There’s a common notion that says teams out of contention often just play out the string. While true much of the time there are always exceptions, which we saw examples of this past holiday weekend.
A pair of 2-9 teams, Atlanta and Jacksonville, each won against Buffalo and Cleveland, respectively. Both victories came on the road. Houston, another 2-9 team, played inspired football in a back and forth game against powerful New England, losing but covering in a 34-31 defeat.
Another team having a woeful season, 2-8-1 Minnesota, rallied to win in overtime against division rival Chicago, a team very much in playoff contention. Of course each game must be analyzed on its own merits but to blindly conclude professional football teams just throw in the total can be costly to the bankroll.
As the standings stand through Sunday, the playoff field would consist of division leaders New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver in the AFC along with Seattle, New Orleans, Detroit and either Dallas or Philadelphia in the NFC.
The Cowboys and Eagles are tied for the NFC East lead with Dallas holding the tiebreaker edge with a win at Philadelphia. But the Eagles will have a chance to avenge that loss on the final day of the regular season.
The NFC wild card teams are currently Carolina and San Francisco. The Panthers could catch New Orleans for the NFC South title with a game at New Orleans this Sunday and a rematch at home in two weeks. The 49ers are unlikely to catch Seattle for the NFC West title but do have a small margin for error. Their 8-4 record for the second wild card is just one game better than the 7-5 mark held by Arizona, Dallas and Philadelphia.
Aside from the four division leaders only one other AFC team has a winning record. Kansas City at 9-3 controls the first AFC wild card. The second is shared by a pair of 6-6 teams, Baltimore and Miami. The Ravens hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a 26-23 win at Miami in early October.
With four games left – a quarter of the season – 6-6 records still keep in play those teams at 5-7 (the Jets, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and San Diego). This season has developed into one of the “haves” and “have nots” with six teams having just three or fewer losses and another six with three or fewer wins.
Here’s a look at the 16 games to be played in Week 14, the beginning of the final quarter of the season.
Houston Texans -2½ at Jacksonville Jaguars (43½): The Texans remain an outstanding defensive team and are playing to avenge a 13-6 home loss to the Jags just two weeks ago. Perhaps the effort vs. the Pats can be taken as a sign the Texans are not just going through the motions. They have a huge edge in talent here and are worth backing against a team that struggles to maintain offensive consistency. HOUSTON.
Kansas City Chiefs -4½ at Washington Redskins (46): After starting 9-0, the Chiefs have dropped three straight and likely will be seeded fifth in the AFC. Washington’s been eliminated from the playoffs and Mike Shanahan may be out as coach after the season. The Chiefs are stepping down in class here after a pair of games against Denver and one vs. San Diego. The Chiefs are 3-0 vs. the NFC East as HC Andy Reid is quite familiar with the personnel and coaching staffs of his former Division rivals. KANSAS CITY.
Minnesota Vikings +7 at Baltimore Ravens (43): The Vikings have issues at QB with starter Christian Ponder’s status uncertain after being concussed against the Bears. Baltimore’s defense has improved greatly since the start of the season and the Ravens have made the playoffs in each of their five seasons under the leadership of HC John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco. This is when experience takes on its greatest importance. BALTIMORE.
Cleveland Browns (NL) at New England Patriots: Injuries to Cleveland’s starting and backup QBs keep this game off the boards on Monday but expect the Patriots to be double digit favorites come Sunday. New England coach Bill Belichick knows the value of the home field in the Playoffs and he’s long been able to sell his team on the need for improvement. Cleveland will not be able to trade points with the Pats and what has been a solid defense all season has weakened recently. NEW ENGLAND.
Oakland Raiders +3 at New York Jets (40½): Oakland has extra rest after its competitive loss at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The Jets have lost three straight games marked by poor QB play such that starter Geno Smith was replaced after halftime in last week’s home loss to Miami with no better results. The Jets remain a solid defensive team and the Raiders have also shown improvement on defense as well. Neither offense has shown big play capability or consistency to sustain drives. UNDER.
Indianapolis Colts +5½ at Cincinnati Bengals (44): Both teams are 8-4 with the winner of this game in position to claim the 3 seed in the Playoffs with the loser likely seeded fourth. Cincy has been a strong home team all season, 5-0 both SU and ATS with 4 wins by a TD or more. They are finally playing up to their talent level and have been able to overcome several key injuries to their defense. That the line seems a bit high may be telling us the difference in these teams is greater than perceived. CINCINNATI.
Carolina Panthers (NL) at New Orleans Saints: The Saints should be slightly more than a FG favorite assuming they did not suffer any key injuries in Monday night’s game at Seattle. Carolina is the hottest team in the NFL with 8 straight wins including wins at San Francisco and over New England in back to back weeks. They’ve won 3 straight games outright as underdogs. With a better balanced offense that features a strong running game the Panthers are very capable of another outright win as a dog. CAROLINA.
Detroit Lions +2½ at Philadelphia Eagles (54): Both teams are 7-5 and control their own fates for winning division titles. Both teams have potent offenses that rank in the top 5 but the Lions have been much better on defense, ranking in the middle of the league. Philly’s defense ranks 31 overall including last against the pass. The offensive balance of the Lions combined with an outstanding defensive front gives them an excellent shot at pulling the minor upset. DETROIT.
Miami Dolphins +3 at Pittsburgh Eagles (41): It’s very possible that 9-7 will be good enough to earn the second AFC Wild Card which means the Steelers would have to run the table to achieve that record. Both teams have also been money makers of late, going a combined 7-1 ATS over their last 4 games. The defenses figure to control the tempo with both offenses likely forced to rely more on the run than on the pass. UNDER.
Buffalo Bills +2½ at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (42½): Tampa Bay had its three game winning streak snapped at red hot Carolina but the Bucs have shown no signs of quitting. Returning from its Bye, Buffalo controlled most of its game against Atlanta but allowed a late Falcons TD to force overtime and Atlanta kicked the game winning FG in OT. That was the first time Buffalo has been favored all season. Tampa returns home after two straight road games, while the Bills played their last two near home. TAMPA BAY.
Tennessee Titans +12 at Denver Broncos (50): The Broncos have been dominant at home, winning their first five home games by at least 16 points, a streak that ended in their most recent home game, a 27-17 win over then unbeaten Kansas City. The Titans will not be able to trade scores with the Broncos who have been challenged in the first halves of home games before making adjustments and taking full control after recess. DENVER.
St. Louis Rams +6½ at Arizona Cardinals (41½): Arizona had its 4 game win streak snapped in Philadelphia last week but remains in the Wild Card hunt at 7-5. In their two prior games the Rams routed Indianapolis by 30 and Chicago by 21. The Rams defeated the Cards 27-24 at home in Week 1. Both teams are “go with” teams and as such taking nearly a touchdown with an improving dog is a very attractive option. ST. LOUIS.
New York Giants +3 at San Diego Chargers (48½): These teams have opposite momentum as the Giants have won 5 of 6 while the Chargers have dropped 4 of 5 The Giants have won their last 2 road games. San Diego has dropped it last 2 home games, albeit as underdogs in each (to Denver and Cincinnati). The Chargers are 1-2 both SU and ATS in the 3 games in which they’ve been favored this season with the lone win coming at then historically bad 0-6 Jacksonville. NY GIANTS.
Seattle Seahawks +3½ at San Francisco 49ers (42½): This series has become a bitter rivalry that dates back to when Niners coach Jim Harbaugh and Seattle coach Pete Carroll matched wits at Stanford and USC. Although they are likely to lose out to the Seahawks for the division title the Niners will be highly motivated for this contest. SAN FRANCISCO.
Atlanta Falcons (NL) at Green Bay Packers: The status of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers keeps this game off the boards. It is expected that Rodgers will be cleared to play and that the Pack will be close to a TD favorite. The absence of Rodgers has affected what had been a very strong Green Bay ground game. With Rodgers status uncertain this pick is tenuous at best but is made with the chances for Rodgers’ return to be better than 50/50. GREEN BAY.
Dallas Cowboys PK at Chicago Bears (49½): Dallas has extra rest and is showing signs that they may not suffer the collapse this season as in many recent seasons. Tony Romo has the edge at QB over either Jay Cutler or Josh McCown. Cutler’s status for this game is uncertain. The Bears are mired in a 1-7-1 ATS slump. Although Dallas is on a 1-3 ATS run that followed 4 straight covers. In 2 of the 3 ATS losses Dallas was favored by 9 in games they won by 4 and 7 points. DALLAS.
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]