Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (3-13) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

This is another one where I wouldn’t touch either side with money. Both teams have serious quarterback problems. The Colts are on to their 4th quarterback of the year, Josh Freeman. Matt Hasselbeck was playing in the absence of starting quarterback Andrew Luck, but he got hurt last week and Charlie Whitehurst finished out. However, Whitehurst got hurt too, leaving the Colts with the choice between Stephen Morris, a 2014 undrafted free agent signed off of Philadelphia’s practice squad last week, Ryan Lindley, signed this week, and Josh Freeman, signed this week. They ultimately seem to have settled on Freeman as their best option, even though he wasn’t signed until Tuesday and definitely doesn’t know the playbook well enough to play yet. The Colts just didn’t have another option.

Freeman hasn’t seen regular season action since 2013, when he completed 42.9% of his passes for an average of 5.18 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions across 4 games with two teams. A capable quarterback as recently as 2012, Freeman is only 27 (28 next week), but saw his NFL career go south in a hurry and hasn’t been nearly impressive enough to make anyone’s roster since. His last NFL start came week 7 in 2013 for the Minnesota Vikings, who had just signed him less than 2 weeks prior, and it showed, as he completed 20 of 53 for 190 yards and an interception in what stands as the worst quarterback performance of the past few years. This time taking the field after just 5 days with the team, I wouldn’t rule out him being comparably bad. Hopefully he won’t have to pass as much this time.

The Titans, meanwhile, will start backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger in this one, with starter Marcus Mariota dealing with a knee injury. Mettenberger, a 2014 6th round pick, has completed 61.1% of his passes for an average of 6.96 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 2 years in the league. He’s the better of the two quarterbacks in the game, but this might be the first time in his career you can say that about him. The Titans have moved the chains at a 56.88% rate this season in the 4 games where he’s led the team in pass attempts, as opposed to 72.78% in the other 11 games where Mariota was healthy.

The Colts have the better defense (ranking 14th in rate of moving the chains differential, as opposed to 23rd for the Titans) and more supporting talent on offense, but it’s hard to have any confidence in them given their quarterback situation, even in what figures to be a low scoring game that they could control with running and defense. Both of these teams are also likely in their final game with their current coach. Mike Mularkey has been the Titans’ interim Head Coach for 7 weeks since Ken Whisenhunt was fired, but doesn’t really have much of a shot of getting the long-term gig.

Meanwhile, Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano is at the end of his contract and isn’t expected back after a down year and a falling out with the front office. The line on this one is 3.5, so for me to take the Colts, I’d have to be at least somewhat confident they could win by more than a field goal. I’m not, so I’m going the other way. Close to 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. I can’t have any confidence in Tennessee either though.

Indianapolis Colts 13 Tennessee Titans 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: None

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Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (7-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)

This is another one I don’t have a good feel for. The Chiefs are favored by a touchdown, which I think is a little much, considering the Chiefs rank 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Raiders rank 15th. The Chiefs could also be missing outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, huge parts of their defense, for the 5th and 2nd straight game respectively. It’s not enough for me to have any sort of confidence in Oakland, but they’re my pick here.

Kansas City Chiefs 23 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Oakland +7

Confidence: None

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Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-12)

The Steelers lost last week as huge road favorites in Baltimore, but they get a 2nd chance this week and I like their chances of bouncing back this week as 11 point favorites in Cleveland. The Browns rank 29th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Steelers rank 9th. That doesn’t suggest an 11 point line is appropriate, but the Steelers are better than their rank because they’ve moved the chains at a 75.53% rate in the 11 games Ben Roethlisberger has played, as opposed to 63.64% in the 4 he missed.

Cleveland, meanwhile, is on their 3rd quarterback of the year, as Austin Davis will make his 2nd start of the season, in place of an injured Johnny Manziel. Manziel was playing decent in recent weeks, while Davis really struggled in his first start of the season a few weeks back and I’m not expecting a lot out of the Browns this week, especially since Head Coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer are expected to be fired after the game. I can’t be confident in Pittsburgh, but they’re my pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -11

Confidence: None

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Carolina Panthers (14-1)

The Panthers’ undefeated season attempt ended with last week’s road loss in Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean that the Panthers are going take it easy in their final regular season game this week. In fact, it likely means the opposite because now their week 17 game is meaningful, as they need a win to hold onto the #1 seed. A loss at home to the Buccaneers, coupled with an Arizona home win over the Seattle Seahawks, drops Carolina into the #2 seed.

Fortunately for them, the Panthers have a pretty easy matchup, hosting Tampa Bay, who ranks 21st in rate of moving the chains differential. The Panthers, who rank 2nd in that metric, are favored by 10.5 points here. Given that, I think it’s more of a question of how much the Panthers will win by, as opposed to whether or not they’ll win. The Panthers are kind of banged up right now, especially relative to the rest of the season, as they’ve overall benefitted from good health. Now, running back Jonathan Stewart, safety Kurt Coleman, and wide receiver Ted Ginn are all out. I’m still laying the 10.5 points with Carolina, but not with any confidence.

Carolina Panthers 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13

Pick against the spread: Carolina -10.5

Confidence: None

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Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

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

I don’t have too strong of a feel for this one, but this line seems too low at a pick em. That suggests that the Lions are 3 points better than the home team Bears, which I disagree with. The Bears rank 18th in rate of moving the chains differential and have been even better when Jay Cutler has been healthy, moving the chains at a 72.18% rate in the 13 games he’s been healthy, as opposed to 56.25% in the 2 games he was hurt. Granted, those two games Cutler missed were against Seattle and Arizona, arguably the two toughest defenses they’ve faced, and they’re missing top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in this one, but I think they’re still probably more talented than the 18th place rank suggests.

The Lions also are more talented than their rank suggests, as they rank 20th in rate of moving the chains differential, but have played much better offensively since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator. However, they’re not 3 points better than the Bears. This line should be a field goal or so and, given that, we’re getting line value with the Bears. It’s not enough for me to put money on them in a game that’s otherwise meaningless for both teams, but they’re my pick.

Chicago Bears 20 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago PK

Confidence: Low

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Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (7-8) at New York Giants (6-9)

I want to preface this write up by saying I wouldn’t put money on either side. It’s going to be tough to know the emotional state of both of these teams. The Eagles got eliminated last Saturday with a home loss to the Redskins and then their head coach Chip Kelly was fired Tuesday. The Giants, meanwhile, were also eliminated last Saturday with that Philadelphia loss, then promptly got blown out 49-17 in Minnesota the following day, and then likely found out that this will probably be Tom Coughlin’s last game as the Head Coach of the Giants. The two-time Super Bowl winning Head Coach is expected to resign/retire, ahead of his age-70 season, after the 4th straight season in which the Giants have failed to make the playoffs. Coughlin has been in New York as long as Eli Manning, since 2004, and is the third longest tenured head coach in the league behind Bill Belichick (2000) and Marvin Lewis (2003).

However, I will be taking the Eagles for a couple of reasons. For one, I think this line is too high at 4.5. These two teams are pretty evenly matched, ranking 23rd (Giants) and 24th (Eagles) in rate of moving the chains differential and about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so getting anything more than a field goal with the Eagles is intriguing. The Giants also don’t have much homefield advantage, going 54-45 at home (outscoring opponents by an average of 2.54 points per game), as opposed to 56-47 (getting outscored by an average of 0.35 points per game), in the Coughlin/Manning era. Philadelphia is the pick.

New York Giants 27 Philadelphia Eagles 24

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +4.5

Confidence: Low

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Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (9-6) at Arizona Cardinals (13-2)

I’ve thought for a while that the Cardinals were the most underrated team in the NFL. I’ve taken them in every week since week 2. Despite the fact that the Panthers didn’t lose their first game of the season until last week, I think the Cardinals have been the best team in the league for most of the year. The Cardinals rank first in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, despite having a couple losses. In those 2 losses, they won the first down battle by a combined 20 first downs and only lost because they had a -3 turnover margin in both games. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. On average, teams that have a -3 turnover margin in a game have a +0.1 turnover margin the following game. That’s why I don’t really like to use turnover margin as evidence to support an evaluation of a team.

Comparing them with the Panthers, they have a point differential of +206, while the Panthers are at +162, despite the fact that they have a turnover margin of +12, while the Panthers are at +19. The Cardinals are 4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, but the Panthers are 6-1, accounting for nearly half of their wins, and the Cardinals rank 17th in rate of strength of schedule, as opposed to 28th for Carolina.

However, it appears the Cardinals are underrated no more, in the wake of their 38-8 win over the Packers last week, as this line has shifted from 2.5 in favor of the Seahawks to 6.5 in favor of the Cardinals, a massive 9 point shift. I actually think the line is pretty appropriate, but we’ve lost all value with the Cardinals. In fact, I’m going the other way. The Cardinals rank #1 in rate of moving the chains differential, but the Seahawks still come in 4th, despite a huge upset home loss to the St. Louis Rams last week. The Seahawks would have had a much easier time winning that game if they didn’t lose the turnover battle by 3 (including a fumble recovered for a touchdown) and I’ve already talked about how inconsistent turnover margins are.

Despite that loss, the Seahawks have still won 7 of 9 since a 2-4 start. They are 26-7 ATS in the second half of the regular season in the Pete Carroll era (since 2011), including 5-2 ATS this season. Well run teams like the Seahawks always seem to get it together down the stretch. Losing running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jimmy Graham, and running back Thomas Rawls with injuries has made this team more one-dimensional, but Russell Wilson has been playing arguably the best football of his career.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are missing cornerback Tyrann Mathieu for the season with a torn ACL and he was playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before going down. They obviously didn’t seem to miss him last week against the Packers, but it’s possible they just had a really spirited performance to compensate for Mathieu, something that’s going to be tough to do every single week. They’ll definitely miss him. The Seahawks are also in a great spot as divisional road underdogs are 57-31 ATS in a same season regular season rematch against a team they previously lost to as divisional home favorites, since 2002. Revenge is far from uncommon in divisional matchups similar to this one and the Cardinals beat the Seahawks as underdogs in Seattle earlier this year. I can’t put money on the Seahawks, but I’m going with them.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Seattle Seahawks 20

Pick against the spread: Seattle +6.5

Confidence: Low

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