NFL Playoff Battleground

From the Jim Hurley Network Staff
Contributing Sportsbook Editor


CAROLINA (6-8-1) at ATLANTA (6-9) - 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox

So, this sad-sack NFC South is gonna crown a champ with the winner of this game hosting a wild card tilt next weekend and here's what you should know:

The visiting Panthers have squeezed out back-to-back 2- and 4-point wins the past couple of weeks -- one with QB Cam Newton in the lineup and one without -- and no doubt this former Heisman Trophy winner will get his turn at running the ball a batch of times here as he was effective toting the pigskin in last weekend's 17-13 non-cover win against Cleveland (see 12 carries for 63 yards). On the flip side, the Falcons are fresh off that 30-14 win in New Orleans where QB Matt Ryan (30-of-40 passing for 322 yards and one TD) was nearly flawless and if you tell us now that Atlanta won't turn the ball over for a second consecutive week then Mike Smith's club will nail down the divisional crown.

An X-factor here? Let's see if Falcons' return specialist Devin Hester can "flip the field" a couple of times.

Spread Notes - Atlanta is 7-8 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and the Falcons are a collective 6-1 spreadwise against the NFC South since late last season. Meanwhile, Carolina is also 7-8 against the numbers this year and the Panthers are a sour 6-9 vig-wise away since the start of last season (and that includes last year's 21-20 non-cover win at the Georgia Dome as 5.5-point favorites).

SAN DIEGO (9-6) at KANSAS CITY (8-7) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The formula is simple for the SD Chargers: Win and you're in to the post-season for a second straight year under second-year head coach Mike McCoy but the fact of the matter is San Diego's allowed an average of 27.4 ppg the past five weeks and KayCee's in a foul mood after losing four of its last five games to make their playoff hopes a major longshot.

If the Chiefs need QB Alex Smith to chuck the ball 45 times here (see loss to Pittsburgh last week) than Andy Reid's club really doesn't have a shot but look for KC to get the ball into the hands of RB Jamaal Charles and WR/RB DeAnthony Thomas and make San Diego's defense play chase for a full 60 minutes.

Note that Kansas City won at San Diego 23-20 back in Week 7, so this is revenge-plus-points for the Bolts.

Spread Notes - San Diego's 7-8 against the odds this year despite that stupendous 5-and-oh pointspread start. The Chargers are 0-5 ATS when playing fellow AFC West rivals this year after having gone a collective 8-5 ATS against ?em the prior two seasons. Kansas City enters this Week 17 tilt at 9-5-1 ATS overall this year and the Chiefs have covered six of their last nine regular-season finales (remember when KC always/always covered their finales?).

DETROIT (11-4) at GREEN BAY (11-4) - 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox

You know the deal: Both the Lions and Packers have clinched playoff berths but the winner here gets crowned NFC North champs and thus grab a home game (and maybe even a first-round bye) and so lots on the line and we'll remind you that the Motowners have not won in Wisconsin in 23 years!

Last week's two-INT, no-TD game by Detroit slinger Matthew Stafford was a bummer even though the Lions did survive a 20-14 non-cover victory in Chicago - Stafford's take-one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back game needs to get cleaned up here and note that Green Bay should bring pressure up the middle with Lions C Dominic Raiola suspended here for his idiotic ankle stomp of a Bears player last week. Meanwhile, no secret that Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers (31-of-40 for 318 yards passing in last Sunday's 20-3 win/cover at Tampa Bay) has not always been on the "same page" with his receivers the past couple of weeks, so we'll see if they get that cleaned up here. Looks like a game where both WRs Jordy Nelson (92 catches) and Randall Cobb (87 receptions) could be deep threats providing Rodgers can climb up the pocket and evade that pass rush.

Spread Notes - Detroit is 7-8 spreadwise overall this season and the Lions own a rotten 7-13 spread log in their last 20 head-to-head games versus Green Bay. Note that the Packers are 8-6-1 odds-wise overall this 2014 season and GB's an electric 17-7 ATS when playing fellow NFC North teams the past four years.

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