LAS VEGAS — After a miraculous comeback from a career-threatening injury, veteran quarterback Alex Smith helped revive Washington’s season. The Washington Football Team’s playoff hopes could hinge on his ability to make another comeback this week.
Smith’s inspirational story deserves the stage for game No. 256 — the NFL regular-season finale Sunday night — but can he return from a calf injury when Washington faces Philadelphia for a chance to clinch the NFC East title? If this were a movie, you would want to bet on him.
A division that has resembled a horror flick is at least coming down to a dramatic finish. Washington (6-9) would be in the playoffs with a win, and only the Eagles (4-10-1) are eliminated, but they can play the spoiler role. The Cowboys (6-9) square off with the Giants (5-10) in an early Sunday kickoff, with the winner taking the division if Washington loses.
“It’s unreal,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “We talked about this a long time ago that seven wins would probably win the NFC East, and six might still win it.”
The NFL expanded the playoffs to 14 teams this season, and seven of the spots are up for grabs heading into a wild Week 17. This is what the league wants — instead of several meaningless games, a majority of the matchups in the final week feature high stakes.
“I would say 75 percent of the games have relevance,” said Vinny Magliulo, a Las Vegas bookmaker and VSiN oddsmaker. “The good thing is the NFL recognized a few years ago it had to change the schedule in Week 17. The teams in contention are playing at the same time, and it impacts the bettors and the bookmakers. If the games are not meaningful, it’s a crapshoot.”
The Cowboys-Giants game might not ultimately determine the division winner, but suspense will hang in the air until the Washington result caps the night. Dallas has won three in a row while totaling 108 points, and the Giants have lost three in a row while scoring a total of 26 points.
Andy Dalton passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns Sunday as Dallas dominated the Eagles, 37-17. After the Cowboys-Giants line opened pick ’em at the Westgate SuperBook, early money pushed the Cowboys to 2.5-point road favorites.
“The Cowboys have been playing better, so there’s no reason for the Giants to be favored,” Avello said.
DraftKings opened Philadelphia -1.5 against Washington, which is desperate to get Smith back on the field. In Sunday’s loss to Carolina, Washington coach Ron Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins, who threw two interceptions, in favor of Taylor Heinicke — the fourth quarterback Rivera has turned to this season. Haskins was released by the Washington on Monday.
Smith entered the year No. 3 on the depth chart. In November 2018, he suffered a broken right leg and needed 17 surgeries to return to action. When Smith beat Cincinnati on Nov. 22 to earn his first win in more than two years, Washington was 3-7.
“I would likely take Washington at pick ’em or better if Alex Smith plays,” said Scott Kellen, a professional handicapper and VSiN analyst. “But if Smith doesn’t play, all bets are off.”
The Rams are another team in the playoff hunt facing QB problems. Jared Goff finished a loss at Seattle with a dislocated right thumb. He underwent surgery on his injured thumb Monday and was ruled out of the Rams’ regular-season finale. With Goff unable to go, the Rams will start John Wolford, who has not attempted a pass in the NFL.
Arizona needs to win and get help — a Chicago loss to Green Bay — to make the playoffs. The Rams, who need a win or a loss by the Bears to clinch a playoff spot, opened as 5-point home favorites against the Cardinals. Those two games will kick off at the same time in the late afternoon.
The Bears’ season has been a roller coaster, from 5-1 to 5-7 to 8-7, but they can clinch a playoff berth by upsetting the Packers, who opened as 4.5-point favorites and have their own incentives to win in Chicago.
Green Bay is playing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and Aaron Rodgers has another opportunity to make his case for league MVP. Rodgers passed for four touchdowns in the snow Sunday in a 40-14 victory over the Titans, but the Packers still must fend off the Saints and Seahawks for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The AFC postseason picture remains a game of musical chairs. Five teams — Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Miami and Tennessee — sit at 10-5 and one team will go home for the offseason.
The Browns are 7.5-point home favorites over the Steelers, who clinched the AFC North, and the line is inflated due to Cleveland’s greater sense of urgency.
It would not be Week 17 without at least one oddball line, and here it is: Chargers -2.5 at Chiefs. With the AFC’s top seed locked up, Kansas City coach Andy Reid must decide whether to sit quarterback Patrick Mahomes and some other starters. The Chiefs (14-1) are 0-6-1 ATS while winning their past seven games, and Rodgers has overtaken Mahomes as the MVP favorite.
“Mahomes keeps winning games,” Avello said, “but the Chiefs have been playing with fire for a while now.”
#Expanded #NFL #playoffs #wild #Week #betting #scenarios