Saturday, December 23, 2006

NFL Picks: Week 16

It's crunch time in the NFL, and I honestly can't remember the last time there were this many teams with a legitimate chance of making the playoffs this late in the season.

In the NFC, three teams (Chicago, New Orleans, and Dallas) have clinched playoff spots and four (Washington, Arizona, Tampa Bay, and Detroit) have been eliminated. One more, the Seattle Seahawks, would really have to screw things up to not win the NFC West and Minnesota would require an inordinate amount of help to squeak in at 7-9 (which would be hilarious).

The AFC is every bit as much of a clusterfuck as its weaker counterpart, with three teams having clinched divisions (San Diego, Indianapolis, Baltimore), a fourth firmly in the driver's seat (New England), and four teams completely out of it (Miami, Houston, Cleveland, and Oakland).

With just two weeks left in the season, that's fifteen teams whose playoff hopes are still completely up in the air. This, folks, is what the NFL means by parity. One of those teams is my Steelers, who at 7-7 currently face two must-win games of their own, plus require any number of scenarios involving other teams winning and/or losing in order to sneak into January. It's a little more nerve-wracking than I would have preferred, but it makes doing weekly picks so much easier - I'm able to make picks strictly on how the outcome of the game affects the Steelers' chances.

Let's begin. Once again, these picks are all against the spread.

Minnesota Vikings 7 @ Green Bay Packers 9 (-3.5), 8 p.m., Thursday
I missed the boat on this one, but on Pigskin I actually did pick the Vikings to both cover and win. Since the pool I'm in only counts record versus the spread, I started off the weekend 1-0. Not that this game matters at all. Minnesota could still make the playoffs if they beat the Rams next week and a bunch of other teams lose, mainly because their conference record is still 6-5. A sub-.500 team in the playoffs would be mind-blowing.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders (+3.5), 8 p.m., Saturday
The Chiefs only get three and a half against the Raiders? Yikes. Impact on the Steelers: It's actually very good if the Chiefs win out because the Steelers own a head-to-head tiebreaker against them, and if both K.C. and Denver finish 9-7, the Chiefs would do us the favor of knocking Denver out based on a better division record because in any case where more than two teams are tied, division ties are always broken first. The NFL tiebreaker rules are great in that regard.
Kansas City.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5), 1 p.m.
I'm not entirely sure why the Steelers would be favored in this game, but I'll take them and the points. I originally thought about banking on a three-point win for the Steelers and thus picking Baltimore, but that's just so full of bad karma and I didn't feel like toying with fate. I don't have a good feeling about this game at all, but I do think if the offense just goes to max protect and gets some screen passes and little dumps over the middle to Heath Miller going, picking up 5-7 yards on first and second down, getting into managable third down situations, then they'll have a chance. Baltimore's offense did nothing remarkable in the first game, but you're going to score points if your defense only lets the other team have the ball for like 12 minutes. The Steelers need to avoid falling into that trap again.

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons (-6.5), 1 p.m.
I don't really care who wins this game, but the Panthers have looked so woeful recently and Jake Delhomme is still out, leaving the game (and the Panthers' playoff hopes) in the hands of Chris Weinke and his 16-game losing streak. I gotta take the Falcons, who, by winning, would set up a neat showdown in Week 17 in Philadelphia.

Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions (+4.5), 1 p.m.
Another unusually small spread, but that's probably just because Chicago's already clinched everything possible. Doesn't matter, I think I'd take the Bears practice squad over the Lions at this point.

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans (+9.5), 1 p.m.
The Colts get a huge boost in their quest for home field advantage and/or a first-round bye against the Texans, who have never beaten Indy in the existence of the franchise. The Colts deserve a break, though, for knocking off the Bengals for us last Monday night.

New England Patriots @ Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5), 1 p.m.
This is where it gets good. This is one of the most pivotal games in the last two weeks for the Steelers, as pretty much the only thing that can't happen in the AFC is the Jaguars to win out. The Pats' rag-tag secondary in which Chad Scott plays safety against David Garrard coming off one of the best Tommy Maddox impressions we've ever seen, losing to the Titans almost single-handedly by throwing four picks, two of which were brought to the house. It's so bizarre having to root for Tom Brady to do well.
New England.

New Orleans Saints @ New York Giants (-2.5), 1 p.m.
It's the first play of the fourth quarter in the 2004 AFC Championship game. Ben Roethlisberger's scattershot throwing has put the Steelers in a pretty big hole (kind of like the whole 2006 season), but he's marched them inside the Patriots 5-yard line with a chance to make it a 7-point game. On third down, Ben throws a perfect fade to Plaxico Burress, who at 6'5" has easily boxed out the 5'11" Randall Gay. All Plex has to do is reach up and catch the ball. Except he realized that there was a defender within ten yards of him and allowed the ball to clank uselessly off his hands before curling into a fetal position in the corner of the end zone. After picking the Giants all year based on the immense amount of talented players on their roster and getting frustrated time and time again, it's occurred to me that I don't even like the Giants. Enough is enough.
New Orleans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Cleveland Browns (-3.5), 1 p.m.
Is there even any reason this game is being played? Seriously, the teams could just go and have a huge pow-wow at midfield and I doubt anyone would even notice.

Tennessee Titans @ Buffalo Bills (-4.5), 1 p.m.
Very intriguing. One team will win and keep its playoff hopes alive, and the other will lose and be eliminated. Similar to the Chiefs, the Steelers would own any tiebreaker against the Titans, except it would go all the way down to common games. Thus, having the Titans at 9-7 would be a huge asset in the event that the Jags finish 9-7, too - the Titans have a better divisional record, and that would render Jacksonville's head-to-head win over the Steelers moot.

Washington Redskins @ St. Louis Rams (-1.5)
, 1 p.m.
Uh. Go Marc Bulger!
St. Louis.

Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)
, 4 p.m.
This is hard because I like rooting for the Larry Factor, but there's an off chance that the Steelers may need the 49ers to knock off the Broncos next Sunday at Invesco, and I have to say I like the chances of that happening much more of the 49ers are still in the playoff hunt and playing a win-or-go-home game.
San Francisco.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Denver Broncos (-3.5), 4:15 p.m.
This game is pretty huge in terms of affecting the Steelers. Hopefully, it'll still matter by the time this one gets kicked off, but if it does, at least the Steelers won't be eliminated solely based on what happens in this game. That said, if the Bengals win, there'd be no Steelers could surpass them, whereas if the Broncos win, they could still finish 9-7 and if the Chiefs finish 9-7, the Steelers would advance out of the three because of the aforementioned division-first tiebreaking rules. Let's go, Broncos, and knock Carson Palmer around while you're at it.

San Diego Chargers @ Seattle Seahawks (+3.5), 4:15 p.m.
It's pretty fucking stupid that Shawne Merriman is going to the Pro Bowl and I haven't seen a single national media guy complain about the fact that he was caught, y'know, CHEATING like three months ago. In baseball, most of the guys who get dragged over the coals for performance enhancing drugs haven't even actually been proven to be cheating, as obvious as it may be and yet there's a huge deal made every time someone says Mark McGwire's name. All cheating is wrong, regardless of what sport, and Shawne Merriman should be under the same scrutiny as Barry Bonds, especially since he actually tested positive for steroids. That little rant over with, I'd just as soon see Seattle lose since it would give the 49ers even more hope and maybe would cause them to play just that much harder against the Broncos in week 17.
San Diego.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys (-6.5), 5 p.m., Monday
This should be a really fun one to watch, especially since it is one of the few games that has no bearing whatsoever on the Steelers' playoff hopes. I'm going with the Eagles, mainly because no one likes the Cowboys and no one likes Terrell Owens, and I want the rampant Tony Romo manlove to go away.

New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins (-2.5)
, 8:30 p.m., Monday
This game, if any, is probably the biggest one of the weekend for the Steelers. The Jets could conceivably win out, but so much else would have to go right for the Steelers to make it if that happens. If the Jets split their last two, in Miami and at home against the Raiders, they'd finish 9-7 and would lose a tiebreaker against the Steelers thanks to those pesky common games. Given that the Jets almost certainly won't lose at home to Oakland, if they're going to lose a game it's going to have to be this one.

Anthony Smith and the Steelers certainly won't be high-stepping
their way into the playoffs, but with a little luck they could be tiptoeing in.


Andy said...

your blogs in this blog suck. i read the first two sentences and instantly became bored with it.

Kim Leslie said...

Well, I disagree with Andy. I think you've got a great take on the status of our current NFL woes, exuberations and conundrums. Sorry about your Steelers. I really expected to see them AT LEAST get into the playoffs. But how 'bout those Titans? It would be the Cinderella story of the season to see them playoff bound. Hell, if they go all the way, it's a blockbuster movie. I see George Clooney playing Jeff Fisher.

Will said...

Don't mind Andy, he's my mentally challenged half-brother from Cleveland. The family is extra nice to him but he still feels the need to vent his feelings aggressively from time to time.

I could live with the Titans as champs as long as they pound the Ravens along the way. Chris would highly disagree with this sentiment though.