Each football season carries its own individual story. We try to uncover it with each passing week. 2017, in particular, had been incredibly reliant on trends – to our benefit – until the last few weeks. But, at one point in the year, we can start to abandon past histories and start looking to the finish line.
2017’s finish line might actually be closer than we thought.
Each team only has four games remaining in its schedule. One-quarter of the season still remains for every single franchise yet, in the early weeks of December, we are not talking, writing, or reading about playoff races.
The AFC East is all-but-guaranteed to go to New England. The same is true for the NFC East and the Eagles and the NFC North and the Vikings. The Steelers are only a game behind the “guaranteed” pace for the AFC North, but it would take a monumental collapse for things to change. Again, we have four full weeks remaining in the year, and we can basically hand half of the divisions to their current leaders.
Amazingly, even the Wild Card chases are not that competitive. Certainly, we see two teams that will lose the AFC West inserted in the Wild Card picture, but they are all one full game behind Baltimore for the final spot. The NFC might feature some drama with the 7-5 Falcons on the outside, looking in, but it would likely take a run by one of the 6-6 teams to add some fuel to the fire.
Otherwise, if the 2017 season wants to wrap up its playoff push early, so be it. If that’s the case, we don’t need to look to the narrowing weeks. We can continue to rely on the matchups, numbers, and patterns that got us here.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2017 Season: 37-35-4 (Last Week: 2-4)
(2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (3-Year Total: 183-158-7)
All Picks Against Spread – 2017 Season: 98-87-7 (Last Week: 6-10)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
If we view the teams in the NFC South as a set of stocks vying for top position in a sector, we can see some interesting trends developing.
As noted in last week’s column, the New Orleans Saints had used an eight-game winning streak in an 8-1 stretch not to secure sole possession in the division, but to share it with the Carolina Panthers. One more win against Carolina – which completed a season sweep – and the Saints finally stood alone.
The Falcons started the season as the defending champions not only of the division, but of the conference. As it tends to go, the Falcons were the de facto favorites to emerge on top, again. As it tends to go, twelve games into the season, the Falcons are in third place in the division.
The remarkable trait of the NFC South in 2017 is the resiliency that each team has shown in a race to the top. Elsewhere, we see teams like the Chiefs give back a large lead into what-has-become a tight race, but the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers are winning their way into a three-team battle. None have faltered.
This, of course, does not mean that the road has been particularly smooth. Carolina, New Orleans, and Atlanta have all suffered a loss within the last two weeks, and Atlanta and New Orleans have a combined seven division games over the next four weeks. The Saints home game against the Jets next week is the only non-division matchup left on the schedule for either team.
Suffice it to say, little mattered in the NFC South prior to these next four weeks. At least, in the standings. The teams and their respective paths to Week 14, however, are a different conversation altogether.