The last week of the National Football League regular season is upon us. It can be recognized in many ways, none more obvious than what the books do with the point spreads for the final week. Quick example, the team with the best record and most exciting player in football this season is an underdog at home this week. That is so, because their opponent needs this game, and help, to crack the playoff field.
Namely, we are talking about the Baltimore Ravens and their soon-to-be named Most Valuable Player, quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Ravens have the best quarterback this year, it can be argued that the Steleers have struggled with one of the worst quarterback situations in the league.
Their future Hall of Fame signal caller, Ben Roethlisberger, was lost for the season with a second week elbow injury that required surgery. In his place, the Steelers first turned to second-year pro Mason Rudolph, who was manageable as long as he didn’t turn the ball over and kept his defense on the sideline to give them a breather between their dominant play.
Still, he was well below postseason standards, and when it became obvious that opposing defenses had figured out how to rattle him, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin rolled the dice on undrafted and untested Delvin Hodges.
It worked … for a short period of time. The quarterback who acquired the nickname “Duck” had Steelers fans in the stands wearing duck costumes to celebrate his victories. But, when the luck ran out on the duck, Tomlin reasserted the mostly ineffective Rudolph.
The result on the season is that even though Pittsburgh has failed offensively this year, their organization and a defense that collects turnovers like a toll taker accepts payments at the bridge, paved the way for this proud organization to bully their way into playoff contention. Then, last week, a road loss to the Jets dropped them from controlling their own destiny and for the Steelers to now earn a Wild Card berth they need to beat the “best” team in football.
If Pittsburgh was playing the Ravens any other time of the season, a week in which Baltimore needed to win this game for their postseason aspirations, the chances are quite high the Steelers would fall. But this week, when the Ravens have already secured the top seed in the American Football Conference and their coach, John Harbaugh, has announced he will be resting the players counted on next month in the playoffs, Pittsburgh is given a “free space” on the postseason bingo card.
Is it enough?
Not necessarily. Even with a win on Sunday over the Ravens, Pittsburgh gets shutout of the playoffs if the Tennessee Titans, who were downed last week by the New Orleans Saints and two weeks ago by the Houston Texans, punch a playoff ticket with a win over the Houston Texans on the road.
That’s right, a team the Titans lost against two weeks ago in Nashville, they now need to beat in their second regular season meeting on the Texans home field. So, who do you think is the point spread favorite in this one?
The team that needs it, the Titans.
Houston, with a narrow 23-20 win last Saturday on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, clinched the AFC South Division. This week, even if they were to win, the Texans would not improve their home field advantage in the playoffs, and even with a loss, Houston suffers no consequences.
Who wants to bet on a team with nothing to play for against a squad that lost to them two weeks ago and now has a postseason date waiting with a win?
Qoxhi Picks: Tennessee Titans (-3½) over Houston Texans