Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-10) at Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)

The rule of thumb with the Lions in the Matt Stafford era is to take them against easier opponents and bet against them against harder opponents. They are just 20-41-2 against teams with a winning record since Stafford’s first full season in 2011 and, more recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams from 2016-2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams. This season, they are 1-7 against teams currently still in the playoff race and 4-3 in their other 7 games.

The Packers are not in the playoff race and the Lions beat them earlier this season, but they could have easily won that game if not for a career worst performance from kicker Mason Crosby. They’re also better than than record suggests, ranking 16th in first down rate differential at +0.60% and ranking even higher in my roster rankings, even with top defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels out and top cornerback Jaire Alexander likely joining him after not practice all week. They’ve underachieved offensively and lost some close games due to special teams screw ups (including the first Detroit game), but they’ve been better offensive since firing head coach Mike McCarthy and they could easily be in the playoff mix if they had won a couple of their close losses.

The Lions are also worse than they’ve been in recent years, thanks to a significant amount of personnel losses. Just in recent weeks, the Lions have lost right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackles Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson, among others. Given the talent gap between these two teams and the Packers history of dominance at home (38-19 ATS in games Aaron Rodgers has started and finished since 2011), I have this line calculated at Green Bay -10, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Packers, but not enough to bet money on them confidently, given how banged up their defense is.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-6)

The Colts got off to a 1-5 start, but have won 8 of their last 9 games, including 4 wins by at least 14 points. Injuries were an issue for them early in the season, but they’ve been one of the better teams in the entire league over the second half of the year. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.21% and 9th in point differential at +73 on the season, but since week 9 they rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.26%.

The Titans have been close to just as good over that time period though, ranking 3rd in first down rate differential at +6.58% since week 9. Going into their week 8 bye, the Titans had one of the worst offenses in the league, ranking 29th in first down rate differential at 30.17%, but they’ve been much better in the second half of the season, with quarterback Marcus Mariota playing at a much higher level and the running game producing much more with Derrick Henry as the lead back rather than Dion Lewis. Their defense, meanwhile, has remained dominant and ranks 2nd in the NFL on the season at 32.29%.

The Titans have had the easiest schedule in the league for the past 4 weeks, beating the Jets, Jaguars, Giants, and Redskins, but they’ve also beaten the Cowboys and Patriots convincingly in the second half of the season and the Colts haven’t had the toughest schedule either. The Titans lost convincingly against the Colts in Indianapolis a few weeks back, but they also beat the Jaguars and Giants with ease, while the Colts lost to the Jaguars and nearly lost to the Giants.

Unfortunately for the Titans, they are going into this huge win or go home game with injury uncertainty at quarterback, as Marcus Mariota was once again knocked out of the game with a stinger in last week’s win over the Redskins. Mariota is expected to start this pivotal game and has looked fine throwing the ball at practice this week, but he’s already been knocked out of the game with a stringer twice in the past few weeks, so he’s no guarantee to make it through this game.

Despite that, I think we’re getting enough line value with the Titans as 3.5-point home underdogs for them to be worth a small bet. Assuming Mariota makes it through the game and plays reasonably well, I have this line calculated at Tennessee -1.5, so even with uncertainty priced in, Tennessee +3.5 is a good line to get with them. The Titans are also going to be without stud defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, but the Colts aren’t at 100% either with talented center Ryan Kelly once again on the sidelines with an injury. This isn’t a huge play because of Mariota’s uncertainty, but the Titans have a good chance to pull the upset if he plays the whole game and I like getting more than a field goal of protection.

Sunday Update: Despite practicing all week, Marcus Mariota is reportedly not going to play this week because of fears that he could make his injury worse long-term. That hasn’t been confirmed and we won’t know for sure until later tonight, but I can’t recommend betting the Titans without Mariota, even though the line has jumped to 5. I unfortunately locked this in at +3.5, but that was with the expectation that Mariota would play in a must win game after practicing all week.

Indianapolis Colts 20 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

The Ravens have gone 5-1 since turning to Lamar Jackson at quarterback, but they’ve actually moved the ball at a slightly worse rate, picking up first downs at a 34.28% rate in Jackson’s 6 starts, as opposed to 36.46% in Joe Flacco’s 9 starts. That’s despite the fact that 4 of the 6 teams they’ve faced over that stretch rank 29th or worst in first down rate allowed. They’ve been able to win because their defense has played at a high level, with their best defensive performance coming last week when it was needed most. They held the Chargers to a 26.32% first down rate in a game in which the Ravens’ offense moved the ball at a mere 26.67% rate against the best defense Lamar Jackson has seen so far.

The Ravens have another tough game this week though and their defense might not be able to match what was arguably their best defensive performance of the season last week. The Browns are not typically a tough opponent, but they beat the Ravens earlier this season and have gotten significantly better in recent weeks. Since week 9, the Browns rank 8th in first down rate differential at +2.50%, above the Ravens, who rank 18th at +0.51%. I also have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so we’re getting significant value with the Browns as 6-point underdogs. In a week with only a few good, bettable games, this is my Pick of the Week.

Baltimore Ravens 19 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (5-10)

The Dolphins have 7 wins and were in the playoff race late in the season, but they haven’t been nearly as good as their record and have arguably been one of the worst teams in the league. While their 7 wins have come by a combined 38 points, with none coming by more than 8 points, their 8 losses have come by a combined 127 points, with 7 of 8 coming by double digits. Their -89 point differential ranks 29th in the NFL and they’ve been even worse than that suggests.

Not only have they faced the 6th easiest schedule in the NFL, but they’ve also benefited from a +8 turnover margin, which is unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 30th on the season at -5.60%. Their offense has been a little better since getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill back from injury, but he’s not at 100% and their secondary has major issues without injured cornerback Xavien Howard and injured safety TJ McDonald, both of whom are expected to sit again this week. Since week 9, they’ve been even worse in first down rate differential, ranking 31st at -8.09%.

The Bills, meanwhile, have actually ranked 11th in first down rate differential over that time period. Their offense hasn’t been great, picking up first downs at a 34.19% rate since week 9, 25th in the NFL over that time period, but they’ve been better since getting Josh Allen back from injury, while their defense has been dominant over that time period, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.75%, as Sean McDermott has once again gotten the most of his defensive talent, despite missing a couple key players with injury. The Bills lost in Miami a few weeks ago, but they could have easily won that game despite a -2 turnover margin and they won the first down rate battle by 3.39%, despite Miami’s secondary being healthy at the time. I expect them to win with relative ease in rematch in Buffalo.

I also expect the Bills to have the motivational edge in this one, with reports coming out that the Dolphins will be moving on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and head coach Adam Gase after the game. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see David Fales in the second half either. The organization clearly likes him, keeping him on the roster as a 3rd quarterback all season, and they gave him playing time in a meaningless week 17 game last season as well. Even not taking that into account, I have the Bills calculated at -8.5 in this one, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills at -5.5. The Bills aren’t a great team, but they could easily give the Dolphins another double digit loss, especially if the Dolphins don’t play their best game.

Buffalo Bills 23 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -5.5

Confidence: High

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)

The Falcons have had a disappointing season and will be watching the post-season from home, but they’ve played better in recent weeks thanks to the return of dominant every down linebacker Deion Jones. Key defensive players suffering significant injuries early in the season is the primary reason for their disappointing year, as they ranked dead last in first down rate allowed at 43.02% through 11 games, but they’ve allowed a first down rate of 35.54% in 4 games since Jones returned.

Their offense has been strong throughout, ranking 9th in first down rate at 39.40%, as their strong passing offense has made up for an inconsistent running game, so if Jones had stayed healthy all year there’s a good chance the Falcons would at least still be in the playoff hunt right now. Over the past 4 weeks, they rank 8th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +3.40%. Despite that, they are 1.5-point road underdogs in Tampa Bay against a mediocre Buccaneers team, as casual bettors may not realize how important Jones is to this defense.

The Buccaneers rank 18th in the NFL in first down rate differential on the season at -0.16%, which is decent, but they start one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league, they rank 31st in first down rate allowed at 41.00%, and they are missing two key offensive playmakers in wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end OJ Howard. Over the past 4 weeks, they are just 24th in first down rate differential, as injuries have started to pile up.

It’s not just a talent gap between these teams either, as the Buccaneers probably won’t be at their best with head coach Dirk Koetter expected to be let go after the game. Koetter seems to know he’ll be gone and has even said he’s going to try to get 3rd string quarterback Ryan Griffin in the game because he hasn’t gotten a chance to play yet, so it doesn’t sound like they’re treating this as a normal game. Even if Jameis Winston can keep this game close, the Falcons would likely pull ahead when Griffin comes in. I like the Falcons a lot this week.

Atlanta Falcons 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +1.5

Confidence: High

New York Jets at New England Patriots: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Jets (4-11) at New England Patriots (10-5)

I bet on the Patriots as 13-point favorites last week at home against the Bills. They nearly covered, holding a 24-6 lead with 2 minutes left in the game before allowing the backdoor cover, but I never really felt comfortable with that bet during the game. Both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski seem to be playing at less than 100% and part of the reason the Patriots didn’t cover is because Brady was pulled with 7 minutes left in the game, an unusual move by Bill Belichick. Gronkowski also played less than his normal snaps and was frequently subbed for on run plays for blocking tight end Dwayne Allen.

The Patriots are in a similar spot this week, as 13-point home favorites, about to go into a first round bye if they can take care of business, a much needed first down bye for a team that can still be dangerous if healthy. They’re not healthy right now though, so I’m hesitant to take them, but the Jets are not the Bills, who have a legitimately good pass defense, which contributed to the Patriots’ passing game struggles. The Jets’ offense has been better in recent weeks, since Sam Darnold returned from injury, but the same could be said of the Bills with Josh Allen before last week.

Unlike the Bills, the Jets’ defense has gone in the other direction since Darnold’s return. They rank 31st in the NFL in first down rate allowed over the past 4 weeks at 41.38% and the obvious culprit is the absence of linebacker Darron Lee, who was suspended for the final 4 games of the season. Lee helped hold Patriots running back James White to 1 catch on 5 targets in the previous meeting between these two teams and also helped on Rob Gronkowski, who was limited to 3 catches.

The Jets did beat the Bills in Buffalo a few weeks ago without Lee, but the Bills won the first down rate battle in that game by 2.66% and had one of their better offensive weeks of the season. On the season, the Jets rank 31st in the NFL in first down rate differential at -6.09%, only ahead of the Cardinals. We’re getting some line value with the Patriots, so they should be the right side this week, but I’m hesitant to bet on them because they could pull Brady late and allow the backdoor cover again.

New England Patriots 27 New York Jets 10

Pick against the spread: New England -13

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-12) at Seattle Seahawks (9-6)

Unlike other games this week, I am confident the Seahawks will play their starters the whole way in this game, unless they jump out to a huge lead, in which case covering this spread shouldn’t be a problem. The Seahawks are locked into either the 5th or 6th seed, but they’ve never rested starters in the past even when they’ve had nothing to play for and I think they’d much rather go to Dallas next week than either Chicago or Los Angeles. Winning this game assures they will face the Cowboys, easily the weakest of the four division winners.

Given that the Seahawks will be treating this as a real game, I like their chances of covering as 13-point home favorites. The Cardinals are horrible, ranking dead last in first down rate differential at -8.41%, and they’ve been even worse over the past 8 weeks at -9.49%, as injuries have piled up on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have gotten better as the season has gone on, just as they have in almost every season in the Russell Wilson era, going 37-17 ATS in the final 8 games of the regular season since 2012.

I haven’t picked them much in recent weeks because they went just 3-5 ATS in the final 8 games of last season and because they don’t have the same talent level they had from 2012-2016 when they always finished the season dominantly, but Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP level and Pete Carroll seems to have once again gotten his team playing at a high level at the end of the season. They should run over the worst team in the league.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Arizona Cardinals 10

Pick against the spread: Seattle -13

Confidence: Medium