We have our first member of the 12-team NFL playoff field as the Dallas Cowboys clinched at worst a wild-card spot with their comeback win in Minnesota on Thursday night and then Washington's loss in Arizona on Sunday. In fact, the mega-popular Cowboys helped that Vikings game become the highest-rated "Thursday Night Football" telecast ever. This is why you see Dallas on national TV and in prime-time all the time: they deliver viewers. And their games usually are the most-wagered as well. Plan on getting sick of the Cowboys if you aren't a fan because they will be in prime time the next three weeks after NBC flexed their Week 15 matchup vs. Tampa Bay into the Sunday night slot.
The Cowboys would win the NFC East with a victory at the Giants this Sunday night and could clinch the NFC's top seed with a victory and Seattle loss in Green Bay. Dallas is +350 at BetOnline to win Super Bowl LI, just behind New England (+275). The Seahawks (+450) could clinch the NFC West with a victory and loss by Arizona in Miami. As of right now, the only NFC team that made the playoffs last season and would make them again if the season ended today is the Seahawks.
The Patriots can win the AFC East yet again with a victory and Dolphins loss in Week 14. Oakland (+1200) actually passed New England for the AFC's top seed currently despite both winning on Sunday. The Raiders now win the tiebreaker based on best win percentage in common games. The teams don't play head-to-head and are currently even in the No. 2 tiebreaker: best conference winning percentage. The Raiders and Pats are each 7-1 vs. the AFC. Yet with a really tough schedule remaining, we could still see Oakland be a wild-card team. This is the Patriots' 14th consecutive season with at least 10 victories and a division title would be their 13th in those 14 years.
Here are some Week 14 early lines that caught my eye. I won't touch on Thursday night's game (Raiders-Chiefs), Sunday's marquee matchup (most likely Steelers-Bills) or the Monday night game (Ravens-Patriots).
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (+6, 43.5): This line has already jumped two points at some sportsbooks. And I give the Browns a realistic chance of getting their first win as they know the Bengals well -- obviously head coach Hue Jackson surely does being their former OC -- and coming off the bye week. Cincinnati really has nothing to play for at this point and won't have A.J. Green again. It's sounding like Robert Griffin III has a good shot at starting this game at quarterback for Cleveland. He hasn't played since hurting his shoulder in Week 1. Cleveland needs a better look than that when deciding whether to bring RGIII back next year. I'm not all that confident Griffin makes it through this game healthy as Browns quarterbacks have been sacked a league-high 45 times this season -- seven more than the next team. Cleveland has lost four straight in this series, each by at least 14 points. The pick: Browns (hoping for 7.5 eventually) and "under."
Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans (-1.5, 43.5): Don't look now, but the Titans are tied for first in the AFC South as they come out of their bye. I think they are the best overall team in that division, too, with how much better Marcus Mariota has played. I thought Denver might be caught in a trap game this past Sunday without starting QB Trevor Siemian. But I forgot how crappy Blake Bortles is, and the Broncos won 20-10 in Jacksonville despite Paxton Lynch throwing for only 104 yards. It's not clear yet if Siemian can play, but it's looking pretty good. The pick: Titans and under.
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (+2.5, 46.5): The Packers as home dogs? I'm jumping all over this one, although Seattle catches a major break here in that it's a 4:25 p.m. ET start and not 1 p.m. I've liked Seattle all season to win the NFC title, but I'm wavering now that Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas was lost to a season-ending broken leg suffered in Sunday night's blowout of Carolina. That's a really big loss. But on the bright side, the Seahawks' running attack looks solved now that Thomas Rawls is finally healthy. He rushed for 106 yards and two TDs vs. the Panthers. Carolina entered as the No. 2 run defense and allowed 240 yards. Green Bay won a second straight Sunday, albeit not all that impressively against Houston 21-13. The victory marked Aaron Rodgers' 14th consecutive home win in the month of December, the second-longest streak by a starting QB in NFL history; Tom Brady had 19 straight from 2002-12. The pick: Packers and over.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (+3, 47.5): This is probably the marquee matchup of Sunday, but I'm a bit Cowboyed out at this point and certainly will be looking at them again this season. Dallas is now on an 11-game winning streak, although it deserved to lose in Minnesota last Thursday had the Vikings' special teams not imploded. Dallas' offense had season lows in yards (264), passing yards (124), first downs (13), third-down conversions (1-for-9) and points (17). The Cowboys have forced 11 turnovers -- only five teams have fewer -- but six have occurred in the fourth quarter. Clutch or lucky? New York currently holds down the NFC's top wild-card spot at 8-4, although its six-game winning streak ended with a 24-14 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Cowboys' only loss of the season was Week 1 at home to Big Blue, 20-19, when Dallas receiver Terrance Williams stupidly didn't get out of bounds in the final seconds to give Dan Bailey a shot at a 57-yard winning field-goal attempt. The pick: Giants and over.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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