Week 17 is the pits for picking games. You just don't know who's going to be playing on Sunday, or for how long, or for what motivation.
There are teams that are locked into their playoff spots and have a chance to rest their regulars for the postseason. Then there are teams that go into Sunday with a chance at the postseason, but that chance could be gone if earlier games don't go their way. All of a sudden, they could have nothing to play for.
That makes picking this week's games a bigger challenge than normal. (Last week's record: 7-9 straight up and a Rams-like 2-14 against the spread.) One thing I know for sure is that barring some disaster or sudden layoffs, I'll still be here picking games during the playoffs. So I decided to go all out on my picks to start with. Then I'll start changing my picks around halftime of the early games, then again right before the late games start.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-10 1/2): After this game, it will be a bye week for the second-seeded Steelers and a goodbye week for Browns coach Romeo Crennel. Pick: Steelers 24-10.
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Tennessee Titans (-3) at Indianapolis Colts: I'm not saying we shouldn't expect to see much of Peyton Manning on Sunday, but the family of backup quarterback Jim Sorgi has set their DVRs to record this this game. Pick: Titans 20-13.
New England Patriots (-6 1/2) at Buffalo Bills: You ever have one of those nightmares when you hop a bus for St. Louis, fall asleep, then wake up to discover that you accidentally boarded the bus for Pocatello, Idaho? That would have happened to me if I hadn't jumped off the Bills Bandwagon five weeks ago. Pick: Patriots 24-17.
Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals (-3): You know these games this week where you look at the schedule and say, “This game is absolutely meaningless for both of these teams”? We've been saying that about the Chiefs and Bengals for, what, two months, now? Pick: Chiefs 30-24.
Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-13): Monday morning at Raiders Nation Headquarters ... Ring, ring. Al Davis: “Davis.” Tom Cable: “Mr. Davis, it's Coach Cable from the Oakland Raiders.” Davis: “And?” Cable: “I wanted to ask if I can take 'Interim' out of my title now?” Davis: “Yeah.” Cable: “Thank you, sir.” Davis: “Yeah, you can take out 'Interim' and replace it with 'Former.' ” Pick: Bucs 20-14.
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings (-6 1/2): Next week, Vikings coach Brad Childress will enter the team's offices through the back door. Just the way his team will enter the playoffs. Pick: Giants 21-20.
Chicago Bears at Houston Texans (pick): Game-time temperature should be around plus-60 at kickoff, and wind chill isn't calculated until the mercury plummets to plus-50. That's not Bears weather. Pick: Texans 21-17.
St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons (-15): Already looking for ways to improve on this year's two victories, the Rams announced this week that they will change radio stations for next season. Pick: Falcons 30-17.
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (-9): I went back through the files and learned that I had picked the Lions to win twice this season (including last week – ugh!) To punish myself, I made myself do two pushups on the office floor. That won't make me look like Ed Hochuli, but I think I learned my lesson. Pick: Packers 27-17.
Carolina Panthers (-3) at New Orleans Saints: With Saints coach Sean Payton wanting quarterback Drew Brees to get the 402 passing yards he needs to break Dan Marino's single-season record, Brees will set an unofficial NFL record by throwing for 122 yards on an 80-yard scoring drive on which Payton has linemen commit false-start penalties on purpose. Pick: Saints 34-28.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (-1 1/2): A week after saying farewell to Texas Stadium, the Cowboys say farewell to the season. Pick: Eagles 20-17.
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (-2 1/2): Even if the Jets win, they'll need help to make the playoffs. Reminds me of the old proverb that says NFL teams can't help those who can't help themselves. Pick: Dolphins 23-17.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens (-12 1/2): To motivate his team, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh started a rumor that the Jaguars requested to close the 2008 season against the Ravens. Pick: Ravens 27-10.
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-6): The Cardinals' Steve Breaston tied a franchise record with nine kickoff returns in last week's 47-7 loss to New England, and keep in mind that this is a franchise that has seen its share of kickoff returns through the years. Pick: Cardinals 27-14.
Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers (-3): The 49ers' rousing comeback from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the hapless Rams 17-16 last week was one of those wins that could give a team momentum that could carry over for several hours. Pick: 49ers 16-9.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers (-8 1/2): The Broncos won the first meeting 39-38. But that was 14 games ago. And in Denver. And Ed Hochuli was the referee. Not only will the Chargers win this time to claim the AFC West title, but they also will improve to .500! Pick: Chargers 31-21.
Last week: 7-9 (.438) overall, 4-12 (.250) vs. the spread. Season: 146-93-1 (.610) overall, 109-115-4 (.487) vs. the spread.