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Michael Taylor 27th Dec 2008 - 15:41

Play-off picture starts clearing early

It's the final week of the NFL season and, with divisions to be decided and play-off places to be claimed, things could not be more exciting - or confusing!

The first two televised games of the day see the Minnesota Vikings welcome the NFC East champion New York Giants, while the New England Patriots travel to the freezing cold Ralph Wilson Stadium and the Buffalo Bills.

Both games have huge post season implications, although, for the Patriots, a win may still not be good enough to keep their season alive.

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

The Pats are in the unfamiliar position of having to rely on other teams to lose in order to reach the play-offs. Losing themselves will result in a surprise early elimination.

If both the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens win, New England are gone. However, if the Dolphins lose the Pats win the AFC East and, if the Dolphins win but the Ravens lose, New England get a wild card.

Just over a week ago it looked as though New England would easily hold up their end of the bargain against the AFC East basement sitting Bills, but last week saw the re-emergence of quality Buffalo football.

Their week 16 road win in Denver was a flashback to the start of the season as Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson denied the Broncos an easy play-off passage - they will be hoping to do the same to the Pats.

This could be Matt Cassel's last appearance for New England, after an impressive season has made renewing his contract a costly back office procedure.

The young quarterback will once again look for Randy Moss and Wes Welker and, if he finds his range, it will open the door for Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk to run the ball with great effect.

Despite Buffalo's win last week, this really should be a Patriots banker, making the 5/12 look decent value. However, the best value can be found in the 10/11 about more than 40 total points.

New England are no strangers to high scoring games with their last six games all containing more than 40 total points while Buffalo are not the most defensively sound team in the NFL.

New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings

Things are simple for the Vikings - win this match and qualify for the play-offs as NFC North champions.

The Vikings were many people's tip to do well this season but things have not gone quite to plan. Adrian Peterson, with help from Chester Taylor, have been forced to carry the team following near fatal quarterback problems.

Tavaris Jackson has quickly become Brad Childress' biggest headache as he continues to fall short but he will be forced to play due to an injury to journeyman veteran Gus Frerotte.

The Vikings defence, led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams has been tough all season but they will need to be shaper than ever to stop 'Earth, Wind and Fire' - also known as the Giants' running offence.

Brandon Jacobs has been formidable this season, wearing defences out before Derrick Ward adds the touch or Eli Manning provides the ammunition for Amani Toomer or Kevin Boss.

The biggest question that needs answering at the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome is, which team is going to show up for the Giants? The week 15 team that were appaling against Dallas, or the team from last week that battled for a great win against a strong Carolina Panthers?

The Vikings will hope for the former but, given their inability to beat Atlanta last week, it makes the 13/5 about a Giants win look a steal, while the Vikings at 5/16 look short especially with Tavaris Jackson's potential for failure.

New England @ Buffalo Bills betting

New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings betting

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