Friday, December 31, 2010

Week 17 Pigskin Predictions

**All games this week are played on Sunday (Jan. 2)

Noon Games
FALCONS 31, panthers 10
Atlanta’s offensive star-power propels the Falcons (13-2) to an easy three-touchdown win over the hapless Carolina Panthers. Following a season-low 215 yards Monday Night in a loss to New Orleans, QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White lead Atlanta’s offense in accruing 350-400 yards this Sunday against the Panthers. The win clinches home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The loss finishes Carolina’s season at 2-14, the team’s worst record since its franchise-low 1-15 record in 2001.

steel 20, BROWNS 6
Out of the playoff chase, Cleveland (5-10) would love nothing more than to spoil its rival of 60 years’ hopes of attaining a two-seed and first round playoff bye. However, Pittsburgh, under head coach Mike Tomlin, is too mentally tough to let the Browns pull the upset. With five-time Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu missing his third straight game due to an ankle injury, the remainder of the Steelers defense picks up the slack in leading Pittsburgh to victory.

vikes 24, LIONS 20
The 6-9 Vikings roll into Detroit this Sunday to face the Lions (5-10) in a battle for the NFC North basement. Minnesota comes in to this game following an impressive performance by rookie quarterback Joe Webb - who led the Vikings to a 24-14 win at Philadelphia. Many Vikings fans would like to see what Webb can do for an encore. However, he may not start this game, because the team’s banged-up, 41-year-old, future Hall of Fame quarterback is lobbying for one last start to end his 20-year career. Favre starts for the the Vikings, but he suffers another severe blow that takes him out of the game in the second quarter. Webb relieves Favre and plays well, but Adrian Peterson shines as the team’s brightest star this Sunday as Minnesota wins by four. Despite the defeat, the Lions’ take solace in the team’s solid three-win improvement from last season.

raiders 20, CHIEFS 16
Upset Special: Having clinched a playoff bid with its 34-14 defeat of Tennessee last week, Kansas City has already won its division as the team hosts AFC West rival Oakland at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday. Sewn in as a 3- or 4-seed in the playoffs, one may think there’s not a great deal to gain this weekend. However, the Raiders (7-8) defeated KC earlier this season - a 23-30 overtime victory on Nov. 7 - and are looking to finish its season with a 6-0 division sweep. Raiders RB Darren McFadden totes the ball 30 times this Sunday as Oakland succeeds its unblemished AFC West mission in defeating its playoff-bound foes by four.

PATS 27, fins 20
With its 2010 NFL shoo-in MVP, Tom Brady, out for the bulk of this Sunday’s tilt against Miami, the Patriots still manage to win this game by a touchdown. Brady throws a touchdown pass and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushes for another early in the game, before back-up QB Brain Hoyer guides the team the rest of its way as New England concludes its season with a league-best 14-2 record. The Dolphins are unable to stunt its disappointing downward slide - losing five of its last seven games - as the team finish its season at 7-9. The loss is soon after followed by the firing of Miami’s head coach, Tony Sparano.

SAINTS 30, bucs 17
After New Orleans’ disappointing start this season - 3-3 including home losses to Arizona and Cleveland - the defending Super Bowl champs defeated the 12-3 Falcons at Atlanta last week and have a chance to earn the NFC’s top playoff seed at home. The Saints will jump all over division opponent Tampa Bay this Sunday and accomplish a 13-point defeat. Conversely, the Buccaneers end its team’s playoff hopes and conclude its season at 9-7. Drew Brees leads New Orleans, passing for 300 yards and 2 TDs, but his team misses out on that top playoff spot as - virtually at the same time the Saints’ win - the Falcons win their season finale against Carolina. The Bucs fail to make the postseason but are encouraged by the impressive seasons of the team’s budding nucleus. Tampa’s youthful core is led by second-year QB Josh Freeman (3,196 passing yards, 23 TDs and 93.6 rating this season) and supported by rookies Mike Williams (WR - team-high 61 receptions, 924 rec yards and 10 TDs) and LeGarrette Blount (RB - team-high 941 rushing yards with a 5.2 per-carry average).

jets 16, BILLS 10
The Jets (10-5) are in this year’s playoff field already, but would like to finish its season with a staunch defensive effort against division foe Buffalo. Last year, New York’s defensive unit finished its season as the NFL’s best in both yards (252.3 per game) and points (14.8) allowed. This year, Rex Ryan’s gang has slid to 4th in overall defense (300.1 yards allowed per game) and 11th in points surrendered (19.8). With a 13th-ranked offense that has lost its punch in the second half of the season, Ryan knows his team needs a rebirth of its suffocating 2009 defense to succeed in this year’s playoffs. The 4-11 Bills, however, hope to upset the Jets to end its season on a high note. Buffalo has been a tough competitor at times (in games such as week 15’s upset win at Miami), but has appeared lifeless as well (i.e. the team’s 34-3 home loss last weekend). The Bills give it their all, but New York’s D proves triumphant as the Jets win by six.

RAVENS 24, bengals 17
Baltimore is in the playoffs, but could still secure a first-round bye. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is coming off a superbly impressive 34-20 win over the Chargers. The Bengals march into Baltimore’s M & T Bank Stadium and give its divisional foe a tough fight, but 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis leads Ravens to victory. As Lewis’ career is nearing its end, the wily 15-year veteran turns in a spirited effort this Sunday, enabling his Ravens a week of rest before hosting a second-round playoff game the week after.

Late Games
chargers 27, BRONCOS 17
Phillip Rivers has had an outstanding individual season, but unfortunately for San Diego it takes a team effort to make the playoffs. Rivers’ Chargers (8-7) travel to Denver to play the 4-11 Broncos this Sunday in an AFC West clash. While San Diego is sapped with disappointment, the team would like to finish its season above .500. Denver, meanwhile, has been gauging its rookie quarterback - 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow - to see if he has what it takes to lead a future Broncos team to the Promise Land. Tebow has fared okay in his first two starts - throwing for 446 yards and 2 TDs throughout a week 15 loss at Oakland and a one-point home win over Houston last week - but has shown that his skills are still very raw. My prediction for this match-up is that Rivers tosses 3 TDs while Tebow throws a pair of picks and the Chargers defeat the Broncos by 10.

PACK 24, bears 17
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers allows zero chance for longtime rival Chicago to win at Lambeau this weekend. In what is practically a pre-playoff playoff game, the host Packers conquer the Bears and officially earn entry into the postseason. Rodgers passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns while WR Greg Jennings records 100 of those yards and nabs one of those two TDs to lead Green Bay to a seven-point win.

COLTS 27, titans 23
As much as I’d like to see Jacksonville sneak its way into the playoffs, there’s a very flimsy film of a chance Peyton Manning lets that happen. The 2009 league MVP leads Indianapolis to its 4th victory in the past four weeks as the Colts win the AFC South and make the playoffs for its 10th consecutive season.

EAGLES 27, boys 17
The Dallas Cowboys will be in Philadelphia this Sunday in a match-up of division rivals with hobbled starting quarterbacks. Head coach Andy Reid has ruled out Eagles QB Michael Vick (quad) while Dallas QB Jon Kitna may not be able to go due to an oblique injury suffered last week at Arizona. The Cowboys back-up, Stephen McGee (who is actually the team’s third-stringer) filled in nicely last week in engineering a late 4th quarter, lead-taking touchdown drive. Unfortunately for Dallas (5-10), the team lost that game by one point and has to finish its season with this difficult match-up in Philly. McGee plays well for Dallas, but the game’s more experienced back-up - Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb - leads the Eagles to a 10-point victory.

NINERS 23, cards 10
It’s one win too late for 5-10 San Francisco this Sunday as the team wins its season finale over Arizona (also 5-10) at home. In what has to be the least intriguing game of the NFL’s week 17 slate, one of the two quarterbacking San Francisco Smith’s (Alex or Troy) leads the 49ers in victory. Standout TE Vernon Davis finishes his season in fine fashion, leading the Niners with 8 catches and touchdown.

giants 31, SKINS 17
Eli Manning bounces back from a poor effort last week (in which he threw 4 INTs in his team’s 45-17 loss at Green Bay) to lead the Giants to a season finale win at Washington. The Redskins (6-9) have looked revived as of late, with back-up QB Rex Grossman at the helm; But talent-wise the Skins cannot compete with New York, especially when the Giants are at their best. With his team’s playoff hopes on the line in New York’s final game of the season, I’m expecting Eli to throw brilliantly and lead the Giants to a two-touchdown defeat.

TEXANS 27, jags 20
Jacksonville desperately needs to defeat Houston this Sunday to keep its playoff hopes alive. However, missing its starting quarterback, David Garrard (finger injury) and star running back Maurice Jones-Drew (knee) will make that challenge extremely difficult. As for the Texans, its star player (WR Andre Johnson) is highly unlikely to play Sunday as well. Both teams are not strong defensively, but Houston’s remaining offensive weapons - QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Jacoby Jones - are much stronger than Jacksonville’s. The Texans have had a disappointing season (especially over its past nine games), but I’m expecting Houston to execute its spoiler role on Sunday and defeat the Jaguars by seven.

Sunday Night Game
rams 23, HAWKS 17
Game of the Week: Sure, maybe I’m taking the easy route by choosing NBC’s featured Sunday Night game as my pick for game of the week. Actually, I believe the network is taking a chance with this match-up. I mean, two sub-.500 teams fighting for a playoff bid?! Wow. That’s unheard of. While the game does decide a playoff berth, with these team’s caliber of play I’m not so certain that there aren’t four or five other games better suited for NBC’s national audience ... However, despite the poor talent collection, the intrigue of a team possibly making the playoffs with a losing record is compelling enough for me to tab this game as week 17’s top best. Yes, if Seattle (6-9) wins this game, the Seahawks will become the first team ever to enter the playoffs having lost more games than its won. If other option occurs, and St. Louis wins this game, the Rams would spoil Seattle’s potential historically dubious feat and garner playoff entry with a mighty 8-8 record. Here’s a rundown of just how poor these teams have been this season:

Seattle ― Offensively: Points scored - 19.6 per game (23rd in the NFL). Yards gained - 295.5 per game (28th) Defensive ranks: Points allowed - 26.7 per game (29th). Yards allowed - 380.9 per game (30th).

St. Louis ― Offensively: Points scored - 18.9 per game (25th in the NFL). Yards gained - 310.8 per game (25th). Defensive ranks: Points allowed - 20.8 (14th). Yards allowed - 337.0 per game (18th).

Seattle is the home team Sunday night, but while I’d love to see history made, I do not see the Seahawks winning this game. Instead, Rams RB Steven Jackson - the lone Pro Bowl representative from either team - will prove to be the difference. St. Louis defeats Seattle by six and thereby joins the 1985 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 San Diego Chargers as the only three teams to win their division with an even, 8-8 record.

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