Week 17 Picks

Posted: 01/03/2016 by levcohen in Football

This is it. Week 17. A year’s worth of suspense all culminating in this… a day with just one playoff spot up for grabs. I remember two years ago, when week 17 was really, really fun. 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. But even though there’s only one spot up for grabs (unless, of course, the Colts and friends pull off the crazy nine win parlay, which would just about be the biggest surprise in sports history), this week is bound to be fun and crazy. There is seeding up for grabs, including the top seed in each conference. Both the Panthers and Patriots, who would attain the top seed with a win, are favored by double-digits against teams with nothing to play for. We could easily see some intrigue there. And here’s the thing with week 17: whatever we say heading into it, whatever the conventional wisdom is, is likely to be wrong. Some of the teams that are expected to roll over play hard, and some of the teams with something to play for are going to lay a big, stinky egg. As is often the case, there are some weird spreads in week 17. Five teams are favored by double digits, including the Steelers on the road again (when will we ever learn?) and the Broncos and Bengals, each of whom is coming off of a bruising Monday night game. Oh, there’s also that. There are no Thursday or Saturday or Monday games this week. All of them are today, culminating in a battle between the Vikings and Packers for the NFC North crown on Sunday Night Football. On that exciting week 17 day two years ago, all but three games had some impact on the playoffs, either in terms of who would make the dance or the seeding. This year, that number, counting out the Texans and Colts games (because that nine team thing isn’t going to happen… Right? PLEASE HAPPEN) is nine out of 16, including the five aforementioned double digit favorites. The juiciest matchups of the week, to me, are pretty clear: Jets-Bills features New York needing just a win to clinch a playoff spot against the struggling Bills, who are led by ex-coach Rex Ryan. Nothing can go wrong there, right?; Seahawks-Cardinals is a game between the two best teams in football according to DVOA; and Vikings-Packers will be a good chance to see which of the two is more likely to wreak havoc in the playoffs.

*= upset pick

New Orleans Saints (6-9, 7-7-1) at Atlanta Falcons (8-7, 6-9):
Spread: Falcons favored by 5.5
Over/under: 52.5
My prediction: This game, between two slightly below-average teams, has no impact on the top of the draft or on the playoffs. It should, though, be a good one for fantasy owners still going in week 17, as the Saints have a great shot at ending with the worst defense of all time per DVOA. They’ve already obliterated the record for most touchdown passes given up, so Matt Ryan should be in for a rare good game. Could Julio Jones hit 300 yards today? I think it’ll be a crazy game, ending in a 31-27 victory for Atlanta.
Saints cover
Over

Baltimore Ravens (5-10, 4-9-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-4, 12-2-1):
Spread: Bengals favored by 10
Over/under: 41
My prediction: The Ravens surprised me last week with their performance against the Steelers, who were more talented and should also have been more motivated. Can they repeat it against the Bengals? Actually, I think they might be able to keep it close again against a backup quarterback. Bengals win 23-20.
Ravens cover
Over

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6, 8-6-1) at Cleveland Browns (3-12, 6-9):
Spread: Steelers favored by 11.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: In response to the “when will we ever learn” question, the answer for me is never. I know that Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have stunk on the road this year, and I know that they just lost on the road as an 11 point favorite. But the reports from Cleveland of Mike Pettine being fired after this week make me believe the Browns will be far less motivated than the Ravens were last week, which will lead me to pick the Steelers to win and cover again. Steelers win 30-13.
Steelers cover
Under

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10, 7-7-1) at Houston Texans (8-7, 8-7):
Spread: Texans favored by 5.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Technically, this game means something. In reality, it really doesn’t, given that two double digit favorites, among others, would have to lose along with a Texans loss and Colts win with their fourth string quarterback to send Indy into the playoffs. But the Texans might want to clinch the division on the right note, and they’ll have an opportunity to do that here against a Jaguars team that’s pesky at home but often listless on the road, where they’re 1-6. Texans win 31-23.
Texans cover
Over

Tennessee Titans (3-12, 4-10-1) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8, 7-8):*
Spread: Colts favored by 3.5
Over/under: 39
My prediction: Oh, boy. This could be the worst quarterback matchup of all time. Zach Mettenberger against… Josh Freeman? Stephen Morris? Ryan Lindley? Yeah, when we don’t know who your team’s quarterback is going to be, and when all three of your options have been on your team for a week or less, you’re probably in trouble. Titans win 17-13, which will cost them the top pick.
Titans cover
Under

Washington Redskins (8-7, 8-7) at Dallas Cowboys (4-11, 4-10-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 3.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: When you think 4-11 Cowboys, you probably think of a coach who is very likely to be fired. Well, because Jerry Jones seems to adore Jason Garrett, that won’t be the case this year. To be fair, Garrett can point to Tony Romo’s injury to explain away a lot of the suffering. But still, 4-11? Really? Anyway, the Cowboys are favored in this game because Washington will likely be resting some of their starters for some of it. Cowboys win 21-14.
Cowboys cover
Under

Philadelphia Eagles (6-9, 6-9) at New York Giants (6-9, 8-6-1):
Spread: Giants favored by 4
Over/under: 51
My prediction: So, Chip Kelly got fired. There’s that. What impact will that have on this game? Probably not much, because it’s not like the Eagles were going to stop an angry Odell Beckham whether they cared about the game or not. Now, though, they’ll probably be in total quit mode, which will widen the margin of defeat. Giants win 35-24.
Giants cover
Over

Detroit Lions (6-9, 6-9) at Chicago Bears (6-9, 8-7):
Spread: Lions favored by 1.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: If the season had started eight games ago, these teams would be 5-3 and 4-4 and each have legitimate playoff hopes. They rank 12th and 13th in weighted DVOA, which lessens the impact that earlier games have on the ratings. So these are two pretty decent teams who don’t have anything to play for because they had brutal starts to the season. I think this will actually be a pretty decent game, one the Lions win 27-21.
Lions cover
Over

New York Jets (10-5, 8-5-2) at Buffalo Bills (7-8, 7-7-1):
Spread: Jets favored by 3.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Yeah, this is going to happen. How Jetsy would it be to finally control your own playoff destiny after five consecutive wins and then blow it all with a week 17 loss to a team that’s lost four of six and has nothing to play for, besides, of course, coach Rex Ryan’s pride… Actually, all of this would require me believing that the Bills actually would play hard for Rex. I haven’t seen it from their defense this year, and I have seen the Jets play hard for Todd Bowles, so I’m switching my pick. Jets win 23-20.
Bills cover
Over

New England Patriots (12-3, 7-6-2) at Miami Dolphins (5-10, 4-11):- Lock
Spread: Patriots favored by 10
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: You know how I said that a lot of teams roll over in week 17? Well, if that’s the case, then the Dolphins have played the last two months as if they were week 17. Despite having some clear talent, they’re 2-7 in their last nine games, posting a -99 point differential in that time. Aside from the Titans, I think they’re the worst team in football. Patriots win 27-14.
Patriots cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9, 7-8) at Carolina Panthers (14-1, 10-5):
Spread: Panthers favored by 10.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: I don’t doubt that the Panthers will win this game, but I could definitely envision Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers keeping it close. Panthers win 24-20.
Buccaneers cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (4-11, 7-8) at Denver Broncos (11-4, 8-7):
Spread: Broncos favored by 10
Over/under: 42
My prediction: This might be the last game the San Diego Chargers ever play before heading to Los Angeles in a move that will be voted on after the season. Team relocations suck, because no matter which (or which combination) of the three teams (SD, OAK, STL) move to LA, the team(s) will leave behind a suffering fan base that doesn’t deserve to lose its team. At the same time, LA does need team(s), and expansion doesn’t seem to be in the cards, so I guess this is the only thing that makes sense. Broncos win 17-10.
Chargers cover
Under

Seattle Seahawks (9-6, 7-7-1) at Arizona Cardinals (13-2, 9-6):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 6
Over/under: 47
My prediction: I think this game is going to be close. I don’t see the Cardinals running away with this one like they did last week against the Packers or the week before against the Eagles. Instead, this game will probably be more like the six games in AZ’s nine game winning streak that ended in a one score game. The Cardinals will probably still win, but it’ll be a close one, just like the first game between these two was. Cardinals win 28-24.
Seahawks cover
Over

St. Louis Rams (7-8, 7-7-1) at San Francisco 49ers (4-11, 6-9):
Spread: Rams favored by 3.5
Over/under: 38.5
My prediction: No Todd Gurley means no offense at all in this game and also absolutely no reason to watch it. Except, of course, that it might be the last St. Louis Rams game ever. If that’s the case, the last game won’t be a pretty one. Rams win 16-13.
Niners cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (7-8, 7-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-5, 8-7):*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 7
Over/under: 43
My prediction: With a win here, the Chiefs would enter the playoffs with a 10 game winning streak. That’s insane, especially considering that they lost five of their first six games. Consider that, after seven games, the Raiders were 4-3 while the Chiefs were 2-5. Quite a reversal over the last couple of months. Anyway, the Chiefs could still win their division with a win and Denver loss, which, granted, doesn’t seem likely. But the letdown we’ve all been waiting for may well come this week against a Raiders team that’s 4-3 on the road straight up and 4-0 against the spread as a road underdog. In fact, I’ve been pretty light on upsets this week, so why not? Raiders win 24-17.
Raiders cover
Under

Minnesota Vikings (10-5, 12-3) at Green Bay Packers (10-5, 9-6):*
Spread: Packers favored by 3
Over/under: 44
My prediction: With a win and a Ravens cover, the Vikings would lock up the best record against the spread this year, which shows you how good they’ve really been. One of their non-covers was at home against the Packers, when they lost by 17, but since then they have been more impressive than the Wisconsin team despite 3-2 records. While the Vikings lost by three points in Arizona, the Packers were absolutely destroyed by the Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Packers lost at home to the Bears, while the Vikings beat the Bears at home by 21. So recent play against common opponents suggests that the Vikings will win this game. And since I’ve been picking the Vikings all season, why not again here? Vikings win 23-17.
Vikings cover
Under

Upset picks:
Vikings over Packers
Raiders over Chiefs
Titans over Colts

Lock of the week:
Patriots over Dolphins

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