The Professor’s post-Week 13 Damage Report kicked off by noting the odd combination of Minnesota’s 5-7 win-loss record and Kirk Cousins’ then-NFL leading touchdown-to-interception ratio; in 2021’s NFL, it seems fitting that Week 14 kicked off with Vikings picking up the win to get to 6-7 in a game where Cousins threw two interceptions and Minnesota lost the turnover battle.
The NFL’s Sunday slate of action in Week 14 was a great day for the favorites; the Falcons were the only underdog to pull out a win, which made the favorites 11-1 on the day. There are many takeaways, including the question of whether any team will seize the AFC North, how the Football Team will rebound after the Dallas defense dominated them in a pivotal NFC East showdown, and whether Justin Herbert and the Chargers will carry their recent momentum into Thursday Night’s showdown against the Chiefs. Division odds are provided by DraftKings.
Any Takers for the AFC North?
After 13 games, the AFC North has less clarity than any division in the NFL.
Cleveland’s win over a spiraling Baltimore squad cut the Ravens’ division lead to one game; given the number of remaining head-to-head matchups in the AFC North, all four teams still have a shot at the crown. DraftKings currently has all four teams at plus odds, with the Ravens favored at +165, the Browns at +175, the Bengals at +275, and the Steelers at +1200.
The odds on Baltimore seem high for a team that could be without star quarterback Lamar Jackson for this week’s matchup with a red-hot Green Bay Packers team. The Ravens close out the season with Green Bay, a trip to Cincinnati, and home games against the Rams and Steelers; with Jackson, the Ravens might be favored in one or two of those games, but with backup Tyler Huntley at the helm, Baltimore could be an underdog in all four games.
Given how the schedule sets up, Week 15 will be pivotal for the AFC North. The Bengals play at Denver, the Browns play Las Vegas at home, and the Steelers host the Titans; after that, those three teams finish the season with two AFC North games and a matchup against either the Packers or Chiefs. Baltimore is a seven-point underdog against Green Bay this week; if they lose and the other AFC North teams all win, the four teams will be within one game of each other entering the final three weeks of the NFL season.
Regardless of which team wins the AFC North, it is difficult to imagine any of these teams making a deep run in the NFL Playoffs. Tennessee picked up a much-needed win over Jacksonville this week, which makes the potential scenario where the Titans tumble out of the playoffs unlikely, particularly if reports that running back Derrick Henry could be back for the end of the NFL season prove accurate. With the Colts, Bills, and Chargers all outplaying the four AFC North teams over the past month and facing more forgiving schedules down the stretch, it is setting up to be AFC North or bust when it comes to securing a berth in the NFL playoffs.
The NFC Wild Card Race
Washington’s offense was manhandled by the Cowboys this weekend; the game essentially cemented Dallas as the NFC East champ and opened up the NFC Wild Card race.
This week’s Monday Night matchup is pivotal to the teams in the Wild Card race; the other NFC division leaders will cheer for the Rams, who would open up the race for the number one seed with a victory, while teams in the Wild Card race will cheer for the Cardinals, who would push the Rams back to the pack with a win. In either scenario, the Rams and 49ers will end the weekend as the 5th and 6th seeds in the NFC, with five 6-7 teams and two 5-8 teams still in the picture for the three Wild Card spots.
Philadelphia and Washington play each other twice in the final four weeks and the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers have remaining head-to-head matchups, which arguably leaves Minnesota as the sub-.500 team with the easiest remaining schedule. Granted, the Vikings have the Rams and the Packers left on the schedule, and there are no sure wins for the Vikings after they lost to the Lions, but Minnesota’s pair of games against the Bears makes them and the Seahawks the only teams in this race with two games against teams that are out of the NFL playoff race.
DraftKings Odds to Make the Playoffs, Sub-.500 NFC Teams
If either the Eagles or Football Team sweeps their series, that team will be in a strong position to make the NFL playoffs, but a split would open the door for the Vikings. The NFL is not short on great matchups in Week 15, but as compelling as matchups between the Chiefs and Chargers and Patriots and Colts may be, the Sunday morning game between Washington and Philadelphia, which was lined at PHI -4 on Monday morning, will be as important as any game in the NFL this week.
AFC West on the Line
The Chiefs and Chargers blew out overmatched opponents this week, setting up a showdown for the AFC West. Kansas City has the better record at 9-4, but the Chargers won their first matchup this season and would take over the division lead via the head-to-head tiebreaker if they sweep the season series this week.
Kansas City’s offense put up a second dominant performance against the Raiders, but now they need to carry that momentum forward, which they failed to do after their first blowout of Las Vegas. Bettors may still harbor doubts given Kansas City’s overall offensive performance this season, but if the Chiefs can put together a productive performance in this critical game, that narrative will disappear, and Kansas City and New England will be the clear-cut favorites in the AFC entering the NFL season’s final month.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert will look to write a different story; Herbert is coming off another outstanding performance that showcased his incredible physical skillset, but to take the next step as an NFL quarterback, he needs to rise to the occasion this week. Herbert’s ceiling is through the roof, but the downs of his rollercoaster-type season have prevented him from solidifying his place among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. This week is as good an opportunity as any to silence the doubters who question whether Herbert could lead this team on a deep playoff run.
Kansas City is a three-point favorite in Thursday’s game and -225 to win the AFC West. The Chargers are +200 to win the AFC West; given that their money line for this game is at +145, and that the Chargers finish the season with Texans, Broncos, and Raiders after this week, it might make sense to bet the Chargers to win the division rather than to win this game. The Chargers could collapse down the stretch, but they would control their destiny in the AFC West if they pick up the Thursday Night win.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL this weekend. For more of The Professor’s content check him out on BeerLife Sports!