The final quarter of the NFL’s regular season got underway with no fewer than five outright upset wins by underdogs, including three over teams seeking to make the Playoffs.
To be fair, Pittsburgh’s victory over Cincinnati – technically an upset as the Bengals were the smallest of favorites – did involve two teams battling to make the playoffs. When Cincy QB Andy Dalton and TE Tyler Eifert were injured early in the game the Bengals’ chances to sweep their AFC North Division rivals were all but extinguished.
The biggest upset of the day involved a team contending for the top seed in the AFC. After settling for four first half field goals Denver was shut out in the second half as Oakland rallied from a 12-0 halftime deficit to deal the Broncos a 15-12 defeat. Denver dominated Oakland in the first half, gaining 204 yards while holding the Raiders to -12 and a single first down while gaining 17 of their own. Ouch!
Tampa Bay’s remote chances of earning a Wild Card are pretty much gone after losing at home to New Orleans. The same can be said for Chicago as the Bears lost at home for a second straight week, this time to Washington. The Redskins remain tied for first atop the NFC East with a 6-7 record.
St. Louis ended its five game losing streak with a 21-14 home win over Detroit in a game that saw the line move from Rams -1 to Lions -3.
Kansas City won its seventh straight but saw its six game ATS winning streak end. The Chiefs survived a late surge by San Diego to win a low scoring 10-3 decision.
But Atlanta, which started the season 5-0, lost its sixth straight game and dropped its ninth straight against the spread! The Falcons became the 13th straight victim of Carolina, which extended its regular season winning streak to 17 in a row. QB Cam Newton continues to make his case for league MVP as he led the Panthers to a 38-0 win, the most lopsided result of the week.
Jacksonville, the New York Jets, New England, Green Bay and Seattle also won games by at least 21 points.
The Jaguars’ 51-16 rout of Indianapolis is noteworthy as it ended the Colts’ 16 game winning streak versus AFC South rivals. The win also has the Jags just one game out of first place in that division despite their 5-8 record. They end the season with a revenge game at the other first place team, Houston.
It’s been a wild season thus far and there is the real possibility the AFC South and NFC East will be won by teams with 7-9 or 8-8 records. With three games left, neither division can be won by a team with better than a 9-7 record.
Carolina has already clinched the NFC South title while both Arizona and New England have clinched playoff spots. Cincinnati and Denver each have 10 wins and are in position to clinch a spot in the playoffs this weekend although each will be relying on a backup QB. That is unless Denver’s Peyton Manning is cleared to play and gets his job back after Brock Osweiler’s poor effort last week vs. Oakland.
At the other end of the standings are Cleveland, Tennessee and San Diego. Each is 3-10 and contending for the top choice in the NFL draft. There are four others at 4-9, including a pair of teams that made the Playoffs last season – Baltimore and Dallas. The plight of the Ravens and Cowboys illustrates just how important injuries are as both have suffered key injuries from the very start of the season.
Here’s a look at Week 15, which includes the first of two Saturday games.
Pro Football – Thursday
Tampa Bay Buccaneers pick at St. Louis Rams (41): Tampa Bay had been playing well, winning 3 of 4, before losing as a home favorite last week to the Saints, perhaps indicative of a young team not ready to handle the pressure of being in Playoff contention. Both teams should be loose for this game as they play out the string. Often that leads to better efforts from the offense than from the defense and the indoor conditions will be ideal. OVER.
Pro Football – Saturday
NY Jets -3 at Dallas Cowbosy (42): Both teams have been able to run the football but the Jets have played the better defense though their statistical edge is not that great. Despite playing in the weak NFC East, Dallas has played the tougher schedule. Dallas’ foes are 91-75 whereas the Jets’ foes are just 73-93. All the pressure is on the Jets who, even if they win out, will need help to earn the Wild Card. Dallas is playing for next season. DALLAS.
Pro Football – Sunday
Chicago Bears +5 at Minnesota Vikings (43): The Vikings have the edge in the rushing game, both on offense and defense. After back-to-back home losses to Green Bay and Seattle the Vikes step down in class and face a team they defeated 23-20 in Chicago earlier with an overall statistical edge but a minus 1 turnover differential. And the extra time to prepare following back-to-back losses also helps. MINNESOTA.
Atlanta Falcons +3 at Jacksonville Jaguars (48.5): The Falcons catch Jacksonville with positive momentum, winning 4 of 7 (after going 4-18 since the start of 2014), going 5-1-1 ATS that includes a pair of covering wins as favorites. The struggles have continued for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, which has put added pressure on a defense that has been clearly worn down. JACKSONVILLE.
Houston Texans NL at Indianapolis Colts: The QB situation for both teams kept this game off the board at press time. Defense usually travels well and with such a huge disparity in these teams’ units the preference will be to rely on the better defense in a game that may well decide the AFC South. Houston is seeking to avenge an earlier loss to the Colts, creating the greater sense of urgency. HOUSTON.
Kansas City Chiefs -7.5 at Baltimore Ravens (43): In their winning streak of 7, KC has won all three road games by margins of 16, 30 and 14 points plus their 45-10 win over Detroit in London. The Ravens will again have trouble developing offensive consistency against a defense that has been among the league’s best over the second half of the season. KANSAS CITY.
Buffalo Bills pick at Washington Redskins (44): Buffalo continues to be plagued by too many penalties, a characteristic of Rex Ryan coached teams. The loss was Buffalo’s third straight (0-2-1 ATS) after starting 3-0 SU and ATS on the road. Washington is playing its final home game before games at Philly and Dallas, knowing a win here puts them in great shape to win the NFC East. WASHINGTON.
Tennessee Titans +14 at New England Patriots (46.5): This is New England’s final home game and a win clinches the AFC East title. These teams are meeting for just the fourth time in the past decade. The Pats have won the previous three by 17, 59 and, most recently in 2012, 21 points. This is when and where the Pats flex their muscles in preparing for the playoffs. It could get ugly early. NEW ENGLAND.
Arizona Cardinals -3.5 at Philadelphia Eagles (50.5): Philly has the league’s fourth worst offense on a yards per play basis. The Cards have a top ten defense and have won 3 of 4 vs. Philly as they meet for a fifth straight season. Although both are in contention for the Playoffs, their records reflect that one team is a true contender while the other is more of a pretender. ARIZONA.
Carolina Panthers NL at NY Giants: The Giants’ inability to protect late leads remains a major concern. Although in past seasons this would be a good spot for the Giants – who ended Denver’s 13-0 season in 1998 – this is not a good matchup for New York. The Giants are also off a short work week and the Panthers still have not locked up the top NFC seed. CAROLINA
Cleveland Browns +14.5 at Seattle Seahawks (43): Credit QB Johnny Manziel for leading the Browns to a home win last week over San Francisco. But the task get much tougher this week in Seattle, facing a team that has regained its swagger and playing by far its best football of the season. Seattle has scored at least 29 points in 5 straight games and only New Orleans has allowed more points than the Browns. QB Russell Wilson is at the top of his game. Five of Seattle’s 8 wins have been by 16 points or more, including three in their current four game winning streak. SEATTLE.
Green Bay Packers -3 at Oakland Raiders (47): Packers coach Mike McCarthy has taken over play calling and the result was their 28-7 win over Dallas in which the Packers ran for 230 yards and passed for 205. In years past there would be some temptation to take the FG with Oakland but note the Raiders have been outscored by 2 points per game. Green Bay needs the win and this is the easiest of their final three games with games at Arizona and host Minnesota concluding their regular season. GREEN BAY.
Miami Dolphins NL at San Diego Chargers: This could be the Chargers’ last game in San Diego and some faithful fans may want to be a part of history and will attend. Unlike other visiting teams, Miami does not have similar fan support and thus there may be little Dolphins support in the stands. Chargers QB Philip Rivers continues to play hard despite the injuries to supporting talent and might have the extra motivation for a big game in what could be the final game at Qualcomm. SAN DIEGO.
Denver Broncos (+5.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (45): When healthy, the Steelers have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. The Broncos, hampered on offense all season, have the league’s top rated defense. The Steelers defense remains a concern and in their big win at Cincinnati the Steelers allowed 6.9 yards per play. In losing to Oakland the Broncos allowed 2.3 ypp. At more than a FG the points are worth taking in a game the Broncos, with even modest offensive support, can win. DENVER.
Cincinnati Bengals -4 at San Francisco 49ers (41): The Bengals are likely to be without QB Andy Dalton for the rest of the regular season. Backup AJ McCarron is highly thought of and did show signs of promise in relief of Dalton last week despite a pair of interceptions. With no Dalton the running game may be even more relied upon as the Bengals still need a win to make the Playoffs and are playing for a first round bye. Both teams excel at avoiding turning over the football, which could result in sustained drives that gain yards in small chunks and consume clock. UNDER.
Pro Football – Monday
Detroit Lions +3 at New Orleans Saints(51): Both teams are playing out the string with neither in realistic position to make the post-season. But that does not mean this will not be an entertaining game. On the contrary, both teams have offenses with strong passing games, weak running games and porous defenses, especially the Saints who allow a league worst 6.5 yards per play, including a whopping 12.1 yards per completion. With nothing on the line we can expect a loosely played game with both offenses having significant edges over the defenses. OVER.
NFL Last Week: 6-9 -0
NFL Season: 99-103-5
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]