Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys
This has the makings of a highly entertaining encounter. The 8-5 Buccs have lost only one of six on the road. While the 11-2 Cowboys have lost just once at home. It's Tampa though who are trending in the better direction. Their hunger for a play-off place is peaking and they've reeled off five straight wins coming into this. Dallas, by contrast, are starting to look a little jaded.
Dallas have won at home by an average of eight points. That barely covers the spread here. And it certainly takes no account of Tampa's tremendous away form. The Cowboys look to have the edge all round in terms of their game, both on offense and defense. But for me, it's still hard to get away from the quality the Buccaneers have shown on the road. For whatever reason, they have excelled on their travels. And these are no mugs they've been rolling over, with their victims including notables such as Atlanta and Kansas.
Tampa desperately need the win. They're locked at the top of the NFC South alongside the Falcons. Dallas could certainly do with the win, but to what extent does knowing they're already in the postseason take some of the edge off their game?
Tampa should certainly go into the game full of confidence. They're five games unbeaten. Whereas Dallas suffered an ego blow at the hands of the Giants last week. That win completed New York's double over the Cowboys and must have left some of the Dallas players wondering if their team is actually as good as everyone says it is. Dak Prescott was poor last week and was kept to under 200 yards. And while Ezekiel Elliott continues to be outstanding, I do worry that Dallas are in danger of running him into the ground.
Don't get me wrong, Dallas are still a very strong side. But even the best teams have dips in form, sometimes when they've achieved too much, too soon. And that could be the case for the Cowboys, who in their last three matches have failed to win by more than five. They did just enough to scrape past Washington and then Minnesota. Then last week their luck ran out.
They could still win this. But the handicap is quite big. And there are too many reasons to side with the underdogs, who offer great value both on the handicap and to win outright.
If Tampa are to stun America's Team, then their inspiration will come from one of two sources. Firstly, they're more likely to hurt Dallas through the air than on the ground. The Boys' secondary has proved way more fragile than its defensive line, while Tampa have scored 24 touchdowns through the air compared to just seven on the ground. Jameis Winston is averaging around 260 passing yards a game and has arguably the NFL's best receiver this year at his disposal in Mike Evans. If Tampa are to do well, then expect those two to play a big role. Cameron Brate is my play for the first touchdown though. He's hit a purple patch and now has six TDs for the season, which makes him a tempting call at a big price.
The second weapon that could swing this game Tampa's way is their ability to force turnovers. The Buccs' 14 interceptions are the third highest in the league. And that tempts me to have a dabble on their defense or special team hitting pay dirt at some point.
Tipping Tampa is a gamble of course, but for me it's the Buccaneers who offer all the value here, and at healthy prices.
5pts Tampa to win @ 3.90
5pts Tampa (+7.5) to beat Dallas @ 4/5
2pts Cameron Brate to score 1st touchdown @ 13.0012/1
2pts Cameron Brate to score anytime touchdown @ 17/10
4pts Tampa(+4.5) to win 1st half @ 4/5
3pts Jameis Winston passing yards Over 268.5 @ 5/6
3pts Mike Evans receiving yards Over 96.5 @ 5/6
3pts Cameron Brate receiving yards over 50.5 @ 5/6
4pts Ezekiel Elliot rushing yards Under 91.5 @ 5/6
Tampa Defense/Special Teams to score anytime TD @ 4/1
Carolina Panthers @ Washington Redskins
I'm going Washington all the way here. The 7-5-1 Redskins are still clinging to the hope of a playoff spot. And they're good enough to get one. They're also an intensely fired up unit, to the extent that quarterback Kirk Cousins is a bit scary at times, he's so pumped. Washington are mad for this and I just can't see 5-8 Carolina having any fight left to stop them.
The Redskins have been putting up some big numbers on offense of late and should be able to take advantage of a Panthers D that's been in total disarray this season. Carolina gave up 75 points over the course of their last two road games. Incredible. In one of those, against Seattle, they conceded more than 200 rushing yards. So Rob Kelley must be licking his lips going into this. Washington's big-bodied rusher has five touchdowns from six starts and is averaging a very healthy 4.6 yards per carry.
It's through the air though where Washington should do the real damage. Carolina's secondary ranks right near the bottom of the NFL, and looks incapable of stopping Cousins, who's averaging more than 300 yards a game and has topped 400 in two of his last six outings. Cousins loves to stomp opponents in to the dirt and win in style with a roar and a snarl. He'll smell the Carolina blood in the water and look to make them suffer. Cue big bombs downfield to DeSean Jackson, who on his day can make defenses look silly. This could be one of those days.
Tight end Jordan Reed has practised this week. If he, as is expected, returns then that's the final nail in the coffin of the Panthers. Reed is an outstanding receiver who gives Washington another level to their offense and frequently gets targeted in the end zone. If he plays, Carolina pays.
Carolina may have been poor this year on defense but they still have Cam Newton of course. He throws, he runs and at times he lives up to his 'Superman' billing. Here though, he'll have to escape a pass rush that's amassed the fourth most sacks in the league. Washington have struggled to cover tight ends, however, so Greg Olsen could be in line for a big day, especially if Newton's under pressure to get rid of the ball quickly.
When under pressure, Newton also likes to run his way out of trouble. And in between sacks, I can see him making some healthy gains on the ground. I also envisage him trying to lead from the front by running in a TD himself, as he's done five times already this year.
Even Superman can't save this day though and I fully expect Washington to win this by double digits, with Cousins looking to punish the Panthers right up until the bitter end.
5pts Washington (-4.5) to beat Carolina @ 1.9620/21 (recommended before lines moved)
3pts Cousins passing yards Over 286.5 @ 1.9620/21
3pts Greg Olsen receiving yards Over 69.5 @ 1.9620/21
3pts DeSean Jackson receiving yards Over 65.5 @ 1.9620/21
5pts Total Points Over 51 @ 2.0621/20
4pts 1st half points Over 24.5 @ [4/5]
2pts Reed to score 1st TD/Washington win double @ 12/1
2pts Reed anytime TD scorer @ 11/10
4pts Reed receiving yards Over 45.5 @ 5/6
3pts Chris Thompson rushing+receiving yards Over 35.5 @ 5/6
5pts Six or more touchdowns @ 4/7