Two weeks remain and much is still undecided as NFL teams match to the Playoffs or are eliminated from contention. The phrase “must win” will be used and misused in describing the consequences of wins and losses in most of the 32 games that will complete the regular season.
In many cases “must win” is used correctly. Such correct usage refers to teams that must win to either clinch a Playoff spot or remain alive to do so the following week. Put another way, the failure to win such a “must win” game results in the team’s elimination from the Playoffs race.
The complementary description often attached to the proper use of the “must win” phrase is that “must win does not mean will win.” What this refers to is simply that such a team is in the position of a true “must win” situation because the team did not win enough earlier in the season.
But misuse of the “must win” phrase occurs when the context relates to securing a specific seed in the Playoffs after already having clinched a spot in the Playoffs. An example would be “such and such team must win in order to clinch the top seed and home field throughout the Playoffs.”
While this may indeed be the result of a win it is wrong to consider this use of “must win” as the same as the “must win” for a team facing elimination.
Often we look to bet against teams in true “must win” situations as those teams often are flawed enough to be in that situation. In Week 15 these are often teams with fewer than 9 wins and thus are barely at or above .500 (i.e. 8-6 or even 7-7).
Teams better equipped to situations are those that may have already clinched a Playoff spot and are in position to improve their seeding, perhaps going from a Wild Card to a Division Champion or from hosting a Wild Card to earning an opening round bye.
One thing the NFL is to be praised for is their decision several years ago to have all 16 games in Week 17 as Division games.
We get a preview of that this week as 11 of the 16 games match Division rivals.
Happy Holidays to one and all let’s hope the results on the field produce the same good feelings as the spirit of the holidays.
Last week: 5-10
Season total: 108-106-4
Here’s a preview of the games that comprise the schedule for the penultimate week of the regular season.
NY Giants -2.5 at Philadelphia (41.5): Philly has a top ten running game and has been better at avoiding turnovers. At a FG or more the hosts are playable and an outright upset would not be a surprise. The Giants won the first meeting, 28-23, but were outgained by the Eagles, 443 to 302. PHILADELPHIA
Washington NL at Chicago: Prior to Monday the Redskins had played 10 OVER and 2 UNDER with one push. Washington QB Kirk Cousins is having a solid season and with weather conditions perhaps keeping the Total a bit deflated there should be value in looking for both teams to score in the mid to upper twenties. OVER
Miami +4 at Buffalo (42): Buffalo is playing to avenge a 28-25 mid-season loss at Miami that snapped their four-game winning streak. Miami’s running game has declined noticeably since mid-season, held to under 100 yards in five straight games. Now that there is current film on Miami backup QB Matt Moore, the Bills will be well prepared to force the Dolphins to alter their game plan. BUFFALO
TB +3 at New Orleans (52.5): Tampa is a team on the rise whereas New Orleans has been in decline over the past few seasons. If the Bucs are to serve notice that they indeed are a team to consider for more success next season, this is a game they should win. Getting a FG or more makes this an attractive play.TAMPA BAY
Atlanta NL at Carolina: The Falcons have played 12 OVER and just 2 UNDER this season. They won the first meeting with the Panthers, 48-33, gaining 571 total yards. The teams combined for 810 net passing yards. The Panthers have scored over 30 points against the Falcons in three of their last four meetings. OVER
Minnesota +6.5 at GB (43): The Vikes have lost 7 of 9 following a 5-0 start, and last week’s 34-6 home loss to the Colts marked the sixth time in those eight games in which they scored under 17 points. Given the current state of both teams the conditions favor the hosts and the Vikes may have trouble if they have to play from behind. GREEN BAY
NY Jets +16.5 at New England (43.5): The Patriots likely will not take the Jets lightly given the series history and there still is the motivation to wrap up the overall top seed in the AFC Playoffs. We saw a couple of double digit favorites cover last weekend (Atlanta and Seattle) and the Jets’ motivation must be questioned. NEW ENGLAND
Tennessee -4.5 at Jacksonville (43.5): The Texans are a physical team that averages 145 rushing yards per game. Much as Houston did last week, the Titans should wear the Jaguars down throughout the game, and with QB Marcus Mariotta continuing to develop into a solid NFL QB the Titans should emerge with a win by more than a touchdown. TENNESSEE
San Diego -6 at Cleveland (44): Normally against a warm weather team such as the Chargers this would make for an attractive play for the home dog. Maybe the Browns will finally cover and perhaps even win. But perhaps the better way to fade the favorite may be through the Total. UNDER
Indianapolis +4 at Oakland (53): Raiders’ QB Derek Carr is making a strong bid for league MVP and should have success against a vulnerable Indy pass defense. But so should Colts’ QB Andrew Luck. These teams rank 26 and 27 in pass defense. Colts are playing with a greater sense of urgency. INDY
SF +3.5 at Los Angeles (40.5): After a 3-1 start the Rams have lost 9 of 10, the lone being that scintillating 9-6 win at the Jets. An old adage, slightly reworded, holds that when garbage meets garbage take garbage plus the points. If this game is played such advice can be followed here. SAN FRANCISCO
Arizona +9 at Seattle (43.5): Cards QB Carson Palmer likely will be under much pressure applied by the aggressive Seahawks defense. These teams played that infamous 6-6 in Arizona back in October. Seattle has yet to clinch an opening round bye. They are 7-0 at home and after some close calls early in the season the Seahawks have won each of their last three home games by double digits. SEATTLE
Cincinnati +2.5 at Houston (41): Houston is fighting to make the Playoffs and might have gotten a spark last week when Tom Savage replaced Brock Osweiler at QB and led the Texans to a comeback win over Jacksonville. The Bengals will miss the Playoffs for the first time in six seasons whereas Houston controls its destiny in making for the fourth time in six seasons. HOUSTON
Baltimore +4.5 at Pittsburgh (44): The Steelers have most of the edges on offense and their recent defensive play has them almost on a par with the Ravens. The Steelers have allowed 20 points or less in all eight wins. The Ravens are 1-4 SU, 1-3 ATS as underdogs this season. Playing with revenge and a chance to clinch the AFC North plus better current form make the Steelers attractive. PITTSBURGH
Denver +4 at Kansas City (38): Oakland plays at Denver next week while the Chiefs are at San Diego. Denver still has an elite defense, allowing a league low 4.6 yards per play. But their lack of a running game continues to plague the Broncos and Kansas City’s methodical offense that consistently avoids turnovers puts them in a strong position to get a win and have the AFC West decided next week. KC
Detroit +7.5 at Dallas (43): The Total may provide a more confident play but not in the direction most people would expect. The Lions are 10-4 to the UNDER and the Cowboys are 9-5 to the UNDER. The Lions have played eight straight UNDERS and the Cowboys’ last three have stayed UNDER, two of them by more than 10 points. Seven of Detroit’s 10 UNDER results have stayed below the UNDER by more than 10 points as well. UNDER