The month of December is the NFL’s regular season proving ground, as the four games played during that time can define a team’s entire year.
The league’s history books are littered with flash in the pan pretenders, teams that reeled off nice records through November, before wilting when the temperatures dropped and the pressure rose.
So suffice to say, Week 13 will prove to be pivotal for the 20 or so teams still holding onto postseason aspirations.
December’s first slate of games features several games with potential impact on the playoff picture, but before covering the middle of the pack, the league’s leaders are steadily separating themselves from the pack.
As of November 29, only three teams enjoy odds of better than 10 to 1 of winning Super Bowl 51 at season’s end, per the Bovada sportsbook.
The AFC’s New England Patriots (9-2) are the consensus favorites at +240, while two NFC challengers in the Dallas Cowboys (10-1) and the Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1) are tabbed at +400 and +750, respectively. The upstart Oakland Raiders (9-2) are straddling the line at +1000, but from there the league is cluttered with also-rans offering 12 to 1 odds or worse on becoming the champions.
Dallas plays another Thursday game following last week’s 31-26 Thanksgiving Day thriller over the Washington Redskins (6-4-1), as the Cowboys visit the Minnesota Vikings (6-5) to start the week. These teams are trending in opposite directions, and Bovada likes Dallas’ 5-0 road record more than Minnesota’s 4-1 run at home, so the Cowboys have been installed as 4-point road favorites.
New England hosts the Los Angeles Rams (4-7), a team that head coach Jeff Fisher infamously declared “isn’t going 7-9” during the preseason filming of HBO’s Hard Knocks series. The Rams will need to go 4-1 the rest of the way to fulfill Fisher’s prediction, but a road date against the Patriots doesn’t offer much chance to pursue that path. The consensus among bookmakers puts New England as major 13-point home favorites, so the Rams will likely need one of Fisher’s patented 9-6 slop-fests in order to survive.
Seattle just suffered one of the strangest defeats of the Pete Carroll era – not as strange as the end zone interception from Super Bowl 49, mind you, but close – falling 15-6 on the road to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5).
The Seahawks were missing a slew of key players last Sunday though, and defensive end Michael Bennett, free safety Earl Thomas, and cornerback DeShawn Shead are all expected back in the fold for this Sunday’s home game against the Carolina Panthers (4-7). Seattle is sporting its usual gaudy record on home turf at 5-0, so Bovada gives them the full touchdown advantage as 7-point favorites over the disappointing Panthers.
Among games that may decide division winners and wild card spots, the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) host the surging Miami Dolphins (7-4) in a game that could decide the AFC’s sixth seed. The Dolphins currently own that playoff berth, by virtue of a six-game winning streak, but they’ll face a stern test from the December-tested Ravens. The consensus line is essentially even, giving Baltimore slightly more than the standard home field advantage at -3.5 points.
The Atlanta Falcons (7-4) are consensus 3.5-point home favorites over the Kansas City Chiefs (8-3), and the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) are consensus 6-point home favorites despite facing a New York Giants (8-3) team with two more victories.