Ed: After 16 weeks, I finally start shouldering some of the work here in these NFL threads. It comes at a good time, after ringing up another 7-0 week to run my season record to 72-33. It figures that as soon as I leave Las Vegas, I’d get the magic touch back. Oh well …
Jazz: My third straight 5-2 week finally gets me to .500 on the season at 52-52. Obviously I’ve long since given up on catching Ed… at this point I just don’t want Trump to call me a loser, so I need to keep my head above water.
Ed: This week will set the table for next week’s final showdowns for the few remaining playoff spots left, and fortunately our spotlight teams are all in the hunt. The Pittsburgh Steelers control one of the two AFC wild-card slots, and come into Baltimore (1 pm ET, CBS) with the need to win to keep control. The Ravens are 10-point underdogs and are only 2-5 at home this season. The rivalry will get their blood pumping, but the Steelers’ O is on fire, and Baltimore has to go with a backup QB against a tough D. Steelers 35-17 over the Ravens. The Giants come to Minneapolis to face the Vikings (8:30 pm ET) without Odell Beckham, Jr, and without much hope of beating the Vikes at home. Minnesota keeps their playoff hopes alive with a 27-20 win in a good game. The Patriots need to keep winning to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Jets have to win and hope the Steelers lose for the wild-card slot. The Pats will come with everything they have today (1 pm, CBS), and that will be too much for the scrappy but inconsistent Jets … even though almost everyone would like to see them win, including me. Pats 31-23 over the Jets.
Jazz: Sadly, our spotlight teams are probably going to sink me below .500 again given the heated battles on the line. The Pittsburgh game should be a no brainer and I’m going to take the Steelers in a rather lopsided win 27-12 while hoping against hope that the Ravens somehow pull it out to give the Jets a glimmer of hope. As Ed already noted, the Giants lost Beckham after his outrageous outbursts of unsportsmanlike behavior last week. But the Giants are built of tougher stuff and can absorb the loss of one (generally outstanding) player. I’ll go against the curve and pick New York to pull it out, knocking Minnesota out of the hunt with a 30-17 win. Returning to the aforementioned glimmer, my Jets have come back with a string of wins (some ugly, some definitive) and demonstrated that they are one of the best teams the AFC has to offer on both offense and defense. Sadly, we still don’t have a special teams unit, and you can’t afford to leave a glaring opportunity such as that for a team like the Patriots. My heart is sinking, but I can’t go against my team so I’ll hope for a miracle and take the Jets in a 31-26 thriller.
Ed: Let’s take a look four other games with playoff implications:
- Packers at Cardinals (4:25 pm, Fox) – The Cards have clinched their division, but the Packers are still trying to hold off the Vikings in theirs. Two losses and two Vikings wins could put the Packers in danger of missing the playoffs. Arizona scores 7 more points a game and gives up 0.3 points less a game than the Pack, BUT Arizona may want to rest starters after clinching and having next to no chance to beat the Panthers for the top seed. The Pack will get an upset on the road, 33-27.
- Texans at Titans (1 pm, CBS) – Believe it or not, the Texans are in control of their own destiny — even at 7-7. They lead their division, but have to win out to keep Indy out of the playoffs. The Titans have only won one home game this year, and they won’t improve on that today. Houston 27-17 over Tennessee.
- Browns at Chiefs (1 pm, CBS) – The AFC wildcard will come down to the wire, with the Steelers, Jets, and Chiefs all vying for the slot. Kansas City can also still win the AFC West by winning two and having the Broncos lose one as KC owns the division-record tiebreaker. While I’d love to see the Chiefs stumble here, I’d guess that they won’t have much trouble with the Browns. Chiefs 31-20 over Cleveland.
- Bengals at Broncos (8:30 pm Monday, ESPN) – Cincinnati has not quite clinched the AFC North; they have to win one more game or have the Steelers lose to do so. They face a tough challenge in Denver, which hasn’t even yet clinched a playoff spot, let alone the AFC West crown. The Broncos have lost two in a row with Brock Osweiler, including a blown lead in Pittsburgh last week and the inability to convert a gift interception late in the game. The Bengals D gives up the least number of points in the league, although Denver’s D is 4th in that respect, too. Cincinnati scores five points more a game than Denver does, however, and they are hotter than the Broncos. It pains me to make this call, but Cincinnati over Denver 24-17. And hello to all the folks at Price Hill Chili.
- Packers at Cardinals (4:25, Fox) – The whole question in this game is how badly the Cardinals want to win a game which will likely have little to no implications for their position in the playoffs. The cautious play is to lay low, but that doesn’t seem in the character of Bruce Arians. I think Arizona comes out and plays for all the marbles and beats Green Bay for the home crowd 34-17.
- Texans at Titans (1 pm, CBS) – The Titans have had a run of hard luck and that’s going to keep playing out today. Houston stays on a roll and takes this one in a low scoring struggle 17-10.
- Browns at Chiefs (1 pm, CBS) –This is yet another game which could have had AFC wildcard implications and still theoretically could. Previously, the Broncos should have taken that division and Kansas City would be in the mix with the Steelers and the Jets, but now they may just win their division. I would still dearly love to see the Chiefs drop one to Cleveland to potentially make life easier for the Jets but I don’t see it happening. Kansas City wins 31-27.
- Bengals at Broncos (8:30 pm Monday, ESPN) –Much like Ed, I’d probably rather see the Broncos win this one, but the number simply don’t add up. The Bengals are both talented and motivated and they’ll bring home another W with a strong performance, 30-13.