Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-9) at New Orleans Saints (7-8)

Aside from this being a divisional matchup, this is a completely meaningless game for these two teams. Both are out of the playoffs. I have a rule against making significant plays on completely meaningless games. If the teams might not care about a game, I shouldn’t either. There’s just no way to predict what kind of effort either side is going to give.

However, if I had to pick a side, I’d take the Panthers, who I think are really underrated. They’ve lost just 2 games by more than 6 points this season and as a result, they rank a modest 19th in net points per drive. That’s actually a good amount of spots behind the Saints, who rank 12th and we’re not really getting any line value with the Panthers using the net points per drive method, as that says this line should be New Orleans -5, which is right where it is.

That being said, the Panthers rank much better in DVOA, which is net points per drive based, but also takes other things into account. The Panthers rank 12th in DVOA, while the Saints rank 20th and the Panthers rank even better in weighted DVOA, which puts greater weight on more recent games, ranking 9th, while New Orleans ranks 18th. This is because the Panthers have won 4 of 5, only losing in Kansas City after the Jovan Belcher incident. Of those 4 wins, 3 have come by double digits.

We’re also getting a chance to fade a heavy public lean with the Panthers, as the public is all over the Saints. I like this because the public always loses money in the long run. The Panthers should be the right side, but again, it’s hard to like either side. I also hate going against the Saints in the Superdome, but these underrated Panthers should at least keep it close.

New Orleans (70% range)

New Orleans Saints 27 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against spread: Carolina +5 (-110) 2 units

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Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers: Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (4-11) at San Diego Chargers (6-9)

Aside from this being a divisional matchup, this is a completely meaningless game for these two teams. Both are out of the playoffs by a long shot. I have a rule against making significant plays on completely meaningless games. If the teams might not care about a game, I shouldn’t either. There’s just no way to predict what kind of effort either side is going to give.

The Raiders do have a powerful trend on their side as they are road dogs off a road loss. Teams are 86-51 ATS in this spot since 2008. The Chargers are also 1-5 ATS in their last 6 home games (3-3 ATS on the road in that same time period). This is also a game they’re expected to do something in. They are 2-7 ATS in their last 9 as favorites or dogs of a field goal or less and 2-0 ATS as 3.5+ dogs in that same time period.

However, the Chargers do have one trend on their side as sub .500 home favorites are 24-10 ATS during week 17 since 2002. I haven’t used that one in any other games where it applies because I didn’t like the lack of line value we were getting with the host, but here I do. The Chargers rank 21st in net points per drive at -0.18, while the Raiders rank 29th at 0.80. If you take the difference, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game), and add 2.5 points for home field, you get that the Chargers should be favored by 9.5. That doesn’t even take into account that the Raiders will be starting Terrelle Pryor in his first NFL start.

The Chargers are also, as bad as they’ve been, 4-1 ATS inside the division this year (3-7 ATS outside the division). On top of that, they do always close seasons out well under Norv Turner, going 21-8 ATS in week 14 or later since 2007, including 7-1 ATS in the division. As bad as they’ve been over the past 3 years, they are still 8-3 ATS in weeks 14-17. I expected them to send Norv Turner out in style, but again, it’s hard to back either side.

Public lean: ?

San Diego Chargers 23 Oakland Raiders 10

Pick against spread: San Diego -10 (-110) 1 unit

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Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (5-10) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

Aside from this being a divisional matchup, this is a completely meaningless game for these two teams. Both are out of the playoffs. I have a rule against making significant plays on completely meaningless games. If the teams might not care about a game, I shouldn’t either. There’s just no way to predict what kind of effort either side is going to give.

The Browns do have a powerful trend on their side as they are road dogs off a road loss. Teams are 86-51 ATS in this spot since 2008. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh could be completely flat after getting eliminated from the playoffs. The Browns also have a lack of losses by more than 10 points over the past 3 years. As bad as they’ve been, they tend to play teams close. They have just 8 of those losses in the last 3 seasons, including three this year. That’s important because this is a 10 point line. The Steelers, meanwhile, are 4-10 ATS as double digit favorites in the last 4 seasons.

However, I just can’t take the Browns and 3rd stringer Thaddeus Lewis in his first NFL start. He was recently activated off the practice squad. Normally betting on 3rd stringers is a very bad idea, but Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is 17-2 SU against rookie quarterbacks. Lewis isn’t technically a rookie, but he’s never thrown a pass in a regular season game. He’ll also be without Trent Richardson.

I can see this game starting out close, maybe 3-3 early, while I’m sitting there thinking “I should have blindly followed the road dog off a road loss trend,” but then it becomes a blowout in the 2nd half as Lewis throws at least one pick six to a Pittsburgh defender before it eventually ends with Pittsburgh up by at least two touchdowns. I don’t like either side, but I’d take the Steelers if I had to.

Public lean: ?

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cleveland Browns 9

Pick against spread: Pittsburgh -10 (-110) 1 unit

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) at Tennessee Titans (5-10)

Aside from this being a divisional matchup, this is a completely meaningless game for these two teams. Both are out of the playoffs by a long shot. I have a rule against making significant plays on completely meaningless games. If the teams might not care about a game, I shouldn’t either. There’s just no way to predict what kind of effort either side is going to give.

However, if I had to take a side, it’d be Jacksonville. The Titans have no business laying more than a field goal against anyone. They are worse than even their 5-10 record would suggest they are the 3rd worst team in the NFL in points differential, thanks to a league leading 6 losses by 21 or more. They rank 31st in net points per drive, DVOA, and weighted DVOA as a result, even worse than the Jaguars.

They Jaguars may only have 2 wins, but they rank 30th, 30th, and 29th in those 3 things respectively. They already beat the Titans once this season and they have a good chance to do so again. If you take the difference between the Jaguars’ net points per drive and the Titans’, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game), and add 2.5 points for home field, you get that Tennessee should be just 2 point favorites here , rather than 4. Even if they don’t win, I like getting the points with the Jaguars.

Public lean: Tennessee (60% range)

Tennessee Titans 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 23

Pick against spread: Jacksonville +4 (-110) 2 units

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Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: Week 17 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) at Denver Broncos (12-3)

This is the biggest line of the season, tied with San Francisco/Arizona at -16.5, but unlike that game, this game actually merits a 16.5 point line. This line really can’t be high enough. Kansas City ranks dead last in net points per drive, DVOA, and weighted DVOA, while the Broncos rank 4th, 2nd, and 2nd respectively in those 3 categories.

If you take the difference between the Broncos’ net points per drive and the Chiefs’ net points per drive, multiply by 11 (the average amount of points per drive), and add 2.5 points for home field, you get that Denver should be favored by 20.5 and I think it’d take them all the way up to that. The only way the Chiefs can move the ball offensively is on the ground and the Broncos rank 3rd against that. This should be a complete blowout. I just hate laying this many points, so it’s a small play.

Public lean: Denver (60% range)

Denver Broncos 27 Kansas City Chiefs 3

Pick against spread: Denver -16.5 (-110) 1 unit

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Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: Week 17 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (10-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)

In spite of that big win in Pittsburgh last week, Andy Dalton and these Bengals still have a lack of success against playoff teams over the past two years. After going 0-8 against playoff teams last year, they’ve had very limited action against playoff teams this year. They have played 3 games against Pittsburgh and the Giants, but neither of those two teams is likely playoff bound.

These Ravens, who blew them out 44-13 week 1, are. The Broncos, who beat them earlier this year, are. The Bengals did beat the Redskins in Washington earlier this year in a game in which Washington left tackle Trent Williams got hurt and that’s the closest thing they have to a win over a playoff team (if Dallas qualifies over them, they won’t have a single one).

In those 12 games (8 last year and Baltimore, Denver, Washington, and Dallas this year), Dalton is a combined 256 of 448 (57.1%) for 3013 yards (6.7 YPA), 13 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. In the other 18 games, he’s 390 of 631 (61.8%) for 4234 yards (6.7 YPA), 33 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions. Even against Pittsburgh (in both games against them), he didn’t play well.

Cincinnati is talented enough on both the offensive and defensive lines to beat teams like the Steelers and Giants despite Andy Dalton’s struggles against those types of teams, but I don’t think that will be enough here. Given that, I’m grabbing the points with the team for whom this game means more too (Cincinnati is locked into the 6th seed, while Baltimore has a chance to move up to #3).

Public lean: Baltimore (50% range)

Baltimore Ravens 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20 Upset Pick +120

Pick against spread: Baltimore +2.5 (-110) 2 units

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Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (11-4) at Minnesota Vikings (9-6)

There are many reasons to like the Vikings here. They’ve played great football at home, going 6-1 with wins over San Francisco and Chicago, as opposed to 3-4 on the road. They played the Packers tight a few weeks back and that was in Green Bay. They’re also playing very good football right now, winning 3 in a row since that Green Bay game. In spite of all this, we’re getting more than a field goal with them at +3.5 and still the public is on Green Bay and the public always loses money in the long run.

We are getting some line value with the Vikings because, while the Packers rank 6th in net points per drive at 0.50, the Vikings rank 16th at 0.04. If you take the difference, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game), and shift the line in Minnesota’s favor 2.5 points for home field, you get that Green Bay should be only favored by 2.5, which isn’t much, but that is on the other side of that key field goal number. DVOA backs that up as Green Bay ranks 5th and 4th in regular and weighted DVOA, while the Vikings rank 16th and 19th respectively.

In spite of that, I’m not going against the Packers right now. Somehow the preseason favorites have managed to win 9 of 10 and fly under the radar. It hasn’t always been pretty, but last week against Tennessee it was (at least for them) in a huge blowout win and in spite of injuries, they are once again red hot at the right time this season. They are 11-4 and could easily be 12-3 if not for the replacement refs, which is right around where a lot of people had them at this point before the season (there was no way they were going to match 15 wins). Why aren’t they being talked about more? I bet Aaron Rodgers is asking that same question and he always plays very well when slighted.

Speaking of being slighted, why is Aaron Rodgers (who leads the NFL in QB rating), not being talked about as a legitimate MVP candidate. If he can win here and eliminate Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, I think he should be maybe the MVP front runner considering all the injuries around him on offense (Peterson is the favorite if the Vikings can make the playoffs). I think that’s exactly what will happen. Rodgers is 22-10 ATS on the road as dogs of favorites of 6 or fewer in his career. It’s not a big play and I wish the line were -3 flat, but I like the Packers.

Public lean: Green Bay (70% range)

Green Bay Packers 27 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against spread: Green Bay -3.5 (-110) 1 unit

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: Week 17 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Atlanta Falcons (13-2)

I can’t handicap week 17 games like I do other games (maybe that’s a good thing because I’ve had a rough few weeks), because one of the things I do is look for upcoming distractions and dynamic changes on their schedule. In week 17, I can’t do that, so instead I have to look at what this game means do these two teams. The Falcons have clinched the #1 seed, so this game is meaningless to them. However, I’m hearing they’ll play their starters for at least a half, as they did in 2010 after they had clinched the #1 seed and they held a 21-0 lead at the half against the hapless Panthers.

I’d suggest they treat this like a real game. They seem to have finally hit their stride and they are playing their best football of the season after that loss in Carolina woke them up and it wouldn’t make sense to take their foot off the gas at all, especially with a week off before their next game. There’s a reason that Super Bowl teams tend to come from Wild Card weekend, while teams that get first round byes tend to lose their first home game, including these Falcons in 2010.

Regardless of what Atlanta does in this one, the Buccaneers are playing terrible football here and this game might be even more meaningless to them than the Falcons. The Falcons at least have the playoffs to tune up for. The Buccaneers’ season is over and they don’t even get to play spoiler at all with the Falcons having already clinched the #1 seed.

I’m not saying they’re as bad as the 2010 Panthers or the 2011 Buccaneers, against whom the Falcons took a 42-7 halftime lead last season during week 17. However, the Buccaneers have lost 5 straight, which is especially bad news for such a traditionally streaky team. Two close losses to the Falcons and Broncos weren’t that concerning, but their home loss to the Eagles was and once they lost that game and effectively had their season ended, they seem to have mailed it in for the 2nd straight season.

At best, they’re a streaky team on a very bad streak, with the streaky Josh Freeman going 88 of 174 (50.6%) for 1082 yards (6.2 YPA), 5 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions in his last 5 games, including a 1:8 TD/INT ratio in his last 2 games, a combined 69-13 loss. At worst, they’ve quit. I’m laying the points and taking the Falcons. Mike Smith is 3-1 ATS week 17, including 4-0 SU by an average of 14.0 points per game (against an average line of -10.5).

Public lean: ?

Atlanta Falcons 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Pick against spread: Atlanta -3.5 (-110) 4 units

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Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: Week 17 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at Washington Redskins (9-6)

The name of the game is simple for the Dallas Cowboys. If they lose, they go home. If they win, they win the NFC East. For the Redskins, it’s a little bit more complicated. They clinch the division with a win, same as with the Cowboys, but they can technically still make the playoffs if they lose, assuming an improbable sequence of events happens earlier in the day before this Sunday Night showdown. I don’t think that will, however, and either way, both teams will be treating this as a must win game as the prize for both teams is a home playoff game.

Assuming we were getting enough points, I was thinking of thinking the Cowboys here. A very good trend is on their side. Road dogs are 52-26 ATS trying to avenge a same season home loss as favorites. The logic behind this is simple: when the location of the game between two teams determines who is favored and who is not, that generally means those two teams are evenly matched and I’d say that’s about right with these two teams. When two teams are evenly matched, they tend to split the season series and if one team wins as dogs on the road, it generally evens out with the other team getting revenge and at least covering as dogs on the road in the next game (40-41 SU).

However, we’re just getting no line value with the Cowboys. These two teams are fairly even, but the Redskins are the better team. They rank 13th in net points per drive, 11th in DVOA, and 8th in weighted DVOA. Meanwhile, the Cowboys rank 17th, 14th, and 15th respectively. If you take the difference between the Redskins’ net points per drive and the Cowboys’, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game per team), and add 2.5 for home field, you get that the Redskins should be favored by 4.5, a figure that is pretty well supported by DVOA.

Furthermore, as bad as the Cowboys generally are in December, I can’t take them to win this game and that would be what I would be doing taking them plus a field goal. Tony Romo is 12-21 ATS after week 14 in his career, though slightly better, 9-12 ATS, as dogs. They’re also 11-6 ATS as road dogs since 2009 (while they struggle as home favorites). Still, I can’t pick them to win here. Games in which a team is a dog are generally a low pressure situations, which is where these Cowboys thrive, but this is far from a low pressure situation, so I have to lay the points. I really wish we were getting at least 3.5, but it’d have to be more than 4 for me to feel comfortable.

Public lean: Washington (50% range)

Washington Redskins 31 Dallas Cowboys 27

Pick against spread: Washington -3 (-110) 1 unit

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St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks: Week 17 NFL Pick

St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5)

Everyone knows about the Seahawks’ home prowess, but it’s really, really significant, possibly even more than people realize. At home, they are 47-20 ATS since 2005, including 6-0 ATS as double digit favorites and 16-3 ATS as touchdown plus home favorites. For contrast, they are 24-43 ATS on the road in that same time period.

On average, they outscore opponents at home by an average of 7.3 points per game. On the road, they are outscored by 5.1 points per game. For this reason, I don’t feel that using 2.5 as a home field adjustment for them is inappropriate. I feel that using 6 (split the difference) or something around there is a more appropriate adjustment (either way: add 6 at home and subtract 6 on the road).

Even using the standard 2.5, we’re getting significant line value with the Seahawks. The Seahawks are all the way in 2nd at net points per drive at 0.90 now, while the Rams are at -0.34 in 24th. If you take the difference, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game), and add that standard 2.5, you get that Seattle should be favored by 16 here. If you use that 6 point adjustment, you get a line of Seattle -19.5. DVOA backs this all up, as Seattle ranks far and away best in both regular and weighted DVOA, while the Rams are 17th and 16th respectively, not bad, but not good enough for me to even consider taking the points here.

For this reason, I don’t even care that this line has moved 3.5 points since last week. Seattle -7.5 was ridiculous anyway. Even Seattle -11 right now is too low for this dominant home team. I don’t care that the public is all over the Seahawks. I don’t care that teams tend to struggle off of back-to-back blowouts. Teams are 28-42 ATS since 1989 off of two straight wins by 24 or more, but the Seahawks were in this spot last week and didn’t seem to care. Now they’re the 6th team since 1989 to have three win straight by that many and just the 2nd (2004 Colts) to win 3 straight by 29 or more. They’re also the first team in that time period to outscore opponents by 120 or more over a 3 game stretch.

I don’t care that the Rams are 10-3 ATS as dogs this year and that they haven’t lost a divisional game and that the Seahawks seem due for a letdown because no one is this good and that everything I normally like to do is telling me to stay away from the Seahawks this week because nothing is this easy. I don’t even care that I don’t like to lay more than a touchdown for a significant play. I’m doing that here. I’m expecting another blowout. There’s just too much line value. The Seahawks are too good at home. And it’s not like Pete Carroll has any qualms about running up the score.

Public lean: Seattle (70% range)

Seattle Seahawks 38 St. Louis Rams 10

Pick against spread: Seattle -11 (-110) 4 units

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