Only the most rabid handicappers will try to dope out the NFL's final regular-season games given the inherent uncertainties of Week 17. With a few playoff teams locked into their byes or seedings and possibly resting starters, and some of the also-rans already packing their bags, questions about who will play and with how much purpose will force many prudent handicappers to sit this one out and wait for the postseason.
For instance, on Friday, the Eagles' home game against Dallas was off the board because of the possibility that the Birds may rest some of their front-liners.
Still, plenty of playoff seedings are still undetermined, and a couple of postseason berths are still up for grabs.
It's also worth noting that teams in contention against each other have simultaneous kickoff times. So, in some cases there will be full-throttle effort, at least on one side of the ball.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans (minus-7½). The Saints, already assured of a wild-card spot, have faint hope of winning the NFC South since all Atlanta has to do is beat the NFL's worst team, Carolina, in the Georgia Dome. But Saints quarterback Drew Brees knows how to play only one way. And no matter how slim New Orleans' chances, he's going to light it up at home. Pick: Saints.
N.Y. Giants at Washington (plus-4). The Giants are in the midst of a meltdown that began in the fourth quarter of their 38-31 loss at home to the Eagles and continued through a wretched performance against Green Bay last week. The Redskins have been playing a bit more inspired with Rex Grossman at quarterback than they did with Donovan McNabb, but that's not saying much. The difference-maker here is the desperation with which New York should play. Pick: Giants.
San Diego at Denver (plus-3½). This game might actually be my favorite because Denver rookie quarterback Tim Tebow has been an energizing factor on what was one of the NFL's most moribund teams in 2010. The Chargers let the air out their season when they allowed themselves to be beaten by Cincinnati last week. Plus, San Diego has been awful on the road, going 2-5 straight up and against the spread.
Tebow, in his first start two weeks ago against Oakland, had the 91/2-point- underdog Broncos in the game for most of three quarters. And last week, he beat Houston straight up. Pick: Broncos.
Like but don't love
St. Louis at Seattle (plus-3). The winner of this one earns first place in the dreadful NFC West. If the spread had stayed where it opened, with the game a pick or the Rams generally giving about a point, this would have been a much stronger St. Louis play. But with Seattle facing a shaky QB situation, the bettors are still pushing St. Louis, even though the Rams are just 2-5 straight up on the road.
Gun to my head
Miami at New England (minus-4). Pick: Patriots.
Tennessee at Indianapolis (minus-10). Pick: Titans.
Jacksonville at Houston (minus-3). Pick: Texans.
Cincinnati at Baltimore (minus-91/2). Pick: Ravens.
Carolina at Atlanta (minus-141/2). Pick: Falcons.
Arizona at San Francisco (minus-6½). Pick: 49ers.
Minnesota at Detroit (minus-31/2). Pick: Lions.
Chicago at Green Bay (minus-10). Pick: Bears.
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets (minus-1). Pick: Bills.
Dallas at the Eagles is off the board.
Pick of the Week
Pittsburgh at Cleveland (plus-6, over/under 371/2). Expect both teams to play hard - the Steelers because the AFC North and a playoff bye are at stake, and the Browns because it's a game against the Steelers. The over-under is the more intriguing line here because anything substantially less than 40 points has been tough for the unders to win this season. Yet the last four Steelers games have had an O/U line of fewer than 40 points, and the unders happen to be 3-1 during that December stretch. Similarly, the last four Cleveland games have all come in at less than the O/U total, and two of those happened to be a shade less than 40. But Sunday's game is different. Pittsburgh, in a neck-and-neck race with Baltimore all season to gain the upper hand in the division, isn't about to let first place slip away in Week 17 and will come out smoking. Meanwhile, the Browns, with nothing to lose, will be playing and coaching with abandon. That adds up to points on the board. Pick: Over. - Bill Ordine