By Rick Pedone
Better pick up the champagne and party hats early, because there is some serious football watching to do today and on New Year’s Day.
Several NFL teams will determine the look of the playoffs Sunday in week 17, and the college football playoff semifinals begin this afternoon.
The NFL intrigue tomorrow extends to Miami and Tampa.
The Dolphins host New England and both teams are guaranteed playoff spots. But they have something to play for concerning their seeding positions.
The Patriots are currently No. 1 in the AFC, but if the Dolphins win Sunday and Oakland knocks off Denver, then the Raiders would clinch the top seed.
Miami could move up from the No. 6 playoff seed to No. 5 if it wins and Kansas City loses at San Diego (good luck with that one).
As for the Bucs, losses the past two weeks at Dallas and New Orleans have left them on playoff life support. And that might be a generous description of their chances.
There are so many things that must fall into place for the Bucs to make the NFC playoffs (six or seven of them, we lost count) that there probably is a better chance of Donald Trump winning California on a popular vote recount than of the Bucs sneaking into the playoff field.
The Bucs playoff scenario involves two games involving AFC teams (the NFL probably stuck those in there just for giggles) and a tie between the Giants and Redskins this afternoon. Plus, the New Year’s ball drop tonight must move from Times Square to Ruskin.
In other words, it’s been a good season for the Bucs, but win or lose against Carolina, they will be packing their gear after the game.
All of the college bowl games to this point have been eye candy, but things get serious this afternoon. The college football playoffs crank up when Alabama and Washington square off at the Peach Bowl in the first semifinal. The other semifinal is tonight when Clemson plays Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl.
Big Ten champ Penn State has a beef about not being included in the playoffs (Expand this thing to eight teams, pronto!), but it has a pretty good consolation prize Monday at the Rose Bowl against USC. That might be the best bowl game of them all.
Meanwhile, get the champagne on ice while we unveil the Mighty News-Gazette Divine 9 Happy New Year edition of our favorite nine years:
No. 1: 1776 (We don’t really need to explain why, do we?). No. 2: 1999 (We should always party like it in honor of Prince). No. 3: 2000 (The last year of the old millennium). No. 4: 1969 (Moon landing!). No. 5: 1947 (Here’s to you, Jackie Robinson). No. 6: 1939 (First televised baseball game, the forefather of ESPN). No. 7: 1967 (The first Super Bowl). No. 8: 1976 (The bicentennial, and the birth of Our Bucs!). No. 9: 1984 (Great book and Richard Petty won the Firecracker 400).
To the picks:
Washington vs. Alabama (-14): One again a Pac 12 team will try to run away from the Tide. Sorry, nobody in Seattle is that fast. Tide by 10.
Mr. Kenny “Champagne” Jackson says: Elephants by a hunnert.
Ohio State (-3) vs. Clemson: You can argue that the Buckeyes got in without winning their Big Ten division, but they do know how to win it all. The OSU by 2.
Champagne Jackson says: Tigers by 4 in My Only Upset of the Week Upset Special.
Iowa vs. Florida (-3), Outback Bowl: How long has it been since the Gators played in a bowl game that kept their fan base awake? Way too long. Hawkeyes by 4.
Champagne Jackson says: Gators by 7, only because they are the SEC team.
Southern Cal (-6.5) vs. Penn State, Rose Bowl: Had these teams figured things out a little earlier, this could have been for the national championship. Men of Troy by 3.
Champagne Jackson says: Trojan Horsemen by 9.
Auburn vs. Oklahoma (-3), Sugar Bowl: By the time this one rolls around Monday night, after about 40 other bowl and playoff games, do you think anyone outside of Auburn or Norman cares who wins this thing? Sooners by 7.
Champagne Jackson says: Sooners by a caring 7.
The paid professionals:
New England (-9.5) at Miami: Tough call for the Fins. Rest some starters for the playoffs, or go all out to try to avoid a trip to Pittsburgh next week? Pats make it a moot point. Steel City, here we come … Brady Bunch by 3.
Champagne Jackson says: Patriots by 7 because if I don’t Belichick will throw a hoodie at me.
Carolina at Tampa Bay (-6): I think one other playoff tiebreaker for the Bucs involves the Lightning scoring 14 goals in their next NHL game during a quarter moon. Bucs by 2 crossed fingers.
Champagne Jackson says: Bucs gotta have it, get it by 4.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-4.5): Mercifully, this Jaguars road game is not required viewing in the Orlando area. To whoever made that decision, our eternal thanks! Colts by 1.
Champagne Jackson says: Pick the Jaguars to lose every week, even during the offseason.
NY Giants at Washington (-8): So, there have been two tied games in the NFL this season, and the Redskins were in one of them. But, lightning and ties rarely strike twice. Politically Incorrect Native Americans by 4.
Champagne Jackson says: Redskins, but not quite by 8 (and the bookies are listening).
Green Bay (-3.5) at Detroit: The Lions, one time as high as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, are staring at a complete playoff whiff if they lose and the Redskins win. And they are playing against dart-thrower Aaron Rodgers Sunday. Calling Barry Sanders! Packmen by 3.
Champagne Jackson says: Red hot Cheese (Velveeta) by 8.
Brian “Big Man” McBride’s Supper Sniffer Upset Special: Dallas over Philly by 3.
Petey “The Gators Are Going to Win Covino” says:
“What, that game is this week? Where? How? Gators by 6.