With the postseason fast approaching, more teams are securing playoff places each week while others are falling out of playoff contention. In the AFC only Houston (10-3) have secured a playoff place, having clinched the AFC South last week. In the NFC, Green Bay (13-0) and San Francisco (10-3) have clinched their respective divisions, while New Orleans (10-3) have clinched at least a wild card place. The Indianapolis Colts (0-13) are in the box seat to be the worst team of the season, so no doubt they will be making plans for their No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, with Stanford QB Andrew Luck a likely candidate.
Below are some comments on this weekend’s fixtures. Each team’s win/loss record for 2011 is shown in brackets.
On Thursday the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) will have their work cut out for them when they visit the Atlanta Falcons (8-5). Falcons QB Matt Ryan will back himself to get the better of rookie Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert.
In the delicately poised NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys (7-6) and NY Giants (7-6) can ill-afford to lose when they take on Tampa Bay (4-9) and Washington (4-9), respectively. Dallas will back themselves given Tampa Bay are on a seven game losing streak, while the Giants will be looking to avenge their loss to Washington earlier this season.
The Chicago Bears (7-6) host the Seattle Seahawks (6-7) in a game where the loser’s playoffs chances will likely evaporate. The Bears will have to find a way to win without QB Jay Cutler, who is still out with a thumb injury.
Rookie QB TJ Yates will be looking to win in his third consecutive start when he and the Houston Texans (10-3) host fellow rookie QB Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (4-9). Yates was a fifth round pick in 2011 the draft, while Cam Newton was the No. 1 overall pick, so I’m sure Yates will be keen to get one over the more illustrious rookie.
The Green Bay Packers (13-0) can secure home field advantage in the playoffs if they beat the Kanas City Chiefs (5-8). The Chiefs sacked their coach last week, so it will be a baptism of fire for new coach Romeo Crennel, who is their former defensive coordinator.
The Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) still have a small chance of making the playoffs, but will need to beat the NY Jets (8-5) to stay alive.
After a few mundane Monday Night Football fixtures, this week is a cracker, with the San Francisco 49ers (10-3) hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3). The 49ers’ slip last week against the Cardinals mean they need to win to assure the No. 2 seed, while the Steelers are locked in a battle with the Ravens (10-3) for the AFC North.
For offensive reasons, I think the Bears are too risky to touch. Backing the Seahawks could be a value bet.
New Orleans should win, but this is a consecutive road game for them, and they are much more comfortable at home. 1.36 odds aren’t worth the risk.
Atlanta, Dallas, Tennessee, Green Bay, NY Giants, Cincinnati and Arizona should win.
My suggested line picks are:
Dallas (-6.5), Cincinnati (-6.5), Arizona (-6.5)
Below are the latest odds (subject to change):