Even though we knew virtually all of the playoff teams going into week 17, the season's final weekend needed to sort them into seeding order. The biggest question mark was in the AFC, where the Jets needed to win and be in playing up in Buffalo, but Rex Ryan, like a spoiled kid out to ruin his friend's birthday party because he didn't have one himself, got the better of the team he was coaching last year, though the issue wasn’t settled until Ryan Fitzpatrick's rare picture perfect pass to Kenbrell Thompkins was knocked out of Thompkins' grip by Super Mario Butler. So Ryan v Ryan action ended as the Butler did it.
The Jets' loss allowed the Steelers to claim the final playoff spot in the AFC, as they slept-walked past the Browns. So on Saturday the AFC will match Kansas City, who won their tenth in a row beating Oakland at Houston (at 9-7 champs of the AFC South) and the Steelers with a divisional rematch against the Bengals.
The Pats gave away top seed in the AFC by losing, as they are wont to do, in Miami, while Denver celebrated the return of Peyton Manning by beating San Diego, although all Manning did on the game's winning drive, literally, was hand off. Denver had turned the ball over four times in the first half, yet still led 7-6, and wound up winning 27-20. Meanwhile Seattle clobbered Arizona and Minnesota won in Green Bay to set the final seedings in the NFC, which on Sunday will see the Seahawks travelling to the Vikings and the Packers playing Washington at historic FedEx Field.
BEST BET: SEATTLE (-4.5 AT 1.89) at Minnesota: It's not impossible that the Seahawks, playing at 10AM according to their west-coast body clocks, could come out lethargic, nor that Vikings' coach Mike Zimmer will have figured out a few ways to get to Russell Wilson and make the quarterback revert to his early season form. But the Seahawks should get Marshawn Lynch and Kam Chancellor back this week, which should strengthen them on both sides of the ball, and the rising star of rookie receiver/returner Tyler Lockett gives them a dimension they haven't had previously: a threat to stretch a defense and get mismatches deep. You may be cautious of backing the bottom seed on the road, but Seattle won in Minnesota early in the season when they weren't playing well, though in fairness, neither were the Vikings.
VALUE BET: MINNESOTA (AT 3.75) to score the weekend's fewest points: This one depends on how much you like the Seattle defense. I like the bet because the Vikes' biggest playmaker is Adrian Peterson, but Seattle's pursuit is strong at all three levels (line, linebackers, secondary) which makes long scoring runs less likely, which means the Vikes need to put together drives. Absent a special teams gem by Cordarelle Patterson, they could score low. The competition is HOUSTON (AT 4.50) which, if you rate the Vikes you could consider because the Texans' offense really depends on DeAndre Hopkins making big plays, and I'm not convinced the Chiefs' D will give Brian Hoyer or Brandon Weedon the time to find him to do that.
OUTSIDE BET: CINCINNATI (+2.5 AT 2.04) vs Pittsburgh: I've picked the Steelers straight up with the feeling that they will perform better in the big-game setting than they have the past two weeks, but the Bengals, even with backup quarterback AJ McCarron, are a balanced team on both sides of the ball, with the receiving weapons to test the Steelers' secondary, which has its weak points. Plus the Steelers don't have a decent running back after DeAngelo Williams' injury, and that has been the key to their bad play. Pittsburgh won in Cincinnati the week they injured Andy Dalton, but McCarron hadn't played up til then. I'm talking myself into taking the Bengals straight up, so getting points at home seems good value as well as a good outside pick.