No league's champion seems to hinge more on injuries than in the NFL. And the Cincinnati Bengals may have learned that the hard way on Sunday when quarterback Andy Dalton, who is having his best season, broke his right (throwing) thumb while making a tackle of a Pittsburgh Steeler after throwing an interception. All the Bengals are saying now is that Dalton won't play this Sunday at San Francisco, doesn't need surgery (so that's a good break) and is week-to-week.
It seems likely that Dalton misses the rest of the regular season at a minimum, and thus it's hard to imagine the Bengals getting a top-two seed in the AFC with backup A.J. McCarron starting the final three games. Cincinnati controlled its destiny for the AFC's stop seed entering Week 14, but its blowout loss to Pittsburgh and New England's win in Houston knocked the Bengals down to No. 2. I suppose Cincy could win in San Francisco (Bengals opened at -4) with McCarron, but I certainly don't see him leading a victory in Denver in Week 16 -- that's probably for the conference's No. 2 seed.
At Bovada , the Bengals are now +1000 to win the AFC title. Interestingly, the Steelers are +300 second-favorites to New England (+140) even though Pittsburgh would miss the playoffs as of right now.
Here are some Week 15 games and opening lines that caught my eye. As usual, I won't touch on the Thursday game, my Sunday featured game (likely Texans-Colts) or the Monday nighter.
Jets at Cowboys (+3, 42): This game is Saturday night. Dallas was predictably routed in Green Bay on Sunday to guarantee its first losing season since 2010. Matt Cassel continued to be horrible at quarterback. He was just 13-for-29 for 114 yards vs. the Packers, the third time in six starts he was held under 200 yards passing. His longest completion went for 19 yards, and that came on the final drive of the game. The Cowboys have had 68 drives with Cassel at quarterback and have scored eight touchdowns. Coach Jason Garrett says he's sticking with Cassel over backup Kellen Moore. The Jets beat the Titans 30-8 on Sunday for their third straight win. It's New York's longest winning streak since 2011. They haven't had a four-game streak since 2010, when they had one four-game streak and also a five-game streak. That was the last time the Jets made the playoffs. Key trend: Dallas is 5-5 against the spread in its past 10 as a home dog. The pick: Love the "under." Take Jets.
Panthers at Giants (+6.5, 48.5): Needless to say, this line could change depending on what New York does on Monday night in Miami and with any injuries. Panthers coach Ron Rivera admits he's not sure whether he will go for an undefeated regular season at the expense of possibly getting guys hurt. The Panthers still have plenty of motivation to win this game as they still haven't clinched the NFC's top seed but lead Arizona by two games. It's possible that Carolina could be without two key offensive players for this one in tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart. Both were to get precautionary MRIs as Olsen has a knee injury and Olsen a foot problem. Rivera said both players could have continued playing Week 14 against the Falcons and said both were "fine" after the game. But starting cornerback Bene Benwikere is out for the season with a broken left leg. Carolina is the eighth team in the Super Bowl era to start an NFL season 13-0. Five of the previous seven went to the Super Bowl, and three won it. Key trend: New York is 4-6 ATS in its past 10 as home dog. The pick: Giants if no major injuries Monday.
Browns at Seahawks (-14.5, 43): I'm certainly doing my best to avoid Seattle as long as possible in the NFC playoffs if I'm Carolina or Arizona. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is making a late MVP push, although Cam Newton is going to win it. Wilson is having one of the greatest four-game stretches in league history. He is the first quarterback since 1960 to have a passer rating of at least 138.5 in four consecutive games and had 16 touchdown passes with no picks over that stretch. And Wilson might have to carry more of a load for a while as running back Thomas Rawls was lost for the season to a broken ankle. Marshawn Lynch remains out with an abdominal injury, and there's no timetable for his return. So Seattle will use some combination of DuJuan Harris and Fred Jackson while also bringing back Bryce Brown. Cleveland ended a seven-game skid with a 24-10 win over the 49ers on Sunday and Johnny Manziel played pretty well. It was the Browns' first December win since, amazingly, 2012. Key trend: Cleveland is 6-4 ATS in its past 10 as a road dog of at least 10 points. The pick: Browns cover.
Broncos at Steelers (-6, 44.5): This could easily be a playoff preview -- if the Steelers can just get in (I think they will). Everyone seems to be quickly emptying the Brock Osweiler bandwagon. The Broncos were stunned at home by Oakland on Sunday 15-12 and haven't scored an offensive touchdown in their past seven quarters. The Broncos, who were playing without No. 2 tailback C.J. Anderson, rushed for just 34 yards against Oakland, while Osweiler was sacked five times, all in the second half and all by Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Osweiler has been sacked 17 times in just over 17 quarters played. Sure, the offensive line has to take a lot of blame, but he also holds onto the ball too long at times. Manning won't be ready this week, but Coach Gary Kubiak could have a decision to make in Week 16. Really looking forward to watching Pittsburgh's high-powered offense, which has scored at least 30 points in five straight games, against Denver's No. 1 defense. Key trend: Pittsburgh is 6-4 ATS in its past 10 as home favorite of at least 6 points. The pick: Steelers.
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