CHARLOTTE NC - DECEMBER 12: Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts after making a catch against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 12 2010 in Charlotte North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
It's Week 17, and gambling requires a little more study this week. With playoff scenarios mucking everything up, many back-ups will get their time in the spotlight on Sunday. Aiding and A'Betting is here to do your homework for you.
It seems only last week fans were packing Falcons training camp for open practices, but here we stare at Week 17 - and gambling takes on a whole new level of study. Some teams are in, some are out; some teams are playing to win, some are resting their starters. So this week, less "pulling analysis from my nether regions" and more "actual valuable information." Oh, and please know I'm ignoring all scenarios involving ties, because they're far-fetched and needlessly complicate things. And I'm anything but complicated.
Carolina @ Atlanta (-14 1/2). We're all up on this one, right? The Falcons need a win to clinch the NFC South and home field advantage, and the Panthers were out of playoff contention the minute they drafted Jimmy Clausen. However, color me a twinge nervous, because the Panthers haven't played since last Thursday, while Atlanta had a hard-fought loss on Monday. Now the talent gap should be great enough to make up that difference, but as a Falcons fan for 25 years, I'm equipped with a sky-is-falling mentality. PICK: Carolina
Cincinnati @ Baltimore (-10). The Ravens are definitely in the playoffs, but they can clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win here and a Pittsburgh loss. So they'll come out with all guns blazing/knives stabbing against a Bengals squad that really needs a high draft pick. (The expiration date for Ray Lewis jokes has always been 01/01/2011 - just under the deadline!). PICK: Baltimore
Pittsburgh (-6) @ Cleveland. The Browns will be in the playoffs - next year. However, they've ended this season playing like suckeyes, and will continue to do so against an amped-up Pittsburgh squad. The Steelers can clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win so, as banged up as they are, they'll steamroll Cleveland. PICK: Pittsburgh
Minnesota @ Detroit (-3). There are obviously no playoff implications here, but still plenty of drama at Minnesota's QB position. Does Brett Favre come back for a (fingers-crossed) final game? Do the Vikings even want him back? Since the game is basically meaningless, it seems smarter to start Joe Webb, because don't you want to see if last week was a fluke? The Vikings could have lucked into a starting quarterback in the sixth round of the draft, pick 199 - something that has happened before in the exact same spot. PICK: Minnesota
Oakland @ Kansas City (-3). A win and Kansas City clinches the 3rd seed and a date with the Jets. A loss (combined with a probable Colts win) puts them in the 4th slot, and sends them to Baltimore. Which team would you rather face right now? PICK: Kansas City
Miami @ New England (-4 1/2). Tom Brady will probably be on the sidelines by the end of the first quarter - but it won't matter. Even with home field advantage locked up until the Super Bowl, the Pats' back-ups will crush the hopeless Dolphins. PICK: New England
Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-9). This should be a good one - Tampa Bay still has a slim playoff hope (they need to win here and pray for the Giants and Packers to lose). New Orleans could win home field with a victory plus a Falcons loss. As much as it pains me to say it, Josh Freeman is pretty damn good and should keep his team in this one. PICK: Tampa Bay
Buffalo @ NY Jets (PICK). It might be Mark Brunell-time in Jets Country. Though Mark Sanchez is expected to start, the 86-year-old former Jaguars QB will probably take most of the snaps on Sunday. That obviously tells you the Jets have nothing to play for, already clinching a playoff spot without possibility of a bye. Most of the Bills, however, are playing for 2011 jobs. PICK: Buffalo
Chicago @ Green Bay (-10). There's a reason I'm dividing this week's games up by time - the 1 p.m. sked will have a huge effect on this one. If by some don't-hold-your-breath occurrence, the Falcons and Saints both lose earlier in the day, Chicago clinches home field advantage by beating Green Bay. However, that's OBVIOUSLY not gonna happen (and by the looks of that spread, Vegas agrees), so Bears starters should be resting. And the Packers are in with a win, or dual losses by the Giants and Bucs. An easy pick. PICK: Green Bay
Jacksonville @ Houston (-3). Maurice Jones-Drew: out. Andre Johnson: out. Your fantasy football season: likely over. So why would anyone pay attention to this game? Yeah, the Jaguars can technically make the playoffs with a win and a Colts loss, but that's a super long-shot. PICK: Houston
Tennessee @ Indianapolis (-10). The Colts control their own destiny (I got this far without using that cliche!); win and the AFC South belongs to them. Indy can also get in with a Jaguars loss, but they obviously won't know the outcome of that game by kickoff. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see what Head Coach Peyton Manning decides if Houston goes up 28-0 at halftime. PICK: Indianapolis
Dallas @ Philadelphia (-10). The Eagles are locked into the three-seed and have wrapped up the NFC East, while Dallas notsomuch. Michael Vick has already been declared out, and I assume a handful of Philly starters will follow suit after a drive or two. Not sure I understand this spread, which is still off-the-board in most sportsbooks. PICK: Dallas
NY Giants (-4) @ Washington. The Giants are hanging onto a slim playoff hope, but it requires a win here and a Packers loss. They should get the first part taken care of, but Green Bay will probably be playing Chicago's backups. The Redskins, on the other hand, just want to get this season over with. PICK: NY Giants
San Diego (-3 1/2) @ Denver. Both teams will watch the first round of the playoffs from the comfort of their living room couches, so the only interesting detail will be another start for Tim Tebow. I still haven't gotten over the oddity of seeing him and Knowshon Moreno on the same team. PICK: Denver
Arizona @ San Francisco (-6). Ok, so as I mentioned last week, I spent the holidays in Phoenix at my sister's house. And there was only one thing I wanted to do while out west: go to the Christmas night Cowboys-Cardinals game, only three miles from her house. Having seen Falcons-Panthers tickets practically given away in Charlotte, I knew we'd get in for cheap-cheap. My God, WRONG. The scalpers were asking $200 a ticket before the game. They were asking $125 at halftime. Sure, there were a lot of Cowboys fans there, but I completely underestimated the need for Christmas night entertainment. So I watched the game from a sports bar, that ugly stadium gloating outside a nearby window. PICK: Arizona
St. Louis (-3) @ Seattle. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is your NFL game of the week. Seriously. The Rams (7-8) square off against the Seahawks (6-9), and the winner clinches the NFC West and the final playoff spot. Basically, it's a competition to see who gets pummeled by New Orleans in Round One. PICK: St. Louis
Last Week: 10-6-0
Lines via SBNation.