Mark Craig’s Week 17 NFL picks against the spread – Minneapolis Star Tribune

The final game of the NFL’s 2020 regular season could go like this:

Former Vikings third-stringer Taylor Heinecke either starts or steps in for banged-up Washington quarterback Alex Smith as the football world watches breathlessly to see if a 6-10 team will win the NFC East and earn a No. 4 playoff seed.

Parity? Putrid? A little bit of both?

If Washington (6-9) loses to Philadelphia (4-10-1) in the Sunday night game, the NFC East title goes to the winner of the afternoon game between the Giants (5-10) and Cowboys (6-9). So, yeah, the Giants could very well become the league’s first division champion with double-digit losses.

The guess here is that won’t happen. Straight-up, pick the Cowboys and Washington. (See: my 157-83-1 straight-up record). As for advice against the spread, you’re on your own, pal. (See: my Kirk Cousins-esque 120-120-1 record vs. spread).

As for upsets this week, take Miami over Buffalo, Pittsburgh and COVID-19 over Cleveland and …

What better way to end this odd regular season than for Adam Gase to hand Bill Belichick his second four-game losing streak of the season?

Last week’s picks: 12-4; Vs. the spread: 8-8.

Year to date: 157-83-1; 120-120-1

Vikings games: 9-6

Here are this week’s picks:

Vikings (-7) at Lions: Vikings by 14

Even without Dalvin Cook, what’s left of the Vikings’ roster looks two touchdowns better than what’s left of the Lions’ roster heading into a meaningless finale between two teams that were beaten by a combined 59 points last week. Score prediction: Vikings 38, Lions 24.

Washington (1½) at Eagles: Washington by 3

The WFT clinches a playoff spot as the least awful team in the NFC East. Next up: Probably Tom Brady winning his NFC playoff debut with a layup against the 7-9 WFT.

Jaguars (+14) at Colts: Colts by 17

Every playoff-clinching scenario requires the Colts to not lose to 1-14 Jacksonville for the second time this season. That won’t be a problem.

Packers (-5½) at Bears: Packers by 7

Sorry, Chicago. Green Bay has something to play for. To clinch a bye and home-field advantage, the Packers need a win or a Seattle loss. And the Seahawks are playing at the same time.

Cowboys (-2½) at Giants: Cowboys by 10

Dallas will sweep the Giants with a fourth straight win and put pressure on Washington to win Sunday night. And yet the Cowboys will still finish one game below of the Jason Garrett Line of 8-8.

Titans (-7½) at Texans: Titans by 10

No snow + no cold + no Aaron Rodgers = A timely Tennessee bounce back.

Saints (-6½) at Carolina: Saints by 7

New Orleans can clinch a bye and home-field advantage with a win, a Packers loss and a Seattle win. It also needs to rediscover its ability to play defense.

Jets (+3) at Patriots: Jets by 3

What’s worse than Brady’s old team scoring 24 points during a three-game losing streak? Belichick extending that streak with a loss to Gase.

Falcons (+6½) at Buccaneers: Buccaneers by 3

Brady and the Bucs need a win or a Rams loss to clinch the fifth seed and open the playoffs against the NFC Least winner. The Rams play their game after the Bucs. In other words, Brady will carve up a Falcons team he just beat two weeks ago.

Ravens (-13) at Bengals: Ravens by 14

Sorry, Cincinnati. Your late-season surge is over. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens will use a Bengals rout as their easiest route to clinching a playoff spot.

Dolphins (+2) at Bills: Dolphins by 3

Both teams are 10-3 since Buffalo won the first meeting in Week 2. Buffalo is the better team, but Miami needs the win more and will get it, even with its beloved FitzMagic out with COVID-19.

Chargers (+3½) at Chiefs: Chargers by 7

With nothing to play for, the Chiefs will be resting starters. That includes a certain all-universe QB who always makes all of KC’s blemishes disappear.

Seahawks (6) vs 49ers at Arizona: Seahawks by 7

Seattle’s defensive awakening the past six weeks continues, sending Russell Wilson into the playoffs riding a 6-1 surge.

Raiders (+2½) at Broncos: Broncos by 3

The Raiders are a mess. Hard to believe they were 6-3 after beating the Broncos 37-12 on Nov. 15.

Cardinals (-3) at Rams: Cardinals by 7

The Cardinals are in a must-win situation and they’re facing John Wolford, a quarterback making his NFL debut with the Rams needing a win or a Bears loss to make the playoffs.

UPSET SPECIAL

Steelers (+10) at Browns: Steelers 31, Browns 28

The Browns are at home needing only to win to make the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. And the Steelers are resting Ben Roethlisberger among other starters. If you’re from Cleveland, two thoughts come to mind: 1. How will COVID-19 mess this one up?; and 2. This is going to be a bad loss.

Last week’s upset special: Bengals (+9) 27, Texans 24. Result: Bengals 37, Texans 31.

Upset special record: 6-10.

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