Here are my picks for week 17:
1) Carolina panthers -3
2) New England Patriots -13
3) Houston Texans -6.5
4) 6 point, 2 game teaser Washington Redskins -3 and San Diego Chargers -3.
Patriots -13 at Giants
The Giants have already lost RB Derrick Ward, TE Jeremy Shockey, and LB Mathias Kiwanuka to season ending injuries in recent weeks. In my not so humble opinion, Ward was the most effective weapon in the backfield this season for an offense that relies heavily on the halfback. Jeremy Shockey both provided a redzone threat, and moved the chains for Eli Manning. Kiwanuka played a significant role in a feared Giants 3rd down pash rush. With next week’s playoff seeding locked into place regardless of this contest’s outcome, expect a lynch mob of roughly 60,000 New Yorkers to carry head coach Tom Coughlin out of the stadium if he loses any more important starters to injury tonight against the Patriots. If he doesn’t rest his starters completely, he’d be a fool to play them for more than a quarter. Meanwhile, I don’t need to explain the importance of this game to the Patriots, who can rest their starters next week during the first round bye. Against the Ravens and the Jets, winter weather played a significant role in smaller than usual victory margins for the Pat’s. Tonight’s Giants Stadium weather report calls for only light winds and no precipitation. How can they not win by 13 in this situation?
Jaguars +6.5 at Texans
QB David Garrard, and running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, are all likely to see limited action, if any this Sunday. The Jaguars should only care about avoiding injuries and resting key banged up starters, as their playoff seeding is locked(notice the theme here). Backup QB Quinn Gray did little to distinguish himself when he subbed for an injured Garrard earlier this season. He’s likely to take the majority of the snaps in this game while protected by backup offensive lineman. This suits Houston’s NFL sack leader Mario Williams just fine, as he will likey take advantage of the situation. The Texans have performed well in recent weeks at home, and actually look like a playoff caliber team with stud receiver Andre Johnson returned from injury. With a victory, the Texans will have their first ever non-losing season in franchise history. All things Houston….from the crowd, to the coaches, to the players, will be fired up for this opportunity. Houston fans last enjoyed a winning NFL season with the Oilers franchise.
Panthers -3 at Buccaneers
The Buc’s, locked into the fourth seed for the playoffs, likely already began preparing for next week’s playoff matchup with the Giants. WR Joey Galloway, the teams most potent offensive threat, has been declared inactive for this game due to “team decision.” Bruiser RB Earnest Graham and WR Ike Hilliard are nursing injuries, among others. With a great deal of veteran leadership in the starting lineup, this team can afford to take a week off without developing rust. Last week, Tampa rested it’s starters for the second half in a loss to the 49ers. Now they face a Carolina squad that hasn’t quit. The Panthers young players are auditioning to keep starting positions for next year. Rookie Quarterback Matt Moore has performed admirably against good Seattle and Dallas defenses. He now will have the opportunity to pass to all world WR Steve Smith while defended by bench warmers. The Carolina defense has also shown spunk, and will be the better defense on the field if Tampa Bay rest starters as expected. The team with the better defense usually wins.
Chargers -9 at Raiders
Given San Diego Coach Norv Turner’s already tenuous job security, I believe he will do everything he can to win this football game. In fact, I wouldn’t be suprised if upper levels of management strongly suggested that starters be left in the game long enough to guarantee victory this Sunday in Oakland. Despite a 14-2 record last season, the Chargers again lost in the first round of the playoffs. Replacing fired head coach Marty Schottenheimer with Turner was sold to the fans as a move to take the next step in the postseason. A first round playoff date with the Jacksonville Jaguars could put those plans in jeopardy. The Jags look like a top tier NFL powerhouse, and fell to wild card status only because they reside in the same division as the Colts. Make no mistake…the fans, coaches, management, and even the players understand how important it is to win this Sunday. With a win, they lock up the 3rd seed in the playoffs. Avoiding the Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs is the prize for victory this Sunday in Oakland. Young Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell isn’t yet experienced enough to handle the Chargers defense.
Cowboys +9 at Redskins
The ‘Boys are locked into the NFC’s 1st seed. The Redskins are playing their best team football of the season, and will gain entry into the postseason with a win. WR Terrell Owens and CB Terrence Newman will not leave the sidelines in this contest. ‘Nuff said.