NFL Week #17: Analysis and Picks
Handicapping the final week of the NFL regular season can be quite a challenge. It’s unlike most other games. Several games play much like during the pre-season. Many starters are rested and younger, inexperienced players are given the chance to prove themselves. However, all are inter-division games, which means the teams are more familiar with each other. This raises many question marks but also provides unique opportunities to evaluate matchups based largely on motivation and situational handicapping where clear advantages exist.
Handicapping largely comes down to which teams appear most determined to win versus opponents who are playing out the final game and looking forward either to the upcoming playoffs, or a lengthy off-season and time for a re-evaluation.
I’ve tried to take all these factors into account entering the final full slate of games. Here are my thoughts on all 16 games (listed below).
2018 NFL REGULAR SEASON RESULTS
STARTING BANKROLL: $10,000.
CURRENT BALANCE: $13,154. [+ $3,154.]
OVERALL W-L RECORD: 61 wins / 52 loses / 4 pushes
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 8-3-0 (+ $2,230)
WASHINGTON +11 vs. TENNESSEE — WON $300
LA CHARGERS -4 vs. BALTIMORE — LOST $220
TEASER: DALLAS -1 / MINNESOTA (PICK) — WON $1,000
BUFFALO +13.5 vs. NEW ENGLAND — WON $300
ATLANTA -2.5 vs. CAROLINA — WON $300
CINCINNATI +9 vs. CLEVELAND — WON $300
FIRST HALF: CINCINNATI +6 — LOST $220
SAN FRANCISCO +4.5 vs. CHICAGO — LOST $330
PITTSBURGH/NEW ORLEANS OVER 53 — WON $300
OAKLAND + 3 vs. DENVER — WON $300
FIRST HALF: OAKLAND +1 — WON $200
THIS WEEK’S PICKS: (Note: All lines are taken from Westgate Las Vegas as of Saturday afternoon):
OAKLAND / KANSAS CITY UNDER 53 — Risking $330 to win $300
This total is lined like a mid-season game when, facts show, there are factors which don’t appear to be taken into account which may affect the number of points scored. First, Oakland is coming off their emotional season-high point — a swan song home victory on MNF in their final game in Oakland. It looks very doubtful the Raiders will give nearly as much an effort this week, one reason why Kansas City is instilled as a two-touchdown favorite. After being ranked among the NFL’s best teams in power rankings, Kansas City has declined recently. Chiefs have struggled in their last two games and are expected to use the Raiders as a confidence-building punching bag to tune-up for a playoff run. I tend to agree with the forecast, but also think this translates into a better wagering opportunity with the total. Kansas City takes the lead, then contentment with a victory prevails. Why show the playbook or risk injuries? Don’t look for Kansas City to be throwing the ball downfield, risking their best skill players, and taking wild chances when they’re up by 2 to 3 scores late in the 3rd quarter. I see a Kansas City win and probably a cover. But the far more appealing wager is the UNDER which is based on Raiders not bringing their best game, a struggling Kansas City team on offense which hasn’t looked as potent in recent weeks, combined with a Chiefs defense which has been pretty good at home (allowing just 18 PPG), and contentment with getting the win in preparation for the playoffs. The weather will be cold, but not necessarily a key factor. Still, the cold won’t help Oakland and we’ve yet to see if superstar QB Mahomes can play in near-freezing temperatures.
NY JETS +13.5 vs. NEW ENGLAND — Risking $330 to win $300
With few exceptions, this rivalry produces unusually close, lower-scoring games than normal. Given New England appears to be in its weakest state of the Belichick-Brady era, I don’t see any justification for laying nearly two TDs to a team that has played surprisingly tough during the last five weeks. Since Jets were humiliated at home versus Buffalo in late November, they’ve rattled off five solid efforts, losing last week to Green Bay only because of horrendous officiating (jets blew a late 10 point lead). The Jets likely won’t win but have sure proven they can hang tough. QB Sam Darnold, now with nearly a full season under his belt, should produce points since Jets offense has scored 20+ in each of their last four games. Give me the division dog against New England. The struggling Patriots have not covered any of their last three games.
PHILADELPHIA -7 vs. WASHINGTON — Risking $330 to win $300
I rarely lay points in road division rivalry games, but here’s the notable exception. Eagles have everything to play for this week and must win in order to keep playoff hopes alive. Beating the Redskins then seeing Chicago defeat Minnesota (certainly possible) means Philadelphia gets in. Eagles are thinking about and getting inspiration from last year’s late-season run which has obvious parallels to Nick Foles taking over at QB following the Wentz injury. Eagles have defeated two very good teams the last two games (LAR and HOU) and now step down in class against a team starting a QB who was apparently picked up off Craigs List (he’s the 4th stringer). Washington to their credit played tough on the road when no one expected much, but this will be a much tougher test. Washington has scored an average of just 15 PPG its last four games since their QB situation became dire. That’s not enough points to cover versus a very motivated opponent currently playing well, and possibly peaking at just the right time. I’ll lay a TD and look for the visiting dog to take care of business.
TEASER: PHILADELPHIA -1 / GREEN BAY -2 — Risking $650 to win $500
Two highly-motivated teams line up perfectly with the Wong Teaser angle this week:
[SEE THE EAGLES WRITE-UP ABOVE]: Philadelphia can be teased from -7 down to -1 at 13/10.
In the other leg of the 6-point teaser, the Packers demonstrated they’re still determined to play hard, evidenced by an upset win at NY Jets when many handicappers weren’t sure what to expect. Green Bay is sure a special place, and QB Rodgers and the rest of the Packers will want to end this disappointing on a high note. They draw perhaps the best possible opponent for the final game — a lifeless, inept, injured, unmotivated team that simply wants this season to end. Lions offense has been dismal and it won’t help their cause playing outdoors in a hostile, frigid atmosphere. Look for Green Bay to be pumped up here in the final game of the season and to take out some frustrations on a team that beat them earlier in the season. Teasing Packers from -8 down to -2.
INDIANAPOLIS -3 vs. TENNESSEE — Risking $330 to win $300
Here’s another intriguing matchup, as Colts with one of the hottest teams in the NFL travels to Nashville for what should be a tough challenge. While QB Luck gets most of the accolades, the Colts defense has improved dramatically down the stretch. QB Mariota is gradually becoming a QB to fade. Even when he’s healthy, the inconsistencies and dumb mistakes are unforgivable at this stage of his career. So, with Mariota questionable (the backup Gabbert might start), that gives us a big edge taking the Colts with Luck, WR Hilton expected to start, and a defense that’s improving. I think Colts will be able to concentrate on the Titans most serious threat (RB Henry) who was slowed down by mediocre Redskins last week after back-to-back career games. Colts beating Houston on the road three weeks ago indicates they’re capable of winning and covering a matchup like this. I’ll take the team that’s won 8 of their last 9. Moreover, QB Luck is a perfect 10-0 versus Titans so he clearly likes this defensive matchup. Bottom line: I kinda’ like the Colts anyway, but with Gabbert likely starting, we get a huge mismatch in what amounts to a playoff game for both teams.
ARIZONA-SEATTLE UNDER 39 — Risking $330 to win $300
Seattle will be content with a home win here and won’t be eager to show much nor risk any injuries in what should be as close to an automatic win as there is in the NFL. Cardinals with Rosen at QB and Leftwich calling the plays as OC are dreadful. Presumably, they’ll run heavily which Seattle should be able to stop. Also, WR Fitzgerald’s final game, so there’s that. Too bad Arizona totally lacks the type of QB who can give Fitzgerald an exit on a high note. Cardinals defense is very hard to predict — playing very well one week and getting blown out the next. Given that Seattle doesn’t often roll up big scoring margins, I’m looking for a lopsided, dull game that lands in the low 30s. I’ll call this one as a 23-10 final.
OTHER GAMES / THOUGHTS
DAL-NYG: Big question here is how much playing time will be given to the Cowboys starters? Based on reports, I expect they’ll play some and go through the motions. There’s some depth on defense and the offensive line that doesn’t necessarily make this a “fade Dallas” situation. Last year, in a nearly identical spot, Giants were playing in what was thought might be QB Eli Manning’s final game — at home, favored, versus a division rival, in a meaningless game. Same head coach and lineup of players. Giants won a lackluster effort 18-10 that could have gone either way in terms of the spread. Could be a similar outcome here and since the line is NYG -6, I don’t see much of an edge with either side. UNDER 41 looks to be worth a look for action junkies, but this is a game I’m staying away from.
CAR-NOR: Both starting QBs are out, and there’s nothing to play for, so this game becomes a quagmire. I’d play the underdog Panthers getting +7, but they’re starting a QB picked up from a truck stop at Texas A&M with no NFL experience. On the other side of the ball, ex-Viking Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t taken a snap in three years, so who knows how he’ll perform in a new uniform? Total plunged to 42 based on the scraps lining up on both offenses. Saints will most certainly rest lots of starters. Meanwhile, Carolina has mailed it in for the season as evidenced by a two TD loss at home the previous week to the mediocre Falcons. UNDER may be worth a look, but given the favorable conditions for offenses playing in the dome, I’ll pass.
JAX-HOU: There’s nothing appealing about either side nor the total. Texans are about a touchdown favorite (-6.5 to -7) and the total looks just right (40). Jaguars aren’t expected to score much, which has struggled badly on offense. It’s hard to see where the points will come from on that side of the ball. Meanwhile, Houston coming off the tough road loss at Phila. last week certainly wants to regain some momentum heading into the playoffs. Jacksonville’s defense still has enough talent to frustrate Houston, so I can’t lay this number. Pass.
CLE-BAL: Who would’ve expected the Browns-Ravens game to be one of the most intriguing matchups of the final week? Cleveland has already exceeded everyone’s expectations and likely enters this game with a mindset that could go either of two ways — another strong performance or a feeling of complacency after last week’s big win versus the rival Bengals. I think aspiring head coach Gregg Williams will have his team motivated and ready. This number opened at +7 but quickly dropped to +6. I would take +7 with the Browns. Less than that number, and they’re not nearly as attractive. So, this is a pass.
ATL-TB: Two teams here are ending disappointing seasons. Hard to predict what will happen. Some interest in the UNDER, which is based on instincts that tell me this total (51.5) is too high. Falcons have played 5 straight UNDERs. Meanwhile, Bucs have gone UNDER in 5 of their last 7 games. Nothing to play for, so why is the total above 50? Trouble is, both of these offenses have weapons (Jones/Evans) and could get into a shootout which sometimes happens when experienced QBs are let loose in late season, meaningless games (witness Aaron Rodgers last week). Tempting to bet this UNDER, but I’m going to pass for now.
MIA-BUF: I lean to the favored Bills at -3.5 but since midweek it’s been bet up to -5.5 so I will skip this one. Not sure Buffalo deserves to be laying this number, even though Miami probably won’t show much. The prevailing opinion is, Dolphins are outdoors in a cold weather environment and will stink. Miami was a terrible road team anyway, so the line is justified. However, I didn’t like seeing Buffalo collapse a few weeks ago at home losing to the Jets, so I’m less inclined to play the favorite. As I’ve written before, Buffalo’s defense is Top 5 in the league, but Josh Allen and the offense are often painful to watch. I bet money on an offensive unit laying points which produced just two TDs in its last 43 drives. UNDER 39.5 is certainly worth a serious look. However, don’t be surprised if Bills coaching staff doesn’t use this game as a huge experiment to see if Allen has what it takes to be the starter in Buffalo (I’m betting no on that question).
CIN-PIT: The Bengals are dogshit, but have sporadically shown just enough talent to cover three straight games and are now getting +14.5 in what could be Marvin Lewis’ final game as coach (don’t we say this every year?). Steelers suddenly find themselves in a vulnerable spot and could miss the playoffs, so this is projected as a huge mismatch. I lean to Cincy in this game with the generous points, especially since RB Mixon is posting solid numbers and could grind some clock, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see Pittsburgh rout this hapless hopeless team and win by 30. So, let’s skip this one.
CHI-MIN: Vikings look to be a far better team at home, but I’m not sure they should be laying this high a number (currently -5.5). Presumably, Minnesota has more to play for desperately needing the win. There’s also concern about the Bears offense which hasn’t looked to be in playoff form during the last month. Bears were lucky to cover at SFO last week and play another road game, usually an unfavorable situation. I do like Chicago’s stout defense which might make this a one-score game. Very tough matchup to predict with some justification for taking both sides, so I’ll pass on this one.
LAC-DEN: I wanted to play the Chargers laying the points, but I’m still concerned this team remains soft. Also, the entire world knows Denver has mailed in the season with a wreck of a team and coaching staff going through the motions and that has inflated the price, usually a fade/contrarian spot for astute bettors. I see some excellent cappers I respect on the Chargers laying the points (-7), but I’m not touching this team right now which fell behind by double digits in three of its last four games (losing to PITT, KC, and BALT by 12+ at various points in those games) and struggled to beat a bad Bengals team at home. Staying away.
SFO-LAR: I sure wish I could take the underdog Niners which has played feisty and particularly well on defense, but C.J. Beathard is a dumb QB who can’t be relied upon (I saw four plays last week that were excruciating revelations of a QB who’s totally unaware of game circumstances). I’m not wasting any money on a team that has many positives but also a mindless QB capable of blowing the cover. I can see some justification for playing UNDER 48.5 here. But it’s very possible San Francisco mails in this game and doesn’t show up. Not worth betting based on these numbers (would take UNDER at 50).
MY WAGERS ON NFL SEASON WIN TOTALS [UPDATED]:
Arizona Cardinals OVER 5.5 wins -180 — LOST $450
Buffalo Bills OVER 6 wins EVEN — Wagering $400 to win $400 5-10
Cincinnati Bengals OVER 6.5 wins -170 — Wagering $680 to win $400 6-9
Dallas Cowboys UNDER 8.5 wins +110 — LOST $500
Detroit Lions UNDER 7.5 wins EVEN — WON $400
Houston Texans UNDER 8.5 wins +120 — LOST $400
Jacksonville Jaguars OVER 9 wins -145 — LOST $725
Indianapolis Colts UNDER 6.5 wins +170 — LOST $400
New Orleans Saints OVER 9.5 wins -145 — WON $500
Seattle Seahawks UNDER 8 wins -150 — LOST $1,500