How to cap the four playoff-bound NFL teams down the stretch
Four NFL teams punched their tickets to the postseason in Week 13, but home-field advantage is still up for grabs in both conferences.
The playoff-bound teams have covered at an alarming rate this season, going a combined 28-19-1 (60%) against the spread. With the pressure now off, handicapping these teams could be tricky down the stretch. Luckily, the Covers Experts are here to guide you through how to evaluate each team in the final month of the season.
New England Patriots (9-3 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Remaining schedule: vs. Houston, vs. San Francisco, at Jacksonville, vs. Miami
The Patriots clinched the AFC East with a 23-16 victory over Miami Sunday. New England’s high-powered offense has its over bettors (9-3 O/U) laughing all the way to the bank but it faces two tough defenses in the next couple weeks. Was putting only 23 points on the board at Miami a sign of the red-hot offense cooling off?
“The offense is just fine,” says Covers Expert Matt Fargo. “After putting up a record 108 points in two straight games, you knew it was bound to happen and Miami does have a pretty solid defense. Even with the low-scoring game against the Dolphins, the total against Houston opened at 53 and while it has been bet down to 51.5, it seems like a huge number to me. The Patriots offense is capable of putting up some big numbers against a banged up Houston defense.”
Houston Texans (11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS)
Remaining schedule: at New England, vs. Indianapolis, vs. Minnesota, at Indianapolis
The Texans picked up their sixth straight win and clinched a playoff spot with a 24-10 win over Tennessee Sunday. With a two-game lead over the other AFC division leaders, Houston could have the conference locked up in the very near future.
“The Texans may start pulling back,” cautions Doc of Doc’s Sports. “That should help the Colts get into the playoffs since they still have two games remaining against each other.”
Denver Broncos (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Remaining schedule: at Oakland, at Baltimore, vs. Cleveland, vs. Kansas City
The Broncos clinched the AFC West with a 31-23 victory over the Bucs on Sunday and are riding a seven-game winning streak into Oakland this week.
"It looks like Denver will have a tough time getting the No. 1 seed as they are two behind Houston and lost the head-to-head,” notes Covers Expert Steve Merril. “If the Texans win at New England, they will pretty much have home field nailed down.”
Aside from a Week 15 visit to Baltimore, Denver has the easiest schedule of the four teams down the stretch.
Atlanta Falcons (11-1 SU, 7-4-1 ATS)
Remaining schedule: at Carolina, vs. New York Giants, at Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay
The Falcons clinched the NFC South when Tampa Bay lost to Denver. Atlanta took care of business, sinking the Saints last Thursday, and is the lone NFC team to be officially playoff bound. The Falcons are also close to nailing down the top seed in the conference.
“Even though they may be overvalued in some spots, they are not unbettable as there is plenty of motivation still left for seeding in the playoffs so they need to be looked at on a game-by-game basis,” says Fargo. “With a lot to play for, similar to teams that are still trying to make the playoffs, Atlanta cannot be treated any differently but they may be treated differently by the betting public.”
Covers Expert Teddy Covers offers one final thought for bettors moving forward.
"I'd be much more inclined to bet against a team like Chicago, Seattle or Indy when (if) they clinch playoff spots -- teams that weren't there last year, and don't necessarily have that same mature perspective as these four teams."