While the Patriots play in what amounts to an exhibition game thanks to having already wrapped up home field throughout the playoffs, there will be plenty of intriguing football elsewhere on Sunday. Four AFC teams head into week 17 battling for the final playoff spot, and in the NFC the Panthers are at Atlanta with the winner taking the NFC South division title and the fourth seed, with the season ending for the loser.

This is the only week of the regular season that all games will be played on Sunday. No Thursday Night Football, no Monday Night Football, and no Thursday Night Football on Saturday Night! (huh?) this week. This is also the only time CBS and FOX both have Sunday doubleheaders, and this year there’s a nice perk for NFL fans – no blackouts. Normally when a team is playing at home there can be no other game televised at the same time, an outdated in theory that was put in place to help that team with gate receipts and concessions. For example if you lived in Phoenix and the Cardinals were playing a home game on FOX at the same time the Patriots were playing the Broncos on CBS, there would be no New England-Denver game available where you lived.

The big early game on CBS is San Diego at Kansas City. If the Chargers win they are in, but if KC wins then that opens up the door for the Chiefs, Ravens and Texans for the sixth AFC playoff spot. At the same time on FOX the Panthers play the Falcons in what is essentially a playoff game; the winner continues to play again next week while the loser goes home.

The late game on FOX should be a great one as the Lions travel to Lambeau Field to play the Packers. The winner will most likely get a first round bye while the loser probably goes on the road to play Dallas. On CBS the late game is Oakland at Denver, with the Broncos needing a win to secure a first round bye. Things wrap up with an excellent AFC matchup on NBC Sunday night, with Cincinnati at Pittsburgh. The winner takes the AFC North tile and most likely the number three seed, while the loser drops to the number five seed and will have to go on the road, almost guaranteed to be at Indianapolis.


Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3) ★★★
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots

The Patriots have nothing to play for having secured the number one seed, while Buffalo – though eliminated from the playoffs for the 15th consecutive season – could still claim their first winning season in a decade with a victory. The Pats will likely rest banged up starters (Julian Edelman, Dan Connolly, LaGarrette Blount, Kyle Arrington), and Jonas Gray and Alfonzo Dennard have already been ruled out. Most are expecting Jimmy Garoppolo to receive extended playing time in relief of Tom Brady at quarterback, and with this being a meaningless game the spread has dropped from eleven points to under four in many locations, with the point total dropping by over seven points as well. Last week Buffalo was stonewalling Oakland on the ground (six carries for five yards) until DT Marcel Dareus left with a knee injury. After that the Raiders had their way, rushing for 135 yards on 30 carries. Dareus has not practiced all week, so it is very doubtful that he will play. Even though the Pats are thin at running back, expect them to run the way they did in last year’s season finale, when the Patriots rushed for 267 yards against the Bills.
Pick • Patriots 20, Bills 17
Bills +5
under 44½ (one unit)


Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Houston Texans (8-7) ★★★
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale

Bill O’Brien has the Texans still in the hunt for a playoff spot heading into the final week of the season. If Houston wins this game they need the Chiefs to win at home against San Diego (very possible) and for the Browns to knock off Baltimore (less likely) to get into the post-season. The Texans have won three of their last four after last week’s victory over the Ravens, and the Jags have played better lately as well, winning two of their last four after losing ten of their first eleven games. Both teams have decent defenses but limited offenses, so expect a close, low scoring game.
Pick • Texans 20, Jaguars 13
Jags +10
under 40½ (one unit)


Indianapolis Colts (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-13) ★★
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta

The Colts could theoretically grab the number three seed, but for that to happen they would need a win and then have the Bengals-Steelers game to end in a tie. Since the latter is highly unlikely this game just becomes a glorified scrimmage, with Tennessee fans just hoping their team doesn’t screw up having the second overall pick in the draft by winning this game. Last week Indy had more turnovers than Tony Romo had incomplete passes in their blowout loss to Dallas. The Colts need to get their defense turned around quickly, and playing against a Tennessee team that is averaging 10.3 points over its last three games should help them get some practice with the basics. The Titans have lost nine straight and just want the season to end; the Colts want to head into the playoffs on a positive note. With that in mind I would expect the Colts to play inspired ball after last week’s debacle, even if this game means nothing and the backups receive plenty of snaps.
Pick • Colts 31, Titans 13
Colts -6½ (two units)
under 46½


Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6) ★★
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Jamie Erdahl

The Ravens are going to be motivated, coming off a tough loss in a game they expected to win, while at the same time knowing they have to win in order to have any shot at the playoffs. Brian Hoyer is available for Cleveland but Mike Pettine announced the Browns will start undrafted rookie Connor Shaw at quarterback. With Hoyer likely departing in free agency and Manziel a big question mark, it makes sense for Cleveland to give Shaw some real game time experience for evaluation. Shaw will be without WR Josh Gordon, who was suspended by the Browns for a violation of team rules. Gordon (and Johnny Manziel) reportedly missed the final walk through before this game, which does not bode well for either player’s future. Missing this game means Gordon will have only five games on the 2014 season, and six games is the minimum to achieve an accrued season. That means Gordon will be a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent next spring, a distinction that could cost him millions. Cleveland has defended well against the pass but their run defense stinks, so Justin Forsett should have a big game for the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense should feast on a rookie quarterback on an already mediocre defense; this game shouldn’t be close at all.
Pick • Ravens 27, Browns 10
Ravens -13
under 39½


New York Jets (3-12) at Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein

Which coach gets fired first, Rex Ryan or Joe Philbin? After a 5-3 start the Dolphins lost four of their next six games, and will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season. A victory would give the Dolphins a winning record for the first time since 2008, but that may not be enough to save Philbin’s job. Meanwhile Rex Ryan has already cleaned out his office, a clear signal removing any doubt that may have remained that he will not return as head coach of the Jets. This is one of five games with zero possible playoff implications, and may be the worst game on the week 17 slate. This week Geno Smith publicly stated that a coaching change could be good for the team. Watching the interaction between Ryan and Smith may be the only thing that makes this game worth viewing. The Jets have won their last two games in Miami and for some reason do love their coach and play hard for him; I’ll take the Jets in an upset, with the defense carrying Ryan off the field at the end of the game.
Pick • Jets 19, Dolphins 16
Jets +6½ (two units)
under 42 (one unit)


San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7) ★★★★★
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell

For San Diego it is simple: a win and they’re in, a loss and the season’s over. For Kansas City it’s bit more complicated as they not only need the Chargers to lose, but the Chiefs also need Baltimore and Houston to lose as well. This will be the second year in a row that San Diego will be attempting to make the playoffs on the final game of the year against Kansas City, and their chances improved when it was announced that KC quarterback Alex Smith will not play due to a lacerated spleen. This is also the second year in a row that the Chiefs have stumbled down the stretch after a strong start; Kansas City has lost four out of five games since beating Seattle in week 11, and being talked up as a team that could knock Denver off as AFC West division champs. The public apparently has little faith in Chase Daniels as KC’s quarterback; since it was announced Smith would miss the game the line has shifted four points, with some venues now listing San Diego as the favorite.
Pick • Chargers 20, Chiefs 17
Chargers +1½
under 41½


Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (6-9) ★★
Early game on FOX
Announcing crew: Dick Stockton, Brady Quinn, Kristina Pink

Another Dead Man Walking game, as Marc Trestman is surely out as head coach of the dysfunctional Bears. Trestman won’t be alone, as GM Phil Emery – who opted for Trestman over Bruce Arians as Chicago’s head coach – will also be shown the door. QB Jay Cutler is in his final game with the Bears too, even though cutting him will create $19,500,00 in dead money; there’s no way the new regime will keep him, or pay him over $15 million next year. Cutler did throw for 330 yards and three touchdowns against Minnesota in November, but the Vikings have been playing much better since then. Minnesota’s defense took a step backward last week in Miami after holding opponents to an average of 17 points in the previous three games. Will Cutler be motivated to have a big game, or mail it in? It may not matter, with RB Matt Asiata, QB Teddy Bridgewater and his young receivers all having big games against a Chicago defense that is allowing an NFL-worst 28.6 points per game.
Pick • Vikings 31, Bears 27
Bears +6½
over 44 (two units)


Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at New York Giants (6-9) ★★
Early game on FOX
Announcing crew: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

Another game with no playoff implications for either team, which makes it difficult to handicap. Philly should be motivated after last week’s embarrassment at Washington, but having lost three in a row and being eliminated they may just go through the motions. Mark Sanchez has turned the ball over five times during this critical losing streak, making it difficult to back Philly. The Eagles have now turned the ball over a league-high 35 times, which will lead to more opportunities for New York’s offense. Odell Beckham has made Eli Manning look much better than he did a year ago. Since being inserted into the lineup Manning’s numbers have skyrocketed, with Beckham totaling 1,004 receiving yards over the last eight games and eight touchdowns in the last five games. The Giants get a bit of revenge from their week six 27-0 loss at Philadelphia.
Pick • Giants 34, Eagles 31
Giants -2½
over 52 (two units)


Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Washington Redskins (4-11) ★★★
Early game on FOX
Announcing crew: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver

Dallas still has a shot at a first round bye – they need a win plus losses by both the Seahawks and Cardinals for that to happen – so they probably won’t be resting starters and playing at half speed. With LT Trent Williams probably out with a shoulder injury, Washington’s offense is in trouble. The Skins rank 27th in scoring with 18.9 points per game and they just don’t have the firepower to keep up with Dallas, even if DeMarco Murray is limited or doesn’t play.
Pick • Cowboys 24, Redskins 20
Skins +4½
under 49½


New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13) ★★
Early game on FOX
Announcing crew: Sam Rosen, Kirk Morrison, Peter Schrager

Tampa Bay can’t do much on offense (17.1 points per game, 28th), on defense (26th with 25.8 points per game), and can’t hold late leads. All they have to do to get the first overall pick in the 2015 draft is to lose this game, but that’s not a given. New Orleans has under achieved all season, losing seven games that they were favored to win. Opponents have completed an NFL-high 69% of their passes against the Bucs this year; that kind of pass defense will make Drew Brees look like his pre-2014 self.
Pick • Saints 31, Bucs 20
Saints -3½
over 46½


Detroit Lions (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-4) ★★★★★
Late game on FOX
Announcing crew: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews

In the day’s best game the winner takes the division and a first round bye while the loser goes on the road as a wild card. Detroit could actually get the number one seed, but it would take a win combined with losses by both Seattle and Arizona; Green Bay could do the same with a victory and a Seahawks loss. The Lions have beaten the Packers in both of their last two meetings, but Detroit has not won at Lambeau since 1991 when Barry Sanders was 23 years old and led the NFL with 16 rushing touchdowns. The Lions rank second with only 16.8 points allowed per game, but this will be a huge test for them. Green Bay is outscoring opponents by an average of 41-20 at Lambeau Field and they are undefeated at home this season. Both teams are deep on talent at receiver, so game planning to shut down a single pass catcher won’t work. One thing to watch for is Aaron Rodgers’ mobility, as he is still recovering from a calf injury and the flu. The bottom line is that I can’t see Detroit winning in Green Bay this year, but I can definitely see them keeping the game very close.
Pick • Packers 27, Lions 24
Lions +7½
over 47


Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9) ★★★★
Late game on FOX
Announcing crew: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

Carolina was awful on defense early in the season, leading to a seven-game winless streak. They have now won three in a row, holding opponents to an average of 13.3 points per game. Still, this will be a very difficult test for the Panthers, facing an Atlanta offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White. I think a healthy Jones playing at home in the dome will be the difference.
Pick • Falcons 28, Panthers 20
Falcons -3
over 47½


St. Louis Rams (6-9) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4) ★★★
Late game on FOX
Announcing crew: Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, Molly McGrath

The Seahawks will clinch the number one seed with a victory plus a Cowboys loss at Washington, or with a victory and the Packers-Lions game simply not ending in a tie. While Seattle is getting hot at the right time and clearly more talented than St. Louis, I believe too many in the betting public are jumping on the Seahawk bandwagon and creating a line that is too high. Seattle wins the game, but the Rams defense is strong enough to keep it under two touchdowns.
Pick • Seahawks 24, Rams 13
Rams +13½
under 41½


Arizona Cardinals (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (7-8) ★★★
Late game on FOX
Announcing crew: Thom Brennaman, David Diehl, Laura Okmin

Arizona’s 11-4 record is a facade, with the team posting a 5-4 record in games Carson Palmer was not the quarterback. Now the Cardinals are down to their third and fourth string quarterbacks, their starting running back is on IR, and even the defense is springing leaks after allowing 35 points last week. The 49ers get the home victory in what is probably Jim Harbaugh’s final game as head coach for San Francisco.
Pick • Niners 21, Cardinals 13
Cardinals +6½
over 36½


Oakland Raiders (3-12) at Denver Broncos (11-4) ★★★
Late game on CBS
Announcing crew: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn

Denver needs a win to make sure they get a first round bye, and besides, this is a good opportunity for Peyton Manning to rack up some stats. Oakland is allowing 27 points per game (30th) and have allowed 28 passing touchdowns while intercepting just nine passes.
Pick • Broncos 35, Raiders 24
Raiders +14½
over 48½ (two units)


Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) ★★★★★
Sunday night game on NBC
Announcing crew: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michelle Tafoya

The final game of the 2014 regular season is a good one, as the Bengals and Steelers play for the division title. The Bengals are allowing 21.1 points per game and have won five of the last six games. They’ll need to slow down Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell, who is a legitimate MVP candidate with 2,115 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. The Steelers haven’t played well on defense this year, but have performed much better recently, allowing an average of 18 points in the last three games. Pittsburgh is averaging 32 points in home games, so Cincinnati has their work cut out for them. This is a tossup, but I’m going to lean to Jeremy Hill and the Cincy running game getting it done in a close game.
Pick • Bengals 24, Steelers 23
Bengals +3½
under 48½


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