Yes, it’s true. Most of these games, to borrow a phrase from Jean-Paul Sartre, “are utterly meaningless” aside from a couple of key matchups with playoff implications. Otherwise, welcome to the Existentialist Week of Smashmouth Football.
Another week with Saturday games and one of them features both AFC Wild Card teams with the Ravens visiting the Chargers. Meanwhile, the Steelers are fresh off their win over Brady, Belichick and company and head down to the Big Easy to take on the Saints, who hold the best record in the NFL. The Chiefs travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on one of the NFC Wild Card teams, and the Seahawks get a chance to see how they’ll fare against Patrick Mahomes’ high-octane passing attack.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at LA Chargers (11-3)… The smoking-hot Super Chargers won four in a row and 10 out of their last 11, but this week Phil Rivers goes up against the top defense in the NFL. The stingy Ravens allow only 18.1 points per game, fewest in the NFL. Melvin Gordon might come back this week and Keenan Allen is a game-time decision. Even without them, Phil Rivers thrives when his back is against the wall. It’s a super-thin margin in the AFC North and the Ravens have both a division title and a potential bubble exit within reach. The Titans and Colts are both 8-6 and knocking on Baltimore’s door.
don’t count us out. pic.twitter.com/djElzrvtn5
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) December 14, 2018
Washington Redskins (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)… Saturday game. QB Josh Johnson played Madden Football to learn the names of his teammates. It worked. JJ won his first start since being signed off the street. Too bad he’s facing the second-toughest defense in the NFL. The Titans won three in a row and are tough in Nashville (5-1). The 10-point spread would be higher if Titans didn’t struggle to score points. Kudos to the Hawaiian King of Pain a.k.a. Marcus Mariota, who played the season all dinged up.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) at New Orleans Saints (12-2)… The Steelers snapped a three-game skid with a big win at home against the Patriots. The Saints won a couple of ugly games in the last couple of weeks, but they don’t care because a W is a W. Drew Brees and company are almost a full touchdown favorite. Brees and the lethal offense gets plenty of kudos, but the defense stepped up in recent weeks.
Seven points allowed.
— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) at Seattle Seahawks (8-6)… The Chiefs are coming off extra rest after being stunned by the LA Chargers on TNF last week. Seattle is currently the #5 seed or the first Wild Card spot. It’s theirs to lose, but both the Eagles and Skins are still hanging around. The Seahawks were upset by the Niners last week and now they have one of the best teams in the AFC coming to town. Mahomes has the better skills and weapons, but Wilson loves playing the role of underdog.
Tampa Bay Bucs (5-9) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)… This is one of those games that has a great home team (6-1 for the Cowboys) and a terrible road team (1-6 for the Bucs). With the Eagles still hanging around, the Cowboys cannot afford to squander an easy win to clinch the NFC East. The Cowboys were blanked last week, but they face one of the worst defenses in the NFL that allows 28.8 ppg.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) at Detroit Lions (5-9)… The Vikes are terrible road marauders, but Mike Zimmer reignited the running game after they whacked their pass-happy OC. The Vikes have a tentative hold on the Wild Card and #6 seed. Will the hapless Detroit Kittens (18.6 ppg over their last 8 games) play the role of spoiler?
New York Giants (5-9) at Indianapolis Colts (8-6)… Andrew Luck is trying to engineer a backdoor playoff berth. They are almost a double-digit favorite over the G-Men. Saquon Barkley had his only bad outing of the season last week against the Titans (14 carries for 31 yards) when he had to fend off a monsoon and gaggle of gang tacklers.
Heading to his first #ProBowl…
— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2018
Houston Texans (10-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)… Another curveball for the Eagles with a visit from DeShaun Watson and JJ Watt. They kept their playoff hopes alive thanks to Nick Foles upsetting the Rams last week, but now they get to host the top team in the West with the Texans. Will a win even matter? Or is this just another brick in the wall?
LA Rams (11-3) at Arizona Cardinals (3-11)… So much for home-field advantage, eh? The Cards are 1-6 this season. The once-almighty-but-now-mediocre Rams lost back-to-back games for the first time under the helm of Sean McVay. Jared Goff and the Rams desperately need a slumpbuster like the Cards. Badly.
Chicago Bears (10-4) at San Francisco Niners (4-10)… Da Bears have the third-best defense in the NFL allowing only 18.9 ppg. They also won 7 out of their last 8 games and that’s with Mitch Trubisky banged up. The Niners won two in a row. That’s as hot as they have been in a long time. By the way, everyone should invite Mitchy to your Christmas party. He seems like he knows how to properly party.
— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2018
Buffalo Bills (5-9) at New England Patriots (9-5)… The Pats are undefeated at home but somehow they are getting spanked on the road (3-5). Maybe it’s the pyramid that Robert Kraft has buried underneath the field in Foxboro Stadium? The magical properties allow Tom Brady to feel 10 years younger. Meanwhile, rookie Josh Allen has actually pulled his weight and then some much to the delight of the #BillsMafia.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) at Cincinnati Browns (6-7-1)… The Browns have a chance to finish the season with a winning record, which seemed utterly impossible a month ago. The Bengals have RB Joe Mixon (995 yards, 8 TD) and that’s about it. It doesn’t matter what Baker Mayfield does, but the Browns will lose if they don’t stop Mixon. And they have incentive to because they want to stick it to their ex-coach Hue Jackson, who joined the Bengals immediately after he was fired.
— NFL (@NFL) December 17, 2018
Atlanta Falcons (5-6) at Carolina Panthers (6-5)… Another big home/road split. The Falcons are 1-5 playing on the road, while the Panthers love playing at home, which yielded a 5-2 record this season. Alas, Cam Newton is being shut down for the rest of the season. He’s been playing with a bum shoulder (which now makes perfect sense considering his erratic play the last couple of weeks). With Cam in the lineup, the Panthers opened as a FG favorite. Without Cam, the Panthers are now +3 home dogs.
Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) at New York Jets (4-10)… If Aaron Rodgers sits out, you might want to go with the rookie for the LOLJets. Alas, Mr. Rodgers said he’d play. Despite all the injuries, Sam Darnold has played fearlessly since returning to the lineup from a foot injury. Oh, the NYC sports tabloids are heating up with Mike McCarthy to the Jets rumors.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) at Miami Dolphins (7-7)… The Battle of Florida rages between the Jags and Fish. The Jags (1-5) are bad away from Jacksonville, while the Dolphins (6-1) are tough to beat at home. The Jags still have a Top 6 defense even though their offensive woes continue. They are averaging 9.3 ppg over their last three games and remarkably have one win.
Denver Broncos (6-8) at Oakland Raiders (3-11)… If this game wasn’t on Monday night, would anyone watch it? It’s like a tree falling in the forest. If no one hears it, does it make a sound?
Pauly McGuire is a writer specializing in sports betting. He’s covered the NFL, NBA, college basketball, MLB, and the Olympics for numerous outlets. He’s the former co-host of the Everything Is Bettable podcast with Jesse May. You also might remember Pauly as the creator of the Tao of Poker blog. He was a partner in one of the first daily fantasy sports sites, Fantasy Sports Live.