With five games remaining in the NFL season, the push for the postseason can be an added motivator when it comes to covering the pointspread. For those teams in the hunt for a playoff spot, that’s good. But for those teams on the outside of the cutoff, that could be very bad.
We look at a handful of teams and where their motivations lie in the home stretch of the NFL season, and how you should treat the NFL sports handicappers odds from here out.
Oakland Raiders (6-5 SU, 6-5 ATS)
Oakland can already call 2019 a success. After winning just four games last year, the Raiders are on the uptick in Year 2 under John Gruden and are in contention for the playoffs. Oakland enters Week 13 in seventh place in the AFC standings, with a huge divisional matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday.
Oakland could tie the Chiefs for the AFC West lead with a win but beyond that – and failing to win the division – would be fending off a few competent teams for the last wild card ticket in the conference: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee. After that trip to Arrowhead, the Raiders have some winnable games and should be a play-on team for the remainder of 2019: at home to the Titans and Jaguars before closing out the season with road games against the Chargers and Broncos.
Carolina Panthers (5-6 SU, 6-5 ATS)
The Panthers aren’t going to the postseason, at least not when you run the numbers. Carolina isn’t officially done but would need teams ahead of it in the NFC standings to crumble in the five remaining weeks and, of course, the Panthers would need to win out all of their games as well. Carolina at least gets a head start welcoming Washington in Week 13.
The Panthers are currently 10th in the NFC standings and it would seem that either the Seahawks, Packers and Vikings are going to take those two wild card tickets. However, while Carolina may not have much to play for on the surface, quarterback Kyle Allen has mounds of motivation in the remaining games. With the franchise on the fence about Cam Newton, Allen needs to impress in the final month in order to secure his role as the No. 1 passer and send Newton packing. Following this week’s run-in with the Redskins, the Panthers go to Atlanta, host Seattle, go to Indianapolis, before finishing at home to New Orleans.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5 SU, 7-4 ATS)
It’s been a long season for the Steelers, who while still in contention for a wild card spot may be mailing it in for the remaining weeks. After losing star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1, Pittsburgh has been leaning on backup Mason Rudolph. However, head coach Mike Tomlin benched Rudolph in Week 12, turning to Devlin “Duck” Hodges for Week 13’s matchup with the Browns. The move makes sense, with Roethlisberger toward the end of his career and the team wanting to kick the tires on its quarterback prospects.
The crazy thing is that Pittsburgh is currently sixth in the AFC standings and if the season ended today, the Steelers would be in the playoffs. But, after this week’s home game with Cleveland – a huge emotionally-charged matchup after the infamous helmet-swinging incident – the Steelers have a tough final slate of games: at Arizona, home to Buffalo, at New York, and at Baltimore. With a third-stringer under center, motivations up in the air, and three road games in the final four weeks, Pittsburgh is a play-against option this month.