We are now into the final quarter of the 2021 NFL season, and there are two key areas where we should focus our attention. The first is the playoff race, as it is guaranteed to add an extra layer of importance to some games in the remaining few weeks.
The second is value, and we always pay attention to value.
We have gone through 14 weeks of football and, while we know a fair amount about each team, we can still see some perceptions changing. Those are the ones that will matter the most down the home stretch.
The Kansas City Chiefs are no Longer Undervalued
It’s not about the Kansas City Chiefs being “back.” They were back. They are back. And they aren’t going away anytime soon. The importance of what the Chiefs did again on Sunday is more about what people will say. Or, in this case, not say.
There is simply no way that anyone can make an argument against Kansas City anymore. The offense exploded, and the defense has come around to play solid football consistently. Is the team perfect? No, but we aren’t seeking perfection. We are seeking value, and the Chiefs no longer have it.
We knew that this would happen. We knew that we could buy into Kansas City at a relative discount for a few weeks, but the sale would eventually end. Now, we will have to pay a premium as we move toward the end of the season and, almost certainly, another division title.
The Dallas Cowboys Make a Statement and Then Make a Statement
Before their matchup with the Washington Football Team, the Dallas Cowboys played their own petty games. It started with head coach Mike McCarthy guaranteeing a victory and ended with the franchise bringing its own heated benches to the stadium. That was odd to type, but all of it was real.
Normally, silly narratives like that lead to misplaced value. It’s an instinctive, probably subconscious maneuver by the team to create intrigue outside of the matchup itself. There is a psychology to sports, and Dallas may not have been aware of what it was telling the world with its actions, but it became a key story for Week 14.
Then the Cowboys beat Washington, and all traces of oddity were removed.
In addition to myself writing about it — and, therefore, keeping the story alive — the Football Team put together a furious comeback that ultimately fell short. This fight isn’t over, though. Washington and Dallas meet again exactly two weeks from Sunday’s showdown. Remember this ordeal when the time comes, as it probably carries some hidden value for the Football Team. Certainly, Washington will not have forgotten.
The AFC North is Still Up For Grabs
With a handful of games remaining for each team, the battle between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens would not have decided anything definitively. Still, a Baltimore win would have helped it make large strides in securing the tight AFC North. Instead, we had Baltimore with only a one-game lead over the Browns and Bengals by the end of Sunday’s games while having only one fewer loss than the Steelers.
The AFC North often carries a reputation of “toughness,” but this description isn’t only confined to the types of games the teams play. It speaks to the competitive nature of the fights that tend to occur as the season comes to an end. Luckily for us, nothing is decided yet, which means that we can keep looking for a close finish until one team shows it is worthy of separating from the pack.
The Las Vegas Raiders are Finished
I was probably the most bullish in the industry on the Las Vegas Raiders before this season, even going as far as making some longshot picks that put them in the Super Bowl. A few weeks into the year, it looked like the perfect sleeper gaining traction. Now? The Raiders are finished.
The reality is that the Raiders of today are not the Raiders of yesterday. It’s one thing to deal with drama and controversy, but it’s completely different to undergo actual personnel and player changes due to said drama and controversy. We aren’t looking at the same roster or coaching staff anymore, and the flaws are starting to get exposed.
There is a silver lining. We may have “learned the fate” of Las Vegas for the long term, but we can also project how others will react. That is, the entire football-watching world will be bailing on the Raiders immediately following their thrashing at the hands of the Chiefs.
This means it’s the perfect time to buy into the Raiders.
At least in the short term.
The Buffalo Bills are in Trouble
The standings, numbers, and prior wins all point to the Buffalo Bills being fine in the hunt for a playoff berth. But, if we are being fair to the sport and trying to pinpoint exactly where Buffalo will finish when the dust has settled, how can we not find their current state troubling?
Buffalo is 13 games into the season and still over .500. We know better than to take the record at face value.
Of the Bills’ seven wins, only the Chiefs have a winning record. The other opponents were the Jets, Saints, Texans, Washington Football Team, and Dolphins — twice. Their six losses? Steelers, Titans, Colts, Patriots, Jaguars, and, now, Buccaneers.
Notice the trend? Outside of the Chiefs and Jaguars as outliers of their respective groups, Buffalo has dominated weaker opponents and struggled against better ones. It isn’t rocket science, and, once again, it shouldn’t impact the Bills’ playoff chances, but we need to see some better performances in big matchups if we are to buy into Buffalo when the postseason arrives.
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.