It’s been a long season, but it finally comes down to one last week to settle the score.
Oh, did you think we meant the NFL regular season? Nah, we’re talking about picks, man.
With the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers primed to find out which one of them will break into the playoffs with a losing record, NESN.com’s “experts” are polishing off their regular-season picks. As in real life, where the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots are the favorites, our picks leader is in the driver’s seat.
But in picks, just like on a real football field, anything can happen.
Ben Watanabe: 8-7 (146-76-1). Seven games down with 16 to play? Easy-peasy.
Darren Hartwell: 9-6 (151-71-1). Silently stalking Mike in the night. Like, literally. Not just in picks. Because he’s a creep.
Mike Cole: 10-5 (153-69-1). Note: Picked before Darren, to remove any unfair advantage.
Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Panthers. Either team clinches the NFC South title and a playoff spot with a win, barring global Armageddon, in which case the playoffs would be delayed a week. If the alternative is watching one of these teams in the playoffs, I vote for global Armageddon.
Darren: Falcons. The Falcons haven’t lost a game in their division this season. That’s because their division is awful. I’ll go with the awful team that’s good at beating other awful teams.
Mike: Falcons. One way or the other, we’re going to have a seven-win team in the playoffs, and that’s a disgrace. Playing at home should be the difference for the Falcons, though.
Indianapolis Colts (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-13), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Titans. The Colts have nothing to play for, since they’ve clinched the AFC South and can’t catch New England or Denver for a bye. They should bring back Dan Orlovsky to quarterback this one, for old time’s sake.
Darren: Colts. The Colts dashed my hopes of catching Mike last week. But yeah, they’ll be all right here.
Mike: Colts. It doesn’t matter if they’re resting players or not, the Colts should be mad enough after last week’s beatdown from the Cowboys to bounce back and beat the miserable Titans.
San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Chiefs. All it takes is a win here, a Baltimore loss and a Houston loss or tie, and Kansas City is playoff-bound!
Darren: Chargers. The Chiefs have won one game in the last five weeks, and it was against the Raiders. The Chargers’ playoff hopes are on the line, and they’ll find a way to get it done.
Mike: Chargers. Is there a tougher guy in football than Philip Rivers? The Chargers need a win, and they should ride the momentum of last week’s comeback win in San Francisco.
New York Jets (3-12) at Miami Dolphins (8-7), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Dolphins. I’m going for gold in the final week to make up my substantial deficit, but picking the Jets would be where “risky” passes over into just plain dumb.
Darren: Dolphins. Will the Jets go out and win one more game for good ol’ Rex Ryan? They’re one of the worst teams in football, so no. They won’t.
Mike: Dolphins. This might be the first NFL game canceled on account of “both teams would rather go hang out on South Beach than play this meaningless football game.”
Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (6-9), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Vikings. It’s less embarrassing to be a Raiders or Jaguars fan right now than a Bears fan. That’s, like, a Christmas miracle.
Darren: Vikings. If we told you in August that the Vikings were expected to win this game, you would have laughed in our faces. Then again, that’s what everyone is doing to the Bears right now.
Mike: Vikings. Jay Cutler is back!
Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Patriots. Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills — in that circling the wagons makes them an easier target, because they’re not all lined up to be picked off one by one.
Darren: Patriots. Bill Belichick never has been keen on losing games, especially to division “rivals.” The Patriots will take care of business at home.
Mike: Patriots. The Bills, with a chance to make serious moves in securing a playoff spot, lost to the Raiders last week. I don’t care who plays for the Patriots this week.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at New York Giants (6-9), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Eagles. With nothing left to play for, Chip Kelly will insert Vinny from East Passyunk at quarterback and he’ll throw for 550 yards.
Darren: Eagles. The Eagles are done, but no one wants to lose to the Giants. Philly pulls out a high-scoring affair despite Odell Beckham Jr. catching a million touchdowns.
Mike: Giants. The Beckham show continues, and the Eagles just say, “Screw it.”
New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Saints. Drew Brees, who has oddly stunk at times, will yell and chant and jump and “rally” New Orleans to a victorious finale.
Darren: Saints. What’s the only thing better than Panthers-Falcons? Saints-Bucs! Take the Saints, because Tampa Bay could use that first overall pick.
Mike: Saints. The Saints are a bad football team, but the Bucs are worse, and sometimes it’s that’s simple.
Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Washington Redskins (4-11), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Redskins. Washington just dashed Philly’s hopes, and analysts have been giving the MVP trophy to everybody on the Cowboys this week, as far as I can tell. Letdown city, baby!
Darren: Cowboys. It’s pretty incredible that Dallas has yet to lose on the road this season. Time for a little revenge after Washington won at Jerry World earlier this season.
Mike: Cowboys. I think the Cowboys might end up resting their starters more than anyone else this week, but I’ll take my chances with their scrubs beating the ‘Skins.
Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Browns. I can’t wait for Brian Hoyer to jog out of the tunnel Willis Reed-style and lead Cleveland to victory despite his injured shoulder. You’re right, Reed isn’t a fair comparison for Hoyer. Chuck Norris is more apt.
Darren: Ravens. When Rex Grossman picks a family vacation over a chance to play for your team, you know you’ve hit rock bottom.
Mike: Ravens. They need the win, and the Browns are playing out the string.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Houston Texans (8-7), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Texans. Bear in mind, Houston is just the sort of team to blow a potential playoff berth with a loss to Jacksonville.
Darren: Texans. If J.J. Watt has to score ten touchdowns to get his team into the playoffs, he’ll do it.
Mike: Texans. Houston still has an outside chance of making the playoffs, but they can’t do that unless they beat the Jaguars. Good enough for me.
Detroit Lions (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Ben: Packers. Home-field advantage is on the line, so if Aaron Rodgers can’t deliver here, he’s not the quarterback we think he is.
Darren: Packers. The Lions haven’t beaten the Packers at Lambeau Field since 1991 (!!). This might be their best chance in a while to end that streak, but it’s still not going to happen.
Mike: Packers. The Packers (7-0 at home this season) probably don’t want to play on the road in the playoffs. In order to ensure at least one home game, they need this game. They should get it because Rodgers > Matt Stafford.
Oakland Raiders (3-12) at Denver Broncos (11-3), 4:25 p.m. ET
Ben: Raiders. Prediction: Everybody sits for Denver, which is ticketed for the No. 2 seed, and Oakland gets to puff its chest all offseason about how it closed the season with four wins in its last six games.
Darren: Broncos. A healthy dose of backup running backs and Brock Osweiler screen passes should be enough to win this one.
Mike: Broncos. Brock Osweiler should go Google “Matt Flynn Week 17 2011 contract” before this game.
Arizona Cardinals (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (7-8), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Cardinals. Niners coaches are so predictable. Some square-jawed Neanderthal like Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary or Jim Harbaugh blows into town, talks tough and everybody buys the act for a couple of years. Then the shtick gets old and San Fran moves on to another tough-talkin’ gunslinger who’s equally full of crap.
Darren: 49ers. I need plenty of things to go right to catch Mike, so I’ll bank on the Cardinals’ complete offensive ineptitude letting them down for the second straight week.
Mike: Cardinals. It would be fitting if the 49ers quit one more time on Harbaugh before he’s off to his next job.
St. Louis Rams (6-9) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Ben: Seahawks. Home field, coupled with avenging a loss in St. Louis earlier this season, should be all the motivation Seattle needs.
Darren: Seahawks. The next time this team loses could be in Glendale, Ariz. And even that seems unlikely right now.
Mike: Seahawks. Seattle is a wagon right now, and they’ve got a chance to clinch home-field in the playoffs, which is basically clinching a Super Bowl berth. So, yeah. They’ll be ready for this one.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5), Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Ben: Bengals. The winner gets Indy, and the Steelers — who walloped the Colts two months ago — blow a tremendous chance at stealing a trip to the divisional round.
Darren: Steelers. The Steelers always get up for big games like this, especially if there’s a chance to knock the Bengals off the AFC North throne.
Mike: Steelers. Andy Dalton, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals made me look like an idiot last week. So naturally, I’ll take the Steelers this week.
Thumbnail image via Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports Images