The finish line is in sight with just two regular season games
remaining and that means much will be decided before the Playoffs field is set.
Half of the dozen Playoff teams are known while 6 are yet to be
determined. They shall be decided
this week and next as 12 teams will go on to the post season while 20 teams will
get a head start on planning for the 2010 season.
Indianapolis and San Diego are the only AFC teams assured of making
the Playoffs and, in fact, will be seeded first and second with the Colts having
already clinched the top AFC seed a week ago.
San Diego clinched the AFC West title and the number two AFC seed when
they defeated Cincinnati this past Sunday while Denver was being upset in
New England and Cincinnati lead their respective Divisions but
neither has yet clinched a Playoff berth. The
two AFC Wild Cards are currently controlled by Baltimore, each with 8-6 records.
Yet a full half dozen teams are but a game back with 7-7 records making
it quite likely that the final few AFC Playoff spots will not be decided until
the regular season’s final week.
In the NFC Arizona, Minnesota, New Orleans and Philadelphia have
clinched spots in the post season. Dallas
and Green Bay – both 9-5 – control the two Wild Cards and thus will make the
Playoffs by winning their final two games. The
New York Giants could have become the NFC’s lone 8-6 team by winning at
Washington Monday night. But a loss
by the Giants would have left them 7-7 and tied with Atlanta.
With the 6 other NFC teams having won no more than 6 games, only the
Giants and Falcons are in position to snare the Wild Cards from the Cowboys and
Packers should things break right over the final two weeks.
Last week was a great week to have been playing NFL Underdogs on
the Money Line as heading into Monday night’s game six underdogs won straight
up including a two touchdown underdog, Oakland.
Carolina was at least a touchdown underdog when they upset Minnesota
Sunday night as was Dallas when they ended New Orleans’ perfect season on
Saturday night. Tampa Bay won at
Seattle as a shade under to TD puppy.
These results show that even though we may often figure teams that
have nothing to play for will not show up, such is often not the case at all.
Players are still playing to achieve certain goals and to leave positive
impressions with fans and coaching staffs during the off-season.
Still, handicapping the final two weeks of the season is tricky
with pointspreads often inflated due more to specific situations, the need to
win or the lack of anything to play for than in the true differences between the
teams. The final weeks of the season
must be approached with even greater caution than the first week of the season
when little is known about teams for the new season but at least everyone is
playing with an unblemished slate.Here’s a look at the 16 games to be played
this weekend with the NFL giving us a gift on Christmas Day as the penultimate
week of the season kicks off on Friday.
And with these previews come heartfelt wishes for a very Happy
Holiday season for one and all.
(plus 3) at Tennessee (Over/Under 47) – San Diego may rest some starters
as they are assured of the AFC’s number two seed.
Tennessee has remarkably overcome an 0-6 start to win 7 of 8 and could
make the playoffs with a win here and next week at Seattle if they get some
help. The situation calls for a play
on the Titans and their current form is almost as strong as the Chargers’, who
have won nine in a row. But this is
the week for San Diego to exhale now that their playoff position is known.
The price is cheap enough to back the Titans especially if the line
remains at a FG or less. TENNESSEE
13½) at Green Bay (41½) – Seattle was woeful in last week’s
inexplicable home loss to lowly Tampa Bay as QB Matt Hasselbeck tossed a quartet
of interceptions raising questions that he might be bothered by nagging injuries
more than he is letting on. The
Seahawks may well have packed it in for the season.
Green Bay plays to secure a Wild Card and they are commended for their
effort in last week’s loss at Pittsburgh.
The Pack rallied several times in that game only to lose on the game’s
final play. It’s a big number to
lay but it’s hard to make a case for the underdog against a Packer offense
that continues to be productive. GREEN
3) at Cleveland (39½) – Both teams are off wins last week and each has
played hard over the last month despite long ago being out of the Playoff
picture. Charlie Frye started at QB
last week for the Raiders and he returns to the team with whom he played briefly
and where he played collegiately nearby. Both
teams may be looking at players with an eye towards next season.
The teams are similar statistically with Oakland having the edge
defensively. This could be an
entertaining game and we often see such matchups produce greater than expected
points. OVER the Total.
(plus 13½) at Cincinnati (41) – Back to back losses at Playoff-bound
Minnesota and San Diego has seen Cincinnati’s lead in the AFC North shrink to
just a single game over Baltimore. The
Bengals need a win here to clinch the AFC North and they figure to get it
against defensively inept Kansas City who enter this game after having lost
three straight games at home. The
Chiefs’ defense and special teams were equally horrid in last week’s loss to
Cleveland. Cincinnati rallied back
from down 11 in the fourth quarter and only a Charger 52 yard FG in the waning
seconds prevented that game from going to overtime.
There’s very little to support a sudden surge in effort from the Chiefs
while the Bengals need to regain momentum for the Playoffs.
This is an ideal spot for a rout. CINCINNATI.
8½) at Atlanta (41) – Atlanta’s late rally against the Jets for a win
last week keeps the Falcons alive for both a Wild Card berth and the first back
to back winning seasons in franchise history if they can win out.
Buffalo was game in defeat to New England but the offense continues to
sputter. Atlanta did regain QB Matt
Ryan and RB Michael Turner last week but overall the Falcon offense has been
barely average all season. Buffalo
has been solid on defense which could keep this game low scoring.
UNDER the Total.
3) at Miami (45) – This is a Wild Card elimination game as both teams are
7-7 and the loser is eliminated from the Playoffs.
The winner is not assured of making the Playoffs either although they
have an excellent chance to pull even with current Wild Card frontrunners
Baltimore and Denver, each of whom have difficult road games this week.
Houston has failed to come through several times in so-called pressure
situations and last week barely beat a flu ridden Rams team by a FG.
Miami rallied from a deep deficit only to fall in overtime at Tennessee.
Miami seems to have the stronger will, the better coaching and the much
stronger running game. Those are
enough edges to warrant a call on the hosts.
Carolina at N.Y.
Giants (No Line) – The Giants played in Washington Monday night and should
be about a TD favorite. Carolina’s
season has been disappointing, marked by woeful QB play and nagging injuries to
their featured RB tandem. The
Giants’ defense is down considerably from the start of the season when they
appeared strong against what we’ve since seen are some of the weakest offenses
in the league. The Giants are still
contending for a Playoff spot but laying points is dangerous.
Carolina is off of their best effort of the season last week against
Minnesota and this well coached team might be interested in finishing strong and
lay the foundation for a bounce back season in 2010.
Backup QB Matt Moore continues to develop.
(plus 14 ½) at New Orleans (50) – The Saints tasted defeat for the first
time last week when they fell at home to Dallas although they did rally and had
a shot to tie the game in the final minute.
Now that the pressure for perfection is gone the Saints can go back to
playing the aggressive type of football that marked their dominant efforts over
the first half of the season. They
need a win to clinch the top NFC seed and face a Tampa team they crushed 38-7 in
their first meeting. Tampa returns
from what had to be a very satisfying win in Seattle but the situation does not
favor a second straight big effort. NEW
(plus 9) at New England (43) – The Patriots have not been the same since
they blew that 17 point lead in mid season at Indianapolis in mid season.
Whether there is an undisclosed injury hampering QB Tom Brady or the
league is finally catching up to their schemes or age is finally catching up to
them all three seem to be reasonable explanations as to why New England has not
been able to turn it on as in seasons past.
Jacksonville put up a game fight in losing to the Colts last week and
they do have several extra days of rest and preparation.
At 7-7 the Jaguars remain on the fringe of Wild Card contention and
should put forth a big effort, especially with their potent ground game.
Until such time as the Patriots can demonstrate an ability to win by
margins against average teams or better it’s tough to lay over a TD.
(plus 2½) at Pittsburgh (40) – This figures to be a typical physical
battle between longtime rivals with Playoff elimination on the line for
defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh and a chance to all but clinch a Wild
Card spot for the Ravens. Baltimore
has been playing better football down the stretch and the Steeler had a tough
time ending their five game losing streak last week, falling behind a couple of
times to Green Bay after building a seemingly comfortable lead.
Fundamentally these are still a pair of solid defenses and with so much
at stake for both teams the way to look first is still for a defensive struggle
with a result similar to their first meeting that ended with a 20-17 final in
overtime. UNDER the Total.
7) at Philadelphia (41) – Both teams have reasons to play hard.
Philly has clinched a Playoff spot but not the NFC East title which would
give them at least one home Playoff game. They
still have an outside shot to catch Minnesota for the NFC’s number 3 seed.
Denver controls their Wild Card fate and looks to bounce back from a
shocking home loss to Oakland in which the Broncos were two touchdown favorites.
The Broncos have the better rushing attack, slight edges on defense and
have actually scored better on the road than at home.
The Eagles have the better passing offense but will be facing the
league’s second ranked pass defense. Denver
may not have enough to garner a straight up win but they have enough positives
to keep this one competitive. DENVER.
(plus 14) at Arizona (43½) – Arizona is pretty much locked in to the
NFC’s number 4 seed and the Cards will host a Wild Card round Playoff game.
They’ve already won their Division and will likely give backups added
playing time over the final two weeks although the starters will also see plenty
of action to avoid rust. St Louis
was game in their narrow loss to Houston last week in which several players were
recovering from the swine flu. They
just don’t match up well against the Cardinals and are likely to again be
relying on third string QB Keith Null. This
one comes down to how many points the Arizona offense wants to score as the Rams
figure to contribute very little to the scoreboard.
Arizona likely tops 30. ARIZONA.
11) at San Francisco (41) – Credit Detroit with a game effort last week in
rally from a 17-0 halftime deficit to tie Arizona at 24 before surrendering the
game winning TD to the Cardinals. Both
teams are looking towards 2010 with the 49ers having brighter prospects at the
moment, especially with their nicely developing offense.
That offense should have success against a defense that is allowing a
league high 36 points per game on the road.
San Francisco has four double digit home wins this season including each
of their last two home games which were against teams much better than the
Lions. SAN FRANCISCO.
N.Y. Jets at
Indianapolis (No Line) – There is no line currently on this game as
bookmakers await further information regarding Indianapolis’ plans with their
starters as the Colts have already secured the top AFC Playoff seed.
This was also the case prior to their win last Thursday in Jacksonville
and the starters played nearly a complete game, including QB Peyton Manning who
led the game winning fourth quarter drive that keeps the Colts unbeaten.
The Jets continue to be plagued by the growing pains of rookie QB Mark
Sanchez. But the Jets’ defense
remains the league’s best statistically, allowing just 263 yards per game,
nearly 30 ypg less than second best Green Bay.
The pass defense has been especially strong, allowing a league low 160
ypg. The combination of the Jets’
troubles on offense and their solid defense suggests this game will be low
scoring. UNDER the Total.
Washington (No Line) – Washington hosted the Giants Monday night and
figures to come just over a FG underdog against their bitter rivals.
Dallas needed a late touchdown to edge the Redskins 7-6 in their first
meeting. The Cowboys finally won a
December game and did so by knocking off unbeaten New Orleans.
Yet they still found a way to nearly blow that game by shanking a FG off
the uprights that would have given them a 10 point lead with but minutes to
play. But they survived the Saints
last minute drive to put themselves in position to clinch a Wild Card with a win
here. Prior to Monday night the
‘Skins had covered fine in a row and have played solid football over the
second half of the season. They’ve
had a solid defense all season and the offense has shown improvement in recent
weeks. The fundamentals point
towards another low scoring game between these foes who are very familiar with
one another’s capabilities and limitations.
UNDER the Total.
(minus 7) at Chicago (42) – The Vikings have had their problems on the
road of late, dropping their last two such contests at Arizona and Carolina by a
combined 56-24 score. Chicago is
playing out the string and cannot truly play spoiler as the Vikes have already
clinched the NFC North title. But
Minny is now in danger of losing the number two NFC seed to Philadelphia
depending on how things break in the season’s final two weeks.
We’ve seen teams out of contention use the national limelight as a
stage to at least get some satisfaction as San Francisco upset Arizona two weeks
ago and last Sunday night saw Carolina upset these very Vikings.
But Chicago has not shown the same signs entering this contest as have
those other teams that pulled off big home upsets.
The night cold will be a challenge for the Vikes in general but not for
QB Brett Favre who enjoyed these conditions when with Green Bay.
It’s tempting to make a case for the Bears but the edges just are not
there. With Minnesota hearing Philly
footsteps for the number 2 NFC seed they should put forth a fully focused effort
here and they have the edges on both sides of the ball to get the win and cover.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe