I think of all the sports, the NFL strikes the perfect balance of regular season meaningfulness, rewards for regular season success, and playoff inclusiveness. Certainly, the 2013 NFL season backs that up with a Week 16 slate that sees almost two thirds of the league with playoff hopes still alive.
And because of the first round bye as the reward for upper-, upper-level success, you still have teams with clinched playoff spots striving to avoid first round games (in the case of teams like the Chiefs and Broncos, first round road games!) In fact, with 19 teams still technically alive for the playoffs, 13 of the 16 games have some sort of postseason implication.
Even better, we are looking at a possible Week 17 dance card with de facto play-in (winner is in, loser goes home) games in the NFC East, NFC North and AFC North and for an NFC wild card spot (San Francisco at Arizona). How awesome would that be?!
Now, let's get cracking on this week's slate...
TEXANS +10 1/2 over Broncos The way this season has gone, the sea of pathos that it has become with so many traumatic and improbable storylines, the only way it can possibly end would be for the Texans to somehow screw up the consolation prize (the number one overall pick in the draft) by beating the best team in the AFC as a double digit underdog. I don't think it happens, but oddly enough, I think that Matt Schaub (and whatever Sith power he is deriving from his facial hair) gives them a chance to hang close against a pretty sorry Denver defense. Along those lines...
Broncos/TEXANS OVER 53 ....let's double up and assume that there will be a ton of points scored. A ton. CHIEFS -6 1/2 over Colts On the surface, since a pre-bye week victory over the Denver Broncos on a Sunday night, the Colts are a respectable 4-3. The fact that the AFC South is such a cesspool of football suck makes their 4-3 during that time look downright dominant. The fact is, though, the Colts are actually 0-3 against teams not named the Titans or Texans during that seven game stretch and have lost those three games by an average margin of 24 points. The Chiefs are still in the hunt for the number one overall seed, and I expect their effort to reflect that.
Patriots +2 1/2 over RAVENS The Patriots are 16-2 ATS as an underdog following a loss. Also, the Patriots are 17-3 ATS as an underdog for the second straight game. Basically, what that says is that Bill Belichick hates being disrespected, but he really hates being disrespected twice in a row. Also, a loss here puts New England's hopes for a first round bye in jeopardy, and I don't see them slogging through Week 17 with nothing to play for.
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Raiders +10 over CHARGERS Hey, did you know that the Chargers are only the third team in the last 20 seasons to be favored by double digits the week after being double digit underdogs? Yep, they went from an 11 point underdog in Denver last week to a 10 point favorite against Oakland. Also, did you know that the Raiders are 18-5 ATS as a road dog in division games? Indeed, they are. The underdog has covered in 9 of the last 10 games between these to teams. In short, this is as close to a throw out the records division series as you can find right now. The Raiders with Matt McGloin as their quarterback can score enough to hang in this game. (Sweet fancy Moses, read that last sentence again. McGloin!)
Bears +3 over EAGLES Admittedly, there's probably a tiny bit of my hoping that the Bears and Packers both win this week to set up a de facto playoff game in Week 17 between those two teams. That would be bad ass. There are empirical reasons to take the Bears, too. The Eagles are 3-18 ATS when favored for a second straight week, and at home have covered only 5 of their last 26. The best reason to pick against the Bears, on the other hand, is that ,at night in a big TV game, I can totally envision Jay Cutler getting "Sour Jay Cutler Face" by about the middle of the second quarter. I'll go with the gambling stats in this one.
Last week: 3-3 Season record: 38-55-3
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.