How do you handicap the Week 17 slate? The playoff scenarios alone are tough to keep straight and to apply correctly.
Here's what I do: I cross out, I whittle, I eliminate. If I'm not sure about a team or game, I move on.
I began my handicapping for the final week of the regular season by refusing to consider whether the Buccaneers could cover against Atlanta on Sunday.
This felt great. Why waste time handicapping a club that hasn't been competitive recently? It is time to give them their parting gifts and to look ahead to 2012.
That left me with 31 teams to consider.
I looked at the Bears-Vikings game for a moment. Neither team is going to the playoffs. Each has injury concerns. I'm not taking the Bears on the road in a meaningless season finale. Nor am I backing Minnesota with any confidence.
I looked at the Titans-Texans game. Tennessee is laying three points. Houston might rest some starters. I don't trust either club in this spot. Pass. The same goes for Seattle-Arizona. I'm not going to take the Cardinals laying 2½ or the Seahawks getting less than a field goal.
I also decided I wanted no part of the Lions laying 3½ points against the Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers will rest starters but do have good depth. I'll leave that one alone.
Another game I bailed on: Bills-Patriots. I have at least one more week to try and get a read on New England. I'll make use of it. To the Bills I say: thanks for the memories. I don't believe I picked a single Buffalo game correctly in this space all season.
I also took the opportunity to say goodbye to the Rams and Jaguars. I can't back teams unsure of how they're going to score their next touchdown. Hopefully the new year brings both more offense. I also bid adieu to the Colts, who are in their best form right now but hardly a bargain as 3½-point underdogs at Jacksonville.
I gave the Sunday-night game a long look. I like the underdog Cowboys, but not at plus-3. I would love to get 3½ points, but that's not going to happen. Can't do it.
The Saints can clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win vs. Carolina coupled with a 49ers loss at St. Louis. The Saints have won and covered in all seven home games this season, but the Panthers are still playing hard, and they lost by three to New Orleans in the first meeting between the clubs. I don't want to back the Saints in this spot, but I don't want to go against them, either.
Don't you hate that?
So who do I like in Week 17?
Here are my picks:
• The Raiders (-3) have won three in a row with the Chargers, match up well with San Diego and are vying for a playoff spot. The Chargers made a brief rally back into playoff contention, but they showed little in a Christmas Eve loss at Detroit. With the prospect of big changes in San Diego in the offseason, it would be difficult for me to back the Chargers at such a short price when they have reached the end of a disappointing season. The Raiders are the value here.
• I like the Over in Chiefs-Broncos (37). Three of Denver's last four games have finished with point totals of higher than 50. Also, the Chiefs' offense has far more potential with Kyle Orton under center. Finally, mild weather is in the forecast for Sunday in Denver.
• The Dolphins (-2½) have covered in eight of their last nine games. In their first meeting with the Jets, they outgained New York and played well early before faltering. The Jets have been far from impressive the past two weeks. The Dolphins have some injury concerns, but they have had a sustained run of good form even when far out of contention. They are the pick.
• I'll take the points with the Redskins (+8½) in their matchup with division-rival Philadelphia. The Eagles are 0-3 straight-up and against the spread laying more than a touchdown this season.
Picks: Oakland, Miami, Washington, Kansas City-Denver Over 37
Last week: 3-1
Season to date: 34-30