Some results I certainly wasn’t expecting last week, Washington beating the Bears, Raiders beating the Broncos and St Louis taming the Lions but the Eagles beating the Bills cut the deepest. Buffalo beat themselves with 15 penalties for over 100 yards. You just can’t give up the length of the field in penalties and expect to win games! The defence kept them in the game but the final drive was stopped when an overthrown shot down the field was picked off. Stick a fork in the Bills, they’re definitely done! The Jets got an easy win over the Titans to stay in the playoff hunt and the Chiefs squeezed out a 10-3 win over San Diego for their seventh straight win. The main game for the AFC playoff picture was the Steelers@Bengals game which finished 33-20 in Pittsburgh’s favour – the outcome was almost decided early on when Andy Dalton left the game with a thumb injury and was seen wearing a cast. If he’s out for the season Cincinnati might just have seen their playoff hopes go up in smoke. This could have been the year Dalton finally won a playoff game. New England bounced back and beat Houston and claim the No.1 seed back with that Bengals loss and the Broncos falling to the Raiders. The loss for Houston coupled with the Jaguars absolutely destroying the Colts (51-16!) means we have two entire divisions without a team over .500! The Jags win also means they’re a game back in the AFC South and are still, somehow, in the playoff picture. Johnny Manziel led the Browns to their third win of the year over San Francisco who are probably asking for a defence from Santa! Atlanta will be asking for the last 7 weeks back. Six losses and a bye now for the Falcons as Carolina improved to 13-0 with a 38-0 shutout. Minnesota fell in Arizona as the Cardinals sealed a playoff place in a close fought 23-20 win. The Seahawks eased by the Ravens to improve to 8-5 to take the other wild card place in the NFC and it’s tough to see anyone other than the current teams making it in the NFC. The only two questions I can see for the NFC is whether the Vikings or Packers win the North (Green Bay have my vote) and if any team will actually win the East? Dallas are a pair of games back and you’d have to say out of it. The other 3 teams all won leaving it a 3-way tie at 6-7 with Washington holding the top spot with the tiebreakers. Who will take the spoils? It should probably be the Giants but they don’t have it easy this week as they host the Panthers! For some reason the NFL have arranged a game for Saturday this week, which just so happens to be my birthday. My birthday treat from the NFL? The New York Jets travel to Dallas. I might go out!
Bucs@Rams – TNF
We start the week with the rather underwhelming proposition of the Buccaneers travelling to St Louis to try and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They didn’t help themselves losing to New Orleans last week whereas the Rams got their first win in 6 games. Tampa have had a fairly decent season overall and can certainly improve again next year while the Rams seem to be stuck in a pattern of being average in a tough division. Jameis Winston has certainly improved since that week 1 loss to the Titans and I’d think he can lead the Bucs to another win here in St Louis. The Rams are favoured by 1.
Jets@Cowboys – Saturday
New York seem to be back on track after that lull a few weeks back where they lost 4 from 5 and have won 3 straight and have their eyes on an AFC wild card. They eased by the Titans last week despite Mariota switching to a receiver for one play and catching his first NFL pass for a touchdown. Dallas must be wondering what happened to their season. After making a good playoff run last year and almost making the NFC Championship game (come on, that was a catch!) they are 4-9 and basically done for the year. Had Romo stayed fit could they have challenged? They probably could have won the division but I doubt they’d have gone far in the playoffs. This week I think the defence will keep Ivory limited in the ground game so it’ll be resting on Fitzpatrick to deal another couple of touchdown passes. I doubt Dallas can put up too many points so 14 or 17 should do for the Jets to get another win.
I predict yellow. Lots and lots of yellow. Yes I’m bitter about the 15 penalties Buffalo put up last week because it cost them the game but Washington can be quite flag happy too. The Bills have been given the same treatment as last week being made 1 point favourites. If the offensive line can behave itself they can manage that. Washington are playing for a playoff spot and will need at least 2 wins from their last 3 games, Cousins will have to watch out with some of his throws as Buffalo can be quite handy at reading routes and getting a pick.
Alright, so last week I wondered which version of Carolina would play. The one that rests players and just rides the wave to the playoffs or the one that goes and decimates teams? A 38-0 walkover against the Falcons later and I had my answer. They did sit Newton for most of the 2nd half but this team still wants to win games. New York had a decent win over the Dolphins mainly thanks to another huge game for Beckham. He’ll need to be at his best again this week to make a dent big enough to upset the Panthers. Carolina drop to 4.5 point favourites, probably as they aim to go a little more conservative with their plays rather than risk injuries.
I thought Minnesota did quite well in their loss to Arizona last week. They put up 20 on a top 5 rated defence and limited a top 5 rated offence to only 23. They didn’t get the result they wanted but they certainly showed why they’re fighting for the NFC North title. Chicago had a pretty poor showing last week against Washington with another missed field goal costing them a shot at overtime. Minnesota should get the win here but they need to improve their passing game to have a proper shot in the post-season. They’re favourites by 5.5 points and I might be tempted to take Chicago on that.
After that huge win over Indianapolis last week where Jacksonville scored a touchdown on every possession in the second half they’re favourites to be the latest team to topple the Falcons. Bortles is certainly getting to grips with the NFL despite some daft errors still present in his game. He’s not in Matt Ryan’s league yet, but the Atlanta passer has been having a nightmare time of it lately. With the Panthers and the Saints left on their slate this is the Falcons best shot of getting another victory in this wasted season. With an extra 3.5 points I’m tempted but I think the Jags probably have the edge overall with the way Atlanta have played in recent weeks.
In the battle for the AFC South the winner of this game could well be going to the playoffs. Indy have still got Miami and Tennessee which are both winnable games. Houston have still got Tennessee and Jacksonville, both winnable games. That means a lot will be riding on this game. The game earlier in the year was a close one, with Indy edging it 27-20. Both teams have lost their last two games with the Colts looking the shakier of the two teams. There is also uncertainty around who will play quarterback for Indianapolis again. Andrew Luck was due back but he doesn’t feel 100% ready to play yet. Hasselbeck left the game last week with injured ribs a week after neck and shoulder injuries. Nothing is broken but he will be sore after taking all that pounding. If he is taking so many hits is it worth risking Luck when there is no quarterback protection to speak of in that offensive line? No spread as yet while we wait for the QB news. I’m tempted to back Houston regardless of who plays. I can see them covering a 3 point spread.
More bad news for New England with LaGarrette Blount ruled out for the year with a hip injury. I’m not sure who is meant to run the ball for them now. Maybe Belichick will suit up in the backfield for a snap or two!! The Patriots should still ease past Tennessee who are a slowly improving side but still not good enough for playoff level teams. I would say New England might start sitting players to not risk injury but I doubt they’ve got enough players left!! It’s a 14 point spread (!!) which normally I’d say should be easy for New England. At the minute are they likely to go all out?
Kansas made hard work of beating San Diego last week, only managing a 10-3 victory. It does look good for the defence to limit the opposition to one field goal but not so hot for an offence that has been working well in recent weeks. Alex Smith threw his first interception in something like 300 attempts which stopped his closing on Brady’s record. Baltimore finally suffered that big loss they’ve avoided all season in the 35-6 defeat against Seattle. I think they’ll have another home loss this week as Kansas get back to scoring about 30 points per game. Baltimore won’t be able to keep up with that and I reckon another big loss could be on the cards. Kansas are -7.
Russell Wilson has been unstoppable the last few weeks with 16 touchdowns and no picks in his last 4 games. What a time for Cleveland to have to visit Seattle. What can Manziel do against the suddenly surging Seahawks? Reckon he’ll get the Browns close enough for a field goal attempt? This is going to be a bloodbath! Seattle are 14.5 point favourites and I think that’s being generous to Cleveland. Normally I shy away from big spreads but I can’t see anything other than a third huge win for Seattle. 31 over Minnesota, 29 over Baltimore, anyone want to bet on Cleveland?
Both sides had good wins last time out with the Raiders 15-12 win over Denver being a bit of a standout result. Everyone expected Green Bay to ease past Dallas but a 28-7 victory was something Green Bay should have been doing all year long. I think this one might be tight. Oakland made it past the strong Denver defence and can get more on the board against Green Bay which has a defence that only seems to come alive in the red zone. The Raiders will need to be better against Rodgers than against Osweiler to keep it lower scoring, but as I’ve said before, Oakland can do well in a shootout. I wouldn’t bet against them possibly coming up with another upset here. Green Bay are only 3 point favourites, I’m tempted to take the Packers but Oakland are capable of pulling it off!
Osweiler lost his first game as a starter last week as Denver couldn’t manage a touchdown against the Raiders and had to settle for field goals. Pittsburgh had an easier time than most would have expected against the Bengals when Dalton went off injured after tackling the man who intercepted his red zone pass. The Steelers have one of the best, if not the best, offences in the AFC right now which will be tested against this strong Denver defence. Osweiler needs to improve more to be a real threat at quarterback but is handling it well considering how little game experience he has. This will be a real test for him this week which is reflected in Pittsburgh being 5.5 point favourites. Pittsburgh are capable of putting up those kind of points and can cover the spread if they can keep the Broncos limited to field goals for another week.
San Diego are 2 point favourites in what might be their last home game in this stadium. Miami haven’t been the team anyone expected this year but they are running the ball better and the defence has strengthened as the year comes to a close. Tannehill has been disappointing this year with very little to suggest he is the great young quarterback a lot of people thought he was turning into last year. Rivers on the other hand has been fantastic despite playing almost with a hand tied behind his back. He was kept out of the end zone last week against Kansas but I expect he’ll get a couple of balls in there this weekend. I’m tempted to back Miami in this one after their performance against the Giants.
This probably would have been more like a 10 point spread had Dalton not wrecked his thumb last week. As it is they only have to find 4 to beat the spread against the slowly improving 49ers. They look better with Gabbert taking the snaps and I think San Francisco should stick with him into next year rather than revert to Kaepernick. Cincinnati should still take this one by more than the spread. They’ve got a strong team and over the full hour they should be able to stifle Gabbert and get up enough points for a comfortable win to keep them in prime position for the AFC North title.
Not sure why Arizona are only favoured by 3.5 here. A team with a top 5 offence and defence against Philadelphia? Arizona had a bit of a fight with Minnesota last Thursday to get their 11th win of the year and get themselves a place in the playoffs but on the back of a long week and a chance to wrap up the NFC West they’ll ease past a team that struggled against Buffalo. Bradford can make some big plays but doesn’t have the weapons that Palmer has around him. I’d back to Cardinals to win big here.
Lions@Saints – MNF
Stafford and Detroit seemed to relapse last week. Are they trying to get a better spot in the draft or something? If they play anything like that again this week Brees will have them for breakfast. New Orleans broke that four game losing streak last week with a comfortable win over division rivals Tampa Bay after a strong showing against Carolina the week before. I expect New Orleans will be coming into this with a lot of confidence. The defence is still weak and that could let them down but if Brees can put 38 on Carolina he can do enough to win his team this game.