Panthers clinch playoff spot and division

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The third quarter of the regular season is in the books and teams have just four games left to make a run at making the Playoffs.

Unbeaten Carolina became the first team to clinch a Playoff spot with its come-from-behind win at New Orleans on Sunday to capture the NFC South Division title. At 12-0 the Panthers are the favorite to earn the conference’s top seed and a first round bye when the Playoffs begin next month.

If Carolina is to lose a regular season game it might be to its benefit to see it occur prior to their final regular season game. Of the five other teams that started the season 5-0 or better, four have now lost at least a second straight game following their initial defeat.

New England is the most recent example as the Patriots followed up their first loss of the season a week ago this past Sunday night in Denver with a loss this past Sunday at home to Philadelphia. Prior to the Pats suffering that fate Cincinnati, Denver and Green Bay each followed up their first loss this season with a loss in their very next game.

Strangely, the lone team to avoid back-to-back losses following their lengthy winning streak to start the season was Atlanta. The Falcons started the season 5-0 before losing at New Orleans. Following that initial setback Atlanta bounced back with a win the following week at Tennessee. However, that win has been followed by five straight losses, a streak the Falcons bring into this week’s game at unbeaten Carolina. Atlanta is also on a current 0-8 ATS run. Contrary to potential rumors, some team will win the NFC East and somebody will win the AFC South. However it is quite possible those teams will each have a losing record.

On Monday night Washington had a chance to take a one game lead over both the New York Giants and Philadelphia. A win would have improved Washington’s record to 6-6 whereas a loss would have the Redskins in a three way tie at 5-7 for the NFC East lead. Philadelphia has the easiest path to the Division title with its next three games at home, including a week 16 game against Washington followed by its lone remaining road game, at the Giants, to close out the regular season.

“Washington plays three of its final four games on the road where they are 0-5 SU and just 1-4 ATS. One of the Eagles” home games is against Arizona but the Giants, who play two at home and two on the road, host Carolina and play at Minnesota in weeks 15 and 16.

The co-leaders of the AFC South, Houston and Indianapolis, each had road losses last week to remain tied at 6-6.

The Division winner could finish 9-7 although 8-8 is more likely. Both teams have three Division games remaining including their meeting in Indianapolis in week 15.

The Colts have the easier non-Division game with Houston hosting New England this week and the Colts playing in Miami next week. The Colts won their first meeting in Houston two months ago.

It was quite a week that started with Green Bay’s miraculous win in Detroit on the Rodgers to Rodgers “Hail Mary” pass after time had expired following a dubious face mask penalty against the Lions.

On Sunday two underdogs of a touchdown or more pulled road upsets as San Francisco won in overtime at Chicago and Philadelphia won at New England. A third major upset was avoided when Carolina rallied for a late touchdown in their wild 41-38 win at New Orleans.

Heading into Monday night’s game between Washington and Dallas underdogs had won 68 of 191 games outright, just under 36 percent.

Here’s a look at the games that comprise the week fourteen schedule.

Thursday

Minnesota Vikings +8 at Arizona Cardinals (45.5): Arizona continues to show great balance on both sides of the football and continues to lead the NFL in the key metric of yards per play differential at plus 1.13. Pittsburgh is next best at plus 0.90. Minnesota is still experiencing the challenges of youth and the short week to prepare works against them. Arizona is poised to improve upon the 10 and 11 wins of the past two seasons. ARIZONA.

Sunday

Pittsburgh Steelers +3 at Cincinnati Bengals (No Total): Pittsburgh has been a scoring machine over the past month, tallying at least 30 points in 4 straight games but also allowed 35 and 39 points in two of them. Cincy won the first meeting in Pittsburgh, 16-10, and are an amazing 10-1-1 ATS this season, beating the spread by an average of 7.4 points per game! A win here clinches the AFC North title and keeps the Bengals on course for an opening round Bye. CINCINNATI.

Buffalo Bills +2 at Philadelphia Eagles (47): The Eagles used defense and special teams to upset New England last week but the offense continues to struggle, averaging barely 4 yards per play in their last two games. Buffalo’s aggressive defense should pressure Philly QB Sam Bradford into mistakes. The Eagles have been outgained by 520 total yards and 1.5 yards per play over their last three games. And note the sidebar to this game as Bills’ RB LeSean McCoy returns to Philly. BUFFALO.

Atlanta Falcons (+7.5) at Carolina Panthers (46.5): After scoring at least 25 points and averaging 32.4 points over those first 5 games the Falcons have not scored more than 21 points since, averaging just 16.7 ppg over their last 7 games while allowing a respectable 20.7 ppg over this same stretch. Rather than lay the points with a Panthers team that may struggle to remain unbeaten, let’s try to take advantage of the Falcons’ improved defense and declining offense. UNDER.

San Francisco 49ers +2 at Cleveland Browns (41): Cleveland will go back to QB Johnny Manziel as the Browns remain a mess with plenty of turmoil within the organization. The 49ers have had similar issues all season but seem to have put them aside as QB Blaine Gabbert has settled in as starter and the team, as a whole, is playing better. The Niners have gone 3-4 since a 1-4 start and finally won a road game last week, in overtime at Chicago Scheduling dynamics greatly favor the Browns but at 2-10 they cannot be trusted. At the same time it’s hard to back the 49ers with their anemic offense. UNDER.

Washington Redskins +3 at Chicago Bears (No Total): The Bears could be on a 9 game winning streak as their 4 losses in this stretch have been by 3, 3 and 2 points in addition to the overtime loss. Washington is 0-5 SU, 1-4 ATS on the road. But Chicago is just 1-5 SU, 1-4-1 ATS at home. But Chicago has shown improvement under first year coach John Fox and have the edge at the skilled positions. CHICAGO.

Detroit Lions +1 at St. Louis Rams(41): With both teams 4-8 neither will make the Playoffs and are playing out the string. Despite the disparate season arcs of these teams the preference is for the hosts. The Lions are off of 3 straight road games and the upset win at Green Bay last month was their lone win away from Detroit this season, making it tough to call for a win at a near pick ‘em price. ST. LOUIS.

San Diego Chargers +10 at Kansas City Chiefs (45.5): The Chargers have lost 7 of 8 and are just playing out the string before a likely move to Los Angeles. Three weeks ago KC crushed the Chargers in San Diego, winning 33-3 with a 385 to 201 yardage edge. Allowing 17 points to Denver last week was the first time this season San Diego had allowed fewer than 22 points. The Chiefs have not allowed more than 22 points in 8 straight games. KANSAS CITY.

New Orleans Saints +3.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (50.5): Tampa Bay continues to progress each week with first year quarterback Jameis Winston justifying the decision to draft him number one. The Bucs have won 3 of 4 and at 6-6 are a Wild Card contender. Having a strong running game is a big help and the Bucs have rushed for over 130 yards in 7 of their last 9 games. Their defense allows 1.4 yards less per play than the Saints. TAMPA BAY.

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (No Line): Indianapolis has won 16 straight games vs Division foes including defeating each rival earlier this season. They’ve gone 12-2-2 ATS but both ATS losses came this season, indicative of a narrowing of the gap. One was in their 16-13 overtime win vs the Jags in a game Jacksonville should have won. Jacksonville has shown modest improvement over the past month and has the better defensive stats and has been better at avoiding those turnovers. JACKSONVILLE.

Tennessee Titans +7 at NY Jets (43): Titans QB Marcus Mariota did display his talents in the Titans’ wild 42-39 win last week. Of their 9 losses, however, 5 have been by 6 points or less which is an encouraging sign for the future. It also provides value as the public perception of the Titans is of a 3-9 team rather one that is not that far from being 8-4 and one that is catching the Jets off an emotional win against their co-tenants which means plenty of chest pounding this week in the New York newspapers. TENNESSEE.

New England Patriots -3.5 at Houston Texans (44.5): The injury issues to the offense remain a concern and it is still uncertain if TE Rob Gronkowski will return for this game. The Pats remain vulnerable against a defense that has played at a high level over the past month and prior to last week at Buffalo had held 4 straight foes to under 270 yards of total offense. New England has allowed over 400 total yards and at least 26 points in each of its last 3 road games. HOUSTON.

Oakland Raiders +7.5 at Denver Broncos (43.5): Oakland continues to suffer from a lack of depth and experience, losing 4 of 5 with the lone win their controversial last minute win at Tennessee two weeks ago. The Broncos were fortunate to win the first meeting, 16-10 in Oakland, as that game was statistically even. That close effort should have the Broncos focused for the rematch and QB Brock Osweiler continues to improve with each successive start in place of the still injured Peyton Manning. DENVER.

Dallas Cowboys +7 at Green Bay Packers (No Total): Dallas played Monday night and was still winless without injured QB Tony Romo as the starter. The offense has consistently struggled without Romo and the likely harsh conditions at Lambeau field are not likely to help. Both offenses may find it tough sustaining drives or making the big play which tends to favor a lack of scoring opportunities. UNDER.

Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens (No Line): Backup QB Matt Schaub, starting in place of the injured Joe Flacco, was injured last week and his uncertain status keeps this game off the boards on Monday. Seattle is likely to be at least a TD favorite here as they come off of their best outing of the season, a 39-7 rout of Minnesota in their first road game in over a month. Injuries have plagued the Ravens all season and despite their pedigree and solid coaching at this point they are overmatched as they face a team playing as they did the past two seasons, going 10-1-1 ATS in their final 6 games and are already 2-0 this season. SEATTLE.

Monday

NY Giants (Pick ’em) at Miami Dolphins (47): Both teams have more negatives than positives but at least the Giants are plus 11 in scoring differential while the Dolphins are minus 60. The Giants have had trouble protecting fourth quarter leads and could easily be 10-2 but for those late collapses. As such there are more reasons to back the visiting Giants with a first half play on the G-Men also a consideration in case their fourth quarter woes continue. NY GIANTS.

NFL Last Week: 9-6-0

NFL Season: 92-94-5

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]

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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