Playoff Berths Await for the Stalwart as NFL Regular Season Concludes
1. Denver at San Diego (-10)—Denver has sewed up a first-round playoff bye. San Diego is out of the postseason running, but in fact Kansas City needs for the Chargers to lose in order for their slim playoff possibility to become a reality. Frankly, I don't see either of these teams having much incentive for leaving it all on this field. For the Chargers, a win will only be bittersweet, for at their best they're deserving of a playoff spot. Their tough schedule was too much to overcome. They might win this one, but I'm not confident of that spread. Pick: Denver.
2. NY Giants (-9) at Oakland—Giants want this one badly. They're already guaranteed a playoff spot, but a loss means that a Redskins victory at Philly gives the NFC East title to Washington. Having a first-round home game is worth fighting for. But the Giants are a little banged up these days on defense. Raiders are just playing out the string, but it might be interesting with former Giants QB Kerry Collins helming the home team. Giants should win, but by how much? Pick: Oakland.
3. Arizona at Indianapolis (-6.5)—All the Tony Dungy stuff aside, it would be a real downer for the Colts to drop their final three games. I imagine that even with Jim Sorgi (left) doing most of the quarterbacking, they can deliver a "W" at home against lowly Arizona. Pick: Indianapolis.
4. Baltimore (-3) at Cleveland—A game of no consequence that could go either way. Ravens just now showing glimpses of the good team a lot of people thought they'd be way back in September. Browns seem to be slowing up from earlier scrappy pace. Pick: Baltimore.
5. Buffalo (-1) at NY Jets—Another game between also-rans. Buffalo a better team, and coming off an exciting win over Cincy on the road. Pick: Buffalo.
6. Carolina (-4) at Atlanta—A huge game for Carolina. They need a win and a Tampa Bay loss to capture NFC South title. Plus, there's actually a scenario where they could be left out in the cold altogether if they lose. Atlanta is out of the playoff race after a lot of early-season hype. Falcons did play well last week against Tampa Bay, however. If Carolina wants this game badly enough, they should beat the spread. Pick: Carolina.
7. Chicago at Minnesota (-4)—What was thought might be a critical end-of-season game has turned into a ho-hum. Bears have a first-round bye no matter what they do. Vikings self-destructed last week against Baltimore with a playoff hope still available. Bears will work on their offensive chops here, with resurrected QB Rex Grossman getting needed playing time. Pick: Chicago.
8. Cincinnati at Kansas City (-7)—Believe it or not, after plenty of travails, the Chiefs still have a shot at the playoffs. But they need to defeat a very good Cincy team, and have both Pittsburgh and San Diego lose, in order to grab the wild-card. Cincy's already slated to host a first-round playoff game, and winning this contest won't change anything. Pick: Kansas City.
9. Detroit at Pittsburgh (-13.5)—Steelers need to win this game to assure their playoff berth. They could lose and still get in, but it might be better to just assume they need the "W," especially since their game will be played concurrently with the Cincy-KC matchup. Detroit is bad enough to not beat this healthy spread. Pick: Pittsburgh.
10. Miami at New England (-5.5)—Interesting matchup between surging Patriots and improving Dolphins. Dolphins, at 8-7, can actually gain a winning season with a victory. Even going .500 shows remarkable improvement under rookie head coach Nick Saban. All done with the likes of Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels at QB. Patriots playing very tough football and seem to be feeling their oats, which is not good news for playoff-bound AFC teams. Pick: New England.
11. New Orleans at Tampa Bay (-14)—Buccaneers secure NFC South title with a victory. This game reeks of Tampa Bay rout: they have incentive and QB Chris Simms and RB Cadillac Williams (left) are playing very well. Pick: Tampa Bay.
12. Houston (-1.5) at San Francisco—The Texans favored on the road? I don't buy it. Pick: San Francisco.
13. Tennessee at Jacksonville (-3.5)—A pride game for the Titans, for whom a loss would mean a 4-12 season. Jags might be resting up for playoffs, which means a first-round game traveling either to Cincy or New England. There are rumors that Jags QB Byron Leftwich might try out his mending ankle. Not sure that's a good idea, or even if it matters. Pick: Jacksonville.
14. Seattle at Green Bay (-3.5)—Decent side story here, with Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren returning somewhat triumphantly to Green Bay, where he led the Packers to two Super Bowls in the '90s. His 13-2 team looks to be the cream of the NFC, but it'll be interesting to see how their defense holds up against playoff competition. This game's a blip. I guess the oddsmakers figure the Packers have something to play for. Like pride. But at 3-12, this is one decimated team. Favre's final home game at Green Bay? Pick: Seattle.
15. Washington (-7) at Philadelphia—Yes, the Eagles would love to burst the Redskins' late-season playoff-surging balloon. 'Skins, having won four straight and now at 9-6, in strange position whereby they can lose but still get a wild-card slot if Dallas or Carolina loses. On the other hand, if they win and the Giants somehow manage to lose in Oakland, they can snag an NFC East title and a first-round home playoff game. This looks like a dangerous game for the visitors, however, especially with 'Skins QB Mark Brunell questionable and usually unpredictable Patrick Ramsey (right) as the backup. Eagles gave Giants a tussle a few weeks back and could prove troublesome. If the Redskins have truly become as good as some suspect, they should grab this "W." Points a sticky wicket. Pick: Washington.
16. St. Louis at Dallas (-12.5)—Cowboys can make playoffs with a victory and a loss by either Washington or Carolina. Bill Parcells' squad got lucky last week against the Panthers, but it was still a major effort to go to Carolina with their backs to the wall and emerge triumphant. Cowboys are not a bad team at all. What's weird is that, by the time this game rolls around late Sunday night, they'll already know the outcome of the other games, and if Washington and Carolina have won, then this contest becomes moot. If the Cowboys can gain the wild-card berth by winning, then they should have all the incentive they need to beat this otherwise extravagant spread. If they're already out of the running, it's anybody's game. Pick: Dallas.