I went 4-3 in my contest last week. On Saturday, I decided to lock in the Buccaneers -9.5 and Raiders +3 based on early line moves that I saw during the morning. It was a risk because I wouldn’t be able to change any of my picks on Sunday, but I would’ve ended up using those five sides even if I waited until Sunday morning.
Betting in Week 17 is much different than betting during any other point in the NFL regular season because there’s a lot of breaking news and motivational factors that need to be considered. It’s important to know if teams have something to play for and if postseason contenders will rest their starters in preparation for the playoffs. Making wagers early in the week can be risky, so I’ll personally wait to bet closer to Sunday.
The best advice I can give you at this stage is to remember that if a team is in a must-win situation, it doesn’t guarantee they will come out victorious — or even cover. The odds are inflated in that squad’s favor and the best value usually comes by backing the other side, especially if the underdog has embraced the “spoiler” mindset.
Note: My picks could change based on information and any news that is not factored into the contest line. I will discuss and finalize these picks on a Periscope show I host called Weekend Warriors. The show will be live for an hour on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on Stadium’s Periscope channel or Stadium’s Twitter.
Here are my thoughts for Week 17.
Games That Matter for Both Teams
Cowboys (-3) at Giants: The winner of this game will have a chance to win the NFC East. If Washington loses to the Eagles on Sunday night then the winning team will host a playoff game next week. This line re-opened at a pick’em shortly after the Cowboys put the finishing touches on their 37-17 win over the Eagles. Dallas has taken the early money, and it makes sense with the Cowboys on a three-game winning streak and the Giants having dropped their last three games. The Cowboys will be the public pick, but getting the Giants +3 is a very tempting bet to make knowing each team has maximum motivation for this one.
Steelers at Browns (-10): The Steelers clinched their division in Week 16 after overcoming a 17-point deficit in the second half against the Colts. Pittsburgh could still get the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a win and Bills loss, but seeding is less important this season due to there only being one first-round bye and hardly any fans in attendance at games. On Tuesday, the Steelers announced that Mason Rudolph will start instead of Ben Roethlisberger and this line jumped to double digits. The Browns lost to the Jets last week but were helped by the Steelers’ victory, so now Cleveland just needs to win this game to make the postseason. The Browns should win, but I wouldn’t be in any rush to lay the big number with the home team.
Dolphins at Bills (PK): The Bills had an emphatic win against the Patriots on Monday night to get closer toward clinching the No. 2 seed in the AFC. But knowing that the No. 3 Steelers are a large underdog in Week 17, I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo ends up resting starters or playing them for a limited amount of time on Sunday. Those factors are indicated in the latest line as money just came in on Miami, who needs to win this game in order to make the postseason at 11-5. If the Bills were fully motivated, I would like them in this spot as a fade of the Dolphins and QB Tua Tagovailoa. But if the Bills realize that the Steelers are losing by a large margin, then I can see starters being pulled. Miami could also call on backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who gives them a better chance to win in 2020.
Packers (-5.5) at Bears: Both teams will be fully motivated for this game. The Packers can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win, while the Bears would secure a playoff spot with a victory. I made this line Packers -5.5, so there’s no edge for me in this game.
Cardinals at Rams (No line): This is another game where both teams will be motivated, but there is just so much uncertainty surrounding the matchup. Whoever wins this game is clinching a playoff berth, but the Cardinals would be out with a loss. As for the Rams, they could still make the postseason with a loss here as long as the Bears lose. Rams QB Jared Goff is out with a thumb injury and Cardinals QB Kyler Murray’s status is in doubt due to a lower leg injury. This means we could see a quarterback duel between John Wolford and Chris Streveler in one of the most important regular season games of the year. It’s worth noting that before information came out about Goff’s injury on Sunday night, the Rams were installed as a five-point favorite.
Washington (-2.5) at Eagles: The playoff scenario is simple for this week’s Sunday night matchup: If Washington wins, they are in; If they lose, they miss out on the playoffs. The Eagles have nothing to play for after being eliminated last week, but Doug Pederson’s job status could be up in the air, so I expect Philadelphia to give a solid effort. The current line in this game assumes quarterback Alex Smith will be back after a two-game absence with a calf injury. If he can’t go then Taylor Heinicke would get the start after Washington waived Dwayne Haskins on Monday. Regardless of who starts this game at QB for Washington, I will look to bet on the Eagles.
Games That Matter for One Team
Falcons at Buccaneers (-6.5): The Buccaneers will secure the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs with a win. That seed is more important this year as it guarantees a first-round playoff game against a team with a losing record (the to-be-determined NFC East champion). The Falcons have played hard down the stretch and covered against the Buccaneers at home in Week 15. Taking Atlanta plus the points would be where I’ll look if I decide to bet this game. I can see Tampa Bay taking an early lead and resting players as the game goes on, which could lead to a late cover by the underdog.
Ravens (-12.5) at Bengals: Heading into last week, the Ravens needed some help to get into the postseason — and they got it with the Colts and Browns both losing. Now they just need to win this game to make the playoffs, which would cement them as the “hot” team that every division winner would want to avoid Wild Card weekend. The Bengals have won two straight games and quarterback Brandon Allen looked great against the Texans last week, but I can see a Ravens rout here.
Jaguars at Colts (-14): The Colts need serious help. They’ll have to win this game and hope either the Dolphins, Browns, Ravens or Titans lose. Indianapolis is playing later in the afternoon, while the Dolphins, Browns and Ravens are playing earlier, so it’s possible that Indy could know it’s for sure in with a win before kickoff. The Titans are playing simultaneously in Houston, and the Colts would win the division with a victory and Titans loss. The Jaguars are locked into the No. 1 overall pick next season, so there’s no incentive in them losing this game like there was the last few weeks. I can see this line rising depending on what happens in the early games on Sunday.
Titans (-7.5) at Texans: The Titans would win the AFC South and capture the No. 4 seed with a win here. That factor is built into the number, so it’s unlikely I’ll have a bet in this game.
Saints (-6.5) at Panthers: The Saints still have a chance at the No. 1 seed, but need a win and some help. One thing they need is a Packers loss, and both teams are playing at the same time on Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints ended up resting players at some point, so the Panthers are the only side I could bet in this game.
Seahawks (-5.5) at 49ers: The Seahawks, who are playing at the same time as the Packers and Saints, could also secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs but they need help. It’s either 49ers or “pass” for me because I can see Seattle resting players throughout the game.
Games That Don’t Impact the Playoffs
Jets at Patriots (-3): A lot has changed in the past two weeks for the Jets. Going into Week 15 they were a favorite to finish 0-16 on the season, and now they’re 2-13 and locked into the No. 2 pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. Their market evaluation has greatly changed as well, as the look-ahead line for this game was Patriots -10 before Week 16. Part of that obviously has to do with the Patriots, who were inept in a blowout loss to the Bills on Monday night. I will not be backing the Patriots here, but there’s not much value in taking the Jets at this price.
Vikings (-7) at Lions: Stay away from this game. The Vikings were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Christmas, and their defense was exposed. There’s no way I would take them as this big of a favorite, even against a Lions team that lost 47-7 last Saturday.
Chargers (-3.5) at Chiefs: The Chiefs are in this section because they clinched the top seed in the AFC as well as a first-round bye with their win over the Falcons last week. Expect Kansas City to play all their backups.
Raiders (-2) at Broncos: The Raiders were officially eliminated from the postseason last week. This game might not matter for many, but it is significant if you bet the Raiders’ season win total under 7.5.