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After weeks of no teams clinching so much as their jaw, the NFL gave out playoff spots this week like Oprah dealing Volkswagens she’d never allow herself to be photographed in.
As we pen this from the MaximBet headquarters, the NFC’s playoff bracket is nearly full, with the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals all punching their tickets. The Cardinals have managed to limp in after a scorching start, somehow losing their way into the postseason.
The AFC remains up for grabs, with only the Kansas City Chiefs officially in at this point.
But with two open spots in the NFC and six in the AFC, our final two weeks have turned into a sprint. And if you’ve ever watched a marathon, you know that’s going to lead to a disaster because everybody who’s trying to lean into the tape is about to crap out.
With so much still on the table, a handful of games have added importance. You can think of them as playoff games to actually get into the playoffs. Because the loser of most of these will most certainly be watching the postseason from their La-Z-Boys.
Here are a handful of key contests I’ve hand selected from the NFL Week 17 odds at MaximBet.
Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts (-8)
Well, in what has to be the least shocking news of the season, Carson Wentz landed on the Colts Covid reserve list Tuesday, which means he’s out for 10 days at least. All preseason long I wrote that unvaccinated players would cost their team a chance at a title, especially these quarterbacks.
Here it’s happening. Indy looked very dangerous in the postseason. A run game travels and they bring as solid a defense as you can get. But Wentz had other ideas and just like fellow poster children Cole Beasley and Aaron Rodgers, fucked around, found out and fucked his team in the process.
Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans (-3)
The Titans won’t be eliminated with a loss, but could possibly find themselves in a battle for an AFC South division they’ve controlled since the season’s opening whistle.
Miami, thanks to Ian Book’s generosity (and that Kevin James has apparently replaced Sean Payton full time), holds the seventh seed in the AFC. Falling to Tennessee Sunday would knock them right back out of it.
Take the Titans -3.
Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers (-5.5)
No team is more confounding than the Chargers, who can show up one week, then forget to get off the bus the next. It’s a “home” game for L.A. Sunday, which just means that SoFi Stadium will be filled with Southern California-based Broncos fans, but at least the Chargers can probably find the stadium.
As for Denver, their chances here all come down to Teddy Bridgewater’s availability. As of this writing, he’s still in the concussion protocol and Drew Lock is warming up his interception arm.
Take the Chargers at -5.5 if Bridgewater is out. Take the Broncos at +5.5 if Bridgewater is in.
Cleveland Browns (-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers
Once again, Baker Mayfield had the chance to take his team down the field in the final minutes for a game-winning score and, once again, he never even got them past the 50-yard line. I’m not sure how many times Cleveland has to see this same movie play out before they ask Mayfield to pack up his Progressive commercials and move to another stadium.
As for the Steelers, this is Ben Roethlisberger’s farewell tour and that means playing the classics. This will be the 30th time Roethlisberger has faced the Browns. His record against them? 25-3-1. Big Ben’s going to close out his hometown setlist with the song everybody came to see.
Take the Steelers at +3.
Adam Greene is @TheFirstMan on Twitter.
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