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Fade Material: 2011 NFL Week 17 Predictions

A trainer works on the hands of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton (8) after he was injured during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 4, 2011 in Chicago. Orton only played one snap before being injured. UPI/Brian Kersey

This is it: Week 17. This is for all the marbles. Everything is on the line. My back is against the wall. Time to put up or shut up. It’s now or never. One last time for glory.

Have I hit on most of the clichéd sports phrases yet? No? Well post your favorite phrase in the comments section and have it mentioned the next time I do my predictions!

After my 3-1 effort in Week 16 (the Panthers, Vikings and Eagles all covered while the Chargers laid an egg in Detroit), my record this season is now 30-31-2 against the spread. As I noted last Sunday, my goal is to finish above .500 and save what’s left of my dignity, which means I need to go 4-0 or 3-1 this week in order to accomplish the feat. That’s no hill for a climber…

Jets @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
Stick a fork in the Jets – they’re done. Their defense and running game hasn’t been as good this season as they’ve been the previous two years under Rex Ryan, which means Mark Sanchez’s awfulness isn’t been covered up. The Dolphins proved last week in New England that they still have plenty of fight left in them, even though they’re head coach-less and are looking at a major offseason overhaul. With their season slipping away in the fourth quarter, Sanchez puts a bow on things by throwing one last pick-six as Ryan looks dumbfounded at the scoreboard.
THE PICK: DOLPHINS –3

Chiefs @ Broncos, 4:15PM ET
I have a hunch that things will end very poorly for the Denver Broncos this season. It’s almost like they’ve spent all of their Tebow bucks just getting to this point (i.e. knocking on the door of a division title and a playoff berth) and now that they’re out of loot, they have no money to pay back the creditors. Romeo Crennel is auditioning for another NFL head coaching job, so you know Kansas City’s underrated defense will be prepared to play tomorrow. And would you look at who the Chiefs quarterback is this week, why it’s none other than Kyle Orton! The man who was benched for Tebow and then jettisoned out of town when the youngster started winning. I envision Orton running off the field at Sports Authority Dick’s Sporting Goods UnderArmor Field at Mile High tomorrow with a big, goofy grin on his face as the Denver crowd weeps in the background.
THE PICK: CHIEFS +3.5

Lions @ Packers, 1:00PM ET
This one is tricky because Green Bay essentially has nothing to play for after already wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the NFC last week. Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers’ starters will only see a few series, if they even play at all. That means Matt Flynn will have a turn to drive the Cadillac for a week, and there’s no telling how Mike McCarthy will call this game. Will he keep things basic and vanilla or will he toss in a couple of trick plays for craps and grins? Either way, the Lions haven’t won at Lambeau since 1991 so I look at that line and something just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Detroit will win easily and head to either New York or Dallas next week, but I just can’t pull the trigger on Lions –3.5. (Even with Flynn and the boys playing the majority of the game for Green Bay.)
THE PICK: PACKERS +3.5

Bucs @ Falcons, 4:15PM ET
If the Lions beat the Packers at 1:00PM ET then the Falcons essentially can rest their starters in preparation for next week because they’d be guaranteed the sixth seed in the NFC. But if Detroit loses than Atlanta can improve its playoff positioning and avoid possibly going to New Orleans again next weekend. But even if the Lions win, the Falcons still have something to prove to themselves following their horrendous effort last Monday night versus the Saints. If you read the local papers, the Atlanta players have said to a man that they want a rematch with New Orleans but the seed of doubt has been planted following their 45-16 loss. They need a strong showing this weekend against a hapless Buccaneers team that quit weeks ago before they head into the playoffs. Thus, whether Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons starters play a half or the full game, they need a strong effort tomorrow.
THE PICK: FALCONS –11

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2011 NFL Week 17 Primer

Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs has his helmet taken off by Cincinnati Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on January 2, 2011. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

MARQUE MATCHUP: It’s the final week – pick one.
Some will argue that the Cowboys-Giants Sunday night matchup is the biggest game of the week, but it’s no bigger than Ravens-Bengals. While Dallas-New York will finally settle the NFC East race, Baltimore needs a victory to win the AFC North and secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC, while Cincinnati needs to beat the Ravens just to clinch a playoff berth. There is no shortage of important games on the schedule this week, including Kansas City-Denver and San Diego-Oakland. (If the Broncos beat the Chiefs they’ll win the AFC West, or if they lose and the Raiders beat the Chargers, then Oakland will win the division.) In fact, out of the 16 games on the Week 17 schedule, only five contests have absolutely no barring on the playoff races in either conference. It figures to be a wild Sunday in the NFL, with postseason implications galore.

THE POTENTIAL (NOTEWORTHY) UPSET: Packers over Lions
Some of you may be thinking, “This wouldn’t be an upset, you clown.” But the Packers have nothing to play for and thus, will likely rest their starters this weekend. Considering they’re a 3.5-point home underdog, technically this would be considered an upset, so shove it. Wait…what?…You’d have to go back to December 15, 1991, for the last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field. That’s a massive drought; an even bigger drought than the Lions’ 11-year span of not making the postseason. Granted, the rest of Green Bay’s starters played that night but Matt Flynn nearly willed the Packers to a victory last season at New England when Aaron Rodgers was sidelined with a concussion. With nothing to play for, Mike McCarthy may let it all hang loose against a Detroit team that must win in order to secure the fifth seed in the NFC (and therefore avoid playing at New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs). It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Detroit will win this Sunday versus Green Bay’s backups, but in case you haven’t been paying attention: Green Bay’s backups are pretty freaking good, too. We’ll see if the ghosts of Lambeau Field haunt the Lions one more time this Sunday.

THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: DENVER BRONCOS
The Broncos have one mission and one mission only: Beat Kansas City at home on Sunday and win the AFC West. That’s it. That’s all they have to do. They don’t have to win and then hope for another team to lose like the Raiders, Titans and Jets do. All they have to do is take care of their own business at home against a 6-9 Chiefs team and they’ll be headed to the playoffs. That said, this is the same Chiefs that knocked off the defending (and undefeated) Packers a few weeks ago in Kansas City. Romeo Crennel is likely auditioning for a head-coaching job so he’ll have his defense ready to shut down Tim Tebow on Sunday, and let’s not forget that the discarded Kyle Orton is now Kansas City’s starting quarterback. This game is a writer’s dream because there are plenty of storylines to choose from. Still, Denver is the better overall team and has a chance to wrap up the division while clinching what was an improbable playoff berth at the start of the season. All those goofy horse heads have to do is win.

PUT UP OR SHUT UP: CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Broncos, Cowboys and Giants are all candidates for the “Put up or shut up” section this week, but if I’m only choosing one team then it’s the Cincinnati Bengals. Look, the Bengals have had a tremendous season. Nobody expected them to win more than five games this year, let alone nine and have a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win in the final game of the season. Thus, this year is already a success in most people’s eyes. But they’re here, so they might as well finish the job and storm into the playoffs with a head full of steam instead of backing in because other teams (i.e. the Raiders, Titans and Jets) lost. Cincinnati obviously still has a lot to prove but if it can beat Baltimore at home this Sunday, it’ll give the Bengals confidence that they can win next week in Houston. If they get drubbed, then their season is likely over or they’ll back into the playoffs having lost to Pittsburgh (twice), Baltimore (twice) and Houston during the regular season. So strap ‘em up Bengals, and prove to the NFL that you’re one of the six best teams in the AFC.

2011 NFL Week 17 Odds & Point Spreads

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo makes a long completion to wide receiver Laurent Robinson to setup a touchdown by wide receiver Miles Austin against the New York Giants in the second half of their NFL football game in Arlington, Texas December 11, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Four Spreads of Note:

Ravens –2 vs. Bengals, 4:15PM ET
While Cowboys and Giants fans will say otherwise, this might be the marquee matchup of the week. The Ravens need a win to secure a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game, while the Bengals need a victory to clinch a postseason berth, period. The first time these two teams met, Baltimore beat the Bengals 31-24 as a 7-point home favorite. Thus, it’s interesting that oddsmakers would only set the spread for this game at 2 when they have to figure that people will hop on the Ravens again (especially when they don’t even have to lay a field goal). That said, Baltimore has been a completely different team on the road than at home this season, so maybe oddsmakers are setting a trap expecting a Cincinnati upset. We’ll find out soon enough.

Cowboys +3 @ Giants, 8:20PM ET
This is an absolute coin flip. The Giants already beat the Cowboys in Dallas a few weeks ago so clearly they won’t be intimidated by their NFC East rivals come Sunday night. That said, the Giants might be the worst home team in the league, so you can’t assume anything when it comes to either of these two teams. But I developed a theory a couple of months ago when it came to NFC East teams. Without looking at the actual facts, I felt as though NFC East teams were pure gold as an underdog and pure garbage as a favorite. After compiling the numbers for this article, it would appear as though my theory holds some water. As a favorite, NFC East teams are 10-22-2 against the spread this season. As an underdog, they’re 16-10, which includes Washington’s 6-6 record as a dog. Now, does this mean I expect Tony Romo and the Cowboys to roll into East Rutherford on Sunday night and beat the Giants? No. But if you’re hell bent on putting some action on this game, maybe those numbers will help paint a clearer picture.

Chiefs @ Broncos –3; Chargers @ Raiders –3
I’ll lump these games together since my thoughts basically apply to both of them. I’m shocked oddsmakers didn’t make the Broncos and Raiders 3.5-point home favorites instead of 3-point faves, and therefore made bettors choose whether or not to take or lay the hook. Then again, maybe sports books feel as though they’ll get more two-way action if they keep the spread at a field goal. Either way, it might be wise to lay off these games entirely. The NFL didn’t do bettors any favors by setting the time for both games at 4:15PM ET. If Denver wins, Oakland is eliminated in the AFC West so it would have made that Raiders-Chargers game easier to bet (at least in theory). But since both games will played at the same time, bettors will be forced to decide whether or not to bet teams in Kansas City and San Diego, which have nothing to play for besides pride. Again, I’d lay off.

Lions –3.5 @ Packers, 1:00PM ET
This game might be the most interesting on the board when you consider the factors at play. The Packers have nothing to play for after securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs last Sunday, but the Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since Brett Favre was wearing Falcon red. Detroit needs a win because if it doesn’t and Atlanta beats Tampa Bay, then the Lions would have to play the No. 3 seed in the NFC next week, which would likely be the Saints. A trip to Dallas or New York seems like a more pleasurable experience right now than a flight to New Orleans so again, the Lions need to beat the Packers on Sunday. But even though this game means much more to Detroit than Green Bay, there’s something unsettling about laying 3.5 points with the Lions at Lambeau.

2011 NFL Week 17 Odds:

Redskins +8.5 (46)
Eagles –8.5

Buccaneers +12 (47)
Falcons –12

49ers –10.5 (35.5)
Rams +10.5

Bears PK (40.5)
Vikings PK

Lions –3.5 (46)
Packers +3.5

Cowboys +3 (46.5)
Giants –3

Panthers +8.5 (54.5)
Saints –8.5

Titans –3 (39.5)
Texans +3

Ravens –2 (37.5)
Bengals +2

Steelers
Browns

Colts +3.5 (37)
Jaguars –3.5

Jets +2 (41)
Dolphins –2

Bills +11 (51)
Patriots –11

Chargers +3 (49)
Raiders –3

Chiefs +3 (37)
Broncos –3

Seahawks +3 (40.5)
Cardinals –3

Check out the most current NFL Betting Lines.

McDaniels’ first season in Denver ends in disaster

After the Broncos collapsed down the stretch in 2008, owner Pat Bowlen decided that enough was enough. He fired long-time head coach Mike Shanahan and replaced him with first-timer Josh McDaniels, who became the youngest coach in the NFL.

As it turns out Bowlen’s decision netted the same result, as the Broncos collapsed for the second straight year. Things came to an embarrassing finish today when Kansas City routed Denver 44-24, as Kyle Orton racked up 431 yards and a touchdown but also threw three picks.

As if the collapse wasn’t bad enough, McDaniels is also in the midst of a controversy after he decided to bench Brandon Marshall for Sunday’s game. ESPN.com is reporting that Marshall was specifically benched for being late to a therapy session for his strained hamstring. Marshall suffered the injury on Wednesday and said he wasn’t healthy enough to face the Chiefs, but McDaniels noted that some Broncos were playing with more serious injuries and deactivated the wideout in retaliation.

However the Marshall-McDaniels’ spat started, it didn’t end well and the Broncos’ embarrassing loss to the Chiefs added insult to injury. How do the players view a head coach who benches their key offensive weapon for a must-win game? I’m not suggesting McDaniels was in the wrong, but I wonder how the players feel now that they’re season ended like this.

I would have to imagine that Marshall has played his last snap in Denver.

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