Happy Holidays everyone! The NFL gift giving season begins next weekend with the start of the playoffs. Hopefully we will be given a quartet of great games as the race to Super Bowl XLVII begins its single elimination phase.
Twenty teams will have packed away their equipment and begin to prepare for the upcoming off season, focusing on the April draft and the potential free agent market.
Some organizations will also be announcing major front office changes including the replacement of head coaches and/or general managers as the search for replacements begin.
One rather important piece of business remains to be handled and that occurs this coming Sunday when the field of 12 playoff teams will be filled out and the seeding of the 6 in each conference will be determined.
Week 17 always presents a handicapping challenge because of the situations that may surround each game and the prospects for some teams to totally or at least partially rest starters. Point spreads are often out of whack as compared to what they might be if that same matchup were played in midseason.
Interestingly, home favorites have excelled in the final week of the season in recent years. Since 2007 they have gone an impressive 32-18-2 ATS (64 percent) with a profitable record in each of the five seasons. Home underdogs have not been quite as successful but still have gone 14-11-1 ATS (56 percent) over the time span.
The challenge for GamingToday columnists this week is even greater. Keep in mind as you read the following previews prepared prior to the playing of any Week 16 games due to our publishing deadline for the holidays. As such any playoff determinations that may have occurred as a result of Week 16’s games have not been considered in the writeups.
All of the final week’s games will be played on Sunday, Dec. 30.
Jets at Bills: Both teams are out of the playoffs so motivation must be questioned. It’s been a disappointing season for both as each was a popular preseason choice to be playing in January. The Bills are more likely to make a coaching change so their level of preparation may be less than at midseason levels. The Jets should be giving backup QB Greg McElroy a second straight start. That might just be enough of an edge to back the visitors. JETS.
Dolphins at Patriots: New England may rest some players especially if expected to be the AFC’s third seed and not have a bye next week. Miami has shown progress behind rookie QB Ryan Tannehill and a new coaching staff. Although New England did lost its last home games against San Francisco, HC Bill Belichick sees the big picture and will not be concerned with factors that do not have a positive impact on his team’s chances of returning to the Super Bowl. DOLPHINS.
Ravens at Bengals: This game may decided the AFC North title and a wild card at home next week if the Ravens lost to the Giants and the Bengals upset the Steelers. Baltimore is already in the playoffs but the Bengals may not be. Baltimore waxed Cincy at home to open the season and the Bengals have a chance for meaningful revenge. Baltimore’s age and injury issues may have them resting players since they will be in action next week regardless of the venue. Cincinnati should have the greater send of urgency. BENGALS.
Browns at Steelers: Cleveland has long known its 2012 season ends after this game although there was steady overall improvement over the second half of the season. Last week’s results may have eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs but a win over Cincinnati should have kept those hopes alive. Both teams have been more consistent on defense and the Steelers are less likely to take risks on offense, having the better and more experienced talent. UNDER.
Texans at Colts: This game could be meaningless for one or both teams. Both were favored last week and a Colts win clinched a Wild Card whereas a Texans win gave Houston the top overall AFC seed. Both teams may give their starters limited action which could be a benefit for developing playoff depth. If such is the case we could see a sloppily played game with turnovers depressing scoring chances. UNDER.
Jaguars at Titans: Both teams are ending disappointing seasons, neither of which comes as a surprise given preseason expectations. The Jags have dealt with key personnel losses and may have the top draft choice next spring. Tennessee has the more talented roster and is playing to avenge an earlier loss to the Jags, one of only two wins Jacksonville has recorded. TITANS.
Eagles at Giants: This disappointing season for Philly comes to an end here and with it likely the long coaching tenure of Andy Reid. If the Giants won at Baltimore on Sunday they clinch a playoff spot with a win here. The Giants are accustomed to winning late season games but even if they’ve been eliminated for the playoffs are more likely to give the better effort, especially since losing to Philly earlier. GIANTS.
Cowboys at Redskins: This game most likely decides the NFC East title. Dallas seeks to avenge its Thanksgiving Day home loss to the Redskins. Washington had won and covered five straight heading to Philadelphia last week and they’ve got two excellent rookie quarterbacks. A Dallas win over the Saints will have done more to erase the memories of prior December failures. The selection is based on that result. If Dallas beat New Orleans, the play is COWBOYS. If not, then REDSKINS.
Bears at Lions: A win at Arizona may have Chicago still alive for the playoffs but a loss has them playing for little other than pride. The Lions have been out of the playoffs for some time but might be motivated to knock off their long time rivals and avenge a 13-7 loss from October. Detroit does have the better offense and the defense is healthier. LIONS.
Packers at Vikings: This game might have meaning for both teams although a loss at Houston last week should have eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs. Green Bay may have a shot at a first round bye. The Vikes will be eager for RB Adrian Peterson to add to his impressive rushing totals and make a case for his being league MVP. UNDER.
Bucs at Falcons: Atlanta may rest players, especially if they wrapped up the top NFC seed last week. Tampa Bay has played hard all season and will be a chic team to back as new HC Greg Schiano has turned around the team’s culture. Tampa should again play hard and would like to avenge last month’s tough 24-23 home loss to the Falcons. BUCS.
Panthers at Saints: Both are out of the playoffs but each has played well over the latter half of the season. Carolina QB Cam Newton has overcome a sluggish start. New Orleans QB Drew Brees had a few bad games in tossing interceptions but still has compiled impressive stats. This should be a wide open game between a pair of teams capable of scoring quickly. OVER.
Chiefs at Broncos: Denver may need a win here to secure the 2 seed for the playoffs. Kansas City’s turbulent and challenging season comes to an end. The offense has been a no-show since the end of September, averaging less than 11 ppg for the 10 games prior to last week against the Colts. The defense has played reasonably well during this same stretch. Denver should be more concerned with shortening this game and staying healthy, meaning fewer possessions. UNDER.
Raiders at Chargers: This long time rivalry has little meaning as both teams close out disappointing seasons. Neither team will even sniff a .500 record and each may have new coaches for 2013. The teams have combined for just 9 wins yet ironically both upset Pittsburgh and swept Kansas City. Oakland seems to be the healthier of the two teams and should be getting points. RAIDERS.
Cards at 49ers: San Francisco may need this game to clinch the NFC West title and possibly the 2 seed as well. Arizona is ending a disappointing season that had a promising 4-0 beginning. 49ers HC Jim Harbaugh’s mentality is to not let his team take weeks off and we may see Alex Smith get extended works. The line may actually be reasonable, especially if the Niners’ playoff seeding is known prior to kickoff. 49ERS.
Rams at Seahawks: Seattle may have already clinched a playoff spot by kickoff. St. Louis has had a better than expected season under new HC Jeff Fisher and prospects for the future are bright as the team adds depth. Seattle was a perfect 6-0 both SU and ATS at home prior to last week’s showdown with SF. There’s a chance the Seahawks may rest players if playing a wild card game. UNDER.
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]