Friday, December 26, 2014

Week 17 NFL Primer (With Picks): The Long And Winding Road

The Lions have had their fair share of struggles at Lambeau Field.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

I think we're a little past intros at this point.

The holidays are upon us, and the NFL has wrapped a trio of winner-take-all divisional championship games for Week 17. Let's get right to those games, plus another contest with playoff implications, and to our final weekly picks against the spread, where Jeremy is sitting at .500 and just within striking distance of catching Joe.

Underdog Update:
Last Week: 8-7-1
Season: 116-119-1
Home Dogs, Last Week: 5-2
Home Dogs, Season: 36-38-1

Game(s) of The Week (All Games on Sunday)

San Diego at Kansas City: 1 pm on CBS

If the Chargers win, they're in, but the Chiefs have an outside shot at the postseason as well, not to mention one of the best home field advantages in the league. Any way you slice it, this will determine the final AFC Wild Card spot, which would go to the Chargers if they win, then fall to Baltimore if San Diego loses. But, if the Ravens can't take care of business against the Browns, and the Jaguars knock off Houston, the Chiefs would slide into the playoffs. Not likely, but I expect a big effort from Kansas City, a team still technically alive.

Carolina at Atlanta: 4:25 pm on CBS

So what if neither team can finish with a winning record? The winner of this game still gets the No. 4 seed in the NFC and the home playoff game that comes with it. Both teams have been surprisingly not terrible lately, and with Atlanta feeling at home in the Dome, this could actually end up being a pretty good one.

Detroit at Green Bay: 4:25 pm on FOX

The Lions haven't won in Green Bay since the Cretaceous Period, and they'll have to do it without suspended center Dominic Raiola. Still, don't count out the physical Lions defense, which may be able to hassle Aaron Rodgers the same way Buffalo did a few weeks back.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: 8:30 pm on NBC

Both of these teams are already in the playoffs, so this game essentially means the difference between the No. 3 seed and hosting either San Diego, Baltimore, Houston or Kansas City, or the No. 5 seed and a trip to Indianapolis.

Basically, don't expect desperation on either side, but both teams would like to capture a division title and not have to face Andrew Luck in-doors next week.

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams In CAPS)

Jacksonville (+9.5) over HOUSTON

JC: Case Keenum's deal with the devil was only for one game against secretly one of the league's worst pass defenses in Baltimore. Meanwhile, Jacksonville has been semi-frisky of late, 2-2 in their last four games, 3-1 against the spread.

JP: Keenum isn't quite as bad as people make him out to be, and he has looked comfortable when called upon in Houston's offense. That being said, I'm not giving more than a touchdown with him starting against anybody, even given last week's performance. Still think the Texans get the win outright, but this should be closer than expected.

Indianapolis (-7) over TENNESSEE

JC: Indianapolis beats up on bad teams, especially in the division. Even if they have nothing to play for (they're locked into the No. 4 seed), they'll want to get some momentum going into the playoffs after last week's beat-down at the hands of Dallas.

JP: I'm playing against Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton in my fantasy finals this week, so I hope Indy rests its starters, but I see them blasting the Titans in a "get your mojo back" kind of game.

BALTIMORE (-10) over Cleveland

JC: Baltimore has been stumbling of late, but Cleveland is in free-fall, and Baltimore needs a win to have any hope of the postseason. They'll come out swinging.

JP: The Browns have zero to play for and the Ravens need a win at home to stay alive in the playoff race. Hard to see Cleveland putting up much of a fight after the Johnny Football experiment failed and it had to turn back to Hoyer.

New York Jets (+6) over MIAMI

JC: Miami hasn't impressed at all since the beginning of November, and Rex Ryan is getting fired at the end of the season, so he has no incentive to tank for a draft pick that he won't be around to coach. This should be a close affair, not unlike the Monday night matchup in Week 13.

JP: A win in Miami is always big for the Jets, and Miami's defense outside of Cam Wake has not impressed me in recent weeks. The Jets may not be the best-equipped team to take advantage of that fact, but at least they should be able to contain Ryan Tannehill, unlike Minnesota last week. This one has close, emotional, and ultimately meaningless written all over it.

MINNESOTA (-6) over Chicago

JC: If your gameplan has been to bet against Chicago over the second half of the season, you're probably a very rich person.

JP: I just can't bet on the Bears if Jimmy Clausen is out... Wait, what?

San Diego (+3) over KANSAS CITY

JC: Who needs this game more? San Diego needs a win to get into the playoffs. Kansas City needs a win to... still be eliminated from the playoffs. This seems like a no-brainer.

JP: I think it will be a close one, but I've gotta go with the Chargers, who have everything to play for, and are getting points.

Dallas (-6) over WASHINGTON

JC: If everything breaks right (they'd need a San Francisco win over Arizona and a St. Louis win over Seattle), Dallas could have a first-round bye, so they're likely to take this one seriously. And after losing their last three Week 17 games to miss the playoffs, the circle should complete by winning in Week 17 to secure a bye.

JP: Dallas also probably doesn't want Washington to be able to say it swept the Cowboys this year. I like the Boys big in this one.

New Orleans (-4) over TAMPA BAY

JC: Who needs this game more? New Orleans can't win the division, but Tampa Bay could get the No. 1 pick. They might start Florence Henderson at quarterback.

JP: Don't give an iota for Mariota?

GREEN BAY (-8) over Detroit

JC: Detroit is 2-5 against the spread on the road. The Packers are 5-1-1 against the spread at home.

JP: I know I said not to count out the Lions up there, but I'm totally counting them out against the Packers at Lambeau.

SEATTLE (-12.5) over St. Louis

JC: I'm almost scared to see what the Seahawks are capable of in a home game while playing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC while also being the hottest team in football. They've given up 33 points in their last five games. That's insane.

JP: And, like the Cowboys, the Seahawks would hate to be swept by a team that may finish last in their division.

Arizona (+6) over SAN FRANCISCO

JC: Yeah, Arizona has stumbled, but San Francisco has lost four straight and six of their last nine (and even those three wins were by a total of 13 points against the Saints, Giants, and Redskins - so in other words, they've sucked for a solid two months now). Oh, and also, they might have already quit on their coach.

JP: I hate both these teams right now, so gimme the points.

Oakland (+14) over DENVER

JC: Oakland's against-the-spread friskiness is a real thing, you guys. They're 4-2 over their last six games, 8-7 for the season. Meanwhile, Denver is only 7-8 against the spread this year, 2-4 over their last six.

JP: Peyton Manning just doesn't look right. Still think the Broncos have enough to win this one, but two touchdowns is asking a lot right now.

Here Are The Picks We Don't (Home Teams Still In CAPS)

JC: NEW ENGLAND (-5) over Buffalo

My money is on an exceedingly bizarre game where Tom Brady plays the first half and the Patriots are down by a field goal at the break, then with the Patriots having nothing to play for (they're guaranteed the No. 1 seed in the AFC), Jimmy Garoppolo comes in and shockingly leads three second-half touchdown drives.

JP: Buffalo (+5) over NEW ENGLAND

I could see that, but I also can't shake the feeling that beating New England, even when it is resting its starters, would sort of make the end of Buffalo's season. I see a motivated Bills team knocking off the Patriots backups on a late field goal.

JC: Carolina (+4) over ATLANTA

This division is garbage. It's only fitting that a team that started 3-8-1 and everyone wrote off inexplicably storms back to make the playoffs.

JP: ATLANTA (-4) over Carolina

It looks like Julio Jones is going to play, and I'm ready for at least one team in this division to take advantage of its dome field advantage. Dirty Birds!

JC: Philadelphia (+3) over NEW YORK GIANTS

I get that Philadelphia is eliminated and that the Giants have won three straight, but two of those wins were over Tennessee and Washington, and Chip Kelly in F-U mode could be interesting.

JP: NEW YORK GIANTS (-3) over Philadelphia

This may quietly be the most fun game of the afternoon as the Eagles open things up even more and Odell Beckham Jr. reminds everyone he should definitely be in the Pro Bowl. Look for some fireworks, and I'll take the G Men, who have Good Eli going for them right now.

JC: PITTSBURGH (-3.5) over Cincinnati

Cincinnati has won 7 of their last 9, Pittsburgh has won 7 of their last 9. The stakes are pretty much the same for both teams - winner claims the division and the No. 3 seed, loser gets a wild card (if Oakland beats Denver, Cincinnati could end up with the No. 2 seed but I wouldn't hold my breath). Pittsburgh is 8-7 against the spread, Cincinnati is 8-6-1. Pittsburgh is 4-3 against the spread at home, Cincinnati is 4-3 against the spread on the road. Pittsburgh is 5-2 straight up at home, Cincinnati is 5-2 straight up on the road. You'd think this is an even matchup (and would warrant taking Cincinnati, especially with that extra half-point). But these teams played three weeks ago, in Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh beat the crap out of them. So there.

JP: Cincinnati (+3.5) over PITTSBURGH

I'm just gonna continue my reverse-Steelers jinx.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 6-9-1
Season: 117-117-6
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1-1
Season's Disagreements: 30-34-2

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 5-10-1
Season: 121-113-6
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2-1
Season's Disagreements: 34-30-2

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