A lot to look at late in the season

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The final two weeks of an NFL season present unusual dilemmas to handicappers and bettors. Some teams are battling for playoff berths while others are playing out the string. Some teams have already clinched a spot in the playoffs but may want to improve their seeding. At least that’s a common perception.

Most players and other team personnel are firm in their beliefs that the goal is to make the postseason regardless of seeding with one exception — getting an opening playoffs weekend bye.

For many years, the top two seeds in each conference were rewarded with that beneficial week of rest but that’s changed beginning this season. By expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams there are now 12 teams and six games on Wild Card weekend with just two teams — the top seeds in each conference — earning byes.

I wanted to research if there were any profitable tendencies over the season’s final two weeks during which many teams may not put their best players on the field for a variety of reasons related to the above.

Over the past six seasons home teams have finished the season poorly against the point spread, going just 84-103-5 ATS in weeks 16 and 17. Most of those net 19 point spread losses have been compiled by home favorites who are 50-68-3 ATS. Home underdogs are just below break-even at 34-35-2.

Of course, it’s a relatively small sample size of 192 games covering six seasons. Yet blindly going against those 121 home favorites produced 58% winners, ignoring the three pushes.

One subset, however, has accounted for 12 of those 18 net losses. Home favorites laying from 7.5 to 10 points are just 5-17-1 ATS. It applies to at least one game this week and points to an ugly ‘dog. You can read about it below.

Friday

Vikings +7 at Saints: New Orleans QB Drew Brees showed rust as he returned from his ribs injury in last week’s loss to Kansas City. The Chiefs led most of the game and Brees’ late rally fell short. Minnesota lost to Chicago, dropped to 6-8, and is all but out of the Wild Card race. A win gives the Saints the NFC South title and most likely the NFC’s second seed.

Prior to last week the Saints’ defense had been superb for more than a month yet to be fair, although the Chiefs ran 92 offensive plays, they were held to just 4.5 yards per play.

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The Vikes have a slightly better rushing game but New Orleans mas the much better defense and an offense that has been much better at avoiding turnovers. SAINTS

Saturday

Buccaneers at Lions, Total 54: Questionable for most of the week, Lions QB Matthew Stafford played well in last week’s loss at Tennessee. After a lethargic first half in which they were shutout, the Buccs scored 31 second half points to rally past Atlanta.

Both teams have played more Overs than Unders. Detroit’s last four games, and seven of the last eight, have produced at least 54 total points and their six home games have averaged 59.0 total points. Tampa’s road games average 53.4 total points, about four points more than their home games.

These teams are allowing more than three points per game over their last seven games than they did in their first seven. And this game is indoors on turf. OVER

49ers +4 at Cardinals: After dropping four of five Arizona’s won two straight, albeit over a pair of NFC East teams. Still, the Cards control the third NFC Wild Card.

The 49ers continue to suffer injuries that have depleted depth on both sides of the football. They’ve had at least two turnovers in eight straight games and Arizona’s put great pressure on quarterbacks the past two weeks, recording 14 sacks. The Cards have been better at running the football, averaging 148 yards per game including 180 in their season opening win at San Francisco.

QB Kyler Murray seems to back in early season form. The Niners have lost six of seven, each by eight or more points. CARDINALS

Sunday

Bengals +8 at Texans: Cincinnati’s off Monday’s huge upset of division rival Pittsburgh, winning as 14-point underdogs despite gaining just 230 yards of offense. The defense played well against the Steelers whose offense looked out of sync virtually all game (3.9 yards per play.)

Houston played competitively against Indianapolis for the second time in three weeks but came up short again. Both teams are out of playoff contention so this game might be loosely played.

The Texans do have the edge at QB with Deshaun Watson vs. Ryan Finley and are also better at avoiding turnovers. Five of the Bengals’ 10 losses have been by five points or less and they are 8-6 ATS overall.

Two of Houston’s four wins are by just two and seven points. And remember that stat about home favorites in this range in the season’s final two weeks. BENGALS

Panthers at Washington, Total 44.5: Despite the loss to Seattle, Washington still leads the NFC East as coach Ron Rivera prepares to face the team that fired him following last season. QB Alex Smith and RB Antonio Gibson missed last week’s game as did Carolina RB Christian McCaffrey. All are questionable this week.

Both teams rank in the bottom third of the league in total offense and points scored and while Carolina is average defensively in those categories ,Washington is fourth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. Eight of Washington’s last 10 games have produced 43 or fewer points. UNDER

Rams at Seahawks -2: Seattle, already in the playoffs, clinch the NFC West with a win. A Rams win clinches the division and give them the tiebreaker edge over Seattle if both win or lose in Week 17.

The Rams were shocked by the winless Jets, never having the lead. Perhaps they were looking ahead and took the Jets lightly with two Division games ahead to end the season.

Seattle defeated Washington despite just 121 passing yards from QB Russell Wilson. Washington’s defense has been solid over the past two months and was good preparation for this week’s test against the formidable Rams’ “D.” Seattle is 6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS at home. SEAHAWKS

Last week: 3-2-1

Season: 35-53-2

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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