Thursday, December 30, 2010

Week 17 Picks, and Fantasy Season Wrap Up

Well, it's official. I took down the Cute Little Daisies, 118-93, and won the B league. I'd like to thank Andy for trading me Aaron Rodgers. Couldn't have done it without you!

I finished fourth in the A league (the money league), despite scoring the most overall points. In my ESPN leagues, I won both championships that were decided in week 16 (thank you, Aaron Rodgers & Josh Freeman!!) and am leading 98-74 in one of the championships which will conclude week 17. Remarkably, in the other Championship game I am tied, 206.5 to 206.5. Incredible. Fortunately we have week 17 to break the tie.

For those of you wondering how the score could be 206.5 apiece, it's an IDP league (individual defensive players), and the league also starts a KRS (kick return specialist) and a punter (I know, weird ... you get points for inside the 20, net average, etc). I got a solid 9 points from Suh, who still leads all DTs in fantasy points.

And with that out of the way, here are the sketchy week 17 picks, where I'll try to determine which teams will actually try and which teams are already in offseason mode. Let's start with the Three-In-A-Row Detroit Lions.

Vikings (6-9) @ Lions (5-10)
Predicted Line: DET by 3
Actual Line: DET by 3

I should mention, all the games are on Sunday this week. No Thursday, no Monday night, no stupid Tuesday games. Speaking of which, the Vikes are coming off just 4 days of rest.

The big story in this game, obviously, is whether Brett Favre will lace up the ol' gunslingin' shoes one last time, or stay home and begrudgingly send a $50,000 check to the Commish.

Sidenote: Favre's fine is the equivalent of me being fined $67 dollars, if you divide out the same percentage. Can you imagine? I sexually harass a coworker, and after months of deliberation they decide to fine me $67 dollars??? What a world we live in. Favre should have been fined $4 million and suspended without pay. That would be justice. And frankly, I'm not even convinced he did anything wrong. But what's the point of fining a man .25% of his salary? No wonder Jenn Sterger's attorney said the fine was: "An affront to women."

Anyway, the truth is that Brett Favre is highly unlikely to play. Make no mistake, he wants to. But I don't think he can. And Minnesota would rather see Joe Webb anyway. The guy outplayed Michael Vick a couple days ago, so you might as well see what he can do. Let's just make it official: Favre is done. Career=over.

So this game is intriguing because both teams should (emphasis on should) by trying. The Vikings have a coach and a QB who are essentially auditioning for their own jobs. And the Lions are trying to finish the season on a 4 game winning streak, something we haven't done since 1999 (when Charlie Batch was throwing to Johnnie Morton - remember we started that year 6-2, but then lost our final four games to miss the playoffs?).

A four game winning streak would be unbelievable, considering they had a 4-40 stretch from 2007-2010. I know it's four meaningless games at the end of a meaningless season, but actually, not really. Not at all. They are playing for confidence which will seep into next year's mindset. They are playing to inspire the players to believe they can actually be winners. And most importantly, they are playing to keep Megatron. Remember, the more we lose, the more likely we lose our best player.

So this game, presumably, means a lot to both teams. It surely means a great deal to both coaches. A lot of coaches know they're going to be fired (John Fox, Marvin Lewis) and others think they'll probably be fired (Norv Turner, Gary Kubiak) and some aren't sure either way (Jeff Fisher, Tony Sparano, Eric Studesville). But for Schwartz and Frazier, this game is monumentally important for their own confidence and competitiveness going into next year. I don't like Schwartz as an X's and O's coach, but you can't deny the man's will to win. I think he'll have the team ready to compete.

What scares me the most is the 3 point spread. I love picking the Lions (especially lately) as an underdog, but as a favorite? That's a little risky. Don't forget, these Vikings have other-worldly talent at the RB, DT, and DE positions, and pretty dang good players at WR, LB, and CB. Aside from Favre, they haven't really been hit by injuries. And I sure don't think Peterson and Jared Allen and Antoine Winfield want to end the season by losing to the lowly Lions and finishing tied for worst place in the NFC North.

Matchup to worry about:
Backus against Jared Allen. A pure mismatch. But on the positive side, this might be the last game we see Jeff Backus start at left tackle after 159 straight starts. (Coincidentally, the Lions are 38-121 in those games). I cannot wait to hear the words: "The Detroit Lions select ... Gabe Carimi, tackle, University of Wisconsin."
Matchup to like:
Calvin Johnson against Winfield. Not only does Megatron have more speed, more power, and better leaping ability, he's also got 8 inches on him. The Vikings always struggle to stop Calvin. Hopefully this mismatch opens up the running game for the suddenly spry Jahvid Best.

Speaking of Best, I've noticed something that is glaringly obvious, but seems to slip the mind of Scott Linehan: Jahvid Best can't run between the tackles!! My contention is that if they used Best on outside runs and Morris through the middle, instead of vice versa, it just might work!!

The counterargument - it would make the Lions too predictable. Defenses would always see it coming. But what's worse? To be predictable, or to suck?

This game will be a huge litmus test to see if the Lions are actually making progress towards becoming a winning football team. In the last 22 meetings with the Vikings, Detroit's only won once. (Technically twice, if you remember that bogus pass interference call week 6, 2008). But it's time to start beating division rivals. It's time to make teams take Detroit seriously. And for crying out loud, it's the Vikings third string quarterback on 4 days rest!

I'll go with Detroit, 24-20.

**Update -
1) Starting CB Chris Houston is OUT for the Lions.
2) Calvin Johnson is questionable. Even if he does play, he'll be about 50%.
3) The line has moved from DET by 3 to DET by 3.5

For those 3 reasons, I feel inclined to change my pick to the Vikings. However, I'm not going to turn my back on the Lions during a three-game winning streak. So the pick stands. But my confidence level has plummeted.

Raiders (7-8) @ Chiefs (10-5)
Predicted Line: KC by 2.5
Actual Line: KC by 3.5

The logic - keep all the lines low this week, because who knows which starters will play, which starters will sit, and which teams will completely fold.

Kansas City is assured a playoff spot, so why risk the health of the starters? Of course, Todd Haley has assured everyone that Cassel, Charles, Bowe and the rest of the gang will start and play. But if I know anything, it's this: coaches are liars. Charles only carried the ball 13 times in last week's blowout. Why overwork him in a meaningless game? Oakland doesn't have anything to play for, and neither does KC. If I were the oddsmakers, I would have kept this line under 3.

This is a total shot-in-the-dark pick. I guess the safer bet is the home team, even though I wish the line were lower.

Bucs (9-6) @ Saints (11-4)
Predicted Line: NO by 6
Actual Line: NO by 7.5

The Buccaneers haven't lost by more than 7 points in 2 months ... since the last time they played the Saints. New Orleans put up 31 against them in Tampa, and that was against the starting defense. Now, the 4 best defenders are hurt and Tampa travels to the raucous Superdome. Should be a blowout, right?

So why am I taking Tampa Bay?

For one thing, Josh Freeman is playing the best football of his life right now, with a flawless performance last week against Seattle. Granted, Seattle sucks, but still. Tampa can maybe keep up with the Saints.

Secondly, the only reason New Orleans would try in this game is to earn a first round bye. That happens if and only if Atlanta loses to Carolina, which they know is highly unlikely. My hunch is that some fancy executive in a fancy suit has the job of watching the Falcons game in a fancy booth, and calling Sean Peyton at some point in the third quarter and saying "Okay, Atlanta's up by 27, go ahead and pull Brees."

I want that guy's job.

And I'll take Tampa, who keeps their playoff hopes alive. Now all they need is Green Bay AND the Giants to lose.

Panthers (2-13) @ Falcons (12-3)
Predicted Line: ATL by .... hmm .... 7?
Actual Line: ATL by 14.5

Oh my goodness. Apparently the oddsmarkers really think Atlanta's going to go all out in this game. I guess they do need to win to secure a bye. But their backups should be able to beat Carolina easily, right?

I'm taking the Panthers to cover. They can run the ball decently well and might be able to control the clock early and keep the score low. 14 points is a lot for a game that might be meaningless.

Interesting sub-story: this is probably Jimmy Claussen's last start as a Panther. It's at least 94% likely that Carolina drafts Andrew Luck with the #1 overall pick in April. There's a 4% chance that Luck stays at Stanford, a 1% chance that Carolina stupidly sticks with Claussen, and a 1% chance that Claussen hires some goons to break Luck's knee with a crowbar.

My prediction: Luck is next year's Sam Bradford, and leads Carolina to a 9-7 record. Claussen rides the bench, and is traded to the Cardinals following the 2011 season. Why the Cardinals? Because they'll need a backup for Donovan McNabb, who keeps getting injured.

Steelers (11-4) @ Browns (5-10)
Predicted Line: PIT by 8.5
Actual Line: PIT by 5.5

Dang, I just realized I whiffed on this line because of Polamalu's injury. He might be the only defensive player in the NFL who swings a line by 3 points.

But this game should be all Pittsburgh. They need to win to secure the first-round bye, and unless Baltimore is being blown out by the Bengals early, Pittsburgh can't rest any starters.

One of the keys to this game is Peyton Hillis's ribs. He's questionable, leaning towards unlikely. No use getting your star running back hurt in week 17. It would be wise to sit him. And if Hillis sits, Colt McCoy is going to have a long day against the Steelers blitzing fiends. They won't miss Polamalu too much because Cleveland has no receivers.

And doesn't it kind of seem like Roethlisberger is due for a big 3 TD game? I'll take Pittsburgh to win, 27-14.

Bengals (4-11) @ Ravens (11-4)
Predicted Line: BAL by 10.5
Actual Line: BAL by 10

This could be similar to the Saints situation, where someone calls down to the sideline and lets Harbaugh know that the Steelers are up big and it's time to pull the starters. Unless Pittsburgh loses, Baltimore is a Wildcard.

For that reason, and because Carson Palmer seems to be playing a lot harder now that TO and Ocho are gone, I'm taking the Bengals. 10 points in another potentially meaningless game? I think Vegas is going to lose a lot of money this week. Wait ... nope 54% of betting is on Baltimore. Never mind.

Dolphins (7-8) @ Patriots (13-2)
Predicted Line: NE by 11.5
Actual Line: NE by 3.5

Really? Bill Belichick is going to rest his starters?

Consider me skeptical. That guy has no soul. And even if he does, Miami looks completely uninterested in playing football right now, especially in freezing temperatures against a hostile crowd. Not to mention this will likely be Chad Henne's last start as a Dolphin, and the running game is awful.

But like I said, the starters will start. Brady will do his thing. He'll put a stranglehold on the MVP chatter (if he hasn't already) with 3 TDs and no INTs in the first half, and then he'll sit. Miami won't exactly mount a comeback. Pats win 27-13, and Brady finishes the season with 37 TDs and 4 INTs - one of the best seasons in NFL history.

Bills (4-11) @ Jets (10-5)
Predicted Line: NYJ by 3
Actual Line: NYJ by 1

The Jets are the 6 seed unless they win, the Ravens win, and the Steelers lose. Chances of that happening: 5%. And all that does is bump them up to the 5 seed, which means they'll play the Colts instead of the Chiefs, unless the Chiefs lose and Colts win, but either way, it doesn't matter. The only advantage in winning this game for the Jets is it might mean they don't have to play the Patriots until the AFC Championship. But is playing Pittsburgh really a much better option?

Nah, I think Sexy Rexy will sit his starters, especially the ailing Sanchez, and probably Revis and Scott and Harris as well.

The question, though, is: are the Jets backups better than the Bills starters? Plus, the Bills might actually want to lose (subconsciously of course) so they get a better draft pick, and can take Patrick Peterson #2. And let's not get carried away with the Sanchez talk - Mark Brunnel is capable. He's thrown for 32,000 yards in his career. And all he has to do is hand the ball to the third string RB a bunch of times. The Jets are deep. Cotchery and Brad Smith are the backup WRs, and they could start for plenty of teams. They won't struggle to score on the Bills. I actually like the Jets backups to win big.

Cardinals (5-10) @ 49ers (5-10)
Predicted Line: SF by 7
Actual Line: SF by 6

Ah, what a game. 49ers interim coach Jim Tomsula (who earned his reputation coaching the defensive line of the Scottish Claymores) against Cardinals third string QB John Skelton, the rookie from Fordham who was MVP of the Liberty Cup Bowl game last season.

This should be stunning.

I'll go with Arizona. Not sure why San Fran keeps getting favored by such high margins when their point differential is (-72) this year.

Chargers (8-7) @ Broncos (4-11)
Predicted Line: SD by 2
Actual Line: SD by 3.5

Neither of these teams have anything to play for, right?

What about pride? (Cue the sappy music). Phillip Rivers nearly had an MVP season, and only missed the playoffs because his team might have the worst special teams in the history of sports. And Tim Tebow ... has the HEART ... of a CHAMPION!!!!

Sorry. I don't know ... I'm going to take Denver, and assume that San Diego just doesn't give a damn about this game.

Jags (8-7) @ Texans (5-10)
Predicted Line: JAC by 4
Actual Line: JAC by 2.5

Last week, Mo-Jo missed the game and Garrard played. This week, it's reversed. Jones-Drew will play, but it also appears that Trent Edwards will start at quarterback for Jacksonville. Don't they realize that they could still make the playoffs?? Why are they benching their starting quarterback in a must-win week 17 game??? He doesn't have a broken leg, he has a freaking broken finger!! Kobe Bryant's been playing with a broken finger for two seasons. Tough it up Garrard!

I'm taking Houston for three reasons:
1) The only reason Jacksonville is favored is because they need to win this game, and fans assume they'll try harder. Not necessarily true. This line should be HOU by a point.
2) Trent Edwards absolutely sucks.
3) Gary Kubiak is playing for his coaching job more than anyone else this week, except maybe Rich Rodriguez. Everyone knows he should be fired, but Houston sort of loves him. If he can beat up the Jags and win a meaningful game, it just might save his job.

Remember, teams that NEED to win aren't necessarily very good in the first place.

Titans (6-9) @ Colts (9-6)
Predicted Line: IND by 7.5
Actual Line: IND by 10

Wow. When Peyton Manning needs to win, he really gets public support. A ten point spread? That's insane, considering Indy hasn't blown a team out since week 2.

But that being said, I'm taking the Colts just like 80% of the world. Not so much because they need to win, but because Tennessee stinks. They didn't try at all last week, and likely won't try again. Plus, despite all the talk about how "Indy can't stop the run," they held their last two opponents to an average of 75 rushing yards and 3.5 YPC. That was Jones-Drew and McFadden. They should be able to slow down Chris Johnson as well. Speaking of CJ2K ...

Remember back in August, when he declared his goal for this season was to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. Turns out he shouldn't have said that, because Dickerson wasn't too excited about his record being treated lightly. But there's still a chance -all Sonic needs is to rush for 780 yards against the Colts.

Giants (9-6) @ Redskins (6-9)
Predicted Line: NYG by 4
Actual Line: NYG by 4

Two weeks in a row, Philly screwed the Giants. Last week they had the now-famous comeback which culminated in a crazy punt return. But on Tuesday, they hurt the Giants again by getting blown out by the Vikings. Why is this significant? Because it locked up the #2 seed for Chicago, which means the Bears will rest the starters in Lambeau, which means Green Bay should win easily, and if Green Bay wins the Giants are out, as are the Bucs. So really, a Giants win here only matters if the Packers also lose.

But that doesn't mean the G-Men won't bring it, and this is a case where the team that needs to win actually is good. They've just had some bad luck, a brutal schedule, and tons of turnovers. Against Rex Grossman and the schizophrenic Redskins, they should get back on track. I think they'll win big. Washington's offensive line is no match for Tuck and Co. And you've got the 25th ranked rushing defense against the 5th ranked rushing offense.

Giants 30-10. Shanahan fired?

Bears (11-4) @ Packers (9-6)
Predicted Line: GB by 7.5
Actual Line: GB by 10

As I mentioned, the Eagles' loss makes the Bears the #2 seed. This game means nothing to them. Unless the Falcons and Saints lose, in which case a win makes Chicago the #1 seed and gives them homefield throughout. Since those games are at 1:00 and this game is at 4:15, they'll know by kickoff whether or not to try. Chances of Atlanta losing to Carolina are miniscule. So let's just assume Chicago rests Cutler, Forte, Peppers, Urlacher, and the rest of the important players.

I know Chicago and Green Bay have a fierce rivalry, and some people are using that argument to say Chicago should play their starters. But Lovie Smith is not Bill Belichick. The two times Lovie had a bye clinched in week 17 he lost by 24 and 19. He's not going to risk losing his stars for the playoffs.

And guess what? Even if the Bears were playing full force, I'd still take Green Bay -10. They are a much, much better team. Did you see Aaron Rodgers last week? That might have been the best game of his career. Green Bay is the Playoff Darkhorse.

Cowboys (5-10) @ Eagles (10-5)
Predicted Line: PHI by 3.5
Actual Line: PHI by 3

The Eagles have the 3 seed. Nothing can change that.

Andy Reid is the only honest coach in the NFL, apparently: he's already announced that Vick, McCoy, Maclin, Jackson, Peters, Samuel, Cole, Patterson, and Mikell will sit on the bench and watch. No mind games. No nonsense. Just a solid answer.

I'd like to thank Andy for making this pick easy for me. As much as I like Kevin Kolb, the prospect of him passing to Riley Cooper and Clay Harbor doesn't excite me. Dallas will try, because they like their coach, and they'll win easily. I feel bad for Philly fans who attend this game.

Side story: did you know that Dallas's starting QB for this game will be Stephen McGee? I didn't. I knew Kitna got hurt last week, but for some reason never bothered to check who the 3rd string guy was. Turns out McGee, who sounds like a black guy but is actually extremely white, is pretty good. He was 11 for 17 last week with a TD and no turnovers. He'll be auditioning for the role of Tony Romo's 2011 backup.

**Update: line has been changed to PHI by 6.5. I'm not sure why. Probably because of Stephen McGee. I'm still going with the Cowboys.

Rams (7-8) @ Seahawks (6-9)
Predicted Line: STL by 3
Actual Line: STL by 3

Why are the Rams favored on the road in Seattle in this must-win game for the NFC West (*ahem) 'Championship' and the right to be clobbered by the Saints? Because, Matt Hasselbeck has a strained hip and will sit out. Charlie Whitehurst is just not good at all. Sucks to be a Seattle fan. First the Sonics left, now this. At least they have the only baseball team in the AL to lose 100 games.

I am all over the Rams, for just so many reasons.

-They are a better team
-I hate Pete Carroll
-I love Sam Bradford
-I just would hate to see a 7-9 team make the playoffs.

Prediction: Seattle loses, cuts Hasselbeck this summer, and begins 2011 with none other than Carson Palmer starting at quarterback. Only question in my mind is whether or not they get Matt Leinart as the backup.

Enjoy week 17 everyone and as always, Go Lions!

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