Jazz: Here we are, old friends, arriving at the final week of the regular season and it’s a nail biter all the way around. Last week was a heady mix of upsets which actually took me mentally away from the rather difficult circumstances I was dealing with and had me screaming until I was hoarse. In one of the more unlikely confluences of NFL events imaginable, the Jets rallied to beat the Patriots and the Ravens somehow defeated the Steelers, leaving New York’s fate in their own hands for a wild card slot in the AFC. Also, though I’m not entirely sure how it happened, I went 4-3 with my picks, taking me into the final regular season week with a record of 56-55, going above .500 for the first time all year. Let that be a lesson, kids. Santa Claus is real.
Ed: Santa Claus may be real, but my week was more like a visit from Krampus. The Steelers booted a game they should have won, and Kansas City and the J-E-T-S pretty much removed all of their other options. Now Pittsburgh has to win and get help, and I went 3-4 to take my season record to 75/37. About the only positive is that I managed to hoodwink Jazz into taking over the NFL threads again. Score.
Jazz: As I mentioned above, the fate of the Jets is in their own hands, but they’re not out of the woods yet. They still probably need to beat the Buffalo Bills (1:00 pm, CBS) who they already dropped one to earlier this season. If the Jets win or tie they are in. If the Steelers lose or tie, the Jets are in. But if the Jets lose and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh goes to the dance and the Jets watch it all on TV. Plus, they’re playing on the road, up on the shores of Lake Erie where the winds will be howling and the temperatures below freezing. But our new coach has had his eye on the prize and has most of the starters healthy. I’ll walk with my Jets toward one last victory, 26-13. The Steelers have a somewhat easier time of it, visiting the essentially hapless Cleveland Browns (1:00 pm, CBS) and they come in as an eleven point favorite. While I’d love to see the Browns man up to give the Jets a safety margin, if New York can’t beat the Bills when the chips are down they don’t deserve a shot. I’ll take the Steelers this week 32-12 in a romp. The Vikings travel to visit divisional rivals the Green Bay Packers (8:30 pm, NBC) and all the chips are on the table out there. Both teams are 10-5 going into the final battle for the NFC North Championship. The Pack is a 3 point favorite at home at Lambeau Field in January. That description alone should be enough to tell you that Green Bay will win, but it’s been a (late) season of miracles and I’m going to tip over the apple cart entirely, taking the Vikings to win this one in a frozen, close grudge match, 27-24 and punch their ticket to the post-season.
Ed: Well, Pittsburgh should be able to handle Cleveland on the road, but they should have handled the Ravens in Baltimore, too. Still, the Steelers should recover well enough from the embarrassment to beat the Browns, 33-17. That leaves us with the Bills hosting the J-E-T-S, who really have been playing well this season. I’ll go with the Bills at home to win 24-23 in a nailbiter. The Vikings hit the road to play the Pack for all the marbles in the NFC North, and this should be one heck of a game. Both are headed for the playoffs, but the winner gets a home game in the playoffs. They are pretty evenly matched, which means it comes down to two intangibles: home field and momentum. The Vikes are 3-2 since losing to the Pack at home, and the Pack is 3-2 as well, against arguably weaker teams. That leaves home field, so I’ll take the Pack 27-24, perhaps in OT.
Jazz: Four more games with mostly playoff implications to drag ourselves across the line one last time.
- Chargers at Broncos (4:25 pm, CBS) – Denver can clinch the AFC West with a win or a tie here, OR if Kansas City loses or ties. The Broncos are a nine point favorite, and even though the Chargers have a history of being spoilers when they need to, it won’t happen this week. Broncos take it 24-14.
- Ravens at Bengals (1:00 pm, FOX) – Cincinnati is trying to lock down a first round bye, which they can land with a win and Denver losing or tying, OR a tie with Denver losing OR they could even do it with a loss if both Denver loses AND the Chiefs win. Both of these quarterbacks have question marks over their heads at the moment, but Cincinnati just has too many other tools to draw on. Bengals win this one 27-20.
- Raiders at Chiefs (4:25 pm, FOX) – If Kansas City wins this one AND Denver loses, they’ll clinch the AFC West. The Chiefs are a 7 point favorite, but Oakland has just spoiled too many dreams for a lot of folks this year. I’m taking this as my big upset pick and giving it to the Raiders 21-17.
- Titans at Colts (1:00 pm, CBS) – Indianapolis is looking to clinch the AFC South today. There are some weird tiebreaker situations where they could do it if they tie, but mostly they need a win AND a Texans loss. The Titans have been allowing a LOT of points per game for the last month and not looking very good, but the Colts simply don’t have the muscle to take advantage of that defense this week. Titans win it 24-17.
- Chargers at Broncos (4:25 pm, CBS) – It’s a good rivalry and Brock Osweiler is no Peyton Manning, but he’s not bad either. Denver won a gut-check game against Cincinnati last week, so they should be able to handle the Chargers at home, 27-20.
- Ravens at Bengals (1:00 pm, FOX) – Baltimore knocked off the Steelers at home last week, but the Bengals will be ready at home. Cincinnati 33-20 over Baltimore.
- Raiders at Chiefs (4:25 pm, FOX) – The Chiefs made it into the playoffs with their win last week, but they could win their division if they beat the Raiders and the Broncos lose. KC will keep up their end of the potential deal by beating Oakland 26-20.
- Titans at Colts (1:00 pm, CBS) – The Colts don’t have anything to win, but they’ll beat the hapless Titans nonetheless, 28-17.