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NFL: To Play or Not to Play

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/29/2006

It is the final week of the regular season, and a key handicapping factor to examine is: Who wants to play hard? For instance, the Dallas Cowboys are hosting the Detroit Lions Sunday. The Cowboys are off an embarrassing performance at home, a 23-7 loss to the Eagles, which probably will hand the division title to Philadelphia.

Dallas blew their big chance. All the players were talking about their awful performance, including coach Bill Parcells. Dallas can still clinch the NFC East with win, but needs the Eagles to loss. The Lions, meanwhile, have nothing to play for. Which team will be more up for the game?

There are some NFL head coaches who don't appear to be able to motivate their players, like Jim Mora in Atlanta or Art Shell in Oakland. A year ago it was Jim Haslett of the Saints, Mike Mularkey in Buffalo and Norv Turner in Oakland. In 2005 Oakland went 0-6 SU/ATS its last six games, as rumors were flying that Turner was a lame duck coach. Perhaps this season it is Mora, as the Falcons are 2-6 SU/ATS the last 8 games – incredibly, they were only an underdog in two of those!

Certainly the Jets, Broncos and Giants should be motivated this weekend, as if they win, they're in. On the other hand, what the heck is going on with the Giants? They have been sleepwalking the last two months, losing 6 of the last 7 games. Dissension and unhappiness abound. Rumors are that Tom Coughlin is on his way out, so that factor has to be considered. They are a road favorite at Washington.

San Diego can sew up the No. 1 seed with a win at home in the finale. They are one step ahead of the Ravens, who play earlier in the day. If the Ravens win, then the Chargers need to win, as San Diego lost at Baltimore earlier in the season, so the tie-breaker for the top seed would go to the Ravens.

Seattle is playing at Tampa Bay and is locked into the No. 4 NFC seed, so a win or loss won't change anything. Mike Holmgren may choose to rest starters.

The Patriots are in an unusual spot. They are the No. 4 seed and losing at Tennessee won't change that. On the other hand, should the Colts get upset at home to Miami, the Pats would move up to the No. 3 spot with a win. The Pats may choose to rest some starters, but if the Colts/Dolphins game is close, Bill Belichick may be scoreboard watching and be forced to put some starters back in. Week 17 of the NFL season offers the most unusual motivational wagering angles to consider.

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