Rams. Granted the Seahawks defense is stout, but 158 yards? I'm pretty sure that was the lowest game total of any team this season, but I suppose it's not that surprising. The Seahawks looked pretty bad offensively themselves, but the Rams have a good defense, something to build upon next season. Both teams combined for 19 penalties, seven called on Seattle, something the Seahawks will have plenty of time to work on with the first round bye they secured with the win.

Buffalo Bills 6-9 (+7.5) @ New England Patriots 11-4 (46.5): Patriots 28-20 Patriots 34-20
4:25 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 100% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: The Bills do two things the Patriots are awful at: They run the ball well (ranked 2nd) while the Patriots can't stop the run (ranked 29th), and they get to the QB (the Patriots struggles v. top defensive lines are well documented), but two things are paramount in this game. One, the Patriots are at home, and two, the Patriots understand the ramifications of the game in terms of seeding. If the Patriots stay home throughout the playoffs they have a serious chance of making it to the Super Bowl; if they don't they have a great chance of losing in the second round. The Bills will play the role of spoiler again (this ain't the early 90s, that's for sure) as they trot out Thad Lewis again in an attempt to ruin the Patriots' party, handing the ball off time and time again as a monsoon rolls through Foxborough.

If told you Tom Brady would go 14-24 for 122 yards and a TD would you have thought they destroyed their opponent? I didn't think so, but LeGarrett Blount picked up the slack rushing for 189 yards and two TDs, with Steven Ridley adding 74 more, as the Patriots manhandled the Bills in the regular season finale. A one-sided affair through the beginning of the 4th quarter the Bills made it a game late before an onside kick gave the Patriots a short field, allowing for Blount to gallop to the win on a 35-yard TD run. The Patriots needed a win bad v. the depleted Bills to secure a first round bye, their only real shot at making noise in the playoffs, and they took care of business. 

Philadelphia Eagles 9-6 (-6.5) @ Dallas Cowboys 8-7 (52.5): Eagles 30-21 Eagles 24-22
8:25 PM, Cowboy Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Somehow, no matter how bad these teams can be at points throughout the season, these two teams are in it at the end, fighting each other for a playoff spot and a division crown in Week 17. It seems Dallas has to do this to their fans every season. Both teams are either 3 seed or out and/or 3/4 seed or out. PHI lost to DAL Week 7 (17-3, everyone was clowning PHI's offense...whoops) so if they lose again DAL would win the NFC East title and send the 9-7 Eagles packing. The Eagles have become the top offense in the league besides Manning's Merry band of Pro-Bowlers, while Dallas is quite literally the worst defense in the NFL (Note: Dallas is, however, ranked 3rd in scoring offense, right below PHI, 27.8 to 27.9). Dallas is 5-2 at home, but the Eagles are 5-2 on the road, and this game had Cowboy letdown written all over it. Oh yeah, Romo is out for the season with back surgery. So yeah, Dallas is done.

Kyle Orton did his best Tony Romo impression late in the game as the Eagles got all they could handle v. a Cowboys team aiming for the same game-end prize. The Eagles won the second meeting, the one that ultimately counted most, and squeaked in the NFC East crown, the weakest of any crown in the land. Dallas actually played an incredibly efficient game: Orton threw for 358 yards, the Cowboys had 417 total yards, committed only one penalty, and gave up no sacks. But they committed three turnovers, which ultimately did them in. So in the end it wasn't that efficient. How does Garrett keep his job, honestly? It's not like Dallas can fire the owner. In other news, Philadelphia could be pretty dangerous in the playoffs, especially considering they're 6-2 on the road this season; hopefully they start off by beating the Saints.


Stay tuned for the first edition of Week 18 #NFL Predictions: Playoffs Round One (w/ spreads & analysis) coming Saturday.

PHAULKNER


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