Week 17 is a nightmare. Week 17 is an opportunity. Week 17 can seem unplayable one minute and filled with prime bets the next. Week 17 is just one of 17 of its kind, but it is one-of-a-kind.
Handicappers have to treat Week 17 with respect, but they cannot take it too seriously. They must celebrate the wins, but not for long, and while they must learn from the losses, they can not dwell on them. It's a little like Rusty's speech to Linus in "Ocean's Eleven."
Twenty of the 32 teams playing Sunday will not be playing in January. This is your last chance to bet the Buccaneers, Jets, Bills, Lions, Jaguars, Titans, Dolphins, Panthers, Saints, Eagles, Browns, Steelers, Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs and Cardinals. I suspect you have already closed the book on some of these teams. And you know what? Good for you. We have too much clutter in our lives as is. Why worry about whether a team with its playoff hopes long in the rear-view mirror is thinking about the final Sunday of the season or New Year's Eve in Las Vegas?
I can't say Week 17 is my favorite week of the slate — there are just too many variables for my taste. I try to simply view it for what it is — one very weird week, and just one at that. As a general rule, I try to focus my plays on teams with something at stake, whether it be the postseason or simply something to prove. I also prefer Overs to Unders, as I've been able to sniff out some high-scoring affairs over the years.
My Week 17 picks are as follows:
— I expected the Bears to be more than three-point favorites at Detroit, and I believe Chicago is a nice value at the price. If the Bears don't seize control of this game early, they could very well do it late. The Lions have allowed at least 10 fourth-quarter points in seven of the last eight games. Detroit's recent play suggests it could be vulnerable on Sunday. The Lions' last two losses have been their most lopsided of the season. Making matters worse for Detroit: the Lions now have to deal with Bears WR Brandon Marshall after surrendering a combined three TD catches to Falcons WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones in Week 16.
— I'm usually leery of teams like the Eagles in Week 17. So why do I like them Sunday? For starters, the Giants are 2-5 since the beginning of November, and they have been overpowered in back-to-back losses against the Falcons and Ravens. Also, the Eagles have shown some improvement in December, with a barrage of mistakes vs. Cincinnati their only particularly sorry stretch in the last four games. The return of Michael Vick to the Eagles' starting lineup seals the deal. This is an important game for him with his future in Philadelphia uncertain. I'll take the Eagles +7½
— In the last game of the regular season, I will side with the Cowboys (+3) at Washington. The Cowboys are 4-2 against the spread as underdogs in 2012, with three outright wins. Both teams could struggle getting stops, and the Redskins' shaky pass defense makes them tough to take as favorites against a Dallas offense that's in strong form. The Cowboys' running game could be another key for Dallas; recall that DeMarco Murray didn't play in the first meeting with the Redskins.
— Finally, I will take Over 39 in Jets-Bills. I'm banking on both teams playing with an edge in the season finale. The Bills have been pushed around by the Jets in recent seasons; here's an opportunity to turn the tables. Also, perhaps the Jets' offense will perk up with QB Mark Sanchez back in the lineup. Like Vick, Sanchez has one more unexpected chance to play in 2012. Let's see how he does.
Mike Wilkening's Week 17 Picks
Chicago (-3) at Detroit
Philadelphia (+7½) at N.Y. Giants
Dallas (+3) at Washington
N.Y. Jets at Buffalo OVER 39
Last week: 3-1
Season to date: 36-26-2