How to handicap lame-duck NFL teams

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN.com) 

How should you handicap NFL games involving lame-duck teams?

Sunday’s NFL slate is packed with non-contenders sporting won-lost records of 6-8 or worse. Reality has set in for …

— In the AFC, the Jets, Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Oakland, Denver and the Los Angeles Chargers. 

— In the NFC, the Giants, Washington, Detroit, Atlanta, Carolina and Arizona, and Chicago has been eliminated with a 7-7 record. 

While an interesting “race” exists for the top few draft picks involving Cincinnati, Miami, the Giants and Washington, most of these eliminated teams are in a no-man’s land where results don’t matter. 

In such scenarios, history has shown it’s best to focus on young, up-and-coming teams that aren’t in the process of imploding. Any team in the early stages of a promising coach-quarterback combo is likely to focus on improving for next season. You’ll get effort and have the potential for a back-door cover, even if they fall behind a playoff contender. 

Stay away from teams already showing signs of implosion because of disenchantment with the coach or because the current stopgap quarterback won’t be there next year.

Putting together “market” Power Ratings can get tricky for late-season “exhibitions.” Point spreads warp if teams with playoff need are facing lame ducks, or if a team that’s clearly trying is facing one that’s just going through the motions. 

Here’s this week’s best guess from myself and VSiN’s Jonathan Von Tobel (“The Edge”): 

— AFC: Ravens 89, Chiefs 86, Patriots 85, Texans 84, Bills 82, Titans 80, Steelers 80, Chargers 79, Colts 78, Broncos 78, Browns 76, Raiders 75, Jaguars 75, Jets 74, Bengals 74, Dolphins 72.

The Jets are three-point underdogs at home Sunday against Pittsburgh (1 p.m., CBS). We use three points for home-field advantage to capture market standards. That puts Pittsburgh six rungs higher. We settled on 80 and 74. It’s unlikely Pittsburgh deserves to be 81 or higher, or the Jets 73 or lower. 

— NFC: Saints 86, 49ers 85, Seahawks 84, Vikings 84, Packers 82, Rams 82, Cowboys 82, Falcons 79, Eagles 78, Buccaneers 78, Bears 77, Cardinals 77, Panthers 74, Lions 74, Giants 74, Redskins 73.

The Giants were 2 through the week at Washington (1 p.m., FOX). That would equate to one point better on a neutral field. We went with 74 and 73 down at the bottom of the conference. 

If you don’t want to waste time and energy on games involving lame ducks, now’s a good time to start projecting potential playoff point spreads. As seedings coalesce, “market” Power Ratings will help you map strategies for game and futures bets. 

Recent spreads involving Baltimore show the Ravens gaining clearance from the pack. They were -6 vs. San Francisco and at Buffalo before laying a whopping 17 to the Jets and double digits Sunday at Cleveland. 

The market is already pricing the Ravens like champions. If you disagree, start developing your plan of attack.

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