Who will make the playoffs? With two weeks of the regular season to go, there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered.
Last week, the Carolina Panthers defeated the New York Giants 38-35 to improve to 14-0 for the first time in franchise history. The Panthers, who have already clinched the NFC South division title and a first-round bye, can secure homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win.
The Panthers are the fourth team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 14-0, joining e Miami Dolphins (1972), New England Patriots (2007) and Indianapolis Colts (2009). All three of those clubs advanced to the Super Bowl, with the Dolphins winning Super Bowl VII. The 1972 Dolphins are the only team to record a ‘perfect’ unbeaten season.
MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 16 of the 2015/16 NFL season. In the last two weeks, our handicap selections have gone 21-10-1.
The odds are correct at the time of writing and are available on your club’s betting service.
(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)
SAN DIEGO at OAKLAND
(-5.5, Total Points 47.5)
Neither team can make the playoffs, so this is effectively a dead rubber in the early hours of Christmas Day (01:25) UK time.
The Chargers (4-6) may well have played their last game in San Diego as a potential move to Los Angeles has been mooted. At least they signed off in style, defeating perennial underachievers Miami 30-14 in San Diego on Sunday.
Philip Rivers has had a strong season and he completed 26 of 36 passes for 311 yards with three touchdowns. He ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (4,287) and eclipsed 4,000 yards for the seventh time in his career.
Rivers is 14-5 as a starter against the Raiders, who fell to 6-8 after losing 30-20 at home to the Green Bay Packers.
The Raiders have been inconsistent, but QB Derek Carr has been a bright spot. He passed for 276 yards against the Packers and two TDs, giving him 30 for the year. He, along with Daryle Lamonica, are the only Raiders to reach the 30 TD barrier in a season.
Rookie receiver Amari Cooper had six receptions for 120 yards against the Packers and two touchdowns. He broke the 1,000-yard receiving barrier (1,040), making him the first Raiders’ rookie to do so and the first Raider since Randy Moss (1,005) in 2005 to hit that mark.
This is an awkward start to the penultimate week of the regular season. The Chargers have won six of the last eight meetings and nine of the last 11 in Oakland. They have not been swept by the Raiders since 2010.
Both teams stack up evenly as far as the stats go and, despite their record, San Diego has hung tough against some decent teams since their bye week.
Oakland has improved their run defense markedly and they have a decent nucleus of a top-level attack. There is no question that the Raiders are rising and we take them, albeit tentatively, to cover the number.
VERDICT: SAN DIEGO 17 OAKLAND 27
BEST BET: OAKLAND -5 @ 1.91
WASHINGTON at PHILADELPHIA
(-4.5, Total Points 47.5)
After winning on the road and posting back-to-back wins for the first time this season, the Washington Redskins can clinch the NFC east title by beating the Eagles (6-7), yet they are 4.5-point underdogs.
In truth, the Redskins (7-7) are winning the division by default. They were the only team in the NFC East to win last weekend, outlasting the Buffalo Bills, despite giving up 452 total yards.
Washington has a couple of injuries along the offensive line, which is a concern. Tackle Morgan Moses could be ruled out with an ankle injury and Ty Nsekhe could fill in, while back-up center Josh LeRibeus, who has filled in for Kory Lichtensteiger, is similarly hampered. Brian de la Puente is expected to replace him.
Running back Matt Jones, who has been effective catching the ball out of the backfield, is also a doubt with a hip injury.
This could negate any advantage Washington may have had. The Eagles boast the 30th-ranked run defense and the Redskins have run the ball over 100 yards in each of the past four weeks.
The onus will be on Redskins QB Kirk Cousins to keep the chains moving, but Washington’s inability to win on the road is a concern, as is Cousins’ penchant to tossing interceptions – he has had at least one in his last 12 road games.
Still, Philadelphia’s inability to tackle effectively – they give up on average 123 yards per run after the catch – and their offense, which has been held to under 20 points in four of the last six games, means this could be a nail-biter.
Washington should not be such heavy underdogs. The reason they are leads us to think that Philadelphia should keep the NFC East title in the balance until the final week of the season.
VERDICT: WASHINGTON 17 PHILADELPHIA 23
BEST BET: PHILADELPHIA -4.5 @ 1.91
CAROLINA at ATLANTA
(+6.5, Total Points 48.5)
Atlanta’s offense has been stagnant since Week 5. They have eclipsed 21 points just once since then, scoring 23 points in a win at Jacksonville last weekend.
Thumped 38-0 by unbeaten Carolina just two weeks ago in Charlotte, they are less than a touchdown underdog for the return at the Georgia Dome, where they have won on each of their last two visits. The Panthers seek a third successive victory there for only the second time in the series’ history.
The Panthers have won five of the last six meetings and have wrapped up the NFC South with two weeks to go. A win – or an Arizona loss to Green Bay – will see them lock down homefield advantage for the playoffs. The Falcons remain alive in the playoff race at 7-7 with New Orleans to play in the finale.
Panthers QB Cam Newton leads a big-play passing attack which hums along when faced with teams who cannot get pressure up front. The Falcons are last in the league with 13 total sacks, so the Panthers’ offensive line should be able to give Newton enough time when he drops back.
However, the Falcons’ defense does create turnovers – they are fifth in the league in interceptions.
We expect the Panthers to dominate on the ground, as Atlanta’s tackling is not great (ranking 26th in missed tackles per snap), and would not put anyone off having running back Jonathan Stewart in their fantasy teams this weekend.
The line is lower than we would expect, but the Falcons have plenty still to play for and this could be a tighter battle than many anticipate. We did not like the way the Panthers took their foot off the gas last week in New York, who showed they are vulnerable to elite receivers. We are looking at you Julio Jones. Still, the Panthers should
VERDICT: CAROLINA 27 ATLANTA 21
BEST BET: ATLANTA +6.5 @ 1.91
PITTSBURGH at BALTIMORE
(+9.5, Total Points 47.5)
The Steelers are 9-5 and can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss. The 4-10 Ravens are in the hunt for the first overall pick in the NFL draft after a bitterly disappointing season.
Pittsburgh has lost three of its last four trips to Baltimore and four of the last five meetings overall, yet the Steelers’ offense is firing now that Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. They have put up over 30 points in each of the last six games and Big Ben is averaging over 330 passing yards per game.
Consequently, the Steelers enter this as heavy favourites, despite allowing a poor 7.7 yards per pass play average.
The reason for the big handicap line is the uncertain status at the quarterback spot. Joe Flacco tore his ACL in week 11 and was replaced by Matt Schaub, who suffered a chest injury and was then benched for Jimmy Clausen after two games.
Clausen started the last two weeks, but has gone a combined 49 of 85 pass completions for 555 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Joe Montana he isn’t. It could be that Ryan Mallett, the former New England back-up who was cut by Houston earlier this season, makes his first start.
Pittsburgh’s record in Baltimore is not good. Their total points in the last 12 visits were: 10, 13, 13, 0, 21, 13, 17, 13, 7, 23, 20 and 6. They won just three of those games.
Can we trust them to cover such a large number against a division foe with nothing to lose? The simple answer is yes. The Ravens simply are not a good football team right now.
VERDICT: PITTSBURGH 27 BALTIMORE 13
BEST BET: PITTSBURGH -9.5 @ 1.91
NEW ENGLAND at NEW YORK JETS
(+1.5, Total Points 45.5)
The New York Jets need to win their last two AFC East division games – against New England and Buffalo – and see either the Chiefs, Steelers or Broncos lose if they are to make the playoffs as a wildcard.
They are riding a four-game winning streak thanks, in part, to some clutch performances from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has tossed 10 TDs and one interception in that span.
Standing in their way are the Patriots, who can clinch homefield advantage with a win or a Cincinnati loss.
The banged-up Patriots, who have won eight of the last nine meetings, could well rest some starters as they bid to extend their 23-7 record over the Jets in the Tom Brady era.
But ever since the infamous Butt-fumble in 2012, games between these two have been close, decided by three, three, two, three and seven points – all Patriots wins.
Much depends on how the Patriots approach this. Still, the Super Bowl champs are unlikely to let up and we see them as one of the better bets of the weekend, regardless of what is on the line for the Jets.
VERDICT: NEW ENGLAND 23 NY JETS 17
BEST BET: NEW ENGLAND -1.5 @ 1.91
GREEN BAY at ARIZONA
(-4.5, Total Points 50.5)
This is possibly the best game of Week 16, with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals already having secured respective playoff berths. The Packers lead the NFC North by one game after a 30-20 win in Oakland and can secure the title this weekend with a win and a Minnesota Vikings loss. The Packers and Vikings meet in week 17.
The Cardinals have won a franchise 12 games and clinched the NFC West last week with a 40-17 win at Philadelphia. The Cardinals will receive a first round playoff bye with a win.
Green bay has a fair record at Arizona, only having lost back-to-back visits once since 1949 (and those losses came nine years apart).
The Packers have won their last three games and five of seven on the road, while the Cardinals are riding an eight-game winning streak and playing arguably the best football in the league right now.
Arizona suffered a blow last week when safety Tyrann Mathieu suffered a torn ACL. He led the team in passes defended (16), was tied for the most interceptions (five) and was second in solo tackles (80). So we expect the Cardinals to drop off a bit defensively.
The one thing they don’t have is a dominant pass-rusher and if given time, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will pick any defense apart.
Yet their running game is not the best and to keep one of the best attacks on the sidelines, you need to be able to control the clock. We are not sure that the Packers can do this.
The Cardinals’ offensive line is greater than the sum of its parts, but they have a veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer who is playing some of the best football of his career and they can hit you deep off of play action.
Yet it is the running game that impresses us the most. David Johnson, a third round selection from Northern Iowa, is the real deal. In three starts, he has rushed for 378 yards at 5.4 yards per carry. He catches the ball well and is also a capable pass blocker.
We see the Packers’ defense wilting under pressure and take the Cardinals to cover a lofty number.
VERDICT: GREEN BAY 23 ARIZONA 31
BEST BET: ARIZONA -4.5 @ 1.91
OTHER HANDICAP SELECTIONS
DALLAS +6.5 at Buffalo: Buffalo’s playoff drought continues after their loss to Washington and their motivation will be to beat a team that beat them in back-to-back Super Bowls (1993 and 94). The Cowboys are in the hunt for the first pick in the NFL draft (Tennessee and Cleveland have the inside track) and have little motivation, but the handicap is big enough to warrant a small play. Bills 24-20
SAN FRANCISCO +9.5 at Detroit: The Lions have lost 14 of the last 15 meetings against the Niners, including four of the last five at home. Nothing rests on this game, but a play on the points total at 43 might be worth taking. We’ll go over. Lions 28-20
KANSAS CITY -12.5 over Cleveland: The biggest handicap line of the weekend and we take the Chiefs to cover it. They are the only team in NFL history to win eight consecutive games immediately following a five-game losing streak. Amazing what a trip to London will do for you. At 9-5, the Chiefs can clinch a playoff berth with a victory and a loss by either Pittsburgh or the New York Jets. Chiefs 31-13
MIAMI -2.5 over Indianapolis: The Colts have shut down QB Andrew Luck for their final road game of the season and should Houston win at Tennessee, it won’t matter. They already need help to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. This could be Matt Hasselbeck’s last hurrah, the 40-year-old gunslinger looked to have little left against Houston and it could be that Charlie Whitehurst will start. Miami have been poor all season but they may well nick a home win against a banged-up opponent. Dolphins 21-17
TAMPA BAY -3.5 over Chicago: The Bears have not won three consecutive meetings in Tampa since winning on six consecutive trips from 1983-88. Consecutive losses to New Orleans and St Louis meant the Buccaneers miss the playoffs for the eight consecutive season and this young team, though improving, made to many mental errors when it mattered (including 21 penalties in those two losses). The Bucs have had 10 days rest and the Bears are in a tailspin, having lost their last three. Not a game to get too involved in. Buccaneers 24-20
TENNESSEE +4.5 over Houston: The Texans moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC South with last week’s 16-10 win at Indianapolis. Houston QB Brandon Weeden came on in relief and threw the game-winning touchdown pass to rookie receiver Jaelen Strong in the fourth quarter. The Texans can clinch the division title with a win and an Indianapolis loss. The Titans are going nowhere, but they are worth a punt at home. Titans 16-13
NEW ORLEANS -5.5 over Jacksonville: The post-season playoff drought in Jacksonville now stands at eight seasons after their loss to Atlanta and they will face a severe test from the Saints’ passing game, which is averaging over 303 yards per game. The Jaguars’ secondary gives up 260 yards per game, but bear in mind that the Saints have failed to cover the handicap in three of their last five home games. Saints 34-27
SEATTLE -13.5: Seattle have clinched a wildcard and despite losing five games, are still the NFC champions and the team no-one wants to face. The Rams have lost their last 10 trips to Seattle and in just two of those contests have they managed to keep it to a one-score margin of defeat. The line is about where it should be, but we take the Rams to keep this competitive for a while. Seahawks 31-16
NEW YORK GIANTS +5.5 at Minnesota: The Giants are a game behind Washington and are tied with Philadelphia in the NFC East, with whom the Giants face in week 17. The Giants can still win the division title but need to win their last two and get help along the way. Minnesota will clinch a playoff berth with a win and should they defeat Green Bay next week, will clinch the NFC North title. Tough call. Vikings can win, but it may be close. Vikings 27-24
DENVER -3.5 over Cincinnati: Cincinnati can clinch the AFC North division title and a first-round bye with a win on Monday night. The Broncos can secure a playoff spot with a win and a loss by either Pittsburgh or the New York Jets. Denver clinches the AFC West title with a victory over Cincinnati and a loss by Kansas City. The Bengals have lost their last nine trips to Denver and with receiver AJ Green suffering a back injury and with AJ McCarron still deputising for starting QB Andy Dalton (broken thumb), we see the Broncos covering the field goal handicap. Broncos 27-21
Stay tuned to our WordPress site for Previews and Betting Guides on a variety of Sports….
Get your club, however large or small, its own tailor-made betting service – FREE – and start benefiting now! See myclubbetting.com for details.
You must be 18+ in order to bet. Please gamble responsibly http://www.gambleaware.co.uk