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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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