NFL playoff fate with Bucs-Panthers

Dec 2, 2008 4:59 PM

Pigskin Picks by Andy Iskoe |

last week

Much like the games themselves, the NFL season can be divided into four quarters of four games each.

This weekend begins the fourth and final quarter of the 2008 regular season. As such the games take on added importance as teams fall from playoff contention while others advance their cause by winning.

Currently the playoff field would be comprised of division leaders the New York Giants, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Arizona. The Bucs are tied with Carolina atop the NFC South, but beat the Panthers earlier this season. The rematch in Carolina will be this Monday. Carolina does control one of the two NFC Wild Cards with Dallas and Atlanta tied for the other NFC Wild Card with 8-4 records.

In the AFC the Division leaders are the New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Denver. The Wild Cards are controlled by Baltimore and Indianapolis.

Things can and will change over the season’s final four weeks, but there will be several new faces in the playoffs. Teams that made the playoffs last season that figure to miss out this season include Green Bay, Jacksonville, San Diego and Seattle.

Others in jeopardy of not making a return include New England, Dallas and Washington. This could mean at least and perhaps more than a 50 percent change in the complexion of this season’s playoff field versus last season.

Parity remains alive and well in the NFL!

After starting 17-1 ATS, double digit underdogs are 0-3 the past two weeks. Perhaps this signals a reversal of that strong start and it would not be all that surprising. As well, it may indicate that double-digit dogs (usually teams long out of contention) are now facing teams needing to either secure a playoff berth or improve their seeding.

Additionally, after winning 4 of 9 such games straight up in the season’s first six weeks, double-digit dogs have now lost 12 straight games.

Here’s a look at this week’s 16 games, beginning with a relatively meaningless game Thursday night. Meaningless, that is, to the standings.

Raiders +10 at Chargers (43½): San Diego’s motivation the rest of the way has to be questioned. The Chargers are poorly coached by Norv Turner and his future on the sideline is shaky. Oakland is severely limited on offense, but it’s hard to recommend laying points. RAIDERS.

Bengals +13½ at Colts (42½): The good news for the Colts is that they’ve won five in a row. The bad news is all five have been by 6 points or less. The Bengals rank last in both total offense and points scored. The Colts’ struggles on offense suggest covering a 2-TD line is iffy. UNDER.

Jaguars +4 at Bears (NT): Jacksonville has a short practice week and realistically out of contention for a Wild Card. Chicago has been more consistent all season and returns home after three straight road games. BEARS.

Texans +5½ at Packers (NT): Once formidable Lambeau Field has not been a strong home field (3-3) for the Pack, although all three losses were to teams with winning records (25-11). And any inclement weather will hurt Houston. PACKERS.

Browns +14 at Titans (37½): Both of Cleveland’s starting quarterbacks are gone for the season. Veteran castoff Ken Dorsey gets the pleasure of facing the outstanding defense of rested Tennessee. The Titans need do little more than show up to gain a win here and are likely to take few chances. UNDER.

Vikings -10 at Lions (46): Detroit, despite being 0-12, did battle Minnesota to a 12-10 result in the earlier meeting. The Vikes have not fared well at Detroit over the years, going 2-7. The Vikes don’t often win by margin and the Lions may have confidence from that earlier loss. LIONS.

Redskins +5 at Ravens (NT): This game has been changed to the Sunday night NBC contest. Baltimore has been outstanding at home this season, losing only to 11-1 Tennessee by a FG. Their four home wins have been by at least a TD. Washington has not played well of late. RAVENS.

Eagles +8 at Giants (44): Wagering against the Giants has been risky all season as their 11-1 straight up mark is almost matched by their 10-2 ATS record. At some point the line has to catch up with the Giants. Still it might be best to look for another high-scoring game like the 36-31 battle the Giants won in Philly. OVER.

Falcons +3 at Saints (52): The four NFC South teams are an amazing 21-2 straight up at home with 13 of the wins by double digits, including Atlanta’s 34-20 win over the Saints last month. It’s hard to knock anything the Falcons have accomplished, but the Saints have won the last four meetings on this field. SAINTS.

Jets -4 at 49ers (45): You wonder how the Bills lost to the 49ers after holding a 350 to 195 total yards edge. After their decisive win at Tennessee, a Jets’ letdown last week was expected but an outright loss to Denver was not. Look for things to return to form here. JETS.

Dolphins +1 vs. Bills (42): Bills’ QB Trent Edwards was banged up last week but there’s not a huge drop off to former starter JP Losman. The offense has been unable to finish drives over the past month. Miami won the earlier meeting 25-16 and overall has won 5 of 6. To play in Toronto will gives Buffalo less of a home field advantage. DOLPHINS.

Chiefs +9 at Broncos (48): The Chiefs won the earlier meeting at home against Denver, 33-19, but were outgained 446 to 370. The Chiefs have just two wins in their last 21 games. The Broncos are 7-1 against KC in the last eight matchups in Denver with four of the last five decided by double digits. BRONCOS.

Rams +13 at Cards (48½): The Cards are a perfect 4-0 in divisional play, having outscored their foes by 42 points. St. Louis has scored more than 19 points just once this season while allowing 30 per game. The hot start by double-digit dogs has slowed to 0-3 the past two weeks. CARDINALS.

Cowboys +3 at Steelers (41): Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense has yet to allow an opponent to gain 300 yards in a game. The Cowboys continue to be plagued by injuries with the latest being key defender DeMarcus Ware and starting RB Marion Barber. Dallas is rested but steps way up in class after San Francisco and Seattle. STEELERS.

Patriots -4½ at Seahawks (43): The Seahawks have lost five straight and 8 of 9, including four in a row at home. This is a must win for New England. However "must win" does not equal "will win" and certainly does not mean "will win and cover." SEAHAWKS.

Bucs +3 at Panthers (38½): These teams are tied atop the NFC South at 9-3 records as Carolina will seek to avenge a 27-3 loss. Carolina has a solid running attack that has been more productive than Tampa’s. It’s hard to ignore the dominance of home field. Carolina is 6-0 at home. PANTHERS.