AFC CHAMPIONSHIP – NFL Betting Guide

The semi-finals for Super Bowl 50 – better known as the Conference Championships – take place on Sunday and with the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers joint-favourites at 2/1 with My Club Betting to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

In the AFC, the reigning AFC Conference champion and last season’s Super Bowl heroes New England travel to Denver to take on the No.1 seed Broncos, who are 4/1 to win the Super Bowl.

NFC no.1 seed Carolina, who have lost just once this season, face Arizona’s high-powered attack and the Cardinals are 3/1 to win it all.

Lamar Hunt Trophy
The Lamar Hunt Trophy: Awarded to the AFC Champions

 

After another winning season against the handicap, 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 Sunday’s AFC Championship game.

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)

NEW ENGLAND at DENVER

Sunday 8.05pm – Sky Sports

(+1.5, Total Points 45.5)

And so he faces the final curtain. Peyton Manning’s glorious career looks set to come to an end on Sunday and what a fitting way he will go out – duelling with New England quarterback counterpart Tom Brady.

Manning wins
Final curtain: Peyton Manning 

Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have been the spoiler in Manning’s career. He would arguably have been the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), but for that duo. Manning has all the significant passing records, he’s tied with Brett Favre for the winning-most quarterback of all time – but Brady and Belichick have the Super Bowl rings. Four to be precise. Manning and the Broncos stand in the way for a shot at ‘one for the thumb’.

Last year, Brady won his fourth Super Bowl ring (joining Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw) and third Super Bowl MVP trophy in New England’s come-from-behind 28-24 victory over Seattle. Belichick joined Chuck Noll as the only coaches with four Super Bowl rings.

Manning has one ring, a bum shoulder and a 5-11 record against Belichick and Brady. For the 17th and possibly the final time – Manning is unlikely to be in Denver next season and with little zip on his passes, he may decide to retire after an 18-year career – the bad guys face the good guy for the right to play in the Super Bowl.

Manning is 2-0 against them in home AFC Championship games, however, once with Indianapolis in 2006 and again with Denver in 2013. The home quarterback has never lost a Brady/Manning game in the playoffs, but Brady is 5-1 when the game kicks off with a temperature of less than 40 degrees.

Brady1
Four rings: Tom Brady is arguably the GOAT

Brady’s two career wins in Denver came when facing Tim Tebow and Danny Kanell and the Patriots are 3-17 at Denver since 1969, when they were known as the Boston Patriots.

New England have already been beaten by the Broncos this season, with back-up QB Brock Osweiler leading Denver to an overtime win. The Sheriff, who missed the clash with a torn plantar fascia injury, will be in charge on Sunday.

The game that will be defined by two very good defences and whether or not Manning and his offense are capable of rediscovering their form. Manning was 7-2 as a starter this season but threw just nine touchdown passes to 17 interceptions. Despite going 21 of 37 for 222 yards with zero interceptions, he was throwing dying quails rather than tight spirals and rainbows in the win over an injury-hit Pittsburgh last weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos
Better than stats: Manning’s receivers dropped passes 

Yet he played better than the bar stats suggest, with numerous dropped passes plaguing Gary Kubiak’s team (perhaps a result of the ball not hitting its mark quickly enough and receivers getting jittery, expecting to be hit).

In his defence, the wind that caused untold problems at Mile High last weekend, is not due to be anywhere near as severe and gusty. Perfect football weather is forecast.

The Patriots easily dealt with Kansas City last weekend, ending their 11-game winning streak, and their underrated defense will dare Manning to throw deep on them, staking the box to stop the run.

Denver simply has to be able to run the ball effectively to keep Brady off the field for as long as possible. C.J. Anderson ripped off almost five yards per run against Pittsburgh last week and more of the same is imperative if the Broncos are to have a chance.

Buffalo Bills v Denver Broncos
First TD scorer: C.J. Anderson is our suggestion

He is currently a 10/1 chance with My Club Betting score the first touchdown, and that is a fair bet.

The Broncos’ defense is marginally better than the Chiefs’ and, looking at this simplistically, Brady will have to get receiver Julian Edelman involved early to keep them Broncos off balance. Edelman is 8/1 to get the first score.

Edelman Gronk
Big threat: Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman

The Patriots have only scored 24 points or more on four of their last 22 trips to Denver and with such a marauding Broncos defense, we feel that hitting that mark again might be a stretch, particularly if Brady is under fire and forced to make throws into coverage.

We hope the Broncos win it, but the odds are stacked against Manning and company. Still, New England’s awful record at Mile High cannot be overlooked. We are betting with the heart a little bit, hoping that Manning can have one more day in the sun, but there are a few other bets to take advantage of.

VERDICT: DENVER 23 NEW ENGLAND 16
BEST BET: NEW ENGLAND UNDER 23.5 POINTS @ 1.83

OTHER SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BIG GAME:

HANDICAP: DENVER +1.5 @ 2.2o

TOTAL POINTS: UNDER 43.5 @ 1.95

FIRST TD SCORER: C.J. ANDERSON @ 12.00

RACE TO 10 POINTS: DENVER @ 2.10

HT/FT: DRAW/DENVER @ 17.00

WINNING MARGIN: DENVER WIN BY 7-12 POINTS @ 5.50

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NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS – MCB Betting Guide

The Arizona Cardinals head into the Divisional round of the playoffs as the co-favourites to win Super Bowl 50 with My Club Betting.

The Cardinals are 4/1 with both the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. The Denver Broncos, the top seed in the AFC, are 5/1, followed by the reigning NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks at 6/1. The Kansas City Chiefs are next best at 10/1, followed by the Green Bay Packers at 14/1 and the Pittsburgh Steelers the outsiders at 16/1.

Super Bowl 1
Ultimate goal: Vince Lombardi Trophy

Some poor officiating in Cincinnati and a last-minute field goal from Pittsburgh prevented a perfect tipping performance ATS in last week’s wildcard round. After another winning season against the handicap/spread (ATS), 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 this weekend’s Divisional playoffs.

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)

KANSAS CITY at NEW ENGLAND

(-5.5, Total Points 43.5)

Here’s where it ends. It had a good life, after all. Time to mourn its passing. The Kansas City Chiefs won 11 games in succession and thumped Houston 30-0 in their own house to make it this far.

Brady
Platitudes: A confident Tom Brady

But now it stops. The Chiefs have a dreadful record in New England and have managed just one win in their last eight visits. They have lost their last five trips to Boston and while the hosts will be fearful, having lost 41-14 to them in last year’s Super Bowl-winning campaign, that defeat was on the road.

Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady has had a week off and he’s been hurling platitudes towards to Chiefs in the media – a sure sign the Patriots are confident in their game plan. They just love to be condescending. It is in their DNA. So is winning.

Brady had more than one eye on the Chiefs’ win in Houston and is right when he admits: “I think Kansas City forced them into a lot of bad football, but that’s what Kansas City has done a great job of all year. They’ve forced teams, whoever they played down the stretch – they’ve won 11 straight – all of them, into making a lot of bad plays.”

The Chiefs have a great pass rush and their front seven is playing as well as any front seven has done this season.

But, like the Patriots, they have suffered some significant injuries. Center Mitch Morse missed Saturday’s game. They lost starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff to a concussion, as well as top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin with a high ankle sprain in last week’s win. Maclin is a key component in the short-passing game that is predicated on giving the runners the opportunity to get yards after the catch.

Quarterback Alex Smith throws a lot of wide receiver screens to safety-blanket Maclin and Albert Wilson. He’ll also look for Charcandrick West on flat routes. But Maclin’s loss will be felt, even though rookie Chris Colney – whom we highlighted as a great bet to score a TD last week – is a polished receiver who has been biding his time and should make an impact. The Georgia product is going to be a star in this league before too long. Take that to the bank.

Charcandrick West
Charcandrick West: Safety valve in the flat

The loss of Maclin would also allow the Patriots to put pressure on TE Travis Kelce inside with a safety over the top.

Spencer Ware is punishing downhill runner and can gain tough yards. We expect him to see plenty of the ball.

But the Chiefs are not in great shape. Premier pass rusher Justin Houston not the force he was since missing five weeks with a knee injury (he lacked explosion off the edge against Houston), and Tamba Hali, the Chiefs’ other edge rusher playing only 15 snaps against the Texans. He has a broken thumb.

If either are limited, the onus will be on Dee Ford to make plays off the edge and rattle Brady.

The Patriots are in better shape now. They had unrecognisable starting units in Weeks 16 and 17 and rested key players. They also had the benefit of the bye week and should have mostly everyone – including perhaps their most important offensive cog outside of Brady, Julian Edelman, ready for the playoff game.

The Patriots will have Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones and Sebastian Vollmer available after they missed their season-ending defeat in Miami. That could be hugely significant and will allow them to execute a less vanilla game plan.

This should be a tight encounter. The Patriots have not played well in recent weeks but while their injuries have cleared up, the Chiefs are bruised. We feel the super Bowl Champions will make it to the AFC Championship game.

VERDICT: KANSAS CITY 17 NEW ENGLAND 31

BEST BET: NEW ENGLAND +5.5 @ 2.05

SPORTING BET: OVER 43.5 POINTS

GREEN BAY at ARIZONA

(-7.5, Total Points 49.5)

Rewind just three weeks ago. The Arizona Cardinals made a statement, beating the Green Bay Packers 38-8 behind nine sacks. It gave them the number two seen in the NFC and a week’s rest.

Dwight Freeney
Veteran force: Dwight Freeney

The key was pressure up front. The Cardinals feasted on a makeshift Packers offensive line, with Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell among six players all recording sacks on Aaron Rodgers.

Though the Packers rediscovered their mojo after a slow start in Washington to prevail 35-18, they are still heavy underdogs to prevent losing for their third consecutive visit to Arizona, a feat that has not occurred since 1948-49, when the Cardinals franchise was in Chicago.

The Cardinals’ offense is arguably the most explosive of all the playoff teams. They have a rookie running back in David Johnson, who is getting hot late in the season, a veteran head coach in Bruce Arians who has a chip on his shoulder after being overlooked for so long, a sure-handed, speedy and large receiving corps, led by an assured quarterback in Carson Palmer who has a point to prove. They should be favourites to win it all and are rightly heavy jollies over the pre-season Super Bowl favourite.

For handicap bettors, there is a little conundrum. The Cardinals are 1-5 ATS in their last six games at home, but their one cover came against the Packers. The Cheeseheads have won seven of the last 10 games against the Cardinals and are 3-1 outright and ATS in their last four games as an underdog against them.

The points total has gone under the Vegas line in 10 of the last 14 Packers’ games and also 5-2 in the last seven games between the Packers and Cardinals.

Deone Bucannon
Deone Bucannon: Different looks

This game won’t be a case of déjà vu. In the first game, Green Bay committed four turnovers, including two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns. The Packers were, at one point, playing without three starting offensive linemen and the game turned on a couple of turnovers in the second and third quarters.

The Cardinals’ gameplan will be to limit the Packers’ running game and make them one-dimensional, believing their secondary can overwhelm the Packers’ receivers.

And they are healthy. Defensive tackle Corey Redding is the only Arzona player who is expected to miss the game, with both outside linebacker Markus Golden and defensive tackle Josh Mauro both expected to return after missing the last two games.

Perhaps the x-factor is Palmer’s 0-2 playoff record. Yet he has a ton of experience since his last trip to the post-season in 2009 and far greater talent at his disposal.

One of the key matchups will be safety Deone Bucannon against Rodgers. Bucannon disguised the defensive coverages well and Rodgers was not given enough time to decipher what was coming. The Cardinals will expect Rodgers to target cornerback Justin Bethel, as has been the case in his four starts (three in relief of injured starter Jerraud Powers) – that is what happens when you have an elite cornerback in Patrick Peterson playing on the opposing side of the field.

We feel the Packers have papered over the cracks in Washington and Rodgers will turn this into a dogfight, yet ultimately the Cardinals will come away with the win. They are simply playing at a different level right now (their meaningless Week 17 defeat by Seattle aside).

VERDICT: GREEN BAY 24 ARIZONA 34

BEST BET: ARIZONA -7.5 @ 2.05

SPORTING BET: ARIZONA WIN BY 12 POINTS OR MORE @ 2.80

SEATTLE at CAROLINA

(-2.5, Total Points 44.5)

Seattle were manhandled by Carolina in their first meeting in Seattle in Week 6, with both the offensive and defensive lines dominating the trenches. And this game is likely to be one of the most physical you will encounter in the playoffs.

Jonathan Stewart
Returns after injury: Jonathan Stewart

While Carolina lost just once in the regular season, Seattle had their struggles, particularly when running back Marshawn Lynch went down injured in Week 10, but he was not having a great season before undergoing surgery on his abdomen in any case.

The NFC champion Seahawks, who look to reach the Super Bowl for the third successive season, went 10-6 on the season, but were 2-4 before the bye and 6-2 after it, with improving St Louis and NFC favourites Arizona inflicting those two losses. This is the same team, but the psychology of this team is different to the one that lost by a one-score margin in Week 6.

Seattle got lucky in Minnesota, with Blair Walsh’s attempt at a last-minute, game-winning 27-yard field goal sailing wide left. Seattle played poorly in one of the coldest NFL games ever played.

The only think frosty in Carolina will be the reception they will receive from the Panthers fans who have suffered through seven losses to the Seahawks in the last nine meetings. Indeed, the Panthers have lost their last three home meetings.

Russell Wilson
Elusive: Russell Wilson still took 45 sacks

Each of their five meetings in Charlotte was been a low-scoring duel and lovers of defense will be in their element again on Sunday, even though Carolina boasts the No.1 scoring offense, having scored 500 points this season.

No-one relies on a quarterback to run as much as Carolina does. Cam Newton has 10 rushing touchdowns this year and their diverse running attack will also be boosted by the return of Jonathan Stewart, who missed the last four weeks with a sprained foot.

Stewart scored two TDs and ran for 78 yards in the 27-23 win over the Seahawks in Week 6. The ground and pound will be in full force, particularly since WR Ted Ginn will be able to stretch the field and hinder the Seahawks’ ability to stack the box against the run.

While Lynch may see some game-time this week (he was a full participant in practise on Wednesday), the Seahawks may well rely heavily on Christine Michael, who managed 71 yards on 20 carries against the Vikings in their 10-9 win last weekend.

While Carolina may be almost at full strength – and rested – it is perhaps worth noting that Carolina lost cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere to season-ending injuries since their first meeting, with veterans Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain filling in. It does not appear to have slowed them.

Seattle tend to like close encounters where the playoffs are concerned. Their last drama-free post-season game came with the 31-17 win over Carolina in last year’s Divisional round. Indeed, they have held a lead at some point in the fourth quarter in all bar one of their last 17 games.

Factor in Seattle’s playoff experience and momentum (seven wins in their last eight games), we should expect the battle-tested Seahawks to keep this close.

One of the biggest issues will be with how well Seattle’s offensive line holds up. Even with his knack for great escapes, elusive QB Russell Wilson was sacked 45 times in the regular season, tied for third most in the NFL. And in their first meeting, two of the Panthers’ top pass rushers Jared Allen and Charles Johnson missed the game through injury.

Seattle outplayed Carolina for three quarters of their first meeting. Their defense, which has allowed just one touchdown in their last seven road games, will invariably give Wilson enough opportunities to win every game. They can stop the run (Adrian Peterson had just 45 yards on 23 carries last week) and the pass (they held the prolific Cardinals to six points in Week 17, with Carson Palmer completing just 12 of 25 passes and Drew Stanton just 8 of 18).

This game should be a real scrap and we think the Seahawks will be more like the team that beat Arizona than the one who escaped against Minnesota.

VERDICT: SEATTLE 23 CAROLINA 17

BEST BET: SEATTLE +2.5 @ 1.85

SPORTING BET: UNDER 44.5 POINTS

PITTSBURGH at DENVER

(-6.5, Total Points 40.5)

The most obvious line of thinking has Peyton Manning and the AFC top seed Denver Broncos riding their defense to victory over a banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers and advancing to the AFC Championship game.

ben Roethlisberger
Injury blow: Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh got into the playoffs by the back door thanks to the New York Jets losing in Buffalo and somehow got past Cincinnati 18-16, thanks to a big turnover and two costly Bengals’ penalties in the closing moments of their Wildcard game.

That came at a cost, however, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a shoulder injury and wide receiver Antonion Brown suffered a concussion. Along with running back DeAngelo Williams, they are listed as day-to-day for the trip to Denver, where they have won on three of their last 11 visits.

The Broncos got the Steelers’ best shot on December 20 in Pittsburgh. The hosts prevailed 34-27 but the Broncos have not lost consecutive games to the Steelers since 1979 (a span of 20 games).

It is unlikely that this will come down to how well Manning performs. The veteran passer returned from a foot injury to deputise for struggling Brock Osweiler in the Week 17 win over San Diego. This will be about how dominant the Broncos’ front seven is going to be in shutting down Pittsburgh’s attack. If Brown does not play, they will stack the box to limit the run and force Roethlisberger to beat them deep. With a sprained AC joint (commonly known as a separated shoulder) – plus a few torn ligaments in his right shoulder – pain and accuracy are going to pay a part.

If he is not fit – and Big Ben is 4-0 in Divisional playoff games – Landry Jones will be under center.

Brown is more likely to start, providing he gets through the concussion protocol. He was almost unplayable in their first meeting, catching 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-27 comeback win.

Owen Daniels
Big target: Owen Daniels

Williams, the AFC’s fourth-leading rusher, is expected to miss out, meaning the majority of handoffs will be split between Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman.

You can easily envisage the Broncos, who do have nagging have concerns at left tackle and have struggled with injuries at guard, winning this via a couple of turnovers.

The Steelers are not big in stature at the cornerback position, so we expect WR Demaryius Thomas will exploit that weakness in fade routes to the corner of the endzone and he may draw double coverage. That may allow TE Owen Daniels to find room elsewhere and he is a big target to cover. We see him a viable candidate to score a TD at any time.

VERDICT: PITTSBURGH 17 DENVER 21

BEST BET: PITTSBURGH +6.5 @ 1.91

SPORTING BET: DENVER TO WIN BY 1-6 POINTS @ 4.00

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NFL WILDCARD WEEKEND – MCB betting guide

The New York Jets flunked in their final game of the regular season and the Pittsburgh Steelers stole in through the back door. But can they take advantage of their good fortune?

After another winning season against the handicap, 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 Wildcard weekend.

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)

KANSAS CITY at HOUSTON

(+3.5, Total Points 41.5)

Houston won the AFC South almost by default with a 9-7 record, while Kansas City rode a 10-game winning streak, having started 1-5, to finish runner-up to Denver in the AFC West.

Travis Kelce.jpg
Big threat: TE Travis Kelce

The Chiefs’ sole win in their first six games came at Houston, as they built a big lead before holding off the Texans 27-20 in Week 1, with quarterback Alex Smith tossing three touchdowns in a 22-of-33, 243-yards afternoon.

That has been a theme of their season – getting out to big leads and grinding out victory on the ground with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.

The pass rush – and the respective ability to protect the passer – is one of the more fascinating battles to keep an eye on. Houston have JJ Watt, while Kansas City may have Justin Houston back after missing the last five games with a knee injury.

While the Chiefs have relied, with great success it must be said, on a re-jigged offensive line, Houston has been weakened with the loss of left tackle Duane Brown, who tore a quad muscle in the regular-season finale.

The Chiefs should get plenty of joy on the ground, particularly running up the gut. West is an elusive runner who can get tough yards. Houston know they must do a better job of shoring up the middle of the line, where they are giving up 3.72 yards a carry, according to FootballOutsiders.com.

The Texans’ defense also does not match up well against quick-passing screen plays and slants, and that will play into Smith’s hands. He may not have a big arm, but he is careful with the ball and the Chiefs should have space on the perimeter.

Those looking for a cheeky anytime touchdown scorer at a big price might like to consider Chris Conley. The first-year receiver out of Georgia has one score in five starts, but had six catches for 63 yards and a score when the Chiefs snapped their five-game losing streak in a 23-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. While he is the future, tight end Travis Kelce looks a fair bet to score a touchdown. At 6ft 5in, the third-year man out of Cincinnati is a big target in the red zone.

We see the Chiefs continuing their winning streak and they should be able to cover the handicap.

VERDICT: KANSAS CITY 24 HOUSTON 16

BEST BET: KANSAS CITY -2.5 @ 1.67

SPORTING BET: UNDER 41.5 POINTS @ 1.75

PITTSBURGH at CINCINNATI

(+0.5, Total Points 46.5)

Pittsburgh were fortunate to make the playoff party but they are one of the most dangerous sides in the AFC, with arguably the most explosive offense.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers
Plenty on his shoulders: Ben Roethlisberger

While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s strengths are well documented, the Steelers, who have won eight of their last nine trips to the home of their NFC North rival, have a major problem with balance. It seems likely that veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who has filled in admirably for Le’Veon Bell since Week 8, will miss the game with a foot injury.

That means Mike Tomlin with build his gameplan around Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. The worry is that while Todman can provide protection in the passing game, he is not a patch on Williams, whose blocking skills are vastly underrated.

Cincinnati, who win the division with a 12-4 record, beat the Steelers 16-10 on the road in November, but lost their home tilt 33-20 on December 13, a game in which they lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton with a broke thumb.

Dalton has not played since but may well be available for the wildcard clash. However, it is expected that AJ McCarron, who has filled in adequately, will start. There is plenty on his shoulders, but what we like about this match-up is the Bengals’ ability to take advantage of the Steelers’ major weakness: defending tight ends.

In their first meeting, before Dalton’s injury, they spread the field, forced the Steelers to respect the deep ball and punished them for it over the middle. Tyler Eifert could have a big night if the Bengals can get AJ Green involved early and often.

However, bettors must be concerned if backing the Bengals, as McCarron does not inspire confidence – the Bengals have not looked the same early-season force since Dalton went down. They are also 0-6 in the playoffs since 1995 and have not won a post-season game since January 6, 1991.

Pittsburgh may be one-dimensional in attack, but as long as Roethlisberger is flinging he ball to receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers will always be in with a chance. Brown, with 136 catches and 1,834 yards has to be in the running for the League MVP award.

Still, despite their excellent record in the Queen City, without a running game, they may not be able to close out the game and the Bengals may make a few crucial stops and progress to the Divisional round.

VERDICT: PITTSBURGH 17 CINCINNATI 27

BEST BET: CINCINNATI +0.5 @ 2.15

SPORTING BET: CINCINNATI WIN BY 7-12 POINTS @ 7.00

SEATTLE at MINNESOTA

(+4.5, Total Points 40.5)

Minnesota won the last of the church raffle prizes by beating Green Bay to take the NFC North division.Their reward is a clash against the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, who are the team nobody wanted to face. While the Vikings have a home game, the Packers appear to have the easier task when they travel to Washington.

Harrison Smith
Key component: Harrison Smith

Minnesota’s 20-13 win at Lambeau Field was their first in seven visits, their first since last winning the division in 2009.

Two years ago, Minnesota went 5-10-1, but they have been rejuvenated under first-year coach Mike Zimmer and have been aided by a stifling defense and a soft schedule – their win over the Packers was just their second in six games against teams with a winning record.

Vikings’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has won nine of his 11 starts at home, but the Vikings offense is all about running back Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing with 1,485 yards and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl. The running back sustained a lower back injury against the Packers, but is still expected to start.

They have also got great production out of receiver Stefon Diggs, who led NFC rookies with 720 receiving yards and ranked second with 52 catches.

Seattle have already gone to Minnesota and beaten them once this season, inflicting a 38-7 victory upon them on December 6.

The Seahawks made a statement last week at Arizona, winning 36-6, with quarterback Russell Wilson passing for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran in a score. They also got a boost from the running game with rookie Thomas Rawls rumbling for 101 yards and a TD.

The Seahawks aim to reach the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season and have beaten the Vikings in their past three meetings, outscoring them 109-47.

The difference this time round is the Vikings are a lot healthier. This young team played with youth Joseph in the first meeting and lost two other key players, safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr to injuries early on. Wilson finished 21-of-27 passing for 274 yards and three TDs. He has posted a 120-passer-rating in six of the last seven games (the exception coming against St Louis) and is looking just as effective within the pocket as he is scrambling outside of it.

Is revenge in the air? It is rare that a team which had lost by 30 points or more to a non-division opponent in the regular season served up a victory against that same team in the playoffs. The last time it happened was in 1993 – Kansas City lost 30-0 to Houston during the regular season and then beat them 28-20 in the playoffs.

The Seahawks have the propensity to throw in a bad game – usually against St Louis, who are their kryptonite – but we don’t see the Vikings having enough offensive pop to keep pace, especially with Peterson not 100 per cent and with top running back Marshawn Lynch returning for the Seahawks.

It could be much closer than anticipated, however, and the Vikings’ defense should be much better equipped to handle the occasion in what could be an unusually low-scoring encounter in very cold conditions.

VERDICT: SEATTLE 17 MINNESOTA 13

BEST BET: MINNESOTA +4.5 @ 1.83

SPORTING BET: SEATTLE TO WIN BY 1-6 POINTS @ 3.50

GREEN BAY at WASHINGTON

(-0.5, Total Points 45.5)

Marbles. We lost a few a while back. But Aaron Rodgers was only talking marbles when discussing the Green Bay Packers’ putrid offensive output over the last eight weeks.

eddie lacy2
Packers need to run: Eddie Lacy

The star quarterback, who has averaged under 300 yard passing in the last three weeks, said: “I have confidence in those guys and myself that, when it matters for all the marbles, we’re going to show up.”

The Packers, coming off a home loss to the Minnesota Vikings which cost them the NFC North title, may have decided it was better to face Washington’s 28th-ranked defense than to play a home game against Seattle’s 2nd-ranked defense in yards allowed (they are 1st in points allowed). That seems a sensible move.

The only time they could face the Seahawks would be in the NFC Championship game – and that would be at Lambeau.

The Packers’ ground game has been skittish, with Eddie Lacy and James Starks being given sporadic roles. The lack of direction and inconsistency is troubling, and had Rodgers and company been firing as they have in seasons past, they certainly would not be underdogs going to Washington.

Losing WR Jordy Nelson to injury means they have not been able to stretch the field and loading up against the run means opponents can make the Packers look one-dimensional, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In fairness, their season has seen them win 10 games, lost four on the last play of the game and they have been beaten by the AFC’s No.1 seed Denver. It is worth noting that the last time the Packers’ defense outplayed its offense, they went on to win Super Bowl XLV.

The Redskins have played much better in the second half of the season than their fans could have imagined. The NFC East champions have run the ball effectively and, with Kirk Cousins tossing 19 TDs to two interceptions since Week 10, they are getting far more production out of the quarterback than they dared hope.

The Packers have won five of the last six meetings but have lost on five of their last six trips to Washington. On the flip side, the Redskins have played three teams with a winning record in 2015 and lost all three. They have been outscored 105-46 in those contests.

We think Washington’s tight end Jordan Reed is going to have a leading role to play. He has five TDS in the last four games. Still, if he and running back Alfred Morris, who had 107 yards against the Packers in their last meeting, can be limited, Rodgers may not lose his marbles and keep the Packers on track for the Divisional round.

VERDICT: GREEN BAY 27 WASHINGTON 23

BEST BET: GREEN BAY +0.5 @ 1.85

SPORTING BET: OVER 46.5 POINTS

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NFL PICK SIX – Week 17 betting guide

The final week of the 2015/16 regular season is upon us and with Denver beating Cincinnati on Monday night, there is just one wildcard spot still up for grabs. The New York Jets will take that remaining sport if they beat Buffalo. Pittsburgh need to win at Cleveland and hope the Bills do them a favour if they are to take the final AFC post-season berth.

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 17.

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)

NEW YORK JETS at BUFFALO

(PK, Total Points 42.5)

Buffalo confirmed earlier this week that former New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan will be back next season, despite a disappointing campaign.

Rex Ryan
Playing the spoiler: Rex Ryan

Ryan would like nothing more than to keep the Jets from making the playoffs, having put themselves in pole position with an unlikely and fortuitous overtime win against AFC East division winners New England.

Cynics would say that Bill Belichick’s decision to concede possession upon winning the toss before overtime was not so much miscalculated as incredibly calculated – the Pittsburgh Steelers would arguably be a more formidable foe in the playoffs than would the Jets.

Regardless, this is a game in which the Jets have the capacity to choke. The Bills have won five of the last six meetings, including the last four. Yet Gang Green has not lost five consecutive meetings dropping six between 1995 and 1997. Furthermore, the Bills have not won four consecutive meetings at home for 25 years.

This will be the biggest game in Jets’ QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career and it ironically comes against the team who released him after four years in 2012. A win sees the Jets return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Can the Jets extend their five-game winning streak? In that span, Fitzpatrick had a 13-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio. Can he extend that?

In the week 10 22-17 loss to Buffalo at MetLife Stadium, he tossed two interceptions and completed only 15 of 34 passes for 194 yards.

While it would be typical of the Jets to go limp at the wrong time, the Bills have nothing to play for and even Ryan’s pride may not be enough to see them record a season sweep.

VERDICT: NY JETS 27 BUFFALO 14

BEST BET: NY JETS TO WIN @ 1.70

PITTSBURGH at CLEVELAND

(+11.5, Total Points 47.5)

Want to know why Pittsburgh are looking in from outside? Ryan Mallett just threw on that defense for 274 yards and a touchdown last week (cue gulping/head shaking/rolling eyes/all three).

Austin Davis.jpg
Better option: Austin Davis is next man up

After losing to the sad-sack Baltimore Ravens for the second time this season, the Steelers get a chance to stop Austin Davis this week, as Johnny Manziel is ruled out with concussion for the 3-12 Cleveland Browns.

This is a bad thing for Pittsburgh, as we started at the start of the season that Davis was the best QB on the Cleveland roster. It is a wonder that he has had to sit on the bench for so long.

There is plenty on the line for Mike Tomlin’s team. They need to win and hope that the Bills beat the Jets – something they have already done this season – to grab the remaining wildcard.

Pittsburgh’s play-calling left a bit to be desired last week, with Ben Roethlisberger handing off the ball for the first six plays and he did not look himself. He found no rhythm and when he did try and make big plays downfield, they were forced. Patience will be key and the Steelers will need to take what they are given, as the Browns will attempt to keep everything in front of them and be determined not to let Antionio Brown’s speed beat them deep.

It all starts up front and the Steelers’ secondary is vulnerable because they don’t have a great pass rush. Keep an eye on Cleveland TE Gary Barnidge and receiver Travis Benjamin, who may be able to take advantage of a soft underbelly.

Cleveland have nothing but pride to play for, although they hung tough against Kansas City last week. The handicap is a large one and we side with the Browns to keep things interesting.

VERDICT: PITTSBURGH 27 CLEVELAND 20

BEST BET: CLEVELAND +11.5 @ 1.75

NEW ENGLAND at MIAMI

(+8.5, Total Points 46.5)

The Miami Dolphins’ biggest weakness this season has been the same as it has been for the past few years – they have failed to fix their lack of depth on the offensive line.

Ryan Tannehill.jpg
Ryan Tannehill: Not about to prove us wrong any time soon

And while you won’t hear it from some pundits, we tell it like it is: Ryan Tannehill is not a franchise quarterback. He will get something of a pass again this season owing to the O-line issues, yet while his toughness is not in question, his accuracy, lack of a deep ball and questionable leadership skills continue to dog the Dolphins, who need to move on quickly. The upcoming draft is quarterback-rich, for a change.

The Patriots will also have to move on from Tom Brady sooner rather than later, but they are on course to defend their Super Bowl crown with the elite QB at the helm.

Bill Belichick’s team has suffered several significant injuries at the receiver position and while they may rest a few key men for the playoffs, they have not lost on three consecutive trips to Miami.

Having been embarrassed by the Jets in overtime, the Patriots should be in the mood to cover the handicap, no matter how many scrubs play in the final quarter.

VERDICT: NEW ENGLAND 31 MIAMI 13

BEST BET: NEW ENGLAND -8.5 @ 1.85

BALTIMORE at CINCINNATI

(+8.5, Total Points 46.5)

The Baltimore Ravens shocked division rivals Pittsburgh last week yet it is questionable that they will be able to topple the NFC North champion Bengals.

AJ McCarron.jpg
Sprained wrist: AJ McCarron

The Ravens, who have lost five of the last six meetings (including the last four), will be out to avoid an unprecedented fourth consecutive loss at Cincinnati. The handicap is a large one, particularly when you consider that while the Bengals can earn a first-round bye with a win and a Broncos loss to the Chargers, the latter is unlikely and it may be more advisable to rest a few starters before the playoffs. The Bengals can secure a bye with a loss, if Denver falls to san Diego and the Kansas City Chiefs beat Oakland.

The Ravens have only lost by more than eight points in four of their last 19 trips to Cincinnati (where they are 7-12), who play back-up QB AJ McCarron. So, they are been beaten by a one-score loss in Cincinnati just 21.05% of the time.

Second-year signal-caller McCarron is also set to start, despite spraining his left wrist against the Broncos.

The problem with bad teams is that they will play well one week, then slump back to what they really are next – and Baltimore’s record is 5-10.

The Bengals could roll – the incentive is certainly there – but this could be a tense game for the hosts and while they should prevail, we feel that the Ravens are a prideful group and are just the sort of team to play hard when there is little on the line.

VERDICT: BALTIMORE 17 CINCINNATI 24

BEST BET: BALTIMORE +8.5 @ 1.85

NEW ORLEANS at ATLANTA

(-4.5, Total Points 53.5)

There should be a few points in this largely meaningless NFC South battle, with no playoff hopes on the line. The Saints, who have not lost on consecutive trips to Atlanta since 2004 and 2005, seek their second season-sweep over the Falcons in three years.

Devonta Freeman.jpg
Superb season: Devonta Freeman

They may also been buoyed by the news that head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees will return next season. Time will tell.

Falcons have won three of the last 10 meetings overall (two of those coming at home) and will fancy their chances of WR Julio Jones consistently beating Delvin Breaux, particularly when he lines up in the slot. Jones leads the NFL with 127 catches and 1,722 receiving yards, with eight touchdowns.

The Saints also don’t defend the run well at all. Opposing running backs are averaging 5.0 yards per tilt and they are vulnerable against screen passes – something that Atlanta excels with, utilising Devonta Freeman to great effect.

Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has thrown seven touchdown passes to one interception in five career home games against the Saints, who are conceding 30 points per game. He should get plenty of yards against this sieve-like New Orleans defense.

The Saints are 2-5 on the road, but the Georgia Dome is a home away from home and Brees has had some of his best games against the Falcons, who are conceding an average of 21.7 points per game and a middle-of-the-pack 344.8 yards per game.

We are chancing the Falcons’ better balanced attack to win the day, although this could develop into a shoot-out and you can never rule out Brees.

VERDICT: NEW ORLEANS 27 ATLANTA 33

BEST BET: ATLANTA -4.5 @ 1.80 

MINNESOTA at GREEN BAY

(-3.5, Total Points 47.5)

Minnesota’s defense has been talked up. A LOT. The fact remains that they have ridden a soft schedule to the brink of the NFC North title: they have gone 1-4 against playoff teams this year.

Mile Zimmer.jpg
Good first season in charge: Mike Zimmer

A win at Lambeau Field – which has happened just once since 2005 (in November 2009) – would see them win the division. A Green Bay win, coupled with a Seattle win over Arizona, would see the Packers take on the Vikings at the same venue next week in a wildcard playoff.

The Packers are not the team that everyone was expecting to see. They have struggled badly at times and last week were walloped 38-8 on the road at Arizona.

They did managed to shut down the Vikings in Minnesota, however, and the Packers are 6-2 AS coming off a loss and 5-0-1 against the spread in their last six against the Vikings at Lambeau. They are 10-1-1 against the Vikings since 2009.

Injuries mean there is lack of speed on the Green Bay perimeter, which is causing Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers to hold onto the ball longer than he would like. As a result, he is getting sacked and making more mistakes than we are used to seeing.

The Vikings are a healthy group and Mike Zimmer’s defensive schemes have usually found ways to slow Rodgers down.

Yet we are not convinced by the Vikings’ attack. QB Teddy Bridgewater gets rattled when faced with a decent pass rush and they are too heavily reliant on running back Adrian Peterson, who is going to be 31 in March.

The Vikings have improved since their first meeting, a 30-13 win at Minnesota on Nov. 22 and this should be a much closer affair. The Packers are limping towards the playoffs, much as they did in 2010… the year they won the Super Bowl.

VERDICT: MINNESOTA 23 GREEN BAY 27

BEST BET: GREEN BAY -3.5 @ 2.00

OTHER HANDICAP PREDICTIONS

CHICAGO -1.5 over Detroit: The Lions have done a much better job of protecting Matt Stafford since their trip to London and how well they match up against the Bears’ front seven will be key to the outcome. We don’t feel the Lions have the running game to put things to bed and Jay Cutler’s last hurrah in Chicago (possibly) will be a winning one. Bears 24-20

DALLAS -5.5 over Washington: The Cowboys can still get the second pick in the NFL draft if things fall their way. As it is, they have already secured a top-eight pick. Washington are locked into their playoff spot and will likely face the Seattle Seahawks next week in the wildcard round, having already won the NFC East. Do the Redskins rest key players as they seek their first back-to-back win in Big D since 1989? We see the Cowboys winning and just about covering a lofty spread. Cowboys 20-13

JACKSONVILLE +6.5 at Houston: Plenty has to go wrong for Houston to lose the AFC South and that should not happen. They seek a fifth home victory in the last six meetings with the Jaguars. Jacksonville’s emerging passing game may well be able to keep pace, if its dreadful defense – which allowed 539 yards in a loss to New Orleans last week – can make a few stops. Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson are a combination that you are going to hear a lot more about over the next few years. Texans 31-27

INDIANAPOLIS -2.5 over Tennessee: Horrible game. Colts need a minor miracle to win the division and reach the playoffs and their 40-year-old QB Matt Hasselbeck says his injured arm will be okay. If it isn’t, you will be putting your faith in Josh Freeman, Ryan Lindley or Stephen Morris to overcome a Titans’ defense that has allowed 34 points per game in its last four outings. Actually, if it is Freeman, we probably would. Colts 23-17

PHILADELPHIA +3.5 at NEW YORK GIANTS: We have little faith in this pick. Do we bank on the Eagles playing hard for interim head coach Pat Shurmur following the dismissal of Chip Kelly? Or will the Giants put it in for under-fire head coach Tom Coughlin? Eagles have won eight of the last nine meetings on their NFC East rivals’ turf. That sways us a little. Eagles 24-21

ARIZONA -6.5 over Seattle: The Cardinals are going to the NFC Championship. That’s our view, anyway. They can secure homefield advantage through the playoffs with a win and a Carolina Panthers loss (unlikely, since they face Tampa Bay). Seattle have little to play for and will face a trip to Washington, Green Bay or Minnesota in the wildcard round next week. Seattle are having problems running the ball with Marshawn Lynch still working his way back to fitness. The Cards will blitz, Russell Wilson will be picked off a couple of times and the hosts will win. Simple. Cardinals 23-13.

CAROLINA -10.5 over Tampa Bay: The Panthers missed out on a perfect regular season when falling to the Falcons and while they should win this and secure homefield advantage for the playoffs, how long QB Cam Newton will stay in the game is the big question. Tampa should be put away early and while a garbage-time TD might blow the handicap, we’ll take that chance. Panthers 33-17

SAN DIEGO +8.5 at Denver: Chargers have not lost three consecutive trips to Denver since 2005 and the Broncos will win the AFC West title with a victory. Brock Osweiler has thrown eight TDS to three interceptions in relief of Peyton Manning, who will suit up for the first time since tearing his plantar fascia in his left foot seven weeks ago. Denver still has a shot at securing the AFC’s top seed should they win and Miami knock off New England. The Chargers are 1-6 on the road and have not won a division game, but you can bet Chargers QB Philip Rivers will be feeding off the atmosphere and there could be a momentum swing or two before the inevitable. Broncos 27-21

KANSAS CITY -5.5 over Oakland: The Chargers were written off at 1-5 with star running back Jamaal Charles injured and lost for the season, but have since gone on a nine-game winning streak and have secured a playoff berth. They can clinch the AFC West with a win and a Broncos loss. Oakland have done a great job of protecting QB Derek Carr (sacked just 25 times this season) and the future looks bright for the Raiders. Still, the Chiefs’ pass rush will probably win the day when it matters. Chiefs 23-17

SAN FRANCISCO +2.5 over St Louis: This is all about draft position for the 49ers. They have already secured a top eight spot but could go much higher if they lose to the Rams, who seek back-to-back wins in San Francisco for the first time since 2001. The Rams are playing vastly superior football to the Niners, as their win at Seattle last week indicates. This line looks more than a little squiffy. Thus, we take the hosts in the hope that the linemakers have not overdone it on New Year’s Eve and have seen something that tells us the Niners are actually better than their stats suggest. 49ers 17-14

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NFL PICK SIX – Week 16 betting guide

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.

Mercury Morris
Perfect: Mercury Morris and the 1972 Dolphins

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 2
Great season: Philip Rivers

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.

Matt Jones
Injury doubt: Matt Jones

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.

Jonathan Stewart
Fantasy option: Jonathan Stewart

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.

Ben Roethlisberger
Firing: Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers

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.

Tom Brady
Seeking homefield comforts: Tom Brady

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.

David Johnson
Full deck: Cards are stacked with David Johnson

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

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MCB’s 12 BETS OF CHRISTMAS

We love Christmas. In fact, we’ve even thought about wearing a Christmas jumper, as well as backing one (have you seen Kempton’s Boxing Day card?). The Festive season is invariably an expensive one, but those bookies insist on giving us more Christmas markets than you’d find in your average German town. Given their generosity, it would be churlish not to take advantage of their Christmas spirit, so herewith are our dozen cracking Christmas bets…

CINCINNATI v SAN DIEGO STATE

CHRISTMAS DAY – 01:00 (BT SPORT)

Presents wrapped and under the tree? Carrot for Rudolph and a mince pie for Santa on the hearth? Good. Don’t forget the sherry.

Then it is time to put your feet up and watch some College Football, namely the Hawaii Bowl from Aloha Stadium, Honolulu.

Donnel Pumphrey1
Game-breaker: Donnel Pumphrey

Hawaii are not involved, having failed to gain the pre-requisite six wins to qualify for a bowl berth.

The Cincinnati Bearcats (7-5) will take on the San Diego State Aztecs (10-3) in what could be a decent game. Rest assured, it won’t be played in front of too many people – Hawaiians rarely turn out in force at the antiquated venue, which has regularly played host to the annual NFL Pro Bowl.

The Aztecs placed first in the West division of the Mountain West Conference and after a 1-3 start, they are on a nine-game winning streak.

Running back Donnel Pumphrey is a game-breaker, who has accumulated over 1,500 yards this season, but the Bearcats could be missing quarterback Maxwell Smith, who tore his ACL towards the end of the year against Nevada.

It is likely that redshirt freshman Christian Chapman will try and keep pace with an explosive Cincinnati offense, led by QB Gunner Kiel, which ranks No.4 in passing yardage in the nation and No.5 in total offense.

Their third-down conversion rate, at 51.6 per cent is only bettered by Texas Tech.

We fully expect Cincinnati (1.83) to win and cover the 1.5-point handicap. [SM]

BEST BET: CINCINNATI -1.5 @ 1.91 

CHRISTMAS DAY TV RATINGS

It is always a favourite punt of ours. Who wins the TV ratings war on Christmas Day has little to do with taste.

That’s why most firms have the BBC’s Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special as odds-on favourite. You know it and we know it: It is truly dreadful and plunges the depths of ‘comedy’ that we never thought existed. And you, dear licence-fee payer, are forking out for the Crayola that the ‘writers’ use to pen up this guff.

Lady Mary
Our crush: Lady Mary

The final episode of Downton Abbey will knock spots off the rancid BBC output (which also includes the truly dreadful soap Eastenders at 6.00).

At odds of 4.50, Lady Mary – upon whom we have a complete crush, daahling – and company look phenomenal value to win the ratings battle.

Want a fair value outsider? Try Dr Who at around 26.00. It will certainly beat Coronation Street.

But we’ll take safe, genteel and well-written drama over sad, crass desperately unfunny ‘comedy’ any day of the week. And we haven’t even mentioned the desperate ‘Miranda’!

The bookies may have got this very wrong. Take advantage. [SM]

BEST BET: DOWNTON ABBEY TO WIN CHRISTMAS DAY TV RATINGS @ 4.50 

STOKE v MAN UNITED

BOXING DAY – 12:45 (SKY SPORTS 1)

Mark Hughes had a wonderful playing career, and his most successful periods were undoubtedly with Manchester United (2.20) with whom he spent two spells and made over 300 appearances.

Mark Hughes3
Hughes: Top manager

The Welshman is now an established Premier League manager and has done a fine job since taking over as Stoke (3.30) boss back in 2013, transforming the Potters from a ‘route one’ team into a side that enjoys operating with a possession-based style.

This change in style has attracted some of the most exciting young talents in Europe to The Britannia, with the likes of Bojan, Ibrahim Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic all arriving at the club since Hughes was appointed.

Manchester United fans are crying out for a change in style. While Louis Van Gaal’s patient tactics have stopped the side conceding goals, it has also caused United to look like an overly defensive outfit, with the Red Devils failing to score in a staggering amount of games so far this season.

That said, meetings between these two clubs do usually produce goals. Of the last seven games between Stoke and United, only two have ended without both teams getting on the scoresheet.

We expect much of the same on Boxing Day, and fancy a scoring draw at The Britannia. [CC]

BEST BET: BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE @ 2.05 

KING GEORGE VI CHASE

BOXING DAY – 15:10 (CHANNEL 4)

Kempton Park’s Christmas feature is shaping up to be an open and competitive renewal.

The Irish appear to hold a strong hand in the chasing department this season, with the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack (3.50), winner of his last four and eight of his last nine, appearing to be the one to beat.

Don Cossack
Solid gold: Don Cossack

The eight-year-old won a sub-par renewal of the JNWine.com Champions Chase at Down Royal in October and has been ticking over at home since then. He looks like a Gold Cup winner in the making, but his jumping is faultless and, if fully fit, will take all the beating.

Last season’s top-notch novice Vautour (3.75) jumped left when winning the Grade 2 Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot and will have to up his game, but there is no reason to think he will not improve for that first run of the season. Willie Mullins’ inmate rates the biggest danger to the selection.

And you cannot dismiss Cue Card (5.00), who looked back to his best when taking the Grade 1 Lancashire Chase at Haydock last month, getting the better of Silviniaco Conti. We see Paul Nicholls’ runner turning the tables this time and he looks a solid each-way bet at around 9.00.

Still, we side with Don Cossack, who looks the class act. [SM]

BEST BET: DON CASSACK TO WIN THE KING GEORGE VI CHASE @ 3.50 

NEWCASTLE v EVERTON

BOXING DAY – 17:30 (BT SPORT 1)

Newcastle (3.20) have endured a tough season so far and all seems far from well at the Tyneside club. The fans are once again unhappy with the board and management team, which is without doubt, having a negative effect on the playing staff.

Romelu Lukaku
Quick and powerful: Romelu Lukaku

That said, The Magpies have managed a few impressive results, with their 2-0 win over Liverpool being the highlight of the season so far.

Everton (2.25) are really starting to look like a settled outfit, after a transitional campaign last season. Roberto Martinez has assembled a talented, young squad since his appointment in 2013 and is now starting to reap the rewards.

Youngsters Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, John Stones and Gerard Deulofeu have all been outstanding for the Toffees this season, and keeping all four men fit will be vital if Everton are going to challenge for a European spot come May.

Newcastle have a wretched record against their Boxing Day opponents, with Everton losing just one of the last eight meetings between the two sides.

Everything points to an away win here. [CC]

BEST BET: EVERTON TO WIN @ 2.25 

SOUTHAMPTON v ARSENAL

BOXING DAY – 19:45 (BT SPORT 1)

Southampton (3.25) are a side struggling for consistency. Ronald Koeman’s men are not living up to the high standards they set last season, and have looked particularly lacklustre in recent home games against Aston Villa and Stoke.

Ronald Koeman2
Ronald Koeman: Saints struggling for form

However, they have also looked impressive on occasions, most notably during their convincing win away at Chelsea back in October.

Arsene Wenger finally seems to be prioritising Premier League football. Arsenal (2.30) have had a below-par Champions League campaign so far, eventually qualifying by the skin of their teeth after a win at Olympiacos in the final group stage game. The Gunners also suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday to crash out of the League Cup.

That said, it has been a completely different story in the league for Wenger’s men. On their day, Arsenal look arguably the best side in the league, and this was particularly evident in their 3-0 demolition of Manchester United in early October.

These two sides may both possess a similar attacking style, but when they meet each other, goals aren’t usually on the agenda.

Four of the last six clashes between Southampton and Arsenal have ended with less than two goals being scored and we expect their game on Boxing Day to follow suit. [CC]

BEST BET: UNDER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.91

CHRISTMAS NO.1 BOOK

We are not exactly a nation of cooks. We like to think we are, with TV shows such as The Great British Bake Off, Masterchef and anything containing the wonderful Jamie Oliver always among the top-rated TV shows. But we simply don’t have the time (we’re too busy watching cookery shows).

Nigella Lawson
She cooks, too: Nigella Lawson

And blokes being what they are (clueless) over what to buy their women for Christmas (or at any other time of the year for that matter), grabbing a cookery book on December 24 is a safe bet for those who have little imagination.

(And really, what are those blokes supposed to do when the reply to the question of: “What do you want for Christmas, honey?’” is met with the response, “Oh, nothing really. I’m fine”).

Lingerie is not cool – and most guys are embarrassed to buy it anyway. Be honest, have you a clue what bra size your missus wears?

So a cookery book is a safe bet. And while we may have heard of Mary Berry (an old lady who bakes, apparently), most blokes have heard of Nigella. Her real name is Nigella Lawson. I think we can all agree: she is the epitome of everything a chef should be.

And, Lo and Behold, she has a new cookery book out in time for Christmas. It is called Simply Nigella and it is 3.00 joint favourite (along with Guinness Book of World Records 2016) to be the Christmas Number One Book.

The Road to Little Dribbling (Bill Bryson) and Over The Top And Back (Tom Jones) are next in the betting, but we put out faith in a couple of things… ahem… to bring home the bacon: The nation’s penchant for cookery shows and the male’s psyche. [SM]

BEST BET: SIMPLY NIGELLA (NIGELLA LAWSON) TO BE CHRISTMAS NUMBER ONE BOOK @ 3.00

CHRISTMAS NO.1 VIDEO GAME

We are fans of Madden. That’s about the only game we know well. FIFA isn’t bad, either. But our knowledge of video games is limited, as we are all about sport – not about killing people or aliens, racing cars or generally wasting our time (see what we did there, teenagers?). We have lives.

Call Of Duty
Top game (apparently): Call of Duty – Black Ops III

So we got down ‘wiv da yoof, innit’ to find out what the best-selling vids are most likely to be this Christmas.

Our (little) man tells us that Call of Duty – Black Ops III will out-sell anything, including Star Wars Battlefront and FIFA 16. He says the graphics are excellent. We’ll take him at his word.

If it doesn’t out-sell the rest, there will be sure to be some Fallout 4 (see what we did there?).

You can get on at 2.75. That’s good enough for us, although you will probably need to have at least £50 on to make enough money to afford to buy the damn thing! [SM]

BEST BET: CALL OF DUTY – BLACK OPS III TO BE CRISTMAS NUMBER ONE VIDEO GAME @ 2.75

MAN UNITED v CHELSEA

28 DECEMBER – 17:30 (BT SPORT 1)

In truth, both of these sides have underachieved so far this season.

Manchester United (2.25) have suffered from a lack of goals during the current campaign.  Wayne Rooney has failed to impress and it looks as though Old Father Time is starting to catch up with him, particularly when running with the ball.

Wayne Rooney1
Not the force he once was: Wayne Rooney looks jaded

Anthony Martial was bought in at the start of the season, and seems to have suffered a real loss in confidence, despite a wonderful start to his Premier League career.

Nobody could have forecast the dreadful defence of the Premier League title that Chelsea (3.00) have made. Chelsea are miles off the pace after a wretched start to the season and, in truth, a top-four spot is now their realistic aim for the rest of the season.

The Blues’ recent loss against Bournemouth highlighted their lack of confidence in possession and defensive frailty. Both issues will need to be addressed if Chelsea are going to turn things round this season.

Chelsea are unbeaten in the last eight meetings between these two sides, with the last United victory coming back in 2012.

We see the Champions getting a point here – at the very least. [CC]

BEST BET: CHELSEA/DRAW (DC) @ 1.65

NFL REGULAR-SEASON MVP

With just two weeks of the regular season remaining, we have a 1.57 shot that, in our opinion, should be 1.01 at best.

Back Cam Newton to be the NFL Regular Season MVP. The Carolina Panthers quarterback has led his team to the NFC South title and may well lead them onto the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton: Odds-on value

His nearest pursuers in the market are Tom Brady (3.00) and Carson Palmer (11.00), respective passers for New England and Cincinnati. But both those players have at least one elite receiver to pass to, whereas the former Auburn man leads a no-name attack. Take him away from that team and the Panthers would do well to win half of the games they have.

Have no fear in betting odds-on. If is walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and balks at the words “a l’orange”, it probably isn’t a giraffe. Remember: It can be odds-on and still be value. [SM]

BEST BET: CAM NEWTON TO BE REGULAR SEASON MVP @ 1.57

LEICESTER v MAN CITY

KICK OFF: 29 DECEMBER – 19:45 (BT SPORT 1)

There is no doubt that Claudio Ranieri is leading the way when it comes to the Premier League Manager of the Season award.

Leicester (3.75) have dramatically overachieved so far this season and many would have forecast them to be in a relegation scrap, rather than battling for a European place.

JamieVardy
Top of the league: Jamie Vardy and Leicester

The link-up play between Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez has been the main contributing factor for the club’s success, with both men currently at the top end of the goal-scoring standings in the Premier League.

Manchester City (1.90) are performing as many expected and find themselves at the right end of the table, unlike pre-season title rivals Chelsea.

However, while they have been typically impressive when attacking, they have come unstuck in defence on numerous occasions so far this season.

Defensive issues were particularly apparent in City’s home losses to West Ham and Liverpool earlier in the campaign, with Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis looking unconvincing and off the pace.

Leicester have an awful record against Manchester City. The Foxes have not won any of the last eight games between the sides and have lost all of the last four meetings.

We fancy an away win here. [CC]

BEST BET: MAN CITY TO WIN @ 1.90

SUNDERLAND v LIVERPOOL

30 DECEMBER – 19:45 (SKY SPORTS 1)

Sam Allardyce has certainly steadied the ship at The Stadium of Light since taking over from Dick Advocaat earlier in the season.

Sunderland (5.25) have recovered from a disastrous start to the season, which saw them rooted to the foot of the table and have turned out some solid performances under their new manager.

Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool are a work in progress: Jurgen Klopp

One result that particularly comes to mind is Sunderland’s 1-0 win away at Crystal Palace in November, which perfectly highlighted their new found structure and organisation under the man affectionately known as Big Sam.

It has been much the same for Liverpool (1.55) who have also seen an upturn in fortune after changing their manager earlier in the season. Jürgen Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers back in October and has overseen impressive away wins against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

The most notable meeting between these two sides came back in October 2009, when a Darren Bent effort deflected off a beach ball to give the Black Cats a famous victory over the Mersysiders.

However, Sunderland have a poor record against Liverpool and haven’t won any of the last six meetings between the two sides.

We are going for an away win at The Stadium of Light. [CC]

BEST BET: LIVERPOOL TO WIN @ 1.55

Stay tuned to our WordPress site for Previews and Betting Guides on a variety of Sports… And have a very Merry Christmas!

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NFL PICK SIX – Week 15 betting guide

Three weeks remain of the regular season. Carolina (13-0) is the lone unbeaten team after thrashing Atlanta 38-0 last weekend and has secured a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Entering 2015, seven teams started a season 13-0 during the Super Bowl era. Of those seven clubs, five advanced to the Super Bowl and three of those teams won the Super Bowl.

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 15 of the 2015/16 NFL season. In week 14, our handicap selections went 12-4.

The odds are correct at the time of writing and are available on your club’s betting site.

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

TAMPA BAY at ST LOUIS

(-1, Total Points 41)

Tampa Bay (6-7) still have an outside shot at the playoffs despite losing at home to New Orleans last Sunday, while the St Louis Rams (5-8) are on the outside looking in, even though they downed Detroit at home.

Todd Gurley
Elite back: Todd Gurley

The Buccaneers have a terrible 1-7 record at the Rams, their sole road win coming in 2001. Realistically, their playoff hopes rest on winning their three remaining games and hoping that Seattle (8-5) or Minnesota (8-5) do not win another game.

The Rams snapped a four-game losing streak thanks in part to several big runs from first-round draft pick Todd Gurley, who gained 140 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-14 win over the Lions.  Gurley is a force and has eight TDs in his last eight games.

The Saints dressed the Buccaneers in a clown suit with a 24-17 win, keeping rookie QB Jameis Winston and running back Doug Martin under control. Whether the Rams will be able to is open to argument.

Rams back-up passer Case Keenum, who has won three of his last four starts, will need to lean on Gurley and the running game if he is to help coach Jeff Fisher extend his 7-1 record against the Bucs.

From a punting perspective, this looks a game to leave alone. The Bucs should win, but their record at the Rams is off-putting.

VERDICT: TAMPA BAY 23 ST LOUIS 17

BEST BET: TAMPA BAY +1 @ 2.00

NEW YORK JETS at DALLAS

(+3, Total Points 42)

Although Miami’s defeat on Monday handed the AFC East to the New England Patriots, the New York Jets (8-5) can make it two teams from that division to make the playoffs, for they are in the wildcard hunt.

Matt Cassel 2
Another chance: Matt Cassel

However, they will feel they must win against Dallas on Saturday night to remain in possession of that playoff spot, as their last two games come against the Patriots and division rival Buffalo (6-7) who are still alive. Neither game is a ‘gimmie’.

Dallas (4-9) have to win out and hope that all three NFC East division rivals Washington Redskins (6-7), New York Giants (6-7) and Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) continue to slip up. Their only hope is to win the division and those hopes are hanging by a thread.

The Jets hold a 3-7 all-time record against the Cowboys, including a 1-2 record in Dallas, who have spiralled to their first losing season since 2010 without injured QB Tony Romo.

Since Romo broke his collarbone, the Cowboys have gone 1-8 with Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden. Cassel is likely the starter this week, even though the Cowboys have produced only eight touchdowns in seven games with him at the helm. He completed just 13 of 29 passes for 114 yards in a losing effort against the Green Bay Packers last weekend.

The Jets are on a three-game winning streak – their first since December 2011 – and have scored 91 points in that span. Those wins came against Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Tennessee Titans, all of whom have losing records.

The outcome will be determined on whether or not the Cowboys actually fancy it. They have, realistically, little to play for. This is not a game we want to get too heavily involved in, but take the Jets to win a close one.

VERDICT: NY JETS 28 DALLAS 23

BEST BET: NY JETS -3 @ 1.91

ATLANTA at JACKSONVILLE

(-3, Total Points 49)

We looked at this as a potential handicapping ‘swing’ game.

The rule is simple: Team A wins handily one week and Team B loses heavily. If they face each other the following week, the best option is often to back the underdog with the points.

2014 NFL Combine
Fast-improving: Jaguars passer Blake Bortles

The theory is that Team B (in this case the Atlanta Falcons) are likely to work harder on the things they got wrong and use their embarrassment as a motivational tool, while Team A (Jacksonville, who ran up the score on Indianapolis last week) could take their rivals lightly.

It is surprising how often the swing system has paid off, with underdogs given eight points or more keeping within the handicap 66 per cent of the time in the past 17 years when their combined margin of victory and defeat was above 48 points.

With the Jaguars tonking Tennessee 51-16 last week, the margin of victory (35 points) and Falcons’ defeat (losing 38-0 to Carolina) totals 73 points. But the bookies have got wise to swing games and rather than having the Falcons as eight-points dogs, the Jags are just three-point favourites.

So you simply have to go against the basic principles of handicapping on this occasion. The Falcons really are not that bad and the Jaguars are not yet Super Bowl calibre.

Still, history says the Jaguars have the edge. They have won both meetings in Florida and, at 5-8, are just a game behind AFC South leaders Indianapolis (6-7).

With three games remaining against teams with a losing record, the Jaguars can keep their playoff hopes alive for another week at least. We worry about the handicap line, however. It should be bigger than it is.

VERDICT: ATLANTA 28 JACKSONVILLE 33

BEST BET: JACKSONVILLE -3 @ 1.92

TENNESSEE at NEW ENGLAND

(-13.5, Total Points 46.5)

New England has failed to cover lofty spreads on several occasions this season, but while they have won the AFC East, the Patriots are still in need of a first-round bye.

Marcus Mariota
Big numbers: Marcus Mariota

The Titans were burned on the ground for 183 yards by the Jets but there have been bright spots this season, notably from rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has already set franchise rookie records for pass attempts (364), completions (227), passing yards (2,786) and passing touchdowns (19). He could become the 10th QB in history to reach 20 touchdowns in history.

The Titans are 2-4 under interim head coach Mike Malarkey, who took control on November 3, but looked defensively dreadful against an ordinary Jets team.

New England, having clinched a seventh consecutive AFC East title, know the clock is ticking on Tom Brady’s career. In his 16th season, he has already become the fourth NFL player to reach 400 career touchdown passes and leads the NFL with 4,138 passing yards this season.

The Patriots are not in a position to rest key players. Ravaged by injuries, their running game suffered a massive blow when LeGarrette Blount was ruled out for the rest of the season in their win over the Texans. They also lost defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

Yet they are 12-0 when favoured by 15.5 points or more and the line has already climbed from an opening 12.5-points. This should be a routine win, but don’t expect them to run up the score and there is always a danger that a garbage time TD could blow the handicap.

VERDICT: NEW ENGLAND 31 TENNESSEE 16

BEST BET: NEW ENGLAND -13.5 @ 1.91

BUFFALO at WASHINGTON

(+1, Total Points 44)

With three regular-season games remaining, both teams have a shot at making the play-offs.

Buffalo (6-7) remain in contention for a wildcard in the AFC, although it could come down to their clash with the New York Jets (8-5) on the final day.

Washington’s (6-7) win in Chicago means they lead the NFC East, but they still have to face division rivals Dallas (4-9) and Philadelphia (6-7).

The Redskins have lost the last six against the Bills and we will rely on the Bills’ third-ranked running game to grind out a narrow win – as long as LeSean McCoy finds his was to the team plane in time.

VERDICT: BUFFALO 23 WASHINGTON 20

BEST BET: BUFFALO -1 @ 1.92

GREEN BAY at OAKLAND

(+3, Total Points 47)

The Green Bay Packers (9-4) top the NFC North thanks to a gritty 28-7 win over the Cowboys and are a game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings, whom they meet in the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.

Mike McCarthy
In charge: Mike McCarthy offers diversity

That one could be for all the marbles, because the Pack face two tough road trips, going across country to Oakland before heading to Arizona.

The Packers have won the last six meetings, but this will be their first clash since 2011.

Oakland (6-7) did as we anticipated they would last week, coming away from Denver with an upset victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Yet they have won just two of their last six at home and Green Bay, while inconsistent at times this season – especially in the running game – received a boost last week when head coach Mike McCarthy resumed offensive play-calling duties. It is what many had been calling for after an unsuccessful period from offensive coordinator Tom Clements.

McCarthy can put quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a position to be successful, as his schemes are balanced and a little more diverse.

VERDICT: GREEN BAY 24 OAKLAND 20

BEST BET: GREEN BAY -3 @ 1.91

OTHER HANDICAP PREDICTIONS

KANSAS CITY -7.5 at Baltimore: Ravens (4-9) have a QB quandary. They could start back-up Matt Schaub, who suffered chest and shoulder injuries a week ago, or Jimmy Clausen, who could not get the ravens in the endzone against Seattle. Or they could even turn to ex-Houston back-up Ryan Mallett, whom they signed last week. It is not a pretty situation for a team that appears to have packed its bags for the season. The Chiefs have an excellent defense, but the Ravens have played a bunch of close games. This could be closer than anticipated, but we expect Alex Smith and the Chiefs to come through. Chiefs 23-14

HOUSTON +3.5 at Indianapolis: Both teams will start back-up quarterbacks for the latest in a series that Indianapolis has dominated, winning 23 of 27 all-time, including the last six. Houston had won four games in a row before dropping the last two, while Indianapolis had won three on the bounce before losing their last two. Colts are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 games after consecutive losses but they have been outgained in nine of the last 10 games. Tough call but we favour the Texans to cover the spread. Colts 24-21

MINNESOTA -5.5 over Chicago: Bears have not lost three consecutive to the Vikings since 1999-2000 and they have won at hostile environments in Kansas City and Green Bay this season. Their last five losses came by three points or less, but what do they have to play for? The Vikings are in the hunt for the NFC North title but dropped a vital game in Arizona last week. They should ride Adrian Peterson and the ground game to victory. Vikings 21-10

NEW YORK GIANTS +5.5 over Carolina: This handicap line should be at least a TD, particularly given the Giants’ powder-puff defense. Yet the unbeaten Carolina Panthers have lost four of the last six meetings and two of the last three in New York. The Giants should not come close, even though they put up 31 points on Miami last Monday night. We don’t see this as a potential upset and the Panthers’ offensive line should open enough holes for the running game to be successful. Still, the line worries us and we are tentatively following the money. Panthers 24-20

SEATTLE -14.5 over Cleveland: Despite having snapped a seven-game losing streak with an expected win over San Francisco, Cleveland face long road-trip with little to play for. The Seahawks have had issues at time with mobile quarterbacks and Johnny Manziel’s athleticism could cause a few problems. He does not have Brian Hartline as a target, following the receiver’s broken collarbone and they have had several issues running the ball. We see the NFC champions cruising. Seahawks 31-10

DENVER +6 at Pittsburgh: This is another handicap line that worries us. Denver may have lost to Oakland, but that was a statistical – and predictable – trend defeat. Along similar lines, the Steelers have not lost three on the trot to the Broncos since 1970-73 and are 9-0 against the spread in their last nine December games. They have lost five of the last seven at home to the Broncos, whose defense has carried them all season. We don’t see the Steelers putting up 30 or more points as they have in five straight games and if C.J. Anderson is healthy, the Broncos can take some pressure off of QB Brock Osweiler. Steelers 24-21

MIAMI +2 at San Diego: Dolphins have won nine of the last 11 meetings with the Chargers, but have lost the last two in San Diego and have been done no favours with the schedule, travelling cross country off a short week. The Chargers could do nothing against a tough Chiefs defense in a 10-3 loss at Arrowhead but QB Philip Rivers should get plenty of change against a porous Dolphins secondary. Likewise, counterpart Ryan Tannehill might look like a viable passer if running back Lamar Miller can take advantage of the 27th-ranked run defense – providing he’s actually given the ball. Not a confident pick by any means, but we take the upset. Dolphins 23-17

SAN FRANCISCO +4.5 over Cincinnati: The Bengals are looking over their shoulders hoping history will not repeat itself. They can win the AFC North with a win but were pipped at the death last year and without injured QB Andy Dalton, there are fears that the same thing may happen. The 49ers were dreadful at Cleveland but are 11-3 all-time over the Bengals, who have been beaten on their last five visits. AJ McCarron was not bad in relief of Dalton against the Steelers last week and he has plenty of talent surrounding him. It is tough to put our faith in San Francisco back-up Blaine Gabbert, however. Yet the Niners are tough at home in December games, winning 15 of 16 and we take them to keep this close. Bengals 23-21

ARIZONA -3.5 at Philadelphia: Sunday’s late game might be worth staying up for. The Eagles have rebounded to 6-7 after winning at New England and outlasting Buffalo. They top the NFC East with three games to play, but the visiting Cardinals have a chance to wrap up the NFC West and take a big step to securing a first-round playoff bye. They have won five of the last seven meetings and with Green Bay and Seattle left to play, they will need this win as much as the desperate Eagles. Cardinals 34-27

DETROIT +3 at New Orleans: Not a Monday Night Football game to get enthused about, as neither has much to pay for, having been eliminated from playoff contention. The Saints (5-8) have lost three times at home this term but the Lions have failed to cover the handicap in their last nine road games in December. The points total, which has gone under the Vegas line in 13 of the last 16 Lions road games, is set at 50.5 and we think it is worth looking at the overs. There should be plenty of points and we chance a Lions win with nothing more than a bet for interest suggested. Lions 31-27

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