Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots: Week 17 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (7-8) at New England Patriots (11-4)

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 Patriots can move into a first round bye here with a win if Houston loses (not completely unlikely) and actually into the #1 seed with a Houston loss and a Denver loss (pretty much completely unlikely). Meanwhile, with a loss, Baltimore could jump them (assuming they beat Cincinnati) and New England could end up as low as 4th.

Obviously, there’s a lot at play for the Patriots, but most of it will be played out before this game even happens. If Houston wins and Baltimore doesn’t in the 1 PM block, the Patriots will be locked into the #3 seed barring a Denver loss as 16 point favorites against the Chiefs (translation, they’re the #3 seed). However, even if Denver gets up big against Kansas City early, the Patriots will not pull their starters. They always go full out for these week 17 games, even the meaningless ones (which this one isn’t completely). Belichick is 9-2 ATS on week 17.

Besides, this team desperately needs a tune up before the playoffs as their last two games have featured a home loss and a “closer than it should have been” game in Jacksonville as 14 point favorites. However, even with last week’s game, the Patriots have no shortage of blowout wins on their schedule, winning 6 games by 21 or more this season and I think it’s very doubtful that Belichick allows the team to have 3 bad games in a row. Since 2008, they’re 6-2 ATS off of back-to-back non-covers, including a 45-7 win against the Rams earlier this year. This situation reminds me a little bit of that. They lost to the Seahawks and then barely beat the Jets, but bounced back in that 3rd game in a huge way.

We’re also getting plenty of line value with the Patriots, more than last week as this line has moved from -12 to -10 because of the Patriots’ less than stellar showing in Jacksonville and because of some unfounded speculation that this game won’t mean anything to the Patriots (even if it technically doesn’t, they won’t care). The calculated line using the net points per drive method is New England -13, with the Patriots 1st in net points per drive and the Dolphins being 15th.

My concerns and reasoning for not making this a significant play are threefold. The first is that the public is all over New England and they always lose money in the long run. The second is that I just generally don’t like laying more than a touchdown in a significant play. The third is the Patriots’ less than stellar ATS record as home favorites of more than a touchdown over the past 3 years. They are 5-9 ATS in that situation, pretty crazy considering they are 24-12 ATS in all other situations over that time period. Still, I like the Patriots this week. I also once again like the over as Patriots’ game, especially in the 2nd half of the season and in the division, tend to go over.

Public lean: New England (70% range)

New England Patriots 31 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against spread: New England -10 (-110) 2 units

Total: Over 46 (-110) 1 unit




New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Jets (6-9) at Buffalo Bills (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 and both could easily have new Head Coaches and starting quarterbacks next season. I don’t like to make big plays on games involving two teams completely out of the playoff race. There’s just no way to predict what kind of energy either side of going to come out with. Meaningless games should be completely meaningless to bettors. However, if I had to pick a side, I would take the Jets.

The first reason is that I think they’re a better team, but this line doesn’t show it. In fact, at -3.5, it says the Bills are slightly better which isn’t true. The Jets rank 26th in net points per drive, 25th in DVOA, and 25th in weighted DVOA, while the Bills rank 28th, 24th, and 24th respectively. At best, these two teams are even, but we’re getting line value with the Jets using the net points per drive method. The Jets’ is at -0.39, while the Bills are at -0.64. 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 this should be a pick em.

The second reason is that the Jets, for whatever reason, dominate this “rivalry,” winning the last 6, including 5 covers, winning those 6 by an average of 16.8 points for game. The third reason is that, again, for whatever reason, the Bills always seem to struggle late in the season under Chan Gailey, going 4-10 ATS during weeks 13-17 since he took over in 2010. The final reason is that, in spite of all the above stuff, we’re getting a chance to fade the public as the public is all over the Bills. The public always loses money in the long run. Still, I can’t make it a significant play.

Public lean: Buffalo (70% range)

New York Jets 17 Buffalo Bills 16 Upset Pick +155

Pick against spread: NY Jets +3.5 (-110) 2 units




Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: Week 17 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (9-6) at Detroit Lions (4-11)

Chicago is in a must win game here, but that doesn’t mean that this means more to them. The Lions would love nothing more here than to play spoiler and eliminate a division rival. However, unlike the Eagles against the Giants, I don’t really like the Lions here. The Bears have won every game this year in which they’ve been favored by more than 4 (going 8-0 SU and 6-1-1 ATS), but in their other 7 games, they’ve won just once, in Dallas, going 1-6 SU and ATS.

In their 7 games in which they’ve been favored by 4 or more, they’ve won 41-21, 23-6, 41-3, 13-7, 23-22, 51-20, and 28-10, 28-13, winning by an average of 18.2 points per game. 6 of those 8 wins were by 15 or more and only the game against Carolina was actually close. They shut out the Lionsfor 59 ½ minutes before they got a backdoor touchdown to push and finish 13-7.

The Lions aren’t 4 point dogs here because they are much better in things like net points per drive, DVOA, and weighted DVOA than their record would suggest, but they are as bad as the teams that the Bears have been 4+ point favorites over, just for a different reason. They just don’t seem to be able to close out games and win when anything is expected of them. As dogs of 3.5 or less or favorites, they are 3-10 ATS this season.

Furthermore, while they are better in net points per drive, DVOA, and weighted DVOA, we’re still not getting any real line value. The Lions may keep it closer than a lot of the bad record teams the Bears have faced this season (because they don’t have a lot of blowout losses), but the Bears should win and cover here as I don’t trust the Lions unless we’re getting a ton of points with them, especially without dynamic interior defensive lineman Nick Fairley (two big losses without him).

Public lean: Chicago (70% lean)

Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 19

Pick against spread: Chicago -3 (-110) 2 units




Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: Week 17 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (12-3) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

The Texans need this win to lock up not only the #1 seed, but also a first round bye. If they lose, they’ll need Denver or New England to lose as double digit favorites or they’ll be the #3 seed. The Colts, meanwhile, are locked into the #5 seed, but the Texans are a huge divisional rival who beat the Colts two weeks ago and the Colts would love to play spoiler, knock them out of a first round bye, and pick up a big win and momentum going into the playoffs. They also have Head Coach Chuck Pagano returning from his leukemia treatment this week and they’d undoubtedly love to get a huge emotional home win with him returning. That being said, we might not get a whole game of starters from them.

For that reason, this line has actually moved 3 points from where it was last week, even though the Texans got blown out at home by the Vikings last Sunday. I don’t think that’s right. Playoff bound home dogs are 16-7 ATS during week 17 since 1989. This makes sense for two reasons. The first and most obvious is that they’re too good to be laying points at home before a playoff game. But the second reason is that most of those teams are probably resting starters and teams tend to underestimate playoff bound team’s backups. Playoffs teams tend to be deep and well coached.

Either way, I think that bodes well for the Colts this week, especially given all the intangible things the Colts have to play for, regardless of whether or not the starters do play the whole game. Chuck Pagano did tell the media that he plans to play his starters and play to win the game, saying that its “not in our makeup” to rest anyone, though I suppose he could still pull starters late if it’s a blowout either way, which would greatly decrease the backdoor cover possibility.

However, I don’t think we’re going to get a blowout either way. Certainly I’m not going to pick a Colts’ blowout, but the Texans really aren’t playing well enough to be laying this many points in Indianapolis. Seriously, look at their last 7 games: 13-6 win over the Jay Cutler-less Bears who proved to be not as good as their record, overtime games against Jacksonville and Detroit, a 24-10 win in Tennessee, a blowout loss in New England, a 12 point win over the Colts (more on that later), and a 23-6 home loss to the Vikings.

They really haven’t played good football since they lost Brian Cushing, including a “closer than it should have been” win in New York against the Jets and a home blowout loss against the Packers. They are 12-3, but they rank 8th in the NFL in net points per drive and because of a fairly weak schedule in the AFC South, they’re even worse than that in DVOA, ranking 10th, including 13th in weighted DVOA, which puts greater weight on more recent games.

Back to that Colts game 2 weeks ago, they did win by 12, but that was in Houston and it was closer than the final score. I’ve called the Colts overrated before and I stand by that, but I think Houston is equally overrated for the same reasons, lots of blowout losses and a weak schedule. After all, even though the Bears, Jets, and Patriots all beat the Colts by more than 20 on the road, the Texans beat them by just 12 and now they have to go to Indianapolis, where they Colts have been a lot better than on the road. They are 6-1 there, including their only win over a definite playoff team, the Packers.

It’s rare that this happens (which is why I call the Colts overrated), but we’re actually get line value with the Colts this week because of how overrated the Texans are too. The Colts actually rank 23rd in net points per drive, but if you take the difference between the Colts’ and the Texans’, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game) and add 2.5 points to the Colts’ side for home field, you get that the Texans should be -5.5. It’s a significant play on the Colts.

Public lean: Indianapolis (60% range)

Houston Texans 23 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against spread: Indianapolis +7 (-110) 3 units




Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1)

It’s usually a smart thing to take well coached teams off a loss. They’re generally extra focused in a bounce back game the following week. Bill Belichick is 35-20 ATS off a loss since 2000. Mike McCarthy is 22-13 ATS in that spot since 2006. Mike Tomlin is 17-13 ATS in that spot since 2007. Sean Payton is 20-12 ATS in that spot since 2006. Of the current NFL Head Coaches who have won a Super Bowl with their current team, only Tom Coughlin (27-24 ATS) doesn’t have a very impressive ATS record off a loss.

Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring yet like the 5 I just mentioned, but everything he’s done so far suggests he’ll be in that group someday. He’s already got a very impressive, albeit limited, resume off a loss or tie, going 7-1 ATS and 8-0 SU. That one ATS loss was only because he declined a safety late against Seattle and it could have been a push depending on the line you got (it opened at -7, but went towards -9 before the game and the 49ers won by 7). Not only is he 7-0 in those games, but he’s doing it in impressive fashion, winning by an average of 17.8 points per game.

That being said, these 16.5 points are begging me to take them. This line is ridiculous. It’s the biggest one of the season, even bigger than Denver/Kansas City this week. I know the 49ers are very good and the Cardinals are bad, but it’s not like they’re the best team in the league and the worst team in the league. The Cardinals have lost just 2 games by more than 17 points this season. The biggest line anyone has covered this season is -13 (Houston/Tennessee), as 13+ favorites are 1-5 ATS this season.

Using the net points per drive method of computing line value, we can see the line value. The 49ers rank 5th at 0.70, while the Cardinals rank 25th at -0.34. If you take the difference, multiply it by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game) and add 2.5 points for home field, you get that San Francisco should be -14 here instead of -16.5. That might not seem like a ton, but it’s significant and it makes sense. For some reason, this line has shifted 1.5 points in San Francisco’s favor in the last week as it was -15 last week. All the 49ers have done in the last week is get blown out.

That calculated real line also doesn’t take into account these two teams’ injury situations. Justin Smith is out for the 49ers and in the 6 quarters he’s been out for, they’ve allowed 76 points. You can’t blame that all on Smith’s absence, but, on a defense full of talented players, he was their one irreplaceable player. He is constantly double teamed and frees up Aldon Smith (who has not so coincidentally seen a serious lack of production in the 6 quarters without Justin). Of all the elite pass rushers in the NFL, no one sees double teams less frequently than Aldon Smith, part of the reason why I feel he does not deserve defensive player of the year (which I’ll get into after this week).

Arizona, meanwhile, also has a stud 5-technique, Calais Campbell. He’s returned from injury and their defense has been playing better since, particularly in their last 2 games (he was limited in his first game back). In those 2 games, they’ve allowed a combined 24 points (14 of the Bears’ points were off returns and should not count against the defense). The quarterback situation in Arizona makes them a risk, but we’re getting so many points here that I’m not afraid at all to take the Cardinals, who are 3-0 ATS in the last 2 years as 12+ favorites (including 2 straight up wins).

Public lean: Arizona (50% range)

San Francisco 49ers 20 Arizona Cardinals 13

Pick against spread: Arizona +16.5 (-110) 4 units




Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: Week 17 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) at New York Giants (8-7)

The Giants are in a must win game here, but that doesn’t mean that this means more to them. The Eagles would love nothing more here than to play spoiler and eliminate a division rival. That being said, I actually really like the Eagles here. There’s absolutely no pressure on them, while all the pressure is on the Giants. This is normally a good situation for a divisional dog.

The Eagles generally do well in these low pressure situations under Andy Reid. They’re 15-6 ATS as dogs of a touchdown or dog in the Andy Reid era, including 8-2 ATS in the division. Here, they are 7.5 point dogs (more nfl odds here). As bad as they’ve been this year, this year hasn’t been any different in that regard. They have covered both times as touchdown dogs this season, including a road win in Tampa Bay and a cover in Dallas in a divisional contest.

The Giants, meanwhile, are terrible in “easy win” situations, especially at home and especially in the 2nd half of the season (under Coughlin they are 53-19 ATS in the first 8 games of the season and 29-42 in the 2nd). They are 5-10 ATS as 2nd half home favorites of 4 or more under Tom Coughlin, including 2-6 ATS in the division. The Eagles also generally dominate the Giants, going 7-2 ATS against team since the start of the 2008 season. As bad as they’ve been this season, they actually beat them way back in week 4.

Yes, they were 3-1 at the time, but they weren’t playing good football, getting blown out in Arizona and beating Cleveland and Baltimore by a point a piece. Right now, they’re not playing great football either, but they’re not as bad as they once were. In their last 5 games, they have just one loss by more than 8 points, which was a weird Thursday Night game in which they were unfocused on a short week (having played 3 games in 11 days) and blew a 13-10 lead by turning it over 4 times in 5 plays.

It’s not like they’ve been playing easy teams either. They kept it within a touchdown of both the Cowboys and Redskins, who are actually ahead of the Giants in the standings. They beat Tampa Bay, who was playing well at the time, and they hung within 8 of a Carolina team that was about to go on a 4-1 stretch.

They’ll be going back to Michael Vick this week with Foles injured, but I have a feeling we’re going to get a great performance from him in an audition for a starting job after he’s been stewing on the bench for a few weeks. Maybe that was the wakeup call he needed. He was 19 of 30 for 241 yards (with 49 rushing yards) and a touchdown against these Giants in a win earlier this year. Expect him to be just good enough to trick some crappy quarterback needy team into paying him too much money this offseason (sorry Cardinals/Chiefs/Browns/Bills/Jaguars/Raiders/Jets fans).

The Giants, meanwhile, are not playing well at all right now, losing their last two games by a combined score of 67-14. Against Baltimore, they were outgained 533-186. Only the Bills, in a 45-3 loss in San Francisco, have been outgained by more in a game this season than the Giants were last week. Their last win was a game against the Saints in which they became the first team in 12 years to have 400+ return yards. That’s not going to be here to bail them out. They’re in no position to be laying more than a touchdown. I’m taking the points for a big play. The Giants, however, are my last survivor pick of the season.

New York Giants 27 Philadelphia Eagles 24 Survivor Pick (HOU, NE, NO, BAL, SF, ATL, CHI, GB, SD, PIT, DAL, DEN, DET, SEA, STL, IND)

Pick against spread: Philadelphia +7.5 (-110) 4 units