It’s a Boxing Day bonanza of NFL action with more play-off places up for grabs and seasons on the line.
While the rest of us tuck into our leftover turkey, the gladiators of the NFL will be doing battle again in what is a true survival of the fittest with players landing on the Covid list at a hefty rate.
As always, check the injury and now Covid status of teams before having a bet on the games, as some high-profile absentees can prove a huge difference.
Here’s the pick of the early slate of NFL RedZone games including our Touchdown Double.
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
Games don’t come much bigger than this with not only top spot in the AFC North on the line but possibly a place in the play-offs full-stop.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh keeps going for it – for the second time in three weeks he turned down overtime by trying to win the game with a two-point try. Both times he’s failed.
With that last one failed play against Green Bay the Ravens went from top of the division and fourth seeds in the play-offs, to eighth in the AFC and outside post-season spots.
Defeat here could be terminal to their chances and Harbaugh has another big call to make in whether to bring back Lamar Jackson at QB or roll with impressive back-up Tyler Huntley.
But Huntley wasn’t the problem against the Packers, and against a Bengals team that’s already ripped Baltimore’s secondary once this season, their defence will again be the issue.
There’s no quit in this Ravens side so a win would not surprise anyone, but Joe Burrow and the Bengals are healthier and more confident and can cover a 3.5pt spread.
Rookie Ja’Marr Chase had 201 yards receiving and a score in the first meeting and can prosper again.
Best bet: Bengals -3.5pts at 21/20
Los Angeles Rams @ Minnesota Vikings
The Rams came up with a huge win over Seattle when they finally played on Tuesday following a big Covid outbreak in their squad, but now it’s a short week as they visit Minnesota just five days later.
LA are a better team than the Vikings so all things being equal the 3.5pt spread may look way too small come the end of the game, with the 10-4 Rams having won three in a row and now just a game off top spot in the NFC.
You never really know what you’re getting with the 7-7 Vikings, who have been in and out of the play-off spots this season. We do know we’re not getting the NFC’s leading running back as Dalvin Cook is out with Covid.
Minnesota have alternated two wins and two losses for the last 10 games, so with a scrappy win over a depleted Chicago Bears being their second in a row then expect a defeat here.
Matthew Stafford has plenty of experience facing the Vikings and if the Bears can put up 370 yards and make 24 first downs against Minnesota than Stafford could have a field day.
Best bet: Rams -6.5pts at 13/10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers
Tom Brady was shut out for just the third time in his long career last week as the Saints again beat up the GOAT. This smells like a big bounce-back game against the 5-9 Panthers, but it won’t be so simple.
Brady has lost some vital attacking components from his Super Bowl winning squad, with receiver Chris Godwin out for the season while fellow wideout Mike Evans and star running back Leonard Fournette are struggling with injuries.
Carolina have injuries too, and worryingly it’s in their secondary where they rank second in the NFL but without their three-season starters, they won’t be able to play like it.
The Bucs have won four of the last five meetings and can clinch the division with a win, while Brady is just three TDs short of matching Aaron Rodgers as the only QBs ever to have three 40-touchdown seasons.
With Evans and Godwin out, you may think Brady will struggle to throw four TDs here, but he won’t struggle to find someone in the end zone and find a way to win in a decent enough manner. The Panthers won’t have anywhere near enough to keep up.
Best bet: Buccaneers -9.5pts at Evens
Los Angeles Chargers @ Houston Texans
Justin Herbert emerged from their overtime defeat to Kansas City with great credit, but the Chargers will be kicking themselves after letting the lead slip late on and continually failing when going for it on fourth down.
Coach Brandon Staley continues to be aggressive but failing to punch the ball into the end zone from close range cost them – they could’ve kicked three field goals and likely won.
At 8-6, it still leaves the Bolts in sixth place in the AFC play-off standings, but it’s a cavalry charge for those spots with four other teams also on 8-6 and five more just a game back.
A visit to the 3-11 Texans as big 9.5pt favourites should get them back to winning ways, even with defensive star Joey Bosa out with Covid and star running back Austin Ekeler also on the list.
Houston also have plenty of players on the Covid list so much will depend on what sides the two can cobble together, but with Herbert there and his top receivers then the Chargers should put up more than enough points to win.
Best bet: Chargers to score over 27.5pts at 20/23
Ja’Marr Chase & Dawson Knox at 13/2
The Ravens’ secondary has been sliced once before this season by the Bengals, and with even more injuries now and playing away they won’t be able to stop Cincy from finding the end zone. Especially Ja’Marr Chase, as the rookie will celebrate his Pro Bowl appearance with an 11th touchdown of the season.
Buffalo will find it tough on the road in New England, but when the going gets tough QB Josh Allen often looks for big tight end Dawson Knox, who has eight TD grabs this season and three in his last four.