It’s Week 14, and if it weren’t for all the roasting chestnuts, you’d be able to smell the playoffs. Well, not as strongly as you could smell them normally, since there’s an extra game this year, but the aroma is in the air. This week, let’s take a look at some of the games that will be important to divisional races and playoff seeding that are going down to see if that can show us some motivations simmering beneath the surface.
Dallas at Washington – With a win, Dallas would be three games clear of Washington and Philly, including a head-to-head victory over each, with four games to play.
Las Vegas at Kansas City – Since the Broncos and Chargers both have cupcake home matchups this week, a Las Vegas loss would put them in last place in the division, and likely doom any playoff chances they may be harboring.
Baltimore at Cleveland – Likewise, a loss would send Cleveland to the AFC North basement. A Baltimore win would tie them with New England (and likely Tennessee and Kansas City) for the best record in the AFC.
Buffalo at Tampa Bay – A loss would leave Buffalo two games behind idle New England and in firm Wild Card hopeful territory. Tampa is tied with Green Bay, one game behind Arizona for the NFC’s top seed.
LA Rams at Arizona – Since they’ve already beaten the Rams in LA, Arizona would effectively slam the door on the NFC West with a win.
Five games with playoff implications for both teams is a lot to look forward to, just like the nine games we get to pick this week. Let’s hit it!
(Standard disclaimer – All opinions are my own and may or may not reflect those of this website. “Analytic Lines” are ELO point spreads from fivethirtyeight.com, and “Vegas Lines” are courtesy of thelines.com, current as of the writing of this article. Predicted Line (“PL”) is my early week estimate of where the Vegas line would be set. Chosen games are those with a multiple point variance between the Vegas and Analytic Lines.)
A whole lotta sister kissing, as ELO and I both went 4 – 4. We took different roads to get there, though.
Game and Upset of the Week – Dallas at New Orleans: Taysom Hill looked like the playmaker New Orleans needed until he smashed his finger and turned into a “2019 Jameis Winston”-level interception machine. The Upset of the Week didn’t come through.
Tampa Bay at Atlanta: The Bucs march to the playoffs continues inexorably on. No surprise the Falcons couldn’t hang them, even with the Antonio Brown Vaxcard-Gate scandal going down.
New York Giants at Miami: The Giants are discovering what the Dolphins already knew. Even if you don’t love your starting QB, the grass isn’t always greener at the backup’s house.
Philadelphia at New York Jets: I picked the Eagles, not expecting Jalen Hurts would sit out. I also didn’t expect Gardner Minshew to play like a competent NFL quarterback. But, sometimes, two wrongs do make a right.
Indianapolis at Houston: Houston is playing out the string. They’re a bet against the rest of the way.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: Something is seriously wrong with Baltimore. Outside of the big comeback second half against Minnesota, their offense has been terrible since all the way back in Week Six when they boat raced the Chargers. I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, but it seems like there’s more to this Lamar Jackson mystery illness than we’re being told.
San Francisco at Seattle: Sometimes, I just need to go with my gut. I thought the coast-to-coast travel and short week would be more than the Hawk’s recent domination of the Niners could overcome. Obviously, I was wrong.
New England at Buffalo: Given the weather conditions in Buffalo this past Monday night, until proven otherwise, I’m forced to at least consider the possibility that God wants the Pats back in the Super Bowl. This is an extremely disturbing thought since we all know God is a Packers fan.
Last week: My picks, 4-4; Analytics, 4-4
Season: My picks, 43-49-1; Analytics, 48-44-1
Game of the Week
Jacksonville at Tennessee – Analytic Line: TENN (-14.5), Vegas Line: TENN (-8.5), PL: TENN (-12.5)
We start with a six-point gap between ELO and Vegas on the Jags and Titans. Jacksonville has a second straight road game, following a west coast trip last week. Tennessee is coming off their bye and needs a get-right game following back-to-back losses preceding it. I’m with ELO and expect a big win for the Titans.
Make It A Parlay
Dallas at Washington – Analytic Line: WASH (+0.5), Vegas Line: WASH (+4.5), PL: WASH (+3.5)
Wow, no respect for a team that’s won four in a row since their bye. Dallas does have extra rest after playing on Thursday, but this is back-to-back roadies for them, as well. I’ll again agree with ELO that this should be closer to a pick ‘em game than Vegas’ 4.5 point lean to the Cowboys.
Seattle at Houston – Analytic Line: HOU (+6), Vegas Line: HOU (+8.5), PL: HOU (+11.5)
Seattle didn’t necessarily play well last week, but it was still better than they’ve played recently. They won’t even have to play that well to beat the Texans. As soft as the bottom of the NFC playoff picture is, I wouldn’t rule Seattle out just yet. They have work to do in the division, but three of their five final games are against Houston, Chicago, and Detroit. So they’ve got a shot.
New Orleans at New York Jets – Analytic Line: NYJ (+3), Vegas Line: NYJ (+5.5), PL: NYJ (+6.5)
Dome team playing outdoors in December, Taysom Hill’s broken finger, the Jets occasionally flashing competence…, sure, what the heck, give me the Jets and the points.
Atlanta at Carolina – Analytic Line: CAR (-6.5), Vegas Line: CAR (-2.5), PL: CAR (-3.5)
Friends don’t let friends bet games between bad teams. That said, maybe the Joe Brady firing motivates the Panthers for a week. Maybe? It’s as good a line as any on this game.
New York Giants at Los Angeles Chargers – Analytic Line: LAC (-7.5), Vegas Line: LAC (-10), PL: LAC (-10.5)
Even if the entire receiver room for the Chargers has COVID or is a close contact, I’m still taking them over the Giants and whoever comes up on their “Wheel of Backup QBs” this week.
Buffalo at Tampa Bay – Analytic Line: TB (-5), Vegas Line: TB (-3.5), PL: TB (-5.5)
Short week for Buffalo. Tampa’s unbeaten at home. The top of the NFC seems much stronger than the top of the AFC, and it’s debatable whether Buffalo even belongs in that class. Nevertheless, I’m expecting a big win for the Bucs.
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona – Analytic Line: AZ (-5.5), Vegas Line: AZ (-2.5), PL: AZ (-3.5)
They say in a playoff game that you shouldn’t take the underdog unless you think they can win outright. So I’ll extend that to a “playoff-like atmosphere” game and take the Cards. They were the first to expose the Rams earlier in the year. I don’t think that was a fluke.
Upset of the Week
Baltimore at Cleveland – Analytic Line: CLE (-0.5), Vegas Line: CLE (-2.5), PL: CLE (-3)
There’s a lot going against Baltimore in this spot. Broken-looking offense, back-to-back division road games, desperation time for Cleveland’s playoff hopes. Despite all that, I can’t get out of my head how ineffective the Cleveland run game was two weeks ago when these two played. Since Cleveland’s offense is based entirely on said run game, and I doubt Lamar Jackson throws four interceptions again, I’ll take the Ravens to sneak this one out.