Never too early to look ahead

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I can’t believe what I’m about to type, considering my preseason Super Bowl prediction was seemingly dead in the water a month ago, but the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to get into the playoffs and keep my championship matchup alive.

In September, I predicted Dallas and Buffalo to reunite on Super Sunday, rekindling their 1990s rivalry. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m in the hunt.

We can talk about the postseason next week, once the playoff picture is crystal clear. What I want to know is if it’s too soon to discuss next season, as in Super Bowl LVI?

I haven’t seen any futures yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t zero on which teams might carry great value once the futures are listed in Las Vegas sports books. Jeff Sherman, VP of Risk Management at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, told me we can expect odds somewhere in the midst of the playoffs.

And if you know me, I’ll be looking to cherry pick from the group of 18 teams that won’t be playing in this year’s postseason. I want the best value possible when those lines come out, knowing I only need to get into the 2021-22 playoffs with a big futures ticket, so I can hedge my way through the postseason once it begins.

From the AFC, the one team I believe will pose a problem for its division and will have a bright turnaround will be the Los Angeles Chargers. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert has been impressive in leading the sixth-best passing offense when it comes to yards gained (4,048). The offense as a whole ranked eighth with 5,697 yards.

And when you think about the close games the Bolts lost, this team easily could be 10-5, rather than 6-9. Two overtime losses to Kansas City and New Orleans early this season meant a 1-4 skid, rather than a 3-2 start before a bye. Add how about the last-play losses to the Broncos and Raiders in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively? Outside of a 45-0 shellacking at the hands of the New England Patriots, the Chargers suffered their other eight losses by an average of 5.25 points per game.

With an offseason to get healthy, bolster the offense and strengthen the defense, don’t be surprised to see Los Angeles make a run.

From the NFC, whichever team doesn’t make it from the East — Dallas or Washington — will be a team to watch next season. Both have performed well down the stretch and will be determined to pick up where they left off. Both need to address their quarterback situations. Washington will have a healthy Alex Smith back, and coach Ron Rivera has indicated he and his staff want him back next season.

With Dallas, it remains to be seen if Dak Prescott will return. If so, he’ll be on a mission. If not, owner Jerry Jones certainly will be active before the NFL Draft, and could position the Cowboys well for a new face.

We have some time to revisit this, but it’s never too soon to start planning. As Sun Tzu said, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war.”

Now, let’s plan a third straight winning week after back-to-back 4-2 showings:

Sunday

Jaguars at Colts, Total 50: The Colts are averaging 30.7 points per game since Week 10, and that’s 60% of what we need. Jacksonville won the first meeting, 27-20. Add in the Colts need to win if they want to have a shot at making the playoffs. This one goes high. OVER

Titans -7.5 at Texans: Tennessee needs to win this game to clinch the AFC South. I doubt the Titans play themselves out of the postseason. With too much at stake, Tennessee won’t let the Texans hang around. TITANS

Saints -6.5 at Panthers: New Orleans is the NFC South champion, but a first-round bye is still at stake. It’ll take a strange combination, but the Saints have to do their part with a win. New Orleans has covered 8 of the last 11 in Carolina. SAINTS

Ravens at Bengals +12: Win and you’re in. Baltimore can clinch a playoff berth a number of ways Sunday, but why not just knock it with a season-ending victory? It doesn’t need to be a blowout, just a win. Cincinnati has won two straight, so it will be competitive to keep inside double digits. BENGALS

Dolphins Pick at Bills: Miami is also vying for a playoff berth. It can get in with a number of things taking place, but a win clinches a berth. 

Buffalo is also in, and would like a first-round bye, but Miami has more to play for. DOLPHINS

Cardinals +1 at Rams: Another must-win and Arizona’s defense caught a break when Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff was lost for the season. CARDINALS

Last week: 4-2

Season: 47-44-1

About the Author

W.G. Ramirez

W.G. Ramirez is a 32-year veteran covering sports in Southern Nevada, and resident of 46 years. He is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press.

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