26.

That’s the number of teams in the NFL currently that are within two games of a playoff spot. Only San Diego, Cleveland, Tennessee, Detroit, San Francisco, and Dallas are more than two games out with just five weeks left in the season. It is not impossible for them, but the odds against them are enormous. 26 other teams can still dream that they have a shot at reaching the postseason, although some of those teams(looking at you Baltimore) should plan on their season ending after week 17.

If you change that criteria to only one game out of the playoffs, you get 20 teams. This time, the Jaguars, Dolphins, Ravens, Rams, Eagles, and Saints are bounced from contention, although the Eagles are only one game out from a share of first place in their division. So as many as 21 teams are within one game of a playoff spot. That means these next five weeks will be filled with plenty of games that have actual meaning. That means there should also be plenty of “loser leaves town games” between two teams who both know they HAVE to win this game. Its always nice to have the last few weeks mean a lot to a large portion of teams in the league. It is not as fun when it is very clear coming down the stretch who is going to make the playoffs, unless your favorite teams is in that group.

So lets jump into week 13 picks and see which teams still in contention will strengthen their playoff chances, like the Packers did Thursday Night, and which ones will weaken their odds like Detroit did.

Falcons over Buccaneers

key stat: The Falcons are 1-5 in their last 6 games… they started 5-0. Many people, me included, anointed them as a sure playoff team. What happened? Freeman cooled off, and Julio stopped being so jaw-dropping dominant. That has hurt their offense for sure.

key stat: The Falcons are the 5th best team at guarding opposing teams top WR, thanks to Desmond Trufant. But are 19th in the league when it comes to guarding the #2 WR. Look for Trufant to shadow Evans, while Vincent Jackson draws the easier matchup. If Jackson can have a great day, or Evans can win his matchup, look for the Bucs to take this game.

Overall, I’ll take the Falcons. If they lose, I don’t know if I could ever pick them again this year, until next week of course because I am dumb.

Bills over Texans

key stat: The Bills rank 5th in the league in rushing yards per game, while the Texans defense is 16th in the league when it comes to stopping the run. LeSean McCoy could be in line for a big day if the Bills can win the battle up front.

key stat: The Texans have won four or their last five, and three straight. JJ Watt is also the league leader in sacks per game. The Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins is banged up, but looks good to go Sunday. That is a good sign, as he is the best offensive weapon the Texans have by far since Foster is out for the year. The Texans will need a big game from Brian Hoyer if they want to win Sunday.

I like this Bills team, especially if Tyrod Taylor is playing at an average level at the very least. When he does that, this Bills team looks poised to return to the playoffs. I’ll take the Bills.

Bears over 49ers

key stat: The Bears are arguably a few plays away from being 8-3 and on an 8 game winning streak. What? Does that sound biased? Alright fine, the Bears are 3-1 in their last four and appear to be a team that has hit their stride. They won in Green Bay on Thanksgiving Night. Their secondary ahs been better than I could have ever imagined. This is also looking like the week that the Bears have been the most healthy in a month or two.

key stat: The 49ers are still ranked dead last in DVOA. If they want to win, they are going to need to run the ball as the Bears run defense is still not the strongest. The bad news is that it appears that Carlos Hyde is going to be out again this week, leaving Shaun Draughn to handle the bulk of the carries.

The Bears are the hotter team coming in, but they are also the better team by far. Unless Blaine Gabbert can pull a career game out of his you know what, the Bears will enter week 14 at .500.

Bengals over Browns

key stat: The Bengals have lost two straight, but before that had won 9 straight. They also overtook the Patriots in total DVOA last week(not completely sure how that happened, but I don’t run the numbers so I am not going to question the math).

key stat: 24. Austin Davis is the 24th QB to start for the Browns since they got their team back. Why is Davis starting you may ask, well it is because the Browns are dumb. Davis is not a bad QB by any stretch, but Manziel is clearly the guy that you need to start the next five games. Sure, Pettine can stick by his guns and look like a tough guy to his team, but there is a pretty good chance that he is not the coach this time in two months. The GM needs to tell him to start Manziel because not starting him might hurt the team more in the long run than it will in the short run

The Bengals are clearly the better team, and how can the Browns bounce back from that loss last Monday night.

Jaguars over Titans

key stat: The Jaguars have won two of their last three. The last few Jaguars losses have all been close(11 or less), which is a promising sign for this young team. They are making improvements, especially Bortles. He was the one guy Jags fans needed to see improvements from coming into the season.

key stat: the Titans are 1-6 in their last seven games. Their season looked so much more promising after week 1 when Mariota went crazy, but I guess that is why they play more than one game. The Titans have one of the worst offenses in the league, and need to address their OL in the offseason if they want to turn that around.

The Titans may or may not have packed it in for the season, while the Jaguars still appear to have a spark.

Cardinals over Rams

key stat: The Cardinals have won five straight and have passed two important tests: A game in Seattle, and a game against a 9-1(at the time) Bengals team pissed off after being embarrassed by Houston on national TV. The Cardinals have been on of the strangest teams all season. They can go into Seattle and pull out a win and look good doing it, then barely beat the 49ers the next week. I would hate betting on the Cardinals if I could gamble, they probably would have cost me thousands by now.

key stat: Todd Gurley has averaged just over 43 rushing yards a game in his last three contests. All of those games were Rams losses. They will need to get him going against the Cardinals like they did in their first meeting when he rushed for 146 yards. The passing game needs a lost of help, but that assistance won’t arrive until the offseason.

The Cardinals are clearly the better team, and the Rams have no real passing attack.

Dolphins over Ravens

Deviating away from the stats for a minute, this Ravens team sure showed a lot of fight Monday. I mean, they are without their best three offensive players and their best defensive player. They also have Marc Trestman as their OC, Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen as their QB combo, and yet are somehow still 4-7. Dear NFL teams, next time you think that a Schaub/Clausen combo is a good idea, and yes I know that Flacco is hurt, you better start just praying to whatever you believe in that a miracle breakthrough in science happens so you don’t have to start either of those guys.

Honestly my pick of the Dolphins is rooted in all of those reasons I listed above. The odds just seemed so stacked against the Ravens to win each week, especially if Matt Schaub is going to shoot himself in the foot each week by throwing a pick-6. The Dolphins will be given every chance to win this game, and I think they can capitalize.

Seahawks over Vikings

key stat: The Seahawks have won four of their last five. But they just lost Jimmy Graham for the season. They are basically the same team as they were before they traded for him… except without the same run-blocking ability. Oh, and Marshawn Lynch is out, but Rawls is doing an admirable job replacing him. Is this the year that Lynch finally retires? Maybe.

key stat: The Vikings have won six of their last seven, so something has to give. Adrian Peterson has been key for them, but the Seahawks have a top five rushing defense this year and have not allowed an opponent to have over 100 rushing yards yet.

The Seahawks should be able to lock up Peterson, and rattle Bridgewater. Give me Seattle.

Jets over Giants

key stat: Despite only winning 3 of their last 7, the Jets are still tied for a wildcard spot. Revis is out this week, but the Jets still have a talented secondary. They will need to find a way to shut down OBJ if they want to win.

key stat: The Giants still have a great shot at winning their division, despite losing to Washington last week(not really a stat, but whatever). This game probably means more to the Giants, but we still have not seen that classic late season Eli game where he blows a game the team needs to win. I think that happens this week. The Jets have a great rushing defense, and Eli will need to have a good game for the Giants to win.

Broncos over Chargers

key stat: Brock Osweiler is now 2-0 as a starter in the NFL. One of those games includes beating Tom Brady and the previously undefeated Patriots. Yes the broncos should start Peyton if he is fully healthy, but I don’t think that he is going to be fully healthy for months. Brock actually looks good as the starter, or at least good enough where the Super Bowl is all the sudden a possibility for the Broncos.

key stat: Rivers is on pace for over 5100 yards, but the Broncos have the best defense in the league, and should be able to get pressure on Rivers and the Chargers shaky OL.

Unless Rivers throws for 700 yards, the Broncos will win.

Chiefs over Raiders

key stat: The Chiefs have won four of their last five. The Chiefs have a decent chance to make a run at a playoff spot, despite losing their best offensive player in Jamaal Charles. Fans forgot that Alex Smith never turns the ball over, and that defense is still pretty good, ranked 10th in yards allowed per game.

key stat: The Raiders are 1-3 in their last four. They have gone from surprise wild card contender, to a team that is a year away. The Chiefs could be what the Raiders were 5-6 weeks ago. Here is the thing, there are like 6 teams that could get an AFC wildcard. The Raiders don’t look like a team that will be competing for that at the end of the year.

The Chiefs appear to be the better team, headed in the right direction.

Patriots over Eagles

key stat: Brady is 40-8 in his career after he loses a game, and the Pats have not lost two straight games since 2012. This Pats team will be pissed off. Depleted, but pissed off. Gronk being out is going to hurt a lot, but this Eagles team has been bad this year. I’ll take Brady and ask questions later.

key stat: The Eagles have lost six of their last seven. The Pats are pissed off that Gronk got hurt, and could take it out on the Eagles. The best news for the Eagles is that the Pats are without, like, their top 100 offensive weapons(give or take 97). The Eagles have struggled to show any consistency.

I am not straying away from the Pats. I would rather be burned by the Pats than the Eagles.

Panthers over Saints

key stat: The Panthers have won 11 straight games this season. Cam Newton has become one of the top MVP candidates this season, and has been very crucial to the Panthers. Their D has also played a huge part, especially after dominating Romo and the Cowboys on thanksgiving.

key stat: the Saints are allowing the second most passing yards per game. Sure the Panthers don’t have an all-star cast of WRs, but Ted Ginn can get down field at least once. Greg Olsen could have a huge game. If Brees can look like the 2011 version of himself, the Saints could pull it off.

The Saints defense will not be able to stop the Panthers

Steelers over Colts

key stat: The Steelers have won two of the last three. They lost last week, and it did not help that Big Ben was out for part of the game. He is back this week, but how much confidence do you have he can make it through the whole week. However, when he is in, their offense has been zipping along. DeAngelo Williams has been a great fill in for Bell, and Brown is the best WR in the league when Roethlisberger is playing.

key stat: Matt Hasselbeck has been pretty good filling in for Luck. Like it makes you wonder if the Colts would stick with him once Luck is ready(no they wont, but that shows how poorly Luck has played, but also how good Hasselbeck has been).

Both of these teams really need a win, but I think the Steelers just have a better offense. That will be able to power the Steelers to victory.

Washington over Dallas

key stat: Washington has won two of their last three. Kirk Cousins has actually looked like a solid option at the QB position(cut to all Browns fans weeping because they could have had Cousins for a 2nd round pick). Washingotn has not been a terrible team this year.

key stat: ignoring last weeks game, the Cowboys have not won a game without Romo this year. Well they are without Romo for the rest of the year(sorry Jerry, you aren’t making the playoffs. But nice thinking, have fun spending the next two months how to justify resigning Greg Hardy… oh wait, you’ll just say he is a great leader). Romo being out makes it really hard for the Cowboys to move the ball.

Look, Cousins could have a poor game, but without Romo it may be impossible for the cowboys to win.

best bets: Chicago, Denver, Pats, Chiefs, Bengals. Deeper picks: Cardinals, Jaguars

Ted Van Green

Spark Sports Analyst

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