With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, the NFL has whittled down its contenders for coveted playoff berths.
Only six from each conference will stamp their ticket to the tournament, and after Week 16 action over the weekend, football fans will have a much clearer idea about which teams will be playing in the postseason. Due to Christmas Day landing on a Sunday this year, most of this week’s games take place on Saturday – but the cream of the Week 16 crop will be played out on Sunday and Monday.
For the Christmas Day doubleheader, the NFL’s schedule makers are relying on bitter divisional rivalries to drive ratings.
First up is the de facto AFC North championship game, as the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) host the Baltimore Ravens (8-5). For the Steelers, who lost 21-14 to the Ravens with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hobbled by injury earlier in the year, this rematch offers an opportunity to lock up their sixth division title of the Big Ben era.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens are simply trying to keep their season alive, as a loss would likely end their playoff hopes altogether. Both teams won nail-biters last Sunday, but Pittsburgh is riding a five-game winning streak, while Baltimore has gone 3-2 over that time span. Both of those defeats came on the road against powerhouses, and the oddsmakers at the Bovada sportsbook like that rough road run to continue for the Ravens, posting the Steelers as 5-point home favorites.
To close out Christmas Day the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) host the Denver Broncos (8-6), looking to put the defending Super Bowl champions on the brink of elimination.
Having dropped a pivotal home game against the New England Patriots (12-2) last week, by the ignominious score of 16-3 no less, ninth-seeded Denver can’t afford another loss. Kansas City, meanwhile, released its grip on the AFC West title by letting the Tennessee Titans complete a 14-point comeback with a last-second field goal. The Chiefs can clinch a playoff berth by beating the Broncos (or with a Ravens loss), so both teams will have plenty on the line at Arrowhead Stadium.
That infamously hostile venue appears to be the key for Bovada here, as Kansas City is listed as 3.5-point home favorites.
Monday Night Football features a high-profile matchup of NFC division leaders, as the East-leading Dallas Cowboys (12-2) host the North-leading Detroit Lions (9-5).
The Cowboys will be competing in their fifth consecutive primetime game, having reclaimed the title of America’s Team due to their surprisingly stellar play after losing franchise quarterback Tony Romo in the offseason. His rookie replacement Dak Prescott has filled in just fine though, powered by the game’s best offensive line and league-leading rusher, and fellow rookie, Ezekiel Elliott.
The Lions were winners of five straight before last week’s defeat to the New York Giants (10-4), with quarterback Matthew Stafford suffering from a dislocated finger on his throwing hand. With Stafford still ailing, and Prescott fresh off of an impeccable 32/36 showing last week, Bovada gives a big lean to the Cowboys as 7-point home favorites.
As for the Saturday slate, the Miami Dolphins (9-5) can clinch their first playoff appearance since 2008 by beating the Buffalo Bills (7-7) – coupled with a Broncos loss. With backup QB Matt Moore under center, the Dolphins are 3.5-point road underdogs here.
And the surging Green Bay Packers (8-6) host the reeling Minnesota Vikings (7-7) in a proverbial playoff game, with Bovada giving the Pack a 7-point edge.