All right, here we are. Week 17. It all comes down to this.
Er: does it, though? When you think about it, isn't Week 17 sort of like the preseason?
I mean, look at Rams-Seahawks on Sunday night, which will be the most preseason-ish playoff of all time. For God's sake, Charlie Whitehurst is starting. But like 70% of the NFL is basically playing meaningless football this week, right? Most of the playoff seeding has been pretty much cast in stone by now, right? So picking winners for these games is like the preseason, when the biggest x-factor is which teams decide to play their best players, for how long, etc.
Or, among teams that long since bizarro-clinched — ensuring they'll spend the playoffs on the couch — it comes down to guessing who will actually decide to, you know, try. So it's like betting on the NBA.
In that spirit, because I've already spent thousands of words writing about Charles Barkley and Charles Oakley, let's skip straight to this week's game. No point in trying to craft something coherent, ya know? It's Week 17. If you're looking for something more meaningful, Drew Magary's scathing takedown of Gregg Easterbrook's scrappy fetish is highly recommended, or you can check out my take on the NFL stories of the year.
Anyway, let's get to it.
GIVE ME A HEAPING HELPING
Just to clarify, here's what the playoffs will look like if the Steelers beat the Browns and the Falcons beat the Panthers (both games that could be over by halftime, just like our favorite August pastime).
- Designated NFC West Representative
In other words, if we grant the Steelers' and Falcons' games as locks — which we will, if only to jinx Pittsburgh — then that leaves only four games that truly have bearing on the playoffs next week.
Titans at Colts (-9.5)
The Titans have lost seven of their past eight games, and just got blown out by the Chiefs. I know it's a division game and there's all sorts of history, but three weeks ago the Colts basically toyed with them the entire game in Nashville (despite the misleading 30-28 final). And the Titans have made it pretty clear they don't care at this point.
This isn't like college, where players will make a point of playing hard to give their coach a proper send-off. Jeff Fisher's leaving Tennessee because his players don't give a f--k about how they make him look. Jacksonville can better pray for a Jim Caldwell Collapse, but even that may not be enough.
Bears at Packers (-10)
The Bears would be crazy to give this game to the Packers, and knocking their biggest rivals out of the playoffs is almost enough motivation to make this feel like a real, meaningful game. Alas, they'll play at 4:15 on Sunday, and their only chance at a one seed in the playoffs will be if New Orleans and Atlanta lose. In other words, by the time this game starts, the Bears will have nothing to play for. But that doesn't make a difference! Just listen to how fired up Brian Urlacher is!
"Obviously, we want to play well every game, but if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world," he said. "We still have a bye week to fix whatever problems we may have. So, it’s not a huge issue."
Ah, yes. Remember: There's a reason that fantasy football playoffs tend to end in Week 16.
Rams (-3) at Seahawks
We joke about the NFC West non-stop, but that doesn't mean we won't watch this game. It's an extra playoff game, and when you think back to preseason football and/or every non-BCS college bowl, then Sunday night's pillow fight doesn't seem half bad. As for the majority of Seahawks fans rooting against their team Sunday night so that they'll get a better draft pick?
Go ahead, Seattle. Play it cute. Just remember: This is how you lost basketball. (Well that, and Clay Bennett and David Stern lying to your faces and then stabbing you in the back.)
Bucs at Saints (-7.5)
For the Bucs to make the playoffs, the Packers need to lose (not likely), the Giants needs to lose (slightly more likely) and they'd have to beat a Saints team that beat them 31-6 earlier this season. So no, things aren't looking good for Tampa Bay. For the record, though, my 2010 dream of a Chiefs-Bucs Super Bowl isn't dead. Just on hold 'til next year.
I'LL HAVE A SCOOP OF THAT, PLEASE
Raiders at Chiefs (-3.5)
Before the season, I was choosing between the Chiefs and the Raiders as a sleeper team. I chose the Raiders because a) I couldn't trust Todd Haley, and b) the Raiders are on the tail-end of the most insane decade in sports, so they were more interesting. And now, with a win on Sunday, Oakland will be undefeated in the AFC West.
But, somehow, the Chiefs are the ones going to the playoffs. This makes no sense.
Jaguars at Texans (-3)
Any team that loses to the Redskins in a must-win situation deserves to miss the playoffs...
Giants (-4) at Redskins
...but hey! I'm going to this game!
Every year I try to make it to two Redskins games. This year I went to the opener against Dallas, when Donovan McNabb had 'Skins fans feeling on top of the world, and the new era of Redskins football was officially underway.
Three months later, Rex Grossman is starting in Week 17, and for 'Skins fans, it feels like the end of the world all over again. There is no hope, and Sunday's game will feature some of the most sarcastic, disenchanted cheering you've ever seen. Funny what a few months can do. And I swear to God, it feels like this has been the trajectory of every Redskins season since the new millennium.
I'LL TASTE IT FIRST...
Cowboys at Eagles (OFF)
It was completely ridiculous for the NFL to postpone the Eagles game. What's the point of playing football if you're not going to play in a blizzard? And it wasn't even that bad. So naturally, I completely agreed with Governor Ed Rendell when he had this to say about it:
"We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down."
A little racist? Yeah. Melodramatic? Sure. But his point's a good one. Of course America's a nation of wusses. Do you have any idea how mad I get when my Comcast DVR doesn't record something the way I programmed it to? It ruins my entire night. Remember how pissed off people got about the antenna on the iPhone? WE'RE TOTALLY A NATION OF PAMPERED WUSSES.
Postponing that game was pathetic. The China part of the comments, though... I wasn't so sure about that. I feel like a few harmless stereotypes aren't that problematic, especially since the Chinese will probably rule the world within the next fifty years. But as far as holding China up as some example for America, I don't know. I asked my friend Muse, who's been living in Shanghai for the past year. Here's what he had to say:
I think he's underestimating how average most Chinese people are. It's just that there's a s--tload of them. Plus, they haven't been marching against complete political oppression, so why would they give a f--k about a canceled football game?
And he makes a good point. When push comes to shove, I'm willing to bet the Chinese are every bit as apathetic as Americans. They're just less pampered.
Bengals at Ravens (-9.5)
If Bengals fans could get rid of either Marvin Lewis or Carson Palmer, it'd be kind of a tough choice, no? On the one hand, it feels like Lewis has been quietly awful for the past decade. On the other, Carson Palmer has been so spectacularly awful, Cincy fans could potentially talk themselves into giving Marvin Lewis a fresh start with a capable signal caller.
I DON'T KNOW...SMELLS KINDA FUNNY...
Panthers at Falcons (-14.5)
Slam dunk no. 1.
Steelers (-5.5) at Browns
Annnnd.... slam dunk no. 2. And while we're jinxing the Steelers, this seems like a good time to reminisce.
Remember when Ben Roethlisberger showed up to his apology press conference sporting the rapiest mullet of all time? An oft-forgotten highlight of Big Ben's 2010:
NO THANKS, MY PLATE'S FULL
Dolphins at Patriots (-4.5)
Vikings at Lions (-3)
Chargers (-3.5) at Broncos
Chad Henne! Joe Webb! Shaun Hill! Tim Tebow! It's true: for every Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers, there are twice as many terrible quarterbacks. And that's why the future is bright for Jake Locker.
Arizona at San Francisco (-5.5)
THE NFC WEST!!!!!!!!!!
Sorry for low quality pics, indeed.