Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

These two teams met way back in week 1, when the Ravens shut out the Bengals in a 20-0 victory. A lot has changed since then. After failing to score an offensive touchdown in either of their first two games of the season, the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and replaced him with Bill Lazor. Lazor has done a better job with this offense, but only by default, as the Bengals have struggled on the offensive line all season and have been without guys like John Ross, Tyler Boyd, and Tyler Eifert for most of the year, leaving Andy Dalton without a capable 2nd option in the passing game after AJ Green.

On the season, they rank just 23rd in first down rate at 32.04%, but their defense has been pretty solid all season, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 33.04% rate, 11th in the NFL, giving them a first down rate differential of -1.00%, 21st in the NFL. The Ravens, meanwhile, have continued their strong defensive play since week 1, allowing opponents to move the chains at a mere 31.03% rate, 3rd lowest in the league. That’s largely the result of a weak schedule of quarterbacks though, as 5 of their 9 wins have come against teams starting backup quarterbacks, the EJ Manuel led Raiders, the Matt Moore led Dolphins, the Tom Savage led Texans, the Brett Hundley led Packers, and the Jacoby Brissett led Colts.

Baltimore has also had issues on offense, like the Bengals have, moving the chains at a 32.96% rate, 20th in the NFL. Their first down rate differential is +1.93%, 10th best in the NFL, solid, but unspectacular when you consider the schedule they’ve faced. I have this line calculated at Baltimore -6.5. Given their issues on offense and the Bengals’ solid defense, they could have a tough time scoring enough points to cover this 10-point line without winning the turnover battle, which is far from a guarantee.

In the previous matchup, the Ravens won the turnover battle by 4, a huge part of the reason why they won the game by 20. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis though. For example, teams that lose the turnover battle by 4 or more in a divisional game, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.1 in a same season rematch and, as a result, they are 47-37 ATS in that rematch as underdogs. If we assume turnover neutral football in this game, the Bengals have a very strong chance of covering as 10-point underdogs.

Teams tend to cover in same season revenge games anyway, as road underdogs are 68-39 ATS since 2002 in regular season divisional revenge games against a team that previously defeated them earlier in the season as road underdogs, as the Ravens were in Cincinnati. This was going to be my Pick of the Week, but the Bengals are without stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict and their defense is not the same without him out there, so I will limit this to a medium confidence pick. I still think it’s worth a bet though, as this line is way too high. Even with Burfict out, the Ravens are unlikely to score a bunch of points in this one.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10

Confidence: Medium

Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (6-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)

I’ve bet the Chargers frequently this season, as they’ve been on my underrated list all season. They are just 8-7, but they have a point differential of +63 that ranks 10th in the NFL and they have 43 more first downs and 8 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve allowed, giving them a first down rate differential of +5.09%, 5th best in the NFL. However, I’ve always been hesitant to bet them at home (where they are 3-4 ATS this season, as opposed to 6-2 ATS on the road), given that they’ve had a lot of trouble attracting home fans in their first season in Los Angeles. This week is no exception, especially since they are hosting the Raiders, who still have a ton of fans in Los Angeles from when they used to play there in the 80s and 90s.

With that in mind, I really like the Raiders to cover in this one and not just because the crowd will be on their side. The Raiders are also an underrated team that has been better than their 6-9 record, as they rank 13th in first down rate differential at +0.78%, despite Derek Carr missing time with injury early in the season. That’s actually a better first down rate differential than they had last season, when they finished 19th at -0.49%, despite finishing with a 12-4 record.

The big difference between 2016 and 2017 for the Raiders is turnover margin, as they finished tied for first in turnover margin at +16 last season, but rank 4th worst in the league this season at -12. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and year-to-year basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much (case in point, the 2016 and 2017 Raiders). Just like they weren’t as good as their record suggested last season, they aren’t as bad as their record suggests this season. We’re getting good value with them as 7.5 point underdogs in Los Angeles against the Chargers, especially when you take into account the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage.

The Raiders are also in a couple of great spots. For one, this is a revenge game for them, as the Chargers narrowly defeated them in Oakland earlier this season when the Raiders missed a 4th quarter extra point that ended up being the margin of victory (17-16). Road underdogs are 68-39 ATS since 2002 in regular season divisional revenge games against a team that previously defeated them earlier in the season as road underdogs, as the Chargers were in Oakland.

On top of that, road underdogs are 122-81 ATS since 2008 in their second of two road games after a road loss and the Raiders are coming off of a road loss in Philadelphia. That trend results from the fact that teams typically do better in their second of two road games than they do in an average road game, but lines don’t really adjust for that. Teams are 262-283 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.96 points per game. On average, road teams get outscored by about 2.60 points per game over that same time period, a difference of about 2 points.

The Raiders are dealing with a major injury with left tackle Donald Penn out for the season, but no one is completely healthy at this point in the season and, even with Penn out, they are relatively healthy. The Chargers have their own injury issues, as they were without left tackle Russell Okung, middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, tight end Hunter Henry, and defensive tackle Corey Liuget in an underwhelming performance against the lowly Jets last week.

Okung, Liuget, and Perryman have a chance to return for this game, but none of them practiced in full during the week, so all three are still major question marks, as is running back Melvin Gordon, who left last week with an ankle injury and only got in limited practices on Thursday and Friday this week. Even if all 4 somehow play, they’re unlikely to be 100% and Henry, a valuable pass catcher and run blocker, remains out. The Raiders are my Pick of the Week.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Oakland +7.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New York Jets at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Jets (5-10) at New England Patriots (12-3)

Since losing Josh McCown for the season with injury a few weeks back, the Jets have become arguably the worst team in the league, along with the Browns and the TJ Yates led Texans. They weren’t blown out by either the Saints or the Chargers, but that was because they won the turnover battle in New Orleans (and still lost by 12) and because they got a couple long runs against the Chargers, who were missing key players on both sides of the ball. Neither of those are sustainable ways to win, as both turnover margin and big plays tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The lost the first down rate battle by a wide margin in both games (-9.91% and -11.31%).

New starting quarterback Bryce Petty has been terrible, as he was last season when he was forced into starting action down the stretch, completing less than 50% of his passes in both starts so far this year. Even before having to start Petty, the Jets had no success away from home this season, as they have a -74 point differential in 7 road games this season (10.57 points per game), even though the Saints are the only difficult team they’ve faced on the road this season (Buffalo, Oakland, Cleveland, Miami, Tampa Bay, and Denver are the other 6).

The Patriots are an obvious step up in class and should be favored by much more than 15 in this one. The Patriots covered as 11-point favorites at home last week against the Bills in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 22.06%. I don’t buy that the Bryce Petty led Jets are only a few points worse than the Bills. The only explanation I can think of for why this line is only 15 is that the oddsmakers think the Patriots could pull their starters in the second half if they are up big, but that’s not historically how they’ve done things in week 17. In fact, they are 12-4 ATS in week 17 games in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots may pull their starters late in the game if the game is completely out of hand, but by that point they’ll likely have already covered, so I’m not too worried. This is a high confidence pick.

New England Patriots 34 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: New England -15

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6)

This is a big game for both teams. The Falcons can clinch a playoff spot with a win, but if they lose then they would need the Seahawks to lose at home to the Cardinals to remain in the playoff picture. The Panthers, meanwhile, have a playoff spot locked up already and are also still in the NFC South race. If they win this week and the Saints lose in Tampa Bay, they will win the division. This line (Atlanta -4) suggests that the Falcons are the better of these two teams, but I think that’s backwards.

In addition to having a better record, the Panthers are slightly better in both point differential (+48 vs. +26) and first down rate differential (+2.04% vs. +1.31%). The injury situations of these two teams also has to be taken into account. The Panthers are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all season right now. Tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil returned a few weeks back after missing most of the season and right guard Trai Turner is expected back this week after missing the last 2 games with a concussion. On top of that, outside linebacker Thomas Davis returns from a one-game suspension.

On the other hand, the Falcons have been one of the healthiest teams in the league this season, but they could be without center Alex Mack in this one, as he hurt his calf in practice and has not practiced since. The Falcons have not ruled him out, but it seems unlikely that he plays and, even if he does, he won’t be at 100%. Outside of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Mack is their most valuable offensive player, so that’s a big blow to this team. Given that, I have this line calculated at Atlanta -1.5, so we’re getting good line value with the Panthers at +4. Even if the Falcons win, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less and about 25% of games are decided by 3 points or less, so we’re getting a good cushion with the Panthers. They are worth a bet as long as this line stays above 3.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Carolina Panthers 23

Pick against the spread: Carolina +4

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (11-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)

The Buccaneers had high hopes coming into this season, with former #1 overall pick Jameis Winston going into his 3rd season in the league and several additions coming in through free agency, but they have had a very disappointing season and sit at 4-11 going into the final week of the season. Injuries have been a big problem for this team, as they’ve had among the most games lost to injury of any team in the league this season, but, despite injuries, they have been better than their record suggests.

Seven of their 11 losses have come by 7 points or fewer, including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer. Their -54 point differential is 21st in the NFL and more indicative of a team that should have about 6 or 7 wins, despite the fact that they’ve struggled to produce big plays this season (5 plays of 40+ yards). Big plays like that tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them much. In terms of first down rate differential, they enter this game 12th at +0.94% and they have 15 more first downs than they’ve allowed on the season.

The amount of games they’ve played that have been decided by a touchdown or less is especially relevant, considering they are 7-point home underdogs this week against the Saints. The Buccaneers were blown out in New Orleans earlier this year, losing 30-10 in one of their few losses by more than a touchdown, but this one is in Tampa Bay and the Buccaneers did not have a healthy Jameis Winston in that one. Winston now seems to be over his early season shoulder trouble and has been playing his best football of the season in recent weeks.

In fact, since that loss in New Orleans, the Buccaneers have just one loss by more than a touchdown in 7 games and that came in Atlanta by 14 in a game in which they actually won the first down rate battle, but couldn’t generate any big plays. They’ve come within a field goal of beating both the Falcons and Panthers in the past two weeks and should be able to keep it close with the Saints this week. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -3.5, so we’re getting good line value with the hosts. The Buccaneers are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (5-10) at Los Angeles Rams (11-4)

The Rams are another team that will be resting key players this week, including quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, offensive linemen John Sullivan and Andrew Whitworth, and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. They haven’t confirmed any defensive players they will be resting, but it stands to reason that they will be sitting at least some key players on that side of the ball, including possibly Defensive Player of the Year candidate (favorite?) Aaron Donald. They won’t be able to rest everyone, as they’ll need 46 players active on game day, but the Rams are locked into either the 3rd or the 4th seed, so this isn’t a particularly meaningful game for them.

As a result, this line has shifted to San Francisco -4 in Los Angeles. That seems about right and I have no interest in betting this game either way because it’s tough to evaluate backups playing in a meaningless game. For pick ‘em purposes, I would take the 49ers, who have obviously been playing much better football in recent weeks, thanks to the emergence of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and rookies Reuben Foster and Ahkello Witherspoon on defense, but this is a no confidence pick.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Los Angeles Rams 19

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -4

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)

The Jaguars are a prime candidate to rest their starters in week 17, as they are locked into the 3rd seed in the AFC. That seemed to be the expectation earlier in the week when they opened as 6-point underdogs in Tennessee, but Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said earlier this week that the Jaguars are going to treat this like a normal game. That caused this line to shift to Tennessee -3. That’s still a big line movement from the early line last week, when Jacksonville was favored by 3.5, but the Jaguars’ big loss in San Francisco last week probably has a lot to do with that.

That’s a big overreaction though, as the 49ers have been a solid opponent in recent weeks and the Jaguars only lost the first down rate battle by -1.40%, despite losing the game by 11. The reason they lost by that many points is because they lost the turnover battle by 2, but turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. Case in point, prior to last week, the Jaguars had the 2nd best turnover margin in the NFL at +15 and still rank 3rd at +13. Under normal circumstances, I would probably place a bet on the Jaguars at +3 because I have this line calculated at even, but there’s no guarantee they play their starters for the whole game, so this is just a low confidence pick.

Tennessee Titans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 19

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3

Confidence: Low