For the first time in NFL history, we have completed Week 16 and still have two more full slates of games ahead of us. Thus is the nature of the elongated 2021 season.
This isn’t a problem. If anything, it gives us additional time to let the rest of the playoff races sort themselves out. Between the additional week and the seventh playoff spot, there is still plenty to be decided.
The AFC has just one playoff berth clinched and, as irony allows, it’s the team that was constantly questioned throughout the year — the Kansas City Chiefs. On the NFC side, the current leader in the conference was also mixed up in some drama earlier, as the Green Bay Packers have exploded to the best record in the sport.
Once again, we still have two weeks left for this wildness to sort itself out.
The San Francisco 49ers Finally Hit a Wall
We’ve seen it with other teams countless times in the past — both this year and in basically every other season ever — but the 49ers put together an outstanding run, moved into a playoff spot, and promptly lost a key game. Are they done? Absolutely not, and they closed out Sunday in control of a Wild Card spot. The problem is that we knew there were flaws with the team, the quarterback had been doubted, and the public display of struggles served as a stark reminder that all is not well in San Francisco.
Until we look ahead to next week.
The 49ers had been 5-1 before falling to the Titans, but they now have the luxury of hosting the Houston Texans. Indeed, the Texans have apparently woken up after sitting dormant for the majority of the season, but we will see San Francisco take aim at them in an unofficial do-or-die setup.
The Arizona Cardinals Are Now in Pursuit
While the eventual regression of the aforementioned 49ers was clear for weeks, the expected drop in the Arizona Cardinals’ production was slightly more subtle. That is, I wrote about how the team was carrying a premium for quite some time while also noting that we couldn’t pay a high price forever.
Not only were the Cardinals overvalued, but they were also overrated.
Arizona has lost three consecutive games and erased its NFC West lead to the point where it is now chasing the Rams. What’s worse is that the team looks “off.” This was apparent on national television on Christmas night as the Cardinals managed fewer than 17 points for the second week in a row despite ranking in the top 10 for points and yards on a per-game basis.
If Arizona was subtly primed to regress, then it is now preparing itself for a positive correction. The short-term future looks bleak with a trip to Dallas on deck but, after what the Cowboys did to Washington on Sunday Night Football, we are sure to have tremendous value with the Cardinals.
The Bills Punch Back, Knock Down Patriots
One of the reasons why I love the NFL so much is because you can see the storylines developing and act accordingly. Sometimes, we can buy into them while others we look to directly oppose them.
In the case of the Buffalo Bills, we can watch it play out in front of us and take the appropriate next steps.
A few weeks ago, the New England Patriots walked into Buffalo and shut down the Bills. But, it wasn’t just the Patriots. The weather played a major factor and limited what both sides could do. On Sunday, the Bills had their full arsenal of plays available — even if not all of their weapons — and Buffalo rebounded in a massive way. It will enter Week 17 with the AFC East lead and a relatively easy game against the Falcons, followed by a near-freebie with the Jets.
New England may have just missed its chance to win the division, and both teams will likely be viewed far differently in the coming weeks than they were prior to Sunday’s meeting. Let’s keep that in mind when looking for value.
The Philadelphia Eagles are on the Brink of the Playoffs
Earlier in this column, I mentioned teams making a run only to lose at inopportune times, and the Philadelphia Eagles of a few weeks ago were prime examples of this. The Eagles had won three-of-four games, moved closer to .500, and then inexplicably lost to the Giants.
I write “inexplicably,” but it was completely explicable.
The Eagles ran into a “trap” game against a division team. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Weeks later, Philadelphia had an identical setup. It had, again, won three-of-its-last-four games — while this is true, I am overlapping some for dramatic effect — only to run into a “trap” game against that same division team. What happened this time? A win. A dominant win, at that.
The win was critical for Philadelphia’s playoff chances, but it goes much deeper than the numbers. The Eagles turned a corner prior to facing the Giants but weren’t ready at the time. They have now turned another corner and are peaking at the right time. The only question to ask is, “How will they close out the year?”
The Los Angeles Chargers
I have nothing else to add to the headline. The Los Angeles Chargers speak for themselves. They had the perfect opportunity to solidify themselves as a playoff team and failed. They lost outright to the Houston Texans.
The Chargers are now on the outside, looking in.
It’s not too late. Los Angeles will close out the year with two divisional games, neither of which feature the Chiefs as the opponent. Still, the Chargers have a long history of struggling when the stakes are raised, and Sunday’s loss to the Texans did little to erase that reputation.
Now, the hurdle to climb is that much bigger as the team has to move back into the playoff picture while simultaneously moving on from a heart-breaking disaster of a loss.
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.