Happy New Year; with it comes the last week of the season, and it has been set up to be a memorable one. In the AFC, 5 double-digit win teams are fighting for 4 playoff spots; in the NFC, 6 mediocre teams are fighting for 3 playoff sports. There could be an 11-win team in the AFC missing the playoffs and a 6-win team making the playoffs in the NFC; that’s just the craziness of 2020 shining through.
I love this for the game; this is the first year of the newly expanded playoff format, where the NFL decided to add one additional team and eliminate the bye week for the #2 seed. Only 3 of the 16 games this weekend have no significance; this is a significant improvement for the league and interest from years prior, where close to half of the games would be insignificant at this time.
Overall, some teams’ lack of significance or motivation this week makes it very hard to pick spreads. The Steelers are sitting a lot of players. The Browns need to win the game to get in the playoffs; this spread jumped from 6 to 9 in a day. The Steelers hadn’t played well in a month save for a half last weekend; look for them to keep it close; there used to be a convention that you don’t let divisional rivals in.
Are the Steelers going to lay down for this? I’m not so sure. The same for the Bills, who are favored by 2; they still have a shot at locking up the #2 seed; are they going to let Miami into the playoffs? Wins are earned, not given. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo won this game by 21 the way they are playing.
Everyone is afraid of the Chiefs; I said a few weeks ago, watch out for the Titans and the Bills. The Bills sent a message last week against the Patriots; they show no mercy.
Bills win by more than 2. This brings me to Miami. Back at the midpoint way of the season, I questioned their motives in benching Ryan Fitzpatrick; he was playing the quarterback position better than most. At 3 – 3, and in a race for the division and playoffs, they decided to bench him for unproven rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
I will admit Tua has played better than expected, going 6 – 2 as a starter. The problem is last week when it mattered, and the pressure was on in a playoff-style game because if the Dolphins lost, they were out; Tagovailoa played abysmal, completing 17 of 22 passes for a mere 94 yards, but the real problem was the sacks he was taking on critical drives late in the game.
With the Raiders in control late, up by 3 with less than 9 minutes to go, Tagovailoa, not instilling any fear in the opposition or motivation in his teammates, was benched and replaced by Ryan “Fitzmagic.” Magical he was; if you missed the end of this game, go back and watch, he entered trailing 16 to 13 with less than 9 to go, but as time expired, the Dolphins won a nailbiter 26 to 25; wherewith 19 seconds left Vegas appeared to kick a game-winning field goal to go up 25 to 23. How does a team get into field goal range and boot a field goal in 19 seconds? Watch and see. Because of his play, Ryan Fitzpatrick is my quarterback of the week, even though he only played for 9 minutes. Indeed, he didn’t light it up like Tom or Aaron, but he gave a Superbowl winning performance and deserves to start and play against the Bills this weekend.
Mahomes is talking about Fitzpatrick’s play here, and Tua has shown he’s not ready for the moment. The coaching and management staff of Miami should be embarrassed to start him over Fitzpatrick.
What will transpire in the NFC East?
Dallas and New York play at 1:00 pm on Sunday; the winner temporarily movies into 1st place until Washington plays Philadelphia on Sunday night at 8:25 pm to close out the season. If Washington wins, they are in; if they lose, the Cowboys and Giants’ winner wins the division. As bad as this division is, it’s been very entertaining and will come down to the wire. It’s just very ironic that a 6 win team could host a playoff game in the NFC, but an 11 win Colts team would fail to make the playoffs if the Browns, Ravens, and Dolphins all win, which is entirely possible. This will be the first time a team that was 2 wins and 7 losses makes the playoffs. One stat that jumps out here is in the streak category, the Cowboys have come together at just the right time. Look for them to win against the Giants. Washington is full of drama this week, releasing their first overall pick from 2019 for being unprofessional and comeback player of the year Alex Smith is also injured. But, conspiracy theorists believe the Eagles will tank on purpose because of their hatred for the Cowboys. How does the saying go? The enemy of my enemy is my friend!
With 16 games to go, my picks stand at 108 – 106; anytime you can pick over 50% on professional sports is a win. Hopefully, I can go 8 – 8 this week; this is one of the most challenging weeks I have ever tried to pick as I try to gauge teams’ motivations to win meaningless games. Exhibit A, the Jets vs. Patriots, is as useless as a game can be; total preseason style game.
Bring on the playoffs!
Players of the Week
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Miami Dolphins – 9/13, 182 YDS, 1 TD
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints – 22 CAR, 155 YDS, 6 TD’s
Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills – 9 REC, 145 YDS, 3 TD’s
Week 17 Picks
(7 – 8 – 1 Last Week) (108 – 106 – 7 Season Total)
Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills: Bills -2.0
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals: Ravens -13.0
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns: Steelers +9.0
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions: Lions +7.0
New York Jets @ New England Patriots: Patriots -3.0
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants: Cowboys -2.5
Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Buccaneers -6.0
Tennessee Titans @ Houston Texans: Texans +7.5
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts: Colts -14.0
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers: Panthers +6.5
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears: Bears +5.5
Las Vegas Raiders @ Denver Broncos: Raiders +2.5
Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs: Chargers -3.5
Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams: Cardinals -3.0
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers: 49ers +6.0
Washington Football Team @ Philadelphia Eagles: Eagles +1.5