|Austin Davis is no savior for the Browns.|
In most years, the top few teams or division winners could take the final week off. In 2015 (or, um, 2016), oddly enough, only the 8-7 Washington Redskins are locked into a playoff spot as the fourth seed in the NFC. Every other playoff contender could shape their future with a win and/or favorable outcomes among their closest competitors.
Here's look at who the we're picking (or disagreeing) on in this week, including an outline from Stally on what the teams will be playing for (where applicable):
Austen's Eight-Point Pick
Pittsburgh over @Cleveland
Austen: Despite the fact that I like his first name, Austin Davis is not going to beat out Big Ben and one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL. They are coming off of a crushing loss to a division rival last week, and it will not happen again this week.
Stally: Pittsburgh must be embarrassed to know that their season might be over because it provided Baltimore with two of its five wins on the season. The Steelers need to win and have the Jets lose (at Buffalo) in a game happening concurrently. The Steelers will win this one, so it'll all come down to if Bills Coach Rex Ryan can stick it to his old team.
@Denver over San Diego
Stally: This could be a big game for Denver. If Cincinnati wins (an outcome which will be known by kickoff), a loss would require the Broncos to play in the Wild Card and then go on the road for the Divisional Round. A win would clinch a first-round bye over the Bengals, and could vault them all the way to the top seed, if New England loses (which will also be known by kickoff). Assuming this game means something, it would be shocking to see Denver implode at home against one of the worst teams in the league.
Austen: The Chargers tend to bring their A game against Denver and have had their number the last couple of years, but this is the worst team the Chargers have had in all of Phillip Rivers' career. Unless Denver plays their backups, the Broncos will win this game with ease.
Austen's Seven-Point Pick
New England over @Miami
Austen: I am pretty surprised that Stally did not put this as his top pick. The Patriots have to win this game to insure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Dolphins are one of the worst teams in the league. I do not care how many injured players the Patriots have, they are winning this game. Might even be able to do it even if they sit Brady.
Stally: It's too bad the Patriots didn't want the ball in overtime last week. A win would have sealed the conference's top seed. They can do the same again this week, but with the number of injuries that team has faced, it would have been nice to have rested some starters against the dirtiest player in the league, Ndamukong Suh.
Stally's Seven-Point Pick
@Carolina over Tampa Bay
Stally: No team likes losing an undefeated season in Week 16 to a team it had just beaten 38-0, but it wasn't playoffs and the season isn't over for the Panthers. They need to win this game to clinch the top seed and should take care of business.
Austen: Last week's loss to the Falcons was the exact type of gut check the Panthers needed headed into the playoffs. They actually have something to play for this week and should bring everything they got, since they know they have a week off no matter what after this game. That will definitely too much for a young Bucs team to handle.
Austen's Six-Point Pick
@Kansas City over Oakland
Austen: It would almost be a disadvantage for the Chiefs to win the division, as the top Wild Card seed gets to go on the road to Houston (don't tell me the Colts can still win the division because realistically, they can't). However, playing at home for the Chiefs is a huge advantage and I do not think they are following my thought process. They will win this game with ease and take that confidence into the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Stally: Oakland got to send Charles Woodson off into the sunset with a Christmas Eve overtime win. Don't expect anything nearly as magical in Kansas City, as the Chiefs have won nine straight since being 1-5. KC has an outside shot at winning the division only if the Broncos get upset against the Chargers.
Stally's Six-Point Pick
@Indianapolis over Tennessee
Stally: The Colts will make the playoffs if: they win, and Houston loses, and Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver, Miami all win, and Oakland wins/ties plus Pittsburgh wins/ties (so long as both of those teams don't tie). Well ... in that convoluted scenario, I can at least guarantee that the Colts will probably win. That other eight steps: good luck, Indy.
Austen: I have the Titans with one confidence point. The Colts are starting Josh Freeman, who they signed at the beginning of this week, since Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck are both out for this game. Last time we saw Freeman, he put together a historically poor quarterbacking performance for the Vikings, and was never heard of again until now. He is not winning this game.
Austen's Five-Point Pick
@Cincinnati over Baltimore
Austen: The Ravens are not sneaking up on anyone after shocking the Steelers last week. The Bengals have been watching that tape all week long so that does not happen to them this week. The Bengals will take care of business against one of the worst teams in the league because, unlike the Steelers, they actually have a defense.
Stally: The Bengals will need a Denver loss later to earn a first-round bye. Assuming that doesn't happen they'll be locked into the third seed. Expect Cincy to put together a strong game against a weak Baltimore team, but understand that if the Bengals sleep on the Ravens, they'll get pulled apart like Pittsburgh did last week.
Stally's Five-Point Pick
St. Louis over @San Francisco
Stally: In a game with zero playoff implications, the mediocre Rams should beat the hapless 49ers ... (but who really cares?).
Austen: It is always hard to predict division rivalry games when nothing is on the line for either team, but is hard to bet on the 49ers against a surging Rams team who have won three straight games.
Austen's Four-Point Pick
New York Jets over @Buffalo
Austen: The Jets are on a roll and are getting healthy at the right time. That is bad news of the Bills, who are down LeSean McCoy for this game. I think the Jets trample a Bills team that is in a tailspin and have already (and unnecessarily, I might add) released that they are cutting their highest and possibly best player in Mario Williams when the season ends.
Stally: The Jets make the playoffs a win or a Pittsburgh loss to the Browns, so they better make sure they take care of their own business! I don't see that happening though. The Bills have been a tough team to beat and it's personal for Buffalo coach Rex Ryan. His players know that, too.
@Arizona over Seattle
Stally: Arizona could still earn the top seed in the conference, but only if it wins and Carolina loses at home to Tampa Bay. Seattle would go to Washington as the five seed as opposed to Green Bay as the six seed, if they win and Green Bay beats Minnesota. Expect these two division rivals to start the playoffs a week early and knock each other around, and expect Arizona to show why it's shaping itself into a Super Bowl favorite by extending its winning streak to 10.
Austen: Stally puts it perfectly. Both of these teams have a lot to play for this week. That being said, I will take the Seahawks, as Russell Wilson has been the best quarterback in the league since Week 11. It should be a real close game though.
Austen's Three-Point Pick
@Atlanta over New Orleans
Austen: The Saints cannot stop anyone on defense, no matter who their coordinator is. They have no hope of stopping Julio Jones and I do not think Drew Brees will be able to keep up with all the injuries the Saints have on offense.
Stally: Sorry, Atlanta, this game still won't give you a chance to save your playoff chances in a season that you started 5-0. And, no, you don't get bonus points for beating the undefeated Panthers. You're an bad team and an embarrassment for caving on the season, and the Saints are going to be the final let down in a let down of a season.
Stally's Three-Point Pick
Detroit over @Chicago
Stally: No playoff implications. I'll take the 6-9 Lions because they've shown flashes of brilliance, and the 6-9 Bears really haven't.
Austen: I am not sure why Detroit is the underdog, as I too assumed that they would be the favorite. Both are bad teams, but I do not even know who is left starting at wide receiver for the Bears. This should be a game to avoid watching.
Austen's Two-Point Pick
@Houston over Jacksonville
Austen: The Texans do not need to win this game to make the playoffs, but they need to win this game to give themselves any sort of confidence going into the playoffs. No want wants to carry a loss to the Jags into the playoffs, and I do not think the Texans will.
Stally: To review from the Colts scenario, Houston can win the division if: they win, or Indy loses, or Atlanta loses, or Baltimore loses, or Buffalo loses, or Denver loses, or Miami loses, or Oakland loses, or Pittsburgh loses, or Oakland and Pittsburgh both tie. So, yeah, Houston is in. But, no, they're not going to do themselves any favors, as the potential front-runner to win the 2016 AFC South crown (the Jaguars) pull off the road upset.
Stally's Two-Point Pick
Philadelphia over @New York Giants
Stally: Somehow, both of these teams are out of the hunt despite their division leader holding a record of 8-7. I've seen worse teams play than the Giants, but I've never seen a team play worse than the Giants did last week on Sunday Night Football. They were a total embarrassment that had no heart and no interest in even being on the field (they trailed 49-10 before their backup QB added a late TD). Based on the amount of money each player makes just for showing up to work, that's disgraceful, and I'll take anyone but those losers this week.
Austen: Both of these teams are terrible, but I'll take the Giants who still have a coach.
Austen's One-Point Pick
Washington over @Dallas
Austen: Jason Garrett will be the Cowboys' head coach in 2016. Good luck with that one Boys' fans. He should be fired, and he will show it by blowing another divisional game.
Stally: Washington is locked into the fourth seed in the NFC, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of their star or ailing players didn't touch the field at all. The question: are the Cowboys really bad enough to lose to the shell of an 8-7 team? The answer: no, Dallas is still an NFL team and if they play at 100%, they'll beat a mediocre team that's not.
Stally's One-Point Pick
Minnesota over @Green Bay
Stally: This game is for all the marbles in the NFC North. Winner gets the third seed. Loser, well, Green Bay holds the tiebreaker over Seattle if the Seahawks win, but the Vikings lose the tiebreaker if the Seahawks win. Problem: something's broken in Green Bay. The Packers are just 4-5 since starting 6-0 The Vikings meanwhile are healthy and hitting their highest competitive form right now having waxed the Giants 49-17 last week. I see an upset in this one.
Austen: There is something very, very wrong in Green Bay. I still do not buy into the Vikings being a good team, but Green Bay is a bad team when Aaron Rodgers does not play to super-human levels. I think the Vikings eek out a close one.