NFL’s 2006 gift: Week 17 that matters

Dec 27, 2005 5:29 AM

It’s down to the final weekend of the regular season and remains to be decided. The NFL wouldn’t have it any other way.

The top half of the AFC and NFC playoff brackets are set. Four playoff participants and two division winners (both in the NFC) will be determined in Week 17, which also ends ABC’s 36-year run of Monday Night Football. The Patriots-Jets clash at the Meadowlands was the finale, with MNF switching next year to ESPN.

Indy and Denver have clinched the top two AFC seeds, followed by Cincinnati, New England and Jacksonville. Pittsburgh controls its fate for the sixth and final seed, only needing to beat Detroit at home.KC could earn the final berth by beating Cincinnati, but only if San Diego loses (or ties) on Saturday. A three way tie at 10-6 would give the wild card to the Steelers.

Seattle has clinched the NFC’s top seed with Chicago second. The Giants are in the playoffs following Minnesota’s loss at Baltimore, but its position won’t be decided until this weekend. The Giants win the division by beating Oakland. A loss combined with a Washington win at Philadelphia on Sunday gives the NFC East title to the Redskins. Washington gains a wild card with a win, as does Tampa Bay and Carolina. Dallas need a win and either Washington or Carolina to lose.

Broncos +7 at Chargers (44): The Broncos likely rests several starters after seeing limited early action. The Chargers may not risk injury to LT and might give Phillip Rivers a look at QB. Should see plenty of runs and ball control. UNDER.

Giants -7½ at Raiders (44): Oakland quit on the season weeks ago. Giants QB Eli Manning could use a good road effort to gain some confidence for the playoffs. G-men figure to give the greater effort. GIANTS.

Cards +6 at Colts (43½): The Colts put forth a decent effort with their reserves, actually outgaining Seattle by over 50 yards. Backup Jim Sorgi should again see most of the QB action Arizona has been able to move the ball on offense. OVER.

Ravens -3 at Browns (37): It all came apart for Cleveland last week in a 41-0 ripping by Pittsburgh. Baltimore is playing its best football of the season, though winless on the road. Should be a loosely played game. OVER.

Bills (NL) at Jets: Both offenses have struggled much of the season with potentially strong running games never getting untracked. Don’t expect a focused effort from either, likely to prefer running the football. UNDER.

Panthers -4 at Falcons (42): Atlanta needs a win for first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. Carolina has more at stake. Mike Vick and NFL’s top rushing offense has had long-standing success against Carolina. FALCONS.

Bears +3 at Vikings (35): Chicago should rest some defensive starters, but likely gives QB Rex Grossman more work. If so, we could see the Bears work more on the passing game and this contest might be surprisingly high scoring indoors. OVER.

Bengals NL at Chiefs: KC has won 18 straight December games at Arrowhead and will want to extend the streak in likely coach Dick Vermeil’s final game. The Bengals may well rest some starters. Situation clearly favors KC. CHIEFS.

Lions +16 at Steelers (35): It was ugly but Detroit did get a rare win against Saints, despite not scoring an offensive TD. Pittsburgh’s superior depth at running back will wear down the disinterested Lions, who may not score. STEELERS.

Dolphins NL at Pats: Miami will be motivated to finish 9-7. The New England defense has improved as its players have gotten healthy. Both teams figure to run the ball much of the time. UNDER.

Saints +13 at Bucs (37): Hard to imagine the vagabond Saints giving much of an effort in a season doomed from the start. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay needs to win. Expect the Bucs to run often, while the defense creates turnovers. Could get very ugly. BUCS

Texans -1 at 49ers (37) - Loser could win the rights to Southern Cal RB Reggie Bush. Both teams have been surprisingly competitive in recent weeks. Niners would like to get rookie QB Alex Smith a confidence-building win. 49ERS.

Titans +4 at Jaguars (38): Jacksonville figures to rest many starters. The defense has been solid all season. Tennessee has not yet developed a rhythm on offense and it’s unlikely we suddenly see an explosion. UNDER.

Seahawks NL at Packers: Will this be QB Brett Favre’s last game in front of the Packer faithful? Might he retire or request a trade? Seattle may be focused on getting RB Shaun Alexander the all time single season TD record. PACKERS.

Redskins NL at Eagles: An injury to QB Mark Brunell kept game off most books early. Figure Skins about a TD favorite. Philly out of the playoffs, but has played hard. Since 1990, Skins have won at Philly by more than a TD just once. EAGLES.

Rams +12½ at Cowboys (43): Dallas should take the field knowing playoff chances are gone. Expect strong effort in front of the home fans in what could be coach Bill Parcells’ final game. QB Fitzpatrick has struggled after big debut. COWBOYS.

Last week: 7-8

Season: 125-104-10