We don’t have the type of drama for playoff positioning in Week 17 like most of us like to watch unfold, but you really can’t ask for much more when the Cowboys and Redskins are playing for all the marbles on Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys have to win or they’re out, but the Redskins could still get in with a loss and little help from the Packers and Lions.
By the time Sunday night’s game kicks off, the Redskins will know what they have to do. The real prize here is winning the NFC East, which is what is at stake here. Whoever wins gets a home game next week in the playoffs.
The Redskins opened minus-3 ½ (EVEN) and the number was pushed down to 3 by some Cowboys money, but the majority of the action from the public has been on the Redskins. Because of pure volume, the Redskins are back to their opening number of -3 ½ (EVEN).
The Redskins have covered the past five meetings with the Cowboys, including their 38-31 Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas, but this will be the first time in their last 10 meetings that the Redskins are favored. The last time occurred in 2007 and that game happened in the final week as well, but the Cowboys came in with a 13-2 record and the NFC locked up, so Dallas rested their starters for most of the game. The Redskins won and covered the nine-point spread, and ensured a playoff berth, which was their last postseason appearance.
Washington has won six games in a row and it would be a great story to see a team that started 3-6 make the playoffs, something that hasn’t happened since 1996. Coach Mike Shanahan remembers ‘96 well because it was those Jaguars, who barely made the playoffs -- thanks to a missed Morten Anderson missed chip shot in the closing seconds of Week 17 -- that beat his 13-3 Broncos in the divisional playoff game.
Everyone is talking about Robert Griffin III and their top ranked rushing offense, but few people are talking about the anxiety that Shanahan might be feeling right now. He was once called a genius when winning back-to-back Super Bowls with Denver, but that quickly wore off when John Elway retired and he went 1-3 in the playoffs over his final 10 years in Denver.
His final year in Denver saw his team fade in the final three weeks -- needing only one game to clinch a playoff berth -- and the Broncos lost all three. His first two seasons in Washington have been dismal, but now he’s on the verge of carving a new niche for his legacy with his pistol offense that creates big plays and he has the perfect field general to run it.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is also at a crossroads and has had the world questioning every part of his game, especially his heart. Romo has come up big for the Cowboys winning five of his last seven games and has thrown 17 touchdown passes to only three interceptions in his last eight games. But none of that matters if he doesn’t win Sunday night, which you could say is the biggest game of his career. He has a chance to rewrite the history books that already have him labeled as gutless when it counts the most.
The interesting aspect of this game could be that the Redskins will be guaranteed a playoff spot by the time the game begins. The Packers could beat the Vikings, just as the Lions could beat the Bears. How much different will the Redskins mindset be knowing they can still get in with a loss? It would seem to take a little bit of the edge off that has been driving them for the last six weeks to win in do or die situations.
Here’s a look at how some of the other Week 17 games have moved this week:
* The Bills got blasted in their season opener against the Jets, but things have changed dramatically since then. The Bills opened as 3 ½-point favorites and are now -3. Not too many bettors got excited about Mark Sanchez being named the starter for the Jets.
* The Patriots could be playing in snow Sunday which has dropped the total from 48 ½ to 46 for their game against the Dolphins. The Pats opened -10 and have been bet up to -10 ½.
* The Bengals opened -3 ½ (EVEN) and Ravens money has pushed the game down to -2 ½.
* The Steelers game has been of the board most of the week because of the Browns QB situation. When Thaddeus Lewis was announced as the starter the Steelers were posted at -10.
* The Texans are playing for home field throughout the playoffs, and they opened as four-point favorites at Indianapolis. That number was driven all the way to -7, but Colts money came in and it sits at -6.5.
* The Titans have been bet up from 4-point favorites against the Jaguars to -4 ½. The Titans are the last team the Jaguars beat.
* The Giants aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs but they’re basically playing for nothing and the combination of that reality and Michael Vick returning has got some believing in the Eagles. The Giants went from -9 to -7.
* The Bears opened as three-point road favorites and Lions money has moved the Bears to -3 (EVEN). * The Packers have gone from -3 ½ road favorites to -3 (-120) at Minnesota. The Vikings are playing for a playoff berth and the Packers are trying to secure a first round bye.
* The Saints opened -4 ½ for their home game against the new and improved Panthers and it has been bet up to -5.
* The Broncos have stayed at -16.5 all week against the Chiefs. If Denver wins, they at least secure a first-round bye. If the Colts beat the Texans and Denver wins, they’ll have home field throughout the playoffs.
* Terrelle Pryor gets a shot at QB with the Raiders at San Diego, but the Chargers are still -9 ½. Pryor could give the Raiders a dimension they’ve been missing all year because he can make plays on his own when things break down, and they break down a lot with the Raiders.
* The 49ers have been bet from -15 ½ to -16 ½ for their game against the Cardinals. The 49ers can clinch the NFC West and perhaps a first-round bye with a win if the Vikings beat the Packers.
* The Seahawks need some help from the Cardinals to win the NFC West. Good luck with that. Seattle opened -10 and has been bet up to -11 against the Rams, a squad who hasn’t lost in divisional play and is 10-3 as an underdog this season. Seattle has scored 150 points in their last three games, but what does Pete Carroll do when he scoreboard watches and sees the 49ers winning 27-3 in the third quarter. Does he risk Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch playing late in the game?