The NFL season is rounding the last bend and flying to the finish line, with only four games left on the schedule for each of the league’s 32 teams.
Accordingly, with the standings further stratified by overall record, four woeful teams have already been eliminated from playoff contention: The Cleveland Browns (0-12), Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10), and New York Jets (3-9) in the AFC; and the San Francisco 49ers (1-11) on the NFC side.
On the other side of the coin, the Dallas Cowboys (11-1) have ridden their 11-game winning streak – including three victories in the span of 12 days between Weeks 11 and 13 – to become the first team to clinch a postseason berth. But with a full 2.5-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) for the NFC’s top seed, Dallas definitely has its eyes on securing a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
And “America’s Team” can do just that this Sunday with a road win over their archrivals – and the only team to beat the ‘Boys this year – the New York Giants (8-4).
That victory by Big Blue came way back in Week 1 though, when Dallas was still smarting from the loss of star quarterback Tony Romo, and unsure of what they had in his rookie replacement Dak Prescott. Fast forward to Week 14, and Dallas looks to be an offensive juggernaut, powered by Prescott’s preternatural poise, and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 1,285-yard rushing effort.
To clinch the NFC East, Dallas needs only to down New York on Sunday Night Football, but if other games fall the right way, the Cowboys could clinch the NFC’s top seed. They’ll need the Detroit Lions (9-3) and the Seahawks to lose or tie for that scenario to occur, but Dallas likely remains focused on the task at hand.
The bookmakers at Bovada like Dallas’ chances, even on the road, making the Cowboys 3-point favorites in this pivotal primetime game.
The New England Patriots (10-2) can also clinch their division with a win, but they’ll have to beat perennial playoff rivals in the Baltimore Ravens (7-5). A Patriots win coupled with a loss or tie by the Miami Dolphins (7-5) will clinch New England’s 13th AFC East title in the last 14 seasons. And if the Pittsburgh Steelers also cooperate with a loss or tie, the Pats can even clinch a first-round bye.
Road games in Foxboro are never easy, and that’s especially true when New England is motivated, so Baltimore faces a tough test on Monday Night Football. The Ravens are playing to preserve their own divisional aspirations, so the game should be a spirited affair, but Bovada gives the lean to Brady, Belichick, and Co. – installing New England as full 7-point home favorites.
Normally the Patriots’ path to a number one seed in the AFC is unimpeded, but this year the upstart Oakland Raiders (10-2) are neck and neck. That race will likely go down to the Week 17 wire, but the Raiders can clinch a playoff berth – their first since 2002 in fact – by beating the Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) on Thursday Night Football. Oakland will need either Miami or the Denver Broncos (8-4) to lose as well, but both teams have tough games of their own, so a playoff berth for residents of the Black Hole could soon be in order.
The oddsmakers at Bovada have this as a virtual pick’em, giving the Chiefs a standard 3-point edge as home favorites.