We are down to four teams and three games in the NFL season, and yes I do realize I didn't include the Pro Bowl because if you wager on that then you need help. People will debate this, but I still maintain that the four best teams are left. You can argue Seattle and Kansas City are better, but I just don't agree. I'll take the Broncos’ talent as a whole over quite a few teams in this league.
Record: 47-25-2 (2-1 last week)
New England Patriots (13-4) at Denver Broncos (13-4)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Meeting number two between the Broncos and Patriots this season will take place in Denver where they also played less than two months ago. The Broncos won that one 30-24 by virtue of a very good rushing attack that accounted for 179 yards. This also was the game where Rob Gronkowski left after an injury. We can't take too much out of that contest as Brock Osweiler started for Denver and actually didn't play too badly. There were a ton of injuries on both sides as well.
First off, let me say that this line is based on reputation and somewhat the recent play of both teams. New England is perceived rightfully so as the better team with a quarterback that dominates games when they really matter. With all the pieces in place offensively, the Pats dispatched the Chiefs last week and did so rather easily. Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes in the loss in Denver back in November, but the conditions also helped his receivers get open. If we were to base this game on the recency effect, of course New England should be favored because Denver struggled with an unhealthy Pittsburgh last week. The problem with this is that it doesn't consider the whole body of work.
The Broncos limped down the stretch, but they still have the defense to hold you down and the offensive weapons that can make you pay should Peyton Manning get them the ball. Manning's arm will be the discussion for a lot of the week because he's looked shaky. You know Bill Belichick is going to probably stack the box to make Manning beat New England with his arm. That will be the focus of a lot of analysts besides the Gronk matchup as Denver has struggled with tight ends all year long.
Bottom line is this; the public is going to jump on the Patriots. I don't know if we'll see the line move too much off of the crucial number of three. Denver has been a home underdog of three points or fewer twice already this season, covering and outright winning in both games. The first of these being the Week 12 home win against the Pats Nov. 29. I'm going with the home team in this one. I think the script has been written for Manning to get to one more Super Bowl. Denver's defense will make the one stop the Broncos need for to help make it happen. SELECTION: Denver +3 (Denver 24-20)
Arizona Cardinals (14-3) at Carolina Panthers (16-1)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (FOX)
The doubters only have one more game before the Panthers make the Super Bowl. It's funny to read the people who still don't believe in Carolina and want to see this team fail. I've enjoyed watching this run and enjoy watching this team. The Panthers are even tougher to stop when Jonathan Stewart gets going. The first half of the Seattle game last week was a scary proposition because Carolina’s offense sliced through a very good Seahawks defense. The second half also is a scary proposition because it was another contest when the Panthers let the opponent think they had a shot.
Arizona is playing its first road game in almost a month. The Cardinals nearly let one slip against Green Bay and that caused some fans to lose faith in Bruce Arians’ team. For the second straight week, Arizona showed no semblance of a run game. Luckily they have three top-notch WRs and a good quarterback to attack through the air. Arizona went 7-1 on the road, 6-2 ATS. The Cardinals’ defense has shown some leaks as of late especially against the run with Seattle and Green Bay accounting for 280 yards rushing combined the last two games.
To me, this is Carolina's world and we all just have tickets for the show. The Panthers’ defense has been incredible this season. I'm concerned about the secondary outside of cornerback Josh Norman being able to stand up to the challenge. The good thing is that the front seven can make things uncomfortable for the Cards. To me, the worst thing that happened for Arizona was that the Panthers let Seattle back in the game. Carolina will be focused for a full 60 minutes and win this one. SELECTION: Carolina -3 (Carolina 27-18)
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.