Last week ended up at 1-2 with a win by the Broncos and a tough loss by the Rams and the over 56 not getting there in the Titans/Packers game.
In advance of the always-crazy Week 17 matchups, it is important to reiterate some of the numbers I discussed last week. Once again, since 1990, teams that are out of playoff contention are 100-65-5 (61%) against the spread in Weeks 16 and 17 when facing teams that are in must-win situations in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Meaning, it is typically advantageous to fade a team that would be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss.
We have seen some large underdogs win in past Week 17’s including five straight seasons when a Week 17 underdog of at least seven points has won outright. Last season with the Patriots playing all out in Week 17 in order for a chance to get a first-round bye, they lost outright to the Miami Dolphins as 17.5-point favorites. Two seasons ago, the Minnesota Vikings just needed a win at home as six-point favorites over a Chicago Bears team that was sitting all of their starters, in order to make the playoffs and they lost outright by 14 points. You just can never tell how a team handles the pressures of a must-win situation.
Week 17 Best Bets
Seattle Seahawks -5.5 vs San Francisco 49ers
Seattle has plenty of incentive to win this week as they can still move all the way up to the No. 1 seed with some help. They can end up anywhere from the No. 1 to No. 3 seed but the value of the top seed is even greater this season with only one bye awarded per conference.
The Niners have been Jekyll and Hyde all year, losing badly in games they should win but then also coming out of nowhere with recent upsets over the Rams and Cardinals. It is a testament to the coaching staff but they are in a huge hole with injuries up and down the offense. Most impactful, LT Trent Williams and starting WR Brandon Aiyuk are both out Sunday.
Williams is a gigantic loss as he grades as the best tackle in the NFL by PFF. His backup is 2019 sixth-round pick Justin Skule who has been absolutely atrocious this season. He has allowed 12 pressures on only 108 pass block snaps and in the only game Williams missed this season against Green Bay, Skule allowed six pressures and a sack with the Niners getting abused. He grades as 117 out of 123 guards in pass blocking by PFF.
Aiyuk had a tremendous rookie season and, prior to last week when he got hurt during the game against the Cardinals, he was tied at the top of the NFL in targets in the three-week stretch between Weeks 12-15. Now without Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and a significant drop at LT, the Niners will struggle to move the football against an improving Seattle defense. Seattle’s defense ranks ninth-best in the NFL in EPA per play allowed since Week 10, a big improvement from ranking 22nd in the first nine weeks of the season.
Russell Wilson sliced up this Niners defense in Week 8 by completing 73% of his passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns. The Niners defense has stepped up of late but without Richard Sherman and Jimmie Ward along with multiple members of their front four in Javon Kinlaw and Dion Jordan, it will be hard for this Niners defense to hold Seattle down.
NY Giants +3 -120 vs Dallas Cowboys
If this game was played three weeks ago, the Giants would be three-point favorites here. But because the Giants have lost three straight and the Cowboys have won three straight, this line flipped. The Giants lost to three potential playoff teams, with a hobbled QB or a backup QB in all three, while the Cowboys beat three teams with a combined record of 14-29-1.
The Cowboys defense still is not good as they have ranked 26th in success rate since Week 10. However, they rank 13th when you consider EPA, mainly because they have forced 14 turnovers in that span. They have forced 10 turnovers in the last three games alone. The Giants have only committed five turnovers in the last seven games, so the Cowboys will have to force turnovers to win.
Add in that the Cowboys defense is banged up with both starting safeties (Woods and Thompson) and LB Leighton Vander Esch questionable for the game. I think there is value here at the three points especially, but if not then teasing the Giants up over seven and pairing them with the Eagles could be a good alternative.
LA Rams +3.5 vs Arizona Cardinals
Unknown QB John Wolford from Wake Forest will get his first career start on Sunday. QBs making their first start have gone 16-5-1 ats since the start of 2019 including 8-1-1 this season. That includes 10 outright victories for the 22 first time starts since 2019. Only one of these QBs was on the team that was favored in the game, so these results have been incredibly profitable of late.
Wolford was a dual-threat at Wake Forest and having to face a defense that has zero film on him with the ability to move the ball with his feet are certainly advantageous. He ran for over 1,100 yards and 16 TDs in his final two seasons at Wake.
Remember, Kyler Murray and this Arizona offense has really struggled in his three career games against this Rams defense. Murray is 0-3 with 57% completions, 220 yards per game, 5.7 ypa, 5 TDs, and 4 INTs. He has also only rushed 11 times for 43 total rushing yards in those three games. I’ll take the team with the much better defense and much much much better head coach as the underdog.
Baltimore Ravens -12.5 vs Cincinnati Bengals
This is a simple handicap for me. The Ravens have historically overpowered bad teams with Lamar Jackson at QB. They are 15-1 straight up and 10-6 ats as a 7.5+ point favorite since 2018. They have covered their last five games in December and have won by at least 14 points in all fibe.
The Ravens have destroyed the Bengals by 34 and 23 points in their last two matchups. This matchup is just so favorable for Baltimore, considering the Bengals run defense is dead last, allowing 15% of rushes this season to gain 10+ yards. They just allowed David Johnson to rush for 128 yards on only 12 carries after averaging 3.95 ypc in the prior 10 games. In addition, don’t let last week’s 371 yard game for Brandon Allen fool you, he is not a good QB.
Against two competent NFL defenses, in Miami and the NY Giants, Allen was 28/48 for 289 yards and 2 TDs combined. If you eliminate a 5-yard hitch to Tyler Boyd which turned into a 72-yard touchdown, Allen was 27/47 for 217 yards, 4.6 ypa, and 1 TD in those two games. It’s hard to imagine Allen will fare well against the Ravens blitz heavy defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars +14 vs Indianapolis
Colts and Houston Texans +7.5 vs Tennessee Titans
I lumped both of these together as they fit the trend of backing a team eliminated from the playoffs against a team that potentially needs a win to stay alive for a playoff berth. There is plenty of value on the Texans here considering they still have Deshaun Watson up against a Titans defense that can’t stop a nosebleed and ranks 30th in DVOA pass defense and is 31st in EPA per dropback in the second half of this season. Watson is the perfect QB to have in a potential backdoor situation if needed. Maybe J.J. Watt’s inspiring speech following the game last week will motivate the defense to step up a bit.
The Jaguars are obviously terrible but now that they have secured the No. 1 pick, there is no reason they won’t play all available players in this game. No, the players themselves don’t tank but if important players are hurt they could normally hold them out here. You just never know how a team like the Colts handles a situation where they need to win or could be eliminated.
It won’t help that the Colts will be missing their starting LT Anthony Costanzo and two of his backups, Will Holden and Le’Raven Clark, are also out for this game. They will turn to Chaz Green to start and in his lone start this season at LT against a bad Houston pass rush, Green allowed two sacks and three pressures on only 35 pass block snaps.
Other key players including starters Khari Willis (S), Rock Ya-Sin (CB), Michael Pittman (WR), and DeForest Buckner (DL) are all injured and questionable.
I have this game modeled as Indy -12 and call this a hunch but I have a feeling this game will be a little closer than the 14 point spread indicates.
Best Bets Record YTD: 19-22-3 (46%)