With two weeks left in the season and a fair amount of playoff movement possible, I’m going to do the predictions this week game by game. Then I’ll wrap up with a bit of a summary with my usual tables and SuperContest picks. I’ll use the ESPN playoff machine to look at what each game does to the playoff picture, but with a sort of ‘holding everything else equal’ view; I’ll switch a particular game on and off, but assume that the predicted winner for every other game wins. Here goes!
Buffalo-Miami: Miami is playing to get the 6 seed in the AFC, and their main competition is Baltimore. Baltimore is a small favorite over New England and they have the tiebreaker on Miami, so the Dolphins really need a win to stay even and give themselves a chance to make it in week 17 (Miami is unlikely to clinch a spot this weekend, but they can lose one). Fortunately for the Dolphins, they’re playing a Bills team with nothing in particular to play for (which doesn’t mean they’ll just roll over, but it can’t hurt) and they’re favored to win. Neither Luigi nor Yoshi 2 feel strongly about that, and both like Buffalo to cover, but Yoshi 1 likes their chances and likes Miami to cover.
Cincinnati-Minnesota: Another ‘one-sided’ game in that Minnesota has nothing going on. The Bengals are playing for quite a bit: if they lose and and the rest of the games go as projected they would fall out of the playoffs entirely for the time being; if they win they would take the 2 seed and a playoff bye. That’s a heck of a swing. The Bengals are favored by about a touchdown, so hopefully (for them) they can pull off the win and not worry quite as much about what happens in the other games. The Yoshis have a slight lean towards the Vikings to cover whereas Luigi is staying away, as it has the number as pretty much correct.
Kansas City – Indianapolis: We have two playoff teams here! Both have clinched a playoff spot, and the Colts have clinched their division, but both can still improve their positions. A win would put the Colts in the 3 seed instead of the 4, and while the Broncos will likely win and keep the Chiefs in the 5 spot, they can move up with some help. Unfortunately for the Colts, they are probably not the better team and the game is in Kansas City; the Chiefs are favored by about a touchdown. Luigi and Yoshi 2 think that’s a bit high, although they still have the Chiefs as solid favorites; Yoshi 1 thinks the number is about right.
St. Louis – Tampa Bay: A completely meaningless game! If the Rams win out they can get to .500 on the season (which would require winning in Seattle in week 17), and Tampa has been playing better as of late and could finish a respectable 6-10 (which would require winning in New Orleans in week 17). Neither team has too much to do other than see what their young guys look like heading into next season, and they’ve already been doing that for a few weeks now. The Rams are favored by 4, and all three models think that’s about right.
Jets – Cleveland: Another meaningless game, as last week’s games finally eliminated the Jets and any game featuring Brandon Weeden eliminated the Browns. It’s roughly true; the Browns are 1-6 in games where Weeden was their leading passer, 2-0 with Hoyer, and 1-4 with Campbell. Weeden even got the games against Jacksonville and Buffalo and five games at home; Hoyer beat the Bengals and won a road game and Campbell has three road games and played the Bengals, Chiefs, Ravens, Pats, and Bears. I’m not saying Cleveland would be in the playoffs had they never started Weeden, but they would be better than 4-10. The Jets, on the other hand, are going to have to decide if Geno Smith will get better or if they have another Sanchez on their hands. The Jets are favored by 1.5 in this barnburner and all three models like the Browns to cover, although it’s too close for Yoshi 2 to call. The Browns are one of Yoshi 1’s SuperContest picks if that does anything for you.
Philadelphia – Chicago: This game got flexed to the Sunday night spot, and with good reason. Dallas is likely to beat the Redskins, so a Philly win keeps them in the driver’s seat heading into their week 17 game; if the Eagles win and the Cowboys don’t, they take the division and a playoff spot regardless. Chicago is in a similar spot: if they win and the Packers and Lions lose they get the division; if they lose the Packers probably take over at least temporary lead of the division. There are a lot of other things that have to happen in conjunction with this game to clear up the picture, but this one features both current division leaders. With the game in Philly the Eagles are the field goal favorite, and Yoshi 1 likes the Eagles to cover while Luigi and Yoshi 2 will be staying away.
Washington – Dallas: Here’s the other half of the NFC East mess. As just noted, Dallas needs to win (or have the Eagles lose) to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Washington has had a rough season and decided to sit their starting quarterback so that he isn’t killed on the field. Cousins hasn’t done badly; he has more interceptions than RGIII per attempt but gets sacked for less often, but he doesn’t offer nearly the same kind of rushing possibilities. The Cowboys are favored by a field goal on the road and I imagine it isn’t higher just because neither defense is really capable of stopping anyone, so anything could happen in this game. All three models think that number is about right, although Yoshi 2 has it shrunk enough to lean towards Washington to cover.
Carolina – New Orleans: This is another important one, and would also be a reasonable Sunday night pick. Despite being 10-4, neither team has actually clinched a playoff spot yet because they’re in the same division, and the NFC West also happens to be strong this year. I have the winner of this game ending up in 2nd place and the loser in 6th. If the winner happens to be the Saints they’ll clinch that bye, and even if they lose they’ll still get a playoff spot if Arizona also loses or (I think) if San Fran loses. If Carolina is they winner they clinch a playoff spot (they could still drop out of 2nd even with a win) but they can also get a spot with a loss and losses by Arizona and/or San Fran. The Cardinals are likely to lose in Seattle, but I don’t think either team will want to risk it. The Panthers have the home field field goal advantage despite being spanked in New Orleans two weeks ago; all three models think that number is about right but the Yoshis are off just enough to lean towards a Saints cover.
Jacksonville – Tennessee: Another game with nothing to note in the outcome, in case you need a breather. The Titans made a little noise on and off but ultimately couldn’t hold it together when Jake Locker got injured. The Jaguars are the Jaguars, although they have won 4 of their last 6 games since they switched to Chad Henne and the schedule calmed down a bit (they played the Chiefs, Seahawks, Colts, Broncos, Chargers, and 49ers in the first half of the season; the other two games were both on the road). The Titans are favored by 5 but the Jags are (once again, to my chagrin) Luigi and Yoshi 2’s SuperContest picks to cover. Yoshi 1 also strongly feels that Jacksonville will cover, it just has other games ranked higher.
Houston – Denver: The Broncos are playing to keep their division lead and number 1 seed hopes going. The Texans will probably oblige. Houston hasn’t won since week 2 and they’re 10 point underdogs in this one. For what it’s worth, all three models like them to cover at least and are in their SuperContest picks.
Detroit – Giants: This is the game most likely to make me sad this weekend. The Giants are out of playoff contention, but the Lions are still alive as long as either the Bears or Packers lose. Detroit has been a very good team, at least on offense, but they simply turn the ball over too much. I was hopeful they would get to the playoffs and then maybe have a streak of a few clean games; they then proceeded to throw three interceptions to severely hurt their chances last week against Baltimore. If there’s any good news for this game against Eli Manning, it’s that the Giants are the only NFC team with a worse turnover differential than Detroit. The Lions are almost double-digit favorites, and while all three models think the Giants will cover only Yoshi 1 feels so strongly that the game makes his SuperContest picks.
Seattle – Arizona: If Seattle wins or the 49ers lose, the Seahawks clinch the 1 seed. Arizona is playing for a bit more as they need to win to stay alive in the playoff hunt (you saw a few places earlier where a Cardinals loss means a team clinches a playoff spot). Unfortunately for Arizona, they are big underdogs. Fortunately for Arizona, all three models have them in the SuperContest to cover. Unfortunately for Arizona, all three still think they’ll lose.
Pittsburgh – Green Bay: The Steelers were eliminated last week despite their division win over the Bengals, although that victory kept things interesting for other teams. Green Bay’s big win over the Cowboys kept them in the hunt, although they need help. The Hilton put the Packers in as touchdown favorites with news that Aaron Rodgers might be healthy enough to start, but he isn’t and so the SBR numbers have the Packers are more like a field goal favorite. As you might imagine, that difference is enough to get Pittsburgh on the SuperContest list for all three models. Luigi and Yoshi 2 think this new number is about right, but Yoshi 1 still likes Pittsburgh to cover. If the Packers lose, they could still get in during week 17, but that doesn’t seem like something they would like to have to do. I hope it’s something they have to do; the best possible outcome for the Lions is that both Green Bay and Chicago lose.
San Diego – Oakland: San Diego’s big win over the Broncos kept them barely alive in the playoff chase; they can’t get in this week even if both Miami and Baltimore lose, but they can stay alive a bit longer. Oakland is out and has been out for a while, but they’ve at least been interesting, so this isn’t necessarily a gimme for the Chargers (Oakland won the game earlier in the season). But, given that Baltimore and Miami are both favorites this week, the outcome of this game is unlikely to matter too much. The Chargers are double-digit favorites and while all three models think they’ll win, they all also think the Raiders will cover.
Baltimore – New England: As you’ve probably gathered, this is an important game. A Ravens win keeps them in the 6 spot for the time being, and they could even take the division lead if the Bengals lose. I haven’t really mentioned the Pats so far because they’re in pretty good position. If the Bengals happen to lose, they’re in the playoffs for sure. They clinch the AFC East with a win or Miami loss. They clinch a bye if they don’t lose and both the Bengals and Colts don’t win. The Ravens are small favorites with the game being in Baltimore, so none of those things might happen, but even with all the games going as expected the Pats would end up in the 3 seed. All three models will be passing on this game.
Finally on Monday night we have Atlanta – San Francisco. The 49ers were already double-digit favorites and the line has still moved in their direction; Atlanta has nothing to play for and the 49ers can clinch a spot with a win or if Arizona loses. Since Arizona will have already played and likely lost, the 49ers could end up taking things easy on Monday. Even without that possibility, all three models like Atlanta to keep it close enough to make the SuperContest picks.
If all the games go as predicted (which won’t happen, but what the heck), then the temporary standings will be AFC 1 Denver, AFC 2 Bengals AFC 3 Patriots AFC 4 Colts AFC 5 Kansas City AFC 6 Baltimore, with Miami still alive for week 17. In the NFC it’ll be #1 Seattle, 2 Carolina, 3 Philly, 4 Green Bay, 5 San Fran, 6 New Orleans, and Dallas and Detroit still alive. I’ll be on the road for a good chunk of tomorrow, so I’ll see how it turns out later that night.
I noted them in the game by game list, but Luigi’s SuperContest picks are Atlanta +12.5, Houston +10.5, Pittsburgh +7, Jacksonville +5.5, and Arizona +10.5. Yoshi 1’s are Houston, Giants +9.5, Cleveland +2.5, Arizona, and Pittsburgh. Yoshi 2’s are Houston, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and Arizona (the same as Luigi).
Here are the usual summary tables, with the spread picks, moneyline probabilities, Simmons picks, and the over/under totals.
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