Week 17a formality

December 24, 2007 5:31 AM
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LAST WK SEASON PCT
5-4 109-119-5 47.8

In addition to marking the end of the calendar year 2007, this weekend will mark the end of the NFL season for 20 of the league’s 32 teams.

Unlike most recent seasons, the playoff field was largely known a month ago. In fact, heading into this past weekend, only one of the NFL’s eight divisions had yet to be clinched. Plus, the top two seeds in each conference had already been determined.

Those top two seeds get to enjoy a bye during the first week of the playoffs, while the other four division winners join the four Wild Cards.

Due to our holiday publishing deadlines, some of last Sunday’s results were not known at press time. As you read the following preview, a few of the situations may have changed.

Now, for a look at Week 17.

Saturday

Patriots at Giants: The Patriots should be attempting to complete the NFL’s first ever 16 win regular season assuming they defeated Miami last week. The Giants have already clinched a Wild Card and likely to rest some of their starters since they must play an opening round game next week. The Pats may play their starters at least a half if not more since they draw a bye. The Pats will be solid favorites but weather conditions and a conservative approach, especially in the second half, may limit scoring opportunities. UNDER.

Sunday

Bills at Eagles: Both teams are out of the playoffs but look to finish their seasons on high notes. Philly was plagued by key injuries and other issues this season but QB Donovan McNabb has been sharp now that he appears to be fully healthy. The Bills are a team on the rise with QB Trent Edwards seemingly having earned the starting QB job for next season. They’ve shown progress on offense over the season’s second half and are well positioned to end the season with an upset road win. BILLS.

Panthers at Bucs: The Panthers have started to show more consistency in recent weeks behind rookie QB Matt Moore. Tampa Bay will host a Wild Card game next week and may play backups here. The Tampa defense is one of the best in the league and should make it rough for the rookie QB to have much success. The Tampa offense figures to follow a game plan heavily reliant on the rush. UNDER

Bengals at Dolphins: Now that a winless season has been avoided, Miami will seek to end the season on a positive. They catch the Bengals off an emotionally satisfying yet draining win over arch rival Cleveland last week. It’s hard to see Cincy putting forth such a motivated effort here. Miami will be playing hard to impress its new head honcho of football operations, Bill Parcells. DOLPHINS.

Cowboys at Redskins: The Cowboys win in Carolina may have been costly as WR Terrell Owens was injured. Owens figures to sit out next week. It’s possible that QB Tony Romo will also see limited, if any, action as his thumb clearly seemed to bother him against the Panthers. Washington always gets up for its arch rivals. REDSKINS.

Lions at Packers: After losing in Chicago last week, the Packers will be seeded second behind Dallas in the NFC. They will have next week off and will likely rest some starters here. Detroit has seen its once promising season turn to disaster after starting 6-2. But they also will be motivated to end their season with positive momentum even if the game is played in frigid conditions. LIONS.

Jaguars at Texans: Jacksonville is playing its best football at the right time of the season and will be on the road next week to open the playoffs. The Jags will be dangerous with their potent rushing attack and mistake free play from QB David Garrard. Houston was overmatched last week in Indianapolis but still has a chance to finish 8-8 with a win. The offense continues to improve under head coach Gary Kubiak. The Jags may well just go through the motions. TEXANS.

Saints at Bears: The Bears have become yet another Super Bowl runnerup to miss the playoffs the following season. New Orleans is also out and may show little interest in what should be very cold conditions. The Bears will be playing with no pressure and have the wind and weather conditions in their favor against a domed team heading outside for the first time in more than a month. BEARS.

Steelers at Ravens: Pittsburgh has clinched the AFC North title and will host a Wild Card game next week. Baltimore has had a disastrous season yet will look to end things with a view towards the future. Rookie QB Troy Smith should get his second start. The slumping Ravens will be more motivated to end their season on an up note. RAVENS.

Seahawks at Falcons: Seattle will host a Wild Card game next week while long ago Atlanta was playing for next season. The Falcons will have a new coach, a new QB and likely other personnel changes. This could be a very loosely played game with little on the line. We may see both teams open up the playbook and make it a very entertaining shootout. OVER.

49ers at Browns: Cleveland may still need a win to clinch a Wild Card spot while the 49ers should be eager to end a disappointing season. The Niners have played well in recent weeks with backup Shaun Hill at QB. Having played at home for three straight weeks the notion of playing with intensity in the winds and cold of Cleveland cannot be too appealing. BROWNS.

Titans at Colts: Expect the Colts starters to play at least a half before being pulled. The Titans have played well defensively much of the season, but the offense remains inconsistent behind the erratic QB Vince Young. Tennessee figures to be the more motivated team regardless of their situation. TITANS.

Vikings at Broncos: The Broncos defense never gelled and the offense did not show the kind of improvement expected when Jay Cutler was handed the starting QB job. The once formidable rushing game was barely average all season. Minnesota excels in the running game on both sides of the ball. The Vikes attack is to pound the ball on offense and limit the number of plays that need to be made by QB Tarvaris Jackson. This game might be played in two and a half hours. UNDER.

Chargers at Raiders: San Diego will host a Wild Card game next week while Oakland will miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season since losing to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Raiders have started to turn things around under coach Lane Kiffin, but the lack of depth remains a concern. We may see rookie QB JaMarcus Russell get significant playing time and Oakland figures to play hard for its signal caller of the future. The Chargers starters should see limited action. RAIDERS.

Rams at Cardinals: Both teams are out of the playoffs and each brings more to the table on offense than on defense. Arizona does have some banged up wide receivers but ex Rams’ QB Kurt Warner has had a solid season after replacing injured starter Matt Leinart early in the season. The weather conditions should be ideal for a pair of innovative offenses to trade points. OVER.

Chiefs at Jets: Both teams will miss the playoffs after each earned Wild Cards last season. KC coach Herm Edwards returns to a venue where he led the Jets to the playoffs in three of his five seasons. His problems this season have been a lack of an adequate QB and the loss of his running game due to several key injuries at RB and offensive line. The Jets should be the more motivated team. JETS.