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Final NFL Playoff Picture and Week 16 Picks

You can call the NFL schedule makers prophetic or merely lucky, but they got it right this year. Week 16 of the 2008 slate features three games of great importance — Steelers-Titans, Panthers-Giants and Ravens-Cowboys. Each will go a long way towards sewing up the playoff picture, and all are shaping up to be December classics.

Let’s begin with the Carolina-New York game. Both teams have identical 11-3 records, so the winner will take the top overall seed and home field throughout the NFC playoffs. While they have gone in divergent directions the last two weeks — Carolina has mowed down the Bucs and Broncos; the Giants have dropped a pair to the Eagles and Cowboys — this game is actually more important to the Panthers. They have proven to be unbeatable at home this season (8-0) but are a pedestrian 3-3 on the road. If they can’t go into the Meadowlands and knock off the banged-up Giants (Brandon Jacobs should play, but will be limited) Sunday night, it’s highly unlikely they’ll do it next month with a Super Bowl on the line against a presumably healthier New York team. The defending champs, on the other hand, proved last year — in Dallas and Green Bay among other places — that they can win on the road in the playoffs. There’s a good chance that the winner of this game will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIII.

Now to the AFC, where the top two teams are also meeting in what could be a prelude to the AFC championship. At 12-2, the Titans need only a win over the Steelers (11-3) to ensure home field throughout the playoffs. However, after losing two of the last four on the heels of a 10-0 start, Tennessee must win this game to avoid a tidal wave of skepticism about its toughness and character. The game will be played in Nashville, but the Titans will be without their two main men on defense, Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch. That very much evens the playing field. The Steelers, meanwhile, are flat out rolling. They’ve turned fourth quarter deficits — against Dallas and Baltimore — into victories the last two weeks and are playing with a chip on their shoulder. They simply don’t believe the opposition can butt heads with them for sixty minutes. A win over Tennessee and Pittsburgh effectively wraps up the No. 1 seed (it would need just a win over the Browns or a Titans loss to the Colts in Week 17 to clinch).

As for the Ravens-Cowboys contest, there really can’t be a more exciting inter-conference game at this time of the year. Both teams currently control their own destinies for one of the two respective wild cards in their conference. Whichever team wins will essentially be guaranteed a playoff berth, while the loser will be forced into a must-win then scoreboard-watch situation next week. The Ravens (9-5) are still livid at what they believed to be an erroneous touchdown call that cost them the game vs. Pittsburgh last week, and will look to take it out on Tony Romo and the Cowboys. Dallas (9-5) has begun to put it all together of late. The defense is playing as well as any unit in the league, having recorded 20 sacks over the last three games. Of all the wild card hopefuls, the Cowboys are undoubtedly the scariest.

What’s intriguing about the Baltimore-Dallas game is the ripple effect it will have on the wild card races. If the Cowboys lose Saturday night, both the Bucs (9-5) and Falcons (9-5) will know they control their playoff fates before they even take the field on Sunday. That can certainly be an advantage. If the Ravens come up short, the door opens for an AFC East team, likely New England. With the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins all tied at 9-5, a Baltimore loss means two of them should get in. Since the Patriots hold no tiebreakers and the Jets and Dolphins play each other in Week 17, New England would automatically control its own destiny for the final wild card (because only one of the Jets and Dolphins can finish 11-5). That would set the Patriots up for a divisional game — either in New York or Miami — on wild card weekend (because the AFC East winner will be the No. 3 seed). Of course, if the Jets or Dolphins stumble this weekend, a sixth consecutive AFC East title for the Patriots becomes a very real possibility. Fascinating stuff.

Here are the Week 16 picks (home teams in CAPS)

Indianapolis over JACKSONVILLE

DALLAS over Baltimore

CLEVELAND over Cincinnati

New Orleans over DETROIT

Pittsburgh over TENNESSEE

Miami over KANSAS CITY

San Francisco over ST. LOUIS

NEW ENGLAND over Arizona

TAMPA BAY over San Diego

NY Jets over SEATTLE

Houston over OAKLAND

DENVER over Buffalo

Philadelphia over WASHINGTON

MINNESOTA over Atlanta

Carolina over NY GIANTS

CHICAGO over Green Bay

Last Week: 13-3

Overall: 147-75-1

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good points, and good picks, except I think Atlanta is gonna shit on the Vikings. It’s funny how after a few season where the Pats playoff destinies were all but determined by week 12 one can forget how epic and suspenseful the last two weeks of the season can be for fans of teams on the cusp of a wildcard berth. Although, as a Pats fan, this year has been pretty ridiculous. Three AFC East teams tied at 9-5 is just ridiculous. I also think there is a very real chance that the Jets lose out. I don’t think they’re gonna beat the Seahawks or the Dolphins. They’re really just not that good and the Hawks really aren’t that bad. I think the Dolphins are gonna murder them in week 17.

    Also, this week I think New Orleans chokes away their season in a humiliating loss to the Lions. You heard it here first.

    December 19, 2008
  2. Matt #

    Week 17 Picks

    ATLANTA over St. Louis
    New England over BUFFALO
    CINCINNATI over Kansas City
    GREEN BAY over Detroit
    INDIANAPOLIS over Tennessee
    MINNESOTA over NY Giants
    Carolina over NEW ORLEANS
    PITTSBURGH over Cleveland
    HOUSTON over Chicago
    TAMPA BAY over Oakland
    BALTIMORE over Jacksonville
    NY JETS over Miami
    PHILADELPHIA over Dallas
    Washington over SAN FRANCISCO
    ARIZONA over Seattle
    SAN DIEGO over Denver

    Last Week: 6-10 (ouch)
    Overall: 153-85-1

    December 28, 2008

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