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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Week 17 of the NFL regular season is always so overwhelmed by talk about the playoffs that I’ve found it helpful over the years to work through my playoff handicapping through the season finale weekend. I outline the likely Wildcard Weekend matchups. I watch all the teams closely in their last tune-ups unless they’re resting their starters.

I can’t get specific about the teams I’m most interested in this Sunday or next week. I have to protect my selections for my paying clients (including my huge 200-unit play that goes Sunday December 27!). But, I want each and every one of you who are regulars here in my Advanced College of Sports Betting and Handicapping to follow that same general process this weekend. Don’t just sit in front of the TV rooting for your bets. Be thinking about the bets you’re going to win NEXT week too!

A great starting point for rating teams entering the postseason is to look at their won-lost records within the conference. Head coaches generally emphasize divisional games first (because winning your division gets you into the playoffs), conference games second (because of their impact on tie-breakers), and non-conference games last (because it’s hard to get your players up for all 16 games through a physically demanding season). If you throw out the non-conference results, you often get a very accurate picture of how competitive…or non-competitive the playoffs are going to be.

I’ll start with the playoff contenders in the AFC…

 

AFC RECORDS WITHIN THE CONFERENCE

Denver 8-3

New England 8-3

Indianapolis 8-3

Cincinnati 7-4

Kansas City 7-4

Miami 7-4

Baltimore 6-5

San Diego 5-7

Everybody is playing one additional conference game this Sunday. You can add in those results once the games are over. But, remember that a team like Kansas City may not even be trying this week because there’s nothing at stake. I’ve found it best to use these “next to last” records as the best indicators because lame duck season finales are excluded.

Very tight at the top…with a surprising showing from Indianapolis after their big win against the Chiefs last week. Denver will probably have home field throughout the playoffs. And, New England is likely to be a #2 seed. The tightness at the top suggests defending home field may not be a cinch for either bye team.

 

NFC RECORDS WITHIN THE CONFERENCE

Seattle 9-2

Carolina 8-3

New Orleans 8-3

San Francisco 8-3

Philadelphia 8-3

Dallas 7-4

Arizona 6-5

Green Bay 5-5-1

Chicago 4-7

Look at all of those teams who are 8-3 or better! This could be a knockdown/drag out fight in the NFC brackets to be sure. And, Green Bay could very easily be “8-3 caliber” if Aaron Rodgers is healthy again. If he’s not healthy, Chicago is going to get into the playoffs with a 5-7 conference record.

Seattle will very probably earn home field advantage through the playoffs with a win over St. Louis as a double digit favorite. They are going to be very tough to beat on that field. But, surging Arizona just showed that it could be done. Somebody from that 8-3 group is going to have a chance to match Arizona’s result.

Again, I can’t get very specific with my personal team assessments. What I’d like YOU to do as students is to go through those lists and try to determine:

 

*The most likely darkhorses or sleepers based on conference records

*The most obvious pretenders as compared to media expectations

*The teams with the most difficult paths to the Super Bowl

 

I’d encourage you to review strength of schedule in each of those cases too. Going 8-3 in conference against a tough schedule is much more impressive than going 8-3 against an easy schedule. There are a variety of websites using a variety of methods to evaluate strength of schedule. Use the site your most comfortable with. Or, you can do what I do and use your own team Power Ratings to make that assessment.

I have isolated a few plays I really love this Sunday in the NFL. And, I’ve already tentatively mapped out Wildcard weekend based on the most likely scenarios. This is a great time to sign up for my personal service if you’d like some help finding the best plays on the board. You can do that…or just test the waters with daily BEST BETS…right here at this very website with your major credit card.

If you’d like more details about available packages (that also include basketball), talk to one of my representatives in the Vegas-Sports-Masters home office at 1-888-777-4155.

This is a HUGE sports week here in Las Vegas. All the work you’ve done with The Dean of Sports Handicapping here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping was meant to prepare you for weeks like this!

See you again Monday to talk about handicapping the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day bowls. Then, I’ll get you prepared for Wildcard Weekend in the NFL on Friday. Now…go finish out lucky 2013 with a bang!

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