With just two weeks left in the NFL season it’s getting down to the nitty gritty. There are a handful of teams that are able to clinch playoff spots with victories, so we should be in store for some hard-fought contests.
After seeing a few teams eliminated from contention with losses last week, there is likely a fire lit under those who still remain in the playoff hunt, and hopefully that results in some entertaining games for us viewers.
I tallied a solid 69 percent overall last week, a much needed upswing following a couple of down weeks. Factoring in those results my total numbers look like this:
Straight: 147-76 (66 percent)
Spread: 112-111 (50 percent)
Over/Under: 114-109 (51 percent)
That comes out to just under 56 percent across the board on the year, just a couple points below my rate from the previous two seasons. After a lot of ups and downs throughout 2012, I will be satisfied with staying above .500 in all three categories at this point, so here’s to another week on the positive side of things.
Atlanta Falcons (-4) at Detroit Lions (O/U = 51)
In a Saturday night special the NFC leading Falcons travel to Detroit with home field advantage on their mind. If they can pull out a victory in the motor city they will clinch that right throughout the playoffs, and for a team which hasn’t lost at home this year that could be huge once the postseason begins.
The Lions have continually underperformed all year, and last week’s blowout at the hands of the lowly Cardinals was the icing on the cake. Despite jaw dropping stats from both Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson this team has been incapable of performing when it really mattered, and their record reflects this.
While I expect the prideful Lions to make it a game in front of the home fans I believe the Falcons will seize the opportunity to give themselves the upper hand throughout the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals (+4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (O/U = 43.5)
With playoff possibilities abound, the Bengals travel to Pittsburgh to face the division rival Steelers.
A win here would clinch the Bengals' second straight postseason appearance, and they would surely hate to miss out after showing such promise during certain stretches this year. They fell to this same Steeler squad at home in October, so they will have to turn it up a notch to take a victory on the road.
While a win for the Bengals would be key it is all the more important for a Pittsburgh squad that currently sits outside of the playoff pool. If they can pull out a win at home they will even themselves up with Cincy, and sneak into the second wild card spot due to the tiebreaker.
They have lost four of their last five, so it will be a real gut-check here in what is essentially a must-win battle.
I think this could be the game of the week with so much on the line, but with both teams on the opposite ends of the heat spectrum I’m forced to go with the hot hand of the Bengals.
Indianapolis Colts (-6.5) at Kansas City Chiefs (O/U = 42)
Another team that can clinch a playoff spot with a win is the surprising Colts squad led by Andrew Luck. They could also sneak in with a Steelers loss, but no doubt they would like to take their fate in their own hands with a victory here to seal the deal.
The Chiefs haven’t mounted much opposition for anyone this year, and with a team as motivated as the Colts coming to town it’s hard to picture them coming around now. They will likely be selecting first in next year’s draft, and I doubt they screw that up with a shocker here.
New Orleans Saints (+3) at Dallas Cowboys (O/U = 51.5)
The NFC East is still very much up for grabs, and the Cowboys are one of three teams with a shot at the division title. They have won three straight heading into this home contest against the Saints, and have surprised a lot of people by staying in the mix after looking ready to collapse when they were 3-5. I look for Dez Bryant to take advantage of a Saints secondary that has been repeatedly punished.
The Saints are out of the playoff picture for this season, but the opportunity to screw things up for Dallas is surely enough to get them up for this one. A monster game for Drew Brees last week against Tampa proved that he still has some fight in him, and I wouldn’t put it past him to throw a wrench in the Cowboys' postseason plans.
Straight: New Orleans
Spread: New Orleans
Washington Redskins (-5.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (O/U = 44.5)
Alongside the Cowboys at 8-6 are the Redskins.
But by holding the tie-breaker over both Dallas and NY, they currently reside atop the division. Washington didn’t miss a beat last week without RGIII as fellow rookie Kirk Cousins was able to lead the team to victory in an impressive performance. I expect to see Griffin back, though, and I expect him to be hungry.
The Eagles couldn’t make it back-to-back victories riding the wave of momentum from Week 14, and instead dropping last week’s contest to the Bengals. They are dead last in the NFC at this point, and it’s all but guaranteed Andy Reid will be gone at the end of the year.
Before the year started you may have pictured these teams in opposite positions from where they are now, but I suppose that’s why you play the games. I’m taking the Redskins to win, giving themselves even more of an edge in the playoff race.
Minnesota Vikings (+7.5) at Houston Texans (O/U = 44)
Out of the four 8-6 teams in the NFC that aren’t atop their division the Vikings hold all the right tie-breakers, and would sneak into the last NFC playoff spot if the season ended today. With Adrian Peterson in striking distance of a 2,000 yard season, not to mention the all-time rushing record, I expect them to feed the ball to their power back in droves.
The Texans are locked into the AFC playoffs, but similar to Atlanta could clinch home-field advantage with a win this week. After getting throttled by New England two weeks ago they returned to form against the Colts last week, so it will be interesting to see which team shows up here.
I think AP has a good day in pursuit of history, but it won’t be enough to stifle the Texans who are vying for something important themselves.
Chicago Bears (-5.5) at Arizona Cardinals (O/U = 36.5)
There is no team hoping more that the Vikings lose than the Chicago Bears. Currently even with the Vikes, but behind due to tie-breakers, the Bears are the first team out of the NFC playoffs at this point. A win here teamed with a Texans victory could thrust Chicago right back into the playoff mix.
After losing nine straight, the Cards walloped the Lions last week to get back on the right track. Unfortunately they are matched up against a more formidable NFC North opponent here.
The Bears get a favorable draw in this one as they should be able to take care of the Cards and hope for those around them to crumble.
New York Giants (-2.5) at Baltimore Ravens (O/U = 47.5)
In a week full of great games the matchup between the Giants and Ravens is probably the best.
Despite three straight losses the Ravens have already guaranteed themselves a playoff spot and can clinch the AFC North with a win here. They have had their troubles this season and this week would be a good start to getting on a positive note heading into the postseason.
While the Ravens are looking the clinch the division, the Giants are still concerned about the playoffs in general. They could lock up their spot with a win here and a series of losses from the teams around them in the standings. They had to work to sneak into a wild card spot last year, and ended up winning the Super Bowl, so I doubt they are feeling too uncomfortable quite yet.
With more on the line in this one I’m taking the Giants on the road while the Ravens continue to slide.
Straight: New York
Spread: New York
San Francisco 49ers (+3.5) at Seattle Seahawks (O/U = 40.5)
To cap off this week of great battles we get a stellar NFC West matchup between the 49ers and Seahawks. Seattle has won five of their last six, and put itself in position to clinch a wild card berth with a win here at home against SF. Russell Wilson has without a doubt thrust himself into the discussion with Andrew Luck and RGIII as all three have taken the NFL by storm in their rookie seasons.
The Niners have won four of their last five in their own right, and can earn the division crown with a win here on the road against the ‘Hawks. Colin Kaepernick has continued to start, and done so effectively since he was given the opportunity. This could be the young QB's toughest challenge yet, however, in primetime in front of the most raucous crowd in the NFL.
This should be a great one to watch Monday night, and I anticipate a close match. With the momentum of the crowd behind them I think the Seahawks make a statement in a close win.
Spread: San Francisco
Oakland Raiders (+8.5) at Carolina Panthers (O/U = 46)
Buffalo Bills (+4.5) at Miami Dolphins (O/U = 42.5)
New England Patriots (-14.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (O/U = 48.5)
Straight: New England
Spread: New England
St. Louis Rams (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (O/U = 44)
Straight: Tampa Bay
Spread: Tampa Bay
San Diego Chargers (+2.5) at New York Jets (O/U = 40.5)
Straight: San Diego
Spread: San Diego
Tennessee Titans (+13) at Green Bay Packers (O/U =46)
Straight: Green Bay
Spread: Green Bay
Cleveland Browns (+13) at Denver Broncos (O/U = 44.5)
*Spread and Over/Under numbers provided courtesy of VegasInsider.com*