NFL: Do-or-die Week 18
Week 17, the penultimate week of the 2023/24 National Football League (NFL) regular season, provided everything one could ever ask for at this late stage — upsets, blowout wins and comeback victories, mixed in with controversial calls (or non-calls) to set the stage for a wild and exciting Week 18.
Of course, several divisional places were decided, a few more teams clinched play-off berths, and another round of teams were eliminated from play-off contention. And after the results last weekend, there are three play-off spots still available in the American Football Conference (AFC) and only two up for grabs in the National Football Conference (NFC), with five teams in contention, in each conference for those spots.
Starting from last week Thursday (December 28), with their convincing 37–20 win over the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns became the third AFC team to clinch a play-off spot. The outcome ensured the franchise’s third postseason appearance since it returned to Cleveland in 1999, and a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday would give the Browns their most wins in a season since 1986 (12).
With 39-year-old quarterback (QB) Joe Flacco as play-caller since Week 13 against the Los Angeles Rams, the Browns are 4-1 under his veteran leadership and he is averaging 323.2 passing yards per game, surpassing the 300-yard mark in four straight games, making him the only QB in Browns history to do so. The defence has carried the team for the most part this season, but the addition of Flacco has made a major offensive difference and win or lose this weekend, the Cleveland play-off position will remain the same.
The Baltimore Ravens (13-3) and San Francisco 49ers (12-4) delivered emphatic statement wins in Week 17 and locked up the No 1 seed in the AFC and NFC, respectively. Last weekend, the Ravens made the Miami Dolphins look substandard in a 56-19 rout, while the 49ers made relatively easy work in a 27-10 win over the Washington Commanders. They both have ‘meaningless’ games this weekend — the Ravens welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow afternoon, and the 49ers welcome the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday — as the results won’t change their respective play-off position.
However, the Steelers and Rams have everything to play for as the Steelers can land a play-off berth with a win (and a bit of help from elsewhere), while the Rams, who already clinched a play-off spot, can improve their position with a victory. The Ravens and 49ers may take their foot off the accelerator this weekend to save something for the play-offs, which would make the results interesting, but if they go for the win, both home teams should secure victories.
By far, the most intriguing division in the NFL over the past few weeks has been the AFC South, where the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans have been locked with equal records and are now all at 9-7. The Jaguars own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Texans and Colts for the division lead, but they visit the Tennessee Titans early Sunday afternoon in a must-win situation, if they are to win the division — win and they clinch. The Jaguars are slight JustBet favourites heading into the weekend and are expected to prove the bookmakers right.
Interestingly, prior to the Jacksonville regular season finale, the Colts and Texans duel on Saturday night in an expected shootout. They both need the win, then wait for the Jacksonville result to know where they sit. The Colts are at home but have been given the underdog status by Justbet, however, if they win, they clinch a play-off berth, but if the Texans win, they will need the Jaguars to lose (or tie) tomorrow and the Steelers to get past the Ravens on Sunday. The Texans should win but expect a dogfight.
The situation in the NFC East division is precariously perched, as the Dallas Cowboys (11-5) and the Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) are in a neck-to-neck race. They both travel on Sunday afternoon — the Cowboys visit the Commanders while the Eagles visit the New York Giants — with every intention to stake their claim for the crown. Dallas takes the division with a win or a Philadelphia loss, but the Eagles must win and hope for a loss (or tie) by the Cowboys for them to have any hope for the title.
The Commanders and Giants have already been eliminated from play-off contention and can only play for pride (or maybe play the role of spoiler). Both the Cowboys and Eagles enter the games as JustBet favourites, with Dallas being the highest favoured team this weekend, and there is no foreseeable reason why the results won’t playout as projected. No surprises expected but pride is always at stake.
By far, the marquee game this weekend is the regular season finale on Sunday night in Hard Rock Stadium between the Dolphins (11-5) and the Buffalo Bills (10-6), in a game that will decide the winner of the AFC East division. Miami remained as the No 2 seed in the AFC despite their embarrassing loss to Baltimore last Sunday, and are 7-1 at home this season, but enter the weekend as slight JustBet underdogs.
The Bills ran over the Dolphins 48-20 in Buffalo last October when Miami was running roughshod over all comers, and the bookmakers are expecting a similar outcome on Sunday night. The Bills have won three straight and 10 of the past 11 games over the Dolphins, and in those 11 games, they’ve averaged 35.5 points-per-game.
The Dolphins have only beaten one team with a winning record this season (Dallas Cowboys), while the Bills are playing their best ball of the season, having won 4 straight on the strength of their defense and running game. To be fair, the Dolphins still have one of the most potent offences in the league, but recent offensive miscues have not inspired much confidence.
The Dolphins only need a tie to win the division, while the Bills need the win to not only take the division crown but might not make the play-offs if they lose (depending on the results prior to the game). Unfortunately for Miami, they will be without linebacker Bradley Chubb, who tore his right ACL last week, and are also bracing for the possibility of playing without wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. They are, however, hopeful for the return of running back Raheem Mostert, who missed the Week 17 game with an ankle injury. This game is hard to call, but brace for impact as it should be fast and furious.
There is still a lot at stake and a lot to play for. Excitement awaits every turn this weekend and it’s do-or-die in many situations. Buckle up and enjoy the ride…… Are you ready for some football?
JustBet continues to offer attractive betting options on all popular sports and events (including virtual games) as soon as they become available. Please visit one of the over 130 locations (or visit mobile.justbetja.com) for details and place your bets on the prediction of your choice for maximum winnings…… Get in the GAME!