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The AFC wild-card race isn’t exactly survival of the fittest. But it is interesting.
The AFC doesn’t have anywhere near the depth of the NFC. The eighth- or ninth-best team in the NFC might be the fourth- or fifth-best in the AFC. Good teams will be left out of the NFC playoffs. The same can’t really be said in the AFC.
But they’re still going to hand out two wild-card spots in the AFC, and the race will be fun to track. The Buffalo Bills can be penciled into one spot. There is an argument that the Bills are not as good as their record, but it really doesn’t matter. Their soft schedule practically ensures they’ll make the playoffs.
Perhaps the most unlikely contender for the second wild-card spot is the team that lost its future Hall of Fame quarterback in Week 2, and was 0-2 to start the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten themselves back in the race. It hasn’t always been pretty. They trailed the Miami Dolphins 14-0 at home before rallying. Last week, the Colts lost quarterback Jacoby Brissett in the first quarter, threw a 96-yard pick-six and the Steelers still needed Adam Vinatieri to miss a late field goal. But the Steelers are 4-4. They’re right in the hunt. A win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday would go a long way in keeping them in it. It’s impressive after a tough start that included Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury.
The Rams are one of those NFC teams that would love to be in the AFC. They’re already three games behind the 49ers in the NFC West and the 49ers have a huge tiebreaker advantage after winning in Los Angeles. If the season ended today, the Rams wouldn’t be in the playoffs. Good teams will be left out of the NFC field. There are more than six playoff-quality teams in the conference. The Rams are in danger of being left out, a year after going to the Super Bowl.
Non-conference games usually don’t have playoff implications like this. But the loser of Sunday’s game will have an uphill battle, for different reasons. I’ll take the Rams, even on the road as a 3.5-point favorite (they’re a SuperContest pick for me, as well). The Steelers have done well to battle back, but Mason Rudolph is a liability and the Rams are the better team. And if the Rams lose, they are in real danger of missing the playoffs. The same goes for the Steelers.
Here are the against-the-spread picks for Week 10 of the NFL season:
Buccaneers (-4.5) over Cardinals: Considering both of these teams have explosive offenses and disinterested defenses, this should be a fun game. The Buccaneers aren’t good, but they’re better than their record. They could really have some fun against that Cardinals defense.
Panthers (+5) over Packers: The Packers are more inconsistent than you’d like from a 7-2 team. They looked really bad last week at the Chargers. I like the Panthers, Christian McCaffrey should have a big day, and it wouldn’t shock me if Carolina won straight up.
Cowboys (-3) over Vikings: The Vikings did get a quality win this season. The win over the Eagles was solid. Still, Kirk Cousins’ track record on prime time is bad. The Vikings are a different team against the best competition. Until they prove otherwise, it’s best to ride that trend.
Seahawks (+6.5) over 49ers: The 49ers are very good, but you don’t want to be going against Russell Wilson too often this season. Hopefully we get a classic “Monday Night Football” game. (The line is Seahawks plus-6 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick ’em.)
And the rest of this week’s picks ...
Raiders (+1) over Chargers (picked Thursday): The Raiders are one of those AFC teams that is flawed but could get in the playoffs. Meanwhile, it seems like the door has closed on Philip Rivers’ shot at making a Super Bowl.
Lions (+2.5) over Bears: It’s rather shocking how the Bears are cracking under pressure. Mitchell Trubisky wanting all the televisions at Halas Hall turned off due to criticism of the team ... wow. The Bears had a great season last year and seem shellshocked at the first sign of adversity.
Bengals (+10) over Ravens: It’s hard to back the Bengals, especially with Ryan Finley making his first start. This isn’t a comfortable pick, but it’s still a double-digit road favorite, and maybe a small letdown for the Ravens after an enormous win over the Patriots.
Bills (+3) over Browns: I know the Bills aren’t darlings when it comes to advanced stats, but the Browns just lost to Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen making his first NFL start. And now we’re supposed to believe the Browns should be favored by a field goal over what looks like a sure AFC playoff team?
Chiefs (off) over Titans: As of Friday morning it seemed pretty clear Patrick Mahomes will start, but the line is off on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick ’em due to the uncertainty. I’d pick the Chiefs if Matt Moore was starting, and I’d take them at -3.5 (which is what they are in the SuperContest).
Falcons (+13) over Saints: The Falcons are a dreadful team, but if there’s one time they’ll get up for a game, maybe this is it. This is a great rivalry. It’s just a mismatch this season.
Giants (-2.5) over Jets: Hopefully, none of you will be stuck watching any of this game.
Dolphins (+10.5) over Colts: I’m not sure yet who is playing quarterback for the Colts, or how the Dolphins will respond to a win. Miami presumably wanted to get that first win out of the way. Now, what’s left? Still, the Dolphins have been much more competitive in recent weeks.
Last week: 3-10-1
Season to date: 67-68-1
SuperContest: 1-3-1 last week, 15-28-2 season to date
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