Week 17 of the NFL season is like a New Year's Eve party, a bit wild, a lot of you don't know what to expect, and an awful lot of disappointment that this wasn't your best night of your life, or even the year. And you wake up New Year's Day hung over and wondering what all the fuss was about. All the paper hats and cheap sparkling wine in the world can't overcome that.
In the same way, all the careful thinking and weighing up situations can't overcome the already-hungover mood of some NFL teams, the getting ready for the party mode of others, and the relentless march of others toward mediocrity this year, but a decent contract for next year.
Some teams have their playoff situations set—most of those will be going home Monday, but Washington, for example, is locked into the number four seed in the NFC. Do they rest players before next week's wild card matchup against Minnesota or Seattle? How badly do the Patriots want home field advantage throughout the playoffs? More than they'd like to give their long list of injured players an extra week to rest? These are the kind of questions that make week 17 picks difficult. How will the Eagles' players react to Chip Kelly's firing? Celebrations? Desire to prove ownership right? Indifference?
How much can Rex Ryan fire up the Bills to spoil his former team's march to the playoffs?
How many teams have quit on their coaches? How many third-string or worse quarterbacks thrust into starting jobs in meaningless games will take the opportunity to play for a contract next year? Confused? You won't be on Monday.
BEST BET: NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5 AT 1.96) v Philadelphia: Both these teams have looked awful in the couple of weeks since they realised they actually still had a shot at the playoffs, but now the Eagles have no Chip and the Giants may be playing Tom Coughlin's last game as coach. I think at home they go out with a bang, and Eli conjures up another of those big performances that Coughlin doesn't kill in the fourth quarter with bad clock or game management.
OUTSIDE BET: SAN FRANCISCO (+3.5 AT 1.88) v St Louis: Yes, it appears the Niners are a lost cause, and Jim Tomsula probably won't be back as coach. Yes, Blaine Gabbert is at quarterback. Yes, they're 0-5 in their division. Yes, the Rams are coming off a huge road win in Seattle. Yes, Jeff Fisher always seems to end the season at .500, and the Rams are 7-8. Yes, Case Keenum is their QB. (Huh? Surely some mistake? -editor). It's another case of a team at home wanting to go out on a big note, and with a second road game the Rams may not be so sharp, and the Niners could be fired up. Getting points at home, I'd try San Francisco.
VALUE BET: SAN FRANCISCO VS ST LOUIS (OVER 37.5 AT 2.00) Although defense is both team's strong point, I see a special teams score for the Rams and maybe a defensive one for the Niners helping them get over what is basically a 21-17 final. If you don't like that, how about HOUSTON (-6.5 AT 2.00) vs Jacksonville. Although the Jags tend to score a lot of points when behind, the Texans play them well, are at home, and need a win to clinch their division (although it would take a loss, an Indy win, and a half a dozen other games to fall right for the Colts to get them out). There's no line on the Colts-Titans, because no one knows whether Matt Hasselbeck, Josh Freeman, Stephen Bishop or Ryan Lindley or all four of them will play quarterback for them (against Zach Mettenberger no less), but keep an eye on it. It should finish 3-3, but the defenses aren't that good.