The NFL, often with justification, comes under attack on many points from a number of different sources. But one area the league deserves credit – and which the other major sports could learn – is in end of season scheduling.
A few years ago the NFL decided the final week of the regular season would consist entirely of Divisional games. The thinking was to increase the importance and heighten the drama of the final Sunday with often several Division races and potential Wild Card spots up for grabs.
Ideally, the NFL could consider playing all of the same season Divisional rematches – three per team with one game against each rival – over the final three weeks of the season. That would increase the drama, excitement and, oh yes, the tension, to the max.
Although the exact seeding order is yet to be determined, the four AFC Division winners have been settled with New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver claiming titles. Kansas City has earned the first Wild Card and will be seeded fifth.
Four teams remain alive for the second Wild Card and No. 6 seed but none of the four controls its own destiny. Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh and San Diego are those teams.
Each of these teams must win but also needs help elsewhere. The Ravens, Dolphins and Steelers play at 10 a.m. Pacific time and if either Miami or Baltimore wins then San Diego will have been eliminated by the time its home game against Kansas City kicks off at 1:25.
Carolina and Seattle are the only NFC teams to have clinched a Playoff berth although neither has clinched its Division title as we go to press.
The winner of the Philadelphia at Dallas game will win the NFC East and the winner of the Green Bay at Chicago game will win the NFC North.
Arizona, New Orleans and San Francisco are vying for the two remaining NFC Playoff berths. The 49ers would have earned one of them if they defeated Atlanta Monday night. New Orleans controls its fate as a win gets them in.
Considering the high scoring nature of the two previous weeks with OVERS outpacing UNDERS by a 21-11 count in Weeks 14 and 15, it was not unexpected that a “market correction” might take place in Week 16.
Sure enough, last Sunday’s early slate of games produced 8-1 to the OVER. The afternoon and Sunday night games resulted in a 3-3 split.
Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly considering the strong results from the first 15 weeks, 2 of the 4 OVERS came in the only interconference games as both the Pittsburgh at Green Bay and Minnesota at Cincinnati games exceeed the Total.
With interconference play completed for the regular season the final tally shows that 48 of the 64 games went OVER (75%). This historically high result is certain to be the focus of many preseason articles to be penned prior to the start of the 2014 season.
As is often the case, there’s a strong possibility there will be a reversal of these results next season. So keep this tidbit of information in mind once the 2014 schedules are released next April and you begin to formulate your own game plans for next season.
The NFC did have a slight edge over the AFC, winning 34 of the 64 games between the conferences. Yet the AFC did have the point spread edges, going 32-27-5 ATS, using the closing lines from the LVH sports book.
NBC has chosen the NFC East showdown between Dallas and Philadelphia as the Sunday night game, which means by kick off of Eagles-Cowboys only 11 of the 12 Playoff teams will be known.
The Dallas/Philly game will be a preview of the upcoming Playoffs as the winner advances to host a Wild Card game next week while the loser goes home.
Here’s a preview of the Week 17 games, all on Sunday.
Carolina -7 at Atlanta (46½): Atlanta is off of a short week after playing across the country in San Francisco Monday night and is eager for the season to end. All the Panthers need to do is simply win. Once they get a lead their defense is capable of protecting and Carolina will not have great incentive to extend that lead. Rather, they will seek to shorten the game by running the ball and lessening the number of possessions and total plays. UNDER.
Green Bay NL at Chicago: This is for the NFC North title. The still uncertain status of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers likely keeps this game off the boards until late in the week. Both teams have potentially potent offenses and below average defenses. Weather conditions are always a concern but there is more reason to have confidence in both offenses rather than in either defense consistently making stops. OVER.
Houston +7 at Tennessee (44): Houston has a chance to end its season with 14 straight losses following a 2-0 start and is in position to have the NFL’s worst record, earning the top choice in next year’s draft. Tennessee is not the type of team that wins in blowout fashion. HOUSTON.
Cleveland +7 at Pittsburgh (44): After a promising 3-2 start the Browns have lost 6 straight and 9 of 10. The offense has had problems all season, having to deal with multiple QB injuries and the lack of a running game. The defense, which was solid over the first half of the season, has wilted in recent weeks, allowing over 400 yards in 3 straight games. PITTSBURGH.
Washington +3½ at NY Giants (45½): The Giants won the earlier meeting and may be in the better frame of mind for this game. With both coaches perhaps coaching their final game for their respective teams, the Giants players may be more inclined to play hard for Tom Coughlin than will the Redskins players for Mike Shanahan. GIANTS.
Baltimore +5½ at Cincinnati (44½): At home Andy Dalton’s Bengals are 7-0 both SU and ATS and each of the last 4 home wins have been by 14 points or more. Still, the history of Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and QB Flacco shows them a perfect 5 for 5 in making the Playoffs since arriving in Baltimore in 2008. That streak likely comes to an end but the defending Super Bowl champs should not go down easily. BALTIMORE.
Jacksonville +11½ at Indy (45½): The Colts’ impressive 23-7 win at Kansas City last week lessens the need for a blowout win here. The Colts handily won the first meeting 37-7 back in September. Double digit home favorites are 11-6 ATS over the past 6 seasons, indicative of a road team just going through the motions while that home favorite is often tuning up for the Playoffs. INDIANAPOLIS.
Philadelphia -3 at Dallas (56): Prior to Sunday’s games Dallas was a 2½ point advance favorite. Now they are home underdogs to a team they defeated on the road 17-3 in midseason. There is often a bounce after an unusually strong or weak performance. Recall that just a week earlier the Eagles lost 48-30 at Minnesota in a game not that close. DALLAS.
NY Jets (+6½) at Miami (41): A Miami win combined with a loss by either Baltimore or San Diego earns the Dolphins the second AFC Wild Card. The Jets are playing to finish 8-8 which would be Miami’s record as well should the Jets prevail. Miami won the earlier meeting 23-3 but are off of their worst effort of the season, a 19-0 loss at Buffalo in which the Fish gained just 103 total yards. 5 of their last 6 meetings have produced fewer than 40 points. UNDER.
Detroit +3½ at Minnesota (52): This could be the “lame duck” bowl as both Detroit’s Jim Schwartz and Minny’s Leslie Frazier could be out as coaches within a few days of season’s end. After back to back home losses ended their Playoff chances, it’s hard to see the Lions doing anything other than going through the motions. MINNESOTA.
Buffalo +9 at New England (47): Buffalo nearly upset New England in Week 1, falling at home 23-21. In fact, despite losing all 10 games at New England over the past decade the Bills have still managed to go 5-5 ATS including 3 covers in their last 4 trips to Foxboro. Buffalo has won two in a row and continues to play hard for rookie coach Doug Marrone. BUFFALO.
TB +12½ at New Orleans (48): The Bucs nearly upset the Saints at home back in week 2, losing 16-14 on a FG as time expired. This is a perfect spot to expect a fully focused effort against what is still an overmatched foe despite the closeness of first meeting. NEW ORLEANS.
Denver -12½ at Oakland (54): Denver has one goal in this game and that is to stay healthy, especially after losing star defender Von Miller to a torn ACL last week that has ended his season. Aside from the blowout loss to Kansas City, the Raiders were reasonably competitive in most of the recent losses. Double digit road favorites in the final game of the season are 0-3 ATS over the past 6 seasons despite winning all 3 games SU. OAKLAND.
SF -3 at Arizona (43½): Both teams are stronger on defense than on offense. This game handicaps, both on fundamentals and the stakes, as being much lower scoring than their first meeting, won by San Francisco 32.20. UNDER.
KC +10 at San Diego (45): Considering that San Diego may have already been eliminated from the Playoffs by kickoff, and that they are not they kind of team to blow out competitive foes, the generous points may be well worth taking. KANSAS CITY.
St. Louis +10 at Seattle (43): Seattle’s 14 game home winning streak was snapped last week by Arizona. Seattle should want to regain that air of invincibility at home that they had prior to that loss, lest upcoming Playoff foes gain confidence. Expect a focused effort. SEATTLE.
Last Week: 8-5
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]