Playoff berths, Lions’ dubious mark in focus for final week

It’s finally Week 17, and, shockingly, 10 of the 16 games on today’s NFL menu have playoff ramifications.

The Denver-San Diego game tonight is a winner-take-all scenario in the AFC West, and no one is happier about that than referee Ed Hochuli, who actually is off the hook. Hochuli’s blunder in Week 2 handed the Broncos a 39-38 victory and gave the Chargers a granite chip on their shoulder throughout the season. No more excuses.

San Diego, an 8-point home favorite, can punch its playoff invitation with a win against the Broncos.

Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay, a die-hard Broncos fan, has watched his favorite team stage an epic collapse heading into the season finale.

“You could see the look of despair in the eyes of the Broncos after losing to Buffalo last week,” he said. “The Chargers had this game circled all year long and are finally playing with aggression.”

The AFC East champ also will be determined today, as New England visits Buffalo for a 10 a.m. kickoff. The Patriots are 6-point favorites.

Miami can clinch the division crown against the New York Jets, who are 3-point home favorites.

From the AFC wild-card perspective, those games also are directly connected to Baltimore, which is a 12-point home favorite over Jacksonville.

If New York wins and the Patriots lose to create a three-way tie with the Dolphins at 10-6, the Jets will be AFC East champions because of a better division record. If the Patriots win, the Jets can claim the final wild-card spot only with a win and a loss by the Ravens.

How painful would it be for New England to go 11-5 after losing Tom Brady and not make the postseason party? And who would have thought at the outset of the season that the Dolphins and Ravens would control their destiny at the 11th hour?

“At least with the Ravens, the case could have been made early on that their defense made them a contender for the playoffs,” Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Mike Seba said. “My hat goes off to Miami for the quick turnaround, but my ratings still aren’t that high for this team. The Dolphins greatly benefited from a very easy schedule.”

The NFC North representative hangs in the balance when the Minnesota Vikings host the top-seeded New York Giants, who are likely to rest many key players. The Vikings are 7-point favorites.

The Chicago Bears, 3-point underdogs at Houston, must win and hope Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s team plays with passion in Minnesota.

Carolina and Atlanta have secured playoff berths, but they will be shooting for the NFC South title and the important week off as the No. 2 seed.

The Panthers, coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Giants, will have to regroup as 3-point favorites at New Orleans. The Falcons are a virtual lock — as 14-point home favorites — to beat St. Louis.

“By far and away for me, Atlanta is the story of the year,” Seba said. “What Matt Ryan has done as a rookie quarterback is remarkable, but the fact this team has fared so well in a very tough division is the most telling part of the story.”

Despite all the distractions that have surrounded the Dallas Cowboys, they control their destiny against Philadelphia, which is a 11/2-point home favorite. The Eagles barely have a pulse, and they might be eliminated by kickoff should the Buccaneers take care of Oakland in Tampa.

And finally, the lowly Detroit Lions get one last shot at avoiding a winless season when they visit Green Bay, which is a 101/2-point favorite. At least the Lions catch a disinterested Packers team coming off a Monday night overtime loss at Chicago.

Though the Lions are bad and ominous history might be calling, Seba sees pressure on the Packers.

“Detroit is highly motivated for this game,” he said. “What Green Bay fan wants to go witness this? For the Packers, they have everything to lose and absolutely nothing to gain.”

Brian Blessing, project manager for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, can be reached at bblessing@lvsc.com. Listen to the LVSC oddsmakers on “Sportsbook Radio” at 4 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Radio (920 AM). Visit vegassportsconnect.com for more odds information.

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