The NFL season has entered the home stretch and key late season injuries as much as anything else may ultimately determine the fates of several teams that appear on course to make the playoffs.
Of greatest concern is this past Sunday’s injury to Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, who suffered his second concussion of the season in a 7-3 loss at Detroit. His replacement, Matt Flynn, struggled to direct an offense that, under Rodgers, was much more reliant on the pass than the run.
The Packers were aided by the fact that division leading Chicago also lost to keep Green Bay just a game behind the Bears with three to play.
The Bears lost at home to red hot New England, the team Green Bay visits this week. It would be a tough challenge for the Pack even with a healthy Rodgers at QB, so if Flynn must make the start, the prospects for another loss are strong.
The Packers will host the Bears on the final Sunday of the season, by which time Rodgers should be back. The question is whether the game will have meaning for both teams although it is looking as though three teams will be involved in a battle for one remaining NFC Wild Card. The second place finisher in the NFC South – Atlanta or New Orleans – is virtually assured of the first NFC Wild Card berth.
Heading into this week, only 11-2 New England has officially clinched a playoff spot, on course to win the AFC East and hold the conference’s top seed which means home field advantage. Pittsburgh is also in great shape at 10-3.
Baltimore (8-4 heading into Monday’s game at Houston) and the New York Jets (9-4) also control their own playoff fates. No other non division leader has fewer than six losses. That means it might well take winning their final three games for more than one team from the AFC South and AFC West to make the playoffs.
No team in the NFC has clinched a playoff spot although both Atlanta (11-2) and New Orleans (10-3) are all but certain to clinch. Only the winner of the NFC West will make the post season – quite likely with an 8-8 record. The other three spots are likely to go to three of five teams (Philadelphia, New York Giants, Green Bay, Chicago and Tampa Bay).
Don’t count out the Buccaneers, though 0-5 against winning teams.
Thursday, Dec. 16
49ers +8½ at Chargers (44½): The Chargers are just 7-6 but have one of the best statistical profiles in the league with the top ranked offense (400 ypg) and the second ranked defense (264 ypg). The enigmatic Chargers are 5-2 at home and four of those wins have been by at least 21 points. They are by far the more talented team. CHARGERS.
Sunday, Dec. 19
Chiefs (NL) at Rams: The Rams have allowed at least 30 points in three of their last four games. They’ve also scored over 20 points just twice this season. But they’ve been a solid home team while the Chiefs have lost 5 of 6 on the road. RAMS.
Texans +1½ at Titans: Tennessee backup QB Kerry Collins has fared decently when healthy and should have success against the league’s worst pass defense. Houston QB Matt Schaub should have similar success going against a Titans pass defense ranked 26. OVER.
Jaguars +5 at Colts (48½): Peyton’s Manning’s top ranked pass offense will be attacking the Jacksonville’s No. 28 pass defense. Indy’s own pass defense, sixth in the league, faces Jaguars passing offense that ranks 29. At less than a TD, the Colts’ intangibles combine with Manning to merit a play. COLTS.
Cards +3 at Panthers (38): Carolina might be motivated as its decline can be attributed to two seasons ago in which former Panthers QB Jake Delhomme had one of the worst playoff games in history. There are questions as to whether either of these offenses is capable of scoring much. UNDER.
Browns +2 at Bengals (40): After starting 1-5, Cleveland has won 2 of 3 and 4 of 7. The Browns continue to play tough and have lost by more than a touchdown just twice all season. Cleveland is 9-8, dating back to last season while the Bengals are 3-15. BROWNS.
Bills +5½ at Miami (41): If only the Dolphins could win at home they’d be a shoo-in for the playoffs. Miami is 6-1 on the road but a putrid 1-5 at home. Miami has held each of its last five foes to 17 points or less while scoring 10 or less themselves in 3 of their last 5 has been below 20 in 6 of last 7. UNDER.
Eagles +2½ at Giants (48½): The Giants have an outstanding statistical profile save for ranking last in the league in losing 2.6 turnovers per game. The Eagles have the top ranked offense (403 ypg) and an above average defense (No. 11). Getting points with a capable road underdog is the preferred way to play, especially if the line reaches 3. EAGLES.
Redskins +6 at Cowboys (45): Dallas has won 3 of 5 and both losses were by a FG to teams headed to the playoffs. Washington is playing out the string and can be pointed to the team that started Dallas’ downward spiral. This is Dallas’ last home game. COWBOYS.
Lions +6 at Bucs (42): Detroit takes to the road following three straight home games. The Lions continue to rely on third string QB Drew Stanton to lead the offense whereas Tampa QB Josh Freeman continues to improve and impress weekly. BUCS.
Saints +2½ at Ravens (44½): Baltimore enters this contest with a greater sense of urgency and need than the Saints. The offensive edge clearly belongs to the visitors, but any inclement weather would favor the Ravens. Despite the similarity in stats, the Ravens have made the key defensive plays late in the season for much of the past decade with LB Ray Lewis in charge. RAVENS.
Falcons -6½ at Seahawks (45): This is a very tough spot for Atlanta as they are caught in a huge sandwich spot following a pair of divisional games the past two weeks and a pair on deck to end the season, including next week at home against New Orleans. The travel factor may finally take its toll that enables Seattle to keep it close. SEAHAWKS.
Jets +6 at Steelers (35): Poor weather will push this low total down even lower but fundamentally this shapes up as the lowest scoring game of the weekend, matching the league’s third and fourth ranked stop units. UNDER.
Broncos +6½ at Oakland (44½): Oakland is clearly an improving team but it is asking too much to win by a margin against a bitter long time foe that has shown an ability to run the football in recent weeks to compliment what’s been an above average passing game. BRONCOS.
Packers (NL) at Patriots: The injury to Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers kept this game off the board early. The Packers may have to rely on their defense to keep them in this game and with the third ranked pass defense they might be able to at least limit the damage Pats’ QB Tom Brady might inflict. Green Bay has allowed the fewest points (14.5) in the NFL. UNDER.
Monday, Dec. 20
Bears (NL) at Vikings: The uncertain status concerning both Vikings QB Brett Favre and where this game will be played keeps this game off the boards. The Bears won the earlier home meeting over the Vikes, 27-13, with a decisive edge as well in the stats. The Bears defense has fared well all season and is playing with the greater need. BEARS.
last week since Oct 25 PCT
8-4-2 55-43-2 59.1