By Sam Cowan
Entering the final week of the 2015 NFL season, all but two of the 12 playoff berths has been claimed, but three divisions have yet to be decided.
For the Broncos, Chiefs, Packers and Vikings, the playoffs are a guarantee, but this week’s games will determine which of those teams will host a playoff game or be forced to play on the road as a wild-card.
The Colts and Texans will also play in separate games for the AFC South title in a situation where one team will be in and the other will be watching the playoffs from home.
With the stakes increasingly being raised across the NFL, let’s get into this week’s picks.
Jets over Bills
This is Rex Ryan’s second game against his old team, the Jets. Last time, the Bills beat the Jets in New York 22-17 in an ugly Thursday night game.
With a full week of rest this time, I think the Jets will get revenge and beat the Bills to officially claim the final AFC wild-card spot.
Patriots over Dolphins
The 12-3 Patriots still need a win or a Broncos loss on Sunday to guarantee home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This should be an easy game to get that win against a mediocre Dolphins team.
Falcons over Saints
The Falcons shocked the world on Sunday when they handed the Panthers their first loss of the season. Riding the momentum of that huge win, I expect them to eke out a close win against the Saints to close out the year above .500.
Bengals over Ravens
The Ravens shook up the playoff picture after shocking the Steelers last week, but now must head to Cincinnati to play an 11-4 Bengals team that has beaten them five games in a row.
I think the Bengals will win, especially with their chance at a first-round bye still in play depending on how the Broncos play later in the day.
Steelers over Browns
Speaking of the Steelers, they went from the team no one wants to play in January to a team needing major help to make it past the first week of January.
The Steelers will win in a blowout because this is the Browns they are playing. However, they will be kept out of the playoffs due to the aforementioned Jets win.
Texans over Jaguars
If the Texans win, they are guaranteed the division. Even if they lose, the Colts need to win and have five other teams also come through with wins to have a chance at winning the tiebreaker.
As it is, I think the Texans will clinch the easy way by winning at home against the Jaguars.
Colts over Titans
I’m really curious to see who the Colts trot out at quarterback. With Andrew Luck likely out for the year, Charlie Whitehurst on injured reserve and Matt Hasselbeck doubtful for the game, they’re going to have to go with someone deep in the organizational depth chart.
I’m still picking the Colts though which tells you how little I think of the Titans.
Redskins over Cowboys
The Redskins are locked into the 4-seed now and should have several starters on the bench for this game. Again, the fact I am picking them regardless should say what I think about this Cowboys team, especially without Tony Romo.
Giants over Eagles
This is a game with nothing but pride on the line. I think the Giants will win primarily because the Eagles will be in some disarray from the firing of Chip Kelly.
Bears over Lions
This is another game with nothing on the line, but I am still intrigued by this matchup. The Bears have had a surprisingly good season while the Lions have disappoint. With that in mind, I’ll go with the team which has looked better most of the year.
Panthers over Buccaneers
The Panthers need to win this game to get home field advantage in the NFC. I think they will come out strong off the loss and cruise to an easy victory to wrap up their impressive, nearly perfect regular season.
Chiefs over Raiders
The Chiefs already beat the Raiders in Oakland earlier this year so there is no reason to think they can’t win on their home turf. They will be playing especially hard in light of playing at the same time as the team they are chasing in the division, the Broncos.
Broncos over Chargers
Speaking of which, the Chiefs and Bengals would both definitely benefit from a Broncos loss. It’s too bad the Broncos are playing a bad Chargers team.
The Broncos will secure a coveted first-round bye at home with the win here.
Cardinals over Seahawks
The Cardinals come in on a nine-game winning streak that will give them a first-round bye in the playoffs. With home field still on the line, I have no doubt all the starters will be out there and I can’t see much hope for the Seahawks in a tough place to play like Arizona.
Rams over 49ers
This is the only late-afternoon game with nothing on the line for either team. Be that as it may, I will go with the Rams who are coming off a shocking win at the Seahawks and have shown flashes of brilliance this season in between streaks of mediocrity.
Packers over Vikings
The winner of this game will host a playoff game; the loser will go on the road in the wild-card round. Interestingly enough, if the Packers win, they will play the Vikings in the exact same scenario we are seeing this week except with a do-or-die situation added in for good measure.
The Packers easily handled the Vikings earlier this season and should be able to win again in front of a very loud and supportive crowd.
With that, we wrap up my picks for the final week of the regular season.
Coverage of the NFL will continue next week as we analyze the fallout of Week 17 and project who will make it out of the first round of the playoffs here at the Cowan Corner.
Week 16: 10-6