Believe it or not, there are 18 teams still in contention for a playoff spot entering Week 16, with only three -- Arizona (NFC West), Carolina (NFC South) and New England (AFC East) -- having clinched their division. Cincinnati, Green Bay and Seattle all have clinched playoff spots as well, meaning there are still six up for grabs.
I'm wondering if that trend of four new playoff teams just about every season this century will continue. All six listed above made it last year. In fact, we could see nine of the same 12 playoff teams. Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Denver still could get in -- the Steelers and Broncos almost surely will. The only three from 2014 that won't return are Detroit, Dallas and Baltimore.
Unbeaten Carolina is the fourth team in league history to start 14-0 and has won 18 straight dating to last regular season. With a win on Sunday at Atlanta, the Panthers would join Indianapolis (23 games from 2008-09) and New England (21 from 2006-08) as the only teams in NFL history to win at least 19 consecutive regular-season games. The 2009 Colts did make the Super Bowl, losing to New Orleans. The 2008 Patriots missed the playoffs, the year that Tom Brady was lost to a season-ending injury in Week 1.
Only a few games feature both teams with nothing to play for in Week 16: Chargers-Raiders, 49ers-Lions, Cowboys-Bills, Bears-Bucs and Jaguars-Saints.
Here are some line moves or potential game-changing injury notes for Week 16. A day early this week for the holidays, so there haven't been any big line movements yet (biggest is Lions going from -8 to -10 vs. 49ers).
Patriots at Jets (+3, 45.5): This line has stayed steady but I'm a bit surprised that New England is taking the biggest lean on the board. In reality, this game means much more to the Jets. Although I'm sure Bill Belichick would love to wrap up the AFC's top seed here and rest his key guys in Week 17 as he largely did last year. The Patriots have won 12 games for the sixth consecutive year, the second-longest streak since the 1970 merger. New England has won eight of the past nine meetings in this series. New York could be all but eliminated with a loss depending on what a few other teams do in Week 16. We could see history on Sunday from Jets Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall. He has 93 catches and with seven more would become the first player in NFL history with six 100-catch seasons. Currently he's tied with Andre Johnson and Wes Welker at five. Do you realize Marshall has never been in the playoffs? He had four catches for 67 yards in the Jets' 30-23 loss at New England on Oct. 25.
Jaguars at Saints (-3.5, 52): This line could change dramatically by Sunday. Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been diagnosed with a torn plantar fascia, which is what has kept Peyton Manning out for more than a month in Denver. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the base of the toes. Apparently it's quite painful. The Saints are calling Brees day-to-day, but that seems ridiculous. Brees says he wants to play, but if the team allows him to then that's just silly in this meaningless game. Brees is still the franchise's most important player. Matt Flynn would start if Brees can't. Jaguars starting running back T.J. Yeldon is expected to sit out again with a sprained MCL, meaning Denard Robinson would be the featured back even though he has a foot injury.
Rams at Seahawks (-13, 40.5): The Rams are actually taking the majority lean here, which baffles me with a side under two touchdowns. It did open at -14 at some books so now that it's under, we might see Seattle take the late sharp action. The Seahawks could be without left tackle Russell Okung (calf) and safety Kam Chancellor (pelvis). Bovada has a couple of interesting Seahawks specials for this game. QB Russell Wilson has set an NFL record by throwing for at least three touchdowns and no picks in five straight games. He is +170 to make it six and -250 to fail. In a Week 1 loss in St. Louis, Wilson had one TD and one pick, but he's a different guy right now. The site also asks if Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin will have at least two TD catches for a fourth straight game. Yes is +250 and no -400. Baldwin didn't reach the end zone in the first meeting. St. Louis ranks No. 21 against the pass but has given up only 18 TDs.
Bears at Buccaneers (-3, 45.5): Interesting quote here from former Bears head coach Lovie Smith, now in the same role with Tampa. You may want to drop a bet on Doug Martin winning the rushing title if you can find that prop. Martin has 1,305 yards, nine behind league leader Adrian Peterson of the Vikings. "I think it's important to our offensive line to help Doug Martin be the leading rusher in the league," Smith said. "It's important. It's always about the team goals at the end, but there's some individual things going on to be able to remember this season by." Tampa has nothing else to play for, so I think that's great. And I believe Martin might win it because Peterson is banged up, has only 150 yards total over the past three games and probably gets Week 17 off if the Vikings are locked into their playoff seeding. Tampa closes at Carolina in Week 17 and the Panthers might rest half their defense. Bovada also offers a prop on whether Bears QB Jay Cutler will be the team's starter Week 1 next year: yes is even money and no -140. That no is favored shocks me. Cutler has had a terrible contract the past two years but it's pretty team-friendly in 2016. He's having his best season as a Bear under new offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Cutler will be the guy in 2016. Remember, it's just asking Week 1.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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