There are plenty of marquee matchups that will result in nail-biters for teams still vying for position in the NFL postseason picture in Week 15.
However, several road underdogs are being underestimated and slightly disrespected by the oddsmakers. That is a dangerous trap that could leave unsuspecting, casual bettors placing fiat on the favorites without being fazed.
In order to avoid such a fate, here is a look at a trio of road teams facing critical, season-defining games that will cover the inflated spreads placed upon them.
(Note: All spreads courtesy of Odds Shark.)
Indianapolis Colts (+11) at Houston Texans
Since their bye week in Week 8, the Texans have only beaten one winning team. That occurred at Soldier Field against Chicago—a sloppy 13-6 affair in which starting Bears QB Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game.
The Colts, meanwhile, had their bye all the way back in Week 4 and have only beaten one winning team since—their signature home victory over the Green Bay Packers immediately following the off week.
That means that this game is completely unpredictable, because it's far from clear just how good these top two AFC South teams are, even at this stage in the season.
For a team that was slated to finish dead-last in most preseason power rankings, the Colts' run to a 9-4 record has been inspiring and shocking all at once. Indianapolis has been more successful at home than on the road, but they have been playing with reckless abandon and not a thing to lose all year.
That healthy chip on their shoulder has paid huge dividends. Bear in mind that Houston—in addition to the aforementioned lack of formidable opponents—won the division in 2011 during a nightmare year for the Colts' franchise.
Their playoff victory—although impressive in some regard with third-string QB T.J. Yates at the controls—did come against the Cincinnati Bengals. Similar to the Colts, Cincinnati was the worst playoff team in many prognosticators' minds, and they didn't beat one winning team in clinching their wild-card berth for last year's playoffs.
These teams will face off twice in the final three games of 2012, and this matchup will serve as the tone-setter for each side down the stretch.
With the Texans' pass defense continually regressing and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck getting more comfortable each week under center, Houston may have a problem in Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
It's bold to pick Indianapolis to win, but it's just been that kind of year for the Colts. This truly feels like a team of destiny, and the Texans haven't quite proven themselves when expectations are at their highest.
The Pick: Colts 31, Texans 30
San Francisco 49ers (+4.5) at New England Patriots
As excellent as the Pats' offense has been with the return of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the extended absence of superstar TE Rob Gronkowski, this seems a bit high on the spread.
The Niner defense is nothing to scoff at, while New England's is—particularly against the pass. Dynamic QB Colin Kaepernick is far from a proven success but has flashed brilliance in leading his team to a 3-1 record since seizing the starting job from Alex Smith.
Kaepernick's arm strength and incredible mobility should generate a lot of chances down the field for San Francisco, and the Pats have not faced a quarterback with the dual-threat capabilities of Kaepernick all year.
It's next to impossible to pick against Tom Brady and Co. in Foxboro in a Sunday night prime-time game. However, the Niners' front seven should pose problems for Brady's pass protection.
Between Aldon and Justin Smith, Navarro Bowman and perennial Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, the Patriots will have their work cut out for them while Kaepernick and his unit face a far less experienced New England defense.
Brady will find a way to win, but not without Kaepernick proving that he is the man for the job under center in San Francisco and giving the Patriots a serious scare.
The Pick: Patriots 27, 49ers 24
Minnesota Vikings (+1) at St. Louis Rams
This is a very minor upset and obviously implies that the Vikings will march into the Edward Jones Dome and get the job done to keep their playoff hopes alive.
St. Louis is in a must-win situation to keep their slim chance at the postseason afloat, which makes this all the more intriguing.
It seems like a bad matchup, since the Rams defense has hit its stride under head coach Jeff Fisher and sports an exciting CB duo in Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins. Not to mention, they have won three straight games.
Even though Minnesota QB Christian Ponder has looked shakier with each passing week, leading to the Vikings being ranked dead last in passing offense, it hasn't mattered. Adrian Peterson continues to post monstrous numbers regardless.
A major knee injury at the end of last season couldn't prevent Peterson from hitting the field with a vengeance in 2012. He far and away leads the league with 1,600 yards rushing on a whopping six yards per carry.
As long as Ponder makes safe throws and cleanly hands the ball to AP, the Vikings should be able to stifle the St. Louis offense enough to keep the game relatively low-scoring and pull out a hard-earned victory.
The Pick: Vikings 20, Rams 13
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