If you guessed last week that the Ravens, Eagles, and Bills – who were all in need of a win and playing against teams that had been eliminated from playoff contention – would be motivated, you were right.
If you went a step further and bet on them, you lost money.
Before you wager in the final week of the season, it is vital that you assess a team’s opposition, even if they don’t have a good record, and decipher what, if anything, they are playing for.
Baltimore lost to a Texans squad that had quarterback Case Keenum at the helm. Sure, Keenum had underwhelming stats in limited playing time coming into the game. But do you think he would like to change teams’ perceptions of him and earn a job next season? As the fourth quarterback Houston has used this year, Keenum knows the final two weeks are an audition with all 32 teams watching (or at least able to access the tape). A 2-0 mark would go a long way towards keeping his NFL career alive.
The Eagles laid an egg in Washington. The Redskins have questions at both quarterback and coach. Robert Griffin III is trying to prove he is still a viable NFL starter, while bench boss Jay Gruden just wants to see a second season on the sideline. Winning back-to-back home games against division rivals to close the year would make the decision to stick with the plan laid out last off-season a lot easier.
We’ve all heard the Jim Harbaugh-to-Oakland rumors. Maybe the Niners coach will move across the Bay, maybe he won’t. Only time will tell. If he doesn’t, interim Raiders coach Tony Sparano is making a pretty good case for being retained. Oakland has won three straight home games and, unlike many other teams near the bottom of the standings, Sparano has his squad fighting and clawing to win games down the stretch. Expect the interim coach, who knows that his coaching career may be coming to a fork in the road, to have his team fired up again in the last week of the season.
This week, the Texans host the Jaguars with Houston still having an outside chance at making the playoffs; Washington takes on a Cowboys team that they beat once already; and Oakland is getting a boatload of points in Denver, where the Broncos are playing for a bye. All three teams should be motivated and there is reason to believe they will play well.
Before we close for the week there’s one more curveball you might want to consider.
The 8-7 Bills have been eliminated and travel to New England in week 17. The team has not had a winning year since 2004, and they have lost six straight and 21 of their last 22 matchups against the Patriots. Buffalo last won at Foxborough in 2000. Buffalo would love to end the year 9-7 with a victory over the Patriots, and they may get some help from Bill Belichick. The Pats have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and should be doing everything they can to get healthy for the postseason. That means resting any key players who are injured or fatigued. Keep a close eye on New England’s injury report.
In sum, there are teams and players in the league who have nothing left to play for and have already packed it in. Others, whether it be certain individuals, or the entire unit, are highly motivated and playing very good ball. The Texans, Skins, Raiders, and Bills all merit your consideration when handicapping this week, even though they aren’t contending for the playoffs anymore.
(Image credit: Mr.schultz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image may appear cropped.)