Friday, December 26, 2014

The Hail Mary - Week 17

Sunday, December 28

New York Jets (3-12) at Miami (8-7), Miami favored by 5 1/2

For the Jets, this should be the final game of the Rex Ryan era. It started off with a bang, producing back to back AFC Championship trips but Ryan has missed the playoffs four straight seasons since. Many Dolphins fans think this should be the end of the Joe Philbin era after missing the playoffs for a third straight year. However, Stephen Ross announced after last week's win that Philbin will be back next season.

Prediction: Miami 27, New York Jets 20

Chicago (5-10) at Minnesota (6-9), Minnesota favored by 6 1/2

This could be Marc Trestman's final game as Bears coach, as the Bears complete a bitterly disappointing season. Jay Cutler will return as the starter after sitting a game, as Jimmy Clausen is out with a concussion. The Vikings have some hope going forward thanks to some recently improved play from rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The big question hanging over them this off-season is what happens with Adrian Peterson.

Prediction: Minnesota 31, Chicago 17

Philadelphia (9-6) at New York Giants (6-9), New York Giants favored by 3

A three game losing streak has killed the Eagles season as they were eliminated from playoff contention last weekend. The biggest issues to address in the off-season appear to be the secondary and possibly the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez is a free agent, and Nick Foles was turnover prone during his time as the starter. This could be the end of an era for the Giants, as speculation runs wild that this will be Tom Coughlin's final game as coach.

Prediction: Philadelphia 26, New York Giants 23

Dallas (11-4) at Washington (4-11), Dallas favored by 7

The Cowboys have a slight chance at earning a first round bye and homefield advantage but have already wrapped up a playoff spot and the NFC East. This game will mostly be about keeping everyone healthy, especially RB DeMarco Murray who is recovering from surgery on a broken hand. The latest talk out of Washington is that Jay Gruden and Robert Griffin III will both be back next season to try to improve on this year's disastrous campaign.

Prediction: Dallas 28, Washington 22

Cleveland (7-8) at Baltimore (9-6), Baltimore favored by 9

Finally, a game with some playoff implications! The Ravens are currently seventh in the AFC and need a victory, plus a Chargers loss to avoid missing the playoffs for a second straight season. They should be able to handle their business pretty easily against a Browns team that has lost four in a row and may be forced to start Connor Shaw in this game.

Prediction: Baltimore 27, Cleveland 10

Indianapolis (10-5) at Tennessee (2-13), Indianapolis favored by 6 1/2

The only question surrounding this game is how much time, if any, Chuck Pagano will have his starters play. The Colts are locked in as the fourth seed, but a lot of questions are being asked about just how good they actually are. Getting obliterated by Dallas last week didn't help their case, so maybe Pagano will play his starters a bit to get that bad taste out of their mouths.

Prediction: Indianapolis 20, Tennessee 17

Jacksonville (3-12) at Houston (8-7), Houston favored by 9 1/2

A year after winning just 2 games, the Texans are battling for a playoff spot on the final week of the season. Bill O'Brien should get some serious Coach of the Year consideration, especially since he is on his third starting quarterback this season. Houston has to win and hope for losses by San Diego and Baltimore in order to make the playoffs. Even if Houston misses out on the playoffs, a winning season would be quite an accomplishment after last year's debacle.

Prediction: Houston 25, Jacksonville 14

San Diego (9-6) at Kansas City (8-7), Kansas City favored by 2 1/2

Massive playoff implications rest on this game. For the Chargers, it is simple, win and they are in. For the Chiefs, they have to win and hope the Browns and Jags can upset the Ravens and Texans. The Chiefs hopes appear to be slim so the other thing to watch for in this game is if Alex Smith can manage to throw a touchdown pass to a receiver, something the Chiefs haven't done all season. The Chargers playoff hopes have stayed alive thanks to two come from behind wins on the road against the Harbaugh brothers. It will take another tough road victory to get them into the playoffs. Myself and the rest of the pundits of the NFL are quickly learning not to bet against Philip Rivers.

Prediction: San Diego 34, Kansas City 30

Buffalo (8-7) at New England (12-3), New England favored by 10

Nothing at stake in this game, other than the Bills looking to secure their first winning season since 2004. The Patriots have already clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs so I would be surprised if Tom Brady plays more than a series or at all in this game.

Prediction: New England 19, Buffalo 16

New Orleans (6-9) at Tampa Bay (2-13), New Orleans favored by 4

A highly disappointing season for the Saints concludes in Tampa on Sunday. New Orleans went from not being able to win on the road, to not being able to win at home. They dropped five straight home games to end the season and are currently on a three game road winning streak. The Bucs will clinch the first pick in the 2015 draft if they lose this game. You have to think that quarterback will be at the top of their wish list.

Prediction: New Orleans 28, Tampa Bay 14

Arizona (11-4) at San Francisco (7-8), San Francisco favored by 6

A bitterly disappointing season finally ends for the 49ers on Sunday. It will also be the end of the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco. Three NFC Championship appearances and a Super Bowl appearance is the legacy that Harbaugh will leave behind. Apparently, he has become the modern day Bill Parcells. Someone that will quickly turn around a team but wear out his welcome just as fast. I think you have to find a way to make it work with a coach as talented as Harbaugh but GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York don't seem to agree. The 49ers have a ton of free agents and will look vastly different next season. The offense will hopefully be led by a new coordinator and Colin Kaepernick will really have to prove himself in 2015 after a very disappointing 2014 campaign. The Cardinals loss to Seattle saw them fall from the number one seed to the number six seed. They were going to start Logan Thomas for this game but coach Bruce Arians has changed his mind and will once again give Ryan Lindley the nod. The 49ers are coming off an embarrassing loss at home to the Chargers, blowing a 21-0 lead. I have to think the players have some pride left and can beat a Lindley led Cardinals team at home.

Prediction: San Francisco 15, Arizona 12

Carolina (6-8-1) at Atlanta (6-9), Atlanta favored by 4

The battle for the short bus division culminates in Atlanta! The winner of this game will become the second team ever to win a division with a losing record. However, they will be in the playoffs and will get to host a Wild Card game. The Falcons are expecting to be without RB Steven Jackson for this game, but back up Devonta Freeman has shown he can make plays when given the chance. The Falcons also will have Julio Jones for this one, as Jones made his return last week after a one week absence and was instrumental in helping the Falcons knock off the Saints. The Panthers recent three game winning streak has been because of improved defensive play, as well as Jonathan Stewart running wild. Cam Newton came back from his car accident last week, playing well enough to lead Carolina to a win. The Falcons have lost four of their past five games at home, but I still like them to take the division because of the homefield advantage they will have against Carolina. They already knocked off the Panthers in Carolina, and I believe that Matt Ryan will have a strong game passing, with Roddy White and Jones being the key to the victory.

Prediction: Atlanta 29, Carolina 23

Detroit (11-4) at Green Bay (11-4), Green Bay favored by 7 1/2

The NFC North and a first round playoff bye are on the line in Lambeau. The Lions have been hearing all week about how they haven't won at Green Bay since 1991. The Lions dominated Green Bay when these teams met in Detroit earlier this season, and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had one of his worst games of the season. History gives the Lions no chance in this game, and they will have no shot if their offense continues to struggle on the road as they have all season long. Lions QB Matthew Stafford has had an underwhelming season and this Lions team has mostly been carried by its defense, which is 13th against the pass but best in the NFL against the run. That means that Rodgers should be able to get the passing game going, but Eddie Lacey's impact remains to be seen. The Packers are averaging 41 points a game at home this season, and it just seems like way too tall of a task to ask the Lions to win at Green Bay.

Prediction: Green Bay 38, Detroit 24

Oakland (3-12) at Denver (11-4), Denver favored by 14 1/2

The Broncos need a win to clinch a first round bye. Peyton Manning could use a good performance after his four interception dud at Cincinnati last Monday night. Manning has just 5 TDs and 6 INTs in his last four games. People are starting to question if age is finally catching up to Manning. All of this speculation seems a little silly, quarterbacks go through tough streaks at times. Plus, if Manning fails in the playoffs, how will that be different than every other year but one in his career?

Prediction: Denver 35, Oakland 13

St. Louis (6-9) at Seattle (11-4), Seattle favored by 13

A win gives the Seahawks the NFC West title and homefield advantage in the NFC for a second straight season. The Seahawks have gotten their mojo back after a 6-4 start that had many stating they must have been suffering from a Super Bowl hangover. As for the Rams, it will be another January at home for Jeff Fisher and company. I haven't heard much chatter about Fisher being on the hot seat but you have to think ownership is growing restless with winning 6 and 7 games each season. All I hear about is how the Rams crushed the Redskins in the RG3 trade but how exactly? They got a ton of players but they haven't even been to the playoffs.

Prediction: Seattle 25, St. Louis 17

Cincinnati (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh (10-5), Pittsburgh favored by 3 1/2

Both teams have secured playoff spots but the AFC North is on the line in the final game of the regular season. The Bengals will be looking for revenge for a loss to the Steelers at home a few weeks ago, when the defense collapsed in the fourth quarter. The Bengals are feeling good about themselves after a strong performance on Monday night against the Broncos. They had been dealing with talk of poor performances in prime time, so this quieted that down, at least for now. The next hurdle they will have to climb is trying to win in the playoffs. It would seemingly be an easier feat to accomplish if they get a home playoff game, as opposed to having to go on the road. The Bengals feel more hopeful this year because of two headed monster they have at running back with Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard.  The Steelers have quite the potent offense themselves, between Ben Roethlibserger to Antonio Brown, and Le'Veon Bell running the ball so well. I am just not sure how much the Bengals will have left in the tank after Monday's battle with Denver.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 33, Cincinnati 21

Last Week Against the Spread: 7-8-1
Overall Against the Spread: 120-116-3

Last Week Straight Up: 7-9
Overall Straight Up: 165-76-1

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