It's not how you start, folks. It's how you finish.

Yes, late October left a deep bruise. Losing the World Series to a spoiled-rotten-brat-of-a-franchise was a hideous way to experience autumn. Whether or not the Yankees beat the Phightin' Phils solely by spending more money (they did), the pain is the same. Chalk one up for the ultra-uber-mega- super-gigantor-opolis at the other end of New Jersey.

But all that's done now, turned into ancient history of fast-fading importance. 2009 isn't about that anymore. It's not about the entitled "fans" of New York expressing some joy-substitute at being richer than everyone else while Philadelphians lamented their smaller cable TV market.

As we close 2009, it's about what happens when the playing field is level, when the relative size of a region's bank account isn't the determining factor in the region's sporting fate.

Yes, it is time to take a moment's pause before girding yourself for the odds-on rage that awaits the Eagles' probable playoff exit. Philly, like every other team, is more likely not to win the Super Bowl than to win it. But before we get to that, consider this:

The New York Giants had their proverbial backs against the wall on Sunday. Not only at home but at this particular home for the last time ever. They needed one stellar effort in the House of LT, the House of Parcells, the House Named for Them - one stellar effort to stave off the ignominy of missing the playoffs in a year in which almost every team in the league is either mediocre or atrocious. One gutsy outing, not against the '85 Bears or Lombardi's Packers, but against the Carolina Panthers. Which Carolina, you ask? The one with the quarterback you've never heard of.

And the only giant thing the Giants could muster was the giant rotten egg they collectively laid. Spotting Carolina 32 points to drop the curtain on your fabled home field is no way to go through life. And yet, as Philly continued its run-up to football in January, rolling over is what New York did.

So take every molecule of loathing you felt as A-Rod showered in ticker tape and convert it to a joyous, hateful cackle. There's a salary cap in pro football, New York. How do ya like them big apples?

By the way, some oddsmakers have no lines posted for a handful of games - Indianapolis-Buffalo, New Orleans-Carolina and Pittsburgh-Miami - because of doubt about the playing status of key players. But we're using the most recent Las Vegas spreads available at the time of writing.

Now let's get down to business (in moderation).

Colts at Bills (-7)

I remember when Curtis Painter (is that his name?) wasn't as good as he was supposed to be at Purdue. Which is in the Big Ten. This is the NFL, and, if Jim Caldwell didn't care about being 15-0, there's no reason to believe he cares about being 15-1.

Bills 19, Colts 11. Picking Buffalo over Indy is like swimming off Coney Island in January, which people also do.

Saints (+7) at Panthers

OK, slow down, Mr. Vegas Oddsmaker Guy (who probably would have my patellas broken if I ever actually said that to him). The Saints lose twice, and suddenly they are touchdown 'dogs? I'm not buyin' it. New Orleans needs to win the stinking game.

Saints 23, Panthers 21. Trust me. Wait. No, don't.

Jaguars (+11/2) at Browns

What is this, opposite day? Cleveland is favored against anybody outside Oakland and St. Louis? We've come way too far with one set of assumptions to change it now, Mr. Vegas Oddsmaker Guy. Sir.

Jags 27, Browns 24. Please don't hurt me.

Bears (-3) at Lions

Based solely on his beating Cleveland with his left arm literally falling off, Matthew Stafford is my favorite quarterback. However, he is not playing in this game, so it's still going to be a miserable day in Detroit.

Bears 30, Lions 19. How's that Jay Cutler trade working out for ya, Chicago?

Patriots at Texans (-8)

OK, tough guy. If that's the way we're playing it. . . . All the teams that don't need to win are going to lay down, are they? That's not a rhetorical question. Are they?

Texans 31, Patriots 15. I guess. Why stop now?

Steelers (-3) at Dolphins

It's been a tremendous year, you lovable swimming mammals with your Wildcat offense. Thanks for the memories. Now, go get ready for the draft.

Steelers 21, Dolphins 17.

Giants at Vikings (-81/2)

Having lain down like dogs, the Giants have nothing but pride for which to play. And they apparently are in short supply of that, too.

Vikings 35, Giants 24. What's the matter, New York? Nick Swisher couldn't make the Giants clubhouse all warm and playful too? Sickening.

Bengals (+10) at Jets

No. I simply refuse to believe that the Jets' arc of misery leads to the playoffs. Sorry. It's irrational. But this story ends with "Boooooo, stooooopid Jets!"

Bengals 20, Jets 19. Oooh, a one-point loss with everything on the line. That smarts.

49ers (-71/2) at Rams

I was reading the Rams recap at (mock me if you must), where I learned that about half the team is injured. I also learned that I hadn't heard of anyone on the team except Steven Jackson and Marc Bulger, both of whom are hurt.

49ers 27, Rams 10. "With the first pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select Jeremy Maclin - wait, he was in last year's draft."

Falcons (-21/2) at Bucs

Aw, jeez, I don't know. Do you? Honestly?

Falcons 28, Buccaneers 9. Let's take the leap together.

Packers at Cardinals (-31/2)

Ahhhh, breathe deep. A game between two decent teams that haven't completely quit on the season! Unfortunately, one of them is the Cardinals, who still owe me my childhood.

Cardinals 27, Packers 21. Viva Johnny Barefield (who wore a quarter in his ear because he figured he was among the 25 wonders of the world).

Chiefs at Broncos (-13)

Let's just talk this out. It's the Broncos who care and the Chiefs who don't, right? Got it.

Broncos 31, Chiefs 10. In my day, this was a great rivalry. Also in my day, they hadn't invented Diet Coke.

Ravens at Raiders (+101/2)

Of all the rotten teams that have made my scientific picks look idiotic (and there have been quite a few of them), it is the Oakland Raiders who have been most consistently maddening. And so, in honor of their making me look as bad as I actually am all year, they are the pick on this solemn Sunday No. 17.

Ravens 20, Raiders 13. Not to win. Just to cover. Let's not get crazy.

Redskins at Chargers (-31/2)

There are games when you can throw out the record books, Katy bar the door, watch the fur fly, and all that other nonsense. This is not one of those games.

Chargers 30, Redskins 13. Because San Diego is much, much better.

Titans (-41/2) at Seahawks

Yecch, blecch, and dreck all sound alike, and they all mean the same thing (approximately): this football game.

Titans 28, Seahawks 0. That's right. I'm calling the shutout. Whaddaya gonna do about it?

Eagles (+3) at Cowboys

Did you see pitiable Washington stuff Dallas on fourth and inches a couple of times Sunday night? The Cowboys have a lot of things, but the Eagles have heart.

Eagles 23, Cowboys 20. Stick it to 'em, fellas. And take next week off if you want.

Please drink (and gamble and live your life in general) responsibly this New Year's Eve!