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: