Oakland Raiders vs Kansas City Chiefs: OAK +4
I've heard this song and dance before from teams heading into week 17, but soon after the game all of them admit that resting some players and going into the playoffs healthy was more important. I don't think KC care if they travel to NE or not because they are going to have the 'just happy to be there' syndrome. The season is already a monumental success and if they win in wild card weekend the organization will be over the moon with delight. Does that mean the starters won't play? I think they will, but for how long? A quarter? Two? I can't see them risking the health of the likes of Bowe, Charles, and Cassel in a game for the 3rd seed.
Meanwhile, OAK will come into this game dejected from missing the playoffs, but they have a chance to finish the season 8-8 which would be a great improvement for this organization too. Yes McFadden and Seymour are banged up, but that won't stop them from doing what they've done well all season - run the ball and play good against the pass. I expect both of these trends to continue on Sunday. I also don't think the KC running game will have as much of an advantage due to the circumstances. This isn't a game that KC will play all out even if they do leave their starters in longer than I expect. If things go how I anticipate, four points is a late X-mas present. Prediction: Bank OAK +4.
New York Giants vs Washington Redskins: NY -3.5
It's not like things are peachy creamy in the nation's capital either. WSH continue to be as dysfunctional today as they were when Dan Snyder took over the team all those years ago. The primary advantage they will hold in this game is on special teams. Home field advantage will help, but it won't be the factor that it would be if they were in the playoff hunt. Therefore they lose that extra point that other teams going to the big dance get for home field at this time of the year. NY handled them pretty convincingly the last time they met, and I see little reason to think it won't happen again. Prediction: Bank NYG-3.5.
Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers: GB -10
So when you consider that this game only means something to one side, it's not hard to figure out why I like GB -10. They need to win this game to secure a playoff spot and they are at home. CHI won't be able to put up much of a fight for four quarters with backups at the critical positions. Look for GB to cause havoc in the CHI backfield for much of the game and once CHI fall behind they won't be able to generate many points in the air. Rodgers will be able to pick this zone defense apart and he himself could be resting in the 4th quarter if the game gets too out of hand. Would CHI love to win this game and eliminate their division rivals? Absolutely. Will they do it at the expense of injury risk? I highly doubt Lovie Smith is that stupid. GB have five players going to the Pro Bowl and another four listed as alternates. All of them will be in the lineup on Sunday in what should be a double-digit win. Prediction: Bank GB -10.
St Louis Rams vs Seattle Seahawks: STL -1
This is another line that has moved since it opened at -1. It currently sits at -3 which is not where I would like to take it. I thought there was a lot of value with anything under 3, but I would still go with it at the end of the day. At worst I see a push because I think this Rams team is headed for the playoffs for the first time in a long time. After a rough couple of weeks, Sam Bradford really stepped it up last week completing 72% of his passes. Yes it was the lowly 49ers, but it is still an impressive performance from a rookie QB in a must-win situation. At the same time, I think it will be STL's defense that will step up to the plate in this one. I don't see how SEA will be able to run the ball with much success and I really don't like what's going on in the passing game. Matt Hasselbeck is more dangerous to himself than any defender has been this season. The coaches decided to go with him after a four interception game which tells you everything you need to know about what they think of Charlie Whitehurst at this time. Look for coach Spags to scheme up some nice pressure packages on Sunday night and it should be good for a couple of turnovers.
On the other side I expect some ups and downs because this will be a new test for Bradford. It will be a prime-time game with their season on the line in a very hostile environment. Thankfully for him he has pro-bowler Steven Jackson behind him. They should be balanced enough on offense to win the time of possession and keep the defense honest. In fact, they hold the edge in all three critical categories that I look at on the field. Even Mike Williams stated this week that it will be asking a lot of them to just turn it on after their recent play. That's not exactly the most ringing endorsement of confidence that I have heard. I never thought I would be looking forward to a game in the NFC West this season, but it is a testament to the new NFL that this game provides intrigue. I'll be tuning in to see this "big" game with the full expectation of a Rams win. Prediction: Bank STL -1.