Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated game of the season, certainly in the AFC, finally arrives with the top seed in the Playoffs on the line when Pittsburgh hosts New England.
Pittsburgh has played sloppily at times, including in each of the last three games – wins over Green Bay, at Cincinnati and over Baltimore. Yet the Steelers have won eight in a row following an ugly 30-9 Week 5 home loss to Jacksonville in what was arguably the worst game in QB Ben Roethlisberger’s career. The Steelers have dedicated their season to injured linebacker Ryan Shazier, recovering from spinal surgery.
A win at Miami on Monday night would have given the Patriots a nine-game winning streak and with both losses coming at home in September they would be a perfect 6-0 away from home. New England has had great success against the Steelers in recent years, including a 36-17 home field win in last season’s AFC Title game.
At the other extreme, you’ve got to hand it to the Cleveland Browns (that is, if they don’t fumble away whatever it is you give to them). They continue to come up with different ways to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory, both in terms of winning games out right and in covering pointspreads.
Late in the fourth quarter it looked certain that not only would the Browns get their second straight pointspread cover (after covering as nearly two touchdown underdogs a week earlier in a 19-10 loss at the Chargers) but they would also earn their first straight up win of this season.
The 0-12 Browns were 3 minutes away from a 21-14 win over Green Bay when the Packers had the football on their own 25 yard line following a Cleveland punt. It took seven plays and all but the final 17 seconds for the Packers to score the game tying touchdown.
Cleveland was a very small 3-point home underdog (interpreted by some as in indication from the linesmakers that this might be their week) when the Browns remembered they are the Browns.
How long does it take for bettors – and some supposedly very sharp ones at that – to realize backing historically bad teams in the modern marketplace environment is extremely hazardous to their bankrolls?
Since the start of the 2016 season Cleveland is an incredible 1-28 Straight Up and a similarly incredible 7-22 ATS. Cleveland’s performance over nearly two full seasons is one of most extreme cases in NFL history and if you cannot find a reason to play on Cleveland’s opponent in a given game you might be wise to just pass the game and focus on the rest of the schedule.
Denver -2 at Indianapolis (41): The Broncos are winless in six prior road games (and 0-6 ATS). The Colts continue to play hard, and with both defenses below average have the QB who has performed better this season. INDIANAPOLIS
Chicago +6 at Detroit (43.5): All the pressure is on the hosts and the Bears have been competitive in the majority of their losses. The last five meetings have been decided by 4 points or less with three of them by exactly a FG. CHICAGO
LA Chargers PK at Kansas City (45.5): The Chiefs have struggled defensively all season whereas the Chargers’ defensive play has continually improved since September. And in their current configurations the Chargers have the better playmakers on that side of the football. LA CHARGERS
Philadelphia -8.5 at NY Giants (40): The Giants’ have struggled on offense all season and the Philly defense has been a major strength so the better way to go might be with the Total. UNDER
Green Bay +2.5 at Carolina (45): Carolina QB Cam Newton is not quite at Aaron Rodgers’ level but is still among the top signal callers in the league. Combined with the better ground game and defense the Panthers’ being favored is warranted. CAROLINA
Cincinnati +11 at Minnesota (41.5): Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer spent eight seasons directing the Cincinnati defense prior to taking over the Vikings in 2014 so he should still have an intimate knowledge of Bengals QB Andy Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis and their tendencies. MINNESOTA
Miami NL at Buffalo: Oddly, this is their first meeting of the season as they will meet again in Miami in Week 17. Buffalo’s heavy reliance on their running game, especially with Peterman at QB, works to limit possessions for both teams and any inclement weather only adds to that influence. UNDER
Houston +11.5 at Jacksonville (39): Third stringer T. J. Yates replaces the concussed Tom Savage at QB for the Texans, and although he fared decently in relief last week against the 49ers he will be under intense pressure all afternoon from the excellent pass rush of the Jags. This is also the Jags’ third straight, but final regular season home game. JACKSONVILLE
NY Jets +15 at New Orleans (47): Bryce Petty is expected to start for the Jets after replacing Josh McCown last week. New Orleans will have no sympathy for the Jets who will be hard pressed to contain what is now one of the best balanced offenses in the National Football League. NEW ORLEANS
Arizona +4 at Washington (44): Both teams rank near the bottom in several areas that measure defensive inefficiency. In a game that likely attracts some of the least betting action of the week the preference is to look at the Total. OVER
Baltimore -7 at Cleveland (40): The preference may be for the total with any inclement weather only increasing the likelihood of a low scoring game. In their Week 2 meeting in Baltimore the Ravens won 24-10. Their ability to run the football shortens the game and Cleveland has been held to 18 points or less in 10 of 13 games. UNDER
LA Rams +1 at Seattle (48): Seattle has made the postseason in six of Coach Pete Carroll’s seven seasons as coach. That experience, especially that of QB Russell Wilson, should be the determinative factor as the Seahawks can seize control of their destiny with an important victory at home. SEATTLE
New England -2.5 at Pittsburgh (No Total): TE Rob Gronkowski will be back for the Pats following his one game suspension and the Pats’ defense has shown great improvement over the past two months. In the matchup of QB/coaching combinations, although Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin have had their fair share of success over the years, the preference will almost always be the Pats’ Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. With so much on the line that remains, the preference here is its not that the Steelers are more likely to make the big mistake but the Pats are not. NEW ENGLAND
Tennessee +2 at San Francisco (44): The Titans have five wins by 4 points or less. But they also have a pair of ugly losses – by 43 points at Houston and 23 at Pittsburgh. The Niners have similar ugly losses but that’s more a reflection of their roster. They are playing well, have not quit on the season and should relish the chance to play spoiler as they face Playoff contenders here and in the final two weeks. SAN FRANCISCO
Dallas -2.5 at Oakland (46): Dallas is getting healthy both along the offensive line and on defense. This is Oakland’s last home game this season and their best chance for a win to keep them alive for the Playoffs. Oakland has won their last three home games and are 4-2 on this field this season. One of the losses was by a single point to the Chargers, and what would have been an eighth home game was played in Mexico against New England. OAKLAND
Atlanta -6 at Tampa Bay (48): This will be just the third game on grass for Atlanta this season, having barely survived in a 23-17 win at Chicago to open the season and losing at Carolina 20-17 in Week 9. The offense has not performed at the level of last season, clearly missing former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Atlanta is good enough to get the win in this important game for their Playoff chances. But it might not come that easy. TAMPA BAY
Last week: 11-4 (w/o MNF)