Playoff pressure can bring out the best in some teams and cause others to crumble.
With just two weeks left in the NFL regular season, many of the Week 16 games have postseason implications. None more so than games involving the NFC East.
Three teams – New York, Dallas and Washington - sit tied atop the division at 8-6 and it looks like if any of those clubs want a shot at the division crown or the NFC wild card, they’ll need to win out in the final games of the schedule.
It’s no surprise that those three teams are favorites heading into their Week 16 contests. The Cowboys are 3-point favorites at home to New Orleans
, the Redskins are 4-point faves in Philadelphia, and the Giants have moved to 1-point road chalk after opening as a pick in Baltimore.
“It absolutely plays into the lines,” Peter Korner, founder of the Nevada-based odds service The Sports Club, says about playoff pressure. “We overcompensate and you can see that in this week’s spreads.”
Perhaps the biggest overcompensation is the Dallas spread. Korner believes the Cowboys, who took an OT win from the Steelers Sunday, aren’t a deserving favorite. The Sports Club sent out Dallas -2 and some online books are offering that spread as big as -3.
“I think the wrong team is favored but you have to remember the point is to draw two-way action,” Korner told Covers. “It was a key win for the Cowboys and everyone saw it, but I expect there to be late money on the Saints. They’re loose and free, they play a loose-and-free style, and that makes them dangerous.”
As for the other two NFC East matchups, Korner says New York’s history of stepping it up in big games is the main reason they opened pick in Baltimore
and have drawn the early money from bettors. The Giants suffered a 34-0 drubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, their fourth loss in the past six games.
In the case of Washington, Korner says they sent out the Redskins as 6-point favorites in Philly
expecting Robert Griffin III to play after missing Week 15's win over Cleveland with a sprained knee. He also stands by the rookie quarterback in this high-pressure situation.
“RG3 is obviously the difference and the reason we sent out -6,” he says. “We’ve had some stud QBs come out this year, with Luck and Griffin. A QB is a QB and results are results, regardless of it they’re from a rookie.”
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5, 43.5)
The AFC North is another division with an unsettled playoff pecking order. The Steelers took a step back with their loss in Dallas Sunday while the Bengals walked over Philadelphia Thursday.
Korner says his oddsmakers came to the table with everything between Pittsburgh -1.5 to -7, eventually settling in the middle. Online shops opened as low as -3.5 but have since taken Steelers money pushing the spread to -4.5.
“I thought the early money would be on Cincinnati, admits Korner. “I don’t think it will run too far. Both teams need it which is perfect, we get the best from both teams. I see this being a tighter spread.”San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (Pick)
This late-game NFC West showdown has multiple factors pouring into its opening odds.
- The Niners just took a game from the Patriots in New England while the Seahawks have hung an uncharacteristic 108 total points on their last two opponents.
- Seattle has dominated with the running game while San Francisco boasts the best run-stuffing defense in the land.
- The 49ers have a bid at the No. 1 seed in the conference while the Seahawks are trying to hang on to an NFC wild card ticket.
And then there’s CenturyLink Field in December. The extended forecast is calling for rain Sunday night.
Korner is happy both teams showed well on Sunday, making it tougher for bettors to get a grip on the odds. The Sports Club sent out Seattle as a 1-point favorite but Korner doesn’t expect the Niners to coast in the final weeks.
“I don’t see a letdown for this game,” he says. “They just went into New England and won. Who’s to say they can’t go into Seattle and win?”