3 Weeks ago the playoff picture was looking drastically different than it is today.  The Eagles, the Cowboys, and the Buccaneers all had a shot.  In the AFC the Jets have run out of fuel and have all but crashed into a mountain.  Meanwhile the Chargers, then looking dismal with a 4-8 record, have won three straight games and put themselves in a strong position to win their division with a lousy 8-8 record if they beat Denver next week.  They will surely lose their first playoff game, but to knock Denver out of first place where they have perched for more than 10 straight weeks would be tremendous.

All season long I have been naysaying the Titans, but today I feel the fool.  Until Sunday I thought the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like the most solid team in the AFC; a shoe-in to win the Conference Title and a solid bet for Super Bowl Champ.  Today I am not so sure.  While I still have doubt in my gut that Tennessee will last throughout the playoffs it is hard to argue with the best record in the NFL.

Still, gut is everything to a gambler and look what happened last year.  Need I remind you that the New England Patriots went undefeated in the 2007 regular season only to lose to the Wild Card New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.  Never in my gambling career have I been so badly shamed and so simultaneously relieved that I couldn’t catch a bet.  My gamblers instinct tells me to bet against the Titans in their first playoff game, but that may change if they can beat the Colts in Indianapolis next week.  That will be the true test.

This 2008 NFL season has been undoubtedly the most exiting season I have been privy to in my life.  The balance of power has shifted so many times that most gambling vessels have capsized.  Teams like the Dolphins and the Titans have made miraculous turnarounds while teams like the Patriots and the Seahawks have lost more face than Michael Jackson.  This year has been a roller coaster ride of excitement and upset.  The only reliable thing has been the Detroit Lions’ consistent losing.  They are so bad they do not even deserve to exist.

Yes friends, the playoff picture is becoming clear.  With 7 out of 12 positions clinched there is no room for failure.  There is only one day of regular season football left.  For many teams it won’t matter, but for those that it does it is do or die.  There are 5 playoff spots up for grabs with 13 teams competing for them.  Many of those teams will be directly squaring off with each other.  For some simply winning is not enough.  Teams like the Jets, the Saints, and the Redskins need not only to win, but their rivals to lose.  It is a difficult and nervous position to be in, but it must feel better that the position of teams like the Bengals, the Lions, and the Chiefs whose seasons have been over since week 4.

Place your bets kids.  This week’s for all the marbles.

Week 17 Picks

By Sunday’s end all scheduled games will have been played and teams like the Redskins and the Jets who both came so close will go home ashamed and defeated.  Teams like the Chiefs, the Rams, and the Raiders will fire their coaches.  Teams like Detroit and Seattle will start from scratch while teams like the Giants and the Steelers will go on to do vicious battle in the cold.  This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

St. Louis @ Atlanta

Atlanta has already clinched a wildcard spot with no chance for a division title or a first round bye.  Still, if they win this game they will get homefield advantage against the other wild card team which will either be Dallas or Tampa.  Either way it is imperative that they win if they are to have any hope of playing a second playoff game.  The Rams’ season has long since been over.  They have the small chance to be a marginal spoiler and to save a little face, but in the end this game doesn’t mean much for them.  Rest assured that they will be playing their best football, but if what they’ve shown us so far is even a hint at that then Atlanta is in a good position.  The Falcons will solidly beat them with little or no mistakes.

Falcons by 8

New England @ Buffalo

Buffalo started strong but fell apart after week 5.  Now they are at the bottom of their division with a losing 7-8 record with no chance at a playoff seat.  New England started poorly and only recently started playing competitive winning football.  But now is when it counts and if they keep playing like they did on Sunday they have a chance, albeit miniscule, to go all the way.  If the Patriots win this game they have a shot at the division, they all knock out the Jets, and they have a chance to redeem themselves as a football powerhouse.  With Tom Brady back at the helm they should crush Buffalo like the roaches they are.

Patriots by 5

Kansas City @ Cincinnati.

Cincy shut out Cleveland and KC put up an honest fight against the Dolphins, but in the end both of these teams are terrible.  Neither of them has had a shot at anything since the preseason.  There is no point in even televising this game.  My prediction?  A tie.

Even

Detroit @ Green Bay

Another meaningless game.  The Packers almost spoiled the Bears Monday night.  They had it in the bag.  All they had to do was kick a 30 yard field goal in the last seconds of the game to knock the Bears out of the playoff picture and end their season with a little dignity.  But they didn’t and now they’re going to wind their season down with an easy win against the winless Lions at home.  Green Bay Packer fans are going to spend this game waving good-bye.  See ya next year Green Bay.  We’ll miss you.

Packers by 3

Chicago @ Houston

Chicago is hungry for a playoff spot.  They proved it on Monday when they miraculously blocked a last-second field goal to come from behind and beat the Packers in overtime.  All of Chicago knows exactly what is at stake.  They know that they have lost too many close games that they should have won this season and that now there is no room for error.  If the Bears play as hard as they did Monday night, and they will, they will solidly beat the Houston Texans who have been spoiling teams left and right this season.  Houston may not be a very good football club, but they must be taken seriously by Chicago on Sunday.  Chicago needs not only to win, but they need also the Vikings to lose which is quite possible.  This game will be brutal.

Bears by 1

Tennessee @ Indianapolis

Both teams have already clinched their positions.  The Tennessee Titans have clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with the best record in the NFL.  Winning this game for them is akin to polishing their trophy a little more.  Still, they need to win to intimidate all the teams and gamblers that don’t take them seriously.  They will not rest this day.  Tennessee can afford to lose this game, but if they are to be a true contender they know that they cannot lose ever.  Indianapolis has clinched the first wild card slot but needs this win to ensure the homefield in their first playoff game.  They also need to prove that they can beat the Titans if they are to be taken seriously in the playoffs this year.  If they lose this game they will go nowhere.

Colts by 1

New York Giants @ Minnesota

This game is crucial for the Vikings.  If they lose and Chicago wins they are out.  They know that the Bears will win their game.  They know they must defeat the top-seated Giants in order to extend their season into the playoffs.  It will not be easy for them.  The Giants are young, healthy, and proven winners.  They are a force to be reckoned with and a strong bet to be repeat Super Bowl champions.  I wish you luck Minnesota, but I will bet against you.

Giants by 3

Carolina @ New Orleans

Carolina has clinched a playoff berth, but if they beat the Saints they will win their division and get a bye.  New Orleans needs to win, but also needs the Bears, the Buccaneers, the Cowboys, and the Redskins to lose for a seat.  Even then I’m not sure they would get one.  They have proven throughout the season that they are not a real contender, while Carolina has proven that they can beat anybody in this league.  Carolina will be the victors this day.

Panthers by 5

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh

With an easy win against the Browns at home the Steelers will clinch a bye.

Steelers by 6

Oakland @ Tampa Bay

This is Tampa’s last chance.  They blew their chance at the division when the Panthers proved the better team two weeks ago.  Now they must defeat the Raiders at home and must rely on the Cowboys, the Vikings, and the Bears all to lose.  It is not looking good, but Tampa will hold up their end of the bargain leaving their fate to the gods.

Buccaneers by 5

Jacksonville @ Baltimore

Baltimore must win this game for a slot and they will.

Ravens by 6

Miami @ New York Jets

Mathematically the Jets have a shot at a playoff spot, but with New England playing Buffalo and Baltimore playing Jacksonville they and I both know that their season is over.  Still, with this game they have a chance to know a team out of the running and even though their last few games have been sloppy I think Brett and the Jets have what it takes to spoil the Dolphins.  Look for New England to win the Division and the Ravens to get the other Wild Card.

Jets by 2

Dallas @ Philadelphia

Dallas will go into this game with guns blazing.  They will relentlessly pound on the inconsistent Eagles who might have had a chance if they didn’t tie the lowly Bengals.  Donovan McNabb, your ignorance of the rules of the game you play professionally has cost your team a playoff spot.

Cowboys by 1

Seattle @ Arizona

The Cardinals will win this game because Seattle is terrible.  Move along.  There is nothing to see here, folks.

Cardinals by 5

Washington @ SanFrancisco

SF is out for the count.  They are going nowhere slow.  Washington doesn’t really have a chance at a spot, but they will fight with every bit of strength that they have for that small ray of light.  They will win this game even though it may not be enough.

Redskins by 5

Denver @ SanDiego

The Denver Broncos have been sitting in first place since the season started.  They have coasted through this brutal season with an easy schedule in a weak division.  They have lost games they should have won and they have shrugged it off because they could.  They are a lazy ballclub.  The Chargers have spent the last three weeks clawing their way out of the gutter to get to this epic moment.  A win against the Broncos at home on Sunday will deseat Denver and put them in 1st place with a .500 record.  You had better believe that the Chargers will play with everything that they have and that the SanDiego crowd will be loud and intimidating.  They will go into this game with every advantage except for the most important one which is being the better team.  Denver will win because they can.

Broncos by 1

Good-bye regular season.  It has truly been a pleasure.

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