That's not to say it will be a ho-hum week in the NFL. After all, rarely are so many playoff spots and positions still up in the air with just one day of football left in the season. Still, with a good number of teams having little or nothing to gain from a victory, there's an air of uncertainty surrounding this weekend's picks — and the spreads reflect it.
So if this is your last week to win the money in your pool (if, you know, you're into that sort of thing), I have two words and two words only: good luck.
(Home team in caps.)
BUFFALO (-8.5) over Indianapolis
Easily the weirdest pick I've ever made, so to explain it, I will veer away from logic and go more toward conspiracy.
OK, so …
Last week, Bill Polian pulled all his starters because he didn't want the pressure of being undefeated weigh on his team. Yes, yes, I know that Jim Caldwell is technically the head coach, but until I see him speak into his headset, I consider him nothing more than a body on the sideline.
So the Colts lose, of course, and Polian gets some grief, from fans and superstar quarterbacks with laser, rocket arms. Now, if the Colts go into Buffalo and win, then things just get worse for Polian. The 15-1 Colts (who will, naturally, lose in their first playoff game) will go down in history as one of the most mishandled and misguided teams in history. So if they can just lose this last game (and I'm talking really, really lose) then Polian saves face and the 14-2 Colts head into the playoffs without the nagging storyline of "what if?"
Yes, that is all that I've got for this one.
CLEVELAND (-1) over Jacksonville
Who would have guessed that Eric Mangini's Browns would have a chance to finish the season with five wins? As Jon Gruden would put it, not this guy.
Yet here they are in Week 17, riding a three-game winning streak and a five-week "we haven't embarrassed ourselves on the field" streak and welcoming the Jaguars, who looked just brutally awful last week in New England.
Side note: You just have to love a one-point spread. Nothing says "whatever you do, don't watch this game" more than a one-point line on a Browns-Jaguars game in Week 17. Bravo, Las Vegas. Bravo.
CAROLINA (-7) over New Orleans
Look, I know, I dislike this one as much as you do, but hear me out. The Panthers are playing out of their minds, beating the Vikings and Giants in the past two weeks by a combined score of 67-16. This team clearly doesn't miss Jake Delhomme, but congrats to the front office for handing him $20 million of guaranteed money in April!
Anyway, I'm not convinced New Orleans sits everyone down this week because they have a bye in the first round of the playoffs. I'm just banking on the Panthers playing like they have of late and for the Saints to do the same.
Philadelphia (+3) over DALLAS
Love the Eagles this year. Just love 'em. I've even convinced myself that they have as good a shot as anyone at winning it all this year. I'll take the points and run.
Chicago (-3) over DETROIT
You beat the Vikings on Monday night, you get the benefit of the doubt for at least six days. That's just how it works in this league.
Also, when your point differential is -218 like it is for the Lions, you get the opposite of the benefit of the doubt.
HOUSTON (-8) over New England
Bill Belichick was once faced with a "who cares if we win?" Week 17 game. He sent Doug Flutie onto the field to attempt a drop kick for an extra point. Then he (may or may not have) told Matt Cassel to throw a wild pass on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game.
I'm not expecting much from him, and with the Texans fighting for their lives, you have to think they'll pull this one out.
(At the same time, the Texans have folded in 100 percent of pressure-packed games in their history. But no, the dropkick. Never forget the dropkick.)
Miami (+3) over PITTSBURGH
LaMarr Woodley thinks the Patriots and Bengals are going to "lay down" because they're afraid of the Steelers?
That makes perfect sense. After all, the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns seemed mighty scared of the Steelers this year.
MINNESOTA (-9) over New York Giants
If the disjointed Vikings were playing any other team this weekend, I'd likely veer against them, but the Giants are a mess.
"This is not how good football teams operate,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the G-Men lost 41-9 in their home finale last week. "I'm at a loss for words.''
Me too, Tom. Me too.
San Francisco (-7) over ST. LOUIS
Just when you thought the Rams couldn't get any worse, Steven Jackson doesn't play.
Atlanta (-2.5) over TAMPA BAY
I know the Bucs played a good game last week, but I feel like I'm missing something with this one. So I'm just going to take the Falcons and move along without asking any more questions.
Green Bay (+3.5) over ARIZONA
It's hard to say any Week 17 game is going to be a tight one, but if I had to pick one, it'd be this game. Both teams had their offenses rolling last week, and I'm looking for a field-goal game.
Kansas City (+12.5) over DENVER
The Denver Broncos are not worthy of any of your confidence. Don't even think about it. Ignore the fact that they crushed the Chiefs 44-13 just a few weeks ago. Trust your eyes (and the fact that Brandon Marshall won't be playing). The Broncos can't be trusted.
Baltimore (-10.5) over OAKLAND
If, hypothetically, two teams controlled their own playoff destiny, and one of those teams was the Jets and the other was the Ravens, which one would you pick to take care of business?
SAN DIEGO (-4) over Washington
The Chargers have their first-round bye secure, so I can't imagine they'll be resting too many players this week. Plus, the dismal season in Washington just needs to end in a loss. There's no other way.
Tennessee (-4.5) over SEATTLE
The Seahawks just can't do anything lately. They've been outscored 106-24 in the past three weeks and they're getting in verbal arguments with Hugh Millen.
CINCINNATI (+10) over New York Jets
I'm making this pick for my own amusement. As much as I know how much
is at stake for the Jets and how very little is on the line for the
Bengals, I can't help but wonder how Mark Sanchez responds to articles that ask "The Kid" to become "The Man."
I also would very much be interested in watching tens of thousands of sober Jets fans figuring out a new way to respond to a late-season collapse. They've got the drunken response down to a science, but the non-intoxicated version could get downright dangerous.
I think the Jets pull this one out, but I just don't see it being easy.
Next week, we'll know what we're dealing with, and we'll be looking forward to some real, exciting football. Until then, we'll all be trying to make the most of it.
Last week: 8-8