This was the first season in National Football League history that had games played on all seven days of the week. The only Friday contest of the year, played yesterday, turned out to make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a loser even before they play their Week 16 game.
The New Orleans Saints dominated the Minnesota Vikings yesterday, 52-33, and in doing so both eliminated Minnesota from playoff possibilities and erased the chances of a division title for the Buccaneers. The Saints win the NFC South Division, and still have a chance to earn a first week bye if the Green Bay Packers stumble down the stretch.
Now, it would be difficult for the Saints to overcome Green Bay because they lost their head-to-head meeting this year. But, if there is a three-way tie for the best record in the NFC that includes the Seattle Seahawks, then the Saints win the tiebreaker even with the straight up loss to the Pack.
You need a slide rule to keep up with this stuff.
Okay, the Bucs are relegated to a Wild Card entrance to the playoffs, but that is not assured headed into today’s action. If the Bucs win today in Detroit, they are in as a Wild Card. The Lions, conversely, are one of the dozen teams the NFL has eliminated through 15 weeks of action. That leaves 20 teams with a shot at the 14 postseason berths.
Six teams, the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers from the AFC, with the Green Packers, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks from the NFC, are locked into a postseason play date. That leaves 14 teams vying for eight playoff slots.
Today’s final game, between the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders, features a pair of teams with postseason hopes. But, the Las Vegas chances of making the playoffs is about as good as most people's odds of getting out of their City with a profit. The Dolphins, on the other hand, need only win their final two games, tonight against the Raiders and next week versus the Buffalo Bills, to advance.
The Bills game will be a more dicey situation if the Bills still need it in their quest for that single conference postseason bye. But, first things first, the Raiders is a tough spot for the Dolphins, a situation not unlike the one they faced five weeks ago when they lost to the Denver Broncos on the road.
Okay, what does that leave us with today. First, taking the Bucs to both win and cover a generous point spread is against traditional trends. It is a game the Bucs need and one the Lions are in that perfect spoiler role where they have no pressure on needing a win, and all the benefits of saving some grace from a disappointing season by messing up Tom Brady’s January schedule.
In the late game, the Dolphins are more talented than the Raiders and have the far superior defense, something I’m not interested in betting on while the Raiders have the edge motivationally.
Then there's the sweet spot in the middle game today, where the Arizona Cardinals need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive and the San Francisco 49ers are a most likely suspect to play out the season without putting up much of a fight.
Last year was the 49ers year, and they rode that all the way to the Super Bowl. This year, has been one derailed by more injuries than any team in the league and an inability to play any of their “home” games in the Bay Area since November 5. Another product of the Covid-19 disruption.
In an ironic twist, the 49ers are playing on the Cardinals home field today but have actually played at State Farm Stadium as often as the Cardinals this month. While Levi’s Stadium has been unavailable to the 49ers, they have twice played “home” games in Arizona.
What we have today in Arizona is a more healthy Cardinals squad looking to down a depleted 49ers team and a home team that last week was good enough to overcome three turnovers in a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Today, we don’t expect the Cardinals to lose the turnover battle to the 49ers, and in the process win the game by a margin that clears the point spread.
Qoxhi Picks: Arizona Cardinals (-5) over San Francisco 49ers