What a year it’s been.
The regular season grinds to a close this week, and like every Week 17, it’s the hardest slate to handicap. Some really good teams will pop the car into cruise control to stay healthy for the playoffs, while some really bad teams will throw in the towel on their lost seasons. At the same time, a healthy number of divisional games ensure you can throw the records out the window.
Here at NESN.com, the long slog had set up a thrilling finish in our experts’ picks competition. With one week to go, our leader holds a slim one-game edge on our defending champ.
This is going to be fun.
Here’s how things stand going into the last week of the regular season:
Ben Watanabe: 119-103-4 (Last week: 5-8). Posted just one winning week in the last three. *choke sounds*
Mike Cole: 118-104-5 (Last week: 7-6). Hasn’t exactly surged to the finish, but as they say, W’s don’t come with pictures.
Ricky Doyle: 105-117-5 (Last week: 4-9). Served the vital purpose of defining rock-bottom for us this season.
Let’s run through our picks for the final time in 2015. As always, all lines courtesy of OddsShark.
SUNDAY, JAN. 3
New Orleans Saints (6-9) at (-4) Atlanta Falcons (8-7), 1 p.m. ET
Ricky: Saints. The Falcons are riding a two-game win streak, which includes a victory last week over the previously undefeated Panthers. But inconsistency has been the story of Atlanta’s season. The Dirty Birds are 2-9 ATS in their last 11 games.
Ben: Saints. Which flawed quarterback — Drew Brees (old) or Matt Ryan (might not be very good) — will be better at picking apart the other team’s god-awful defense?
Mike: Saints. We’re assuming a lot of points — OddsShark is reporting 97 percent of bettors are on hitting the over of 52.5 — but nothing gives me reason to believe Atlanta will win this one.
(-3) New York Jets (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-8), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Jets. Boobie Dixon called this game Buffalo’s “Super Bowl.” Fair enough. The Bills have lost all four of their real Super Bowl appearances. Way to rally the troops, Boob.
Ben: Jets. The Jets, who are 4-0-1 ATS over the last five weeks, have just the defensive front to stifle Buffalo’s rush-happy offense and punch their postseason ticket.
Mike: Jets. I don’t doubt the Bills will come out playing like their hair is on fire — and I mean that in the worst possible way.
(EV) Detroit Lions (6-9) at Chicago Bears (6-9), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Lions. Chicago is 6-14 ATS in its last 20 games versus divisional opponents. As far as I know, though I couldn’t care less, the Lions still share the NFC North with the Bears.
Ben: Lions. Detroit has won five straight against the Bears, who have dropped nine of 10 at Soldier Field. That’s all the thought I’m willing to give this matchup.
Mike: Lions. I’m probably 0-for the season on Bears picks at this point, so just give me the Lions.
Baltimore Ravens (5-10) at (-9) Cincinnati Bengals (11-4), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Ravens. This has little to do with Baltimore’s upset win over Pittsburgh in Week 16 and everything to do with AJ McCarron making just his third career start with a sprained wrist. Too many points for my liking.
Ben: Ravens. We only have two games to go on with McCarron, both ATS wins, but divisional games are a harder nut to crack, as the Ravens showed against the Steelers.
Mike: Ravens. The Bengals are just one McCarron wrist bump away from Keith Wenning under center. Keith Wenning!
(-11) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-12), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Browns. The Steelers have won 21 of their last 24 games against the Browns. They also are fighting for their playoff lives, while the Browns have nothing to play for. But I’m sick of everyone drooling all over Pittsburgh — suggesting the Patriots would intentionally lose to the Jets to avoid facing the Steelers was one of the most idiotic things I read on the Internet — so give me Cleveland and the bundle of points even without knowing the Browns’ quarterback status.
Ben: Steelers. Here’s the thing about double-digit spreads: They’re tough to cover, as Pittsburgh found out giving up 11 1/2 points to Baltimore. But here’s the thing about the Browns: They couldn’t cover a twin bed with a king quilt.
Mike: Steelers. Pittsburgh can’t lay two eggs in two weeks with all it’s had at stake, can they? Oh, wait. Mike Tomlin is the coach. Uh … not feeling as good about this pick, come to think of it.
Washington Redskins (8-7) at Dallas Cowboys (4-11), 1 p.m.
*No line as of Wednesday morning
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (8-7), 1 p.m.
*No line as of Wednesday morning
Tennessee Titans (3-12) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8), 1 p.m.
*No line as of Wednesday morning
(-11.5) New England Patriots (12-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-10), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Patriots. New England’s flaws won’t look so bad against a crap team.
Ben: Patriots. The Dolphins are on a five-game ATS skid, are 1-9 ATS in their last 10 home games and are 3-7-1 ATS in their last 11 against the Pats. Yet last week’s loss to the Jets did reveal New England’s injury woes are very real.
Mike: Patriots. The Dolphins might end up playing their asses off one more time for Dan Campbell, but the Patriots have business to take care of, and quite frankly, they’re a lot better than the Fish.
Philadelphia Eagles (6-9) at (-3) New York Giants (6-9), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Giants. Philadelphia apparently couldn’t stomach Chip Kelly enough to let him finish the season, which speaks volumes about the state of the Eagles right now.
Ben: Giants. Big Blue looked so embarrassingly bad without Odell Beckham Jr., but he’s back, and that’s all Eli Manning needs against a Philly squad facing huge offseason questions.
Mike: Giants. The Eagles are a train wreck, so I’m gonna stay away, but it would be kind of hilarious if Philly wins with, like, 150 yards from DeMarco Murray.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at (-11.5) Carolina Panthers (14-1), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Bucs. Tampa Bay’s season has been spiraling down the drain since late November, but this just seems like a lot of points against a team that theoretically could rest its starters after jumping out to an early lead.
Ben: Bucs. Carolina will be on a mission after suffering its first loss and Tampa is 1-4 ATS in its last five games, but none of those spreads were more than 5 1/2. Last week showed us to beware of big underdogs facing division foes who took their lunch money earlier in the season.
Mike: Bucs. Luckily for the Panthers, they don’t need to cover in order to lock up the NFC’s top seed.
Oakland Raiders (7-8) at (-7.5) Kansas City Chiefs (10-5), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Chiefs. The Raiders could keep things close if the good Derek Carr shows up, but the Chiefs’ defense has been known to pressure the quarterback. That could be an issue.
Ben: Raiders. The Chiefs have shown some kinks despite their 7-2 ATS record in their last nine, as those two ATS losses were clunkers against the Browns and Chargers. And one of the AFC’s best rivalries is sure to be a tight one.
Mike: Chiefs. Derek Carr has been a revelation this season, but he’s kind of limping toward the finish line with six picks in his last four games. Expect K.C. to take full advantage.
Seattle Seahawks (9-6) at (-4.5) Arizona Cardinals (13-2), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Seahawks. Even with Seattle being chopped down to size last week by St. Louis and Arizona destroying everyone in its path, the Seahawks showed enough offensively over the previous five weeks to suggest these teams aren’t more than a field goal apart.
Ben: Seahawks. The Cardinals are such an utter machine, but with a first-round bye clinched, they might be content just to get into the postseason healthy. Not to mention, the No. 2 seed actually might be preferable, as the No. 1 seed’s reward could be a divisional-round matchup with these same Seahawks.
Mike: Seahawks. Make it a clean sweep. I’m pretty sold on the Cardinals at this point, but this potential playoff preview should be closer than 4 1/2 points.
San Diego Chargers (4-11) at (-9.5) Denver Broncos (11-4), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Broncos. I still can’t envision Philip Rivers and Co. scoring points against a good defense. So with that in mind, the Broncos’ offense just needs to be competent for Denver to take care of business at home.
Ben: Chargers. How weird is it that the Bolts have won three in a row ATS, while the Broncos are winless ATS in that span?
Mike: Broncos. The Chargers are so banged up that they had to use a safety in overtime against the Raiders. Eight Chargers were injured, and four were placed on IR this week. This could get ugly.
(-3) St. Louis Rams (7-8) at San Francisco 49ers (4-11), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Rams. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said after Seattle’s Week 16 loss to St. Louis that Rams running back Todd Gurley was just “average.” Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. But against the 4-11 49ers, anything “average” should be enough.
Ben: Rams. Neither team is very good, and the matchup data is skewed by the Niners being a behemoth up until a couple years ago. Simply put, St. Louis has the better defense and will have the best offensive player on the field.
Mike: Rams. Because Jeff Fisher coaches the Rams and Jeff Fisher teams quite often finish the season with eight losses — this would be No. 7.
Minnesota Vikings (10-5) at (-3) Green Bay Packers (10-5), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Vikings. Generally, I’ll pick Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. But with the way the Packers have looked at times this season — take last week’s 38-8 loss to the Cardinals, for example — I’m throwing that philosophy out the window.
Ben: Vikings. The loser of this game conceivably gets to play the Redskins, while the winner could have to host the Seahawks. Still, the Vikes are just better, and considering the state of the Packers, it’s easier for Green Bay to convincingly throw in the towel here.
Mike: Vikings. The Packers have only covered at home once since early October, and that came against a crappy Cowboys team. They’re also not playing very well, to say the least.
Thumbnail photo via Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports Images