The 2017 NFL sports betting regular season culminates on Sunday in an ever-treacherous Week 17. The slate (live NFL odds here) leaves several games to avoid but many offering value because some teams in “must-win” games are getting overvalued against opponents eager to play spoiler. And players are looking to finish strong — for their next contract or possibly a new head coach. Many teams have nothing to lose and their players can smell an offseason break just hours away.
The lines factor in some of the uncertainty and we’ve seen major line movements as playoffs-bound teams announce (or inadvertently reveal) that key starters will not suit up. That’s the case in the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns tilt in which Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and others will sit, as the Steelers appear resigned to the No. 2 seed as they host a winless Browns squad. The line opened at Pittsburgh -14 and has dropped to -7. So, we’ll see more of the Steelers depth chart in this game, perhaps one half of play from emerging rookie Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, who appears to have overcome a major obstacle in his adjustment to professional football:
JuJu Smith-Schuster said his toughest adjustment to the NFL has been not staying up until 2 a.m. playing video games every night.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) December 28, 2017
Now let’s get to the wacky Week 17 with all 16 games kicking off on New Year’s Eve at either 1:00 or 4:25 pm ET. Please note that the TPS Report will continue through the Super Bowl, so come back next Friday for the first playoffs edition.
NFL Week 17 Picks: Panthers-Falcons Showdown; Jaguars Battle Titans; Raiders-Chargers Clash; Steelers, Chiefs and Eagles Rest Up And More
Saturday 1:00 pm ET games
Green Bay Packers (+6.5) at Detroit Lions: In the eight games that Packers QB Brett Hundley has started, the Pack has averaged 17.25 points, which would rank 28th if the same average held over the season. That includes two shutouts at home (Baltimore, Minnesota). Hundley has actually played better on the road… where he has not gotten booed. But this week he’ll be without top wideout Davante Adams (concussion) and the rendered-invisible Jordy Nelson (shoulder).
The Packers have a matchup advantage rushing against a 28th-ranked Detroit rushing defense, per Football Outsiders, although RB Jamaal Williams is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Matthew Stafford and the Lions receivers stand ready to shred a vulnerable (and ailing) Packers passing defense, which he has done before. Both teams are out of playoff contention. I just don’t trust this Hundley-led Packers offense, especially if the Lions stretch a lead and force Green Bay to pass. At -6.5 in pool play, I lean Detroit. Score projection: Lions 27, Packers 20
Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) at Philadelphia Eagles: Although the Eagles have sealed the No. 1 overall seed, the Silver Linings Playbook featuring Nick Foles is looking grim after his horrid home performance against Oakland in Week 16 (19-for-38 passing for just 163 yards plus an INT and a pair of sacks). Head coach Doug Pederson indicated that Foles will play, because he needs the damn preparation, and so will backup QB Nate Sudfeld because he does, too.
Regarding possibly resting Foles and his need to work with the starting wideouts (especially Alshon Jeffery), Pederson said: “I got to play and get him as many reps as he can [get], and then be smart about it.” I think we can expect to see one half out of Foles and a decent effort out of Dallas, whatever the heck that means right now after their poor showing against Seattle in a must-win game. Cowboys GM Jerry Jones apparently wants to see what some of the young backups can do this week. Flip a coin here. What do you think, Jason Garrett? About life, or anything, including Dez Bryant’s unwillingness to take a pay cut?
Score projection: Cowboys 17, Eagles 16
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New York Jets (+15) at New England Patriots: The Patriots can clinch the #1 seed and home field throughout the playoffs with a win. They are not going to lose this game. There is a possibility that Tom Brady gets pulled in the fourth quarter if New England mounts a big lead, or other starters leave the game, leaving the backdoor open. Just too much uncertainty here; I’d lay off but… I don’t even have a lean. I guess the remote chance of an appearance by Jets QB bust Christian Hackenberg makes me lean Patriots in pool play. Score projection: Patriots 31, Jets 14
Houston Texans (+4.5) at Indianapolis Colts: Just like Cincinnati did for Marvin Lewis did in Week 16, I think the Colts send off to-be-fired head coach Chuck Pagano in style at home with a thrashing of Houston, which is facing coaching uncertainty of its own with Bill O’Brien possibly on the way out. As noted by Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar, The Texans have scored more than 16 points just once in nine games started by QBs other than Deshaun Watson, and just 11.6 points over their past five.
Correspondingly the Texans defense, particularly its secondary, has eroded due to injuries and an increase in snaps, and they’re hemorrhaging big plays. As for their offense, it looks like top WR DeAndre Hopkins (calf) is a true game-time decision. Without him, or even at less than 100%, I don’t see how the Texans break 17 points even against a lowly Colts defense. (Update: The Texans have ruled Hopkins out.) The Colts offense stinks, too, but at least QB Jacoby Brissett gets a bottom-feeding passing defense after a string of upper-echelon ones. Score projection: Colts 28, Texans 14
Cleveland Browns +7 at Pittsburgh Steelers: On the bright side for the 0-15 Browns who are 1-30 under Hue Jackson straight up (8-23 against-the-spread), Browns fans will get to see Jackson take a plunge into Lake Erie as he promised if they had another 1-15ish season. “How? You just jump in,” Jackson said with a laugh. “When? It is going to be at my convenience, and hopefully, I could get a lot of people to come out. It would be something that we are going to make special.”
So, heaven help them as 0-16 looms, at least Browns fans have that going for them. The Steelers will be resting key offensive starters (if not many of them) and possibly defensive starters against interception-prone Browns QB DeShone Kizer. Who or how much they rest we just don’t know and Marcus Gilbert probably isn’t talking anymore.
Marcus Gilbert tells our @TimBenzPGH that the Steelers won't play Ben Roethlisberger or Le'Veon Bell in finale vs. Cleveland
— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) December 28, 2017
Gilbert later denied saying so but audio with his comments have since emerged. Anyhow, the Steelers can get the No. 1 overall seed with a win and a Patriots home loss to the Jets. Ain’t happening. If you got Cleveland and +13 or +14 early in the week, good for you, but at a touchdown I refuse to go near them. Score projection: Steelers Backups 24, Browns 16
Washington Redskins (-3) at New York Giants: The highlight-lowlight in this week in The Giants Spiral Down The Drain, Big Blue hired former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman for the same role. Also star safety Landon Collins (now on I.R.) called 2016 No. 1 draft pick, CB Eli Apple, “a cancer.” Apple is now suspended this week after conduct detrimental to the team and he may have played his last game as a Giant. Also possibly out this week is most of what’s left of the offense in TE Evan Engram and WRs Tavarres King and Sterling Shepard, in addition to most of the secondary. What else is there? The Giants are on track for the No. 2 overall pick in ‘18 as Washington will scoop another W for Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins pads his impending contract. Score projection: Redskins 27, Giants 17
Chicago Bears (+12) at Minnesota Vikings: If the Vikings win, they secure a first-round bye and don’t have to worry about a (remotely) possible string of NFC dominoes that could drop them into the #3 seed and a date with Atlanta or Seattle on Wild Card Weekend. A concern that will extend into the postseason: Vikings center Pat Elflein (shoulder) was ruled out for this week, which comes after LG Nick Easton went down for the season (fractured ankle) at Green Bay in Week 16. Nevertheless a bad-at-best Bears offense will head to Minnesota, where its D has allowed a mere 59 rushing yards per game and 12.8 points per game at home. And Chicago has O-Line problems of its own: LG Josh Sitton (ankle) and RT Bobby Massie (knee) are both likely to be out. The Vikings lead the league in against-the-spread cover rate (11-4, 73%) and even in a weird week, I think they notch another, but given the circumstances I’m laying off. Score projection: Vikings 27, Bears 13
4:25 pm ET games
Jacksonville Jaguars (+3) at Tennessee Titans: This is an interesting game with playoff implications. The Jags are locked into the #3 seed, but the Titans, despite losing three in a row (straight up), can limp into January with a win here. The Jaguars head to Nashville after a royal ass kicking in San Francisco at the hands of Jimmy “About to Get Paid” Garoppolo and the Niners, who tagged the Jags and its No. 1-ranked defense for 44 points (the Jags had previously averaged 13 against).
There are doubts that the Jaguars will give a full-fledged effort with all the starters; I believe head coach Doug Marrone when he says they’re going for nothing short of a win. “Make no mistake about it, just so there is not a lot of talk during the week, when the players come in [Wednesday],” Marrone said on Tuesday. “We are talking about how we are going to play to win and do everything we possibly can to win this game, period.”
It sounds like the whooping at the Bay may prove beneficial as Jacksonville heads to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. “I hate to say this, but we needed this,” cornerback A.J. Bouye said. “It humbled a lot of people. We recognize it and we’ve got to get ready for [Tennessee] and just get it rolling going into the playoffs.” Remember in those same 2007-2008 playoffs, former New York Giants head coach, current Jaguars EVP, decided to go full-throttle against New England in Week 17 — Big Blue’s eventual Super Bowl XLII victim — despite being locked into the #5 seed that year. Even in a loss, the energetic performance provided a big boost to the players, and obviously the move paid dividends. Score projection: Jaguars 23, Titans 17
Buffalo Bills (-2.5) at Miami Dolphins: The up-and-down Dolphins are coming off a 29-13 loss (and non-cover) at Kansas City in which they failed to convert once on a third down; that’s been a problem all year as they’ve converted at a league-worst 31.2% rate. Here they draw a Bills team that shoulda-coulda-woulda taken a 17-13 lead over New England in Week 16 (+11.5) but had to settle for three after a pretty Kelvin Benjamin touchdown got reversed in a controversial review. Then Buffalo allowed 21 unanswered points in the second half in a 37-16 loss. Brutal.
Anyhow, the Bills, which can still notch a Wild Card spot with a win and a lot of help, has seen its rushing defense crumble since trading DT Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville in Week 9. The Bills secondary can limit the Dolphins’ passing attack, and vice versa for Miami’s, in what should be a close contest. Miami will be happy to get back to 75 degrees fahrenheit at kickoff in an East Coast region that doesn’t need some global warming. Score projection: Dolphins 23, Bills 21
Oakland Raiders (+7.5) at Los Angeles Chargers: This is 7.5 trending toward 7 and I would grab that hook while you can. Sure the Chargers have everything to play for with a realistic playoffs shot, but as evidenced in Philadelphia last week, Oakland is not going quietly into the night. And they will have a quasi-home crowd at L.A.
The Chargers may be without leading running back Melvin Gordon (ankle, limited on Friday); that will mean Branden Oliver, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry on 28 totes this year, would step in. On the other side, L.A. may be missing run-stuffing inside linebacker Denzel Perryman (hamstring, also limited on Friday). Oakland’s main mode of transportation will have to be Marshawn Lynch against a struggling Chargers rushing defense. That’ll drain clock and should help keep this game near the number. The Chargers didn’t look so hot in New York (again, a lack of global warming isn’t helping) and shouldn’t be laying over a touchdown here to a divisional rival. An improved Raiders defense and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack will be eager to go out on a high note — and block the Chargers from the playoffs — after a bitterly disappointing season. Score projection: Chargers 23, Raiders 20
Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5) at Denver Broncos: The only intrigue here is how rookie QB Patrick Mahomes fares in his first career start alongside, likely, his fellow reserves. The Chiefs are locked into the #4 seed and will host, most likely, the Ravens in Wild Card Weekend. The Broncos will trot out former first-rounder Paxton Lynch at QB. I’ve got no idea what’s happening here other than that C.J. Anderson will probably rush for over 100 yards. Score projection: Chiefs 21, Broncos 20
San Francisco 49ers (-3) at Los Angeles Rams: Major line movement here. This game opened at Rams -2.5 favorite before Rams head coach Sean McVay announced that numerous starters, including QB Jared Goff, RB and possible MVP Todd Gurley, star DT Aaron Donald, LT Andrew Whitworth, and C John Sullivan, will be resting. There’s a good chance that the entire starting wide receiver group sits out as well or sees only limited action.
Bottom line: the Rams have a lot of reasons to sit out and lose, and very likely fall into the No. 4 seed as NFC West champs. That would give them a home date with either the Saints or Panthers next weekend but more importantly, a greater probability of a Divisional Round game at Philadelphia instead of Minnesota. It seems as if the Rams are looking ahead at that because a Wild Card game against Atlanta or Seattle would be a more winnable contest. At 49ers -3 you’ve missed the favorable Niners line yet… this team is flying high into the offseason and Kyle Shanahan can actually open up the playbook for Garoppolo. I think they cover again, which McVay seems to be inviting with backup QB Sean Mannion making his first NFL start. Score projection: 49ers 26, Rams 20
Arizona Cardinals (+9.5) at Seattle Seahawks: The Cardinals certainly aren’t going to lay down here for the Seahawks, who have a shot at the playoffs with a win and an Falcons loss to the Panthers. QB Drew Stanton is limited, yes, but he’s not afraid to fire the ball to star WR Larry Fitzgerald, who could be playing in his last NFL game. The injury-riddled Seahawks defense is Version B of its former self, even if Dallas couldn’t take advantage last week. It will be tough sledding for the Seahawks non-existent rushing game against a stout Cards rushing D (which has fared much better at home), meaning it’s again Russell Wilson Time, which has been far less Russell Wilson-y in recent weeks (4.6 yards per pass attempt over his last three). There’s too much uncertainty here with the possibility that Carolina holds back and Atlanta runs up the score, so, give me the points. Score projection: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 17
Carolina Panthers (+3.5) at Atlanta Falcons: This one is dicey. The Panthers (11-4) have locked a playoff spot but can land anywhere between the #2, #3 or #4 seed (all with help), and the #5 seed. The #5 seed and a tough three games on the road for a Super Bowl trip is most likely, which leaves a possibility that Carolina eases up at some point and protects its starters, including Cam Newton. We just don’t know for sure, although with both LB Thomas Davis and DE Charles Johnson are coming back from suspensions, plus starting right guard Trai Turner (concussion) coming back, they might go with starters for the full tilt.
There’s several concerning injuries the Falcons’ O-Line with star center Alex Mack suffering a calf injury this week. The Panthers have a nice matchup advantage with receiving RB Christian McCaffrey against a Falcons defense that struggles to defend such players; the Falcons’ best bet is Matt Ryan to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, connections that have disappointed this year compared with last. If you can get Carolina at +4, I’d take that. Score projection: Falcons 24, Panthers 23
New Orleans Saints (-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This line is too high against a Bucs team that’s fought but lost and covered against the fellow NFC South-er Panthers and Falcons over the past two weeks. I know this sounds kind of silly but the mood appears good in Tampa Bay, where the offensive linemen, like large Christmas elves, decided to give facility staffers several hundred dollars instead of doing a ‘crappy’ Secret Santa exchange for each other.
“This year, I was like, ‘You guys all buy crappy gifts anyways,'” lineman Evan Smith said. “It’s not like the [defensive line] where they all get nice [Gucci] bags and s—. One year, we were like, ‘Alright, the limit [is] like this much,’ and everyone shows up with a drone. There were like five guys with drones. I’m like, ‘Nobody wants a drone.'” So they hooked up the under-appreciated staffers.
On the field, the Saints are working through a lot of injuries, including to star WR Michael Thomas (hamstring) who might end up playing minimally, as the Saints have at least clinched but will lock up a home game for Wild Card weekend with a win. For the Bucs, key defenders Lavonte David (hamstring) and Gerald McCoy (biceps), while the Bucs as a whole have been improving their pass coverage. Of course, the Saints can still run the heck out of the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, but this game will be tight. Score projection: Saints 27, Bucs 24
Cincinnati Bengals (+9.5) at Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens have a win-and-in opportunity (a win locks up the #5 seed in the AFC and a trip to Kansas City) here behind an improving Joe Flacco and one of the league’s best defenses. Head coach John Harbaugh is pissed that the league moved back the game’s start time to the late window on New Year’s Eve.
“I don’t think the NFL did us any favors by moving it back,” Harbaugh said on Tuesday. “But they don’t care about us. So, we just have to care about ourselves. We have to take care of our own business. That goes for our team, for our fans and for our city. Let’s go win the football game.”
Whatever gets them fired up. The Bengals are coming off an impressive 26-17 throttling of Detroit and would like to go into the offseason by upsetting Baltimore, which still has outs if they fall. But Baltimore has tortured Andy Dalton before and the Bengals defense will be without star LB Vontaze Burfict. On the other side, Cincy should have its running back duo of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, both banged up but looking ready to roll against a smothering Ravens rushing defense. I’m not interested in laying 9.5 against a hated divisional rival (or taking the points), but don’t see Baltimore losing this game and more likely winning comfortably than eking one out. Score projection: Ravens 28, Bengals 17
Happy Week 17! Before you place any wagers, check the weather and check for any key injuries/inactives on Sunday. Also, check your bias. Hit me up on Twitter with any thoughts, comments, concerns, questions, compliments or dad jokes.