|With just two weeks remaining in the NFL regular season – and, thus, no more than two weeks remaining in virtually every fantasy league format – it’s time to examine which NFL squads have essentially nothing to play for over these last two weekends. This is not only important info for predicting game winners, but to establish those tricky late-season fantasy starting lineups.
Here are the teams that have nothing or very little to play for:
Indianapolis – With last week’s loss to San Diego, the Colts regular season is now a done deal. They have clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs but can no longer achieve the dream unbeaten season. Coach Tony Dungy almost certainly will reduce the playing time of his regulars on both sides of the ball. It should be noted, though, that I expect the starters to play a little in each game because Indy will have a first-round bye in the playoffs. Dungy won’t want his key guys to get rusty at the worst possible time.
New England – The Patriots are still mathematically eligible for the second bye in the AFC, but they must win their last two games and have both Cincinnati and Denver lose their final pair. Coach Bill Belichick has stated emphatically that he will treat this week as a regular game, but c’mon. For the first half or so, I will take Coach at his word. But you know that if the Patriots have the game in hand, the principals will be out before the fourth quarter begins – especially if either Cincinnati or Denver won Saturday.
Seattle – This only applies to Week 17. This week, the Seahawks will go all-out to beat the Colts and secure homefield edge throughout the NFC playoffs. They also want to send a message in case the two clubs hook up in Detroit in early February. But in the finale, expect coach Mike Holmgren to sit Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck, as well as recently-healed Darrell Jackson.
Houston/New York Jets/Green Bay/San Francisco – These are the teams in the hunt for the first overall pick in next spring’s draft. None will admit to sand-bagging, but all are just fine with finishing the campaign on a skid if it means they get to say Reggie Bush’s name come April. Bear that in mind when you consider their prospects the next two weeks.
And with that, we move on to Week 16…
OVERALL PREDICTIONS, 2005
Straight-Up: 150-74 (67%) ATS: 120-98-6 (55%) Over/Under: 103-115-6 (47%)
Straight-Up: 11-5 ATS: 9-7 Over/Under: 8-8
Buffalo (4-10) at Cincinnati (11-3)
Line: Bengals favored by 14 (total points line is 44)
Series: The Bills have owned this series, winning the last six meetings including a 33-17 triumph at Cincinnati last season.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo’s 28-17 home loss to Denver Saturday night was the Bills’ fifth in a row. They’re third in the AFC East, a game ahead of the last-place New York Jets.
Bengals Status Report: The Bengals mauled Detroit on the road, 41-17, to clinch the AFC North title. They’re currently ranked third in the conference, fighting with Denver for the second seeding and a first-round playoff bye.
Fantasy Tidbit: RB Rudi Johnson has been as good as anyone over the last month, and he will almost certainly continue the trend against the NFL’s worst rushing defense.
Game Summary: Cincinnati should, of course, cruise to victory here… and assuredly, the Bengals will prevail. But for whatever reason, the Bills really like facing these guys. Sure, the teams have headed in opposite directions. But the Bills won by 16 – at Cincinnati – barely a year ago. With the challenge being the ability to keep their edge, the Bengals might struggle a little with their consistency in this one. So I’ll go with Buffalo to stay within the two touchdowns.
Prediction: BENGALS, 24-13
Tennessee (4-10) at Miami (7-7)
Line: Dolphins favored by 5½ (total points line is 44)
Series: Tennessee won the last clash, 17-7 at Miami last season. The Titans routed the Dolphins at Nashville in 2003, 31-7. Also, the Titans have won three of their last four trips to Miami.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee played tough but came up short in a 28-24 home loss to Seattle Sunday.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami rallied to edge the visiting New York Jets last week, 24-20, for its fourth consecutive victory. The Dolphins are two games out of the final playoff spot in the AFC, but would win tiebreakers with Pittsburgh and San Diego if those two each drop their last two games and Miami wins out. Kansas City would also have to lose twice.
Fantasy Tidbit: Titans WR Drew Bennett has emerged from a season-long slump. He’s worth riding over the last two weeks.
Game Summary: If coach Nick Saban can rally the Dolphins to a winning season, it would be impressive. They’re a longshot to make the playoffs even if they win their last two, but there’s obvious motivation there. Tennessee is still well-coached and plays hard, but the ingredients for regular success just aren’t there.
Prediction: DOLPHINS, 28-20
Pittsburgh (9-5) at Cleveland (5-9)
Line: Steelers favored by 7 (total points line is 32½)
Series: Pittsburgh won the first meeting this season at home, 34-21, and has won four in a row in the series – the last three by more than 10 points each. The last contest at Cleveland was a 24-10 Steelers victory a year ago November.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh’s defense was dominant in an 18-3 win at Minnesota last week. The Steelers currently occupy the second and last wild-card spot in the AFC.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland managed a 9-7 victory at Oakland Sunday.
Fantasy Tidbit: RB Willie Parker remains the most viable of the Steelers backs, and this is a favorable matchup, but coach Bill Cowher is spreading the carries among Parker, Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley when healthy, and even fullback Verron Haynes.
Game Summary: Cleveland’s offense is struggling to score points. Pittsburgh’s defense has allowed just nine points in the last two weeks. I’m doing the math. Plus, the Steelers desperately need the victory to keep control of their own fate.
Prediction: STEELERS, 21-10
Jacksonville (10-4) at Houston (2-12)
Line: Jaguars favored by 6 (total points line is 37)
Series: Jacksonville rallied to beat the Texans at home earlier this season, 21-14. Houston had won the previous two meetings, both in 2004, by a combined 41-6. The latter loss knocked the Jaguars out of a potential playoff berth.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville held on for an ugly 10-9 victory over visiting San Francisco Sunday. The Jags are the top wild-card team going into this week.
Texans Status Report: Houston secured its second victory of the campaign Sunday, a 30-19 triumph over visiting Arizona.
Fantasy Tidbit: In a touch of irony, RB Fred Taylor may see more action than he’s been getting in recent weeks because fellow back Greg Jones is dinged. Against Houston’s 31 st-ranked rushing defense, “Fragile Freddy” might be worth the gamble.
Game Summary: Whatever his shortcomings in general, Houston coach Dom Capers knows how to give the Jaguars fits. Houston was up a touchdown early in the fourth quarter in the first meeting this season, after dominating the Cats twice last season. Jacksonville, of course, badly needs to win… and that should be enough… but don’t be shocked if the Texans scare the Jaguars yet again.
Prediction: JAGUARS, 24-21
San Diego (9-5) at Kansas City (8-6)
Line: Chiefs favored by 1 (total points line is 49½)
Series: The first meeting this season was won by San Diego at home, 28-20. The Chargers have won the last three meetings overall including a 34-31 triumph at Kansas City in 2004.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego ended Indianapolis’ quest for perfection last week, beating the Colts at Indy, 26-17. The Chargers are tied with Pittsburgh for the final wild-card berth in the AFC, but would lose a tiebreaker with the Steelers. The Chargers would win a tiebreaker with Denver for the AFC West crown – if they can make up two games in two weeks.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City’s 27-17 loss to the New York Giants at The Meadowlands last week was their second in a row. The Chiefs trail the Chargers and Steelers by a game, and cannot win their division, so they must win and get help the last two weeks.
Fantasy Tidbit: If you’re tempted to sit RB LaDainian Tomlinson, you shouldn’t. He will start and while the going might get rough again, it’s highly doubtful you have a superior alternative. Tomlinson has gone three straight weeks without a score. He’s due, bigtime, and he’s the type of star who can put up monster numbers at anytime.
Game Summary: Both defenses have talent, but the offenses typically dominate when these two clubs get together. Unless the weather becomes brutal, I expect another game with plenty of scoring and yardage totals. A tough call, too, but the Chiefs get the nod at home.
Prediction: CHIEFS, 31-28
New York Giants (10-4) at Washington (8-6)
Line: Redskins favored by 3 (total points line is 37)
Series: The Giants routed the Redskins in the first meeting this season, 36-0, at The Meadowlands. But Washington rolled, 31-7, at home a year ago.
Giants Status Report: The Giants beat visiting Kansas City on Saturday, 27-17, and can clinch the NFC East crown with a victory over the Redskins.
Redskins Status Report: Washington routed visiting arch-rival Dallas a week ago, 35-7, and currently sits as the final wild-card qualifier in the NFC.
Fantasy Tidbit: Both featured RBs in this game, the Giants’ Tiki Barber and Washington’s Clinton Portis, have been outstanding of late but don’t expect that to continue in what figures to be more of a defensive struggle.
Game Summary: The Redskins could make things very interesting with a victory, and they’re a tempting pick here especially considering that I doubted them last week and they took their frustrations with me out on the Cowboys. But the Giants are doing all the right things now, very opportunistic and the division title is there to be taken. In virtually all of the major stat categories I look at when analyzing games, the Giants have the edge. So they’re the pick.
Prediction: GIANTS, 20-16
Dallas (8-6) at Carolina (10-4)
Line: Panthers favored by 5 (total points line is 37½)
Series: The home team has won six of seven meetings all-time, including the Panthers’ 29-10 whipping of Dallas last season.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas was trashed at Washington Sunday, 35-7, and is tied for the final wild-card playoff berth – although the Cowboys would currently lose out on tiebreakers.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina beat New Orleans at Baton Rouge a week ago, 27-10, and sports a one-game lead over Tampa Bay in the NFC South. The Panthers are also in a three-way tie with the Giants and Chicago in the battle for the second seeding in the NFC and the associated first-round playoff bye.
Fantasy Tidbit: RB DeShaun Foster is the man between the 20’s for the Panthers, but it appears that journeyman Nick Goings will get the goal line touches in place of injured Stephen Davis, rather than Foster garnering them.
Game Summary: While I believe that Dallas will rebound from its surprisingly awful performance at Washington, I can’t see how the Cowboys’ offensive line can keep those relentless Panthers pass rushers out of Drew Bledsoe’s face. Carolina’s defense is the difference in an otherwise fairly close game.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 24-17
Detroit (4-10) vs. New Orleans (3-11) at San Antonio, Tex.
Line: Saints favored by 2½ (total points line is 37½)
Series: No recent meetings. The Saints have won three of the last five get-together’s.
Lions Status Report: Detroit was routed at home by Cincinnati last week, 41-17. The Lions have dropped five straight.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans was defeated at their Baton Rouge home by Carolina on Sunday, 27-10.
Fantasy Tidbit: For this game, just one – don’t start anyone on either team. Okay, okay… Lions WR Roy Williams is worth a go. That’s it.
Game Summary: The Resistible Force versus the Movable Object. I’d probably prefer to gag myself with a piece of bread than sit through this one… but if I have to make a pick, I like Detroit’s defense to be the difference in a game that certainly could go either way. Problem is, no one gives a rodent’s bum either way.
Prediction: LIONS, 23-20
Atlanta (8-6) at Tampa Bay (9-5)
Line: Buccaneers favored by 3 (total points line is 36½)
Series: The Bucs upset the Falcons at Atlanta earlier this season, 30-27, and blanked them the last time the two met at Tampa – 27-0 about a year ago. Overall, they have split the last four season series.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta was stymied by the frigid conditions and monstrous defense of Chicago, 16-3, Sunday night. The Falcons are tied with Dallas, Washington and Minnesota for the final NFC playoff berth.
Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay got whitewashed at New England Saturday, 28-0, to fall a game behind Carolina in the NFC South. The Bucs are currently the top wild-card qualifiers.
Fantasy Tidbit: QB Michael Vick has had precious little success at Tampa Bay in his career. Depending on your alternative, it’s not a bad time to consider benching him.
Game Summary: This should be a close game, rather than the blowout it was a year ago. Atlanta’s season is on the line – a loss and the Falcons are probably done playing after next week. Tampa Bay is almost as desperate, with how bunched the NFC playoff chase is. The game might come down to Atlanta’s ability to slow the Tampa Bay running game, thereby forcing young QB Chris Simms into a win-it-for-the-home-team situation. However, I’m giving the nod to the Bucs because they’ve proven they can slow Vick and the Atlanta rushing attack.
Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 17-13
San Francisco (2-12) at St. Louis (5-9)
Line: Rams favored by 9 (total points line is 42)
Series: The 49ers upset St. Louis at home in the season opener, 28-25, staving off a Rams comeback attempt. In the last meeting at St. Louis, in 2004, the Rams won, 16-6. St. Louis has won the last five meetings between the two at home.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco nearly pulled off a shocker at Jacksonville last week, but lost late, 10-9. The 49ers have lost seven straight and 12 of 13.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis was clipped at home by Philadelphia Sunday, 17-16, and has dropped three straight and six of seven.
Fantasy Tidbit: The Rams were mum as of this writing about who would start at QB, but veteran Jamie Martin is likely to get the call based on rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick’s severe struggles since his heroic relief effort at Houston last month. Neither is worth a play, either way, even against the 49ers’ woeful pass defense.
Game Summary: The Rams should find a way to end their skid because they have a little more talent overall than does San Francisco, and they’re at home. Throw in a little payback effect for losing the opener at San Francisco, and you have my outright winner. But nine points? Way too much spread for me.
Prediction: RAMS, 20-13
Philadelphia (6-8) at Arizona (4-10)
Line: Cardinals favored by 1 (total points line is 39½)
Series: No recent meetings. The Cardinals have held their own in this series at home, winning six of the last 10 encounters.
Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia held on for a 17-16 victory at St. Louis last week.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona lost at Houston, 30-19.
Fantasy Tidbit: With QB Kurt Warner injured, Josh McCown is the starter for the Cardinals. He tends to play decently at home, but Philadelphia’s secondary remains fairly solid.
Game Summary: Even with all the turmoil they’ve endured this season, I still consider the Eagles a solid team… but with several missing parts. Arizona also has some missing ingredients, but otherwise the Cardinals are bad anyway. Philly’s second lengthy road trip in as many weeks might spell doom for them here, but on paper they continue to be the better team… by a smidge.
Prediction: EAGLES, 24-20
Indianapolis (13-1) at Seattle (12-2)
Line: Seahawks favored by 7 (total points line is 47)
Series: The Colts have won two of their last three trips to Seattle and covered against the spread in all three meetings. None, however, were recent.
Colts Status Report: Indianapolis saw its bid for an unblemished season get ruined by visiting San Diego last week, 26-17. The Colts have already clinched the top seeding in the AFC for the playoffs.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle escaped from Tennessee with a 28-24 win last week, its ninth straight win. The Seahawks can lock up homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory.
Fantasy Tidbit: The word from Indy is that Colts coach Tony Dungy intends to use his starters for at least the first half, maybe more depending on the game. He wants to rest his veterans, but realizes the importance of maintaining momentum going into the playoffs. Owners of Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne should feel comfortable starting those guys, unless truly above-average alternatives are available. Guys like QB Jim Sorgi and RB Dominic Rhodes are legitimate starts only in very large leagues.
Game Summary: I’d really be surprised if the Colts just laid down in this one. After all, do you really want to allow yourself to get spanked by a team you just might face in the Super Bowl? The thing is, however, that this was originally going to be my pick for the Colts to lose their bid for perfection (not counting that Steelers-Colts prediction I made – lay off, already). So to me, it’s conceivable that Seattle could win by a touchdown even if Indy was going all out. For that reason, my pick is Seattle.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 27-14
Oakland (4-10) at Denver (11-3)
Line: Broncos favored by 13 (total points line is 42½)
Series: Denver won the first meeting this season at Oakland, 31-17, but lost at home to the Raiders last year, 25-24. Prior to that game, the Broncos had won the four previous meetings all by at least 17 points.
Raiders Status Report: Oakland lost at home to Cleveland Sunday, 9-7, and has dropped four straight.
Broncos Status Report: Denver won at Buffalo Saturday night, 28-17, and is tied with Cincinnati for the second seeding in the AFC. However, it should be noted that Denver has not yet clinched the AFC West Division.
Fantasy Tidbit: Raiders WR Jerry Porter has four scores at Denver in his last two appearances. Worth a start? Not unless he’s your third starter and you’re roster is really thin. Oakland’s offense is non-existent these days.
Game Summary: Oakland appears to have quit on the season. This is a rivalry game, so the Raiders might be up a little more. But I’d be surprised if it was very close. Denver coach Mike Shanahan still has too much fun beating the Raiders to allow a letdown now.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 30-10
Chicago (10-4) at Green Bay (3-11)
Line: Bears favored by 7 (total points line is 31)
Series: Chicago won the first meeting this season, at home, 19-7. The Bears also took the last game between the two at Green Bay, 21-10, a year ago September.
Bears Status Report: Chicago stuffed Atlanta at home, 16-3, last Sunday night. The Bears are tied with the New York Giants and Carolina for the second seeding in the NFC. A victory clinches the NFC North title.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay was routed at Baltimore Monday night, 48-3.
Fantasy Tidbit: Chicago QB Rex Grossman is back at the helm, and is much more fantasy capable than Kyle Orton.
Game Summary: Upset special? It’s tempting, for a plethora of reasons. What a story it would be for QB Brett Favre to put a dent in Chicago’s super season while in the midst of a nightmare 3-11 campaign. And you know what? It could happen – the Pack has played everyone tough at home, plus run up 52 points on the Saints. As it is, I like Green Bay to stay close and rebound emotionally from the loss to the Ravens Monday. But Chicago’s defense is too much to overcome.
Prediction: BEARS, 13-9
Minnesota (8-6) at Baltimore (5-9)
Line: Ravens favored by 2½ (total points line is 34)
Series: No recent meetings. These teams have split two meetings over the last eight years, both at Baltimore.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota’s six-game winning streak was snapped with an 18-3 loss at home to Pittsburgh last week. The Vikings are tied for the second wild-card playoff spot in the NFC.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore put a 48-3 whuppin’ on Green Bay at home Monday night.
Fantasy Tidbit: Ravens RB Jamal Lewis looked like he was actually trying against the Packers. If he’d have run like that all year, there would be no controversy (and my Huddle league fantasy squad wouldn’t be 10 th out of 12 teams). Go ahead and give him the start, and see if he can make it two straight.
Game Summary: This is a classic confrontation between a team not as good as its record against a team better than its record – put LB Ray Lewis on that defense every game and they’re at least at .500. Has Baltimore QB Kyle Boller finally arrived? Maybe, but what he hasn’t done in his career is string together quality efforts. Still, the Ravens defense at home has been superlative even without Lewis. They win this one over the unspectacular Minnesota attack.
Prediction: RAVENS, 23-17
New England (9-5) at New York Jets (3-11)
Line: Patriots favored by 4 (total points line is 37½)
Series: New England won at home three weeks ago, 16-3, and has won the last five in a row in the series.
Patriots Status Report: New England blanked Tampa Bay at home Saturday, 28-0, and has clinched the AFC East title and likely No. 4 seeding in the AFC playoffs.
Jets Status Report: The Jets lost at Miami Sunday, 24-20.
Fantasy Tidbit: New England coach Bill Belichick says he will prepare and coach to win… so take him for his word and feel free to start QB Tom Brady and other Patriot regulars as you see fit.
Game Summary: Assuming Belichick isn’t pulling a fast one on everybody, the Patriots should have no problem taking care of business at The Meadowlands against an outmanned foe, especially with the extra time to prepare.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 20-6