This has to be one of the oddest NFL seasons ever played. COVID-19 protocols and practices in place may be keeping the players and coaches safe to some extent, but all that contact is a bit scary. Then, there are the games being played in huge stadiums with no fans in the stands. At times it feels weird, and of course, it is weird. Even the NFL Playoffs have changed this year.
AFC Postseason Almost Clear
Now, we have a couple of anti-COVID-19 vaccines being given to front line health workers, and promised to the rest of us soon. So, there are brighter days ahead and next year the stands will be full again and no one will be wearing masks so you can see their smiles.
Instead of clearing up the NFL Playoff picture, Week 16 has succeeded in making it more chaotic than ever. In the AFC, the Miami Dolphins won their game against the Las Vegas Raiders by putting up 13 points in the fourth quarter and squeaking out a one-point win, 26 to 25, on the Raiders’ new home field.
But it was the win that they needed to throw the competition for the final playoff spot in the AFC into a four-way tie after the Baltimore Ravens won and both the Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts managed to lose. All this left all four team with records of 10-5 going into the final game of the regular season.
The Dolphins are going up to play the Buffalo Bills as 4.5-point favorites in what will probably be very cold conditions. Baker Mayfield and the Browns get to host Big Ben and the Pittsburgh Steelers as 7-point favorites and the Colts are 14-point favorites when they welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars into Lucas Oil Stadium for a game on Sunday. The Ravens will travel to Cincinnati to take on the ‘Burrowless’ Bengals as 11.5-point favorites.
So, which team will grab that last playoff spot is anybody’s guess and the subject of much speculation. Sportsbooks especially are enjoying the expanded options for wagering that this log-jam brings in the AFC.
NFC Race Remains Tight
Over in the NFC, it’s the Chicago Bears who will need a win in Week 17 to clinch a playoff spot. The only trouble is they are playing the Green Bay Packers on Soldier Field in Chicago as 5.5-point underdogs in what could well be the game of the day. New Orleans Saints fans at least will be cheering for the Bears to pull it off and beat the Packers.
The Arizona Cardinals, led by their quarterback Kyler Murray, who one commentator described as “Mighty Mouse,” will travel to LA to take on the Rams at SoFi Stadium as 1.5-point underdogs on Sunday, where the winner of the game will clinch a playoff spot.
The Tennessee Titans can wrap up the AFC South with a win over the Houston Texans who are 7.5-point home underdogs this week.
The Seattle Seahawks clinched the NFC West by winning last Sunday.
The Steelers have won the AFC North divisional title by beating the Colts last weekend. So, the Steelers are now the number-2 seed in the AFC playoff standings. Buffalo, the number-3 seed, has the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Steelers.
The Saints are a half-game behind the Packers for the top seed in the NFC and the Packers hold the tiebreaker over the Saints. But the Saints hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Seattle. The Saints have clinched the NFC South and can still earn the number-1 seed if they end up in a three-way tie with the Packers and Seahawks after next week’s action is all said and done. New Orleans will travel to Carolina to take on Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers as 6.5-point favorites for their final game of the regular season in a divisional rivalry where anything can happen.