Coming out of a game that saw his Cowboys barely escape against the Houston Texans, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott vowed to correct his recent interception issues. Instead, his first pick opened the door for Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars to start their comeback, and his second, a pick-six that went off receiver Noah Brown and ended up in the hands of Jacksonville safety Rayshawn Jenkins, ended the game in overtime.
For weeks, NFL fans and analysts had looked to the Week 16 showdown between the Eagles and Cowboys as a pivotal matchup, but with Philadelphia three games ahead in the NFC East with a head-to-head win in hand, the Eagles would have to follow a loss to Dallas with home losses to the Saints and Giants to open the door for the teams to finish with the same record. In other words, while the Cowboys will hold out hope, the NFC East is all but sealed up after Sunday.
Meanwhile, the AFC South is suddenly wide open, as the Jaguars picked up a win over their best remaining opponent to pull within a game of Tennessee, who tied the Chargers late only to watch Justin Herbert lead a game-winning field goal drive. With Jacksonville holding a head-to-head win and a Week 18 matchup looming, Trevor Lawrence and company find themselves in excellent position to complete a late-season rally.
We’ll get into the AFC South odds and more, but before we do, be sure to sign up for The Oracle’s Picks today! All the major sports are in full swing, and with the Oracle continuing to crush it, signing up to get his picks texted directly to your phone is a great way to spice up the holiday season!
One Good Team in Two South Divisions?
As Trevor Lawrence leads Jacksonville’s surge up the AFC South standings, the other seven teams in the NFL’s two south divisions seem hell-bent on finishing with a losing record.
Tennessee and Indianapolis both dropped their fourth straight game, and while Minnesota’s NFL-record-tying comeback over the Colts might have made for the more gut-wrenching loss, the impact on the win-loss record may be harder for the Titans to swallow. Houston came close to a win for the second straight week but ultimately found another way to lose, pushing the Chiefs to overtime and getting a stop before a fumble opened the door for Jerick McKinnon’s walk-off touchdown.
On the NFC side, all four teams are in play, with Tampa Bay leading the way at 6-8 and the Panthers, Saints, and Falcons all at 5-9 after New Orleans pulled out a win over Atlanta on Sunday.
The Saints, who have road trips to Cleveland and Philadelphia ahead of their Week 18 matchup with the Panthers, have the most difficult remaining schedule. The Falcons might catch a break if Lamar Jackson remains sidelined for the Ravens next week and the Cardinals end up starting Trace McSorley in Week 17 after Colt McCoy exited Sunday’s game with a concussion.
However, the Buccaneers remain in the best position despite their second-half collapse against Cincinnati, as they are set to head to Arizona for the NFL’s Sunday Night Football matchup on Christmas Night, where they will likely face McSorley. Meanwhile, Carolina needs to beat a Lions team that has won six of its last seven games, or they will risk going into their Week 17 game with Tampa Bay two games behind.
Of course, it’s also possible that all four NFC South teams lose again next week, which would ensure the division winner has a losing record. It’s about par for the course for the NFL’s worst division in 2022.
The Titans are still favored to win the AFC South at -150, but the Titans face the Texans and Cowboys while the Jaguars face the Texans and Jets ahead of their Week 18 matchup. The Professor will happily take the Jaguars at +125 to win the AFC South.
As for the NFC South, Tampa Bay is the heavy favorite at -330, with the Panthers at +450, the Saints at +1800, and the Falcons at +2000. If you like Carolina to win against Detroit (CAR +3, ML +130) this week and Tampa Bay next week, the +450 odds might be worth a shot, but given the difference in their opponents this week, I would pass on the NFC South action.
AFC Wild Card
For a moment on Sunday afternoon, it appeared that Mac Jones and the Patriots might be on the verge of marching down the field to a victory over the Raiders, which would have put New England in a three-way tie with the 8-6 Chargers and Dolphins for the AFC’s last two Wild Card spots.
Then the Rhamondre Stevenson-Jakobi Meyers pitch play started, and one-time Patriot Chandler Jones got to close out the game when he picked off Meyers’ throwback pass, giving Las Vegas the win in a game that appeared headed for overtime.
Every experienced bettor has caught a good/bad beat on a total or spread in a game where this scenario plays out in a desperation moment, but it’s a shocking error for any NFL team, much less a Bill Belichick-coached unit, to try to execute a play with such little upside and such clear downside in a tie game. The mistake is especially costly because with the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills left on the schedule, New England’s chances of making the playoffs are looking grim after Sunday.
The Jets, who are tied with New England at 7-7, have a bit more of a chance for a late-season rally, but that’s likely to take a win over a red-hot Trevor Lawrence, and while Zach Wilson, who went one pick behind Lawrence in their NFL Draft class, threw two touchdowns and had a chance to beat the Lions on the final drive Sunday, he also completed less than 50% of his passes.
As it stands, the only participant in the AFC Playoff field that is likely to change is the AFC South champ. The Ravens might be fading, though a return from Lamar Jackson could change that, but with a two-game lead over the seven-win teams with three to play, it seems unlikely that Baltimore will miss the NFL Playoffs even if they fail to pick up a home win over the Falcons or Steelers in the next two weeks. It’s more likely that the last three weeks are used to shuffle the 1-3 and 5-7 seeds while the Jaguars try to reel in the Titans.
Miami is -250 to make the playoffs and the Chargers are -1000, while Baltimore is off the board. There leaves a bit of money to be made on the Dolphins, though I’ll pass on such short odds, while the longshot odds on the Jets (+400), Patriots (+500), Browns (+1500), and Raiders (+2000) are unlikely to hit. Of those teams, Cleveland might be the best bet, because while all four teams need help, the Browns, who finish with the Saints, Commanders, and Steelers, are the most likely to win out, but barring a collapse from the Dolphins or Chargers, that won’t matter.
NFC Wild Card
Fortunately, the NFC is trending toward far more action in the Wild Card race than the AFC.
Seattle’s Thursday Night loss to the 49ers, which put Seattle on a two-game skid, has left them tied with the Lions at 7-7, a mere tie behind the 7-6-1 Giants after New York’s Sunday Night Football win over Washington.
Detroit finishes on the road at Carolina, at home against Chicago, and at Green Bay. That Week 18 matchup could be pivotal – the Packers need to start a three-game win streak with a win over the Rams tonight to make it so – but with the schedules that the Seahawks, Commanders, and Giants face the rest of the way, it’s also possible the Lions have a spot locked up regardless of the outcome against Green Bay.
That depends on the idea that Seattle, Washington, and New York aren’t very good, but that seems to be a fair assessment at this point in the NFL season. Throw out a late-game rally over the Rams, and Seattle would be on a five-game skid ahead of this week’s road trip to Kansas City. Assuming the Seahawks lose to Patrick Mahomes and company, they will need to go 2-0 in home games against the Jets and Rams to get to 9-8, which is far from a foregone conclusion given they barely beat the Rams in a game where John Wolford played quarterback and threw two interceptions to Seattle. Baker Mayfield is becoming well-traveled for a reason, but he remains an upgrade on Wolford.
As for the Commanders, they get to travel to San Francisco to play a 49ers team coming off extra rest, then finish with the Browns, who have Deshaun Watson rounding into form, and the Cowboys, who will likely be playing for seeding in their Week 18 matchup. Sunday Night’s loss might have swung on some controversial calls, but the Commanders didn’t breed a whole lot of confidence that they will be able to win another game down the stretch, much less the two they likely need to get in the discussion.
The Giants might have an easier road – interestingly enough, they play Minnesota and Indianapolis, the participants in this week’s NFL-record comeback, in the next two weeks, then finish with the Eagles. Unfortunately, New York’s starters might not be that much better than Philadelphia’s backups, and the Eagles picked up a win over the Jets with Gardner Minshew last season, so that’s hardly a gimme. Sunday Night’s win puts the Giants a win away from the NFL Playoffs, and as their -500 odds to make the playoffs indicate, that is likely to happen, but nothing seems guaranteed for Brian Daboll’s unit.
The Lions finish with a soft schedule, so their +130 odds to make the playoffs are more attractive than Washington’s +200 and Seattle’s +160. In fact, with Washington at -250 to miss the playoffs, there is some money to be made on a Commanders team that seems likely to lose out; the Professor’s play is to take Detroit to make the playoffs and Washington to miss out.
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.