Two shocking endings with playoff implications

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As is the case in promoting television shows and movies, here is a Spoiler Alert. This is a Triple Wow column.

Wow Number One involves one of the most surprising and impressive results of this or any season. It’s the best word to describe what happened in Seattle this past Sunday in the NFC West showdown between the Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams. The game was expected to determine the Division winner, with the loser facing a tough road to make the Playoffs as a Wild Card.

A Seattle win would have evened the teams at 9-5 with the Seahawks holding the tie breaker as a result of having swept the Rams in their season series as they won in Los Angeles, 16-10, in Week 5. A Rams win would have evened the season series but with a two-game lead in the Division.

The game was priced as roughly a pick ‘em and thus a competitive game was anticipated. That anticipation lasted perhaps into the middle of the first quarter with the Rams leading, 13-0. Then came the onslaught as the Rams scored 21 more points to lead 34-0 at the half.

The Rams added further validation to their status as a legitimate contender in what has become a wide open NFC with Philadelphia, Minnesota, Carolina, New Orleans and even defending NFC Champion Atlanta all capable of making a run at the Super Bowl.

Wow Number Two was the much anticipated meeting between the top two teams in the AFC, Pittsburgh and New England, that came down to several key plays and decisions in the final minutes. The bottom line is New England continued its mastery over the Steelers despite not playing its best football for most of the game.

Ultimately the Pats prevailed, 27-24, in what could be a preview of the AFC Title game that now would most likely be played in New England. But let’s not count out the Jacksonville Jaguars from spoiling a second Pats vs. Steelers meeting.

That result also was significant for those who played the Patriots OVER their Season Wins Total, which opened last spring at 11.5 but was bet up to and closed at 12.5.

Finally, Wow Number Three. This one expresses further bewilderment over those who continue to back the Cleveland Browns. After Baltimore was a 7-point road favorite all week against the Browns the late money Sunday morning showed up on Cleveland, with the line closing at 6.5. Again, after teasing their fans in the first half to trail 17-10 at intermission, the Browns were shut out in the second half in a 27-10 loss.

The Browns are now 1-29 SU since the start of the 2016 season and are also just 7-23 ATS during this span. Backing them continues to be a path toward financial ruin. The last time the Browns had a winning record against the pointspread was in 2014 when they were 9-7 ATS. Since the start of 2015 Cleveland is 12-33-1 ATS while winning just 4 of 46 games!

Wow, once again, but for a different reason. And since the start of 2015 Cleveland is just 24-22 in 6-point Teasers, losing to the pointspread by an average of 5.0 points per game over the 46 games, including by an average of 5.8 points per game this season.

Only two teams in the NFC have clinched Playoff berths. Philadelphia has clinched the NFC East title and a first round bye. Minnesota has clinched the NFC North. In the AFC three teams have clinched Playoff berths with New England claiming a ninth straight AFC East title and Pittsburgh clinching the AFC North title. Also clinching at least a Wild Card berth is Jacksonville.

Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis and the New York Jets have been mathematically eliminated in the AFC. And in the NFC Arizona, Chicago, the New York Giants, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Washington are sure to miss the Playoffs.

Here are previews of the 16 games that make up the Week 16 schedule that includes a pair of Saturday games and also a pair of games on Christmas day. Happy holiday wishes to all.

Saturday

Indianapolis +12.5 at Baltimore (41): Baltimore still has a top notch defense and an offense that is showing better balance in winning four of its last five. The Colts are playing outdoors and any inclement weather or bitterly cold temperatures work against them. Baltimore should take the field with an aggressive mentality and this game could get out of hand if the Ravens can get an early lead. BALTIMORE

Minnesota NL at Green Bay: If favored Atlanta won at Tampa Bay Monday night the 7-7 Packers would have been eliminated from the Playoffs and QB Aaron Rodgers would likely be shut down for the final two games. Minnesota already knows it will host at least one game in the Playoffs and might also look to give backup QB Teddy Bridgewater some additional work after he returned last week to see his first action since 2015. GREEN BAY

Sunday

Detroit -4.5 at Cincinnati (43): We often talk of pride when assessing the chances of players and teams having disappointing seasons and perhaps that will be a factor here. This is Cincinnati’s final home game and with all the pressure on the Lions, who have not played well on the road over the second half of the season, this has the look of a game coming down to the final possession. CINCINNATI

LA Chargers -7 at NY Jets (42.5): The Jets have played very well at home all season, going 4-3 SU, 6-1 ATS, with all four wins as underdogs and the three losses by 7, 5 and 8 points to likely Playoff-bound New England, Atlanta and Carolina. The pressure is all on the Chargers and while an outright upset would not surprise, the Jets’ play at home supports a play taking the points. NY JETS

LA Rams -6.5 at Tennessee (48.5): Since losing in Week 1 to Oakland, Tennessee is 5-0 SU at home (3-1-1 ATS) although they were favored in all five. Their last two losses were by 5 and 2 points, albeit at Arizona and San Francisco. They do step up in class here but given their performances at home, a possible lessened intensity from the Rams following last week’s rout of Seattle, and with a Playoff berth within their control the Titans deserve serious consideration. TENNESSEE

Cleveland +6.5 at Chicago (38.5): Chicago has scored 17 points or less in 10 of 14 games. The Browns have done the same but have also scored 21 or less in 12 of 14. Those numbers suggest those offenses cannot take advantage against the weaker defenses they face. These defenses are actually in the top dozen, allowing 5.1 and 5.2 yards per play. They are a combined 10-17-1 to the UNDER and for the season they average a combined 31.5 total points per game. UNDER

Tampa Bay +9.5 at Carolina (NT): Prior to Monday night Tampa’s previous two losses were by 6 and 3 points. All the pressure is on Carolina and in their last two games they saw big leads shrink in wins over Minnesota and Green Bay. While a blowout is certainly possible, the preference is to take what will likely be close to double digits with a Division rival. TAMPA BAY

Atlanta +5.5 at New Orleans (NT): This is a quick rematch of the game played two Thursdays ago in Atlanta, won by the Falcons, 20-17. The Saints, who finish at Tampa Bay next week, have a chance to be in position to win the Division with a win here by earning a split in the season series and improving to 4-1 in Division play. NEW ORLEANS

Denver +3.5 at Washington (41): Washington has scored 20 points or less in four straight games and defensively is vulnerable to the run, allowing over 140 rushing yards in four of its last five games. Their own running game has been weak, which puts more pressure on a passing game that has averaged just 187 net passing yards over their past four games. DENVER

Miami +10 at Kansas City (44): This is a big number for the Chiefs to cover as they play the last of a three-game homestand. But with a chance to wrap up the Division and playing as well as they have over the past two weeks on both sides of the football they enjoy most of the edges. KANSAS CITY

Buffalo +12.5 at New England (47): At 8-6 Buffalo is seeking its first trip to the Playoffs since 1999. If the Bills can avoid mistakes they have an excellent chance of keeping this a one-possession game although we’d have to expect the Pats to get the SU win. BUFFALO

Jacksonville -4.5 at San Francisco (42.5): The 49ers have won three in a row and seem to have found a keeper in ex-New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo. We should get a fully focused effort from the Jags against a team that no longer will be overlooked or taken for granted. JACKSONVILLE

NY Giants +4.5 at Arizona (40): Prior to last week the Giants had scored 17 points or less in four straight and in six of seven. Arizona has scored 21 or fewer points in 11 of 13 games. UNDER.

Seattle +4.5 at Dallas (47.5): Dallas gets RB Ezekiel Elliot back and after losing the first three games of his suspension the Cowboys have won three in a row. Both teams are 8-6, which makes this a virtual elimination game. Dallas was 5-3 before the Elliot suspension. DALLAS

Monday

Pittsburgh -10 at Houston (44.5): Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown is expected to miss this game after being injured last week. Houston has scored under 17 points in four straight and in six of its last seven. UNDER.

Oakland +9.5 at Philadelphia (48.5): Philadelphia has already secured a first round bye and controls the top NFC seed. At 6-7 the Raiders have been outscored by 40 points and outgained by 22 yards per game, stats not much worse than those posted last season when they went 12-4 but had the stats of a .500 team, giving false hope for this season. PHILADELPHIA

Last week: 5-9-1 (w/o MNF)

Season: 113-104-5

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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