Just two weeks remain in the NFL regular season, offering each of the 17 teams still in postseason contention a pair of chances to solidify their standing.
The action gets underway this Saturday with a doubleheader brimming with playoff implications.
The season is already lost for the Indianapolis Colts (3-11), but the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) will play host with an AFC Wild Card berth close at hand. The Ravens are tied with two other teams at the moment, and with home dates against the downtrodden Colts and Cincinnati Bengals (5-9) on the docket, they have a leg up on the field.
It all begins with a victory on Saturday though, and Baltimore should have little trouble in that regard, as online sportsbook Bovada has them as huge 14-point favorites.
The Saturday nightcap pits the surging Minnesota Vikings (11-3) against the Green Bay Packers (7-7), as the Vikes hope to make a push for the NFC’s top seed.
Last week’s dominant win over the Bengals allowed the Vikings to clinch their second NFC North title in three seasons. The Packers were division champs last year, and would’ve competed for the crown again if not for quarterback Aaron Rodgers going down mid-season with a broken collarbone.
Rodgers made a comeback attempt last week in a losing effort, but with their playoff aspirations dashed, Green Bay shut the signal-caller down for good with the ferocious Minnesota defense coming to Lambeau Field.
The oddsmakers waited on Rodgers’ status before posting their opening line on this one, and thus far the consensus lean has the Vikings as 9-point road favorites.
The Los Angeles Rams (10-4) exorcised their demons last week, storming out to a 34-0 halftime lead over the Seattle Seahawks (8-6) while silencing the “12th Man” at CenturyLink Field. With the proverbial torch now passed, the new-look Rams can lay claim to their first NFC West title in 16 seasons by beating the Tennessee Titans (8-6) on the road this Sunday.
Two weeks ago, the Titans were 8-4, and seemingly assured of reaching the postseason dance for the first time since 2008. Consecutive road losses to NFC West doormats in the Arizona Cardinals (6-8) and San Francisco 49ers (4-10) have dimmed Tennessee’s chances somewhat, but the Titans are still tied for a Wild Card spot.
Another loss to an NFC West foe would certainly end Tennessee’s playoff hopes, and Bovada has that as a likelihood, with the Rams installed as full 7-point road favorites.
The Buffalo Bills (8-6) are the third team tied for an AFC Wild Card berth, joining the Ravens and Titans. And technically, the Bills hold the sixth seed thanks to tiebreakers – but only for the time being.
Buffalo heads to Gillette Stadium where the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (11-3) lie in wait.
The Bills are only three weeks removed from a 23-3 beatdown, on home turf no less, at the hands of the Patriots. Heading into the lion’s den doesn’t bode well for Buffalo, but interestingly enough, the Bills have experienced success at Gillette. They shut the Pats out 16-0 last year, and won a 17-9 slugfest in 2014, so an upset win on Sunday isn’t out of the question.
It’ll have to be a double-digit upset though, as the opening line of New England (-10) was quickly bet up to a 13-point advantage.
If the playoffs began today, the NFC South would be sending three representatives to the tournament: the division-leading New Orleans Saints (10-4), the fifth-seeded Carolina Panthers (10-4), and the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons (9-5).
That order could change dramatically, however, with the Saints hosting the Falcons in a pivotal game this Sunday.
A win for New Orleans would all but wrap the division up, as they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Carolina. As for Atlanta, any chance the Falcons have to avenge last year’s brutal Super Bowl choke job is contingent on winning out – what with the Detroit Lions (8-6), Dallas Cowboys (8-6), and Seahawks all lurking one game out.
Divisional intrigue and two high-powered offenses should make for a good show, but the Saints hold a sizable edge (read: The Superdome) as 5.5-point favorites.