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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.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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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.

What has happened to the Cowboys’ defense?

Through all of the criticism that Wade Phillips has received while he’s been the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he’s always been reprieved in one area: His defense.

Even though the Cowboys faded down the stretch last year, they still owned the eighth best defense in the NFL thanks in large part to Phillips. Dallas ranked fifth in passing yards allowed and 12th in rushing yards allowed, which helped Phillips retain his job over the offseason.

But in two games so far this season, Dallas has surrendered 54 points. In their 33-31 loss to the Giants on Sunday night, the Cowboys were routinely beat through the air as Eli Manning threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns on 25 of 38 passing. And in case you’ve forgotten, he doesn’t have Plaxico Burress at his disposal anymore, nor has Amani Toomer found the fountain of youth and returned to New York to give Eli a solid possession receiver.

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Jerry Jones backs Bad Brad…for now.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is showing support in sticking with Brad Johnson at quarterback over Brooks Bollinger.

Brad JohnsonBut Jones suggested on his weekly radio show that Johnson’s ability to protect the ball and manage the game trumps Bollinger’s mobility.

“Even in this day and time, you can win games with field position and no turnovers,” Jones said. “You trade that off against being really limited in what you can do downfield, being maybe limited in your accuracy and certainly limited in your mobility. Then you’ve got to pick your poison.

“So I think the real question here is what is our best way to win. My gut is our best way to win is to not turn the ball over, as opposed to go out there and try to create more offense. While Brooks has got some real skill mobility-wise and can throw the ball, you’ve got to look at his track record and look at the limited time he’s been under center this year, and you’ve got a serious chance of turnovers.”

Although his weak arm limits the offense, Johnson is a 17-year veteran with a Super Bowl ring. Bollinger, 28, has started only 10 NFL games and has been limited in practice to scout-team duty.

Jones is saying all the right things now in Johnson’s favor, but Jerry looked like he was going to throw up at any minute watching that game last Sunday. Johnson might be the better “game manager” but at some point he needs to make throws, too. He missed open receivers all game against the Bucs and will need to do a little more than manage the game against the Giants this Sunday.

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