With only Monday night’s game between Denver and Cincinnati remaining to be played, nine teams have already clinched Playoff berths after 16 weeks of play. The three remaining berths will be determined next Sunday.
If Cincinnati upset Denver this past Monday night the Bengals became the tenth team to be assured of playing in January.
Of the nine that clinched playoff berths, four are in the postseason after having missed out last season. Dallas has clinched the NFC East title while both Arizona and Detroit are assured of at least Wild Card spots. In the AFC Pittsburgh has clinched at least a Wild Card spot, returning to the Playoffs after missing out the past two seasons.
Returning to the playoffs after having participated last season are Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England and Seattle.
Give the NFL great credit for their decision several seasons ago to have all 16 games in the final week of the regular season be divisional matchups. As a result, several games will determine division winners although only the Atlanta-Carolina matchup is assured of sending one team to the playoffs and the division rival home.
Green Bay will host Detroit with the winner claiming the NFC North title. The same could be true when Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati. Seedings still have to be determined with the top 2 in each conference earning first round byes next week. Currently New England and Denver hold the top two seeds in the AFC with the Patriots at No. 1.
The NFC has 5 teams tied for the conference’s best record at 11-4 with Seattle the most likely team to emerge following tie breaker scenarios with the No. 1 seed. It’s been a decade since a Super Bowl champion has repeated (New England winning Super Bowls 38 and 39). It could well be the Patriots will be the team that stands in Seattle’s way come Super Bowl 49.
Week 17 always presents challenges to the bookmaker, the bettor and the handicapper with so much uncertainty surrounding the circumstances in many of the games. There is often great volatility in the pointspread, both during the week and in the hours leading up to kickoff.
Factors other than statistics and matchups play a greater part in determining the outcome. Often, motivation, in some cases fueled by contract bonuses, will override fundamentals as will the mindset of coaches and players who are thinking more about starting the offseason (or post-season) than ending the regular season.
Due to the unusual nature of the final weekend, once the early games kick off the later games will be taken off the board if the results of the early matchups will impact one, or both, teams playing later in the day.
That may be even more the case this season as we have seen unprecedented line moves on Sundays throughout the season in which line moves of 2 or more points in the 12 hours prior to kickoff have been commonplace.
Here’s a look at the full slate of Sunday games that will end the season for 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams with the regular season to end with the Sunday night game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Detroit +7 at Green Bay (48): The winner of this game wins the NFC North and could earn a first round bye while the loser will be on the road as a Wild Card next week. Detroit won the earlier game, 19-7, in Motown and the rematch could be similarly low scoring. UNDER.
Jacksonville +9.5 at Houston (40.5): Case Keenum played well in last week’s win over Baltimore and his familiarity with the Texans’ offense showed in his comfort level. The Jaguars are likely to be playing with much less intensity than Houston with a defense that has played its best football over the past month. HOUSTON
Cincinnati +3 at Pittsburgh (48): The Steelers won the earlier meeting just 3 weeks ago, 42-21, but this was a close game entering the fourth quarter. The Steelers have the better offense but also the weaker defense. This could turn into a shootout with both teams playing to host that Wild Card game. OVER.
Indy -7 at Tennessee (46.5): Tennessee has had injury issues all season and may play hard to avoid ending the season on a 10 game losing streak. With Indy’s concern being mostly to stay healthy for their Wild Card game and possibly resting starters after halftime the Titans might get that elusive win. TENNESSEE.
Cleveland +9 at Baltimore (42.5): Cleveland is a mess, especially at QB, and their promising 7-4 start is a distant memory after 4-straight losses. The Ravens have played much better at home than on the road, with four wins by at least 14 points, and should have too much offense for a tiring Browns defense. BALTIMORE.
Buffalo +10 at N. England (47.5): It’s possible New England will have clinched the AFC’s top seed if Denver lost at Cincinnati. If so, the Pats may rest players although they will not play for another two weeks. Buffalo’s defense has been elite all season. The Pats are playing well on that side of the football as well. UNDER.
NY Jets +5 at Miami (42): Miami HC Joe Philbin will be back next season. With nothing at stake for these longtime rivals both he and Rex Ryan might allow the offenses to run some plays from the back of the playbook in what could be a game that lacks much sustained intensity from either defense. OVER.
Carolina +3.5 at Atlanta (47): In the six seasons with coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta is 5-1 both SU and ATS at home against the Panthers. The Falcons have much the better offense and the defense has performed well against foes with limited offenses such as that run by Carolina. ATLANTA.
Chicago +7 at Minnesota (43.5): Both teams are out of the playoffs but the Vikings are trending up whereas the Bears have reached bottom. The Bears are off of 3 straight home games, all losses. Minnesota returns home after a pair of road losses, each by 2 points in which the Vikes played well. MINNESOTA.
San Diego +2.5 at KC (43.5): The Chiefs have lost 4 of their last 5 games despite competitive efforts in 3 of the losses. KC has a solid defense, allowing 23 points or more just twice in their last 13 games. Although unlikely that a win gets them in, the Chiefs can still knock out their AFC West division rival. KANSAS CITY.
Philadelphia +2.5) at NY Giants (52): The Giants offense has played its best football down the stretch and WR Odell Beckham Jr is making a strong case for rookie of the year honors. It would not be surprising if the Eagles gave a flat effort while the Giants will remember the embarrassing 27-0 setback at Phiadelphia earlier this season. NY GIANTS.
Dallas -6.5 at Washington (49): Washington won the first meeting in midseason and a win here would take some positive momentum into the offseason and possibly save the jobs of both Griffin and rookie head coach Jay Gruden. WASHINGTON.
New Orleans -3.5 at TB (47): Tampa’s defense has played better over the second half of the season despite the losses and the hosts figure to be more interested in ending their season with a win than will the disappointed Saints. TAMPA BAY.
St. Louis +11.5 at Seattle (41): St. Louis is not a team well suited to play from behind, especially against an aggressive Seahawks defense. Seattle has regained that swagger over the second half of the season and you bet against the Seahawks, who have won and covered 5 straight, at your own peril. SEATTLE.
Arizona +4 at SF (37.5): The Cards do have issues at QB and Arizona has not scored more than 18 points in any of its last 6 games. Notwithstanding last week’s ‘effort’ against Seattle, their defense has been a strength. Only 3 foes have scored more than 20 points against Arizona this season. UNDER.
Oakland NL at Denver: The Broncos’ defense had held 10 of their last 11 foes to under 100 rushing yards. Denver may again play it conservative, doing enough to secure a win while keeping Manning out of harms way as much as possible. UNDER.
Last week: 6-9 (w/o MNF)
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]