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The NFL season has come down to two final weeks.

With Atlanta, New England and Pittsburgh having already clinched playoff berths, nine spots still remain available. Well, at least eight will be earned.

One playoff spot will be gifted to the winner of the NFC West with a 7-9 record more likely than not. And that division winner will host a wild card game against a team likely to have won at least 10.

This season’s playoff field will have a significantly different look from last season. Arizona, Cincinnati, Dallas and Minnesota have already been officially eliminated. Green Bay, Indianapolis and San Diego are in danger of also missing out with the Colts having the best chance of the trio to return.

Baltimore, New Orleans, the New York Jets and Philadelphia are in excellent position to repeat their playoff appearance of a season ago.

Lines are often inflated in the final weeks of the season as teams may be in “must win” situations, while others may have been eliminated from qualifying for the playoffs. A 10-4 team playing with need is in such a spot because of other high quality teams within their division or conference.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays with a preview of the NFL’s penultimate week of games.

Thursday, Dec. 23

Panthers +13½ at Steelers (37): Carolina showed some pride in winning what was expected to be the last home game for Coach John Fox. The Steelers offense has been very pedestrian over the past month, averaging just 18 points over their last 4. Pittsburgh’s allowed just 14 ppg during that same stretch. Carolina’s undeveloped passing game should struggle while heavy doses of the Pittsburgh ground attack should keep the clock running. UNDER.

Saturday, Dec. 25

Cowboys -6 at Cards (45): Dallas has played better since their coaching change with backup QB Jon Kitna leading an offense that has been among the league’s most potent during this stretch. Arizona faces a Dallas defense that has been among the NFL’s most yielding. Dallas’ last 11 games have all exceeded the total. OVER.

Sunday, Dec. 26

Lions +3.5 at Dolphins (41): The Lions broke their record 26-game road losing streak with an OT win at Tampa Bay last week. Miami eliminated itself from the playoffs with yet another home loss last week to Buffalo. The Dolphins are 1-6 at home. Detroit is clearly playing with enthusiasm and getting at least a FG is an attractive option. LIONS.

Vikings (NL) at Eagles: Philly will be a heavy favorite, perhaps close to two touchdowns. Minnesota is banged up and should be playing out the string. The Eagles have an outside shot at the NFC’s top seed, but will likely be second. It’s dangerous to lay so many points with a team just looking to win. UNDER.

Redskins +6½ at Jaguars (45): Kudos to the Redskins for their game effort in not quitting last week in Dallas. Rex Grossman had 4 TD passes and was picked off twice. Jacksonville played hard in its loss at Indianapolis and still can make the playoffs by winning out and getting some help, so there’s a sense of urgency. JAGUARS.

49ers +2½ at Rams (39½): The 49ers won the first meeting 23-20 in OT and are 4-1 in divisional play. Looking at the entirety of the season, the 49ers have played relatively better over the second half. The Rams played their best football in September and October. Despite injuries, the 49ers have the better depth and are superior defensively. 49ERS.

Seahawks +6 at Bucs (43): Seattle has gotten poor QB play in recent weeks and this could be the end of the line for Matt Hasselbeck, who was relieved in last week’s game by Charlie Whitehurst. Seattle is 1-6 on the road with all 6 losses by at least 15 points. Tampa is just 3-4 at home, but when garbage meets garbage, take garbage plus the points. But hold your nose doing so. SEAHAWKS.

Patriots -8 at Bills (45½): New England has all but clinched the top AFC seed. The Patriots won 38-30 as 14-point chalk, but this was a 1 point game late in the third quarter. Buffalo has played well against New England in recent seasons despite losing 14 straight. The Bills have won 2 in a row and 4 of 6 since starting 0-8 and have not quit on the season. BILLS.

N.Y. Jets +1 at Bears (35½): The Jets have the significantly better stats on offense and have exceeded the projected total in 10 of 14 games. In his second season, Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez has earned a reputation for being a poor cold weather QB. The conditions for this game shall likely put that reputation to the test. And he’ll face a defense that has fared well against all foes other than New England. BEARS.

Ravens -3 at Browns (39): Baltimore clinches a wild card with a win. Cleveland is just 5-9, but 7 of the losses were by a TD or less. Baltimore won the earlier meeting 24-17 but failed to cover as 14 point favorites. The offense has performed better over the past month and the edge in this game will be a running game that faces a Cleveland defense that’s allowed at least 145 yards in 5 of the last 6. RAVENS.

Titans +5 at Chiefs (42): Tennessee ended a 6-game losing streak with a solid win over Houston in the home finale. Kansas City got QB Matt Cassel back following an appendectomy and he responded with a solid effort in a win at St. Louis. K.C. will bring the greater intensity to this important game. Tennessee got its satisfaction last week. CHIEFS.

Colts -3 at Raiders (47): The Colts now control their fate and can win the AFC for a record tying ninth straight season by winning out. At 7-7 Oakland has a remote shot at the playoffs but has finally turned the corner and should be kept in mind if there is a 2011 season. In their win over Jacksonville, the Colts rushed for 155 yards – more than in their three previous games combined. OVER.

Texans -3 at Broncos (48): Tim Tebow has been named starting QB for the balance of the season following a strong debut in Denver’s loss at Oakland. His mobility does give the Broncos offense an added dimension. The Broncos have allowed at least 35 points in 4 of their last 5 and the Texans have allowed at least 29 points in 9 of 10. OVER.

Giants (NL) at Packers: The status of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers keeps this game off the boards. The Giants have made second half of season collapses routine under Coach Tom Coughlin, whose tough training camp and in season regimens could be partially to blame. The Packers are 5-1 at home and tied with Pittsburgh for having allowed the fewest points in the league. PACKERS.

Chargers -7½ at Bengals (44): Cincinnati broke its 10-game losing streak holding on against Cleveland last week. The Chargers have a strong history of winning in December and will be the more motivated and focused team. Weather could be an issue that hampers the execution of the Chargers’ offense. Cincy had its highest rushing total last week, 188 yards, but still could muster only 19 points. San Diego has the league’s top ranked defense. UNDER.

Monday, Dec. 27

Saints +2½ at Falcons (48½): This is a showdown that may ultimately decide both the winner of the NFC South and the top NFC seed in the upcoming playoffs. The Falcons are a perfect 6-0 at home and have won 8 straight. New Orleans’ 6-game win streak ended at Baltimore last week. At a FG or less, the Falcons are worth backing with their 10-4 ATS record tied with Detroit for the league’s best. They’ve covered 6 in a row, all as favorites. FALCONS.

last week                 since Oct 25                     PCT

7-8                             62-52-2                           54.4



About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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