Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (10-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-4)

The Cardinals started the season 7-0, but have since fallen back to earth, going just 3-5 in their past 8 games. The +8 turnover margin they had in their first seven games was always going to be unsustainable (+2 in eight games since), but the Cardinals have also suffered a significant amount of injuries that have caused this team to not play as well on either side of the ball. Quarterback Kyler Murray has returned from a three game absence, but he remains without top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and has consistently been missing at least one talented offensive lineman. 

Left guard Justin Pugh and center Rodney Hudson have returned, but this week he will be without arguably his most important offensive lineman, left tackle DJ Humphries. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense has been without top interior defender JJ Watt and top cornerback Robert Alford, who will be joined on the sideline by slot cornerback Marco Wilson and Watt’s replacement Jordan Phillips, while talented edge defenders Devon Kennard and Markus Golden could join them if they can’t return from the COVID protocols in time.

Dallas, meanwhile, is arguably as healthy as they have been all season. Left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin, right tackle La’El Collins, edge defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, wide receivers Amari Cooper, Ceedee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, and quarterback Dak Prescott have all missed at least some time with injury and have not made it through a full game together yet, but all nine of those players are available this week, which is very significant as they are among their most important players.

Despite their injuries, Dallas has still been one of the best teams in the league this year, ranking 6th, 13th, 4th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency and they have been better in recent weeks as they have gotten healthier. The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank 13th, 18th, 17th, and 9th respectively and have struggled in recent weeks because of key players missing time. We have lost a lot of line value in the past week with this line moving up to 6, but my calculated line is 10, which would become 13 if Golden and Kennard both miss. I want to lock this in now and may increase this bet up to a possible Pick of the Week depending on what changes before gametime.

Update: Both Golden and Kennard are out and the line has stayed put at six, so I want to make this my Pick of the Week.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas -6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-12-1) at Seattle Seahawks (5-10)

The Seahawks are just 5-10, but they are a lot better than their record. Their point differential is just -1, as they have gone 2-5 in one score games, and that is despite the fact that Russell Wilson missed three games and was limited in about another three games with injury. The Seahawks are solid on defense (20th in schedule adjusted efficiency) and special teams (6th), so when Wilson is healthy, they are much better than a 5-10 team. 

The Seahawks lost to the Bears last week, but it was a 1-point loss in which the Seahawks won the yards per play battle in that matchup by 1.6 yards per play, losing the game primarily because of third downs (3/10 to 7/14), which are not as predictive on a week-to-week basis as early downs. I suspect the Seahawks would win that game significantly more than half of the team if they played that game a hundred times.

Now the Seahawks get an even easier game with the Lions coming to town. The Lions have been better than their 2-12-1 record this season, with just four of their losses coming by more than ten points, but they are starting backup quarterback Tim Boyle, who is one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the league, which significantly hurts their chances of keeping this game close as 7.5-point underdogs. 

The only reason I am not betting on the Seahawks is because this could be a look-ahead spot for them with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at a 42.6% rate all-time against an opponent with a record more than 50% worse than their next opponents’ record, which applies here. The Seahawks are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes though, as they should be able to get their fourth multiscore win of the season against a Lions team that is missing key personnel on both sides of the ball.

Seattle Seahawks 22 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -7.5

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (7-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)

The Chargers lost on the road in Houston in embarrassing fashion to one of the worst teams in the league, with a final score of 41-29 as 12.5-point road favorites. There are plenty of reasons to expect the Chargers to bounce back this week though. For one, their loss last week was largely the result of losing the turnover battle, as they won the yards per play battle (+0.49) and first down rate battle (+2.86%). 

The Chargers will also be healthier than they were last week, with top edge defender Joey Bosa, stud center Corey Linsley, talented starting wide receiver Mike Williams, and feature back Austin Ekeler all back in the lineup. Teams tend to bounce back from big upset losses anyway, covering at a 57.3% rate all-time after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused after getting embarrassed by a bad team.

The Chargers also get another easy game this week, as the Broncos will be the team with the significant injury issues in this game, rather than the Chargers. The Broncos only lost by four to the Raiders last week, but they lost despite winning the turnover battle by three and they lost the first down rate battle (+13.30%) and yards per play battle (+1.15) by significant amounts, especially struggling on offense in the first start of the season for backup quarterback Drew Lock. 

Lock will start again this week, but he’ll be without at least two of his top wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick, as well as starting right tackle Bobby Massie. Meanwhile, their defense is expected to be without talented edge defender Bradley Chubb and stud slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, on a unit already missing a trio of talented players who began the season with the team, AJ Johnson, Josey Jewell, and Von Miller. 

The Broncos could also be without top wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who reportedly could also go on the COVID list with Jeudy and Patrick, giving Drew Lock an even thinner receiving corps. The Chargers aren’t 100% either, as they could be missing a pair of starters in the secondary in Chris Harris and Nasir Adderley, but even if they are out and Sutton plays, I still have the Chargers favored by 10 points. If they play and Sutton doesn’t, my calculated line moves to -13. I want to lock this one in at -7.5 before the line potentially increases and I may increase this play before gametime.

Update: The Broncos will likely have Sutton for this game, but the Chargers are getting Harris and Adderley back, while Broncos interior defender Mike Purcell is out, meaning the Broncos will also be without at least two (DeShawn Williams) of their interior defenders and possibly a third if Dre’Mont Jones, who is questionable, is unable to go. This line hasn’t moved from 7.5, but I am glad to have bet the Chargers at that number, as the disparity in player absences between these two teams is massive.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7.5

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at Washington Football Team (6-9)

Many wrote the Eagles off when they started 3-6, but they were a lot better than their record suggested, having faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, while dealing with key injuries on the offensive line and still managing a positive point differential. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Eagles have climbed right back into the playoff picture at 8-7 as their schedule has gotten easier and the team has gotten healthier in recent weeks. 

Despite their recent strong stretch, the Eagles still remain a better team than their record suggests, as their wins have come by an average of 18.0 points per game, while their losses have come by an average of 9.1 points per game, giving them a point differential of +80, 10th best in the NFL. One of their recent wins was against Washington a couple weeks ago and they will face them again this week. The Eagles only won by 10 in the first matchup in Philadelphia and now will play in Washington, but the Eagles dominated in the first down rate (+7.40%) and yards per play battle (3.03), winning the game despite losing the turnover battle by two, which is not nearly as predictive of a metric as first down rate and yards per play. 

Washington was missing their top two quarterbacks (Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, their top offensive lineman (Brandon Scherff), and their top two defensive backs (Kamren Curl and Kendall Fuller) in the first matchup and they will all be available in this game, but they still have a shaky situation at quarterback and they still are not healthy around the quarterback, missing their two best running backs (Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic), a trio of starting offensive lineman (Ereck Flowers, Chase Rouiller, Samuel Cosmi), their top edge defender Chase Young, and a pair of starters in the secondary in William Jackson and Landon Collins. Rouiller, McKissic, and Young were out in the first matchup as well, but Washington still isn’t that much healthier than they were in the first matchup.

Washington was blown out last week in Dallas, losing by 42 points, which normally puts a team in a good spot, as teams cover at a 56.1% rate after a loss by 35 points or more, but that tends to be because a team is undervalued after one bad week. In this scenario, the line only shifted from favoring the Eagles by a field goal on the early line last week to favoring them by 4.5 this week, despite Washington’s blowout loss and the losses they have had at running back and on the offensive line since last week (Flowers, Cosmi, Gibson). The line was too low at a field goal on the early line and is still too low at 4.5. Washington ranks 22nd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and are far from 100%, while the much healthier Eagles rank 7th and have blown out almost every below average team they have faced

The Eagles are 8-1 against losing teams with seven multiscore wins, with their only loss coming in a game in which they still won the first down rate battle and yards per play battle in New York against the Giants with a banged up Jalen Hurts throwing three of the nine interceptions he has thrown this season. My calculated line has the Eagles favored by eight points, so we’re getting great value with the Eagles. I want to make sure there are no unexpected COVID positives for the Eagles before locking this game in, but I will almost definitely be placing a bet on the Eagles at -4.5 this week.

Update: Nothing unexpected has happened here, other than this line moving to 4. At that number, I like the Eagles even more and I am confident making this a bigger play. Like most of their other games against sub-.500 opponents, the Eagles should win with relative ease against a relatively short-handed Washington team.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Washington Football Team 16

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -4

Confidence: High

Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (9-6)

The Bills are just 9-6, but they lead the NFL in both point differential (+163) and schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (10.5 points above average) and they could easily have a few more wins, as they have gone 0-5 in one-score games, while all nine of their wins have come by double digits, with an average margin of victory of 23.6 points per game. The Falcons, meanwhile, only have a couple fewer wins, but they don’t have any wins by more than one score, while six of their eight losses have come by double digits, leading to them ranking 5th worst in point differential at -122 and 30th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (6 points below average)

With the Bills having nine double digit wins and the Falcons having six double digit losses, a blowout seems likely here, but the spread already takes into account that these two teams are nowhere near as evenly matched as their records suggest, favoring the Bills by 14.5 points. My calculated line is Buffalo -16.5, so we are getting line value with the Bills, even though the Falcons are the healthier team, with the Bills missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season, but there isn’t enough here for the Bills to be worth betting. I would still take Buffalo for pick ‘em purposes, but nothing more.

Buffalo Bills 33 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -14.5

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)

The Bengals are in the driver’s seat in the AFC North right now, only needing to win one of their next two games to clinch the division, but they’re going to find it very difficult to get that win this week, with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town. The Bengals point differential of 9th is +86 best in the NFL, but they have also faced the easiest schedule in the league in terms of opponents’ efficiency, which doesn’t even take into account that they played a skeleton crew Ravens team last week. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Bengals rank just 17th, 16th, and 7th respectively, while ranking 13th in overall mixed schedule adjusted efficiency. That schedule will be getting a lot tougher this week, as the Chiefs are arguably the best team in the league. 

The Chiefs got off to a slow start this season, sitting at 3-4 through the first seven games of the season, but their biggest problems were the turnover margin (-10 through the first 7 games of the season) and their horrendous defensive play. Since then, their defense has since gotten healthy (cornerback Charvarius Ward, safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Frank Clark, and defensive tackle Chris Jones all missed time early in the season) and added edge defender Melvin Ingram in a key mid-season acquisition, which has led to a huge defensive improvement, while their turnover margin has predictably swung as well, as they have been at +13 in the eight games since their slow start.

Between the turnover margin and their much improved defensive efficiency, the Chiefs have won all eight games by an average of 17.0 points per game since their 3-4 start, leading to them now being all alone in the #1 seed in the AFC at 11-4, despite the fact that their offense has not been as healthy in recent weeks as it is now, with starting right tackle Lucas Niang, top wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and stud tight end Travis Kelce all back in the lineup. 

This line, favoring the Chiefs by five points on the road, might seem high, given that the Bengals are a division leader, but my calculated line is actually at 6, so I think this line is not high enough, as this is just such a step up in competition from most of the Bengals’ schedule. The Chiefs rank 2nd in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, 2nd on special teams, and their defense (25th on the season) has been a complementary unit in recent weeks. There isn’t enough here to bet on the Chiefs, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, in a rare battle of two relatively healthy teams this week.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -5

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) at New York Jets (4-11)

There is obviously a big talent gap between these two teams, but this line, favoring the Buccaneers by 13 points on the road, is too high, given all that the Buccaneers are missing right now. At the very least, they will be without talented wide receiver Chris Godwin, starting running back Leonard Fournette, top linebacker Lavonte David, and their top two edge defenders Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, while their other two talented wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Evans are both legitimately questionable, as are their top safety Antoine Winfield and their top cornerback Jamel Dean. 

The Jets are not healthy either, missing their top three wide receivers Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, and Corey Davis and talented center Connor McGovern, while top cornerback Bryce Hall and top interior defender Quinnen Williams both legitimately questionable, but even in the worst case scenario for the Jets and the best case scenario for the Buccaneers, I have the Buccaneers favored by 12 points, so we’re getting line value with the Jets regardless. Even in the best case scenario for the Jets and the worst case for the Buccaneers, my calculated line is still 9, so I don’t know if I see myself betting on the Jets in any scenario, but they should be the better side for pick ‘em purposes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 New York Jets 20

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +13

Confidence: Low