The Jags-Texans game actually turned out to be fairly entertaining, including a return by Matt Schaub (and a return by the Matt Schaub interception fairy). But it was not especially important, unless you’re already looking forward to the draft. Fortunately we do have a number of important games left this weekend, which we’ll move through as we do the predictions.
The first one on my list is Bengals-Colts. These two are tied right now but the Colts have the advantage thanks to conference record (per ESPN). Whoever wins not only goes up a game, potentially tying the Patriots, but also gets the tiebreaker over the other. The Bengals are solid favorites, putting them in a good spot to get the 3 seed (if not eventually the 2) and avoid the Chiefs in the first round.
Next is Saints-Panthers, which should not only be a good game but is also part 1 of the two-part series that will probably decide who gets the 2 seed in the NFC. This one is in New Orleans, so the edge goes to the Saints, but I think it should be close. The winner will put strong pressure on the other team to win in Carolina in a couple weeks.
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Eagles-Lions puts two division titles on the line when it’s unlikely that anyone else in those divisions will make the playoffs. The Lions have enough tiebreakers on the Bears and Packers that they should get in even if they lose this game, but why risk it? As for the Eagles, they absolutely need to stay ahead of or even with Dallas since they’ve already lost to the Cowboys once and have to travel to Dallas in week 17.
Pittsburgh-Miami matches two teams still trying to get into the playoffs. Miami lost to Baltimore earlier in the season and so needs wins to stay ahead and try to make the tiebreaker irrelevant. The Steelers are a game behind each of them and need to catch up to try to sneak in. Either team will be an underdog in the wild card round against the Colts/Bengals/Pats, but it’s probably better than not going at all.
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49ers-Seahawks should be a good game and also determines how early Seattle will get to start resting players and how confident we are that San Fran will make the playoffs. As best I can tell, Seattle has the tiebreaker over both New Orleans and Carolina, so a Seattle win basically gives them the 1 seed. The 49ers are only a game ahead of Arizona and have to travel there in week 17, so they don’t have a big margin of error. The 49ers are a small favorite, but Seattle has looked really good. I would be a little surprised, but not shocked, to see the Seahawks romp.
Finally on Monday night we have Chicago and Dallas in something of an eliminator game. If the Lions lose to Philly the Bears will not be out of it, but they shouldn’t count on anything either way. Dallas is in a similar boat as the Eagles, in that they can’t afford to fall behind at all since only the division winner is likely to make the playoffs. It seems like sports likes to generate drama, so I imagine that either both East or both North teams will win.
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Finally, just to wrap up, you have a number of other playoff or potential playoff teams playing this week, just against teams that are out of the running. In fact, the only meaningless games this week are Jets-Raiders, Tampa-Buffalo, Chargers-Giants, and Packers-Falcons, and even then the Chargers and Packers still have a shot if other games break their way. So this should be an important football weekend with (hopefully) a number of good games. You wouldn’t know that from Bill Simmons’ picks, which are buried in a ranking of the NBA Eastern Conference teams. But hey, at least he’s diversifying himself by writing about basketball right after putting out an hour and a half of …. basketball video.
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