Now that we have cleared the midpoint of the season, playoff races will be at the forefront of our minds.
This is the time of year when we separate the contenders from the pack, and it often comes via big wins. We had plenty in Week 10, whether to establish new teams in the playoff race or remind us that some simply aren’t going to drop out without a fight.
The New England Patriots are AFC Contenders
It’s simply too late. Too late to climb aboard the bandwagon. Too late to join the party. Too late to do much with the information.
The New England Patriots are back, and the price is rising rapidly.
Over the last seven weeks, the Patriots have:
- Lost by two points to the now-6-3 Buccaneers
- Lost in overtime to the now-7-2 Cowboys
- Won their other five matchups
Obviously, the 5-2 record with respectable losses form an impressive picture for the team, but the real takeaway is the trajectory we now find New England. It is developing a rookie quarterback while also winning games, and it just made a public statement by dismantling the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
That statement? “We’re back.”
The downside is that, as I suggested, it’s too late to capitalize on this surge. Right now, anyway. We would be better suited to wait for the regression that is likely to strike and then look for the Patriots to continue along their winning ways.
The Seattle Seahawks are on the Brink of Elimination
Technically and mathematically, this is far from the truth. Still, the Seattle Seahawks saw the return of their superstar quarterback and could not find a single point in the matchup. It’s not the shutout that hurts the team, though. It’s the return of Russell Wilson compared to the current record and the time remaining in the season.
Seattle is now 3-6 and no longer has the element of a player returning who can help for a second-half playoff push. The player is back, and the push has to be made now, or it won’t happen at all.
The good news for the Seahawks is that they have some reasonable games on the schedule — Houston and Detroit, to name two — but the actual opponents don’t form the mountain the team has to climb. Seattle can probably afford one more loss for the remainder of the season if it wants to make the playoffs, but that also means we should get the best effort from the team in the coming weeks. It’s also likely that if the Seahawks face early elimination from playoff contention, the team will continue to compete. There will be buying opportunities ahead.
The AFC North is Wide Open and Openly Wild
The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Dolphins. The Pittsburgh Steelers tied with the Lions. The Cleveland Browns were stomped by the Patriots. The Cincinnati Bengals rested.
When the dust settled on Week 10, all four teams were within one win of each other, and not a single one had a losing record.
The obvious trait of the AFC North is that it shares common opponents for the majority of the schedule. The same cycle will strike each team where, this week, the Ravens and Steelers had relatively “easy” games. That they came away from said games 0-1-1 is not exactly an endorsement, but the point is that we should see this shuffling for a while.
For those of us who live for the drama in football, we can take solace in the fact that each team still has at least three division games left on its schedule, two teams have four games, and the Ravens have five.
The AFC North appeared to be in control by different teams at different times already this year, but it looks like it will go down to the wire. We should pay attention to the odds and pounce wherever possible.
The Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills Enjoy Big Rebound Wins
It wasn’t exactly surprising, but the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills each returned to action after unforgivable losses in Week 9 to take advantage of weaker opponents on Sunday. They won handily, and they did so to remind all of the doubters that neither team is going away anytime soon.
Maybe the Bills have competition in the AFC East now, and perhaps the Cowboys will need to keep winning to hold off others in the NFC, but they aren’t going to get pushed around and then fall apart as a result.
It speaks volumes on all fronts. How the Bills and Cowboys had won their previous games was a sign that regression was inevitable, but how they responded to it confirms that the setbacks were just that. Setbacks. They were not new trends.
The big wins do come with a negative, of course. There was hesitation to buy into Buffalo and Dallas in Week 10, and that’s unlikely to continue now. Be careful diving back in too eagerly.
The Green Bay Packers Keep Rolling
What more can be said about the Green Bay Packers at this point? Their two losses on the season — tied for the fewest in the league — were on Opening Day and in Week 9 without Aaron Rodgers. Otherwise, the team has been perfect.
It’s not just because of Rodgers — although he clearly is invaluable. The Packers’ defense remains one of the best in the league and just held the Seahawks — with Russell Wilson under center — scoreless.
Green Bay is in the rare position of seeking a third consecutive Conference Championship appearance with losses in the prior two, but that also means that nothing outside of that eventual fate will feel appropriate for the Packers. They either get over the hurdle now, or this impressive 8-2 start will essentially mean nothing in the end.
The oddsmakers know this and, between now and then, there will be time to sell the Packers in matchups where they may suddenly stumble. This is only the journey, after all. We know where they want their destination to be.
Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros, as well as the creator and content editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola. He has also been one of the industry leaders in NFL against-the-spread picks over the last 7 years.