The NFL regular season is about to enter the climactic stage of the season as teams fall out of Playoffs contention or edge closer to assuring themselves of a 17th game.
With the final Byes taking place last week all 32 teams have now played 10 games with 6 remaining. Entering Monday night the lone unbeatens were Carolina and New England. The Patriots were favored to get by Buffalo.
Of the eight divisions five are led by teams with records of 8-2 or better which makes the league look good. Even Green Bay and Minnesota are tied atop the NFC North at 7-3 and on pace for at least 10 wins.
The NFL is in danger of having perhaps two divisions being won by teams with records of 8-8 or worse. Indianapolis and Houston are tied for first in the AFC South at 5-5. The New York Giants lead the NFC East at 5-5 with both Philadelphia and Washington a game behind at 4-6.
The winners of the NFC East and AFC South will host Wild Card games.
It’s time for the NFL to do what has been called for Major League Baseball to adopt and what the NBA has recently done and that is to seed the Playoff teams based on their records rather than whether or not they won their division.
Winning a division with an 8-8 record or worse is itself an indicator that the winner plays in a weak Division with 6 of its 16 games coming against rivals who could not win more than 8 games overall.
Here’s a look at the full schedule of 16 games to be played over the long Thanksgiving Day weekend.
Eagles -1 at Lions (46): After starting 0-5 the Lions have won 3 of 5 and have shown some toughness, a quality that seems to be lacking with the Eagles. The Lions have not had great success hosting their annual Turkey Day game but they generally play hard. The short week of preparation should favor the hosts while the Eagles are dealing with all of the distractions of what has gone wrong and could be creating a toxic situation in the locker room. LIONS.
Panthers +1 at Cowboys (46): Dallas will clearly be motivated to end Carolina’s unbeaten season and did run for 125 yards per game when Romo was sidelined. With back to back road games up next, this is the make or break game for any chances Dallas has to make such a run. COWBOYS.
Bears +8.5 at Packers (47.5): Thanksgiving Day dessert will be served up in the form of an old fashioned NFC North battle between long time rivals. Despite the 30 points against Minnesota, the Green Bay offense averaged just 4.6 yards per play. The Bears have held 3 straight foes under 20 points and the night time conditions could favor the defenses more than the offenses. UNDER.
Saints +3 at Texans (48): It may take time for the Saints defense to show improvement even though the Bye week will have been a benefit. But until that improvement is demonstrated it’s hard to back the Saints who will now be facing a defense capable of frustrating QB Drew Brees and the Saints offense. TEXANS.
Vikings +2.5 at Falcons (46): Minnesota is the better defensive team with an offense that features an elite running back, Adrian Peterson. They also are among the best in avoiding turnovers. Minnesota appears to clearly be the better team. Remembering that in roughly 85 percent of games the line does not come into play you might consider the Vikes for a money line play if you cannot find plus 3. VIKINGS.
Rams +8 at Bengals (42): After starting 8-0 Cincinnati has lost back to back games but both were games they easily could have won late. St. Louis has been a disappointment and the change in starting QB from Nick Foles to Case Keenum did not jump start the offense against what has been a very vulnerable Baltimore defense. The Bengals have a better defense than the Ravens but their offense will also face a quality St. Louis defense. The better option is the total. UNDER.
Bucs +3 at Colts (46.5): Tampa has won two straight road games and is on a current 5-1 ATS run. Still, laying a FG or less with the Colts at home makes sense, especially since they’ve had success with backup veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck. The Colts have shown they can win outside their Division with back to back wins over Denver and Atlanta. COLTS.
NY Giants -2 at Redskins (46.5): New York has the clear edge at QB although Kirk Cousins has topped 300 yards for Washington in 2 of his last 4 games. Both teams have low ranked defenses that allow roughly 6 yards per play. And neither is averaging 100 rushing yards per game. These characteristics set up nicely for a high scoring game featuring plenty of passing. OVER.
Raiders -2 at Titans (44): Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota is having the typical ups and downs experienced by rookies. But there are signs that he has the solid upside predicted of him. As poor a season as they are having it’s uncertain if the Titans deserve to be home underdogs to a team that, despite 2 road wins this season, is still just 4-26 SU away from home since 2012. Oakland appears to be wearing down and the Titans do have several extra days of rest after playing last Thursday. TITANS.
Bills +4 at Chiefs (41): Both teams have top ten rushing offenses, solid defenses and excel at avoiding turnovers. Combined with the importance of this game and the possibility of weather being an issue, this sets up nicely for a physical, low scoring contest with both quarterbacks known more for being game managers than big playmakers, although Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor has that capability. UNDER.
Miami +3.5 at NY Jets (42.5): Both offenses have struggled over the last month with Miami failing to top 20 points in four straight games and the Jets doing the same in 3 of its last 4. With both teams below .500 ATS it’s hard to recommend either team with much enthusiasm, leaving the Total as the more confident play. UNDER.
Chargers +4 at Jaguars (46.5): The Jaguars have little home fan support largely to being such a poor team going back nearly a decade – they last had a winning record in 2007. San Diego has the much better roster and QB Philip Rivers is still at the top of his game. It’s hard to trust a team such as the Jags to lay any points, especially more than a FG, against a veteran, though banged up, foe. CHARGERS.
Cards -10 at 49ers (44.5): Arizona won the earlier meeting 47-7, outgaining the 49ers 446 to 156. Normally such domination would cause the first look to the underdog seeking revenge for a humiliating defeat. But the gap between these teams continues to widen as the Cards ascend and the Niners are in descent. Six of San Francisco’s 7 losses have been by 14 points or more. CARDINALS.
Steelers +4.5 at Seahawks (44.5): The Steelers are off of a much needed Bye and QB Ben Roethlisberger should be closer to full strength than when he was called upon in relief prior to the Bye when Landry Jones started in place of injured Big Ben but was himself injured. Pittsburgh has an above average offense that could exploit a Seattle defense that continues to perform the level of the past few seasons. But the same can be said for the Seattle offense versus the Pittsburgh defense. OVER.
Patriots +5.5 at Broncos (47.5): New England’s last game in Denver was their 2013 26-16 Playoff loss, a loss they avenged last season at home in midseason. If still unbeaten, this version of the Pats is at least a TD weaker than the 2007 team that was 18-0 before their Super Bowl loss. In what will be a frenzied Sunday night atmosphere the call is for the Pats to either suffer their first loss of the season or back to back losses as Atlanta, Cincinnati, Green Bay and these same Broncos did after each started 5-0 or better. BRONCOS.
Ravens +2.5 at Browns (41): QB Joe Flacco and RB Justin Forsett are both lost for the season following injuries in last week’s win over St Louis. Cleveland is not in much better shape. Johnny Manziel has been named the starting QB for the balance of the season. As a team, Cleveland has not rushed for more than 116 yards in any game. Cleveland is off a Bye but favored for just the third time this season. Laying less than a FG with the hosts may be the lesser of two unattractive options with the unpredictability of Manziel keying the win in what could also be a low scoring game. BROWNS.
NFL Last Week: 7-5-1
(not including MNF)
NFL Season: 74-80-5
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]