It's the final week of the regular season and only ONE team has solidified their playoff seed (Chiefs, AFC #1). With the expanded postseason field, more than half of the league has playoff implications today.
From a betting perspective, we've been adjusting this week to late COVID diagnoses and in-practice injuries, and we'll be reacting throughout the day to conditionally shifting motivations. To simplify, let's focus on games where both teams are equally motivated.
Cowboys (6-9) @ Giants (5-10); 12pm CT
Pick #1: Giants +1.5
Action: 55% of bets on the Giants
The race to the NFC East title has been sloppier than New Year's Eve sex but one team will crawl across the finish line today. This game is meaningless if the Football Team wins tonight, but for the early afternoon, these two teams are playing for their lives.
The Cowboys are on a three-game winning streak while putting up 30+ per game and the Giants are on a three-game skid while scoring less than 20 per game. To the casual fan, the choice feels obvious, but oddsmakers appropriately have this at roughly a coin flip.
Most recently, Dallas has beaten the Bengals (horrible team), Niners (4-0 turnover margin in that game) and Eagles (bottom-5 pass D). Meanwhile, New York has lost to playoff-caliber teams in the Cardinals, Browns and Ravens while juggling Colt McCoy and a hobbled Daniel Jones at QB.
The Cowboys D appears to be improving over the past month (mostly against the pass, but again consider their competition), but they're still bottom-third against run. Throw in injuries/illness to all three levels of the Dallas D this week and they've got problems. Unlike the Eagles last week, the Giants will actually commit to the ground game for the full 60 minutes, and that top-10 rushing attack is the reason why this total has been steamed down from 47.5 to 45. New York’s ground game will take control and suck the life out of the Dallas D’s recent turnover luck (10 created in the last three weeks vs. 21 total on the season).
It's boring, but this is the type of game that your dad tells you about: "One team can have all the skill position talent in the world, but if they can't win in the trenches it doesn't matter." Sharps know this and it's why NYG +3 got snatched up earlier this week before dropping back down to NYG +1.5. The Giants are the side.
Cardinals (8-7) @ Rams (9-6); 3:25pm CT
Pick #2: Rams +3
Action: 46% of bets on the Rams
Let's keep this one short: I love getting a field goal in a coaching mismatch. Sure, the Rams are decimated by injury/illness and they're starting a QB with a fucking LinkedIn profile who has never taken a snap in a regular season NFL game, but McVay can coach circles around Kingsbury and can elevate any QB to competence.
The Cardinals offense is below-average (20th in DVOA), but with a less-mobile Kyler Murray (lower leg), they're downright bad. Looking at a paltry total of 41, the Rams D will dominate Arizona's limited offense in a low-scoring affair where coaching decisions will be magnified.
Plus, the Rams have two-time-playoff-game-winner Blake Bortles back in their QB room. Can't lose with the B.O.A.T. on your side.
Packers (12-3) @ Bears (8-7); 3:25pm CT
Pick #3: First Half Over 24.5
Action: 71% of bets on the Over
The Packers have a top-2 offense and the Bears have scored 30+ in each of their last four outings. This is a public Over but I don't care - we all are expecting fireworks in this matchup of kings.
It's a "chicken or the egg" situation for Chicago: is their offensive resurgence due to putrid competition (Lions/Texans/Vikings-without-Kendricks/Jags) or due to OC Bill Lazor finding rhythm with Hot Mitch through heavier sets?
It's a little bit of both. The Bears have faced a bag of dicks but their increased usage of 2-TE sets and utilization of Mitch's mobility have made their offense far less predictable. They're rolling out Mitch to cut the field in half for easier reads to big targets (especially on early downs), and this more dynamic approach coupled with fortified run-blocking is opening up lanes for Montgomery on the ground. Aaaand, it just so happens that this style of play is exactly how a team should attack Green Bay.
The Packers are designed around their MVP-favorite QB: they get out to early leads and force you to play catch-up by throwing at their studs in the secondary. They're solid on the outsides but soft up the middle, so it's all about pounding the rock and hitting TEs up the seam. Mitch will make a signature back-breaking mistake at some point, but the Bears' favorable scheme will allow him to move the ball in a game where it's imperative to not fall behind.
Switching to the Chicago defense, they're trending down but we've been too distracted by the offensive outburst to notice. The Bears D is efficient from down-to-down, but they're highly susceptible to explosive plays (31st in explosive run D and 19th in explosive pass D). Without the services of CBs Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine today, Green Bay could spring for 6 on any given play.
The Packers rank 1st in points per First Half this season (18.5) and the Bears have averaged 21.5 points per First Half over the past four weeks. Expect a hot start from two teams that need this game desperately and know that an early lead is key.
And don’t let the snow-dusted field fool you. Light snow favors the offense because it’s easier to maneuver in snow when you know where you’re going vs. needing to react defensively. Just ask Davante Adams. Hop on the Snow-ver Express in this one.
I'll leave you with the most accurate prediction in history and I'll see you in the playoffs. Bear Down.