NFL: Early NFL Kickoffs (1:00 PM ET, FOX & CBS)

NFL: Early NFL Kickoffs (1:00 PM ET, FOX & CBS)

The NFL is down to just two weeks remaining in the regular season, and Sunday’s board offers a big slate of key games.


The NFL is down to just two weeks remaining in the regular season, and Sunday’s board offers a big slate of key games. In fact, the early afternoon kickoffs are loaded with several contests affecting the playoff picture. Pittsburgh and Tennessee battle for the top spot in the AFC, New England hopes to stay atop the AFC East Division standings when it hosts playoff-bound Arizona, and Tampa Bay looks to improve its postseason prospects while eliminating San Diego from such consideration. Here’s a look at those games, including a Best Bet selection on one of them. Be sure to visit the LIVE ODDS, BETTING TRENDS, and TEAM STATISTICS pages for the latest key information.

Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North Division and a first round playoff bye with its win at Baltimore, but the work has just begun for the Steelers. On Sunday, they’ll look to take over the top spot in the AFC with a win at Tennessee. After the Titans’ loss at Houston, only one game separates these two teams. HC Jeff Fisher’s team, a 1-point home favorite, boasts a 15-3 ATS second-half record vs. good passing defenses (<= 175 PYPG allowed). The Steelers are 6-1 SU & 5-2 ATS on the road though and battle tested by one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. They are also on a 28-10 ATS run vs. elite teams winning 75% or more of their games. Predictably, the underdog holds the edge in the L9 games of this intense h2h series, 6-3 ATS. The OVER is 7-2 in that span.

(109) ARIZONA at (110) NEW ENGLAND
Apparently hungover from its division title clinching win in week 13, Ariozna didn’t wake up fully against Minnesota until down 28-0 in the second quarter last Sunday. Oddsmakers may envision a similar effort in New England, as the hosts are a lofty 9-point favorite. The game means a lot to the Patriots, who are in a 3-way tie atop the AFC East with two games to go. The unusually high line could have something to do with the Cards’ prior three trips this season to the northeast, as they allowed 128 points while going 0-3 SU & ATS. It will be the first time Arizona has visited New England since ’96. The Patriots have won the last four hh2 meetings, both SU & ATS. The matchup’s top trend finds HC Bill Belichick as 15-4 ATS vs. teams averaging >=260 PYPG.

(129) SAN DIEGO at (130) TAMPA BAY
San Diego needs help from the Bills up in Denver to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Chargers also have the tall task of trying to be the first team to beat the Buccaneers in Tampa. The Bucs are 6-0 SU & 4-2 ATS at home, having outscored opponents by 11.1 PPG. HC John Gruden’s team also has playoff aspirations of its own and fell to third in the NFC wildcard race after the OT loss in Atlanta. They will be looking for help from the Vikings or Ravens. This will be the start of two straight season ending games at home vs. the AFC for Tampa, who is 6-2-1 ATS in its L9 in that scenario. The Chargers have allowed 268 PYPG and 7.3 PYA on the road in ‘08, but Gruden’s teams are 1-10 ATS in their L11 second half games vs. poor passing defenses allowing >=235 PYPG.

Platinum Sheet Best Bet Selection: Like the story Ol’ Yeller, San Diego is a worn out dog ready to be put out of its misery. After living to see another day this past week at Kansas City, Sunday’s trip to Tampa should be more than enough to put the final nail in San Diego coffin for ’08. The Bucs have been literally unbeatable at home this season, going 6-0 SU while outscoring teams by over 11 PPG. The only reason they bring a two-game losing streak into this contest is because they ran into not one, but two buzzsaws over the last couple of weeks, first at Carolina, then at Atlanta. The season schedule is much more favorable in the final two weeks for HC John Gruden’s club, and I fully expect to see them in the postseason assuming QB Jeff Garcia plays. Outplay Factor Ratings say this line should be Tampa Bay -5.7. Anything less than that is worth playing. Play: Tampa Bay minus the points

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