Odds to Win Super Bowl 50

SB 50
SB 50
Super Bowl 50 Odds are out and there are few surprises among the favorites.

You’ll notice immediately I used the term ’50’ instead f the Roman numeral ‘L.’ This is because the National Football League recognized the potential issues by having their marquee game represented with a big ‘L.’ This often stands for “loser” or well…. You get the picture.

Anyway with the season officially over, here are your odds for next season already.

Odds to win the 2016 Super Bowl  

Seattle Seahawks                            5/1 – Can they overcome perhaps the toughest loss in Super Bowl history?

New England Patriots                   7/1 – As usual, this team will look different in several areas as they attempt to repeat.

Green Bay Packers                         8/1 – Another team struggling to get past a horrible loss. At least it wasn’t in the Super Bowl.

Denver Broncos                             10/1 – Keep an eye on this, if Manning doesn’t return, the odds will drop considerably.

Dallas Cowboys                             14/1 – Can they repeat the success of this past year and what about Dez Bryant’s contract?

Indianapolis Colts                         14/1 – Must solidify the running game and the running defense to build around Andrew Luck.

Philadelphia Eagles                      20/1 – Late season swoon should be forgotten as Nick Foles returns under center.

Colin Kaepernick must avoid these situations in 2015 and under a new coaching staff how easy will it be?

San Francisco 49ers                      20/1 – With Harbaugh gone, can Jim Tomsula get Colin Kaepernick back on track and can the defense get younger?

New Orleans Saints                       22/1 – Rob Ryan returns despite a brutal defense in 2014 but the offense needs some work too behind an aging Drew Brees.

Pittsburgh Steelers                         25/1 – Offense was prolific, but defense needs serious upgrades. Ben Roethlisberger contract situation a top priority too.

Arizona Cardinals                          33/1 – Imagine what this team could do with consistent QB play? Larry Fitzgerald contract also an issue.

Baltimore Ravens                           33/1 – Ravens blew 14-point lead to eventual champion Pats; pieces are there but depth needed.

Detroit Lions                                   33/1 – Big step for the entire organization in 2014, but Matthew Stafford must play better on a consistent basis.

Atlanta Falcons                             40/1 – Team has addressed defensive liabilities by bringing in Dan Quinn; now the talent must get better.

Carolina Panthers                         40/1 – Under .500 division title likely saved Ron Rivera’s job but team must improve in 2015.

Chicago Bears                                 40/1 – John Fox will bring in some stability but can he do anything to make Jay Cutler better?

Cincinnati Bengals                        40/1 – Andy Dalton is now in a must-win situation. Getting to the playoffs is nice, but 0-4 is unacceptable.

Houston Texans                              40/1 – Who is the QB entering the season and can J.J. Watt get some help on the defensive end?

Kansas City Chiefs                          40/1 – Chiefs must get more out of wide receivers and keeping Justin Houston on D a priority.

Miami Dolphins                              40/1 – Somewhat surprisingly, Joe Philbin is back but he’ll need to find more consistency from his entire team.

Minnesota Vikings                         40/1 – There’s a lot to like in Minnesota but still many pieces to be put in place by Mike Zimmer.

New York Giants                             40/1 – I’m a little surprised to see Tom Coughlin back and his fate will rest on Eli Manning’s shoulders.

San Diego Chargers                        40/1 – When is the last time Philip Rivers won a huge game? Chargers’ fans would like to know.

St. Louis Rams                                 40/1 – If this team gets consistently good QB play are they a team to watch in 2015?

Buffalo Bills                                      66/1 – Kind of an odd hire in Rex Ryan. Defense wasn’t the problem in Western New York.

Cleveland Browns                          66/1 – One QB (Hoyer) is a free agent and wasn’t great. The other QB (Manziel) is now in rehab.

New York Jets                                   100/1 – Will Todd Bowles stick with Geno Smith or does he have another agenda?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers                  100/1 – Mariota or Winston? There are risks and rewards for each.

Tennessee Titans                             100/1 – If they decide to go QB, they’ll likely be stuck with whoever is left over after Tampa selects.

Washington Redskins                    100/1 – My gut tells me Jay Gruden would love to move on from RGIII but he won’t. Can he stay healthy is the question.

Jacksonville Jaguars                       200/1 – Don’t be a bit surprised if this team is greatly improved. Skill players needed but there is a decent nucleus.

Oakland Raiders                               200/1 – I’m not overly impressed with the Jack Del Rio hire. Someone to groom Derek Carr would have been better.

Some Super Bowl Betting History for You to Consider

Super Bowl XIII has become known as "Black Sunday" because Vegas took a beating.

As we have now entered the official “Super Bowl” week, I think it’s important to share some history of betting the big game. Obviously, there is no event in America that has more action in a given year than the Super Bowl.

The amount of money wagered on this game every winter is enough to run most nations for a calendar year if not longer. If you are going to be one of those millions of folks who are going to lay money on the championship of American Professional Football then let’s check the history books for some perspective and analysis. Any piece of information you can get your hands on is is crucial.

Favorites in the Super Bowl have gone 33-15 straight up in the previous 48 games. They are also 26-18-2 against the spread. The National Football Conference holds a 26-22 advantage and has won five of the last seven Super Bowls.

The largest upset in the game came way back in Super Bowl III when the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7. The Jets entered as 18-point underdogs.

Seattle entered last season's Super Bowl as an underdog and it looks like more of the same this season.

In terms of the Over/Under, the Over has ruled in 25 of the 48 games. Super Bowl I did not have an O/U so means the Under was the right play 22 times. The Over has won three of the last four and is tied with the Under with five victories each in the last ten Super Bowls.

In terms of the recent history of underdogs, they have won six of the last seven Super Bowls including last year when Denver entered as a -2.5 point favorite over the Seahawks. The only favorite to win during that stretch was Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV.

The most infamous Super Bowl in terms of betting was Super Bowl XIII. This was the second of three Super Bowl meetings between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers opened at -4.5 but as the game neared, it fell to -3.5 with heavy action on Dallas. The Steelers were victorious 35-31 so Vegas bookies were hit hard.

Many bettors took the Cowboys on that early -4.5 line while many jumped on the Steelers when it went to -3.5. This has since been known as “Black Sunday” to many in the sports gambling business.

As we move our focus to this year’s game, our friends at Bovada currently have the New England Patriots listed as two-point favorites over the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.

If we look at the pattern over the last ten Super Bowls we can come up with the following:

If we like the Patriots as the favorite at -2, then your chances are strong. Winning 33 of 48 is pretty solid.

If we like the AFC team (the Patriots), then we might want to move towards Seattle.

If we are talking about playing the Over/Under then we are going to suggest the Over based on recent results. If we go based on all of the Super Bowls, then this decision really does come down to a coin flip as we’re very nearly at 50%.

Since 2000, the NFC has been the Super Bowl favorite only four times. The St. Louis Rams twice (1-1), the Packers (1-0) and the San Francisco 49ers (0-1). Outside of the Packers win, the other three times saw the Rams not cover against the Titans, the Niners lose straight up to Baltimore and the Rams losing straight up to the Patriots.

With all that swirling around these Patriots, you have to ask yourself whether it will galvanize them or ruin them? That said, you must still look at the history because it tells an awful lot.

Post-Season Injury Excuses are as Lame as the Injuries

Peyton Manning allegedly had a torn quad muscle. Do a little research and you'll find there's a little misinformation there.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had been eliminated from the 2014 National Football League Playoffs and within minutes afterwards, safety Mike Mitchell announced that he’d played most of the season with a torn groin.

Yes, I just reached for my crotch in pain as well…

Yesterday morning, news out of Denver was that Peyton Manning had played the last month of the season with a torn quad muscle.

Injuries in the NFL are as mysterious as aliens and Bigfoot himself. Tom Brady was once on the injury report every week for what seemed like a full decade. Whether or not anything was actually wrong with him is unknown but highly doubtful since amazingly he played in all of those games.

It’s always interesting to hear players suddenly start talking about injuries they’ve been fighting through because 99 times out of 100 the general public doesn’t know anything about the injuries until the season has ended and ended with a loss.

Mike MItchell announced following the Steelers' final game that he played with a groin tear.

In Mitchell’s case, the overwhelming response from the Steelers’ faithful was one of total doubt. Mitchell was supposed to be the team’s free agent gem when they signed him in the offseason to replace Ryan Clark who had worn out his welcome in the Steel City.

As it turns out, Mitchell wasn’t any better. His poor tackling and even worse positioning on the field left Steelers’ fans seriously questioning how this guy could even warrant a starting job. When the injury announcement was made, the collective “ya sure” from the fans was as loud as a football stadium on the opening kickoff.

Mitchell is however, small potatoes when compared to Manning. In both cases, I have no doubts that these men were probably hobbled by injury. When you play a full season of professional football it’s rare to find any player that is 100% healthy.

That said, I have a hard time buying Manning’s injury. A torn muscle, especially one on the top of your thigh is crippling regardless of how often you get shot up.

Did Manning have a strained quad? That I can buy just like I can buy that Aaron Rodgers has a strained calf. But a torn quad? C’mon!

What the Denver Broncos medical folks are not telling is whether this was a grade one, two or three tear. Both one and two will allow for some participation in normal daily activities but playing in the NFL is not “normal daily activity.”

The grade three tear results in total immobility so it’s safe to assume this was not a “torn quadriceps.” What would also be nice to know is whether this was just a tear, where the fibers of the muscle come apart or a full tear where the fibers tear in half.

We’ll never find out the exact diagnosis of Manning but it’s safe to say he certainly had some discomfort in his quad. For a quarterback, the only thing more important than his arm is his legs which he uses to drive the ball down-field.

It was obvious to even the novice among us that Manning was struggling to get the ball down-field Sunday. He had little zip on the ball and his accuracy was as poor as we’ve ever seen it.

I don’t believe Manning or Mitchell set out to have excuses for their poor performances but we as fans and viewers have to take these injuries with a grain of salt because more often than not, they aren’t as bad as we are told they are.

Predictions for All Four Games of Wild-Card Weekend

Cam Newton has played well since returning from his car accident several weeks ago.

Arizona (+6) a Carolina (O/U 38) – The Arizona Cardinals are limping into the NFL Playoffs as they have seen their defense struggle and their offense sputter behind Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley at QB. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals should be taken lightly because they still have the ability to shut you down defensively.

In Carolina, the Panthers may have finished under .500 but they are feeling great about themselves and rightfully so. The running game is thriving behind Jonathan Stewart and the defense gotten significantly more stingy in recent weeks.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in five of Arizona’s last seven games… Carolina is 7-3 straight up in their last ten games against Arizona… The Panthers are 2-4 against the spread in their last six game against the Cardinals.

The Pick: Arizona will force Cam Newton to beat them with his arm, but I think his legs will be more important. Take the Cards with the points and the UNDER.

Baltimore (+3) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell has not practiced yet this week. On Sunday night, he hyper-extended his knee and at this point, I don’t think we’ll see him play. Despite signing Ben Tate this week, I think the Steelers will use Josh Harris who has been on the practice squad most of the year.

The Ravens will need Joe Flacco to find his groove after looking pretty average if not bad in recent weeks. The defense is not what it used to be but if it doesn’t have to deal with Bell, they may find themselves just having to defend the pass.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in four of Baltimore’s last five games… The total has gone OVER in 11 of Pittsburgh’s last 16 games at home against the Ravens… Baltimore is 1-3-1 against the spread in their last five games in Pittsburgh.

The Pick: I like Pittsburgh with a late score to cover and I like the OVER.

Sunday’s Games

Andrew Luck could use a little help from his running game against the Bengals on Sunday.

Cincinnati (+3) at Indianapolis (O/U 49) – Last time the Bengals came to Indianapolis they left without even scoring a single point. I have to believe they will have watched that tape a great deal this week to see where things went wrong. I definitely think you’ll see heavy doses of Jeremy Hill in order to set up play-action.

The Colts have leaked serious oil heading into the postseason and they have to hope they can find their groove. The rushing attack for Indy has been a struggle all season but they’ll need to find some semblance of it in order for Andrew Luck to have time to throw.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in six of the Bengals’ last eight games… Indianapolis is 5-0 straight up in their last five games at home against the Bengals… Cincy is 2-5 against the spread when on the road in Indy.

The Pick: I like the Colts to cover and the OVER.

Detroit (+7.5) at Dallas (O/U 48) – The Lions received some good news when Ndamukong Suh’s suspension was overturned earlier this week which means he will play against the Cowboys. I believe his presence will have serious impact on the game but only if his team’s offense can find some success and that hasn’t been easy in recent weeks.

The Cowboys will do nothing special. They will run the ball with DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo will look for Dez Bryant in the passing game. If the Dallas defense plays well, this game could get ugly early.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in 14 of Detroit’s last 19 games… Dallas is 2-4 against the spread in their last six games at home… The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Lions’ last nine games on the road.

The Pick: Take Dallas to cover and I like the OVER.

Your Latest Super Bowl Odds as We Head Into the Playoffs

Marshawn Lynch is the key to a Seattle Super Bowl repeat.

The National Football League Playoffs begin on Saturday and before we dive too far into those games let’s take a look at the latest Super Bowl odds for the 12 teams still standing. I’ll give “why they can win it” and I’ll give you “why they can’t.”

Seattle Seahawks 12/5 – Top-seed and first-round bye

Why they win it? Defense and Marshawn Lynch

Why they don’t? The officials. If they call it tight in the secondary, a close game could easily be turned.

New England Patriots 3/1 – Top-seed and first-round bye.

Why they win it? The defense forces many turnovers and Tom Brady is Tom Brady.

Why they don’t? Brady has had less than stellar playoff performances in recent years. If he falters and the defense can’t create turnovers then forget it.

Green Bay Packers 6/1 – Two-seed and a first-round bye.

Why they win it? Offensive balance and consistent pressure from the defense.

Why they don’t? Aaron Rodgers’ calf injury persists and the defense becomes susceptible to the run.

Denver Broncos 13/2 – Two-seed and a first-round bye.

Why they win it? The continued balance with C.J. Anderson running the ball keeps on rolling and the defense makes teams one-dimensional.

Why they don’t? The playoff demons of Peyton Manning rear their ugly heads and that’s a real possibility as he is under .500 in the playoffs.

Can Tony Romo finally get over his late-season hiccups?

Dallas Cowboys 15/2 – Sunday vs. Detroit.

Why they win it? Tony Romo is turnover-free and the defense plays well and creates turnovers.

Why they don’t? Romo becomes “late season Romo” and the defense struggles to stop the run.

Pittsburgh Steelers 14/1 – Saturday vs Baltimore.

Why they win it? The defense continues to gel while Ben Roethlisberger has an epic playoff run.

Why they don’t? The Le’Veon Bell injury. This offense will not be the same without him.

Indianapolis Colts 28/1 – Sunday vs. Cincinnati

Why they win it? The running game suddenly emerges and the defense finds consistency.

Why they don’t? Andrew Luck is asked to carry them. He can for stretches but not to a Super Bowl title. He is too prone for turnovers throwing it that much.

Carolina Panthers 33/1 – Sarturday vs. Arizona

Why they win it? They ride Jonathan Stewart and a defense that keeps coming together.

Why they don’t? The defense cracks and Cam Newton tries to do too much.

Baltimore Ravens 40/1 – Saturday at Pittsburgh. Ravens +3.5

Why they win it? Joe Flacco snaps out of his funk and the defense creates numerous turnovers.

Why they don’t? Justin Forsett is limited, Flacco keeps struggling and the defense can’t make stops.

Cincinnati Bengals 40/1 – Sunday at Indianapolis. Bengals +4

Why they win it? Andy Dalton gets over the hump and Jeremy Hill becomes a major factor.

Why they don’t? The defense can’t get pressure and Dalton turns it over as he has all season.

Detroit Lions 40/1 – Sunday at Dallas. Lions +7.5

Why they win it? Matthew Stafford gets hot and the defense limits opposing offenses to field goals.

Why they don’t? The suspension of Suh dooms them in the first round along with continued poor play from Stafford.

Arizona Cardinals 66/1 – Saturday at Carolina. Cards +6

Why they win it? The defense becomes an impenetrable wall and the QB play is flawless.

Why they can’t? Quarterback issues plain and simple.


Playoffs are Set; Questions are Many in the National Football League

Jets' Owner Woody Johnson (center) has parted ways with his General Manager John Idzik and Head Coach Rex Ryan.

The National Football League is now into its’ second season and there is no shortage of great story-lines so let’s get to it.

Ryan/Idzik Out

Earlier this morning the inevitable came down from New York Jets’ Owner Woody Johnson. Both General Manager John Idzik and Head Coach Rex Ryan have been fired and now the Jets will have to bring in a whole new regime there.

Whoever comes in will have a quality front-seven to work with but a whole bunch of questions on offense especially on offense. I have to believe you’ll see the Jets look for an offensive-minded guy but there’s no guarantee especially when you’re talking about the Jets.

AFC Playoff Breakdown

The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are your top seeds and have next week off. The Pats will play the lowest remaining seed from Wild-Card Weekend while the Broncos will host the higher one.

The Steelers' playoff success will hinge on the health of Le'Veon Bell.

Rematches are the name of the game on Saturday and Sunday in the AFC. In primetime, the AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will host Baltimore. This will be the rubber match as the teams split earlier this season with both winning at home. The Steelers are currently listed as 3.5 point favorites.

The Sunday afternoon game features a rematch from earlier this season as the Indianapolis Colts host the Cincinnati Bengals. In week seven, the Bengals traveled to Indy and were crushed 27-0 in a game where their offense mustered just eight first downs.

The Colts are struggling though as the playoffs arrive. The running game is nearly non-existent and they have banged up receivers. For the Bengals, it always comes back to Andy Dalton who will make his fourth start in the playoffs and is still looking for his first win. The Colts have opened as six-point favorites.

NFC Playoff Breakdown

The defending champion Seahawks are your top seed in the NFC while the Green Bay Packers are the two-seed.

The first NFC game on Wild-Card Weekend will be Arizona traveling to Carolina. The Panthers blew out the Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South yesterday and despite having a losing record, Carolina will not be an easy out. The defense is playing better and the running game is thriving behind Jonathan Stewart.

Obviously the issue for Arizona is the QB position. Drew Stanton is expected back from his sprained knee but will he be able to generate enough offense? This was the same place Arizona started their Super Bowl run in 2009. The Cards are a 4.5 point underdog.

The final game of the opening weekend features the Detroit Lions playing at the Dallas Cowboys. An interesting point here is that the Cowboys were unbeaten on the road this season. That means they went 4-4 at home in ATT Stadium.

The Lions come in with a struggling offense and a defense that is licking its’ wounds after Aaron Rodgers beat them on basically one leg. If Matthew Stafford can’t get himself right then this will be yet another one and done for the Lions in the postseason. Detroit is opening as a seven-point underdog.

What to Expect in the Playoffs

I don’t believe Seattle and New England are 100% infallible but they are clearly the favorites. Going in to either team’s stadium will not be easy but neither team was unbeaten at home.

If you’re looking for teams to cause trouble then go with the Panthers in the NFC and the Steelers in the AFC. The only issue with Pittsburgh is Le’Veon Bell who hyper-extended his knee and is uncertain for Saturday.

I think this is a season where chalk holds. Dallas at Seattle in the NFC title game and Denver and New England in the AFC Championship.

NFL Late-Game Picks for Week 17

Eddie Lacy could be the 'X' factor in today's game between his Packers and the Lions.

Here are four late games I really like today.

Detroit (+7) at Green Bay (O/U 47.5) – By now you know the history… The Lions haven’t won in Lambeau Field since 1992 and while the players and coaches will scoff at that, it has to be in their minds. Unlike most indoor teams, the Lions are suddenly surviving on the defensive side while the offense continues to struggle.

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is an excellent game-planner and he will he have studied the team’s loss in Detroit over and over to find weaknesses. In my opinion this game is more about Matthew Stafford than it is Aaron Rodgers. Stafford has to play well and he hasn’t for much of the season.

Trends: Detroit is 4-2 straight in their last six games on the road… The total has gone UNDER in four of Green Bay’s last five games against the Lions…Detroit is 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games versus the Packers.

The Pick: The Packers have been a scoring machine at home but the Lions can get after it on defense. I like the Lions getting the points and the UNDER.

Cam Newton needs a big game if the Panthers are to win in Atlanta today.

Carolina (+3) at Atlanta (O/U 48) – Both of these teams are lousy on defense. They each give up about 25 points per game but the Falcons score on average about five more points per game on offense than do the Panthers. Being that this game is an “all or nothing” proposition, I expect both teams to pull out all the stops to earn the win.

One of the key issues here is the health of the Falcons’ receivers. Roddy White has battled ankle issues but will play and Julio Jones has had a hip problem. If both can go, it’s a big boost for the offense.

Trends: The Panthers are 3-6-1 straight up in their last 10 games… The total has gone UNDER in eight of Atlanta’s last 11 games… Carolina is 1-5 SU in their last six games on the road in Atlanta.

The Pick: I like Falcons to cover and I love the OVER.

Arizona (+7) at San Francisco (O/U 37) – The Cardinals are staggering into the playoffs behind a quarterback carousel that is struggling. Drew Stanton will miss this one but could return for a the playoffs. Ryan Lindley gets the start despite being told Logan Thomas would be the man for most of the week.

For the 49ers, all signs point to this being Jim Harbaugh’s final game there. Where he goes next is up in the air, but despite missing the playoffs, he leaves the franchise far better than he found it.

Trends: Arizona is 0-5 straight up in their last five visits to San Francisco… The Niners are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games… The total has gone OVER in four of the Cardinals last six games against San Francisco.

The Pick: I like UNDER and I think the Cards find a way to keep it close so take them getting the points.

Cincinnati (+3) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The final game of the 2014 NFL regular season is the third and final battle of the day for a division crown. The winner claims the AFC North and will get a home game for Wild-Card Weekend. The loser is still in the playoffs but will have to hit the road.

The Steelers took a close game into the fourth quarter in the first meeting in Cincinnati three weeks ago and scored 25 points to win 42-21. While the Bengals struggled to slow Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers had no answer for A.J. Green. I think both are limited a bit tonight forcing other players to step up.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in five of Cincinnati’s last seven games… The Steelers are 5-2 straight up in their last seven games at home against the Bengals… Cincy is 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games on the road in Pittsburgh.

The Pick: I expect a little less scoring tonight so take the UNDER but I’ll take the Steelers to cover in a tight game.

Intriguing NFL Storylines for the Final Week of the Season

By all accounts, Jim Harbaugh is coaching his last game in San Francisco tomorrow.

The 2014 National Football League Season comes to an end this weekend and while you can find all the playoff scenarios at nfl.com, I’m looking at those but also a lot more. Let’s get rolling.

Monday is of course now known as “black Monday” because this is typically the day that NFL coaches who are on the hot seat are in fact fired. My expectation is that you’ll see several coaches packing up their offices.

If I’m a betting man, I have to believe Rex Ryan is finally out in New York although there are arguments to be made that General Manager John Idzik is a bigger problem. I also believe Tony Sparano will be removed as the Raiders’ interim tagged coach and will be looking for new employment. I his case, it’s hard to to avoid the decent success his team has had but I believe the Raiders will look elsewhere.

Also on the chopping block will be Mike Smith in Atlanta if the Falcons lose tomorrow. Even if they advance to the playoffs I expect him to be gone unless they make a miraculous run to the Super Bowl.

The biggest name will of course be Jim Harbaugh. Michigan officials were reportedly already in San Francisco yesterday and will be at Harbaugh’s door as soon as the official word comes down that he is fired. Reports are that that will come very soon after the Niners’ final game. My feeling is that the 49ers are making a mistake. Harbaugh has been hugely successful and rescued this franchise from mediocrity. If anyone should go it’s the GM Trent Baalke but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Other potential unemployed coaches: Tom Coughlin, Marc Trestman, Jeff Fisher, Doug Marrone

A.J. Green went for over 200 yards last time the Bengals faced the Steelers. Can he do it again?

Three Division Champs to Be Crowned Sunday

In the AFC, Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati at Heinz Field on Sunday night in the final game of the regular season. The winner gets the AFC North title and a home playoff game next week while the loser hits the road to open the postseason.

In their first meeting three weeks ago, the Steelers scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to win 42-21. I expect a much closer game this time around but you have to like the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger who plays well at home especially late in the season.

In Green Bay, a similar situation exists. The Packers host the Lions and the winner earns the NFC North title and possibly a top seed in the NFC while the loser becomes the fifth or sixth seed and starts the playoffs on the road. While the chances exist for Detroit to to be anywhere from a one-seed to a six-seed, they have to get past the Packers in Green Bay.

The last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field was 22 years ago when Rodney Peete was the quarterback and Barry Sanders was the running back. Matthew Stafford has to play better for the Lions to have a chance Sunday.

Last but not least is the showdown in Atlanta where it’s all or nothing for the Falcons and Panthers. A win gets either into the playoffs while the loser goes home and possibly looks for a new coach. The winner of the NFC South will also become the second team since the 1970 merger to win a division with a record under .500 and will create more discussion about re-seeding for the playoffs.

In all likelihood, the Falcons or Panthers will host a team with at least three or four more wins then they have and that doesn’t sit well with many. Take the Falcons with the home-field advantage tomorrow.


Your NFL Lines for the Upcoming Weekend

Calvin Johnson will need some big plays if the Lions are to end their streak of losses in Green Bay.

I’ll spend less time on the non-playoff games for obvious reasons.

Detroit (+7.5) at Green Bay (O/U 48) – This one is simple; the winner gets the division and a first-round bye at worst. The loser will end up as the fifth or sixth seed and will head out on the road. The suspension of Lions’ center Dominic Raiola will be a huge story in this game. I think the Lions’ defense will keep this close but the Packers pull away and win. Take GB to cover.

Jacksonville (+10) at Houston (O/U 40) – Another audition for Case Keenum and a final shot to see J.J. Watt in 2014. The Texans cover.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The winner wins the AFC North and at best gets a three-seed which means they’ll open the playoffs at home but won’t have a bye week. The Steelers blitzed the Bengals with a 25-point fourth quarter four weeks ago but I see this one much closer with so much on the line. Take the Steelers to cover with a late score.

Indianapolis (-7) at Tennessee (O/U 46.5) – The Colts need to right their ship because they aren’t playing well with the playoffs approaching. They need a Cincinnati win over the Steelers coupled with a win of their own in order to grab the three seed. Look for Andrew Luck to get things going early before taking a seat in the second half. I like the Titans here because the Colts will empty the bench in the second half.

Cleveland (+9) at Baltimore (O/U 41.5) – Do we have any idea who is playing quarterback for Cleveland? No Manziel and no Hoyer means rookie Connor Shaw gets the start. The Ravens still have an outside shot at the playoffs but they need lots of help. My gut feeling here is that Joe Flacco bounces back from a horrible game and plays well. Take the Ravens to cover.

Buffalo (+5) at New England (O/U 44) – By virtue of Denver’s loss Monday night, New England has home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. That means Bill Belichick will get his starters out quickly after a couple of series. Take the Bills who have slim playoff hopes as well.

NY Jets (+6) at Miami (O/U 42) – Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross says Joe Philbin will return. Let’s see how his team plays knowing that. Take the Jets.

A loss pretty much ends the tenure of Mike Smith in Atlanta. Of course a win might not help him much either.

Carolina (+4) at Atlanta (O/U 48) – The battle for the NFC South will boil down to a simple question; whose defense can make the most stops? We know Atlanta can score and we know the Panthers play good defense but what about the other scenario? The Falcons defense is really bad but I have a feeling based on the last few weeks that they make enough plays. Take the Falcons to cover.

Chicago (+6.5) at Minnesota (O/U 44) – Gimme the Vikings to cover.

San Diego (+3) at Kansas City (O/U 42) – Both teams have playoff hopes especially the Bolts who just need to win. A loss brings KC and Houston into play. Can the Chiefs generate enough offense and can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Take the Chargers and the points.

Philadelphia (+3) at NY Giants (O/U 52) – I predict lots of scoring. Giants to cover.

Dallas (-6) at Washington (O/U 49) – The Redskins will not roll over in this game especially after a nice win last week over Philly. The Cowboys can clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with a win so I believe it will be all hands on deck. They’ll ride the offense to a big win. Take Dallas to cover.

New Orleans (-4) at Tampa Bay (O/U 47) – Saints to cover.

St. Louis (+13) at Seattle (O/U 41) – The Seahawks look to wrap up at the very least a first round bye with a win. Should Dallas stumble then they get home-field advantage. I think the Rams will fight valiantly but I like the hawks to cover.

Arizona (+6) at San Francisco (O/U 37) – All signs point to this being the final game for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. The Cardinals are hoping for losses by Dallas and Seattle but I don’t think it will matter with their current quarterback situation. Take the Cards getting the points in this one.

Oakland (+14) at Denver (O/U 48) – I’ll be surprised if Peyton Manning doesn’t sit a bit here as poor as he’s looked recently. I like the Raiders getting the points.


Early NFL Lines With Playoff Implications All Over the Place.

Blake Bortles and Jacksonville host division rival Tennessee in what could be a real yawner on Thursday night.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville – The Jags nearly upset Baltimore on the road; the Titans nearly beat the Jets at home.

The Pick: Jags getting the points at home.

San Diego (+2.5) at San Francisco – Talk about contrast… The Niners are playing for nothing while the Chargers need a win and a loss by someone in the AFC North to sniff the playoffs.

The Pick: Take the Bolts getting the points.

Philadelphia (-8.5) at Washington – The Eagles have looked awful the last two weeks so maybe the game away from home will do them some good. Either way, Mark Sanchez has to play better. Washington continues to be an absolute mess.

The Pick: Take the Eagles to cover.

Is Joe Philbin down to his final days as head coach in Miami?

Minnesota (+6.5) at Miami – The Vikings deserved a better fate in Detroit on Sunday but they’ve still shown tremendous improvement under Mike Zimmer. For Miami, another late-season slide appears to be dooming the job of Joe Philbin.

The Pick: I like the Vikes getting the points.

Green Bay (-10) at Tampa Bay – I take little consolation in calling Green Bay’s loss at Buffalo other than this; “I told you so!” Now that that’s over I expect a much better and much more focused Packers team on Sunday.

Tampa will not just let them Packers come in and roll over them though. They are keeping games close and I expect them to play hard again here.

The Pick: Take the Bucs getting double-digit points.

Detroit (-4.5) at Chicago – At some point the pathetic Lions’ offense is going to cost them but it won’t be this week. The Bears are a mess from inside the locker room to out on the field. I have no reason to believe the Lions defense won’t stifle Jay Cutler the way they did on Thanksgiving Day after giving up early scores.

The Pick: Still, I like the Bears getting the points.

Atlanta (+6.5) at New Orleans – This is week one of the Battle for the NFC South.

New England (-10) at NY Jets – If this were week 17 I’d probably tell you to take the Jets because the Pats will rest everyone. Still, I think you may see Jimmy Garapalo in the second half. The Jets are just lousy and Bill Belichick hates them.

The Pick: Take the Pats to cover.

Kansas City (+3) at Pittsburgh – Monster game for the Chiefs who need to win to keep their playoff chances alive while Pittsburgh can get into the playoffs with a victory. Big match-up here will be how the Steelers offensive line handles the pass rushers of the Chiefs.

Steelers have dropped home games to Tampa and New Orleans already this season.

The Pick: Take the Chiefs getting the points.

Cleveland (EVEN) at Carolina – Johnny Football take two.

The Pick: Take the Panthers at home.

Baltimore (-4.5) at Houston – The Texans will be starting Case Keenum or Tom Savage against a defense that recorded eight sacks last week.

The Pick: Take the Ravens to cover.

NY Giants (+5) at St. Louis – Can the Rams slow down Odell Beckham? Does it matter? Look for the stingy Rams D to give a little but they’ll get enough offense I think.

The Pick: Rams to cover.

Buffalo (-6) at Oakland – Bills have a great pass rush but can they win on the road?

The Pick: Take the Raiders getting the points.

Indianapolis (+3) at Dallas – This is a huge game for the Cowboys against a Colts’ team that tried its’ hardest to give away a game at home on Sunday to Houston.

The Pick: Take the ‘Boys to cover.

Seattle (-7.5) at Arizona – This doesn’t look good for Arizona. They’ll play hard but Seattle smells blood in the water. Take the Seahawks to cover.

Denver (-3.5) at Cincinnati – The Broncos have wrapped the division out West while the Bengals, who have led the North all season, could see it slip away in their final two games against Denver and Pittsburgh. The Bengals’ defense was impressive against Manziel but this will be a different test.

The Pick: Take Denver to cover.