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Ravens, Seahawks out; Bills, Titans and Falcons in

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd scores the game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds against the Baltimore Ravens in the final minute.
© USA Today Sports images

Welcome to 2018!  A sad New Year’s Eve for the Baltimore Ravens as a playoff berth slips from their grasp in the final seconds. Buffalo, Tennessee, and Atlanta lock up the final invitations to Wildcard Weekend. Let’s see how it all happened …

NFL: Baltimore Ravens rally from deficits of 17-3 and 24-10 only to blow 27-24 lead in final minute!
We’ll start our Sunday recap with the three most important results affecting the AFC playoffs. All Baltimore had to do was win and they were in. Same for Tennessee. Buffalo needed to beat Miami and get some help. 

Cincinnati (plus 8.5) 31, Baltimore 27 
Yards-per-Play: Cincinnati 4.8, Baltimore 4.2
Third Down Pct: Cincinnati 33%, Baltimore 29%
Turnovers: Cincinnati 1, Baltimore 1
Rushing Yards: Cincinnati 146, Baltimore 118
Passing Stats: Cincinnati 23-44-0-213, Baltimore 25-47-1-194
TD Drive Lengths: Cincinnati 78-72-90, Baltimore 6-61-45

Some of those stats scream “defensive struggle,” yet the Bengals had three TD drives greater than 70 yards (despite a low yards-per-play and unimpressive third down conversion rate). Baltimore couldn’t reach 200 passing yards on almost 50 attempts, but had its playoff tickets virtually in pocket until Andy Dalton completed a 49-yard TD pass on a fourth down play in the final minute. Cincinnati was helped by an interception return TD. You can see that Baltimore had a six-yard TD drive that was very cheap. More of a 24-20 game that would have been 20-17 without the heartbreaking bomb. That’s more in line with the stats (but isn’t any consolation to you Under bettors). 

Baltimore falls to 9-7, and misses the playoffs for the third straight year. Ravens used to be automatic. Cincinnati finishes at 7-9, which is what Buffalo fans were praying for. 

Buffalo (-2.5) 22, Miami 16
Yards-per-Play: Buffalo 5.0, Miami 5.3
Third Down Pct: Buffalo 42%, Miami 38%
Turnovers: Buffalo 0, Miami 1
Rushing Yards: Buffalo 126, Miami 93
Passing Stats: Buffalo 19-27-0-186, Miami 30-44-1-263
TD Drive Lengths: Buffalo 72-50, Miami 75-68

Buffalo methodically built a 22-3 lead, with dominance that isn’t expressed in that boxscore because Miami scored two late garbage-time touchdowns. The Bills were going to get the job done. Miami stayed out of their way until the game was mostly out of reach. Just a little tension in the final moments. Buffalo finishes 9-7 and sneaks through on a tie-breaker. That’s way above the market’s Regular Season Win total of 6.5. Miami finishes 6-10 to stay Under it’s pre-Tannehill injury assessment. The Dolphins were more like a 4-12 caliber team most of the season, even when Jay Cutler could start and finish games. David Fales played almost all of this one. 

Buffalo wins a trip to Jacksonville next Sunday afternoon. Same state! Tyrod Taylor is likely to have a lot of trouble dealing with the Jaguars defense. But Buffalo’s defense has a chance to disrupt Blake Bortles…who seemed plenty disrupted in Sunday’s loss at Tennessee. 

Tennessee (-2.5) 15, Jacksonville 10
Yards-per-Play: Jacksonville 3.8, Tennessee 3.7
Third Down Pct: Jacksonville 38%, Tennessee 38%
Turnovers: Jacksonville 4, Tennessee 1
Rushing Yards: Jacksonville 83, Tennessee 116
Passing Stats: Jacksonville 15-34-2-146, Tennessee 12-21-0-116
TD Drive Lengths: Jacksonville no TDs, Tennessee 82

Jacksonville’s only touchdown was on a fumble return. Tennessee had one good drive, but otherwise spent the day punting on its way to just 232 total yards. We’re going out of Nevada Rotation and chronological order today to get you the most important games first. This was basically Dallas/Philadelphia in terms of offensive ineptitude. That’s REALLY bad news for Tennessee. They couldn’t get much on the board despite benefitting from FOUR Jacksonville turnovers in a must-win situation. Jacksonville didn’t have much reason to breathe fire given they were locked into a home game next week. Tennessee had every reason in the world, yet kind of limped its way through. A trip to Kansas City next Saturday afternoon is up next. Quick turnaround for a team that hasn’t been playing well for weeks. 

Tennessee finishes the season in that 9-7 logjam. Jacksonville is 10-6…but market Power Ratings would have the Jags at least a TD favorite at home in a game that mattered to both. Tennessee pushes its Regular Season Win total from the summer. Jacksonville soared past its number. Remember when everyone was blasting “the sharps” for their foolish investments on the Jags? 

NFL: Atlanta Falcons clinch final NFC berth, on what felt like a “workmanlike” day across the league
Not much other drama in pro football Sunday. A few “lame duck” games. A few “playoff teams resting their starters” games. The important NFC matchup was Carolina/Atlanta. The Falcons “felt” in control more than the scoreboard showed through the late afternoon. You’ll see that in the stats in a moment. We’ll start this section with Atlanta’s win, then glide through the rest of the action in Nevada Rotation order. 

Atlanta (-4.5) 22, Carolina 10
Yards-per-Play: Carolina 4.1, Atlanta 5.2
Third Down Pct: Carolina 33%, Atlanta 38%
Turnovers: Carolina 3, Atlanta 0
Rushing Yards: Carolina 87, Atlanta 60
Passing Stats: Carolina 14-34-3-161, Atlanta 28-45-0-311
TD Drive Lengths: Carolina 78, Atlanta 75

Carolina was shut out of a bye “miracle” when Minnesota won earlier in the day. The Panthers knew they’d have to play next week. That 14-34-3-161 passing line from Can Newton suggests the Panthers mostly stayed in a shell. Though, it was 7-7 at halftime, and only 13-7 entering the fourth quarter. The Falcons would ultimately win total yardage 371-248 while daring Newton to beat them. Either he wasn’t up to it, and Carolina is going to get routed at New Orleans next week…or the Panthers were saving something special for the game that mattered most of all. 

Atlanta finishes the season 10-6, making it past its Regular Season Win total of 9.5 in what many expected to be a Super Bowl letdown. Carolina is 11-5, but hasn’t been scaring people for weeks. Its best recent result was a home win over a Minnesota team playing its third straight road game. 

Detroit (-7) 35, Green Bay 11
Yards-per-Play: Green Bay 4.1, Detroit 6.6
Third Down Pct: Green Bay 29%, Detroit 33%
Turnovers: Green Bay 4, Detroit 0
Rushing Yards: Green Bay 103, Detroit 51
Passing Stats: Green Bay 20-32-2-153, Detroit 20-29-0-305 
TD Drive Lengths: Green Bay 75, Detroit 88-14-71-59

Not going to comment much on the lame-duck games. Disappointing day for Brett Hundley, who can’t blame bad weather for this one indoors. Detroit finishes the season 9-7, which is better than expected if not good enough to reach the postseason. Green Bay’s season ended when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Packers finish 7-9. 

Tampa Bay (plus 6) 31, New Orleans 24 
Yards-per-Play: New Orleans 5.6, Tampa Bay 5.6
Third Down Pct: New Orleans 50%, Tampa Bay 72%
Turnovers: New Orleans 1, Tampa Bay 3
Rushing Yards: New Orleans 92, Tampa Bay 110
Passing Stats: New Orleans 22-30-0-231, Tampa Bay 28-51-3-345
TD Drive Lengths: New Orleans 65-92, Tampa Bay 75-75-95

With Carolina’s fourth quarter fade in Atlanta, New Orleans would still win the NFC South even if it lost here. The Bucs rallied from behind in the final moments to pull the upset. Jameis Winston was so mad after last week’s loss at Carolina, you had the feeling he wasn’t going to give up. Both teams had non-offensive touchdowns. A kickoff return for the Saints, a fumble return for the Bucs. New Orleans finishes 12-4 to fly over its Regular Season Win total of eight. The Saints host Carolina next week. Tampa Bay finishes 5-11, well below its projected .500 finish. TB management announced before the game that head coach Dirk Koetter would return next season. The Koetter/Winston combo had better produce in 2018. And the Bucs better build a defense!

New England (-16) 26, NY Jets 6
Yards-per-Play: NY Jets 4.2, New England 4.1
Third Down Pct: NY Jets 0%, New England 27%
Turnovers: NY Jets 0, New England 0
Rushing Yards: NY Jets 40, New England 147
Passing Stats: NY Jets 19-36-0-207, New England 19-40-0-183
TD Drive Lengths: NY Jets no TDs, New England 75-73-58 

Pats didn’t have to sweat the game they needed to clinch home field through the AFC playoffs. Finishing 13-3 puts them over the top of all Regular Season win total props. Those rose from 11.5 to 12.5 last summer. The Jets finish 5-11, but cleared anything from 2.5 to 4.5 long ago. Quick reminder again that knowing who can finish drives and who can’t is so important in “stat handicapping” these days. NYJ won yards-per-play. Pats only won total yards 330-247. But it was a blowout because Brady found the end zone then sat on the lead. Bryce Petty couldn’t convert a single third down in a dozen tries. 

Indianapolis (-5) 22, Houston 13
Yards-per-Play: Houston 3.9, Indianapolis 4.0
Third Down Pct: Houston 45%, Indianapolis 46%
Turnovers: Houston 1, Indianapolis 0
Rushing Yards: Houston 85, Indianapolis 146
Passing Stats: Houston 14-24-1-124, Indianapolis 15-25-0-104
TD Drive Lengths: Houston 75, Indianapolis 75-83

Chuck Pagano was fired after the game, despite the win. Both teams finish the season 4-12, after both were projected for double that last summer. Though, the Colts prop came off the board when it was clear Andrew Luck wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season. He still isn’t ready! 

Pittsburgh (-5) 28, Cleveland 24
Yards-per-Play: Cleveland 5.9, Pittsburgh 6.0
Third Down Pct: Cleveland 47%, Pittsburgh 30%
Turnovers: Cleveland 2, Pittsburgh 2
Rushing Yards: Cleveland 102, Pittsburgh 124
Passing Stats: Cleveland 16-30-1-272, Pittsburgh 23-27-1-224
TD Drive Lengths: Cleveland 74-60-68, Pittsburgh 72-28-75

Landy Jones played QB for Pittsburgh rather than Ben Roethlisberger. Some recurring themes here…with Pittsburgh’s defense softening up against a horrible opponent (clearly a strategy for them given that it happened so often). Then, of course, Deshone Kizer threw an interception. The Browns did break form and cover a point spread. Pittsburgh heads to the playoffs as the #2 seed in the AFC with a 13-3 record. Cleveland finishes a “perfect” 0-16 to nail down another high draft pick. That had already been locked up, but they couldn’t beat a backup quarterback here. Steelers were helped by a kickoff return TD. 

NY Giants (plus 5) 18, Washington 10
Yards-per-Play: Washington 3.5, NY Giants 5.1
Third Down Pct: Washington 8%, NY Giants 25%
Turnovers: Washington 3, NY Giants 1
Rushing Yards: Washington 61, NY Giants 260
Passing Stats: Washington 20-37-3-136, NY Giants 10-28-1-121
TD Drive Lengths: Washington 20, NY Giants 75-19

Similar conditions to Dallas/Philadelphia later in the card, and similar offensive ineptitude. Difference here is that there were two very cheap touchdowns. This easily could have been a 10-3 type game, as both teams wanted to get things over with given the lack of meaning (and warmth). Washington finishes 7-9, and stays Under its Regular Season win prop of 7.5. The Giants were market favorites to win the NFC East just before the season started. Injuries killed their season, leading to a 3-13 finish. 

Minnesota (-13) 23, Chicago 10 
Yards-per-Play: Chicago 3.8, Minnesota 4.9
Third Down Pct: Chicago 8%, Minnesota 38%
Turnovers: Chicago 0, Minnesota 0
Rushing Yards: Chicago 30, Minnesota 147
Passing Stats: Chicago 20-37-0-171, Minnesota 21-29-0-180
TD Drive Lengths: Chicago no TDs, Minnesota 70-71-63

Artificially close for awhile because Chicago had a punt return TD. Minnesota won total yardage 327-201, and had three TD drives of more than 60 yards whole the Bears’ offense couldn’t find the end zone once. Chicago’s had real trouble on the road with Mitchell Trubisky. He hasn’t shown much growth in these early swimming lessons. Minnesota is the #2 seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. Chicago finishes the season 5-11, matching expectations. 

Dallas (-4) 6, Philadelphia 0 
Yards-per-Play: Dallas 4.8, Philadelphia 4.0
Third Down Pct: Dallas 33%, Philadelphia 18%
Turnovers: Dallas 1, Philadelphia 2
Rushing Yards: Dallas 129, Philadelphia 70
Passing Stats: Dallas 17-30-0-172, Philadelphia 23-34-1-149 
TD Drive Lengths: Dallas 99, Philadelphia no TDs

Funny that the only TD drive of a nearly scoreless game was the maximum 99 yards. Nate Sudfield played quarterback for most of the game for the Eagles. No reason to risk injury in frigid conditions to Nick Foles. Philadelphia is the #1 seed in the NFC. But the Eagles might be very small favorites in their opener against a Wildcard Weekend survivor given the stacked field, and could conceivably be a home underdog to Minnesota if the bye teams advance to the conference championship. Philadelphia finishes 13-3, flying past its Regular Season win total (either 8 or 8.5). There had been skepticism about the Eagles in the summer because “Wentz couldn’t win on the road.” Dallas misses the playoffs at 9-7, barely staying Under the market estimate of 9.5. 

LA Chargers (-6) 30, Oakland 10 
Yards-per-Play: Oakland 6.3, LA Chargers 7.3
Third Down Pct: Oakland 36%, LA Chargers 54%
Turnovers: Oakland 2, LA Chargers 0
Rushing Yards: Oakland 105, LA Chargers 115
Passing Stats: Oakland 19-28-1-231, LA Chargers 28-37-0-380
TD Drive Lengths: Oakland 75, LA Chargers 99-75-77-82

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was fired after the game. Though all the pundits who assured you that the Chargers wouldn’t have any home field advantage this season kept their jobs. Jon Gruden was announced as the new coach later Sunday evening (as prophesied by Mitch and Pauly recently). You know the franchise wants to make a big splash before moving to Las Vegas. The Chargers needed Tennessee to lose to make the playoffs. They still finish 9-7, a couple of games better than expectations. Oakland falls to 6-10, and looked worse than that much of the season. This from the team that had more Super Bowl futures tickets than anyone else. 

Arizona (plus 8) 26, Seattle 24
Yards-per-Play: Arizona 3.8, Seattle 5.5
Third Down Pct: Arizona 29%, Seattle 8%
Turnovers: Arizona 1, Seattle 0
Rushing Yards: Arizona 116, Seattle 101
Passing Stats: Arizona 15-34-1-143, Seattle 18-29-0-195
TD Drive Lengths: Arizona 73-43, Seattle 80-60

Not apparent how Arizona jumped out to a 20-7 halftime lead with limited offense and no cheapies off turnovers. If you were scoreboard watching, the lame stats from both teams have to be a surprise. Seattle was just 1 of 12 on third downs in a must-win game (a win coupled with an Atlanta loss would have kept Seattle on the field for another week). Russell Wilson snuck himself into MVP discussions by following up poor first halves with great second halves. He lost that knack down the stretch, and the offense just floundered. Seattle finishes 9-7 despite being a consensus preseason pick to win the division. Arizona rallies to 8-8, but still may be in housecleaning mode by midweek.

Kansas City (plus 2.5) 27, Denver 24 
Yards-per-Play: Kansas City 5.8, Denver 5.2
Third Down Pct: Kansas City 36%, Denver 42%
Turnovers: Kansas City 2, Denver 3
Rushing Yards: Kansas City 110, Denver 110
Passing Stats: Kansas City 22-36-1-269, Denver 21-31-2-226
TD Drive Lengths: Kansas City 86-73, Denver 80-62

Interesting “pitching” matchup of Patrick Mahomes vs. Paxton Lynch. Will that be a quarterback war for the next decade? Lynch isn’t making much of a case for his end. More like evidence John Elway’s insanity. Both looked green. The score was inflated by one fumble return TD for each team. Would have been 20-17 without those. Kansas City heads home to host Tennessee next week with a 10-6 record. Denver finishes 5-11, and is rumored to be looking at another coaching change. Feels like a lot of recent franchise decision-making is Elway scrambling before he throws an interception. 

San Francisco (-5.5) 34, LA Rams 13 
Yards-per-Play: San Francisco 7.3, LA Rams 4.0
Third Down Pct: San Francisco 50%, LA Rams 33%
Turnovers: San Francisco 3, LA Rams 2
Rushing Yards: San Francisco 171, LA Rams 102
Passing Stats: San Francisco 20-33-2-292, LA Rams 20-34-0-149
TD Drive Lengths: San Francisco 82-57-60-53, LA Rams 72

Big numbers again for Jimmy Garappolo. Though he’ll need to be more careful next season when defenses are gunning for him. The Rams were saving themselves for next week’s playoff game. Today’s quarterback, Sean Mannion, played more like a minion but managed to avoid interceptions. San Francisco finishes 6-10, above all Regular Season Win props. The Rams were five clear of theirs with an 11-5 finish. 

NFL Playoffs: Early point spreads for Wildcard Weekend
Offshore and some Nevada locales were quick to post point spreads for next weekends playoff matchups. Here’s a look at the first numbers up as tweeted by Jeff Sherman (@golfodds) of the Westgate…

Saturday
Tennessee at Kansas City (-8/46)
Atlanta at the LA Rams (-6/50)

Sunday
Buffalo at Jacksonville (-8/42.5)
Carolina at New Orleans (-6/49.5)

We’ll let the lines settle before updating our estimate of “market” Power Ratings entering the playoffs. Initial moves were on underdogs Tennessee (to plus 7.5), Atlanta (to plus 5.5), and Buffalo (to plus 7). Our “Market Watch” will update periodically through the week. Plus, we’ll have expanded stat previews in advance of all four kickoffs. 

Back Tuesday for recaps of all five New Year’s Day college football games, with a special emphasis…of course…on the Final Four. College basketball is about to become much more prominent as we cover the road to March Madness from a market perspective. Greg Peterson will provide preview briefs for some very important Tuesday night matchups. No time to rest in VSiN City!

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