With just four weeks left in the regular season, the NFL is coming down to the playoff chase, and the desperation was evident in Week 13. While some teams rose to the occasion and helped solidify their position in the race for the postseason, others floundered and threw away any potential chance at a late-season run.
Atlanta, Denver, Houston and New England have all clinched playoff berths following wins this past week, and there are many others that would like to join them. With extremely tight races in the NFC East and North, it will likely be a few weeks before a champ is decided, and it will surely be an exciting sprint to the finish line.
After a promising stretch over the past few weeks, I crashed and burned in Week 13, tallying a miserable 48 percent overall for the week. Following this face-plant I find myself at:
Straight: 125-66 (65 percent)
Spread: 94-97 (49 percent)
Over/Under: 98-93 (51 percent)
After lowering my season ATS goal from 60 to 55 percent last week, my total fell below the .500 mark for the first time in weeks, and I’m convinced that I gave myself bad karma. In turn, I am now bumping the goal back up to 60 and just rolling with it. What do I have to lose?
Here are some previews for this season’s most important week yet across the NFL.
Denver Broncos (-10.5) at Oakland Raiders (O/U = 49)
Having made it into the playoffs after just 13 weeks, it is clear that this Broncos team is on the right track to begin a dynasty, at least as long as Peyton Manning is taking the snaps. The defensive side of the ball has been equally as impressive, led by DPOY candidate Von Miller. Miller has tallied 15 sacks on the year, and when you have a dominant presence on both sides of the ball as the Broncos do, you will always be tough to beat.
The Raiders have now lost five straight, and a loss last week to the Browns didn’t do much in the way of positivity. They have the worst point differential in the league at -141 and may very well be eying a quarterback in next year’s draft to replace the underperforming Carson Palmer.
Broncos roll on the road here.
St. Louis Rams (+3) at Buffalo Bills (O/U = 42)
After going to overtime for the second straight time against SF, and this time walking away victorious, the Rams have shown that they may actually be turning things around. They are not all the way out of the playoff picture yet, and although it will take some wild twists of fate for them to make it there, it is surely nice for them to still be in contention at this stage of the season.
The Bills are another team on the playoff brink, and a win last week over Jacksonville was crucial for their chances. With games against these Rams, the Dolphins and the Jets on the schedule to close out the season, they certainly can’t be ruled out.
This Buffalo team has shown extreme fluctuation while the Rams look to be on their way up, and I’m taking the hot hand on the road in this one.
Straight: St. Louis
Spread: St. Louis
Dallas Cowboys (+3) at Cincinnati Bengals (O/U = 45.5)
Dallas pulled out a win against Philly on Sunday night, and after a Giants loss, they find themselves right in the thick of the playoff hunt in the NFC East. Despite repeated disappointments, Tony Romo has a chance to carry his team to the postseason, but with a difficult final four-game stretch to close out the year, it will be a tough road for the seasoned quarterback to travel.
That tough road starts here with the Bengals. Smelling a playoff seed of their own, this talented young squad has turned it on over the past month, winning their last four in a row by a total of 113-42. It looks like they are ready to become a mainstay among the AFC’s best, and a win against Dallas would only continue to prove that.
This should be a hard battle as both teams have a lot on the line, but I like the scalding hot Bengals to continue their run.
Kansas City Chiefs (+5.5) at Cleveland Browns (O/U = 37.5)
It goes without saying that the Chiefs are playing with heavy hearts for the rest of the year following the tragedy that struck the organization last weekend. Following the disturbing incidents that took place, the team somehow went out and took down just their second win of the season against the Panthers. Obviously the season is over for this squad, but your heart has to go out to them in this difficult time.
Cleveland only won twice in the first 11 weeks of the season, but they have tallied two straight wins following that start. They have a good shot to make it three in a row here against one of the league’s worst, and coming off two close wins against more formidable opponents, they have what it takes to make it happen.
Tennessee Titans (+5.5) at Indianapolis Colts (O/U = 48.5)
Last weekend I watched in person as the Indianapolis Colts made an absolutely miraculous comeback in Detroit to remain atop the AFC Wild Card race. Andrew Luck has shown in just a few months that he will without a doubt remain a major impact player in the league for years to come and isn’t willing to waste any time in getting there.
The Titans haven’t won since their bye in Week 11, and coming up against a motivated Colts squad is not a good recipe for a turnaround. Chris Johnson hasn’t crossed the century mark since then either, and that is a correlation that seems to make a lot of sense to me. This team’s inconsistencies have been to its detriment, and I think a hungry Colts squad exposes them on Sunday.
Chicago Bears (-3) at Minnesota Vikings (O/U = 39.5)
A loss by Chicago last week cost them the NFC North lead, and they instead now sit in the driver’s seat for the wild card. The 23 points they gave up to Seattle in the overtime loss was the second time in three weeks they’ve given up 20+, and after a dominant defensive start to the season, they have fallen off slightly. To make a strong push to the playoffs, they must look for continued support on that side of the ball.
The Vikings also dropped their Week 13 contest and must make a stand here against a divisional opponent if they hope to squeeze anything out of this season. A 210-yard performance for Adrian Peterson helped him remain atop the league in rushing, and with 300+ yards between him and second place, the rushing title is all but sealed.
This should be a fun one between long-time division rivals, but I expect the Bears defense to gameplan around Peterson effectively and win on the road.
Philadelphia Eagles (+7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (O/U = 47)
Another week and another loss for the Eagles. This team is in a state of turmoil unmatched across the entire league and could easily make it nine straight losses as they travel to Tampa in Week 14. Nick Foles has been named the starter for the rest of the year, and it’s pretty clear that this season is a lost cause with their top three playmakers out of action.
The Bucs have now lost two in a row after rattling off four straight, and a team that looked like a real contender for a few weeks must now put it into grind mode if it wants to make it past the regular season. Doug Martin has managed just over 100 yards over the past two games combined, and it is clear that his input is necessary for this team to be successful.
From what I’ve seen over the past couple of months, there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance that the Eagles will beat anybody halfway decent for the rest of the year. Bucs at home, easily.
Straight: Tampa Bay
Spread: Tampa Bay
Baltimore Ravens (+2.5) at Washington Redskins (O/U = 47)
The Ravens were unexpectedly victimized at home by the Steelers last week, but still hold a two-game lead in the AFC North over their perennial rival. A win here would go a long way in solidifying a playoff spot, and I doubt they come out flat again after a wasted opportunity last week against Charlie Batch.
Washington took down the division foe Giants on Monday night and, in turn, put themselves just a game back in the NFC East. RGIII has really taken the NFL by storm, and his versatility matched with Shanahan’s creative play-calling has been a perfect fit. This might be the rookie QBs biggest test of his young career as he must take down a division-leading powerhouse for a chance at cracking .500 on the year.
I think this will be one of the week’s best, and I cannot wait to see how the upstart Redskins respond to the challenge. I’m taking experience and well-roundedness on the road, however.
Atlanta Falcons (-3.5) at Carolina Panthers (O/U = 47.5)
Remaining atop the NFC with just one loss is the Falcons, and they don’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Winning three in a row since their only defeat, they will look to continue down this path to gain a first-round bye and potentially the highly coveted home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Panthers were unable to make it two wins in a row against KC last week, and this season has surprisingly provided more questions than answers. Cam Newton has failed to show any consistent improvement from his strong rookie season, and Ron Rivera is a likely candidate for one-and-done in the head coaching position.
New York Jets (-2.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (O/U = 38.5)
The Jets were able to notch a victory last week over the Cardinals, but 7-6 is hardly the kind of win that will take you out of a slump. With the lone touchdown coming at the hands of Greg McElroy, it’s clear that this team has some serious questions to answer internally in the offseason, starting with the quarterback position.
The Jags followed their second win of the year with their 10th loss and have solidified their position among the league’s worst in 2012. While Chad Henne has provided some spark since getting the starting nod, the Jaguars have still been inconsistent on both sides of the football and must address a lot of needs through the draft and free agency.
San Diego Chargers (+7.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (O/U = 42.5)
With Ben Roethlisberger likely to return after missing two games due to injury, the Steelers host the Chargers in a crucial game for Pittsburgh. Big Ben is likely to return here after the interim starter Charlie Batch went 1-1 and snuck out a victory on the road against division-leading Baltimore. Currently, even up with Cinci at 7-5, the Steelers hold the tie-break and currently fill the second wild-card slot.
Their opponent will be San Diego, who lost to the Bengals last week at home. The Chargers have now lost four straight, but still sit in second in the atrocious AFC West. They haven’t been able to win consistently on the road or at home, and there just seems to be something missing from this group that they possessed during playoff runs in recent history.
Miami Dolphins (+10) at San Francisco 49ers (O/U = 39)
The 49ers lost last week in OT at the hands of Jeff Fisher and the Rams. With the loss, they still sit at No. 1 in the NFC West, but they need to find their stride quickly if they hope to remain there. After Colin Kaepernick burst onto the scene with a couple strong performances, he has started to look a little less miraculous, and the Niners could soon be back to the faithful Alex Smith.
Miami is tied for second in the AFC East at 5-7, but will need a lot of help from other teams in the conference if they are going to take down one of the sought after wild card spots. Its season has been more undulating than any other, and with just a few more bounces its way, this team could be making a surprise run right now. Unfortunately for them, it hasn’t turned out that way, and it won’t start here.
Straight: San Francisco
Arizona Cardinals (+10.5) at Seattle Seahawks (O/U = 35)
With a big win last week in overtime against the Bears, the Seahawks remain smack dab in the middle of the NFC Playoff hunt. Going from Chicago to Arizona is likely a welcome changeover in preparation and with one of the weaker schedules to close out the year, this team has a real shot at the postseason. With all the hype around Andrew Luck and RGIII, the immediate impact of Russell Wilson has been overshadowed; but don’t be mistaken, this kid is for real.
The Cards fell in the ugliest game of Week 13 to the Jets and have now dropped eight straight. It looks like John Skelton will finally get the call to start again over Ryan Lindley, but let’s be honest: It’s not going to make much of a difference. This team hasn’t been able to get a single thing done in months, especially on the road.
New Orleans Saints (+5) at New York Giants (O/U = 53.5)
In their most critical game of the season last week, the Saints came up short against the Falcons, and their playoff hopes have grown extremely faint. In the midst of defeat, an end also came to Drew Brees’ all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass, leaving Who Dat nation in a real world of hurt.
The Giants also missed a huge opportunity to capitalize by dropping the MNF game to Washington and now sit just a game up on both the Redskins and Cowboys. It looked as though they were ready to make a strong run toward the postseason in their victory against Green Bay the week before, so it will be interesting to see which Giants team shows up for this one.
I’m taking the Giants at home as this is the type of late-season game they consistently get up for.
Straight: New York
Spread: New York
Detroit Lions (+7) at Green Bay Packers (O/U = 51.5)
After starting out strong against Indy last week, the Lions were unable to close and lost on the final play of the game with zeroes on the clock. While Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson each hold the lead in passing yards and receiving yards, respectively, this team has lacked a consistent run attack and has been unable to put together many games from start to finish.
The Packers' win over Minnesota last week was momentous in their hopes for a division crown, as the NFC North title is now theirs to lose. Green Bay walked away with a win in Detroit three weeks ago, and another one here against the Lions would be even more important. With Greg Jennings back in action, I look for this offense to start clicking again like they were earlier in the year and take this one, but look for the Lions to make it close.
Straight: Green Bay
Houston Texans (+4) at New England Patriots (O/U = 51.5)
In what could be the Game of the Year up to this point, the Texans head into Foxborough for this Monday night showdown. The Texans have been the best team in the AFC this year, but the next team in the argument is probably the Pats, who have won six straight themselves. This game is important for Houston to prove they are worthy of being considered the AFC’s premier team.
The Patriots have been on an absolute roll of late, and after winning again last week, they carry a ton of momentum into this one in front of the home crowd. Their defense has been far from stellar, but their lightning-quick offense has been able to make up for it all year with the most PPG in the league.
This could be a preview of the AFC Championship when it’s all said and done, and for now I’m taking the home team that has more experience in these types of big stage contests.
Straight: New England
Spread and Over/Under Numbers courtesy of VegasInsider.com