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Just 2 spots open for last contenders

The end of the road occurs this Sunday for 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams. All but two of the dozen playoff participants have been determined including all six from the NFC. In the AFC the four Division champions have been crowned but 7 teams will take the field on Sunday with varying chances of earning Wild Cards.

In each of the past four seasons at least half of the playoff field – at least six teams – has been different from the previous season. Only twice in the past 10 seasons have 7 teams repeated their playoff appearance from one season to the next.

Handicapping week 17 presents some unique challenges. Some of the later starting games will be taken off the board while the early starting games are being played as early game results often impact the Playoffs. There should be less of that this season as all but two AFC spots have been determined even though seedings in both conferences remain unsettled.

The only two teams that control their own destiny – the Jets and Ravens – play later in the day with the Ravens at Baltimore in a 1:15 game and Jets host the Bengals in the Sunday night contest. All of the teams taking the field in the 10 AM games that need to win to have a shot at the playoffs will not know their fates until later in the day. Denver also plays a 1:15 game but – win or lose – will not know their fate until the Jets game is played.

It promises to be an interesting end to a most unusual season.

Indianapolis at Buffalo (No Line): Now that the Colts’ quest for perfection has ended the main goal will be to prepare for the Playoffs. That means the starters likely see even more limited action than against the Jets. UNDER the Total.

New Orleans at Carolina (No Line): After winning 13 in a row the Saints have lost their past two games and might be interested in regaining some momentum before next week’s Bye. OVER the Total.

Jacksonville (+3) at Cleveland (Over/Under 38½): The Jags have lost three straight and need a most unlikely sequence of events to unfold to make the Playoffs, starting with a win against the suddenly formidable Brownies. Cleveland has won three in a row on the strength of a ground game that’s gained over 160 in each game. The Jags have lost 5 of 7 on the road with 4 of the losses by at least 17-points. CLEVELAND.

Philadelphia (+3) at Dallas (48½): This is the best game of the week even though both teams have clinched Playoff berths. The winner claims the NFC East title and hosts a home Playoff game. A Philly win could get them the NFC’s number 2 seed depending on Minnesota’s results. The Eagles have won 6 straight and are off of two straight home games. Dallas returns home after a pair of road wins. OVER the Total.

Chicago at Detroit (No Line): Both are playing out the string with Chicago off of Monday night’s homer against Minnesota. Detroit continues to be plagued by poor play at QB while Chicago QB Jay Cutler has not been the answer the Bears expected when they made the big trade last offseason. DETROIT.

New England (+7) at Houston (46): The Patriots have won the AFC East and will host a Wild Card game next week. Houston can earn a Wild Card with a win and help elsewhere. Last week they built a 27-0 first half lead but were scoreless after recess and held on to win 27-20. NEW ENGLAND.

Pittsburgh at Miami (No Line): Miami could be eliminated based on results of other 10 AM games while a Steeler win keeps them alive pending results of later games. Pittsburgh’s been involved in 8 games decided by a FG or less including a pair of such wins the past two weeks in “must win” situations. PITTSBURGH.

New York Giants at Minnesota (No Line): The Giants were embarrassed by Carolina 41-9 last week and were eliminated from the Playoffs a few hours later when Dallas won in Washington. MINNESOTA.

Cincinnati (+9) at New York Jets (36½): This game has been moved to Sunday night and will be the final game of the regular season. Regardless of what happens earlier in the day a Jets win or tie gets them in while a loss eliminates them. UNDER Total.

San Francisco (-7) at St. Louis (40½): San Francisco needs a win to finish 8-8 and have shown continued improvement in Mike Singletary’s first full season as coach. SAN FRANCISCO.

Atlanta (+1) at Tampa Bay (41½): Although they won’t make the Playoffs Atlanta has a shot at the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history with a win. ATLANTA

Green Bay (+3) at Arizona (43½): These teams could meet again next week in the Wild Card round. Much like the Cowboys and Eagles, we may see both teams go deep into the Playbook to plant seeds in the opposing defenses for such a matchup. OVER the Total.

Kansas City (+13) at Denver (38): We’ve already seen a team that started 5-0 miss the Playoffs (Giants) and Denver could trump that by missing out after their 6-0 start. They should get the win here and rely on help elsewhere. KANSAS CITY.

Baltimore (-10) at Oakland (38): Baltimore needs only to win to earn a Wild Card. Prior to last week’s loss at Pittsburgh the Ravens crushed a pair of teams similar to the Raiders, routing Chicago and Detroit 79-10. Both wins were at home but they also own a 16 point win at Cleveland earlier this season. BALTIMORE.

Washington (+4) at San Diego (40): The season can’t end soon enough for the Redskins who have failed to rush for over 100 yards in 6 straight games. Coach Zorn is all but out under a new regime. San Diego has clinched the number 2 seed and a Bye next week. UNDER the Total.

Tennessee (-5) at Seattle (43½): Tennessee made a game effort after their 0-6 start but has been eliminated from the Playoffs even though a win here would give them an 8-8 record. The ‘Hawks had fared well at home previously, having won two straight and 3 of 4 on this field. How enthused can Tennessee be traveling cross country just to play a meaningless game after having played their last three games at home? SEATTLE.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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