Football

Three NFL games will amount to elimination contests. Here’s a close look.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton feels like he’s playing the best football of his career.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton feels like he’s playing the best football of his career. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Barring injuries, the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams will remain virtual co-favorites to win the NFC and the Super Bowl heading into the postseason. Betting markets know their skill sets, and those of other contenders.

What’s much less certain is who those other contenders in January are going to be. The battle for the last few NFC spots is a traffic jam that may not clear itself up until the final hours of the final regular season Sunday.

There are three NFC games Sunday matching hopefuls head-to-head. These could serve as virtual elimination battles with losers dropping to the back of the pack. Let’s see what oddsmakers and sharps are thinking about this important trio that you’ll be monitoring as you finish your holiday leftovers.

NY Giants (3-7) at Philadelphia (4-6)

Both of these are alive in the NFC East race because it’s a parity-racked division. Washington was in good shape to win until losing quarterback Alex Smith for the season to a leg injury. The Giants actually have a chance to rally from a 1-7 start to reach the postseason!

Oddsmakers opened the game at Philadelphia -7, suggesting they weren’t impressed by New York’s recent wins over non-entities San Francisco and Tampa Bay. Sharps hit the underdog early, bringing the line down to six. That’s a bigger move than it seems because the game was moved aggressively off a key number (seven is a common football victory margin). Philadelphia’s “Super Bowl hangover” has lasted the full season.. Smart money wouldn’t be surprised if this gets interesting, but isn’t expecting a hot season finish from the winner.

Seattle (5-5) at Carolina (6-4)

Neither has a real shot to win their division, as they share space with the Rams and Saints respectively. Both want a wildcard. Seattle has played a road-heavy schedule thus far. That won’t equalize until two home games in the final two weeks of the season. The Seahawks are probably at least a game better than their won-lost record would suggest because of that hindrance.

Carolina opened at -3 with extra vigorish (Panther backers would have to pay -120 or -125 rather than the standard -110 to lay the field goal). The line was quickly bet to -3.5, where it solidified. This suggests both oddsmakers and sharps believe Carolina is the slightly superior side. Home field advantage by itself is usually worth three points in the NFL. Great quarterback battle. Should have the feel of a playoff game even though it’s only week 12.

Green Bay (4-5-1) at Minnesota (5-4-1)

A rematch of their earlier tie at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers is moving much better now. But the Packers as a whole may be imploding because of resentment over head coach Mike McCarthy’s play-calling and poor time management. Similar to the game above in that both teams are thinking wildcard as they look up at an impressive division leader (Chicago).

Early outlier offshore books opened at Minnesota -4 or -4.5 … but stragglers went live at -3.5, which is where the market has been sitting through the week. Once again, a perception from oddsmakers and sharps that the Vikings are the slightly stronger team after you adjust for home field. Though, sharps will bet the Packers at +4. This will likely be the most heavily bet Sunday game nationally because it’s the prime-time showcase on NBC (7:20 p.m.). Pro’s and Joe’s alike will have all day to invest.

If form holds, New York, Seattle, and Green Bay will lose touch with the pack. Though, the percentages in this price range suggest at least one upset could occur. Note that both Seattle and Green Bay had extra time to rest and prepare after playing each other a week ago Thursday.

Other notes:

Before you enjoy Sunday’s NFL, the two SEC Championship combatants will close out their regular seasons Saturday. SEC East winner Georgia should close near a 17-point favorite at home against state-rival Georgia Tech (SEC Network, 11 a.m.). SEC West winner Alabama will close near a 24-point favorite in the Iron Bowl at home against Auburn (CBS, 2:30 p.m.). Could either big favorite get caught looking ahead? FYI: Alabama’s undefeated run against the spread in “first half” betting lines came to an end last week with a flat 30 minutes vs. the Citadel.

Michigan will try to solidify its spot in the four-team national championship tournament, laying just over a field goal in Columbus to disappointing Ohio State (FOX, 11 a.m.). The Buckeyes may be 10-1 straight up, but they’ve failed to cover six of their last seven point spreads. Notre Dame would lock up a bid if it wins straight up as 11-point favorites Saturday night at USC (ABC, 7 p.m.). Notre Dame is 6-1-1 ATS its last eight games.

Jeff Fogle writes the daily VSiN newsletter. Sign up at VSiN.com/newsletter
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