I’ve spent the last two weeks breaking down playoff contenders in both the AFC and NFC. But the playoffs are still a month away.
There are still four more regular season games to be played for every team in the NFL; a full quarter of the season. That’s why I’m taking a hard look in the opposite direction this week; breaking down the bottom feeders.
These lesser teams, come December, are a mixed breed. Some squads tank; done with their season. Others play their best ball down the stretch, building momentum for next year.
Look at last year for some prime examples. The Lions went 0-5 SU, 1-4 ATS in five December games a season ago. The lone point spread cover came by a single point in a meaningless season finale defeat.
Philly went 1-4 SU at the tail end of the Andy Reid era, and got blown out in each of its final three games, losing by a combined nine TD’s. Arizona, Buffalo, the New York Jets, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Kansas City – all considered “bottom feeders” at this time last year – each finished with a losing SU and ATS mark in their five December ballgames.
On the other end of the spectrum was a team like the Redskins, who closed out December with a 5-0 SU and ATS mark after entering the month with a 5-6 record. Minnesota won and covered each of their last four, turning a mediocre season into a playoff campaign. Carolina went from 3-9 to 7-9 over the last four weeks, covering every spread in the process. St. Louis won only three of their first ten games, but they too, were winners SU and ATS in December.
Not every “dead” team is really done and there’s money to be made if we can identify those “live” bottom feeders before the betting markets do! That’s my goal for this week’s article. I’ll break down each of the nine teams currently at 4-8 or worse to see which squads are still fighting tooth and nail every week and which have already packed it in for the season.
I’ve broken those nine down into three basic categories: Live for December, Worth Watching and Dead Team Walking. This breakdown isn’t based on stats or long term profiles, just my own opinions about late season effort, talent and market valuation.
Live For December
Buffalo Bills: The Bills have a first year head coach in Doug Marrone, so there’s no “lame duck” coaching situation here. Like the Redskins last year, Buffalo has a rookie QB who’s gone through some injury issues; still improving by the week. Their defense is still playing hard, with a solid statistical profile. And the Bills fast tempo on offense has the potential to give banged up late season defenses all kinds of problems.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars also have a first year head coach (Gus Bradley) who has clearly imprinted his stamp on the team in recent weeks. The Jags were unquestionably the worst team in the NFL over the first half of the season, leaving residual value to support them now that their play has dramatically improved. With three SU wins as a TD-plus underdog in their last four games, the Jags are already making money for those with the courage to back them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs were enormous underachievers over the first two months of the campaign, dropping eight straight. Four of those eight were fourth quarter meltdowns, turning winnable games into defeats. But like Jacksonville, we’ve already seen the turnaround. While the national media rips Greg Schiano on a weekly basis, it’s clear the team hasn’t quit on their coach.
Houston Texans: Despite suffering through a truly dismal season, the Texans have as much or more talent on their roster than any other team on this list. But their defense has been getting gashed. The quarterback play is sub-par and 10 straight losses since their 2-0 start has left this squad shell-shocked. Houston played hard upon Gary Kubiak’s return to the sidelines against the Patriots. Similar effort should be enough to get some December wins, but veteran squads with high preseason expectations aren’t known for max effort showings on a weekly basis.
Minnesota Vikings: Both Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel have been serviceable at the QB position, and the Vikings with Adrian Peterson are 4-1 ATS in their last five. They’ve fought tooth-and-nail against divisional foes in each of the last two weeks, showing max effort for HC Leslie Frazier. All four teams remaining on their schedule are fighting for playoff spots – if the Vikings continue to battle on a weekly basis, there will be legitimate overlays to support them because their opponents will be in those dreaded “must win” spots.
Oakland Raiders: Both Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin have been serviceable at the QB position. The Raiders defense isn’t good, but they’re certainly not atrocious; capable of getting stops. Each of the Raiders’ last three losses have been competitive contests, decided by a TD or less. And frankly, Oakland has been a moneymaker for their backers from Day 1 this season, suffering only four point spread losses in their first dozen games.
Dead Team Walking
Cleveland Browns: Rob Chudzinski’s revolving door at quarterback isn’t likely to end in December with Brandon Weeden facing yet another benching. The lone healthy replacement behind him is second year pro Alex Tanney out of Monmouth College who has never taken a snap in a regular season game. And the once dominant Browns defense has fallen apart in recent weeks, allowing 100 points in their last three games; 27-plus five times in their last seven. Following back-to-back demoralizing divisional losses, this team has fallen and can’t get up.
Atlanta Falcons: Yes, the Falcons finally snapped their losing streak with an improbable OT win in Toronto against the Bills on Sunday. Atlanta was lucky to be playing indoors at the Rogers Centre. And they were even luckier the Bills fumbled away the win in regulation and their first possession of overtime, turning a W into an L. But for a veteran Falcons team with preseason championship aspirations, playing for pride in December isn’t an appropriate motivator.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins locker room is toxic these days, with veteran resentment showing toward their coach, both coordinators and their underachieving quarterback. RG3 is a shell of the QB he was last year at this time when the Redskins were rallying. Each of their eight losses since opening the season by getting blasted by Philly on Monday Night Football has come by a TD or more. The defense is downright awful on a weekly basis. That’s a trend I expect to continue moving forward; a season with no hope of redemption.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]