No lack of Wild Card possibilities

Nov 11, 2020 3:00 AM

With all 32 NFL teams having played at least half of their 16-game schedule with 10 teams having played nine, it’s a good time to look at the potential playoff field, which can often provide a few teams at attractive odds for futures plays.

 Currently, the division leaders are Buffalo (AFC East), Pittsburgh (AFC North), Tennessee (AFC South) and Kansas City (AFC West). In the NFC, the leaders are Philadelphia (East), Green Bay (North), New Orleans (South) and Seattle (West).

Most attention is paid to the division leaders and those close enough to be in serious contention for a Wild Card. With the first expansion of the playoffs field since 1990 that adds a third Wild Card in each conference, there are two significant additional factors to consider.

The first key factor involves earning the top seed in each conference. Only the No. 1 seed gets a bye in the first round, down from the top two seeds in past seasons.

The second factor is that third Wild Card team. 12 teams will now play in the Wild Card round with the six winners advancing to the Divisional round to join the two bye teams for the round of eight.

In most seasons, a record of 10-6 or better has gotten a team into the playoffs. In the 30 seasons of 10-team fields, only 12 teams that finished with at least 10 wins missed the playoffs, the most recent being the 2015 Jets. Only one of the dozen had 11 wins (2008 Patriots). Thus the goal of making the playoffs usually requires 10 or more wins.

But what about additional Wild Cards? Over the past 10 seasons, of the 20 possible third Wild Cards, five would have gone to 10-win teams, nine to 9-win teams and six to 8-win teams. In many of those seasons, tiebreakers would have been needed to determine the third Wild Card, making the final few weeks of the regular season even more exciting.

For this season, it’s quite possible the third NFC Wild Card will have only eight wins as only one non-Division leader has six wins and three others are 5-3 or 5-4. In the AFC, it more likely will take nine or even 10 wins with four non-Division leaders at 5-3 and a fifth at 6-2.

Next week I’ll discuss several teams that could secure that third Wild Card.

Sunday

Eagles -3.5 at Giants: It’s virtually certain the NFC East winner will have nine or fewer wins. Three of the teams already have at least six losses with the Eagles in first place at 3-4-1. That includes a come from behind 22-21 Week 7 home win over the Giants.

The Giants’ last four games have been decided by a FG. The G-men are 6-2 ATS, the Eagles 3-5. The Giants also have a competitive 17-9 road loss at the Rams, a team that won at Philly 37-19.

Philly’s won seven straight and 11 of 12 in the series. But the Giants are 4-2 ATS in the last six, with seven of the last nine decided by six points or less. GIANTS

Broncos +5 at Raiders: Las Vegas is off back-to-back road wins and controls its postseason fate. But the Raiders can’t afford to take Denver lightly with a chance to sweep the Chiefs up next.

This is only the third time the Raiders have been favored over Denver since 2012, winning and covering the previous two games in 2016 and 2017. The Raiders have the edge on offense, especially running the football and in avoiding turnovers.

Denver has the better defense. But the Broncos are the weakest  the Raiders will have yet faced this season. At -6 or less, the hosts make for a solid play. RAIDERS

49ers +9 at Saints: The 49ers have extra rest but remain a banged-up team with QB Garoppolo and TE George Kittle both on IR. With Sunday’s win at Tampa Bay, New Orleans gained control of the NFC South, completing a sweep of the Bucs. It was one of New Orleans’ best all-around efforts in several seasons.

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In a vivid illustration of a major overreaction to both teams’ last efforts, the Saints opened in advance wagering at -6.5 and are up to -9.5. The 49ers should be well prepared with their bye next week while New Orleans visits Division rival Atlanta. It’s a letdown spot with plenty of leeway for a non-covering win. 49ERS

Chargers +2.5 at Dolphins: The Chargers lost yet another close one and are 1-6 in one-score games. Miami’s won four straight after a 1-3 start and is clearly in the Wild Card chase. They’re favored for just the second time this season, covering earlier as 9.5 home chalk in a 24-0 win over the Jets.

Certain teams greatly underperform or outperform their stats and in my measures of efficiency, the Dolphins rate first and the Chargers are next to last. In a battle of rookie QBs Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa is surrounded by seemingly mentally tougher teammates than the Chargers’ Justin Herbert. DOLPHINS

Ravens at Patriots, Total 43.5: With Cam Newton replacing Tom Brady at QB, the Patriots have become a run-driven offense this season, averaging 160 yards per game and ranking third behind Baltimore’s NFL leading 170 ypg.

The Pats are home underdogs for the first time since 2014 and just the sixth time since the start of the 2002 season. All five prior such games have gone Over the total as have their last four meetings with the Ravens, each since 2013 and with coaches Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh. OVER

Monday

Vikings -2.5 at Bears: After a 5-1 start, Chicago’s lost three straight. All but one of their games have been decided by eight points or less. Minnesota has followed a 1-5 start with a pair of wins.

Both teams’ reversal of fortune has the Vikings flipping from a 2-point favorite when the Westgate posted advance lines last Tuesday, to a 2.5-point favorite when the line was re-posted after Sunday’s action.

The Vikes are 5-3 ATS, but two of the losses came in games they lost outright as favorites. Chicago’s defense will key on RB Dalvin Cook and force QB Kirk Cousins to beat them. Playing into another strength of Chicago’s defense, Cousins has turned it over 11 times this season. BEARS

Last week: 1-5

Season: 19-34-1