Wednesday, December 24, 2008

NFL Picks, Week 17: Admitting You Have A Problem

The Week 17 picks are, perhaps, the hardest ones to write for the year. You get to do them in the midst of your Christmas routines, which is to say, when you barely have enough time to wipe, let alone think. Your money will be on teams with nothing to play for. The temptation to just take a knee and come out firing on Wild Card Weekend is strong.

But let's face it. People boo teams that just take a knee with money on the table, and they should. Play the game, not the clock.

I mean, so what if my 15 games over .500 record over 16 weeks just gets me a few hundred bucks from the sportsbook? It's the principle of the thing, the dream that my year's record will be something I can feel good about, along with the warm feeling you always get when you beat the odds and take the money home. So let's buckle the chinstrap, pay back the bastards that ruined us in head to head fantasy football leagues, and go to the FREE NFL Picks! (Lines provided by BetUs.com.)

New York at MINNESOTA (-6.5)

With last week's lucky but good overtime win over the Panthers, the G-Men clinched home field through the playoffs, and have little to play for this week. Some folks will think that Tom Coughlin will emulate last year's winning play against the Patriots by playing his starters, but I'm not one of them. Last year's team was an underdog that was in a historical situation of trying to knock off an undefeated team; this year's has everything it needs already, along with banged-up running backs that it will absolutely need to win in January.

Meanwhile, the Vikings, thanks to the Packers El Foldo on MNF (and what a fine year the brain trust in Wisconsin is having), are still at risk for losing the division and home field next week. At home, on a fast track, they'll get it done, provided Tavaris Jackson doesn't put it on the ground... and seeing how he's fairly nimble and the Giants won't care enough, that's not going to happen. Plus, any game where you might see David Carr is a game the G-Men aren't winning.

Vikings 27, Giants 17

Chicago at HOUSTON (-3.5)


Not sure why the home team is getting the favorite status here; you'd think that the Bears would be attracting more money, especially since they've got something to play for. The Texans also don't really create confidence after failing to take out the Raiders in Oakland last week. You can even make the Team Of Destiny talk happen for the Bears, since their season was saved on a chip-shot field goal block.

But what's tipping me to Houston is (a) the fact that the Bears have no one that can stay with Andre Johnson, which means the Texans will be at least 100 yards better on Sunday than they were last week against Nmandi Asomugha, (b) Kyle Orton suddenly looks like Kyle Orton again, (c) Matt Forte looks run down, and (d) home teams with the short MNF week are never a good idea the next week on the road. Even when they have something to play for.

Texans 27, Bears 20

Carolina at NEW ORLEANS (+3.5)


Will the #2 seed in the NFC really go into the post-season with back-to-back losses against a team with nothing to play for? Yes, if only because the Saints will be fired up to try to get Drew Brees his single-season passing yardage record. Also, it's high time that Jake Delhomme gave the world a crap game to scare money away from them. Also, the Saints are OK at running the ball in the red zone now that they've moved away from the big names (Reggie Bush, Deuce McCallister) and to the people who can actually do it (Pierre Thomas, Aaron Stecker).

A final aside: the Panthers have something to play for, but the NFC South home teams are 11-0 this year. So when this pick goes bad, as nearly all of my Panther picks do, you won't be surprised, right?

Saints 31, Panthers 24

St Louis at ATLANTA (-14.5)


A huge number to put down for a team that might not have too much to play for, but this Rams team is so close to the Quitting Line, they might not even line up for the second half. Expect Michael Turner to make his claim for the #1 RB in fantasy football after another 150 to 200 yard day here, and for the Falcons defense to reward Week 17 players with their waiver wire grabs. Heck, the Falcons might even wind up winning their division and the #2 seed. For a franchise that looked done for a decade from the Vick Debacle, it's beyond amazing.

The only chance the Rams have of covering this number is if Stephen Jackson cares and plays four quarters, which is to say, if he does something he didn't do in the entire year. The Rams lose their 10th straight with this one, which should cure the world of any inclination to hire Jim Haslett in a football-related capacity.

Falcons 31, Rams 10

KANSAS CITY (+3.5) at Cincinnati


This, in a nutshell, is why people hate fantasy football: the fact that an ungodly amount of money is going to be swayed by the likes of Tyler Thigpen and Cedric Benson. I like the road team to cover here, if only to continue the Ohio Misery. Also, the Bengals ran Benson 40 times last week, and that kind of workload kills good backs. What it does to a piece of crap like Benson won't be pretty to watch. (And yes, if you're betting this game hard, it's more Gambling Anonymous grist.)

Chiefs 24, Bengals 20

OAKLAND (+13.5) at Tampa Bay


Courage, gamblers. The Bucs have everything to play for. The Raiders are a terrible team with no functioning coach. The Bucs are in a good division; the Raiders, a terrible one. So why am I thinking the cover will happen? Well, the Bucs have been terrible against the run for weeks now, ever since Monte Kiffin told them that he wouldn't be back next year. Jeff Garcia never puts up a ton of points, and his best WR (Antonio Bryant) will go poof in this game against Asomugha. JeMarcus Russell has actually been tolerable for the past month, and Zach Miller is the best TE in the NFL that no one knows about. I'm not really expecting the upset here, but a cover is very possible.

Bucs 24, Raiders 17

Detroit at GREEN BAY (-9.5)


Independent of where you come out on the rooting side of a Winless Lions Season, the simple fact is that this Packers team is a *lot* better, and playing at home against a road dome team. Aaron Rodgers wants to make sure he has this job next year; the only loss of the year to the Lions is not the way to write the story of how 2008 really wasn't his fault. (And if you look at the 2007 13-3 Packers team, it's clear that they used up all of the 2008 team's luck. That, and it's cornerbacks. Someone needs to tell Al Harris about that fork in his ass.) Calvin Johnson being hurt doesn't help much, either.

Look for the Pack to get up early, probably on a Detroit turnover (the defense is quite good at scoring points, which makes their won-loss record even more inexplicable), and for the home team to feed Ryan Grant a lot in the second half. When it's all over, we'll finally be able to put away that Tampa '70s B-roll footage, too. Someone please find those guys and let them know that the media won't be plaguing them any more...

Packers 34, Lions 16

Tennessee at INDIANAPOLIS (+3.5)


Jim Sorgi! Vince Young! A bunch of running backs that normally return kicks! The payoff game for my cursed ownership of Anthony Gonzalez! Can you just smell the disappointment coming out of the NFL telecast booths that this game will mean squadouche, and that both coaches should play it accordingly?

Neither team can change their seeding in this; they can only get hurt and/or tip their hands for a possible second or third round matchup. So we should get a game that resembles August, and in that kind of contest, you're insane to put money down. Or to bet the road team. (The Colts also get the Chargers-Broncos survivor next week, so they're going to be very interested in making sure they're comfy in the hot tub on Sunday night.)

Colts 24, Titans 20

Cleveland at PITTSBURGH (-10.5)


I realize that every time I bet the Steelers and they lose, it's all my fault. But for heaven's sake, I like this number for the home team just on defense. Cleveland just went scoreless against the Bengals, for heaven's sake. And they are starting Bruce Gradkowski. On the road. The over-under in this game should be for the defensive team's points.

If you were Romeo Crennel, would you even show up for this game? You could get the jump on the airport traffic, and have the same impact on the contest, by just putting up a cardboard cutout and having some assistant move it with the line of scrimmage? You'd be warmer.

Steelers 31, Browns 6

NEW ENGLAND (-6.5) at Buffalo


Oh, the puling. You think Patriots Fan has been insufferable, folks? Just wait until his precious little 11-win team that played a kitten-soft schedule doesn't get their ticket punched for the postseason. I'd normally feel some sympathy, given their injury woes and the simple fact that more Chargers/Broncos football is really not good for anyone... but frankly, Pats Fans, your tears are SO YUMMY. (And this game will be closer than anticipated, just because after last week's "contest" against Arizona, they'll need some adjustment time for playing a team that cares a little. Fred Jackson also wants this job next year.)

Patriots 27, Bills 20

Seattle at Arizona (-6.5)


Crappy Redemption Time for the Cardinals, who want to avoid the monicker of Worst Team Ever to Host A Playoff Game. They get the Seahawks, who won their going-away game for Walrus Holmgren in the home snow against the reeling Jets. This week, the Cardinals will "muscle" up and Holmgren will lay down. The Cards will be up enough to bench their "stars" late, just to put the final dagger in the back of fantasy football owners. I'm angry just thinking about it.

Cardinals 31, Seahawks 20

Washington at SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5)


Two teams with nothing to play for, one team with a coach that will be there next year. The 'Skins come off a satisfying spoiler win against the Eagles at home, while the Niners pulled out a late win in St. Louis. So long as Shaun Hill doesn't turn the ball over, I like the home team to win a game that history will little note, nor long remember.

Niners 24, Redskins 13

MIAMI (+2.5) at New York


Oh, J-E-T-S- JETS JETS JETS Fan. The Favre Era hasn't gone well for you, has it? And to think, no one could have seen this coming, that a 40-year-old turnover machine with a terrible recent playoff record might (a) fade down the stretch, (b) annoy you with retirement talk, and (c) get recognition that he doesn't deserve (a Pro Bowl berth, when he should have lost his job).

The Dolphins have some issues here; they are a warm-weather team on the road, and they have less talent than the high-salaried home team. But they also have the better QB in Prodigal Son Chad Pennington, who will manage the game, hand off to their talented running backs, not make the killer mistake and win the game. The bitterness from J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS Fan should be something to see, and the booing will be legendary.

Dolphins 24, Jets 20

Dallas at PHILADELPHIA (-1.5)


So here's how this works. Since this is the 4:15 game, the teams will know if the game means anything, depending on the outcome of Bears-Texans and Raiders-Bucs. However, this won't matter at all to the outcome of the game, because it's that kind of game; hell, I expect the Eagles to be *better* if the game is meaningless, since that's the kind of perfect Screw Your Draft and Keep Your Cancerous Coach outcome.

Besides, it's a pressure situation, and I think we've proven what Tony Romo does in that kind of situation. (And with Marion Barber and Jason Witten still banged up, the Eagles defense will be much better than last time, and it'll be cold and nasty to keep the points down.)

Oh, and here's a fun fact: 1996 was the last year in which Dallas had a winning record in December. From hell's heart, I stab at thee, Cowboy Fan.

Eagles 24, Cowboys 20

Jacksonville at BALTIMORE (-12.5)


A lot of points to lay on a home team with a rookie QB, but the Jaguars are without top corner Rasheed Mathis, and the Ravens need the game for the playoffs. Baltimore might be a bit of a paper tiger, with an 0-5 record against playoff teams... but the Jags aren't a playoff team, and the Ravens are. Look for 200+ yards rushing and a defensive score, as David Garrard's season of misery finally ends.

Ravens 24, Jaguars 10

Denver at SAN DIEGO (-8.5)


The final game of the season is a play-in game for the right to host the Colts, and the Chargers will win this one easily, just to suck in a lot of money on people thinking they are (finally) on a roll.

If you are tempted to take the Broncos just because the Chargers are that kind of awful tease, consider this: Tatum Bell is the last healthy Denver running back. Don't expect much.

In a shootout (because Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal will produce), look for Jay Cutler to turn the ball over more, and for LaDanian Tomlinson to make tens of millions of fantasy football owners curse bitterly as he finally has a breakout game in 2008.

Chargers 34, Broncos 24

Last week: 9-7

Year to date: 122-107-7

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