When you’re at the bottom of the conference standings at this point in the NFL season, there are two options: 1. Tank your remaining games and hope for a high draft pick. Or 2. Play out the remaining schedule and hope you can screw over someone’s postseason plans.
These four teams could be siding with the latter in the final weeks of the season. They have matchups with teams in the playoff mix and have shown a fighting spirit, which can be enough to throw a wrench in their opponents’ postseason plotting:
Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1 SU, 8-6 ATS)
The Vikings have a taste for spoiling playoff pushes already, knocking off the Eagles this past weekend. Minnesota is fighting tooth and nail down the stretch, going 3-2-1 SU and 5-1 ATS in its last six games. Even without RBs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the Vikes keep chugging along with third-stringer Matt Asiata and backup QB Matt Cassel leading the charge. Minnesota can mess up playoff pictures in both conference with games against Cincinnati (Vikings +7.5) and Detroit left on the table.
Buffalo Bills (5-9 SU, 7-7 ATS)
Buffalo has only two wins in its last seven games but is still coming to play each Sunday. The Bills took a win from a turned-around Jaguars squad Sunday and host the Wild Card-chasing Dolphins in the cold at Ralph Wilson (Bills +2.5) this weekend. After that, Buffalo could snuff out the Patriots' push for home field with a finale in Foxborough. Buffalo already has its franchise QB in E.J. Manuel, so tanking is less likely. And, in an example of the Bills’ commitment to the season, WR Stevie Johnson played Sunday despite the sudden death of his mother the day before.
Atlanta Falcons (4-10 SU, 5-9 ATS)
The Falcons are a prideful franchise and would love nothing more than to spoil the 49ers’ playoff chances after being edged by San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game last January. Atlanta visits the Bay Area as a 13-point underdog in the final Monday Night Football of the season. The Falcons held on for a win over Washington in Week 15 and are 2-2 SU and 3-1 ATS in the last four outings. Coach Mike Smith is still tinkering with his lineups each week, looking to improve one game to the next. After facing the Niners, Atlanta can trip up NFC South rival Carolina in Week 17.
St. Louis Rams (6-8 SU, 6-8 ATS)
The Rams proved they’re not a team to be taken lightly with a dominant performance against New Orleans. St. Louis held the Saints to three points through three quarters and exploded for 27 points of its own, without top WR Tavon Austin in the lineup. The Rams are 5.5-point favorites hosting Tampa Bay Sunday but their big game comes in Seattle in Week 17. Depending on if Seattle locks down home field for the playoffs, St. Louis could be treating this challenge as its Super Bowl. The Rams put a scare in the Seahawks, losing 14-9 but covering as 13-point home dogs in Week 8.