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For The Win: Week 17

NFL Picks Against the Las Vegas Lines

Here I am again this year, back for more NFL picks. Just like last season, I will still be picking all of the NFL games each week, but I will try and help some of you with some confidence and rankings of the selections - which also may assist those of you with Las Vegas trips. I tend to rate games that I like (and some extras like Over/Unders) with 1-3 "Stars", which basically highlight my best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars I don't truly like one way or the other, but will select to help those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools or other contests that they may be participating in either this week or this season.

Week 16 was relatively good from calling all the games (9-6-1) but the selections of teasers burned me once again.  That probably is off the table for Week 17, as the final week of the regular season is one of the trickiest of the year.  That said, historically I have done pretty well for the final week of the year, as I know what to look for when it comes to wrapping up the NFL regular season.  It all comes down to one word – motivation.  Some motivations are easy to see, such as teams shooting for a postseason spot.  Other motivations require some digging, but I think I have unearthed enough to call most – if not all – of these games for our final week. 

Don’t forget that I will be continuing my coverage into the postseason, and I think I have a pretty solid track record there as well, so be sure to check back each week all throughout January up to the Super Bowl, where I cover some interesting prop bets for the big game.

Now, for Week 17, it is important to understand which teams are motivated.  Just like last week, let’s talk about the playoff picture in each conference, at least briefly:

THE NFC PICTURE

Philadelphia (13-2) clinched a first-round bye and the #1 seed overall on Monday, but the win over Oakland was ugly.  They will be motivated to play well for at least a half at home against Dallas on Sunday, and then they get a week off for rest and practice for their next opponent at home.  I think they are motivated by that bad loss to put up a good performance in Week 17, and it does not hurt that they are facing Dallas, a divisional rival where no love is lost.

Minnesota (11-3) has clinched the NFC North but still need a win to get the bye.  Incentive enough.  As for the NFC West, the Rams locked that up and at 11-4 and will be the third or fourth seed in the NFC.  A win by Los Angeles puts them third, while a loss likely puts them fourth (they could still finish third if both Carolina and New Orleans lose).  The most interesting part about this is that the Rams may prefer to be fourth instead of third, as the fourth seed has a much more likely path to Philadelphia in the second round, and the Eagles look far more beatable then when the Rams lost to Philadelphia earlier this year.  Expect the Rams to take the foot off the gas and rest players this week.   

The NFC South is still the most interesting division in the NFL.  The Saints (11-4) beat Atlanta last week but need another win to win the division.  A loss opens the chance for Carolina (10-5) to steal the division with a win over Atlanta (9-6), but the Falcons need a win (or Seattle loss) to make the playoffs.

Our last team to mention are those Seahawks (9-6), who are on the outside looking in due to a tiebreaker that goes to the Falcons.  Seattle only makes the playoffs with a win and a Falcons loss, so the Seahawks are certainly motivated.

THE AFC PICTURE

Turning to the AFC, New England (12-3) and Pittsburgh (12-3) are getting the two byes, and the Patriots get home field with a win as they beat the Steelers earlier this month.  Both teams are motivated to win this week as a misstep by the Patriots opens the door for Pittsburgh to take over that #1 spot.

The AFC South (Jacksonville, 10-5) and AFC West (Kansas City, 9-6) have been won, and both the Jaguars and Chiefs are locked into their spots.  Jacksonville will be the third seed and the Chiefs will be the fourth.  Both teams could rest players this week since they will play the following week on Wild Card Weekend, but Jacksonville’s head coach Doug Marrone has already stated that this will not be the case.  That makes sense as Jacksonville was just embarrassed by the 49ers last week and need to get that winning feeling back, plus they face a divisional rival in Tennessee with playoff aspirations.  What better way to tune up for the postseason than to play a team facing elimination?

I do expect the Chiefs to rest a few players, as the road to winning the AFC West has not been easy.  There has been a lot of talk all year about getting a look at Patrick Mahomes, and this could be the perfect excuse to give him a start and get some regular season playing time.  Even on the road and starting Mahomes, the Chiefs are still favored in Denver.  More on that game later.

Since the Titans will be facing a good test against Jacksonville, the Wild Card spots will be a hot race on Sunday afternoon.  Baltimore (9-6) and Tennessee (9-6) are in “win and in” situations, while Buffalo (8-7) and the Chargers (8-7) both need help.   Buffalo can get in with a win and a Tennessee loss, which feels like the best chance for the Bills, but they are on the road at Miami and the Dolphins seem to have that role of spoiler down pat.  The Chargers must win, and hope Tennessee loses to Jacksonville and either the Ravens or Bills also stumble.  Overall it is clear to me that all four teams will be playing hard to win come Sunday.

There are some other forms of motivation (incentives, getting to 8-8, keeping up a win streak, etc.) that we will touch on throughout the article below, but overall the summary above will guide me through most of my selections for Week 17.  

Before we get started, however, I just want to thank you for reading this column this week and all throughout the NFL season.  I could not do this without you, and I am glad that you have enjoyed walking through the whole season with me.  Happy New Year and we'll talk more in the playoffs!

Now, with all of that in mind, here we go:

Note that the lines and Over/Unders are taken from VegasInsider.com.

Teams on a Bye Week – NONE (Byes are over!)

Teams coming off of a Bye Week – NONE

PHILADELPHIA (+2.5) vs. DALLAS 
The Eagles normally would be big favorites over the Cowboys, but the Eagles have nothing to play for as they are locked in as the top seed in the NFC.  Rumors are swirling that both teams may rest players, as Dallas is now out of the picture as well after losing to Seattle.  I never like siding with a team that is freshly eliminated, as the players take a bit of time to adjust to that bad news.  Throw in that the Eagles are home underdogs and may want to get some positive vibes for Nick Foles and the rest of the offense after a lackluster effort against Oakland on Monday and I see a path for a Philadelphia win.   PICK:  Eagles

GREEN BAY (+7) at DETROIT 
Similar logic here as for fading Dallas, Detroit is also freshly eliminated from playoff contention.  A team that cannot beat Cincinnati has no business playing in January, and now they must play out the schedule with a home game against the Packers.  Neither team is an easy call, but Green Bay knows their status and is getting a touchdown head start.  A win for the Packers gives them an 8-8 record, which is a small consolation prize, but overall this is a pick more against Detroit than it is for Green Bay.  PICK:  Packers

INDIANAPOLIS (-3.5) vs. HOUSTON 
If you live near Houston, you may have a shot at suiting up at quarterback for the Texans this week.  Both T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke were knocked out of the game against Pittsburgh with concussions on Monday, but Yates was able to return.  Yates may throw it 25 times at DeAndre Hopkins and hope that he and Alfred Blue can do something against the Colts, but Indianapolis looks like more of a solid team than Houston.  That is not as much a vote for the Colts as it is against the Texans.  I would avoid this game, but if forced to pick I like Indianapolis.  PICK:  Colts

MINNESOTA (-11.5) vs. CHICAGO
Finally, a relatively straightforward game to pick.  The Vikings earn a bye with a win over the Bears, so they are highly motivated this week to get that job done.  Chicago just got their fifth win of the season at home over the Browns, but it was Cleveland, after all.  The points are a sizeable number, but so is the motivation.  I am taking the better team and laying the points as I expect Minnesota to dominate from start to finish and win by at least two touchdowns, 30-13.  PICK: Vikings

NEW ENGLAND (-15) vs. NEW YORK JETS 
The Jets always seem to put up a solid effort, especially against a division rival, but this game is a tune-up for the Patriots on the way to earning the top seed in the AFC.  Tom Brady is going to target Rob Gronkowski quite a bit, as he needs 11 catches to earn a significant bonus of $2 Million if he gets to that total.  Either way, I expect New England to hold the Jets under 17 points, which they have done to their opponents in 5 of 7 games since their bye. I also expect New England to reach 33+ points themselves, a number they have met or exceeded 4 of 7 times over that same period.  Oh yes, the Jets are also starting Bryce Petty again this week.  PICK:  Patriots

WASHINGTON (-3) at NEW YORK GIANTS 
This game is entirely meaningless aside from a chance for Washington to finish the season 8-8 on the year.  The Giants were just shut out at Arizona last week and Evan Engram may have bruised ribs.  Washington looks like the safer pick of two teams playing out the string.  PICK:  Washington

PITTSBURGH (-13) vs. CLEVELAND  
The 1PM Eastern game slate ends with Pittsburgh hosting the Browns.  A win for the Steelers and an upset of the Patriots gives Pittsburgh the top overall spot in the AFC, but I expect that the Steelers will just be content on beating on the Browns like they always do and pushing Cleveland to 0-16 on the year.  Pittsburgh should easily win and cover the number, something like 31-13.  PICK:  Steelers

ATLANTA (-3.5) vs. CAROLINA
The late set of games looks to be where all the fun is this week. Atlanta is in a must-win situation and if they can take care of business at home against Carolina they will be the sixth and final team to make the NFC playoffs.  Carolina is likely locked in as the five seed but can win the division if they win and the Saints lose in Tampa Bay.  Word is that Carolina will play hard all game to get the win, but given that they are likely to be in action next weekend, they could pull players if the game is decided early in the second half.  Overall, I like taking a good home team laying just a little more than a field goal in a must-win situation.  PICK:  Falcons

BALTIMORE (-9.5) vs. CINCINNATI 
Baltimore needs to win this game to get into the playoffs.  Sure, there are scenarios where they can get in with a loss, but that is not how the Ravens want to head to the postseason. Cincinnati upset Detroit last week, but I do not expect them to get much production against the Ravens this week, although Baltimore is suspect in the secondary without Jimmy Smith.  I am concerned about giving up so many points, but Baltimore needs this game desperately and I think they have enough production on the ground and on defense to get the job done and cover that big number, something like 24-13.  PICK:  Ravens

KANSAS CITY (+3.5) at DENVER 
Kansas City seems to have nothing to play for, but that is why their young quarterback prospect may be starting this game.  Even if Alex Smith sits for Patrick Mahomes, either would be a better quarterback than Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch.  The bigger difference for me is that I believe that the Chiefs have a better defense right now than the Broncos, and defense travels well.  NFL teams cannot rest everyone as the roster is limited, and even the second-string defense can stop C.J. Anderson and whatever Lynch can offer as a passing game.  PICK:  Chiefs

JACKSONVILLE (+5) at TENNESSEE
This game is very interesting.  At first, Tennessee was a big favorite at -6, and the assumption was that the Jaguars would be resting players given that they are locked in as the third seed in the AFC.  All that changed, however, when head coach Doug Marrone said that they were “All in” on beating the Titans this week. After all, Jacksonville just dropped a game in San Francisco where the highly regarded defense gave up 44 points.  The Jaguars do not want to head into the postseason on a two-game losing streak, and they would like to knock a divisional rival out of the playoff picture.  I expect the Jaguars to play this game somewhere between a tune-up and a playoff contest, and I would not be surprised to see Jacksonville play all out for four quarters and win this one.  Tennessee also has DeMarco Murray with a knee issue, so there are tons of reasons to pick Jacksonville not just to cover but to win outright in this spot.   PICK:  Jaguars

SAN FRANCISCO (+3.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
As I write this, the line is shrinking fast, but if you can get the 49ers and a few points I would run to the bank with that one (or the money line at +110 or higher).  San Francisco just put up 44 points at home against Jacksonville, and Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing out of his mind since becoming the starter.  As for the Rams, they want to LOSE this game, but they would never admit it publicly.  A loss here pushes them to the four seed in the NFC, and they will host Carolina or the Saints.  A win at home and they likely head to Philadelphia for a rematch from earlier this year, but with the Eagles having to start Nick Foles, they like their chances better than facing a Minnesota team that roughed them up in Week 11 by a score of 24-7.  PICK:  49ers

BUFFALO (-3) at MIAMI
The Bills need a win to have any shot at the playoffs.  They need to go and take care of business on the road against the Dolphins in a rematch from just two weeks ago.  In Week 15 Buffalo defeated Miami 24-16 in Buffalo, but the game was not that close as the Bills held a 24-6 lead after three quarters.  Kenyan Drake had 78 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries (nearly a 5.0 yard per carry average) and that is clearly the weakness Miami will look to exploit. Jay Cutler threw three interceptions to Buffalo two weeks ago, so expect pressure on him to try and create turnovers.  Buffalo desperately needs this game so look for them to bottle up Drake just enough to get the job done.  PICK:  Bills

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-7.5) vs. OAKLAND 
The Chargers need a win and help to get into the playoffs, but all they can control is beating Oakland at home.  Los Angeles has far too many weapons on offense to be held in check by Oakland, who is heading back to California after a disappointing loss in Philadelphia late Monday night.  Oakland is ready to call it a season while the Chargers are hoping to be playing next weekend.  I expect Philip Rivers to lead his team to a 9-7 finish and a shot at making that happen.  PICK:  Chargers

SEATTLE (-8) vs. ARIZONA 
The Seahawks took care of business against the Cowboys last week and now they host an Arizona team coming off a somewhat impressive shutout of the Giants last week.  The Seahawks know what they have to do – get pressure on Drew Stanton and cover Larry Fitzgerald – and then buy time on offense to let Russell Wilson generate enough offense.  I expect all of that to happen and to give the Seahawks hope of making the playoffs should Atlanta lose to Carolina.  PICK:  Seahawks

NEW ORLEANS (-7) at TAMPA BAY
New Orleans is in the playoffs and they have a shot at not just winning the NFC South but also getting the third seed if they win and the Rams lose.  The Saints are going to be riding high after a big win over Atlanta last week, and a road win here would boost their confidence that they can do that again in the postseason.  Tampa Bay has put up some fight in December despite having nothing to play for, but New Orleans has too much firepower on offense.  New Orleans won the first matchup against Tampa Bay 30-10 in Week 9 (but with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center for Tampa Bay), and I expect a similar outcome this week.  PICK:  Saints

BEST BETS

Once again this year I will give not only the "Best Bets" but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 "Star" scale. The more stars, the more I like that side of the game.

* ONE STAR *

  • PHILADELPHIA (+2.5) vs. DALLAS 
  • MINNESOTA (-11.5) vs. CHICAGO
  • NEW ENGLAND (-15) vs. NEW YORK JETS 
  • WASHINGTON (-3) at NEW YORK GIANTS 
  • PITTSBURGH (-13) vs. CLEVELAND  
  • BALTIMORE (-9.5) vs. CINCINNATI
  • BUFFALO (-3) at MIAMI
  • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-7.5) vs. OAKLAND 
  • SEATTLE (-8) vs. ARIZONA 
  • NEW ORLEANS (-7) at TAMPA BAY

  • GREEN BAY “FOR THE WIN” (+280) at DETROIT
  • KANSAS CITY “FOR THE WIN” (+170) at DENVER 
  • PHILADELPHIA “FOR THE WIN” (+130) vs. DALLAS 
  • CAROLINA “FOR THE WIN” (+175) at ATLANTA (good odds) 
  • 7-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (8.9-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
    • BUFFALO (+3) at MIAMI
    • KANSAS CITY (+9.5) at DENVER
  • 8-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (12.75-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
    • BUFFALO (+3) at MIAMI
    • KANSAS CITY (+9.5) at DENVER 
    • BALTIMORE (-3.5) vs. CINCINNATI  
  • 9-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (18.25-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
    • BUFFALO (+3) at MIAMI
    • KANSAS CITY (+9.5) at DENVER 
    • BALTIMORE (-3.5) vs. CINCINNATI
    • PITTSBURGH (-7) vs. CLEVELAND   
  • 10-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (26-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
    • BUFFALO (+3) at MIAMI
    • KANSAS CITY (+9.5) at DENVER 
    • BALTIMORE (-3.5) vs. CINCINNATI
    • PITTSBURGH (-7) vs. CLEVELAND  
    • MINNESOTA (-5.5) vs. CHICAGO 
  • 11-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (37-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
    • BUFFALO (+3) at MIAMI
    • KANSAS CITY (+9.5) at DENVER 
    • BALTIMORE (-3.5) vs. CINCINNATI
    • PITTSBURGH (-7) vs. CLEVELAND  
    • MINNESOTA (-5.5) vs. CHICAGO
    • NEW ENGLAND (-9) vs. NEW YORK JETS  
  • 12-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (52-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
    • BUFFALO (+3) at MIAMI
    • KANSAS CITY (+9.5) at DENVER 
    • BALTIMORE (-3.5) vs. CINCINNATI
    • PITTSBURGH (-7) vs. CLEVELAND  
    • MINNESOTA (-5.5) vs. CHICAGO
    • NEW ENGLAND (-9) vs. NEW YORK JETS 
    • PHILADELPHIA (+8.5) vs. DALLAS

** TWO STAR GAMES **

  • KANSAS CITY (+3.5) at DENVER 
  • JACKSONVILLE (+5) at TENNESSEE
  • SAN FRANCISCO (+3.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
  • JACKSONVILLE “FOR THE WIN” (+170) at TENNESSEE
  • 2-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER:
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
  • 2-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER:
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
  • 2-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER:
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
  • 5-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (4.10-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
 
  • 6-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (6.1-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS
    • JACKSONVILLE (+11) at TENNESSEE
    • BUFFALO (+3) at MIAMI

*** THREE STAR GAMES ***

  • 6-POINT TEASER: NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY (UNDER 56.5)  
  • 3-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (1.65-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND
  • 4-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (2.65-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-2) vs. ARIZONA 
    • NEW ORLEANS (-1) at TAMPA BAY   
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND 
    • SAN FRANCISCO (+9.5) at LOS ANGELES RAMS

PICK(S) OF THE WEEK:  Minneapolis, New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Buffalo, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle, New Orleans

RESULTS

Last Week

  • OVERALL: 9-6-1 (60%)
  • BEST BETS (STARS): 9.75-23-1 (29.8%)
  • PICK OF WEEK: 5-5-1 (50%)

Season

  • OVERALL: 123-107-10 (53.0%)
  • BEST BETS (STARS): 248.79-252-7 (49.7%)
  • PICK OF WEEK: 69-52-4 (57.0%)

Good luck this weekend!

Questions, suggestions, and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com