NFL Week 17: The playoff field is finally set

The Patriots look untouchable in the AFC, while the NFC looks wide open. Wild card picks; weirdness abounds; men loving men and hot player of the week.

By Jim Buzinski
Outsports.com

How I saw Week 17 in the NFL:

I won’t do a full playoff prediction here since matchups matter so much in each round. Obviously, the Patriots (14-2) look to be the class of the AFC, while I don’t see a clear favorite in the NFC.

In the NFC, both games are rematches from the regular season, while the AFC has first-time matchups this season. What is bizarre is that the home team in three games has a worst record than its opponent, and in the fourth game (Packers at Eagles), the teams have the same record with the Packers having already won at Philadelphia this season. Count me among those you say the wild card round should be seeded by record; it’s not fair for a team with a better record to have to travel in the first round.

james-laurinaitis300
Hot player of the week: St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis

Here are my picks for the wild card games.

AFC:
Jets (11-5) at Colts (10-6), Saturday 8 p.m. EST.

The Colts somehow survived a slew of killer injuries to make the playoffs for a record-tying ninth straight year. This is amazing accomplishment for a team that was 6-6 and looked dead, but there's a reason Peyton Manning is the best quarterback of his era. This also does not look like a team equipped to make much of a run. They are missing too many key pieces, but there is no more resilient team in the league. I love watching them since they provide value for my entertainment dollar.

The Jets are nowhere near as sharp on defense as they were a year ago and you never know which Mark Sanchez will show up. On the other hand, the Colts aren’t as good at receiver because of injuries, so it evens out. Jets coach Rex Ryan said Peyton Manning is his kryptonite, since his teams have struggled against the Colts. I see a toss-up here that is coming down to the wire. This is a homer pick, but I see Indy surviving. Colts 26, Jets 23.

Ravens (12-4) at Chiefs (10-6), Sunday 1 p.m. EST.
The Ravens are the better team and the Chiefs are a bit of a fraud. Of their 10 wins, only one was against a team with a winning record (San Diego in Week 1). They are an up-and-coming team but their 21-point loss Sunday at home to Oakland was disturbing, even though they had clinched. They could have had the No. 3 seed, but looked like crap and were playing their starters. KC won the division mostly because the Chargers choked in very winnable games. Had the Chargers simply beaten the Rams or Seahawks, they would have won the division.

In contrast, the Ravens have had several quality wins (Jets, Steelers, Bucs and Saints, all teams that have won at least 10 games). Their defense will frustrate the Chiefs’ Matt Cassel and their offense will be able to sustain drives. Ravens move on, 30-16.

NFC:
Saints (11-5) at Seahawks (7-9), Saturday 4:30 p.m.

Say hello to the Seattle Seahawks, the first division winner in history with a losing record. What a joke! Miami also went 7-9 and is likely to fire its coach, and improving Tampa Bay went 10-6, beat the Seahawks by 23 and is done for the season, so life in the NFL isn’t fair. How bad is Seattle? All nine losses have been by at least 15 points and the ‘Hawks are 3-7 in their last 10 games.

I won’t waste energy trying to analyze this matchup. If the Saints lose, it will be the biggest upset in playoff history, given the quality of the teams involved. Saints 38, Seahawks 10.

Packers (10-6) at Eagles (10-6), Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EST
The Eagles appear to have peaked a month ago. Ignore their Week 17 loss, but this team would have had the No. 2 seed and bye had they simply beaten the Vikings (forcing Philly to play hard against Dallas). Michael Vick is being confused by blitzes and the Packers excel at blitzing; it's also not good that Vick is banged up since his style of play exposes him to way too many hits. There was already a report on ESPN that the Eagles would consider yanking Vick next week if he struggles, quite a fall for someone being considered as the MVP just a few weeks ago. Packers 24, Eagles 17.

Weird I: The Raiders went 6-0 in their division and failed to make the playoffs, the first time that has happened. Word is that coach Tom Cable might be fired, despite the team’s first non-losing season since 2002. Typical Raiders.

Weird II: The Rams had only three completions all season of greater than 40 yards and were the first team in 70 years to not have one greater than 50 yards. The Rams will load up on wide receivers next season.

Weird III: Drew Brees threw 22 interceptions this season and has thrown at least one in 12 straight games. The last player to do that was Jon Kitna in 2006; that’s not company you want to keep. The Saints are lucky they’re drawing the Seahawks next week or they could be one and done.

Weird IV: By virtue of each team winning its division, the Colts and Patriots will meet in the regular season in 2011 for the ninth straight year. That's bizarre for two teams from different divisions. As Bill Belichick said earlier this season, he was ready for the Pats' "annual non-division division game" against the Colts.

Falling off the Earth: Has there ever been an elite player who has fallen so fast as Randy Moss? He went from uber-feared threat for the Patriots to bench-warmer in Tennessee in one season. Hope he knows that no one will be shelling out big money for him next year.

Men loving men: Got this from my friend Brent:

Did you see the Fox pregame show? They showed clips of affection between the hosts, ending with Terry [Bradshaw] saying "there's nothing wrong with men loving men" and the host [Curt Menefee] saying, "I got no problem with it" while acknowledging "the room got awfully silent"

[Michael] Strahan also chimed in - as we would have expected -- and Howie [Long] seemed the most uncomfortable.


Hot player of the week: It’s a shame the Rams won’t make the playoffs, because their roster is brimming with hotties. One is linebacker James Laurinaitis, a 6-2, 247 pounder. He has an interesting lineage – his dad and two uncles were pro wrestlers. His father, Joe, was “Animal” of the famous Road Warriors tag team.

Over and out: This is my last regular season NFL notes package for the season, though I will recap each playoff week. Thanks to those of you who were regular readers. I enjoy doing this.

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