The NFL regular season has entered its final quarter and as such teams will either be eliminated from Playoffs contention or secure a spot in the post season in large numbers over the next three weeks.
Through this past Sunday only Dallas has clinched a Playoffs spot but their loss Sunday night to the Giants kept them from clinching the NFC East title and an opening week bye.
Late season handicapping involves factors unique to this time of the season as in addition to Playoff implications the weather at many venues must also be considered.
Motivation and pride are some of the key intangibles to consider when looking at teams that are mathematically eliminated from the Playoffs or virtually certain to be mathematically eliminated based upon how the remaining schedule lays out.
Coachspeak will almost always put a positive spin on upcoming games as that is the nature of sports – to always believe you will give your best effort and that effort will be good enough to result in a win.
And that makes perfect sense. Up until the opening kickoff when the repeated physicality of the game on a play by play basis tests the will, pride and motivation of athletes whose preseason hopes – no, expectations – can no longer be achieved.
Teams clinching Playoff berths and especially those who are locked into specific seeds often will choose to rest their starters for all or a significant part of games as the season wears down. A long-time argument of “rest versus rust” in preparing for the Playoffs is often debated with little in the way of clear cut answers. Examples can always be cited of instances in which rest resulted in a loss and others in which rust proved fatal.
It is important as teams play their final three games to monitor midweek developments, especially those involving contenders.
Heading into Monday night Home Favorites are 64-62-7 ATS this season with Home Underdogs 30-31-1. Home Pick ‘ems are just 2-6 ATS with four neutral site games not included in these results.
The points have come into play in just 19 of the 199 games that did not result in pushes. This is a historically low percentage of under 10 percent of the pointspread decisions in which favorites win SU but fail to cover the line.
Part of this is due to a high percentage of relatively low pointspreads.
Through the first 14 weeks of the season there have been just nine games with a double digit pointspread. The favorite is 6-3 ATS in those games; 72 Underdogs have won games straight up.
Totals have been relatively even with 104 OVERs, 101 UNDERs and two pushes through Sunday.
Last week: 9-6
Here’s a look at the full schedule of 16 games that comprise the Week 15 schedule.
LA +14 at Seattle (39): The Rams played well defensively for much of the season but the total lack of offense, especially in running the football, has worn down that defense. The short week benefits the home team and Seattle should regain its last season momentum against a foe with little to no comeback ability. SEATTLE
Miami -3 at NY Jets (38.5): With Matt Moore likely to start at QB, the Dolphins, who need to win to keep their Playoff hopes alive, should rely on their running game to limit the risk of turnovers. The Jets also are much better at running the football to take the pressure off QB Bryce Petty. UNDER
Tampa Bay +7 at Dallas (46.5): The Cowboys have outscored their foes by 102 points whereas 8-5 Tampa has been outscored by 3. That suggests Dallas is the much superior team but the young Buccs have continued to improve and have won and covered five in a row while also winning and covering their last four road games. That presents a handicapping dilemma best resolved by looking toward the Total. UNDER
Detroit +4.5 at NY Giants (41.5): Both teams need to win to maintain their positions as Playoff teams and thus we may not see too many times when either team takes too great a risk. Given these teams’ profiles the better case can be made for the underdog Lions with QB Matthew Stafford nursing a broken finger that is not expected to hamper his performance. DETROIT
Philadelphia NL at Baltimore: Philly QB Carson Wentz may be “hitting the wall;” recall that he played in college at the FCS level at North Dakota State. Of course so did Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco who has had a very fine NFL career. The edges are with the hosts who are battling with Pittsburgh for the AFC North title with neither team likely to make the Playoffs as a Wild Card. BALTIMORE
Green Bay -6.5 at Chicago (42): At 7-6 Green Bay has much work to do to make the Playoffs but will face Minnesota and Detroit to close the season. Prior to their win at Philly that started their current mini streak the Pack had lost three straight on the road. In what could be poor weather conditions the better play may be to look closely at the Total. UNDER
Indy +4 at Minnesota (44.5): The Colts are second worst in allowing 6.0 yards per play. December weather would also tend to favor the hosts and the matchup of the Vikings defense versus the mistake prone Indy QB Andrew Luck and his offense that also struggles to run the football would point to a solid Vikings victory. MINNESOTA
Cleveland +10 at Buffalo (43): A case can always be made to go against the Browns given their winless record and 2-11 ATS record. But can we lay double digits with the Bills even under the best of circumstances? The Browns have failed to score more than 13 points in any of their last five games while allowing over 28 points just once in that stretch. If you have to bet this game you will be backing a strong “go against” team either way you slice it. CLEVELAND
Tennessee +5 at KC (43): Tennessee is third in rushing offense at 145 yards per game. Both teams avoid turnovers and neither offense is flashy with much big play capability. This suggests conservative game plans from both coaches with the goal of time consuming drives. Those may more often result in field goals rather than touchdowns. UNDER
Jacksonville +5.5 at Houston (40): Both teams are stronger on defense than on offense. These similar profiles suggest another low scoring game. Jacksonville has been strong defensively all season but that lack of an offense that has not shown any improvement likely will cost head coach Bradley his job at season’s end. UNDER
New Orleans +2.5 at Arizona (50): Arizona is playing its final home game and might have some motivation to perform well in front of their disappointed fans. Both teams have been turnover prone and both have struggled to run the football. But Arizona still has an elite defense that ranks second in yards per play. New Orleans’ defense is improved but still ranks in the bottom third. ARIZONA
SF +13.5 at Atlanta (51): San Francisco does not have the firepower to trade points with the Falcons who lead the NFL in averaging 6.5 yards per offensive play. San Francisco allows 5.9 ypp and their ypp differential of minus 0.9 ypp is last in the league. Atlanta is first at plus 0.8 ypp. ATLANTA
New England NL at Denver: Denver is desperate for a win to keep their hopes alive to make the Playoffs and would be in a favorable situation if the Patriots are off of a straight up win over the Ravens. But if the Pats were upset they are likely to be even more prepared than usual to challenge the Broncos. Either way New England should be favored by about a FG. If New England defeated Baltimore, DENVER is the play. If the Pats lost or tied the play is NEW ENGLAND.
Oakland -3 at San Diego (50): San Diego’s scoring has been down the past few games due largely to committing an above average number of turnovers. But the fundamentals suggest this should be another high scoring game between these long time rivals that have favored high powered passing offenses dating back to the days of the AFL. OVER
Pittsburgh -3 at Cincinnati (44): The Steelers are playing their best football of the season when it matters most. This is as intense a rivalry as there is in the NFL. Pittsburgh won the first meeting at home in Week 2, 24-16, even though they were outgained by 38 yards and 0.6 yards per play. The Bengals’ season is on the line and despite the long odds a win here keeps their slim playoff hopes alive. CINCINNATI
Carolina +4.5 at Washington (51): Washington has been much better at protecting the football and avoiding turnovers. The Redskins return home after playing three straight on the road. Much will be made of Washington CB Josh Norman facing his old team but the game should be decided by Washington’s success against the Carolina defense that is down noticeably from last season. WASHINGTON