The Panthers, Jaguars, And Lions Are All Still Alive!

lions jaguars

Week 15 represents a dividing line of sorts in the NFL season. We’re finished with bye weeks — all 32 teams play every week from here on out. The postseason starts a month from now. For season-long fantasy football players, this is either the start of the playoffs or the final week of the regular season.

We’re at the point where anything that could be defined as “preamble” has passed. It’s go time.

And with four weeks remaining, three of the NFL’s most historically inconsequential, verbally crapped upon teams — squads you’ve never in your life felt overly comfortable wagering on, even when you’re getting more than two touchdowns with them, which you often are — are picking up steam and weirdly alive, despite being under .500.

The Carolina Panthers, whom you may recall not long ago let Christian McCaffrey go to San Francisco and entered tank mode, are 5-8, have won two straight behind Sam Darnold — a QB they’d basically given up on — and are one game out of first in the miserable NFC South.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are also 5-8, coming off a trouncing of the division-leading Titans in Tennessee to pull them within two of the AFC South lead with another head-to-head against the Titans remaining in Week 18.

And the Detroit Lions, the relative juggernaut of this trio, have won five of six to improve to 6-7 and are suddenly just 1.5 games out of a wild card spot after beating up on the playoff-bound Vikings on Sunday.

All three teams happen to be named after large felines — the fourth such NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals, ain’t doing badly of late either — so ponder which pun you prefer to describe this Jags-Lions-Panthers late-season situation: cat-aclysm, cat-astrophe, some sort of nine lives/nine losses reach. The options are plentiful. But damn if all three teams aren’t still scratching and clawing (see, told ya, plentiful options) with four games to go.

They’re each still longshot-ish to make the playoffs. At FanDuel, the Lions are +270 (-355 on the “no”), the Panthers are +320 (“no” -430), and the Jags are +440 (-650 to fall short). If you wanted to have some fun and bet separately on each of them to make the playoffs, you’re coming out ahead if any one of the three does. Or you could parlay them all together (if you can find a book that allows you to combine these results — FanDuel does not) and have yourself a real lottery ticket. Call it cat scratch-off fever. (My apologies, that one was particularly atrocious.)

In a Week 15 with nothing on the schedule that quite counts as a must-see marquee game between two closely matched serious contenders, the games featuring the feline trio are as compelling as any. Lions at Jets is almost a pick’em and is critical to both teams’ playoff chances. The Panthers are in the unfamiliar role of tiny favorite at home in a must-win against the Steelers. And the Jaguars suddenly find themselves not too big an underdog at home against the Cowboys.

These are huge games for three teams that probably weren’t expecting to have huge games at this point in the season. It’s meow or never. (Sorry. I really am. It’s a sickness. I can’t help myself.)

With that, let’s take a look at the rest of the opening lines and assorted betting odds and ends for Week 15.

The consensus lines

Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state. But here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for each of the 16 games in Week 15:

49ers (-3.5) at Seahawks
Colts at Vikings (-4.5)
Ravens at Browns (-2.5)
Dolphins at Bills (-7)
Eagles (-9) at Bears
Falcons at Saints (-4)
Lions at Jets (-1)
Steelers at Panthers (-2)
Cowboys (-4.5) at Jaguars
Chiefs (-14) at Texans
Cardinals (-1.5) at Broncos
Patriots at Raiders (-1)
Titans at Chargers (-2.5)
Bengals (-3.5) at Buccaneers
Giants at Commanders (-4.5)
Rams at Packers (-7.5)

Line move to watch

Most sportsbooks didn’t have a line for Arizona at Denver on Monday morning, which is entirely understandable given that the Cardinals still awaited Monday night’s game against the Patriots and the Broncos have no idea whether Russell Wilson will be out of concussion protocol to start instead of Brett Rypien. (Whether Rypien is actually much of a downgrade in 2022 is a whole different topic.)

If you have a hunch about Wilson or about what’s going to happen in Cards-Pats, you may be able to get ahead of a multi-point line move and set yourself up for a delicious middle opportunity. Or you may guess wrong and be giving up a couple of points of value to come later this week. All we can say with confidence is that this line is going to shift as the news develops.

Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider

Red Hot Rasky is back, baby! We went 2-for-3 last week, hitting with the Ravens and Chargers and coming respectably close with a longshot bet on the Jets. If you’d bet $100 on each of the three games, those wagers would have returned … $445, which really isn’t that spectacular. That’s because the Ravens and Chargers were barely underdogs, and it was almost a cheat to pick them.

Don’t tell Red Hot Rasky. He’s feeling good about himself. Here are his favorite moneyline values for Week 15:

Bronze medal: Jaguars +200 (BetMGM) vs. Cowboys. The Cowboys nearly lost to the Texans on Sunday. Repeat: The Cowboys nearly lost to the Texans on Sunday. You can get a team with some talent and hopes of playing postseason football against these Cowboys — at home no less — at a full 2/1? It’s worth a shot. The Jags are wildly inconsistent from week to week, but Trevor Lawrence’s confidence is growing and Dak Prescott’s is shrinking (or at least should be). Jacksonville has a shot here.

Silver medal: Ravens +125 (DraftKings) at Browns. If they’re going to keep giving us the Ravens as underdogs against the relative dregs of the AFC North, we’re going to keep taking advantage of it. Will Lamar Jackson be available? Doubtful. Will Tyler Huntley? Maybe. Will it be rookie Anthony Brown under center? Possibly. But he can’t be much worse than Deshaun Watson has been since returning and leading the Browns to exactly one offensive touchdown in eight quarters.

Gold medal: Rams +295 (DraftKings) at Packers. What a beautiful thing, to get almost 3/1 on your money to believe in Mayfield magic for one more week. Especially against a putrid Packers team with every bit as little to play for as the Rams. And especially after Baker Mayfield has studied the playbook for more than 24 hours. This is the kind of game where you bet it, you find something better to do with your Monday night — when was the last time you organized your sock drawer? — and you check the scoreboard around 11 p.m. Eastern and see if you have a sweat on your hands. If so, flip it on, and watch Baker bake.

Textbook teaser candidates

Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:

Bills: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em looking for revenge at home against the Dolphins.
Eagles: Can tease down to -3 or -2 visiting the thinking-about-next-year Bears.
Chiefs: Can tease down to -8 or -7 trying not to Cowboys it up against the Texans.
Packers: Can tease down to -1.5 or -0.5 hosting Baker and the Rams at Lambeau.

Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. Green Bay is a big ol’ “hell no” for me. And the Chiefs have been notorious the last few seasons for winning closer than they should, especially on the road. Eagles and Bills, though? That ought to be safe, with the Dolphins starting to turn into a pumpkin and the Bears having been a pumpkin almost all year long. We say settle for the -120 odds on a two-team, 6-point tease and call it a day.

Gadget plays

Here’s an odds oddity: As of Monday morning, a bettor couldn’t find plus money on the moneyline on either team in Jets-Lions, Broncos-Cards, or Raiders-Pats. A -102 on one of the sides was the best we saw at any sportsbook.
Speaking of minor oddities, FanDuel was an outlier Monday with the Commanders just -3.5 hosting the Giants, whereas every other book we checked had Washington -4.5. The Commanders winning by exactly 4 isn’t as enticing for trying to middle as a 3-point line would be, but stranger things have happened.
Jalen Hurts is now the third player this season to find himself the betting favorite to win MVP. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes have also spent time in that position, but now it’s Hurts — who was as high as 50/1 at some books when the offseason began — who has crossed over into the minus numbers everywhere. If he stays healthy at least two more weeks and the Eagles don’t lose any remaining games he plays (it’s possible they’ll rest their best players in Week 18), there’s no path to the MVP for anyone else. In other words, Hurts could be in position to clinch this award with a decent performance in a win at Dallas on Christmas Eve.
The Seahawks have lost three of their last four games, looked awful in the lone win (against the Rams), and have fallen out of the top seven seeds in the NFC ahead of tough games against the Niners and Chiefs the next two weeks. But it hasn’t tanked Geno Smith’s Comeback Player of the Year odds. He’s holding steady as a huge favorite — at FOX Bet, for example, Smith was -714 Monday morning. McCaffrey has entered the conversation at +650, followed by fellow post-injury RBs Saquon Barkley (+900) and Derrick Henry (+3500), while Giants offensive lineman Nick Gates, coming back from a broken leg, is on the board at +5000.
There was a fun note in David Payne Purdum’s “Notable Bets” column on ESPN.com Monday, about Broncos receiver Kendall Hinton’s yardage prop Sunday getting action at under 38.5, knocking it down to 37.5, at which point the over drew most of the bets. Hinton, probably best known for having to make a disastrous start at quarterback for Denver during the 2021 season due to COVID protocols, finished Sunday’s game against the Chiefs with five catches for 38 yards.

Photo: David Reginek/USA TODAY

Author: Ryan Gonzales