Week 17 Picks

Posted: 12/28/2014 by levcohen in Football

It’s finally here, guys: week 17. It doesn’t look as if it’s going to be an especially exciting week on the surface, but remember back to week 17 last year, when the Eagles dramatically won the NFC East title over the Cowboys, the Chargers shocked the Chiefs’ backups in overtime to sneak into the playoffs after having slim odds in the weeks leading up to week 17, and Aaron Rodgers returned to lead the 8-7-1 Packers over the 8-8 Bears 33-28 on the road to make the playoffs. Week 17’s are already difficult to predict, because you never know how teams that have nothing to play for will do. Will the Raiders put up a valiant effort against the BYE-seeking Broncos? Will the Buccaneers lose and secure the top pick or win against the Saints? How about the oddity of Chargers-Chiefs in week 17 again with backup QB Chase Daniel starting for the Chiefs? Yes, I’m serious; after starting last year because the 11-4 Chiefs were resting their starters, Daniel will again replace Alex Smith, this time because of Smith’s lacerated spleen. The Chargers are still 2.5 road underdogs, but have garnered 77% of the bets with a playoff spot on the line. I’ll try my best to make the picks, but I guarantee that there will be some surprises. I’m also going to try to breeze through the games that are absolutely meaningless.
*= upset pick

Cleveland Browns (7-8, 8-5-2) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6-1, 7-7-1):
Spread: Ravens favored by 14
Over/under: 40
My prediction: After opening at 8.5, this line has ballooned with the news that Connor Shaw will start at quarterback for the Browns, who are playing for absolutely nothing. I’ve taken the Ravens to cover double-digit spreads twice so far this season (against the Titans and Jags) but have lost my confidence in them after a disheartening performance in Houston. The offense is predictable (Justin Forsett runs, short passes, a deep pass to Torrey Smith or two) and has lost much of its firepower with the sudden decline of Steve Smith. And a different team would be able to take advantage of Baltimore’s poor secondary, which is why I don’t want to see the Ravens in the playoffs. It’ll be closer than people think and probably pretty unwatchable, but I like the Ravens at home 24-17.
Browns cover
Over

Dallas Cowboys (11-4, 9-6) at Washington Redskins (4-11, 5-10):*
Spread: Cowboys favored by 6
Over/under: 47
My prediction: A second consecutive win for Washington??? You bet. The Cowboys technically have something to play for, but they should rest their starters in the second half. Then again, we’ve seen them give the ball to DeMarco Murray up by 30 points in the fourth quarter, so they aren’t exactly the smartest team. Redskins win 27-23.
Redskins cover
Over

Indianapolis Colts (10-5, 9-5-1) at Tennessee Titans (2-13, 3-11-1):
Spread: Colts favored by 7.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: You couldn’t make this spread high enough. Chuck Pagano has a history of not resting his starters in meaningless games, and the Colts need to get back on track before the playoffs. They are always good in these easy divisional games, and the Titans need to lose to maintain their chance at the top pick. This feels like a blowout. Colts win 34-14.
Colts cover
Over

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12, 5-9-1) at Houston Texans (8-7, 9-5-1):
Spread: Texans favored by 8
Over/under: 38.5
My prediction: This spread is down from 10, so I guess oddsmakers didn’t realize how averse people were to betting on Case Keenum as a huge favorite. The Texans always do well against bad teams, though, and are 6-1 against the spread as a favorite. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are still playing hard, but they have a bad offensive line going against J.J. Watt. Texans win 24-13.
Texans cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (9-6, 7-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7, 9-6):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: This is a really dangerous game for bettors, who are backing the Chargers at a pretty high rate. This might be the type of game that Vegas wins a lot of money on, as the fact that the Chiefs are still favorites even with a backup QB is pretty telling. Chase Daniel might be the best backup QB in the NFL, and I’m not sure we see a huge dropoff from Smith. It feels like it should be an upset pick, but it isn’t. Chiefs win 24-20.
Chiefs cover
Over

New York Jets (3-12, 5-9-1) at Miami Dolphins (8-7, 7-8):*
Spread: Dolphins favored by 7
Over/under: 41
My prediction: They’ve played hard recently, and I expect the Jets to send Rex Ryan, likely to be fired after this week, out with a bang. Jets win a meaningless game 20-17.
Jets cover
Under

Chicago Bears (5-10, 6-9) at Minnesota Vikings (6-9, 10-5):
Spread: Vikings favored by 7
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: This spread seems a bit high, but I’m not going to pick the Bears to win this game. I could easily see it happening, but they’ve been a complete trainwreck recently. I think this will be a close game, though, ending in a 24-20 Vikings win.
Bears cover
Under

Buffalo Bills (8-7, 8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3, 9-6):*
Spread: Patriots favored by 5.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: This line would obviously be a lot higher if the Patriots had anything to play for, but with the starters unlikely to play more than a half, it’s come down from a likely double-digit spread to 5.5. And I like the pesky Bills! They have nothing to play for, but will want to close this surprising season with a win. Bills win 21-17.
Bills cover
Under

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6, 8-7) at New York Giants (6-9, 7-8):*
Spread: Eagles favored by 1
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: Odell Beckham against Bradley Fletcher and Philadelphia’s secondary. All I have to say. Giants win 34-27.
Giants cover
Over

New Orleans Saints (6-9, 6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13, 6-9):
Spread: Saints favored by 5.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: The Buccaneers need to lose this game if they want to have a shot at the cream of the QB crop in the draft, likely Marcus Mariota. Unfortunately, they face a Saints team that is frankly terrible. All I ask of you is not to watch this game. It’s going to be bad, and I have no idea what the final score will be. I guess I’ll pick the Saints, though, because they gain less by losing. Saints win 23-20.
Buccaneers cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (3-12, 8-7) at Denver Broncos (11-4, 7-8):- Lock
Spread: Broncos favored by 14
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Yeah, the Broncos aren’t losing this game. And if Peyton Manning doesn’t have a big game, I’ll be surprised. Broncos win 40-20 as their offense gets back on track before a week off.
Broncos cover
Over

Arizona Cardinals (11-4, 10-5) at San Francisco 49ers (7-8, 6-8-1):*
Spread: 49ers favored by 7
Over/under: 37.5
My prediction: A bizarre spread for a bizarre game. On one side, you have a 49ers team that is coming off a huge collapse at home against the Chargers and has all-but fired coach Jim Harbaugh. They’ve lost four straight and clearly quit on this season long ago. On the other side, you have Ryan Lindley’s Cardinals, who still have a chance at the top seed but have scored all of 70 points in six games since Carson Palmer’s injury. Oh, boy. Do I pick the team that’s not trying or the one that has Ryan Lindley at quarterback? Can I please not pick a winner for this game? I’ll pick the Cardinals 14-13, but only because I like upsets.
Cardinals cover
Under

St. Louis Rams (6-9, 7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4, 8-6-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 11
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: I know that the Rams have generally performed well against good teams, including wins over the Broncos and these Seahawks, but the Seahawks have given up all of 33 points in the last five games. In fact, the anemic performance Philadelphia’s offense posted against the Seahawks is the only time in that stretch that they’ve given up more than seven points. This defense is elite, and St. Louis’s offense, well, isn’t. Given that the Seahawks need this win to lock up the top seed in the NFC, I think they’ll play smothering defense again in an easy win. Seahawks win 20-10.
Rams cover
Under

Carolina Panthers (6-8-1, 7-8) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9, 7-8):
Spread: Falcons favored by 3
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Like a mid-December bowl game, this is a game that means way more than it should. A playoff spot is on the line, and this is going to be an exciting game. The Falcons, though, look to have the advantage. While their defense is bad, they have been solid covering top receivers (thanks to cornerback Desmond Trufant) and tight ends, which is good given that the Panthers’ top weapons are receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen. The Falcons will have more trouble offensively than they had against the Saints, but as long as Julio Jones is healthy they should have enough weapons to score some points. To me, the outcome depends on how much time and space Cam Newton has. If he’s able to run around in and out of the pocket, I expect him to make the plays necessary to lead the Panthers to the playoffs. But the Falcons have been much better defensively of late, and I think they’ll make just enough stops. Falcons win 27-23.
Falcons cover
Over

Detroit Lions (11-4, 7-8) at Green Bay Packers (11-4, 8-6-1):
Spread: Packers favored by 7.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: 67% of bettors like the Packers here, and I’m surprised that number isn’t closer to 80%. It would be really difficult to bet against the Packers at home, where they are 5-1-1 against the spread including some really dominating performances. This is going to be a really interesting game, because Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have really struggled against good defenses but have not played one at home yet this season. The Lions have the best defense in football, and I think their historically good run defense will make the Packers a one-dimensional team. But that dimension is extremely dangerous, and Matthew Stafford has struggled mightily in road, outdoor games. In a close game, I just don’t see the Lions scoring enough to pull this one out in the end. Packers win 23-17.
Lions cover
Under

Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1, 8-6-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5, 8-7):
Spread: Steelers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: The final game of the regular season will determine the AFC North champion and Indy’s first round opponent. The Steelers beat the Bengals by 21 in Cincy just three weeks ago, but they really piled it on in garbage time in a game that was much closer than the final score indicates. And aside from that game, the Bengals haven’t lost since early November and are 7-2 in their last nine. Are they better than we think? The Steelers have also gone 7-2 in their last nine, but nobody’s underestimating them, either. Despite really weird losses against the Saints, Jets, and Buccaneers, they are 10-5 and have proven that they can beat good teams. Every win in the nine game span with the exception of a nail-biter over Tennessee has been against a team that still has a shot at the playoffs. And since they are home here, I’m going to pick the Steelers 31-28. It should be a good one, though, and I’m grabbing the half point because I think it will be a close game.
Bengals cover
Over

Upset picks:
Redskins over Cowboys
Jets over Dolphins
Cardinals over 49ers
Bills over Patriots
Giants over Eagles

Lock of the week:
Broncos over Raiders

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