During the last two weeks weather has played a pivotal role in places like Chicago, Green Bay, and Miami, while the pressure of pursuing a playoff spot caused teams like the Philadelphia Eagles (5-8), Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1), and Buffalo Bills (6-7) to drop season-defining contests.
That means December football is here and in full swing.
As the old saw goes, the month of December is where NFL seasons go to die. Teams that can’t adjust to the conditions, or respond to the stress of high-pressure games, tend to fail during the last month of the year.
This year is no different, and the Week 15 slate features several December dates between teams that are playing for their postseason lives, or trying to secure top-seeds, byes, and home games.
The action kicks off on Saturday for a change, with a primetime night game pitting the Miami Dolphins (8-5) against bitter rivals in the New York Jets (4-9). Despite a litany of injuries, including the most recent suffered by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins can take command of the AFC’s sixth-seed with a win and a Denver loss.
Even with backup Matt Moore making his first start in four years, on the road no less, Miami has the edge at the Bovada sportsbook as 3-point favorites.
Speaking of those Denver Broncos (8-5), they just might cooperate with Miami’s plans on Sunday afternoon, as the defending champions host the New England Patriots (11-2).
Denver’s defense of their Super Bowl title has been dubious, what with legend Peyton Manning retiring, but New England’s own all-timer Tom Brady is still tearing it up. He’ll face rookie QB Trevor Siemian, who shoulders the burden of preserving Denver’s tenuous hold on the sixth-seed. As for Brady, he can lock up yet another AFC East title, and a first-round bye to boot, with nothing more than a victory.
The bookmakers at Bovada don’t believe the Broncos have what it takes to hang with the Patriots’ high-octane offense, giving New England the 3.5-point edge as road favorites.
The Minnesota Vikings (7-6) host the Indianapolis Colts (6-7), in what will essentially be a playoff game.
For the Colts, their only realistic hope lies in chasing down the Houston Texans (7-6) for the AFC South crown, and a loss will effectively end their season. The Vikings’ implosion after a 5-0 start puts them two full games back in the NFC North, but they’re still within striking distance of the sixth-seed, trailing by only half a game behind the Washington Redskins (7-5-1).
Minnesota has posted a 4-2 record at home so far, which is why Bovada has the Vikings as 4-point favorites in this do-or-die game.
Another game with playoff implications has the New York Giants (9-4) hosting the Detroit Lions (9-4). Both teams have ostensibly secured a postseason berth, but the winner of this game has the inside track to potentially catching the Dallas Cowboys (11-2) for the NFC’s top-seed.
Fresh off a dominant defensive effort in defeating Dallas last Sunday, the Giants are 4.5-point home favorites over the Lions, despite Detroit’s five-game winning streak.
As for Dallas, they’ll host the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) in the second straight Sunday Night Football game for “America’s Team.”
The Bucs have also won five in a row, and are now tied with the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) in the NFC South. A primetime win in Dallas would be a major statement, but Bovada doesn’t believe, posting the ‘Boys as big 7-point home favorites.