The last week of the NFL regular season is all about jockeying for playoff positioning, and the 2019 edition is no different.
With the top seeds looking to earn rest via first-round bye, while fringe contenders simply hope to secure a coveted spot in the Super Bowl tournament, this Sunday’s slate offers several games with direct postseason implications.
We’ll focus on those high-profile playoff-deciding games going forward, and as always, the betting lines shown below come courtesy of online sportsbook Bovada.
Three NFC Powerhouses Pushing for Two First-Round Byes
With the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints each sporting 12-3 records, it’s a three-team race for the NFC’s pair of first-round byes.
But with those teams currently seeded at 1-2-3, respectively, a pecking order of sorts has been created in terms of playoff seed clinching scenarios.
Only the Niners can clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs by virtue of a victory alone. They can accomplish that on Sunday Night Football against the Seattle Seahawks (11-4), in a contest that also doubles as the de facto NFC West division title game.
Seattle can also claim a first-round bye with a win coupled with a Packers loss, and should both the Saints and Packers go down, a Seahawks win sends them to the #1 seed.
Playing at Seattle is never an easy task, especially within the confines of a divisional rivalry, but the Seahawks haven’t been nearly as dominant at home of late. Russell Wilson and Co. have only gone 4-3 at CenturyLink Field this season, while Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers are an impressive 6-1 on the road.
Oddsmakers like that discrepancy it seems, and they’ve installed San Francisco as (-3.5) road favorites.
Before that pivotal game kicks off, the Packers will visit the Detroit Lions (3-11-1) with a chance to put pressure on the 49ers. A win by Green Bay followed by a San Francisco loss means the Packers will play at Lambeau Field throughout the playoffs.
That would put the Packers in an enviable position given Aaron Rodgers and first-year head coach Matt Lafleur reeled off a 7-1 home record this season. And even if the San Fran winds up winning, Green Bay has a first-round bye waiting should they down Detroit.
Squaring off against an atrocious Lions squad, one that can still “earn” the #2 overall draft pick, puts the Packers as heavy (-12.5) road favorites here.
The final piece of the NFC’s top-tier playoff puzzle concerns the Saints, who can only earn a first-round bye by beating the Carolina Panthers (5-10) while the Packers are upset. New Orleans also has an outside shot to grab the #1 seed, but that would require a win with losses by Green Bay and San Francisco.
Despite having little chance to improve their seeding, Saints head coach Sean Payton is insistent on playing his starters at full capacity.
Knowing this, the linemakers have set the Saints as major (-13) road favorites in this one.
Titans and Steelers Trying to Squeeze in as AFC’s #6 Seed
With much of the AFC playoff seeding already set, the conference’s primary point of Week 17 intrigue stems from the Wild Card race.
Both the Tennessee Titans (8-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7) squandered prime opportunities to clinch a playoff berth last week, setting the stage for this Sunday’s race for the #6 seed.
Tennessee controls its own destiny and will be in with a win as (-3.5) road favorites at the Houston Texans (10-5). There’s been a bit of debate over whether or not Texans head coach Bill O’Brien will, or should, rest his starters with nothing to play for, but he claims a full lineup will be fielded.
As for the Steelers, they’ll need to beat the Baltimore Ravens as (-2) road favorites and watch the Titans trip up. With the Ravens already locked into the AFC’s #1 seed, head coach John Harbaugh has already confirmed that all key starters will sit this one out.