Patriots likely to join Cowboys having home field in playoffs

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For 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams all of the planning and preparation that began nearly a year ago come to an end for the 2016 season once the games of next Sunday have been completed.

The remaining one dozen teams will advance to the Playoffs that will result in the crowning of the Super Bowl 51 Champion on February 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston. The city’s team, the Texans, will have the chance to play hosts as they won the AFC South this past weekend. In fact, all six AFC Playoff teams have been determined with only the seedings still to be sorted out based on how week 17 plays out.

New England and Pittsburgh join Houston as Division winners with the AFC West to be decided this week. Oakland enters the final week with a one-game lead over Kansas City but the Chiefs own the tiebreaker should they win at San Diego and the Raiders lose at Denver. Both teams have already clinched a spot in the playoffs with the Division winner likely to be the 2 seed and the other likely seeded fifth.

The sixth team in the AFC Playoffs will be Miami. Dolphins’ first season coach Adam Gase is in the running for Coach of the Year honors along with Oakland’s Jack del Rio among a few others. Miami hosts likely top seed New England and has already won 10 games.

Oakland’s chances of making a deep run in the Playoffs were, literally, hurt greatly when potential MVP QB Derek Carr broke his fibula in the win over Indianapolis and is out for the duration of this season. In fact, half of the AFC Playoff field will likely have to rely on backup quarterbacks.

In addition to Oakland backup Matt McGloin, Houston’s Tom Savage and Miami’s Matt Moore will be starting Playoff games as the Texans’ Brock Osweiler was benched two weeks ago and the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill was likely lost for the season when he was injured in a Week 14 win over Arizona.

There are three teams contending for the two remaining Playoff spots in the NFC although two of those teams – Detroit and Green Bay – will meet on Sunday night to determine the NFC North winner. Whether the loser of the season’s final regular season game makes the Playoffs as a Wild Card will depend on what happened on Monday night and what happens earlier in the day on Sunday.

If Detroit upset Dallas on Monday night the Lions would have won their tenth win of the season and will be assured of at least a Wild Card berth. But if the favored Cowboys won the Lions might need a win to make the Playoffs as both Washington (8-6-1) and Tampa Bay (8-7) have a chance to earn a Wild Card.

Atlanta, Dallas, the New York Giants and Seattle have already clinched Playoff berths with the Cowboys having clinched the number 1 seed. The Falcons and Seahawks are Division winners while the New York Giants are assured a Wild Card and will play next week on the road.

Handicapping Week 17 presents the biggest challenge of the season due to the tremendous uncertainties surrounding most of the games.

Over the preceding 16 weeks most of the uncertainties involve the status of injured players. But in Week 17 other factors are in play that generally occur only in this week.

Most involve the vast majority of the teams that have been eliminated from the Playoffs. Motivation and the degree of game preparation are paramount among the factors. Add in the distractions this season of the week leading up to the game being between Christmas and New Year’s and concerns related to preparation are heightened.

There are also uncertainties involving teams that have already secured spots in the Playoffs and perhaps even have their seed determined. Some teams will rest starters, especially teams that will be playing the following week in a Wild Card game. Other teams may play starters for a portion of their game.

Most of the fundamentals used in handicapping games during the prior 16 weeks still apply but the degree to which they are applicable will vary on a game by game basis.

The bottom line for Week 17 is to exercise caution. Pointspreads may often look odd based on how the teams have performed over their previous 15 games.

In the six seasons from 2010 through 2015 home teams were 60-36 SU in week 17 (62.5 percent) and 52-41-3 ATS (55.9 percent). There have been 55 UNDERS, 39 OVERS and 2 pushes (58.5 percent UNDER).

Putting these Week 17 results into perspective consider that over the past six seasons the first 16 weeks saw home teams win 56.5 percent of non-tie games SU and cover in 48.7 percent of non-push games. In games not resulting in pushes, 50.9 percent played prior to Week 17 went OVER.

How weird was Week 16? Consider that three teams with a combined 4-38 each won games. Cleveland avoided a winless season with its home win over San Diego while Jacksonville and San Francisco each won their third games of the season with wins over Tennessee and Los Angeles respectively.

Wishing our readers all the best for the New Year, here’s a look at the final regular season week of action.

Last week: 7-7-1

Season total: 115-114-5

NFL

Houston +2.5 at Tennessee (40.5): Tennessee QB Marcus Mariotta suffered a season ending injury in last week’s loss at Jacksonville. Both offenses are strong in the running game and weak passing the football so expect a heavy does of running in a game that should be played in less than three hours. UNDER

Buffalo -6 at NY Jets (44): With nothing on the line and the Jets in turmoil the preference is to back the more talented team with the better running game and a more versatile QB. BUFFALO

Baltimore +2 at Cincinnati (41): With the better running game and a QB who commits fewer turnovers the hosts are better positioned to end the season on a high note. CINCINNATI

NY Giants +7.5 at Washington (44): The Giants might rest their starters with a Wild Card game the next week. Washington was impressive in routing Chicago last week, rushing for over 200 yards. They figure to be the much more aggressive team in this game. WASHINGTON

Green Bay NL at Detroit: Pedigree and experience point to the Packers but without knowing the Monday result the preferred call is for a high scoring game in which both teams’ passing attacks have performed much better than their running games all season. And the game is indoors. OVER

Jacksonville +4.5 at Indy (47): Indy QB Andrew Luck’s comments following the loss at Oakland that officially eliminated the Colts from the Playoffs that suggested he felt he let his teammates down could signal a motivated effort here. This is also revenge for a London loss to the Jags. INDY

Dallas NL at Philadelphia: It’s hazardous to make a side selection so the preference will be to go with the expectation of conservative game plans from both coaches. UNDER

Chicago +5.5 at Minnesota (41): After allowing no more than 26 points in their first 13 games the Vikes allowed 34 and 38 the past two weeks. Chicago won the first meeting at home and with this rematch having no implications for either team we might see a shootout in a game played indoors. OVER

Carolina +5 at TB (47): The Bucs are a young team on the rise and would be more likely than the Panthers to put forth a focused effort for first year coach Dirk Koetter. They had won five in a row prior to road losses at Dallas and New Orleans, winning and covering each of their last 3 games at home. TAMPA BAY

Cleveland +7.5 at Pittsburgh (44.5): Given that the Steelers should emphasize the run to lessen the number of offensive plays and the lack of a Cleveland offense to expect a low scoring game makes sense. UNDER

New Orleans +7 at Atlanta (55.5): The Saints have topped 30 points 8 times this season and Atlanta has scored at least 30 points in 10 games. Sometimes the obvious makes sense. OVER

New England -10 at Miami (44.5): This will be the Pats’ first game against a team headed to the Playoffs since they lost at home to Seattle in week 10. Miami should want to sustain its momentum heading into the Playoffs and should be competitive throughout. MIAMI

Arizona -6 at Los Angeles (41): Arizona QB Carson Palmer returns to the city where he starred in college at USC. That might be enough motivation for the Cards to play well and provides a weak nod towards the visitors who seek to avenge a 17-13 home loss to the Rams, who have since lost 10 of 11. ARIZONA

KC -4 at San Diego (45): The Chargers blew a 17 point lead in their opening week loss in Kansas City. Although San Diego QB Philip Rivers never quits and always plays hard the same might not be true of his teammates who can’t wait for this season to end. KANSAS CITY

Seattle -10 at SF (43): San Francisco has been involved in 5 of those games, going 1-4 ATS as double digit dogs. Seattle will be looking to stay healthy, not take too many risks and escape with a win over an inferior foe. Their defense remains elite and should set the tone for this game. UNDER

Oakland +3 at Denver (42): The Denver defense is proud and was embarrassed in the KC loss. Pride still matters, especially when it comes to defense and expect the Broncos to harass the inexperienced Matt McGloin, potentially forcing multiple turnovers. DENVER

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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