Week 17 of the NFL season is a minefield for those betting on the NFL. Sure, picking the Broncos over the Raiders in Denver looks like free money. But nothing rivals the feeling of panic when you tune into the game and see Brock Osweiler towering over everyone in Denver’s opening huddle and Peyton Manning sat with his feet up on the sidelines. You check Osweiler’s stats for the season and realise he’s only thrown 8 passes this year, 2 of which were completed. Now you’re seriously worried (although after blowing their Monday night game against the Bengals, Denver still have the first round bye to play for).
In the final week of the season it’s just impossible to trust good teams who have already wrapped up their division and want to use this week to rest players, especially if they are playing a bad team coming off a win who want to finish the season strong (read: Oakland and Washington).
The key game in the playoff picture this week is the the de facto NFC South Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. It has taken 17 weeks but finally one team must begrudgingly accept the title of NFC South champion and they will enter the playoffs as a 7 win team. If you are a supporter of chaos then it’s your duty to root for the winner of this game throughout the playoffs, because who doesn’t want to see a team who finished the season with a losing record become the Super Bowl Champion?
Panthers +3.5 -105
Falcone -3.5 -115
All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
With Atlanta coming off a 30-14 road win in New Orleans and Carolina only managing to scrape past the shambolic Cleveland Browns at home you would expect this game to be Atlanta’s for the taking, and the with the line favouring Atlanta by -3.5 the bookies seem to expect the same.
But even though the Panthers aren’t blowing teams out, they are looking very reminiscent of the team that won the NFC South last year; grinding out victories by playing suffocating defense and scoring as few points as possible but enough to somehow win the game.
In last year’s game against Atlanta in the final week of the season, the Panthers squeaked out a 21-20 victory in the must win game, and a similar spectacle is on the cards this week. The Panthers defense is well suited to handle the Falcons’ high power offense, as for all the wealth of talent that the Falcons have at the skill positions, their offensive line is still one of the most repulsive units in the league. And for a Panthers front seven, which has finally recovered from the mid-season loss of Pro Bowler Greg Hardy, this spells good news. Rookie Kony Ealy has come on strong late into the season, notching a sack in each of his last 2 games and will be eager to be match-up up opposite rookie left tackle Jake Matthews.
Even if Matt Ryan and Julio Jones manage to get into a rhythm, the Panthers are going to keep this close and I can’t see the Falcons covering the 3.5 point spread, especially given the rejuvenated way that the chronically injured Jonathan Stewart has been playing in the past few weeks for Carolina.
The Falcons are currently undefeated at home against the NFC South, and the Panthers are undefeated on the road against the NFC South, so one of these team’s records and playoff hopes will be blemished come Sunday, and all signs point to the game being won by Graham Gano or Matt Bryant on the final kick of the game. Given the way that Ron Rivera’s teams traditionally close out seasons and Mike Smith’s utter incompetence as a head coach in important games, I would give Carolina the edge this weekend.
Another game with clear playoff implications and an underdog who seems primed for a victory is the AFC West match-up between the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. For some reason the line in this game is Chargers +2.5. Whoever set that line must not have seen how Philip Rivers was playing last Sunday in the overtime thriller against the 49ers. He was a man possessed. After throwing 2 interceptions and gifting the 49ers a comfortable 21-0 lead at the start of the 2nd quarter, Rivers become intent on dragging his team into the playoffs by any means necessary as he tossed 4 TDs against the 5th ranked passing defense in the league.
Philip Rivers has somehow become one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the game, and he knows that if he wants to be mentioned in the discussion for who the best QB of the 2004 NFL Draft was, then he needs make like Eli and Ben and win a ring (or two). Rivers may have gone through a horrible spell towards the middle of this season when the Chargers lost 3 games in a row, but he has been on fire in his last two road games, throwing for over 700 yards and 7 TDs in games against the 49ers and Ravens.
The Chiefs are a team who have won 1 of their past 5 games (and that lone win was against the Raiders who they also lost to in that 5 game spell). Their offensive line is falling apart; no longer opening up huge running lanes for Jamaal Charles and failing to protect Alex Smith from the pass rush. And their plan to consistently win games without having any legitimate wide receivers has been fully exposed. They may have some impressive victories against Seattle and New England on their résumé, but this is also the same team that lost to Tennessee and Oakland, who have a combined total of 5 wins. The Chiefs have been a sloppy football team in this final stretch of the season, and with the Chargers coming off an emotional overtime victory and with all to play for, it’s hard to bet against a fired up Rivers in this game.
Betting Instinct tip – Chargers +2.5 is +100 with Intertops.eu
MATT MCGRATH writes about American football, be it college or NCAA (because betting on unpaid student athletes is fun and definitely ethically correct). Follow him on Twitter.