LOS ANGELES: The NFL playoffs are one week away. On Sunday, December 30th, we find out which 12 teams get to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The AFC and NFC playoff possibilities are as wide as ever. New Year’s Eve will bring Black Monday coach firings.
Every year new teams go from worst to first. The “Any Given Sunday” dream of the late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle is alive and well. Competitive balance is real.
Competitive balance is positive. Parity is a pejorative, and it is a myth. The best organizations consistently win and the worst organizations consistently loose. As we say goodbye to the 2018 NFL regular season, let us pay tribute to the most consistent organization in sports. The New England Patriots are in the 18th year of a dynasty that professional football fans may never see again.
The list of their accomplishments is staggering.
10 straight AFC East titles.
16 straight seasons of at least 10 wins.
8 straight seasons of at least 11 wins (extended to 9 seasons with one more win this year).
8 straight seasons of at least 12 wins (from 2010-2017, streak snapped this year).
18 straight winning seasons (They went 9-7 in 2002).
15 AFC East Titles in 16 seasons (They went 11-5 in 2008. They were tied for the division lead but lost the tie-breaker to Miami and missed the playoffs).
15 straight AFC East Titles when Tom Brady was the quarterback (He was injured the entire 2008 season where New England lost the tie-breaker. Matt Cassel led the team that year).
8 Super Bowl appearances.
5 Super Bowl wins.
7 straight AFC Title Game appearances.
8 Straight first-round byes (extended to 9 seasons with one more win this year).
To make another Super Bowl, the Patriots may have to do it the hard way. They are fine with that. Bring on Week 17. This is when the biggest of the big dogs come out.
Week 17 has no games during the week. All 16 games are played on Sunday. With that, here is the NFL 2018 Week 17 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by OddsShark and all times Eastern.
Sunday, December 30, 2018, 1:00 p.m.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-3.5) —
No playoff implications. Go with the home crowd and the cold weather, but barely. Bills win but fail to cover.
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (-7) —
No playoff implications. Go with Aaron Rodgers and the home field. This one could get ugly early. Packers cover.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-7) —
Houston is in the playoffs but needs to win this game to lock up the AFC South. A loss drops them to the Wildcard, where they would have to play on the road. A win could even earn them a first-round bye if New England also loses. Houston does not blow teams out, and Jacksonville did go on the road and shut out Indianapolis. Texans win but fail to cover.
New York Jets at New England Patriots (-13.5) —
The Patriots need a win to lock up a first-round bye for the ninth straight season. They rushed for 273 yards last week, relying less on Tom Brady. Sometimes the Jets play the Patriots very tough, and the spread is high. Yes, Tom Brady has not looked like himself in recent weeks. An angry Brady at home with a team needing a first-round bye could make this one over by halftime. Unlike other teams, the Patriots run up the score and put games away. Patriots cover.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-9) —
No playoff implications. The Saints have already clinched the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs. They may rest their starters against a Carolina team that has lost seven straight games. The Saints barely survived a 12-9 slugfest two weeks ago in Carolina. The spread is way too high in a game where backups will enter. Saints win but fail to cover.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (-7) —
No playoff implications. The Cowboys are locked into the #4 seed and may rest their starters. Even the faltering Giants can beat backups. Giants cover.
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1) —
No playoff implications. The Falcons are misfiring on offense and the Buccaneers have no defense. Go with the offense. Upset special, Falcons win outright.
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-5) —
The Vikings need this game to make the playoffs. If they lose and Philadelphia wins, the Vikings are out. The Bears are the three seed, but if they win and the Rams lose, the Bears move to the two seed with a first-round bye. If the Vikings win, these teams play again the following week in Chicago. As desperate as Minnesota is and as untrustworthy as Mitchell Trubisky can be, Chicago’s defense could make this a slugfest. Vikings win but fail to cover.
Philadelphia Eagles (-7) at Washington Redskins —
The defending champion Eagles need to win and hope Minnesota loses to make the playoffs. Washington is eliminated and down to their fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson. As well as the Eagles are playing, the spread is too high for a road game given that Josh Johnson is playing reasonably well. Eagles win but fail to cover.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (14) —
A win gives the Chiefs home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If they lose and the Chargers win, the Chiefs tumble all the way to the five seed wildcard and road playoff games. The Raiders fought the Chiefs tough before losing 40-33 in Oakland. In Kansas City, do not expect a close rematch. However, a garbage touchdown could beat the spread. Chiefs win but fail to cover.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-14.5) —
The Steelers have lost four of their last five games. They need to win and have Baltimore lose to capture the AFC North title. Otherwise, they are out of the playoffs. The Bengals have lost nine of their last eleven. This game is begging for a garbage Cincinnati touchdown. Steelers win but fail to cover.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-5.5) —
One year after going 0-16 and starting 2-6, Cleveland can finish with a winning record with a win here. However, Baltimore is fighting for their playoff lives. If Cleveland wins, they capture the AFC North crown. Baltimore wins and several other teams all lose, Baltimore can even earn a first-round bye. If Baltimore loses and Pittsburgh wins, Baltimore is out of the playoffs. As improved as the Browns are, the Ravens at home will play as if their season depends on it, because it does. Ravens cover.
Los Angeles Chargers (-4) at Denver Broncos —
The Chargers with a win and a Kansas City loss would be the top seed with home field throughout the playoffs. Otherwise, the Chargers are the five seed and would play road Wildcard games. Denver won at the Chargers and the Broncos know that another win may be the only chance to keep John Elway from firing Vance Joseph. The Chargers have the talent. Chargers win but fail to cover.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-10) —
The Rams coming in are the two seed with a first-round bye. The top seed and home-field advantage is out of reach. However, if the Rams lose and Chicago wins, the Rams fall to the three seed and would have to host a game on Wildcard weekend. The 49ers have improved in recent weeks, but at home, the Rams will take care of business. They do not want a cold weather road playoff game. Rams win but fail to cover.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-13.5) —
The Seahawks at 9-6 have won six of their last seven games. They are the five seed with a road Wildcard game. The Seahawks cannot climb higher and can fall no lower than the six seed. They may rest their starters. Arizona has locked up the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Yes, the spread is high, but Seattle may want to send a message to the rest of the league. Seahawks cover.
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans (-1) —
This is the do or die play-in game. Both teams are 9-6. The loser is out of the playoffs. The winner is in as a Wildcard. The winner can also win the AFC South and host a home game on Wildcard weekend if Houston also loses. Trust Andrew Luck over Marcus Mariota, especially since the Colts are 8-1 in their last nine games. Go with the hot team. Upset special, Colts win outright.