NFL Predictions 2019: Week 17

I’ve had worse performances in the penultimate week of the regular season, no question. However, I’m trying to do something and it put me in bad position. I was 11-5 picking winners (158-81-1 overall) and now need a really great final week in arguably the toughest week to project in order to finish with 170. I was 8-7-1 against the spread (129-106-5 overall) and 8-8 on the over/under (121-117-2 overall). The +1 week left me +27 against Vegas for the season. I should feel better about this than I do. Hopefully I finish the regular season strong.

Cleveland (6-9) @ Cincinnati (1-14): The Browns have had a rough season. In fairness they were handed unrealistic expectations. It always happens when a team finishes strong or adds players in free agency. Just ask the Chargers. Freddie Kitchens is a joke of a head coach and it trickles down. A 2-4 record in one possession games was only part of the problem. They were unable to overcome a really tough first half of the schedule and quite frankly there is no reason they should not have been able to reel off a perfect 7-0 mark in between the New England and Baltimore games. Had they done that, this could be a playoff team. They lost their 2018 swagger. The Bengals have never had swagger. Last week’s rally from down 35-12 was epic and they still found a way to lose. The setback secured the top pick and that means Burrow Time. It frees them up to win this one without consequences so their fans can relax and root for a win against their in-state rival. Just a few weeks ago Cleveland won the first meeting 27-19. Mayfield was limited to 11 completions for 192 yards and on the stat sheet Cincinnati had them in most categories. Usually you don’t win when you have the ball just 25:29 and tally 17 first downs. In the rematch I can see it going either way. The Browns are kind of mad at a lost season and want to take it out on someone. The Bengals are miffed about fans rooting for them to lose so they could secure the top pick. I see plenty of offense. No one seems to want to tackle in a meaningless game for some reason. Chubb and Mixon should both go off in a game that doesn’t count in most fantasy leagues. For some reason the conservative in me can’t pick a 1-win team to win. Even if it rains I think the scoring will be up from the first meeting: Cleveland 34, Cincinnati 28 (CLE -2.5/over 43)

Miami (4-11) @ New England (12-3): The schedule makers are often kind to the Patriots and this is no exception. They struggle against the Dolphins, but when it matters they draw them at home where the warm weather team has very little chance to wreck their plans for a bye. It’s a meaningful game for New England so all hands will be on deck. They struggled past Buffalo last week to secure the AFC East and want everyone to believe they are ready for yet another run to the Super Bowl. It’s not true of course. This is like a relationship that is doomed for failure, but the couple is still showing up for Christmas together putting on a united front. Miami is 4-4 since their 0-7 start and the hosts are 4-3 since their 8-0 start so let’s not pretend this is going to be a blowout. Well, it still might because football is unpredictable. The first meeting was 43-0 after all. The Dolphins can’t really play much defense and just blew a 35-12 lead against a 1-win Cincinnati team before winning in OT. They have allowed 31-plus points in five of their last six games. It’s hard to imagine Fitzpatrick matching touchdowns with Brady. For that reason, this is a solid win for the home team as they march towards the end of their cheating dynasty: New England 31, Miami 17 (MIA +16.5/over 43.5)

Chicago (7-8) @ Minnesota (10-5): The Vikings are locked in as the second wild card so it’s hard to imagine them risking any of their key starters in this game with a playoff game next week. This is what makes final week predictions so tricky. Cook is out for sure. If Cousins is rested the whole way it changes things quite a bit against a defense that can clamp down. Their deflating MNF loss leaves them lacking in confidence and yet I’m unsure they really want to put it all out on the line here. A very good team is going to be waiting for them in the playoffs, whether it’s the Packers or Saints. Chicago is mad and has endured a disappointing season after entering with Super Bowl aspirations. Their quarterback has been crucified and I can understand why when he was drafted ahead of two dynamic AFC playoff bound signal callers. They have been unable to play spoiler the last two weeks after winning the previous three in a row to give themselves faint playoff hopes. I think they come in here, play hard and beat the backups: Chicago 21, Minnesota 17 (MIN +3.5/over 36)

LA Chargers (5-10) @ Kansas City (11-4): The Chargers said goodbye to Carson last week and failed to eliminate their bitter rivals, Oakland, from the playoff race. Now they play another division foe hoping to spoil playoff seeding, but it’s an awful setup for them. It’s expected to be below freezing and for a Southern California team that’s really difficult. The offense has been mostly flat in the second half of the season save for a 45-10 blowout win at Jacksonville. It’s hard to believe an offense that could have three players over 1,000 yards receiving if things go well here will have just that one game scoring at least 31 points all season. They scored 24-plus on five occasions. Kansas City has the potential to put that up in a quarter. In fairness, the Chiefs haven’t been explosive of late either, failing to score more than 26 points in four of their last five games. However, the defense has allowed a total of 48 points in those games, all wins. The defense is going to carry them forward through the playoffs and potentially the Super Bowl. Rivers is possibly playing his final game for the Bolts and it is sad to see his demise although fitting if all three of the 2004 quarterback class retires together, which is quite realistic. Neither quarterback played all that well in the first meeting, a 24-17 Kansas City win, as both were south of completing 60% of their passes. Rivers had 353 yards, but 4 picks. Mahomes threw for only 182. The Chiefs are flying under the radar and are probably one of the better three seeds in recent memory. They are playing for something even if the Pats beat the Dolphins because the Texans could catch them. So their starters are in and they lay the hammer down: Kansas City 26, LA Chargers 16 (KC -7.5/under 48)

NY Jets (6-9) @ Buffalo (10-5): These teams met in the season opener and things have things changed a lot. At that time it was considered an upset that the Bills won 17-16 as the Jets were a dark horse playoff pick. It was 16-0 at the half and 16-3 a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Darnold’s mono can be somewhat blamed on New York’s demise this season as it helped them to a 1-7 first half. They are 5-2 since and trying to build towards 2020. I’m sure a lot of people will be wrong about them next preseason as well. They were spoiler last week with a win over Pittsburgh who can still secure a playoff spot, and their 34-3 blowout of Oakland a few weeks back could be the game that keeps that franchise out of the tournament ultimately. This is a weird spot because the Bills are locked into the first wild card and have a game to prepare for. They want to be healthy for it and rested. Last week was deflating as they fell short against New England as usual. Again, I have a hard time imagining them going full out here with a playoff game on deck. It makes no sense. Buffalo is actually 4-3 in the second half of the season, a game worse than New York oddly enough. Their defense is great and that’s what makes this tough to predict. It could carry them. I expect another low scoring game. Do they rest Allen? I think they have to and that’s the reason for this pick: NY Jets 19, Buffalo 17 (NYJ +4/under 37.5)

Green Bay (12-3) @ Detroit (3-11-1): Remember the controversy surrounding the first meeting? Yeah, neither do I. It’s hard to see the Packers as a powerhouse when they lost to the 49ers 37-8 just a few weeks ago. Still, they keep winning games. In fairness they are 12-1 when playing outside of California this season so there’s that. They just won in Minnesota to claim the NFC North, so the dome thing isn’t a big deal. It matters to them because the playoff seeding is unsettled. The defense has played really well since that blowout loss, allowing 51 points total in four games, all wins. The offense has averaged only 21 points in the last three weeks, but that’s okay. If they needed to score more they have that gear. The Lions have lost eight in a row and are at risk to go winless in the second half of the season here if anyone cares. No one does. They have not scored more than 20 points in five straight and six of their last seven. The defense isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t have the lock down ability to make this interesting. I see a playoff team taking care of business; Green Bay 26, Detroit 17 (DET +13/over 41.5)

New Orleans (12-3) @ Carolina (5-10): The Saints have not lost a road game since week 2 so let that sink in. Usually dome teams struggle in the elements and rain is expected so we’ll see. They really haven’t faced adverse weather all season. Last week in Tennessee was the closest. Rain is expected here and they could be in for a challenge tackling McCaffrey in a record-breaking season. Thomas is extending his own record though in receptions and his team has something to play for. The game a month ago was a battle. New Orleans won 34-31 on a field goal at the gun. They led 14-0 early and held Carolina off for most of the game until they went 20 minutes while being outscored 13-0 late. The Panthers showed well against Seattle two weeks ago before falling 30-24 so it’s not like they have been complete trash down the stretch. Last week they did collapse in Indy during a 38-6 loss but two of those touchdowns were on punt returns. Grier is learning on the job and he threw 3 picks and was sacked 5 times. This is not a good spot for him against a team hungry to secure a playoff seed. I see a rout on a neutral field, but the elements keep it closer: New Orleans 26, Carolina 15 (CAR +14/under 48)

Atlanta (6-9) @ Tampa Bay (7-8): Both of these teams could have fared a lot better this season. The Falcons are 5-2 in the second half, but one of the losses was 35-22 against the Bucs. Winston only threw two interceptions in that one. Tampa Bay is also 5-2 after the midway point of the season and suffered a tough 23-20 loss against playoff bound Houston last week. Obviously all the turnovers have wrecked them. It should be decent weather and these teams can score. How can anyone predict what Winston is going to do? Ryan is typically a better home player and I’m surprised the management is returning for 2020 given their atrocious first half of the season. One team is going to secure a 6-2 finish and earn the role of 2020 sleeper. I’m taking home team: Tampa Bay 31, Atlanta 27 (TB +0/over 47)

Philadelphia (8-7) @ NY Giants (4-11): Someone is going to win the NFC East and the Eagles have the power. All seemed lost when they dropped a game at Miami to start the month, but sweeping the division has put them in position to control their own destiny. A few weeks ago it looked grim against the Giants as they trailed 17-3 with Manning trying for some glory on MNF in possibly his final season. They pulled it out in OT with a touchdown pass to Ertz who won’t be able to play the rematch. They face Jones this time and he is coming off a 5-touchdown game in an OT win over Washington after his defense blew a two-touchdown lead. They have scored 77 points the last two weeks. Now they face a defense that can clamp down. It’s easy to say that Philly will rise up here and put down a bad team to secure the division. New York is their bitter rival and wants to wreck the party. The stadium will be rocking. Weather is a factor. Something wild could be in the offering. Forget all of that. The most likely scenario is that the good team with momentum gets back to the tournament and finishes the job: Philadelphia 22, NY Giants 19 (NYG +5.5/under 45.5)

Tennessee (8-7) @ Houston (10-5): The Texans could improve their playoff position if the Chiefs get upset by the Chargers, but that’s a stretch. Plus, does it matter a lot if they are the three or the four? I can’t see them risking key starters over that different. It’s not like they would earn a week off or anything. The Titans are in a much different position. They are going all out to make the playoffs. Their loss to Houston at home two weeks ago plus last week’s loss to New Orleans has put them in a must-win situation. I think they are going to react well. This is a physical team with some leadership. Even if they have lost a couple games, they won four in a row before that and the last two of those came on the road against then-contenders. I think they smash things up here and find their way into the tournament for a rematch next week: Tennessee 23, Houston 20 (HOU +.5/under 44.5)

Washington (3-12) @ Dallas (7-8): The Cowboys are way too talented to be in this position. Two three-game losing streaks doomed their season, both of which were capped by head scratching road losses (Jets, Bears). A 1-6 record in one possession games is all about coaching and leadership as far as I’m concerned. Now they have to hope the Giants beat the Eagles and give them a chance to win their way into the tournament. The Redskins were actually still mathematically alive in the horrific NFC East just a couple weeks ago. They really haven’t played too poorly in the last five weeks, going 2-3 with a loss in OT and another loss by just 5 points. Four times they have lost by double digits on the road and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number go up here. Dallas has a tendency to show up big in random moments, especially when it’s too late. Their season is likely lost, but at least they can level their record: Dallas 33, Washington 18 (DAL -7/over 44)

Pittsburgh (8-7) @ Baltimore (13-2): It’s cold and rainy for this one, and the starting lineups are a mess. Hodges is in at quarterback for the Steelers, and Jackson is out for the Ravens because they have locked up the top seed. When these teams met in week 5 it was Rudolph and Jackson although Hodges did finish the game. Baltimore won 26-23 in OT to snap a two-game losing streak and start their current string of 11 straight wins. They hadn’t come close to finding their stride at that point and I would say November was for sure their peak. It’s not that they have played poorly the last three weeks, but they are not as dominant. Pittsburgh is trying to steal the second wild card here against the backups and has hurt their cause the last two weeks by losing low scoring games against the Bills and Jets. The offense has been shaky all season and the defense has carried the load. Griffin is I’m sure excited to play here and has been a fierce competitor his whole life. Plus, these teams are rivals. The backups want to eliminate a hated division foe. It figures to be a physical game. Yes, the Ravens won’t be going all out but they are off next week anyway so it’s not like they need to roll over completely. I think they muster up just enough to finish off the best regular season in their brief history: Baltimore 19, Pittsburgh 13 (BAL +1.5/under 41)

Indianapolis (7-8) @ Jacksonville (5-10): Last year’s 6-0 December result was one of the strangest final scores in recent memory. I hope we don’t get a repeat of that in a game no one will be watching. Neither team has anything to play for. Minshew and Brissett are trying to show they can handle the starting job in 2020 so they are motivated. Thunderstorms could impact the outcome so that’s interesting. The Colts snapped a four-game losing streak last week with a 38-6 win over Carolina. They had allowed 31-plus points in three straight heading into that game. Prior to that skid they beat Jacksonville 33-13. That first meeting knocked the Jags down and kind of out in the AFC South chase. Foles was starting back then, and Fournette had only 8 carries while two Colts had 100-plus yards rushing. Jacksonville is having to refute reports their head coach will be fired, and has lost six times by 12-plus points in the last seven games. The exception was a shocking comeback at Oakland to close down the Coliseum. It feels as if they are a team without motivation. When they last played at home the Chargers beat them 45-10. Minshew has been a fun story, but the visitors are more talented and have better coaching. I could see this going either way I’m going with the more likely result: Indianapolis 24, Jacksonville 21 (JAX +6/over 41.5)

Oakland (7-8) @ Denver (6-9): Last year the Raiders were maybe going to play their final game in Oakland against the Broncos. Obviously they had another season at the Coliseum. Now they for sure suit up as the Oakland Raiders for the final time against their rivals, and with slim playoff hopes on the line. I was at a game when Elway led Denver down the field for a game-winning touchdown to eliminate Oakland from the playoffs even though his own team was already out. Now he’s in the luxury suite hoping his new quarterback can do the same. The Raiders have the fifth-worst point differential in the NFL, so it’s not like they deserve a chance at a wild card. They are 2-5 on the road and without their stud rookie back Jacobs and key cog in their offensive line Brown when they really need both in the lineup to be competitive. It was impressive for them to win at the Chargers last week without either. Oakland won the first meeting in week 1, 24-16 when Flacco was starting for Denver. Lock has shown some promise in his rookie season and has a distinct weather advantage because Carr forgets how to play when it gets below 40. The forecast calls for 14. Honestly, the cold is kryptonite for this team. Denver’s defense is really good. They haven’t shown it as much because the offense is soft. However, in winning three of their last four games they have shown they can compete with just a little bit of help from the offense. Lock has given them a spark. They can wrap up a 5-3 second half of the season with a win here and I think they get it done: Denver 23, Oakland 17 (DEN -3/under 41.5)

Arizona (5-9-1) @ LA Rams (8-7): As quickly as the window opened for the Rams to win it all, it’s about to slam shut. They have given away a ton of top draft picks and are set up to be in salary cap hell. That’s an ugly combination. At least they have dominated the Cardinals recently, rolling them by scores of 34-7, 31-9, and 34-0 in the last three meetings. That’s consistent. This is their last game before moving into their new stadium and a chance to finish with a winning record. They nearly played spoiler last week in San Francisco, and did beat Seattle earlier this month. It’s been a wild season marked by inconsistency. Arizona has mustered up a couple wins after losing six in a row, and last week’s 27-13 win at Seattle stands out for sure. I’m sure they want to get this one and earn the sleeper pick role for 2020. This is really hard to project because neither team has anything to play for. Los Angeles is frustrated and more talented. I think they can get this one: LA Rams 30, Arizona 26 (AZ +7.5/over 45)

San Francisco (12-3) @ Seattle (11-4): Massive playoff seeding implications in this one as the 49ers try to land the top seed and more importantly avoid a path to the Super Bowl that includes three straight road games. They need to overturn the OT loss suffered at the hands of the Seahawks last month in order to avoid the latter fate. Seattle is aiming for the three seed at least if they can win, and could have been playing for more if not for last week’s ugly loss to Arizona. It feels like they peaked while winning the first meeting and the following weeks with wins over the Eagles and Vikings. Going 1-2 against teams not going to the playoffs down the stretch is not a good look. In the first meeting, San Francisco was in control early with a 10-0 lead, but went 35 minutes of game time without scoring while Seattle went on a 21-0 run. A defensive score and a field goal got them back even, and after falling behind again they were able to tie it with a field goal at the gun. It was all for naught as they lost on a field goal on the final play of overtime. It’s kind of troubling for their offense to have gone 47 minutes without a touchdown after that one score. Still, the Seahawks are a mess at running back. Lynch signing is fun for fans, but they need immediate help. Turbin, who was born in the Bay Area, was also signed to fill the void of the team losing their top three options. I can’t favor a team going up against a great pass-rushing defense without a serious running game. The 49ers can smell blood here. They know how crucial this one is. Wilson has the experience in big games, but he’s hamstrung here: San Francisco 22, Seattle 20 (SF +1/under 47)

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