In a few weeks, when the National Football League plays their Divisional Round games, when eight of the best teams are vying for the right to play in their conference championship games and advance to Super Bowl LV, you will hear a lot of people say that is their favorite weekend of the year.
My favorite weekend is this one, the last one of the regular season.
You might imagine why, because the wagering opportunities in this week are most often the most attractive of the year. Teams locked into playoff slots against teams needing a win to advance is a particularly fertile spot for a decided point spread advantage. Teams needing a win against teams that have already been eliminated, is a fun one where the team without seemingly anything to play for consistently upsets the team that needs the win.
Because teams with nothing to play for also have nothing to lose and leave it all on the field. It is their only chance to affect the playoffs, upsetting their opponents postseason hopes. This contrasted with a team that needs to win, has the pressure of being eliminated with a loss and tight against an opponent with nothing to lose.
So, how many teams do we have in perfect spots this year?
Not as many as normal.
Maybe it is the seven team format that changes normal patterns, but only one team assured of a playoff spot is locked into their seed entering the final week of 2020. That would be the Kansas City Chiefs, who win or lose on Sunday will have the top seed in the AFC. If they were playing a team that needed to win to advance, we’d have a solid play.
They are not.
Kansas City is hosting the Los Angeles Chargers, who have been out of serious postseason consideration since shortly after opening day. The Chiefs may play soft, bench key players to avoid them being injured in a meaningless game, but we don’t get a Chargers team that has the edge of needing a win to advance.
The Chargers still get an edge from us, but not the kind of slam dunk advantage we are looking for.
A number of teams need a win that are playing teams assured of a playoff berth but still looking to improve their seed.
That is the case in Chicago, where the Bears will host the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. The Packers need the win to assure themselves the top seed in the National Football Conference, a fact that will keep the Packers starters on the field as long as the result is in doubt. Now, the Bears motivation of needing a win to crack the playoff field is a stronger incentive for them to win, and if only the Packers were locked into their playoff slot, this could be a great edge … but it’s not.
The Dallas Cowboys need a win and Washington loss to advance, the New York Giants are in the same position when these two NFC East teams battle at MetLife Stadium in an early Sunday game. Equal motivation, while the Redskins (I know about their name change to nothing) only chance to advance is with a win on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles unless the Giants and Cowboys tie, which would then make Sunday night’s game meaningless with Washington already assured a postseason date.
Then there are the Tennessee Titans, who lost a chance to lock up the AFC South Division last Sunday night when they got clobbered by the Green Bay Packers, 40-14. Now they travel to Houston, where a Texans win coupled with an Indianapolis Colts victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars knocks Tennessee out of the postseason field.
Wait, isn’t this what I said we wanted?
A team that only has to win to advance against an opponent with nothing more to play for than to mess up their opponents playoff plans?
Yeah, but do I really want a suspect Houston squad that lost last week to the Cincinnati Bengals against the top runner in the league and a Titans team that advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game last year?
I don’t want it, but I got it and I expect it to pay.
Qoxhi Picks: Houston Texans (+7½) over Tennessee Titans