Week 17 is like the bizarro-world version of the NFL. Some teams are still fighting for playoff spots or seeding but many know their fates. Motivation isn't everything in pro football, but it's a lot, and without it, good teams become horrible.
It's a stretch to call the Arizona Cardinals a good team, but they're not a bad one. Last week, with the NFC West title clinched, they went out and lost 47-7 to the New England Patriots. It was worse than that score.
Week 17 is a whole lot of that and more, because regulars tend to get a lot of bench time.
It's a whole lot of that and more except when the good teams with nothing to play for go out and win, that is. Trying to figure out what's going on in the NFL is tough enough the other 16 weeks. In Week 17, it's nuts.
The good news is it's the day after Christmas and you're not reading this, so no one will ever know how bad this particular set of picks are. Which is to say, as bad as usual. Also included are the picks of my kids, game-pickin' 5-year-old Buster and coin-flippin' 3-year-old Daisy.
Sunday early games
St. Louis (2-13) at ATLANTA (10-5)
The Falcons can earn a first-round bye with a win and a Panthers loss. That's enough motivation to beat the Rams. The threat of a withheld grilled cheese sandwich is enough motivation to beat the Rams.
Kids: Atlanta (14.5-point favorite)
NEW ENGLAND (10-5) at Buffalo (7-8)
The Patriots could win, finish 11-5 and still miss the playoffs. This is causing much consternation and whining in New England, apparently, along with some post-Spygate, post-dynasty schadenfreude. Meh. Whatever. When you have four four-team divisions in each conference, you're going to get years when lousy teams win division titles and much better teams miss the playoffs against stiffer competition. It's the price you pay for having almost everyone in contention for most of the year. The NFL has promised to respond to a possible Patriots "snub" by doing nothing, which is the right thing to do. Or not do.
Kids: New England (6.5-point favorite)
KANSAS CITY (2-13) at Cincinnati (3-11-1)
The Chiefs are also facing a playoff "snub."
Buster: Kansas City
Detroit (0-15) at GREEN BAY (5-10)
The What the Heck™ Pick of the week is done for the season. It went a worst-ever 2-14, thanks mostly to the Lions becoming the default pick around midseason and never winning. Now that I get to pick against them for the first time in months, of course they're going to win by six touchdowns.
Kids: Green Bay (9.5-point favorite)
Chicago (9-6) at HOUSTON (7-8)
The Bears can make the playoffs if they win and Tampa Bay or Minnesota loses. They're just not very good. I think they'll find a way to lose this one.
Tennessee (13-2) at INDIANAPOLIS (11-4)
An exhibition game.
N.Y. Giants (12-3) at MINNESOTA (9-6)
The Vikings miss the playoffs if they don't win. The Giants will be playing on the Arizona Cardinals plan, with their feet up and their minds elsewhere.
Kids: Minnesota (6.5-point favorite)
CAROLINA (11-4) at New Orleans (8-7)
The Panthers can get a first-week bye with a win. Or if they lose and the Falcons lose to the Rams. They won't be counting on that.
Kids: New Orleans
Cleveland (4-11) at PITTSBURGH (11-4)
The Browns will be playing to save Romeo Crennel's job, I guess. Even with nothing at all to play for, the Steelers should win.
Kids: Pittsburgh (10.5-point favorite)
Oakland (4-11) at TAMPA BAY (9-6)
The Bucs are the ones in the NFC wild card mix that control their own fate. And hey, look, they get to play the Raiders.
Kids: Tampa Bay (13-point favorite)
Sunday late games
Jacksonville (5-10) at BALTIMORE (10-5)
The Ravens are too good a team to have to win a Week 17 game to make the playoffs as the second wild-card team, but that's the case. They'll do it.
Kids: Baltimore (12.5-point favorite)
MIAMI (10-5) at N.Y. Jets (9-6)
Oh, for crying out loud. Brett Favre has started talking about how he's not sure whether he's going to play next year. Favre and the Jets are fading badly, and the Dolphins are on the verge of completing one of the great turnarounds in league history, from 1-15 to the playoffs. Great matchup: For both teams, a win means the playoffs and a loss means elimination.
Kids: New York
DALLAS (9-6) at Philadelphia (8-6-1)
I keep thinking the Eagles are better than they really are. I think they're better than the Cowboys. And I think the Cowboys will beat them.
Seattle (4-11) at ARIZONA (8-7)
The Cardinals have already won the NFC West, so if they lose this game, they'd be a division champion at 8-8. What a fraud! What a horrible system! The NFL has to fix this. Of course, if the Cards win they'll be 9-7. That'd be OK.
Kids: Arizona (6-point favorite)
Washington (8-7) at SAN FRANCISCO (6-9)
Jim Zorn and Mike Singletary. A couple of coaches trying to hang on to their jobs for next year. They both should, and even might.
Daisy: San Francisco
Sunday night game
Denver (8-7) at SAN DIEGO (7-8)
Straight up for the AFC West title. If the Chargers win, they'd take the division at 8-8. How cool would that be!
Kids: San Diego (8-point favorite)
Season record: 138-101-1
Last week: 7-9
What the Heck™ Picks: 2-14
Rank of Brett Favre's future among the things this column plans to try not to think about in the spring and summer of 2009: 2