By: Shaun Morash

Cold Open

The luck of the Irish for Boston strikes again. This not for the Celtics, but again for the New England Patriots, who somehow got the better end of a controversial call at the end of the game for a third time this year, paving the way for home-field advantage and another cake walk through the AFC Playoffs.

While the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick really shouldn’t and can’t be questioned, denying their extreme luck would be foolish, too. They have spent 15 years in a division where the other three teams in it have failed and failed again at finding true franchise-changing quarterbacks, getting six near lay-ups a year. They get the benefit of the call on Sunday, the call versus the Jets, and the Brandin Cooks catch versus the Texans. Now this year, where their defense is trash, they fall into an AFC that has been ravaged by injuries and mediocrity. This is a dynasty that will go down in the record books, but a dynasty you can’t help but shake your head at when you take a deeper look into their “luck of the Irish.”

Ten Yard Gain

1-Eagles defense, where have you gone? 35, 24, and 29 points given up in three straight weeks. The first two games were vs the Seahawks and Rams so it is understandable, but 29 points to the hapless Giants is inexcusable. For all that has been said about Carson Wentz, the Eagles are truly not going anywhere with the defense trending in this direction.

2-Vikings getting home-field advantage would be devastating to the NFC playoff picture. Of every potential and already clinched playoff team there is no bigger home-field advantage than what the Vikings have in their new building. Ultimately, them getting the 2-seed, though, may be the equivalent of having home-field advantage, if the Carson Wentz-less Eagles are one-and-done as the 1-seed in the divisional round.

3-A Packer-less post season is actually appealing. For the first time since 2008, there will be no Aaron Rodgers, no cheese heads, no Mike McCarthy. New blood is refreshing as an NFL fan and count me as someone not sad to see Rodgers out of being a playoff magician this January.

4-Jason Garrett says he is unsure how he will use Ezekiel Elliot for the final two games. Here’s a thought, Jason, hand it to him 40 times because your offense stinks without him. The Cowboys run of three straight wins should not cloud anyone. They lit up bad Redskins and Giants teams, and needed a piece of paper to get by the fading Raiders. All is not well in Dallas and there should be no question how Zeke is used.

5-The Chiefs are duping us all over again. I, for one, was excited at the prospect of the Chargers seizing the AFC West, but they laid a major egg in Arrowhead on Saturday Night. Now the Chiefs seemed destined to win the division again and we should all know how this story ends: with an easy playoff loss where they take the old Bengals mantle of wasting an AFC playoff spot for somebody more worthy of taking down the Patriots or Steelers.

6-Football on Christmas Day should be limited to one game, never a double-header. For the second straight season, Steelers fans will have to sell to family members that they need to be locked into the television at 4:30 pm eastern on Christmas Day. If the NFL commits to playing most of its action on Christmas Eve, why must it double up on games on Christmas Day? Play only a primetime game and yield the day to the NBA.

7-The Bengals saluted the Marvin Lewis rumors Sunday by playing the same way they have played in every playoff game under his watch: by not showing up at all. Marvin Lewis knows he is toast and his denial of the reports that leaked Sunday morning should come as no surprise. Come black Monday, whether he was fired or resigning, the Bengals will be moving on.

8-Thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo, the Browns now have two picks inside the top 4. Garoppolo’s emergence has won the 49ers out of picking 2nd, then 3rd, and now even 4th. This has allowed the Texans to slide into the top 4 where that pick is owned by the Browns. Cleveland needs to strike finally on a quarterback in this draft, but somehow may not be forced to do that first overall.

9-Why did the Saints struggle so much with the Jets? I like a fool in Up The Gut last week took the Saints laying 15.5 points in Vegas. Like a fool, I lost. However, even if they didn’t cover a meaningless point spread, the fact the Saints were a big Jets play away from losing that game late alarms me as the playoffs approach.

10-Congratulations to Doug Marrone and the job he has done with the Jaguars. Marrone became a villain when he exercised his clause to get out of his contract in Buffalo. It took him a couple years to again become a head coach. Now he just may be leading the ultimate feel good story into the playoffs, and perhaps the next great AFC team. They feel like the Seahawks of five years ago, just getting started.

Five Games to Chew On

5 Vikings @ Packers: This game lost almost all of its juice when Aaron Rodgers was placed on IR after the Packers were eliminated. However, the Vikings still need to win out to have a prayer at the first overall seed. Case Keenum is as fun a quarterback to watch right now as any. (I cannot believe I just typed it.) The Vikings in a stand-alone game have a chance to turn football fans heads and make them believers Saturday night.

4 Bills @ Patriots: The Bills win out and they make the post season. That would end the longest drought in professional sports. However, winning this game is as tough a task as any team may have this year. New England is now in full control of another top seed in the AFC and they are not going to take their foot of the gas vs Tyrod Taylor and company. However, the Bills team is as unpredictable as any in 2017, making this the best game in the AFC this weekend.

3 Rams @ Titans: At this point, the Titans are a Reggie Miller hands around his throat sign away from total collapse. Their schedule to end the season features this powerhouse Rams team and then the scorching-hot Jaguars. They had to have the 49ers game in Week 15 and they blew it. Now a season that once seemed like the playoffs would be inevitable is coming down to them being rightful underdogs in these final two weeks. Todd Gurley comes in off of one of the best fantasy days ever for a running back, and the Rams look to lock up the NFC West,

2 Seahawks @ Cowboys: An elimination game is on tap in Big D in the late window on Christmas Eve. One of these two playoff teams from a season ago will be out with a loss, and heck they may be out even with a win in this game. All eyes will be on Ezekiel Elliot as he returns from suspension looking ripped as ever. Russell Wilson looks to try and salvage his MVP campaign and get the offense going again after a dreadful effort at home vs the Rams.

1 Falcons @ Saints: The NFC South championship and a home game is in play for the winner of this game, while the loser will sweat out a wild card spot heading into Week 17. Just two weeks ago this was an awesome Thursday Night game that ended with Sean Payton calling the Falcons chokers. The Saints offense looked sluggish vs the Jets, if it does again here the magic in the Big easy could be up in 2017.

My Picks

After going 1-2 last week, I now go to 20-24-2. I am losing chances to get back to .500. For this week, I pick six – yes, six – games to try and get me over the hump.

Saturday:

Colts +13.5 at Ravens: I was burned last week taking the Saints laying 15.5 at home and I do not believe the Ravens are as good as the Saints, nor do I believe the Colts will roll over and die here. Jacoby Brissett has to be playing for a job somewhere, if not in Indy in this game, and for Colts players putting a good effort on tape for a probable new coaching staff is in place. This is Up the Gut and my gut tells me we get a sneaky close game that the Ravens pull out late by no more than a touchdown on Saturday.

Vikings -9 at Packers: The air was let out of the Green Bay facility in one fell swoop with their loss to the Panthers and the dream dying. Rodgers is back on IR and Packers players you would have to think will have a hard time matching the intensity of a Vikings team playing in primetime for a chance at home field advantage in the NFC. The weather should be brutally cold, but the Vikings defense can thrive in that. A 20-10 win still gets you the cover here.

Sunday:

Lions -4.5 at Bengals: The Lions win ugly, but the Bengals also lose ugly. It is over in Cincinnati, everyone has packed it in even My Favorite Marvin. In all the talk about the Seahawks and Cowboys being in a possible playoff position, everyone seems to have forgotten about the Lions. They are alive and a Falcons loss away from controlling their own destiny.

Browns +6.5 at Bears: The last time the Browns won a game? Christmas Eve 2016. Here they are in the same exact situation as last season, playing a team dead in the water. The Bears have been ugly offensively and this feeds right into the Browns. Those players want a win badly and can point to the ghost of Christmas past. Forget the points, the Browns will not go 0-16, they win again before Santa’s Sleigh arrives.

49ers +4.5 vs Jaguars: The Jaguars clinched a post season berth for the first time in a decade. I cannot help but think for a young team like that some mental edge comes off of them, at least for one week. The 49ers are playing every one of these last games with Jimmy Garoppolo like it is their Super Bowl, setting themselves up for big dreams in 2018. I think the Jags get bit here; 49ers at home win outright.

Seahawks +5 at Cowboys: Beat the bad Redskins? Check. Beat the Bad Giants? Check. Need some really controversial calls to beat the fading Raiders? Check. The Cowboys’ three-game win streak to keep them alive is a farce. Zeke should come out fresh and ready to pound the rock and keep Dallas alive. However, the Seahawks are coming off their most embarrassing effort in years and have way too much talent and pride to let that happen again. I expect a really tight game here that ultimately the Seahawks win outright.

Football Food of The Week

Fried Calamari and Cannolis: Look, I would be foolish to give you a really good football recipe for Christmas weekend. The same kind of foods will be eaten by most out there this weekend since your NFL action falls right in line with Saturday Night Christmas Party’s and then Christmas Eve and Christmas.

When sitting around the couch in den’s and living rooms across the country watching these games with friends and families as presents get opened up by a zillion screaming kids, there should always be the comfort of the two C’s: Calamari and Cannolis. No Christmas is complete without one of if not both of these items. Now I don’t recommend eating them within the same 30 seconds, as that heavy cream and fried fish can backfire later on, but at some point both need to be consumed as the Cowboys get eliminated.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and thank you for reading Up the Gut in 2017. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.

Listen Live