With only four weeks left in the regular season, it can be tempting to overstate the role of motivation, or lack thereof, when handicapping remaining games. When the Patriots and Raiders matchup on Sunday, for instance, does New England have an edge because of its bubble status?
Don’t count on it.
In that game and the more lopsided pairings on the Week 15 schedule — between the Ravens and Browns, Cowboys and Jaguars, Kansas City and Texans — the performances of teams that are out of the playoff race may be compelled by other factors. Coaching jobs, player contracts, trade value and even division rivalries may be on the line.
That’s not to say that those games will be as closely contested as decisive games between the Giants and Commanders or Dolphins and Bills are expected to be: Those have clear-cut implications on playoff standings that will be top of mind.
Last week’s record: 6-7
Overall record: 107-95-5
All times Eastern.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Thursday Night’s Game
- Saturday’s Games
- Sunday’s Best Games
- Sunday’s Other Games
- Monday Night’s Game
- How Betting Lines Work
Thursday Night’s Game
San Francisco 49ers (9-4) at Seattle Seahawks (7-6), 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime
Line: Seahawks +3.5 | Total: 43.5
The 49ers won big against the Buccaneers last week, but they may have paid a hefty price. Deebo Samuel was carted off with a high ankle sprain and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Brock Purdy injured an oblique in his breakout game and was limited in practice this week. It’s possible that Purdy rests Thursday night and Josh Johnson steps in to be the fourth 49ers starting quarterback this season. In addition to Purdy and Samuel, a number of defensive players left the game and will most likely miss Thursday’s game as well.
Seattle has lost three of their last four, behind a wobbly defense. If the Seahawks’ efficient offense (they are the league’s sixth-highest scorers) can make headway against the 49ers’ tremendous, but recuperating, defense, there’s a chance this will be a close one. Seattle is on the second of back-to-back home games, and the 3.5 points should help them compete with the banged-up 49ers. Pick: Seahawks +3.5
Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1) at Minnesota Vikings (10-3), 1 p.m., NFL Network
Line: Vikings -4 | Total: 48.5
The Colts’ season is done. The interim Coach Jeff Saturday couldn’t turn things around, and the organization will most likely be looking ahead to finalizing its coaching search. Minnesota gives up a league-worst 403.7 yards per game and an average of 24.1 points, making even their victories nail-biters. But the Colts score only 16.1 points per game, lower than every team except Denver, so the Vikings may finally get to cruise to a win for once. Pick: Vikings -4
Baltimore Ravens (9-4) at Cleveland Browns (5-8), 4:30 p.m., NFL Network
Line: Browns -2.5 | Total: 38
The Ravens will most likely start the undrafted rookie Anthony Brown at quarterback after Tyler Huntley entered concussion protocol this week. Baltimore may be able to lean on its run game against the swiss-cheese Cleveland defense. In his return to the field last week, running back J.K. Dobbins produced 120 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. The Browns took around 65 percent of the money early in the week, and the line moved to less than a field goal. Pick: Browns -2.5
Miami Dolphins (8-5) at Buffalo Bills (10-3), 8:15 p.m., NFL Network
Line: Bills -7.5 | Total: 42.5
The Dolphins have lost their last two, including a dreadful showing against the Chargers last week in which Miami’s top-ranked pass offense managed to put up only 145 yards against a team missing half its defensive starters.
Though the Bills seem to be back on a Super Bowl-bound track, the offense hasn’t looked like the early-season juggernaut it once was. Buffalo will try to maintain their grip on the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, but the Dolphins’ recent slide has dropped Miami to one game ahead of the Patriots in the A.F.C. East. There’s a 20 percent chance of snow for this nighttime kickoff in Buffalo. This would be a big momentum swinger for the Dolphins, and if they can keep it as close as the “butt punt” game in Week 3 (Miami won, 21-19), then 7.5 should be more than enough help. Pick: Dolphins +7.5
Sunday’s Best Games
Detroit Lions (6-7) at Jets (7-6), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Jets -1 | Total: 45
Mike White was hospitalized with a rib injury after last week’s loss to Buffalo, but he still has his grip on the starting job if he’s cleared to play. The uncertainty around the Jets’ passer has frozen the market, with this game essentially a pick ’em. No one would have expected this matchup to be close when the Jets started the season 5-2 and the Lions 1-6, but things have changed.
The Lions are 5-1 over their past six games behind an improved defense that gives up almost 12 fewer points per game than it did in that early seven-game stretch. The offense put up 464 yards on the Vikings last week in a huge win and got a touchdown catch from the rookie receiver Jameson Williams. Detroit has a long road to sniff the postseason, but a win on the road against the Jets would be necessary a first step. Pick: Lions +1
Dallas Cowboys (10-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Jaguars +5 | Total: 47.5
Trevor Lawrence hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 8, and he has led the league in completion percentage since Week 9. After a first half of the season marred by six one-possession losses, the Jaguars are figuring out how to avoid game-busting errors.
Dallas had been among the league’s top red-zone offenses, but Dak Prescott threw a pair of untimely interceptions last week against the Texans before leading a 98-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to eke out a game that never should have been so close. This line opened at 6, and some books have already gone to 4.5 as more than 85 percent of the money, including a lot of sharp action, came in on the Jaguars. Pick: Jaguars +5
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7), 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Buccaneers +3.5 | Total: 44
Since Week 3, the Buccaneers have gone 1-9-1 against the spread. Tampa Bay is dead last in rushing yards per game this season, and, most troublingly, the Tom Brady-led offense has posted the league’s fewest yards per pass over the last three weeks.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are powering up just as they did in the second half of last season on their way to a Super Bowl appearance. Even with receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins both listed as questionable, Joe Burrow is back in a groove with Ja’Marr Chase as a first option now that he’s back from hip injury (10 catches on 15 targets last week for 119 yards and a touchdown). The Bengals’ defense should feast on Brady’s dink-and-dunk passing game. Pick: Bengals -3.5
Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-6), 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Chargers -3 | Total: 46.5
The Chargers enter the game on the outside of the playoff window but with a healthy chance of making it in. This is a matchup that will probe Los Angeles’s biggest weakness: The defense gives up more yards per run than any team in the league and Derrick Henry is coming to town. Trailing the league-leading rusher, Josh Jacobs, by 203 yards, Henry should be able to narrow the gap this week.
The Titans have lost three in a row, both straight up and against the spread, but even with that losing streak they have the A.F.C. South virtually sewn up again this season. Injuries to the secondary took a toll as the Jaguars lit them up for 428 yards of offense last week. Tennessee won’t want to get into a passing contest here, with the standout rookie receiver Treylon Burks out with a concussion. But if they feed Henry, they won’t have to. Pick: Titans +3
Giants (7-5-1) at Washington Commanders (7-5-1), 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Commanders -4.5 | Total: 40
This game was flexed to Sunday night because of the importance it now holds for these teams’ playoff hopes. The Giants started the season strong but haven’t won a game in a month, and they enter the game at the bottom of the N.F.C. East. Injuries around the roster have revealed the team’s lack of depth, particularly in the secondary, where the absences of cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and Xavier McKinney have been glaring.
After their 20-20 tie with the Giants in Week 13, the Commanders are ahead in the division on points and enter the game as the six-seed in the N.F.C., but could bounce out of that playoff position with a loss (and a win from the Seahawks). Washington is favored, but 4.5 is probably a bit too much for the Commanders to give up, even at home, considering how closely these two teams should play given the stakes. The market agrees. Over 90 percent of early money was bet on the Giants. Pick: Giants +4.5
Sunday’s Other Games
Atlanta Falcons (5-8) at New Orleans Saints (4-9), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Saints -4 | Total: 43
In a bit of a Hail Mary move, the Falcons are benching quarterback Marcus Mariota for Desmond Ridder in a bad but important matchup. In theory, any team can still win the N.F.C. South.
Inconsistent play from Andy Dalton, who has kept his spot as starting quarterback over Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill this season, has ensured the Saints will finish with a losing record. But these two teams have a blood rivalry and a lot more is known about how Dalton can perform than the third-round draft-pick Ridder. Pick: Saints -4
Philadelphia Eagles (12-1) at Chicago Bears (3-10), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Bears +8.5 | Total: 48
Justin Fields is back from a separated shoulder sustained in Week 11 but listed as questionable with an illness. It’s hard to imagine he takes the field for a Bears team that’s already eliminated from the playoffs. Against the worst defense in the entire league, the Eagles shouldn’t find it too difficult to get over the 8.5 point hurdle, even if some starters rest. Pick: Eagles -8.5
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8) at Carolina Panthers (5-8), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Panthers -2.5 | Total: 38.5
If the Panthers win against the Steelers and the Buccaneers lose to the Bengals, the Panthers can move into first place in the N.F.C. South. It’s a far leap for a Carolina team that fired its head coach and waived its starting quarterback, but under interim Steve Wilks, the Panthers still somehow have a shot.
Kenny Pickett is in concussion protocol, and Mitchell Trubisky, who threw three interceptions in his stead last week, isn’t an improvement. The line has moved from 1 to 2.5. Carolina can win at home, but it may be close. Pick: Panthers -2.5
Kansas City (10-3) at Houston Texans (1-11-1), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Texans +14 | Total: 49.5
Last week, the Texans got 17 points against the Cowboys, and the market faded them and bet the Cowboys. The Texans not only covered, they nearly won. This week, the market doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice. By Tuesday, 98 percent of the money had been bet on the Texans.
Perhaps the hopes for Houston’s covering lie in Kansas City’s garbage-time offense. Last week against Denver, they put up the first 27 points of the game, then let the Broncos come back after three Patrick Mahomes interceptions. They won, but failed to cover a much smaller spread than what they are up against this week. Pick: Texans +14
Arizona Cardinals (4-9) at Denver Broncos (3-10), 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Broncos -3 | Total: 36
Neither of these teams can catch a break. Russell Wilson is out with a concussion (Brett Rypien will start for the Broncos), and Kyler Murray tore his anterior cruciate ligament (Colt McCoy will start for the Cardinals). Even against the Broncos’ stout defense, the Cardinals — at least on the road — can win if they can manage the edge in the turnover battle. If DeAndre Hopkins holds the ball with both hands this week, Arizona can at least cover the spread. Pick: Cardinals +3
New England Patriots (7-6) at Las Vegas Raiders (5-8), 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Raiders -1 | Total: 44.5
The Patriots are making a push for a wild-card spot, while the Raiders are essentially cooked. But New England’s offense has been uneven all year (they rank 24th in yards per game and 28th in first downs), and the team has been too dependent on its defense to win games. Despite the Raiders’ proclivity for blowing leads, they have the league’s top running back and a quarterback who likes to air it out, and have been playing for little more than pride all month. Pick: Raiders -1
Monday Night’s Game
Los Angeles Rams (4-9) at Green Bay Packers (5-8), 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Packers -7 | Total: 39.5
Baker Mayfield and the Rams are like two people left at the bar at the end of a long night. After showing up with high expectations, they end up settling for each other. Mayfield’s debut for Los Angeles produced sparks, however, as he led two heroic late touchdown drives for an improbable come-from-behind victory against the Raiders.
The Packers need to run the table for the rest of the season to have any shot at the playoffs but struggle to stop the run. The Rams have had to run with most of their major contributors (Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, etc.) out. Some books had this line as high as 9 points, but Rams money has settled it in at a touchdown. Don’t turn the lights on for the Rams just yet. Pick: Rams +7
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Buccaneers -2.5, for example, means that Tampa Bay must beat the Seahawks by at least 3 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, which is whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Betting-market data is taken from Action Network’s Public Betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time-odds tracker.