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Close Calls - Week 1
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Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week in Week 1 of the NFL regular season.

Buffalo Bills (-7) 21, New York Jets 12 (42): This AFC East opener featured limited offense as expected but the underdog Jets hung around, actually a failed two-point conversion away from tying the game late in the third quarter after a 75-yard drive was capped off with a Josh McCown rush. The Bills answered with their own touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter to lead by nine, past the spread though +9 was momentarily available on the Jets during the week. New York had four more drives in the final 12 minutes but wound up with a pair of punts and a pair of interceptions as the Bills held on.

Atlanta Falcons (-6½) 23, Chicago Bears 17 (48): The Falcons and Bears were tied at halftime but Atlanta connected for an 88-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to go up 20-10. The Bears managed to answer with a touchdown to get back to within three and then held the Falcons to a short field goal to put the margin at six, enough for most Chicago backers to cover although the spread did sit at -6 for a few stretches. A fumble on the kickoff return was a near disaster but the Bears retained possession and Mike Glennon led a drive to the red zone however they reached 1st and goal from the 5-yard-line with no timeouts left and only 21 seconds to go. On 1st and 2nd down Glennon’s targets let him down with catchable balls near the goal line but another incomplete pass followed and on 4th down Glennon was sacked to end the game, leaving the margin right at six.

Philadelphia Eagles (-2) 30, Washington Redskins 17 (49): The spread on this game bounced around tremendously over the course of the week and through three quarters the margin matched the closing spread with a 19-17 edge for the Eagles with only two field goals in the third quarter after 30 points in the first half. Early in the final frame Kirk Cousins was intercepted near the goal line for a huge turn of events for both the spread and total results and after trading punts the Eagles were in position to add points. Facing 4th-and-1 at the Washington 20-yard-line Doug Pederson took a timeout to deliberate but eventually kicked the field goal to put the Eagles up by five, past the spread but still at risk. On 2nd down on Washington’s possession just after the two-minute-warning the ball was hit out of the hand of Kirk Cousins in an attempted pass and recovered for a touchdown return. Replay made a strong case for an incomplete pass ruling but the fumble return stood as called. The Eagles added a two-point conversion for a 13-point final margin with the game staying just barely ‘under’ the total.

Detroit Lions (+2) 35, Arizona Cardinals 23 (48½): Arizona led 17-9 late in the third quarter but a David Johnson fumble handed the Lions the ball at the Arizona 10-yard line. Detroit capitalized with a touchdown but the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete. Detroit’s defense held while Matthew Stafford’s late game heroics from last season carried over to the 2017 opener with back-to-back touchdown drives. That put Detroit comfortably past the slight underdog spread up by 11 with about four minutes to go while also sitting just past the common total. Miles Killebrew would return a Carson Palmer interception for a touchdown on Arizona’s next offensive play for the Lions to seal the game in a fourth quarter that featured 26 points.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-10) 21, Cleveland Browns 18 (47½): The Steelers scored early on a blocked punt return and led 21-10 through three quarters despite limited offensive production. A Browns drive into Pittsburgh territory ended up with DeShone Kizer’s first interception on the 17-yard-line but the Steelers couldn’t put the game away as Ben Roethlisberger was picked off near the end zone as well in a big boost to the chances for the ‘under’. After a pair of fourth quarter punts Cleveland hit a few big pass plays and scored a touchdown with just over three minutes to go, also netting the two-point-conversion to make it a three-point game while also bringing overtime into the realm of realistic possibilities. Pittsburgh managed to pick up a few first downs to burn the remaining clock but the Browns wound up with the underdog cover.

Minnesota Vikings (-3) 29, New Orleans Saints 19 (47½): The Vikings were in relative command after scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the first half. The ‘under’ pace held with two third quarter field goals for only 28 points entering the fourth quarter. The Vikings put the game away with a field goal with four minutes to go for a 29-12 lead but the Saints pushed the total just ‘over’ with a touchdown just after the two-minute warning, though 48 was a common number before a Monday afternoon slide to 47½.

Denver Broncos (-3) 24, Los Angeles Chargers 21 (41½): Denver took control in the second half leading 24-7 at the end of the third quarter. As has been the case in the past, the Chargers made a great late rally sparked by an interception. With good field position the Chargers drove 43 yards for a score to get within 10 and the Broncos had a fumble two plays later to give Los Angeles another great opportunity. On first down Philip Rivers hit Travis Benjamin for a 38-yard touchdown to push the total ‘over’ and sit the Denver lead right on the closing spread. The Broncos missed a 50-yard field goal but the Chargers failed to take advantage and punted. Denver was pinned deep and couldn’t pick up a first down. Getting the ball back at the 38-yard line the Chargers had a great opportunity and they drove to field goal range in the final seconds. Icing the kicker with a timeout worked as Younghoe Koo’s 44-yard attempt to force overtime was blocked.

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