There are plenty of games of importance on Sunday even though most of the NFL’s playoff participants have already been determined. Root for the Texans, Broncos and just in case, the Ravens to lose – along of course with a convincing and healthy win by the Pats.
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6-9 New York Jets at 5-10 Buffalo Bills
Early game on CBS and DTV ch 708
While the gossip mongers will focus on Mark Sanchez and debate if this is his last game as a Jet, the same holds true for Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. As for the game itself the Bills would be wise to use C.J. Spiller (6.5 yards per carry) as often as possible against a Jets run defense that is yielding 135 yards per game (27th) and 4.4 yards per carry (21st). Rex Ryan should do the same even though Shonn Greene isn’t as good as Spiller; the Bills run defense is 30th in yards per carry (5.1) and 32nd in yards per game (147). Sounds like a game that would give Woody Hayes a priapism.
Prediction: Bills 20, Jets 13 … √
Bills -3 … √
Under 39½ … √
– final score: Bills 28, Jets 9
10-5 Baltimore Ravens at 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals
Early game on CBS and DTV ch 711
While there is a chance these two could meet again next week, I wouldn’t count on it; it would take a Ravens win coupled with a Pats loss to the Dolphins for that to happen. Baltimore is coming off an emotional win and probably realizes there’s little chance of improving to the number three spot. Let’s not forget they lost three in a row before that; despite the win over the Giants their defense still has issues. Marvin Lewis says he remembers losing a meaningless Week 17 game last year, and then getting bounced out of the playoffs the next week.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Ravens 17 … √
Bengals -2½ … √
Over 41 … X
– final score: Bengals 23, Ravens 17
5-10 Cleveland Browns at 7-8 Pittsburgh Steelers
Early game on CBS and DTV ch 709
Other than pride there is not much at stake in this game. Pittsburgh continued their trend of two playoff years, one non-playoff year in 2012; a loss would give them a better draft pick in exchange for their first losing season since 2003. They’ll be without WR Mike Wallace (hamstring), who will likely sign elsewhere as a free agent in the off-season.
Both Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy have been ruled out for the Browns, so UDFA Thad Lewis, who has spent the last two years on the Practice Squad, gets the start. First time starters and rookies against a Dick LeBeau defense are usually a train wreck, going just 2-17 since he became Pittsburgh’s DC. Case in point: Bruce Gradkowski for Cleveland in 2008 lost 31-0, going 5-16 for 18 yards, a pick, a long of four yards – and a passer rating of 1.0
Prediction: Steelers 20, Browns 3 … √
Steelers -10 (one unit) … √
Under 34½ (two units) … √
– final score: Steelers 24, Browns 10
12-3 Houston Texans at 10-5 Indianapolis Colts
Early game on CBS and DTV ch 712
On paper the Texans are a much better team, but much of that is due to stats accumulated in the first half of the season; that does not properly reflect where Houston is right now. To be as flat as they were at home against Minnesota last week when a win would wrap up the number one seed is inexcusable. While the Colts are locked in to the #5 seed, consider how well they played the week that head coach Chuck Pagano was hospitalized; now think of how sky high their emotions will be with him back on the sideline. The uniforms may be the same, but Tony Dungy is long gone; the Colts will be playing to win.
The Colts struggled to move the ball two weeks ago against Houston, and to a lesser extent did the same last week against the Chiefs. However that is offset by their ability to convert on 3rd and 4th down, and in the red zone. Houston needs to get pressure on Andrew Luck and not let him buy time with his feet. Shaun Cody hasn’t been applying much pressure up the middle, though the Texans could move J.J. Watt around to help in that regard – and get him the 2.5 sacks he needs to break Michael Strahan’s bogus single-season NFL record.
Prediction: Colts 21, Texans 20 … √
Colts +7 (one unit) … √
Under 46½ … √
– final score: Colts 28, Texans 16
2-13 Jacksonville Jaguars at 5-10 Tennessee Titans
Early game on CBS and DTV ch 710
This is another meaningless game, other than one last chance for players to showcase that they deserve a job, here or elsewhere next season. Both teams are bad on defense (Titans allow 30.1 ppg, worst in the NFL; Jags are #27 at 27.1 ppg); they’re not much better on offense (Titans: 19.5 ppg, 23rd; Jaguars 15.7, 31st). Chad Henne is a much better option at QB than Jake Locker, and the Jags defense (specifically their pass rush) certainly showed some life last week. Chris Johnson is a better runner than anyone on Jacksonville, but because the Titans’ OL is such a mess that’s a wash.
Derrick Morgan and Jason Babin are playing well for the Jacksonville defense, as is Zach Brown for Tennessee. The Jaguars just came off their 2012 Super Bowl last week, and ended up losing. I would expect them to come out a bit flat after that game, which makes me lean towards the Titans here.
Prediction: Titans 24, Jaguars 20 … √
Jaguars +4½ … X
Over 41½ … √
– final score: Titans 38, Jaguars 20
4-11 Philadelphia Eagles at 8-7 New York Giants
Early game on FOX and DTV ch 707
Division rivals tend to play each other tough, but there is a factoid I did not know: since December of 2008 the Eagles are 8-1 against the Giants. The Eagles would surely like to send Andy Reid out on a high note, and what better way to accomplish that than by eliminating the G-men in the process.
The problem is that the Eagles have been awful, losing 10 of their last 11 games while turning the ball over far too often. The Giants were awful last week and I can’t see a Tom Coughlin coached team laying an egg in each of the three final games of the season. Stevie Brown is the only person playing well in the New York secondary, but I don’t think the pass rush will give Nick Foles enough time to get the ball to Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.
Prediction: Giants 28, Eagles 24 … √
Eagles +7½ … X
Over 46 … √
– final score: Giants 42, Eagles 7
9-6 Chicago Bears at 4-11 Detroit Lions
Early game on FOX and DTV ch 705
Calvin Johnson needs just 108 yards to become the first player in NFL history with 2,000 yards receiving in a single season. Expect the Lions to throw early and often, because that’s about the only thing they have to play for. While Megatron will likely get his record, the unbalanced attack will also lead to some picks by a Chicago defense that leads the league in interceptions (23) and turnovers (40). Detroit’s defense has struggled against teams with multiple weapons, and Chicago has just that: WR Brandon Marshall and RB Matt Forte. With a win and a loss by the Vikings against Green Bay the Bears will clinch the final wild card spot in the NFC.
Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 14 … √
Bears -3 (three units) … X
Under 45 (one unit) … X
– final score: Bears 26, Lions 24
6-9 Tampa Bay Bucs at 13-2 Atlanta Falcons
Early game on FOX and DTV ch 704
The big debate in Tampa the last couple of weeks is whether or not the Bucs should continue with Josh Freeman or look for a new quarterback this off-season. In the last three games Freeman has thrown three touchdowns to nine interceptions, and completed just 51% of his passes; meanwhile the Bucs have lost five in a row to drop from being a playoff contender to being on the verge of another double-digit losing season. While Greg Schiano is certainly going to implore his team to play to the final whistle, you also have to wonder if some of the team has tuned him out.
The Bucs get CB Eric Wright back (4-game PEDs suspension), which should help their dreadful pass defense. It will also be aided by the fact that Atlanta will start Luke McCown at quarterback. I do have to tip my hat to ‘Checkdown McCown’: despite not throwing a touchdown pass since 2007 he has continuously remained on various NFL rosters since that time, cashing checks in excess of $2 million over the last two years.
Prediction: Bucs 27, Falcons 17 … √
Bucs +6 (two units) … √
Under 47 … √
– final score: Bucs 22, Falcons 17
6-9 Carolina Panthers at 7-8 New Orleans Saints
Early game on FOX and DTV ch 706
Carolina looks to win their 4th in a row and 5th in the last six games, finishing on an upswing and avoiding last place. In those six games cam Newton has passed for 11 touchdowns with just one interception, for a 104.2 passer rating. Prior to last week DeAngelo Williams has had a strong second half as well. The New Orleans pass defense is a sieve; they allow 295 yards per game (31st), 8.1 yards per pass (31st), 31 passing touchdowns (32nd), and an opponent passer rating of 95.7 (28th). The run defense is no better: 139 yards per game (29th), 5.0 yards per carry (30th), and 13 rushing touchdowns (21st).
The Panthers biggest issue is their offensive line. Once Amini Silatolu was sidelined last week against the Raiders their running game had no lanes, and the pass protection suffered too. In the last meeting between the two teams Pierre Thomas ran for 110 yards on 9 carries, and Darren Sproles had 128 yards receiving. If you like high scoring games, then this one should be aesthetically pleasing.
Prediction: Saints 35, Panthers 31 … X
Panthers +5½ … √
Over 54 … √
– final score: Panthers 44, Saints 38
Miami Dolphins at 11-4 England Patriots
Late game on CBS and DTV ch 713
Last week I expected the Pats to be rebound with a big win after a loss, but the narrow victory was a surprise to most fans. In retrospect the letdown should not have been a surprise; the Pats were coming off back-to-back games against two of the league’s top teams.
For the Dolphins to succeed on offense they need to not turn the ball over, limit Ryan Tannehill’s mistakes, and run the ball well; otherwise they just don’t have the offensive firepower (19.2 points per game) to keep pace. The problem for Miami is that the Pats are very proficient at forcing mistakes and turnovers (39 takeaways, #2 in the NFL), and still pretty good against the run (4.0 yards per carry, #7 in the NFL). Tannehill has thrown five touchdowns with no turnovers in the last three games, so he is securing the ball much better than he was earlier in the season when he had 7 TD and 12 INT. Perhaps more important than neutralizing Miami’s thunder and lightning ground game of Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller is to keep Tannehill from making plays with his legs; he has 96 yards rushing the last two games.
The Pats allowed Jacksonville to get too much pressure on Tom Brady last week. In their game at Miami in Week 13 Cameron Wake and the rest of the Miami defense was effective, sacking Brady four times and knocking him down eight times. That kind of pressure can lead to turnovers, something that Miami will be counting on – despite the fact that they have just 16 takeaways this season, on pace for a franchise-low for that stat. Miami has no coverage answer for the short/medium passing game (Welker, Hernandez), and their secondary is not that great on deeper routes, especially with Sean Smith banged up. The Dolphins will also have trouble on defense if/when the Pats go to the hurry up/no huddle.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 17 … √
Pats -10 … √
Over 46 … X
– final score: Pats 28, Dolphins 0
2-13 Kansas City Chiefs at 12-3 Denver Broncos
Late game on CBS and DTV ch 714
Unfortunately for the Patriots the Broncos have something to play for this week: possibly the #1 seed and home field throughout the playoffs should the Texans lose earlier in the day, and the #2 seed and a bye even if Houston wins. Even if Denver is over confident it’s probably asking way too much for a Chiefs win here. Maybe Jamaal Charles can run for 250 yards and Peyton will make a couple of bad passes that Kansas City defenders actually catch rather than drop… hey, I can dream, can’t I?
Prediction: Broncos 31, Chiefs 17 … √
Chiefs +16½ … X
Over 42 … X
– final score: Broncos 38, Chiefs 3
4-11 Oakland Raiders at 6-9 San Diego Chargers
Late game on CBS and DTV ch 715
Remember when the Raiders wasted a supplemental draft pick on Terrelle Pryor? Sunday Pryor gets his first NFL start over Matt Leinart (talk about pick your poison) in a game that will probably be the last one for San Diego GM A.J. Smith, HC Norv Turner, and Oakland OC Greg Knapp. While it would make sense to hand the ball off to Darren McFadden, Mike Goodson and Marcel Reece, the Chargers are allowing only 3.8 yards per carry (5th best in the NFL). On offense San Diego may as well air it out; Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd should do well against an Oakland pass defense that allows opponents a 66% completion rate 929th), 7.5 yards per pass (25th), 242 yards per game (22nd), and opposing quarterbacks a 96.0 passer rating (30th). If there was any doubt I’ll go with San Diego at home; the Raiders have lost 7 of their last 8 and are 1-6 on the road, being outscored by an average of 16.6 points in those games. Look for Philip Rivers to throw for 400 yards, the two teams to combine for about 200 yards in penalties, and about six turnovers.
Prediction: Chargers 28, Raiders 20 … √
Raiders +10½ … √
Over 39 (two units) … √
– final score: Chargers 24, Raiders 21
11-4 Green Bay Packers at 9-6 Minnesota Vikings
Late game on FOX and DTV ch 716
The Packers still have a chance – though very slim – of getting a first round bye: they need to win this game, and then have both the 49ers and Seahawks lose. Though that is rather doubtful those two other games are both late starts as well, so they’ll be motivated. Last year the Packers finished the season on cruise control and lost their first playoff game, so Mike McCarthy will have the troops focused and sharp. The Vikings on the other hand desperately need this game as their improbable playoff push continues; if they lose then they need to count on the Bears, Cowboys and Giants all losing in order to make the post-season.
If recent games are any indication then defensive players will make a big impact. Harrison Smith played great for Minnesota in last week’s win at Houston, and Everson Griffin is starting to live up to his potential and shed his bust label. For Green Bay they get Clay Matthews back, and Casey Hayward has been having a stellar rookie season, with six interceptions. Although Aaron Rodgers vs Christian Ponder is a seemingly unfair advantage at QB, don’t discount Adrian Peterson vs Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris at RB. The Vikings are better in the trenches (their OL with Matt Kalil and John Sullivan; their DL with Jared Allen, Griffen and Brian Robison). While the Packers have a great passing game, they have also allowed 46 sacks, 4th most in the NFL.
Prediction: Packers 21, Vikings 20 … X
Vikings +3½ … √
Under 45½ … X
– final score: Vikings 37, Packers 34
5-10 Arizona Cardinals at 10-4-1 San Francisco 49ers
Late game on FOX and DTV ch 718
Last week’s blowout loss by the 49ers wasn’t a real surprise, considering the roller coaster game the previous week between San Francisco and the Pats. They know what is at stake here – at least a #3 seed with a win, perhaps a #2 seed and a bye (with a win plus a Packers loss at Minnesota) – or the possibility of dropping to a #5 wild card spot with a loss. The Cardinals are such a mess offensively with no quarterback, no offensive line, and no running game that there is no reason to believe that the 49ers defense will not dominate this game, and put it away early. I feel bad for Brian Hoyer, being thrust into this start.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Cardinals 3 … √
49ers -16½ … X
Under 39 (two units) … X
– final score: 49ers 27, Cardinals 13
7-7-1 St. Louis Rams at 10-5 Seattle Seahawks
Late game on FOX and DTV ch 717
While Seattle has gained much attention by scoring 150 points in their last three games, the Rams have held their opponents to 17 points or fewer in four of their last five games. In their first meeting St. Louis was able to intercept three Russell Wilson passes; they are also tied for third in the NFL with 46 sacks.
The Seahawks can get a first round bye and the number two seed with a win, a Vikings win over the Packers, and a loss by the 49ers. Even if the Packers win they could still get the #3 seed and the division title with a win and a 49ers loss. The bottom line is that Seattle won’t be looking past this game because of what is at stake and because they lost to the Rams earlier this season. While the Rams would like very much to have their first winning season since the last hurrah of The Greatest Show On Turf in 2004, I don’t see that happening; instead expect the Seahawks to achieve their first five-game winning streak since 2007 and their first playoff appearance since they were NFC West champs with a 7-9 record two years ago.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Rams 16 … √
Rams +10½ … √
Under 41 … √
– final score: Seahawks 20, Rams 13
8-7 Dallas Cowboys at 9-6 Washington Redskins
Sunday night game on NBC
For Dallas the playoffs start in Week 17: a win and their season will continue, but a loss and they’re done. Washington can still make the playoffs with a loss, but they’ll need some help: a Vikings loss to the Packers, PLUS a Bears loss to the Lions.
While conventional wisdom is that Tony Romo and the Cowboys wilt in December, that has not been the case. Romo’s touchdown to interception ratio in December since 2009 is 29:4; the last two years it is 18:1; this year it is 10:1. While the team has folded in past Decembers, this year the Cowboys are 3-1. Their problem is that they are banged up, especially on defense. If Robert Griffin can make a play or two early with his legs – he had only two runs for four yards last week – then it could cause the Dallas defense to be a bit tentative, opening things up elsewhere. For Dallas they need to exploit the advantage they have with WR Dez Bryant vs CB Josh Wilson, who will be at a five-inch disadvantage. While Washington was able to force Dallas to field goal attempts in their first meeting, this time they have Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray available.
Prediction: Redskins 28, Cowboys 24 … √
Redskins -3 … √
Over 48½ … X
– final score: Redskins 28, Cowboys 18
Three-Team Teaser (3 units): Bills-Jets under 48½(√); Bears +6(√); 49ers-Cardinals under 48(√) … √
Three-Team Teaser (5 units): Steelers -1(√); Colts +16(√; Pats -1(√) … √
College Football Bowl Picks
When in doubt, I’m going with the team from the SEC.
12/31: Music City Bowl – Vanderbilt over North Carolina State … √
– final score: Vanderbilt wins, 38-24
– Vanderbilt -7 (one unit) … √
– Over 52½ … √
12/31: Sun Bowl – Southern Cal over Georgia Tech … X
– final score: Georgia Tech wins, 21-7
– USC -7½ … X
– Under 63½ … √
12/31: Liberty Bowl – Tulsa over Iowa State … √
– final score: Tulsa wins, 31-17
– Tulsa +1½ … √
– Over 50½ … X
Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl – LSU over Clemson … X
– final score: Clemson wins, 25-24
– LSU -4½ (one unit) … X
– Under 60½ … √
1/1: Gator Bowl – Mississippi State over Northwestern … X
– final score: Northwestern wins, 34-20
– Miss St +2½ … X
– Over 52 … √
Heart of Dallas TicketCity Bowl – Oklahoma State over Purdue … √
– final score: Oklahoma St wins, 58-14
– Purdue +17½ … X
– Over 69 … √
Capital One Citrus Tangerine Bowl – Georgia over Nebraska … √
– final score: Georgia wins, 45-31
– Georgia -8½ (one unit) … √
– Under 62 … X
1/1: Outback Bowl – South Carolina over Michigan … √
– final score: South Carolina wins, 33-28
– South Carolina -4½ (two units) … √
– Over 46½ … √
1/1: Rose Bowl – Stanford over Wisconsin … √
– final score: Stanford wins, 20-14
– Wisconsin +6½ … √
– Under 48½ … √
1/1: Orange Bowl – Florida State over N Illinois … √
– final score: Florida State wins, 31-10
– FSU -13½ (two units) … √
– Under 58½ … √
1/2: Sugar Bowl – Florida over Louisville … X
– final score: Louisville wins, 33-23
– Florida -14 … X
– Under 47 … X
1/3: Fiesta Bowl – Oregon over Kansas State … √
– final score: Oregon wins, 35-17
– Oregon -7½ (one unit) … √
– Over 73½ (one unit) … X
1/4: Cotton Bowl – Texas A&M over Oklahoma … √
– final score: Texas A&M wins, 41-13
– Oklahoma +3½ … X
– Under 74 (one unit) … √
1/5: Compass Bowl – Ole Miss over Pitt … √
– final score: Ole Miss wins, 38-17
– Ole Miss -3½ … √
– Over 51½ … √
1/6: Go Daddy Bowl – Kent St over Arkansas St … X
– final score: Arkansas St wins, 17-13
– Kent St +4 … √
– Under 62½ … √
1/7: Championship Game – Alabama over Notre Dame … √
– final score: Alabama wins, 42-14
– Notre Dame +10 (two units) … X
– Over 40 … √
Tale of the Tape
Last week my top play was a push (Colts -7 at Chiefs), while I hit on a three-team teaser that involved three road teams (Colts +2 at KC; Pats -5½ at Jags; Panthers +½ at Raiders). The next tier of picks was a mixed bag: hit on the Falcons vs Detroit, Panthers vs Oakland, but missed on the Pats at Jacksonville.
NFL Results for Week 16 (and the season):
Straight Up: 13-3 (81%) last week, 156-83-1 (65%) for the season
Against The Spread: 10-5-1 (67%) / 113-123-4 (48%)
Over/Under: 8-8 (50%) / 130-106-4 (55%)
1 Unit Plays: 4-3 (+70) / 58-42 (58%)
2 Unit Plays: 2-1 (+180) / 40-32-4 (56%)
3 Unit Plays: 1-0-1 (+270) / 25-21-3 (54%)
4 Unit Plays: 0-0 / 2-2 (50%)
5 Unit Plays: 0-0 / 2-1 (67%)
Weekly Total: 6-4-1 regular (60%); 1-0 teasers
All Confidence Picks: 7-4-1 (64%) / 134-98-7 (58%)
Week 16 Total: +520
Season Total: +7690
Previous College Games
13-6, +7 Units, +610
Last Week’s College Games
0-0, +0 Units, +0
Season College Total
13-6, +7 Units, +610
Season Grand Total
This Day In Patriots History
December 29, 1944:
Charlie Gogolák was born in Hungary. He was the first placekicker to be selected in the first round of a draft (by Washington in 1966), and the second soccer-style NFL kicker (his brother Pete was the first). Gogolák replaced the legendary Gino Cappelletti as the Patriots kicker in 1970, and kept that position until a freak injury ended his career in 1972.
December 29, 1945:
Jim Cheyunski was born in Bridgewater, Mass.
Drafted out of Syracuse in the 12th round of the 1968 draft, Cheyunski was with the Patriots from 1968 to 1972, and pled in the NFL until 1976. The middle linebacker appeared in all but one game in his five years in New England and was the starting MLB in each of the last four years; overall he started 54 games with the Pats.
December 29, 2002:
New England Patriots 27, Miami Dolphins 24 in OT at Gillette Stadium
The Patriots won the final game of the season early in the afternoon to give hope for a playoff berth, but got Favred three hours later when Brett Favre had a horrible game and the Packers lost to the Jets. The Pats needed a win and a Jets loss to win the division; had the beaten the Jets the previous week they would have won the AFC East.
The Pats were down 21-7 early when Miami scored on two Ricky Williams touchdown runs and a TD pass by Jay Fiedler. Williams ran for 185 yards on the game and finished the season with 1,853 yards rushing; at the time that was the 8th-best single season rushing total in NFL history.
Antowain Smith scored on an 11-yard 1st half touchdown, and after two Adam Vinatieri field goals Troy Brown cut the deficit to 24-21 on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady. The pats defense forced a three and out deep in Miami territory, setting up Vinatieri’s 43-yard field goal that forced overtime.
In overtime Olindo Mare booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at the 40. Kevin Faulk ripped off a 15-yard run and then added another 20 on a pass from Brady to put the pats in scoring position. Vinatieri then calmly kicked his fourth field goal of the day from 25 yards out to win the game, and give the pats a 9-7 season record. Vinatieri was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance.
Faulk was Mr. Everything in this game, finishing with 232 all-purpose yards. He had 53 yards on 8 rushes, 70 yards on 9 receptions, and 109 yards on punt and kickoff returns.
December 29, 2007:
New England Patriots 38, New York Giants 35 at the Meadowlands
The Patriots became the first (and only) team in NFL history to go 16-0. Tom Brady went 32-for-42 for 356 yards and two touchdowns, Randy Moss had 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns, and Wes Welker had 11 receptions for 122 yards.
Brady threw his 49th and 50th touchdowns of the season in the game, setting an NFL record for touchdown passes in a single season. Brady finished the season with 4,806 passing yards; at the time it was the second most in NFL history.
Moss also set an NFL record with 23 touchdown receptions in a single season. Welker finished the season with 112 receptions, which tied for the most in the NFL that year; at the time it was the 11th most receptions in a single season in NFL history.
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December 29, 1955:
Neil Giraldo, guitar player and producer for (and husband of) Pat Benatar was born in Cleveland
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