Where did they come from?

With four weeks remaining on the NFL’s regular-season schedule, a bunch of teams previously disregarded in the playoff races are now viable. Are they Super Bowl worthy? Nope.

But they are in the middle of the NFC and AFC races. Indeed, because of the underachievement in their sectors, a couple – Jacksonville and Carolina – could wind up sneaking off with division crowns.

So while we know the Eagles and Bills and Chiefs — possibly the Cowboys, 49ers and Bengals — appear ready for that charge to the big game in Arizona in February, it’s a good time to evaluate those contenders who more than likely are pretenders for an overall title.



Injuries have been a major problem for this bunch, as has suspect coaching. But the Chargers are beginning to get people back – they can’t go anywhere without receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams healthy —  and their schedule couldn’t be more inviting: home for Tennessee, at Indianapolis, home for the Rams and at Denver.

If the defense awakens, a wild-card slot seems likely. But remember, these are the unreliable Chargers.



Yep, even with no chance to win more than nine games, Jacksonville is in the mix. That’s because the Titans are reeling and the Jaguars are coming on.

Few quarterbacks in the league have been hotter lately than Trevor Lawrence, and coach Doug Pederson has this group believing. We don’t believe they can win their last four games (Dallas at home, at the Jets and Houston, Tennessee at home), but if the Titans keep slipping in the AFC South …


A flawed offense has turned New England mediocre, with the leaky offensive line a significant problem. The Patriots also haven’t beaten anyone of note, unless you want to count the Lions and twice against the Jets, who probably couldn’t defeat the Patriots if New York used 15 men on each side of the ball.

Still, they own the final wild card right now, with games at Las Vegas, home for Cincinnati and Miami, then at Buffalo – not an enviable schedule. Of particular interest would be if the Bills have already clinched their seeding in the season finale and rest people. Imagine Buffalo laying down and the Patriots moving into the postseason!



We’ve noticed the Falcons (also 5-8) being in contention in the muddy NFC South, but they have made a QB change and are slumping. Meanwhile, Carolina under coach Steve Wilks, is showing lots of gumption and resourcefulness. The Panthers don’t have anyone to fear remaining on the docket (home to Pittsburgh and Detroit, at Tampa Bay and New Orleans).

A win against the Buccaneers that might land both teams at 8-9 could be enough to make the playoffs.

LIONS (6-7)

Even if Detroit falls short, the energy and excitement emanating from the Motor City is contagious. Weak on defense but dynamic on offense, the Lions have gone from 1-6 to the fringes of a wild-card spot. Recent wins over the Giants and Minnesota when the Lions were the better team provide evidence Dan Campbell has them on track.

Will they derail at the Jets or Panthers before a home game with the Bears and a finale at Lambeau Field? Possibly – but they will be fun to watch.


Their tie with the Giants could wind up as a major benefit for the Commanders – only if they down New York on Sunday night. Ron Rivera, a superb coach who seemed on the hot seat early in the season, will have Washington ready for any opponent, particularly on defense. This group has spunk, though the talent level doesn’t compare to division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas.

Washington closes at San Francisco, then home to the Browns and Cowboys.


Colts at Vikings (-4)

The first of the three Saturday afternoon contests this weekend, and the one we like most for …


Steelers at Panthers (-2 ½)

Carolina can forget any postseason plans when it falls here.


Chiefs at Texans (+14)

Thanks to the Dallas no-show for most of last Sunday against Houston, our reliance on the Texans getting routed ended. We return to it here.

CHIEFS, 31-13

Eagles at Bears (-9)

Another rout in the making, though Jalen Hurts versus Justin Fields will be attractive.

EAGLES, 33-20

Rams at Packers (-7)

Future QB scenario for LA if Matthew Stafford retires: somehow securing Aaron Rodgers.

PACKERS, 22-13

Dolphins at Bills (-7)

Miami was thinking about a division title, now has to worry about a wild card.

BILLS, 27-16

Bengals at Buccaneers (+3 ½)

This might be closer than most folks expect.

BENGALS, 24-20

Giants at Commanders (-4 ½)

This won’t be closer than expected.


Cowboys at Jaguars (+4)

Dallas will be serious this time, but the Jags are no slouches anymore.

COWBOYS, 26-20

Falcons at Saints (-4)

Let’s see how Desmond Ridder fares as Falcons QB.

SAINTS, 21-20

Cardinals at Broncos (-2 ½)

Let’s see how two more backup QBs do in this almost unwatchable affair.

BRONCOS, 20-16

Ravens at Browns (- 2 ½)

Even with a third-string QB, Baltimore might have the edge.

RAVENS, 17-15

Lions at Jets (pick-em)

Detroit won’t score a lot of points at New York’s defense. Just enough.

LIONS, 22-20

Patriots at Raiders (+1)

Las Vegas is going to regret that flop in its last outing.


Titans at Chargers (-3)

Tennessee has stopped making sweet music.



Wilner’s 2022 RECORD

Last Week – Straight up: 7-5. Against the spread: 5-7.

Season – Straight up: 123-70-2. Against the spread: 100-89-6.

Best Bet – Straight up: 9-5. Against the spread: 6-8.

Upset Special – Straight up: 5-9. Against the spread: 6-8.


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