Wild Card races getting interesting

“Ya gotta be in it to win it.” That oft used phrase describes simply that the main goal of NFL teams is to make the playoffs. Once in, anything can happen. 

Yes, you want to have as high a seed as possible but in the last 15 seasons two teams seeded sixth and one seeded fifth have won Super Bowls.

Last week, I laid out factors involved in approaching the expanded 14-team playoff field that begins this season, with specific attention paid to the newly-added third Wild Card in each conference. Based on the current standings, it appears eight or nine wins will earn an NFC Wild Card while it will take nine or 10 wins in the AFC.

Keep in mind that in the NFC there are no dominant teams, just several very good ones.  In the AFC, Pittsburgh and Kansas City appear to be the clear class of the conference.

At books that have an advance Super Bowl line the AFC is -4.5 over the NFC. That suggests looking for an NFC long shot to win the Conference title and an AFC long shot to win the Super Bowl.

Because the NFC lacks depth just three non-division leaders have only three losses (the Rams, Seattle and Tampa Bay) and are favorites to earn the three Wild Cards. No team has exactly four losses but three have five. All are in the NFC North.

Green Bay’s the likely division winner at 7-2. But the other three could make late-season runs. Chicago is 5-5 with Detroit and Minnesota 4-5. Of the trio, the Vikings are playing the best of late (three straight wins with an improving defense) and are 50-1 to win the NFC. Minnesota’s won a playoff game in two of the past three seasons and have the experience to do so again. 

The Bears are more likely to make a late run than are the Lions because of their outstanding defense. But the offense is woeful and should be their undoing.

The AFC is much more interesting and competitive with five non-division leading teams having only three losses. Interestingly, much like the NFC, no team has exactly four losses and only one team has five. But that team is New England and a late-season run by the Patriots cannot be summarily dismissed despite only three upcoming opponents with losing records. 

Check Out More NFL Content Here

Although a huge long shot, the Patriots’ Super Bowl odds of 100-1 might be worth a small wager. But don’t stress if you can’t find your misplaced ticket come season’s end.

Of the five three -oss teams the Raiders (40-1) are intriguing. They control their own destiny with games against fellow three-loss teams Indianapolis and Miami (both who they play at home) and have already defeated Cleveland. All three remaining road games are against teams with losing records (Falcons, Jets and Broncos). 

But if the Raiders appeal to you, consider playing them before this week’s game vs. Kansas City as a win vaults them into AFC West contention. But even with a loss, those games against the Colts and Dolphins could punch the Raiders’ playoff ticket.

Sunday

Eagles +3.5 at Browns: At 3-5-1, Philadelphia leads the NFC East where only the division winner makes the playoffs. Cleveland (6-3) will be hard pressed to catch 9-0 Pittsburgh in the AFC North but is tied with four teams for a Wild Card. A loss here doesn’t hurt as much as this is an interconference game. 

Although Cleveland averages 159 rushing yards per game vs. Philly’s 123, both average the same 5.1 yards per carry. Philly’s been plagued by turnovers, having been negative in six games of which they won just one. With the edge in experience and the smaller margin for error, the spot favors the visitors. EAGLES

Lions at Panthers (No Line): The early line had Carolina -3 but injuries have this game off the boards. Carolina RB Christian McCaffrey and QB Teddy Bridgewater plus Lions QB Matthew Stafford are all listed as “questionable.” 

Statistically, these teams are even virtually across the board. Detroit’s played better on the road (3-2) than at home (1-3). Carolina’s done the opposite (0-4 at home, 2-3 on the road). Losers of five straight, Carolina’s also lost both games when favored, both at home to Chicago and Atlanta. LIONS

Titans +6.5 at Ravens: Not only are the Ravens off that rainstorm loss to New England but this is also playoffs revenge for Baltimore. As the top seed last season, the Ravens lost to the Titans, 28-12, despite Baltimore having a 530-300 yardage edge. 

QB Lamar Jackson struggled as he often has when stepping up in class, which makes this game a personal challenge. Tennessee is off last Thursday’s home loss to Indianapolis and visit the Colts next week. Baltimore also has a revenge game at Pittsburgh in four days, on Thanksgiving. RAVENS

Chiefs -7 at Raiders: This is a key game in the AFC West as Las Vegas stunned the Chiefs in Kansas City, 40-32.  Not only is this a revenge game for K.C., it follows the Bye week and Andy Reid should have his team well prepared. Reid is 17-7 ATS off a Bye dating back to Philly. 

Vegas has a slight edge in the rushing game that is more than offset by Kansas City’s edge in the passing game. Both offenses excel at avoiding turnovers. RAIDERS

Dolphins -3.5 at Broncos: At 6-3, Miami’s very much alive both for a Wild Card and the AFC East title. QB Tua Tagovailoa has shown steady improvement since taking over as the Dolphins’ starter in Week 8. Denver QB Drew Lock injured his ribs in his ugly performance against Las Vegas and may necessitate backup Brett Rypien to start. 

Miami’s crossing the country for the second time in three weeks. Denver has the better stats except for ranking last in turnovers, losing 21 in nine games. Protect the football and Denver wins. BRONCOS

Monday

Rams at Buccaneers, Total 47.5: Both teams are in solid position for making the playoffs with each having just three losses. Both also have outstanding defenses, ranking in the top-five in total yards allowed, rushing yards, yards per pass completion and yards per play. Both offenses are slightly above average but both teams will be facing the best defense either has faced this season with the possible exception of Chicago. 

Against the Bears, Tampa lost 20-19 and the Rams won 24-10. Both games stayed Under identical Totals of 44 and this matchup handicaps similarly. UNDER

Last week: 3-3

Season: 22-37-1