And so we reach the final week of the 2011 NFL regular season. There is still a month of playoff action to go, but for 20 teams, their season ends today. With teams eliminated from playoff contention, and other teams limited in how much movement they have in playoff positioning, it makes for a tough weekend to pick games.
A perfect example of this is the Packers-Lions game. The Packers are hosting, but they have nothing to play for as they have the number one seed locked up and they lost their chance to finish undefeated. How much rest do the Packers starters get in this game? Will Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson play half the game? Less, more? This is a week to stay away from several games.
The 49ers and Raiders are both in the hunt for postseason possibilities. The 49ers locked up the NFC West title several weeks ago, but they are now working to wrap up the number two seed in the conference. A win over the Rams or a Saints loss to the Panthers will secure that. The Raiders are in a battle for both the AFC West and an AFC wild card spot. They need a win and some help from some combination of the Broncos, Bengals and/or Titans depending on how the rest falls out.
David - OAKLAND RAIDERS (-2.5) over San Diego Chargers: I'm actually quite tempted to take the Chargers in part because I am not sure I trust the Raiders sufficiently to not blow this game. The Chargers are only playing for pride, particularly with Norv Turner about to get the axe. However, the impending return of Jacoby Ford might be enough to get the Raiders over the hump. This will be a close one.
James - OAKLAND RAIDERS (-2.5) over San Diego Chargers: The Raiders still have hopes of their first playoff appearance since the Gruden Bowl, but first they need to beat the Chargers. Luckily for the Raiders, two key pieces should be back on the field for them in Michael Huff and Jacoby Ford. That boost along with the ramifications should help the Raiders beat the Chargers at home.
David - GREEN BAY PACKERS (-3.5) over Detroit Lions: The Packers have nothing to play for, which means they will likely rest some of their starters for some stretch of the game. This would have me leaning towards Detroit, but even a single half of Packers offense might very well be enough.
James - GREEN BAY PACKERS (-3.5) over Detroit Lions: If the line was much bigger, I would likely have chosen the Lions. The Packers have locked up the number one seed and home field advantage, so there is not a whole lot left to play for. However, most of the starters should get in the game, and none of those guys know how to do anything but bring it. That fact along with the fact that they are playing in Green Bay should mean a win over a pretty good Lions team.
David - San Francisco 49ers (-12) over ST. LOUIS RAMS: The 49ers are shorthanded on offense, but they should be sufficiently focused for this one to handle their business. That and the Rams are struggling mightily.
James - ST. LOUIS RAMS (+12) over San Francisco 49ers: Before the Niners fans get all upset by this pick, let me say its about the spread, not who is going to win. The Niners will win this game and get the number two seed, but it will not be an easy win. Sometimes the most dangerous team is one who is out of the playoff hunt but can do some damage to another team's playoff goals. The Rams will play hard and keep this to a one score game.
David - MIAMI DOLPHINS (-1.5) over New York Jets: The Jets need a W to have a shot at a playoff berth. I think given all their big talk, the Jets blow it.
James - New York Jets (+1.5) over MIAMI DOLPHINS: With the Jets looking at being eliminated from the playoffs, they will certainly put forth a strong performance in Miami on Sunday. No one on that team wants to be remembered as the team that talked about a Super Bowl, only to not make the playoffs. The Dolphins are certainly not the terrible team that started the season, but they wont be able to pull this one off.
David - MINNESOTA VIKINGS (even) over Chicago Bears: This is a fairly abysmal matchup, but I think the Vikings finish the season on a modest run. Even without Adrian Peterson, I think Toby Gerhart gets the job done for Minnesota.
James - Chicago Bears (even) over MINNESOTA VIKINGS: No Jay Cutler or Matt Forte should mean no win. But the Bears defense is still very good and the Vikings entire team is still very bad. This will be a close game, but I do not expect the Vikings to put up many points. Twelve points could easily win this game.
David - NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-12.5) over Buffalo Bills: The Patriots still needs to clinch the number one seed, and with a morning game, they will need to go all out. I have a feeling they will take the Bills behind the wood shed.
James - NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-12.5) over Buffalo Bills: Remember early in the season when this was a huge game? Not so much anymore. The Bills have all but fallen off of the map while the Patriots will once again finish the season as one of the best teams in the AFC. A two touchdown win for the Pats is not at all outlandish for this game.
David - Carolina Panthers (+9) over NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: The Saints are playing extremely well at home, and I do think they win this game. However, I also think the Panthers will close out the season with a strong performance. This is a tough one to call just because of how well the Saints are playing, but call it a hunch that Carolina hangs close in what could be one of the more entertaining games this season.
James - NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-9) over Carolina Panthers: The Saints at home may just be the best team in the league. Carolina is certainly on the up swing, but the Saints will be playing for a chance at the number two seed in the NFC and will be playing hard. This should be an easy win for the Saints.
David - PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-10) over Washington Redskins: I smell push on this line, but who really knows. This is one of several games with nothing on the line, so it is fairly hard to predict.
James - PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-10) over Washington Redskins: No playoffs for the dream team Eagles, but there is still pride left to play for. There is also next season. The Eagles have a promising future in front of them while the Redskins have a questionable one. When it comes down to it, the Eagles have a reason to play hard, the Redskins don't. That combined with the talent disparity and a two score win for the Eagles is highly likely.
David - JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (-3.5) over Indianapolis Colts: I was tempted by the suddenly hot Indianapolis Colts, but given that all of their success has come at home, I don't think they can swing this one.
James - JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (-3.5) over Indianapolis Colts: Bad football. Just bad football. It hurts to even write about this game. I'm taking Jacksonville primarily because they are at home, but also because the Colts are just a worse team than the terrible Jags. Bad football.
James - HOUSTON TEXANS (+2.5) over Tennessee Titans: This was a really hard game to call. Generally, I think the Texans are a better team, but its hard to put money on TJ Yates. He has played better than I thought he would have, but is still a third string quarterback. When it comes down to it, I think the Texans run game and superior defense will be able to pull out a win at home.
David - ATLANTA FALCONS (-13) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This will not be pretty. The Bucs are struggling and have more or less mailed it in.
James - ATLANTA FALCONS (-13) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Falcons are still butt hurt about Drew Brees breaking the record against them on MNF. I expect they will take out that pent up aggression on a weak Bucs team. Falcons win big heading into the playoffs.
David - BALTIMORE RAVENS (even) over Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are playing some solid football this season, and it is easy to consider them over a Ravens team that has laid some eggs on the road. But, I think the Ravens pull it out.
James - BALTIMORE RAVENS (even) over Cincinnati Bengals: This could be one of the best games of the weekend. The Bengals will be playing hard for a chance to get into the playoffs while the Ravens will be looking to take momentum into the post season. Both teams are good but have their flaws. In the end, I think the experience of the Ravens team will help them get a win to close out the season.
David - Pittsburgh Steelers (even) over CLEVELAND BROWNS: Charlie Batch to the rescue!
James - Pittsburgh Steelers (even) over CLEVELAND BROWNS: No Big Ben? No problem. The Browns are just a terrible team and will likely lose big time to the Steelers even if Charlie Batch starts at quarterback. Easy call here.
James - Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5) over DENVER BRONCOS: No, I did not pick this way because the Raiders need this to happen in order to win the AFC West. I picked this way because I think the Broncos are finally stumbling and I think the Chiefs are playing very hard for Romeo Crennel. This will be a defensive battle and I think that Kyle Orton playing with a chip on his shoulder will have the better performance of the two quarterbacks.
David - Seattle Seahawks (+1.5) over ARIZONA CARDINALS: Both teams lost last week, but the Seahawks a little bit more impressive in defeat. I'll stick with the hot Seahawks.
James - ARIZONA CARDINALS (-1.5) over Seattle Seahawks: It's the battle for .500. Both of these teams have come on strong late in the season and both teams look like they have a positive future ahead of them. In the end, I think Seattle's record is in large part due to its impressive home field advantage.
David - NEW YORK GIANTS (-2.5) over Dallas Cowboys: It wouldn't be the close of the season without the Cowboys blowing something. The Giants stunned the Cowboys in Arlington and I think they handle their business once again at the Meadowlands.
James - NEW YORK GIANTS (-2.5) over Dallas Cowboys: What a great way to end the season. Two heated rivals playing for everything on Sunday night. I think that the Giants are simply a better team with a better quarterback. I do not see the Cowboys being able to go to New York and pull this one out. That being said, it should be a great game that could come down to the very end.
Last Week: 7-9-0
Last Week: 10-6-0