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

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-2)

The Eagles have the #1 seed in the NFC locked up and are a prime candidate to rest starters in week 17. The oddsmakers seem to think they will, listing them as 3-point home underdogs here at home against the Cowboys, but I am not so sure. Nick Foles has only made 2 starts in relief of Carson Wentz so far and looked pretty shaky in the last one, so it makes sense that they would want him to get more live reps with the first team offense before the playoffs, especially since they have next week off anyway. Foles has already said he is preparing to start this week. They may rest some stars on defense, but they still need to have 46 players active on gameday, so they can’t rest everyone.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are pretty banged up and will be without left tackle Tyron Smith, defensive tackle David Irving, and possibly wide receiver Dez Bryant in a game that’s also meaningless for them, after they were eliminated from playoff contention in last week’s home loss to the Seahawks. All that being said, I would not recommend betting on the Eagles because they could pull their starters after a couple series and turn the team over to 3rd string quarterback Nate Sudfeld, a 2016 6th round pick who has never thrown a pass in a game. If I knew they wouldn’t, this would be an easy bet, but I can’t be confident with the uncertainty.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-15) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)

This is another game I will not be betting on because one team will be resting starters. The Steelers can still get the #1 seed if they win and the Patriots lose at home to the Jets, but clearly they do not think Patriots/Jets will be a competitive game, as they have said they will be resting key starters with a first round bye locked up, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell and presumably others. As a result, this line has dropped from Pittsburgh -14 at home over the Browns to -7.

The Browns are more talented than their record suggests (even if that isn’t saying much) and could be a competitive football team next season if they can get a real quarterback. In a lot of ways, they remind me of the 2012 Chiefs, who had some talent, but went 2-14 with a -24 turnover margin. The following off-season, they added Alex Smith to stabilize the quarterback position and their turnover margin and they went 11-5 as a result, with largely the same supporting cast.

The Browns are at -28 in turnover margin, which would be tied for the worst single season mark since the 2000 Chargers (who went 1-15), but most of that has been because of their horrendous quarterback play. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis anyway, though the Browns have been an exception to that this season because DeShone Kizer has been exceptionally bad. On the off chance they can play neutral turnover football against the Steelers’ backups, I am taking the Browns because this line is still pretty high, but this is just a no confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +7

Confidence: None

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) at Denver Broncos (5-10)

The Chiefs are one of several teams that will be resting starters this week with their playoff seeding locked up. The Chiefs clinched the AFC West last week, but can’t move any higher than the 4th seed in the AFC, so Alex Smith and many other starters will not play at all in this game. In past years, I’ve been hesitant to bet on games where either one or both teams will be resting starters, as it’s very tough to predict how backups will play in a meaningless game, but this year I will be staying away from these games entirely.

For pick ‘em purposes, I would recommend picking the Chiefs as 3.5 point road underdogs, as they still probably have the quarterback advantage with first round rookie Pat Mahomes making his first career start against Paxton Lynch, who has been horrendous in limited action in 2 seasons in the league. There’s a reason Lynch was unable to beat out Trevor Siemian for the starting job in each of the past 2 off-seasons, despite having every opportunity to as a former first round pick. Mahomes is an unknown commodity though and it’s tough to predictable how he will play without other starters around him in a meaningless game, so this is just a low confidence pick.

Denver Broncos 16 Kansas City Chiefs 13

Pick against the spread: Kansas City +3.5

Confidence: Low

2017 Week 16 NFL Pick Results

Week 16

Total Against the Spread: 12-4

Pick of the Week: 1-0

High Confidence Picks: 3-0

Medium Confidence Picks: 3-1

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 7-1

Low Confidence Picks: 3-2

No Confidence Picks: 2-1

Upset Picks: 2-0

2017

Total Against the Spread: 124-108-8 (53.33%)

Pick of the Week: 11-5 (68.75%)

High Confidence Picks: 18-10-3 (62.90%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 31-32-1 (49.22%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 60-47-4 (55.86%)

Low Confidence Picks: 39-31-4 (55.41%)

No Confidence Picks: 25-30 (45.45%)

Upset Picks: 19-23 (45.24%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 676-596-36 (53.06%)

Pick of the Week: 51-33-2 (60.47%)

High Confidence Picks: 77-58-6 (56.74%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 197-151-6 (56.50%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 325-242-14 (57.14%)

Low Confidence Picks: 184-176-13 (51.07%)

No Confidence Picks: 167-178-9 (48.45%)

Upset Picks: 107-134 (44.40%)

2017 Week 16 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

LAC -6.5 @ NYJ

High Confidence Picks

CIN +3.5 vs. DET

TEN +7 vs. LAR

SEA +5 @ DAL

Medium Confidence Picks

NE -11 vs. BUF

NYG +3.5 @ ARZ

OAK +9.5 @ PHI

TB +10.5 @ CAR

Low Confidence Picks

HOU +9 vs. PIT

MIN -9 @ GB

SF +4.5 vs. JAX

MIA +10.5 @ KC

CHI -6.5 vs. CLE

No Confidence Picks

BAL -13.5 vs. IND

NO -5.5 vs. ATL

WAS -3 vs. DEN

Upset Picks

SEA +190 @ DAL

CIN +160 vs. DET

Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (6-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)

The Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz for the season a couple weeks back, but I still think they are a contender, although the Wentz injury obviously is a huge blow to their chances. Prior to the season, I had the Eagles getting a first round bye in the NFC and I wasn’t even completely sold on Wentz at the time. This team is a lot more than just Wentz. They have some other injuries, missing left tackle Jason Peters, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, and running back Darren Sproles for the season, but no one is completely healthy at this point in the season. The Eagles still have a strong supporting cast, including a talented defense and one of the best offensive lines in football.

Foles is obviously a downgrade from Wentz, but he’s one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league and has some success as a starting quarterback. He struggled with the Rams in 2015, but that could easily be the result of terrible coaching by Jeff Fisher’s staff. Both Case Keenum and Jared Goff lead NFC contenders right now after getting away from Fisher’s coaching, so why couldn’t Foles at least capture some of his pre-Rams form, back when he was a low end starter at worst with Chip Kelly’s Eagles? He played pretty well in his first start last week in New York.

Unfortunately, we aren’t getting any line value with the Eagles this week as 9.5-point home favorites over the Raiders. In fact, I think we’re actually getting a little bit of value with the Raiders, who are better than their 6-8 record. Despite missing Derek Carr for a stretch earlier in the season, they still rank 13th in first down rate differential at 0.83%. The issue for them has been turnover margin, as they have a -9 turnover margin that is 4th worst in the league.

Fortunately, turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. Case in point, the Raiders had the league’s best turnover margin last season at +16, when they finished 12-4. In fact, the Raiders actually had a worse first down rate differential last season than they have this season, finishing last season 19th at -0.49%. The Raiders were not as good as their record suggested last season, but they are not as bad as their record suggests this year.

That being said, I would not recommend betting on the Raiders for two reasons. For one, they could be flat after being eliminated from the playoff race in heartbreaking fashion last week in a 3-point loss to the Cowboys. Two, they’re pretty banged up. While wide receiver Amari Cooper is expected to return from a 3-game absence with concussion and ankle problems, he hasn’t really played that well this season when on the field and the Raiders could be without outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, defensive end Mario Edwards, defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, and center Rodney Hudson this week. Hester and Edwards have already been ruled out and they could be hesitant to play the other two at less than 100% in a meaningless game. Even with the injuries, I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -7, but that’s not enough value for this to be worth a bet.

Sunday Update: When I originally did this writeup, I did not realize this was going to be a night game. West coast teams have a huge advantage over east coast teams at night because of body clocks, covering at close to a 2/3rds rate historically. We’ve already seen the Eagles lay an egg earlier this season in Seattle at night and that was with Carson Wentz. This game should be close, so I think Oakland is worth a bet at 9.5.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Oakland +9.5

Confidence: Medium