NFL Week 14 preview: Carolina Panthers can stop tailspin

Christian McCaffrey will be important to Carolina’s chances of winning in Cleveland
Christian McCaffrey will be important to Carolina’s chances of winning in Cleveland

As the NFL moves into the final quarter of the regular season, every game matters. We look ahead to all the weekend’s action, offering odds and insight, and ask whether the Saints, Chargers, Steelers and Rams can overcome lofty handicaps?

All the odds are supplied by our friends at GentingBet.

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Week 1 seems a very long time ago. Remember when Tampa Bay dropped 48 points on the New Orleans Saints? The Saints went on to win 10 games in a row after that, while the Buccaneers have limped along to a 5-7 record.

Tampa Bay fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith in October after the Buccaneers gave up 2,200 yards of total offense in their first five games. Head coach Dirk Koetter took over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Todd Monken before reversing that decision.

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However, QB Jameis Winston has played some of his best football since being restored to the starting role (for a second time this season) and the Bucs have won their last two, against San Francisco and Carolina. They have lost their last five on the road since winning 48-40 in New Orleans, though.

The Saints come here on the back of a surprising 13-10 loss to Dallas, whose defense is decent, and it was happenstance that QB Drew Brees had a bad night. The Saints are now in an uphill battle to secure the No.1 seed in the NFC, with the Rams at 11-1 and holding a tie-breaker over the 10-2 Saints.

The Saints have lost their last two at Tampa and the last two overall, but they have never lost three consecutive trips or three consecutive games to the Bucs, and are considered 17/20 to successfully conceded 8 points on the GentingBet NFL handicap.

The Bucs, who are 14/5 to win, may get plenty of pressure on Brees, especially if left tackle Terron Armstead – who has missed the last three games – and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who was seen with his arm in a sling after the Cowboys game, are ruled out.

John Harbaugh is off the hot-seat in Baltimore
John Harbaugh is off the hot-seat in Baltimore

BALTIMORE RAVENS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Baltimore (7-5) has a chance of winning the AFC North after Pittsburgh (7-4-1) lost to San Diego on Sunday night, but the Ravens must maintain their momentum to stay ahead of the Miami Dolphins (6-6), Indianapolis Colts (6-6), Denver Broncos (6-6) and Tennessee Titans (7-6), who are all fighting for the wild card spot that the Ravens currently occupy.

Standing in their way are the Kansas City Chiefs, who struggled to fend off the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, although they eventually took their record to 10-2 and remain the No.1 seed in the AFC. The AFC West could still come down to a battle with the Chargers, so the Chiefs cannot take anything for granted and they must do without top touchdown scorer Kareem Hunt, who was released last Friday after footage appeared to show him shoving and kicking a woman.

The Ravens gained a big win in Atlanta, with rookie QB Lamar Jackson winning a third game – his first on the road – and with two wins from their last four games, will likely start thinking about a playoff spot. They are on a three-game winning streak and head coach John Harbaugh is off the hot-seat after a 4-5 start.

Kansas City can clinch a playoff spot with a win, something they have failed to achieve in three previous home meetings with the Ravens. Baltimore has also won four of the last five clashes.

Chiefs have been vulnerable defensively, ranking 31st in average yard per game (417.0), 27th in points allowed per game (27.2) and, crucially, 22nd in rushing yards conceded (122.0).

The Ravens boast the seventh-ranked rushing attack (129.2 yards per game) behind Gus Edwards, who has had the bulk of the carries.

They also possess a stellar defense, leading the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game (281.7) and points per game (17.8), so this will be a major test for QB Patrick Mahomes, who leads the NFL’s top-ranked offense, averaging 37.0 points per game.

The Chiefs are considered 6.5-point favourites at odds of 17/20, although the Ravens can be backed in receipt of 10.5 points on the alternative handicaps market at 8/15. It may not be a surprise if this game comes down to the special teams, and in Justin Tucker, the Ravens have one of the best place- kickers in the league.

Andrew Luck and Indianapolis were held scoreless last week
Andrew Luck and Indianapolis were held scoreless last week

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS @ HOUSTON TEXANS

With the Houston Texans continuing to find ways to win, the AFC South division is likely to be now out of reach for the Colts, whose loss to Jacksonville last week was a tough one to swallow.

They are now a full game behind the Ravens for the final wild card spot and need to rally if they are to make the post-season. If they beat the Colts, the 7-6 Titans would have to finish 3-0 to have any chance of overtaking them.

The Texans are on a nine-game winning streak but overall they are 1-2 against teams who currently boast a winning record. They have certainly befitted from an easy schedule and seek a third home win in as many weeks.

These two met in Week 4, with the Texans fortunate to come away with an overtime 37-34 win at Indy, having given up 464 yards through the air to Andrew Luck.

While the signal-caller failed to ignite his offense last week, laying a duck-egg in a 6-0 loss to the Jaguars, Luck has thrown three or more touchdowns in eight of 12 games this season and has also rushed for 583 yards.

The Houston defense is nowhere near as good as some would have us believe, yet sentimentalists among us would not begrudge defensive end J.J. Watt any success that comes his way after he helped raise $37 million for the victims of Hurricane Harvey (his initial goal for the relief fund was $200,000).

Colts have won four of the last five meetings at NRG Stadium, but they face a Texans unit that is only one of three teams giving up fewer than 20 per game. They’re allowing 19.6 to the Ravens’ 17.8 and the Cowboys’ 18.6.

To win, Indy must contain the Texans’ ground game. Colts allowed 91 or fewer rushing yards in three of its last four games. The Texans have averaged 172 over their past six. Something has to give.

The Colts are considered 4.5-point handicap underdogs and are 17/20 to keep within that spread, while the Texans are available at 13/10 to successfully concede 7.5 points on the handicap.

Tom Brady has not always had a happy time when visiting Miami
Tom Brady has not always had a happy time when visiting Miami

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ MIAMI DOLPHINS

Since 2001, New England is 14-0 in Week 14 games – except when playing in Miami. In two Week 14 games at the Dolphins, they are 0-2.

New England, who improved to 9-3 with a 24-10 win over Minnesota last week, can clinch the AFC East for a 10th straight season with a win and likely end the Dolphins’ chances of making the playoffs in the process.

The Patriots beat Miami 38-7 at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 30, but the concern for bettors is the Patriots are 4-15 at Miami in the month of December and are 16-37 all time in games played in Miami.

However, the stats don’t lie. The Patriots’ seventh-ranked offense faces Miami’s 29th-ranked defense and the Dolphins’ 29th-ranked offense takes on New England’s 22nd-ranked defense. Though the injury-plagued Dolphins are 6-6 and chasing one of the two AFC wild card playoff places, they face Tom Brady, who needs just one touchdown pass to break a tie with Peyton Manning and take sole possession of first place in NFL history for most career touchdowns passes all-time.

New England is 5-0 covering the handicap (against the spread) in their last five division games and 17-6 ATS in their last 23 road games, while Miami is 4-10 ATS in their last 14 games against a team with a winning record. They have, however, covered the spread in four of the last five at home to the Patriots.

The Dolphins are Evens in receipt of 6.5 points, but there will be plenty who think the Patriots can cover a 3.5-point handicap at odds of 8/15.

Aaron Rodgers has not had a great supporting cast around him in Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers has not had a great supporting cast around him in Green Bay

ATLANTA FALCONS @ GREEN BAY PACKERS

Neither team has much to play for except pride now. The Packers (4-7-1) fired head coach Mike McCarthy in a surprising move last week after a home loss to Arizona, and Joe Philbin will assume head coaching duties in the interim.

The Falcons (4-8) lost at home to the Baltimore Ravens last week, effectively ending their hopes of post-season play, and have won just five of their last 16 trips to Green Bay. The Packers have won the last two meetings at home and while the Falcons have won the last three meetings overall, they have never won four consecutive meetings.

It is perhaps worth noting that nine of the last 11 regular-season match-ups between the two have been decided by eight points or less, including six by three or fewer points, yet the Packers have distinct homefield advantage at this time of year – they are 24-6 at home in regular-season games in December/January.

Packers are 17/20 to successfully cover a 5.5-point handicap, while the Falcons are on offer at 2/1 to win.

Saquon Barkley has provided the spark that sees the Giants on the rise this season
Saquon Barkley has provided the spark that sees the Giants on the rise this season

NEW YORK GIANTS @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS

The 6-6 Redskins have now lost three straight games, a streak that began when quarterback Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury and Mark Sanchez, out of the NFL three weeks ago, took over from back-up Colt McCoy (who also broke his leg) in Monday’s loss to Philadelphia.

Sanchez is expected to make his first start since the 2015 season when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Giants (4-8), who beat Chicago in overtime, have averaged 29 points per game over their past four games, and won three of them.

The Redskins need a win to maintain their challenge for the division lead and a playoff spot, and as long as Adrian Peterson (856 yards and seven touchdowns) continues to defy Father Time, they will have a chance.

Their defense has been stout, allowing 21.4 points and 367.4 yards per game, but their record against the Giants is not a good one in recent times, having lost seven of the last 11 meetings.

With Sanchez struggling to complete even the simplest of passes on Monday night, you can bet the G-men will be pinning their ears back and going after the man who brought the phrase ‘Butt-Fumble’ to our dictionaries.

The NFL odds have the Giants as 3.5-point favourites on the handicap at 10/11, while the Redskins are 6/4 to win.

Todd Bowles is under pressure in New York
Todd Bowles is under pressure in New York

NEW YORK JETS @ BUFFALO BILLS

With both teams out of the playoff reckoning, December will be about the merits of each AFC East team’s quarterback situation.

The Jets will likely be looking for a new head coach very soon, as Todd Bowles has presided over a team that has lost its last six games, and his record is now 13-31 since taking over from Rex Ryan.

Those six losses also included a 41-10 home loss to the Bills, and their offense has stagnated to such an extent that it has scored one or zero touchdowns in a franchise-record five consecutive games. They led 16-0 in Tennessee on Sunday and still failed to close out the win.

Jets rank 30th in yards, 30th in passing, 19th in rushing and 26th in scoring, and need rookie passer Sam Darnold to return to the line-up after three weeks off with an ankle injury.

The match-up is intriguing only for die-hard fans who love flying yellow hankies and rookie passers, as Bills’ Josh Allen was taken four spots behind No.3 pick Darnold in the draft.

The big talking point is the Bills’ decision to cut ties with receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes earlier this week. Benjamin was an expensive pick-up, since they sent third- and seventh-round draft picks to the Carolina Panthers to acquire the former first-round pick of the 2014 draft. He managed a meagre 39 catches for 571 yards and two touchdowns in his time with Buffalo.

Buffalo’s No. 2-ranked defense still ranks first against the pass, even after giving up three TDs to Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and, rightly, the hosts are 4/9 favourites to gain a fifth win of the season after falling agonisingly short last week.

Jets have lost five of their last six trips to Buffalo but with Darnold possibly giving them a spark, they can be backed at 3/4 in receipt of 4.5 points on the GentingBet handicap.

Can Newtown needs to lead the Panthers to a win in Cleveland to maintain their playoff hopes
Can Newtown needs to lead the Panthers to a win in Cleveland to maintain their playoff hopes

CAROLINA PANTHERS @ CLEVELAND BROWNS

After a four-game losing streak which leaves their playoff chances in jeopardy with a 6-6 record, something had to change for the Carolina Panthers. The firing of defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary coach Jeff Imamura may not solve all their woes after a defeat at Tampa, but they may get the lift they need in Cleveland.

For the Browns have reverted to their bad old ways of being unable to stop the run. They have dropped to 28th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (136.4), 23rd in yards per carry (4.8) and 30th in rushing touchdowns allowed (15) after giving up 187 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry to Houston last week.

That’s bad news when facing running back Christian McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton, as the Panthers boast the league’s second-best running attack at 140.8 yards per game.

While these are not your Daddy’s sad sack Cleveland Browns, winning three of their last five home games, they are still a modest 8-19 ATS in their last 27 at home.

The Panthers have failed to cover the handicap in five of their last six games when a favourite of any kind and have lost five of their six road games. They have also been outscored by 13 points per contest in their last three road games – so it is understandable that they are only asked to successfully concede 2.5 points at odds of 10/11.

Case Keenum will look for plenty of play-action passing opportunities against the 49ers
Case Keenum will look for plenty of play-action passing opportunities against the 49ers

DENVER BRONCOS @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

The Denver secondary will be tested with Chris Harris’ absence, but possibly not this week. The 49ers are an injured team and one that is in the process of a rebuild. They would have the first pick in the draft if the season were to end today.

Injuries to the secondary have meant that the 49ers have one of the worst pass defences in the league, although Richard Sherman is a lone star and the hierarchy could not have dreamed he would be as effective as he has been since returning from an Achilles injury.

The Broncos (6-6) need plenty to fall right if they are to make the playoffs, but receivers Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders should have plenty of success in Santa Clara on Sunday. Look for plenty of play-action passes from QB Case Keenum, as the 49ers have done a poor job against such tactics, and this is one of the visitor’s strengths.

If Denver can shut down the 49ers’ rushing attack, forcing Nick Mullins to throw more, then Broncos’ pass rush of Vonn Miller and Bradley Chubb will become a factor.

The 49ers have won three of the last four meetings at home, but the Broncos are considered 5.5-point favourites at odds of 17/20. The 49ers are 4/6 in receipt of 7.5 points and 15/8 to gain their third win of the season.

Jeff Driskel must do without a few key weapons
Jeff Driskel must do without a few key weapons

CINCINNATI BENGALS @ LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Bengals looked poor in a 24-10 home loss to the Denver Broncos last week in a game that was not nearly as close as the score would suggest.

The 5-6 Bengals are mired in a four-game losing streak and injuries are mounting, with 14 players on IR, including four players who were starters at the beginning of the season – QB Andy Dalton, TE Tyler Eifert, TE Tyler Kroft and LB Preston Brown.

Of the 53 players on the roster for the regular-season opener at Indianapolis, 18 have missed at least two games due to injury.

Back-up passer Jeff Driskel may be without top receiver AJ Green and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn again this week, which will not make things easier.

The Chargers have won eight of their last nine, having gained a rare win in Pittsburgh last weekend, but they don’t have a great record against the Bengals, having lost four of the last five meetings, including three of the last four at home.

The Bengals will do well to limit the Chargers’ offense, led by QB Phillip Rivers, who has completed 69.7 per cent of his passes for 3,418 yards, 28 TDs and six interceptions. Rivers has two or more touchdown passes in each of his last 13 games.

There is some hope for the Bengals, who are considered 13.5-point handicap dogs at 17/20, as they rank second in the NFL in red zone offense. They have scored 13 TDs in their last 16 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

The Chargers are 11-24 ATS in their last 35 home games. Conversely, the Bengals are 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings at the Chargers, and 5-1 ATS in their last six meetings overall.

With the Steelers behind them and the Kansas City Chiefs up next week, this may appear to some as a potential let-down spot for the home team, but only the brave will play the 11/2 for a Cincinnati win.

Dak Prescott has been under pressure too often this season in Dallas
Dak Prescott has been under pressure too often this season in Dallas

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ DALLAS COWBOYS

A crunch NFC East clash takes place in Dallas on Sunday night, as the Cowboys bid to fend off the Super Bowl champion Eagles and maintain their slender lead in the division.

Something is going well in the Lone Star State, as the Cowboys are on a four-game winning streak, which is second only to Houston’s nine-game tear.

Dallas beat the Saints last week, with a stellar defensive performance in a 13-10 victory, but Philadelphia bounced back to beat Washington and reduce the chances of being a rare Super Bowl winner not to make the playoffs the following year.

Eagles are still at 6-6, a game behind the 7-5 Cowboys, but have the pass rush necessary to keep Dak Prescott on his back. Prescott has been sacked a league-high 45 times and he has put the ball on the ground 11 times this year. Fumbling the football has been a major issue and it may come back to haunt them at some point.

The Cowboys beat the Eagles 27-20 in Philadelphia in their first meeting, but the Eagles have won six of the last eight in Dallas and are 17/20 in receipt of 3.5 points on the Genting NFL handicap.

The Cowboys are 5-1 ATS in their last six against NFC East opponents and they have had four extra days to prepare for this than the Eagles, who played on Monday night.

Jaylen Samuels will help carry the load for Pittsburgh
Jaylen Samuels will help carry the load for Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ OAKLAND RAIDERS

This was always a classic match-up, particularly in the Seventies, when the Steelers and the Raiders met routinely in the playoffs. These days, it is usually the Steelers who are in post-season action, while the Raiders are on their couches in January.

Pittsburgh blew a comfortable lead 23-7 lead on Sunday night when the Los Angeles Chargers scored 23 unanswered points and went on to secure a 33-30 win. The Raiders lost 40-33 to the Kansas City Chiefs, allowing 469 total yards. Patrick Mahomes shredded Oakland’s secondary as he threw for 285 yards and four touchdowns.

Steelers will be without running back James Connor, who suffered an ankle sprain, and will instead run the ball by committee with Jaylen Samuels and Steven Ridley seeing most of the carries.

Steelers must be somewhat concerned by QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has tossed six INTs to 10 TDs in the last four games. Counterpart Derek Carr is aiming for his eighth straight game without an interception.

Oakland covered the handicap as double-digit dogs at home last week and the Steelers are asked to give up 9.5-points on the road at odds of 4/5.

All the time that receiver Antonio Brown is in the line-up – he has at least one touchdown TD catch in nine of his past 10 games – the Steelers will find holes in the Oakland secondary, and there will be some who think they will be value to cover a 12.5-point handicap at odds of 11/10.

Josh Rosen led the Cardinals to victory in Green Bay but is still having some rookie struggles
Josh Rosen led the Cardinals to victory in Green Bay but is still having some rookie struggles

DETROIT LIONS @ ARIZONA CARDINALS

This is another clash with very little riding on it as two teams with disappointing records meet in a race to the bottom of their respective divisions.

Arizona (3-8) shocked the NFL with a win in Green Bay as a two-touchdown underdog. Not that we should have been too shocked, as Buffalo similarly handed the Packers a beating as a 17-point dog earlier in the season.

A year ago, the Lions (4-8) won nine games and the Cardinals won eight. Now, with a month left, they’ve combined for seven wins.

Arizona has shown slight improvement since offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was replaced by Byron Leftwich, but winning at Lambeau was effectively their Super Bowl and it came at a price, losing a starting guard and one of the top two receivers. It may be that they suffer something of a let-down.

The Lions are coming off a home loss to the Rams and whether they can take advantage of a poor run defense is open to question. They do have a better QB in Matt Stafford, as Cardinals counterpart Josh Rosen is adjusting to life in the NFL in his rookie season.

However, bettors are in something of a quandary as the Lions are 1-4 on the road this season and they historically have a woeful record at the Cardinals, having lost 10 of the last 11 there, and 12 of the last 16 meetings overall.

Lions are 2.5-point favourites at odds of 17/20, while the Cardinals can be backed outright at 23/20 or 8/13 in receipt of 3.5 points.

Todd Gurley will test a Bears defense that struggled to stop the run
Todd Gurley will test a Bears defense that struggled to stop the run

LOS ANGELES RAMS @ CHICAGO BEARS

Two NFC divisional leaders, the pair with the best defensive records in the NFL, collide at Soldier Field in the early hours of Monday morning.

The Rams, who boast a league-best 11-1 record, have already sewn up a place in the post-season with four games remaining, and will look to take a step nearer securing the No.1 seed in the NFC following their win in Detroit last week.

Chicago (8-4) leads the NFC North despite losing in overtime to the New York Giants, with QB Mitch Trubisky sidelined for a second straight week. It may be that he will return, but it is unlikely to affect the current handicap line either way, which sees the Rams as 2.5-point favourites at odds of 4/5.

Rams’ running back Todd Gurley leads the NFL in rushing yards and while the Bears have the second-best run defense in the league, another premier running back, Saquon Barkley, burned them for 125 yards and caught three passes for another 21 yards last week.

It is surprising that the Bears rank 16th in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing yards/game, especially when their schedule has been a soft one. Of their four losses, only one win came against a team with a winning record. They have faced just four teams with a non-losing record (three of those games were at home) and are 2-2 in such games.

Rams have lost six of their last eight trips to Chicago, who are 13/10 to win, which is one of the reasons why the handicap line looks so small.

Mychal Kendricks’ return will help the Seahawks, who gave up over 400 yards to 49ers’ back-up QB Nick Mullins
Mychal Kendricks’ return will help the Seahawks, who gave up over 400 yards to 49ers’ back-up QB Nick Mullins

MINNESOTA VIKINGS @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

For these two teams, Monday Night Football represents something of an early start to the playoffs, as the Seahawks (7-5) have won three in a row and are currently the fifth seed in the NFC, while Minnesota (6-5-1) is a half-game behind.

The young Seattle cornerbacks face arguably their toughest test of the year against Minnesota receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and the Seahawks may also be without hamstring-strained offensive lineman D.J. Fluker.

While Minnesota is chasing Chicago in the NFC North following a loss to the New England Patriots, they may fancy their chances against a secondary that gave up over 400 yards to San Francisco back-up QB Nick Mullens last week.

The return of Mychal Kendricks should help get pressure on Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins, but the Seahawks will need to unsettle the usually unflappable Cousins.

The Vikings, who have lost six of their last eight trips to Seattle, are tough against the run and if the Seahawks cannot establish a ground game, QB Russell Wilson may not be as effective in setting up the play-action pass, as the offense likes to do.

Vikings have lost the last four meetings, but they have never lost five in a row to the Seahawks and some will think they may be value at odds of 4/5 in receipt of 3.5-points on the Genting NFL handicap.

Those seeking educated picks against the handicap spread may wish to take a look at Lindyssports.com, America’s leading football authority.

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