Picking winners – let alone picking winners against the spread – in the final week of an NFL season is a crap-shoot at best. It would take incredible access and heretofore unrivaled mind reading skills to know which teams were going up to show up with motivation and which ones would show up to play out the string. In that respect, Week 17 of an NFL season is almost the same as figuring out college bowl games. The oddsmakers have it even worse than I do; the oddsmakers must try to figure out all that stuff and then lay out lines for people to bet into; the oddsmakers have to do mind reading with the teams AND the oddsmakers have to do mind reading on the betting public as they publish their lines.
- Happy New Year to those oddsmakers. This is the last weekend you will have to do this for a while.
In the performance of their line-setting duties, the folks in Las Vegas have some strange looking lines on the board this weekend. Consider:
- The Rams are 11-4 and have clinched the NFC West. The Niners are 5-10 and cemented in last place in the NFC West. The Rams are at home this weekend against the Niners and the oddsmakers have made the Niners a 3.5-pooint favorite.
- The Eagles are 13-2 and have clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs as the NFC East champions. The Cowboys are 8-7 and are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The Eagles are at home this weekend against the Cowboys and the oddsmakers have made the Cowboys a 3-point favorite.
- The Chiefs are 9-6 and have clinched the AFC West championship and they are locked into the #4 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Broncos are 5-10 and are in last place in the AFC West. Nonetheless the oddsmakers have installed the Broncos as 3.5-point favorites at home this week.
Good luck making sense out of those games – as well as plenty of others this week. I’ll try to let you in on what my Ouija board is telling me here in Curmudgeon Central.
The Ravens host the Bengals and the Ravens are 9.5-point favorites at home. The Ravens clinch a playoff slot with a victory here; they should be plenty motivated to play well. The biggest question in my mind is this:
- Were the signs of life produced by the Bengals last week for real or were they merely a symbolic form of a death spasm?
This is Marvin Lewis’ last game on the Bengals’ sidelines. It would be totally fitting for the Bengals to lose the game based on knuckleheaded out-of-control play by one of the team hot-heads late in the 4th quarter. It would be a punctuation mark for Lewis’ tenure in Cincy.
The Lions host the Packers and the Lions are 6.5-point favorites at home. This is a completely meaningless game; neither team can be in the playoffs and both teams are mediocre. Count this game as one of the Three Dog-Breath Games of the Week. This could be Jim Caldwell’s last hurrah as the coach of the Lions – a franchise that has known the meaning of “futility” for quite a while now. Let me pretend that Jim Caldwell does not survive as the coach of the Lions beyond “Black Monday” at the start of next week. If that is the case:
- His head-coaching future beyond the Lions in the NFL does not look good. Since 1956 when Buddy Parker left the Lions as head coach, the team has had 17 head coaches (including Jim Caldwell). None of those 16 head coaches who have come and gone before him have EVER coached another game in the NFL as a head coach.
- Jim Caldwell has an overall winning record with the Lions. Of the 17 head coaches since Buddy Parker left in 1956, only 3 of the other 16 head coaches can claim that stature.
The Bills are 2.5-point favorites on the road against the Dolphins. If the Bills win and both the Chargers and the Titans lose, the Bills will make the playoffs and end the NFL’s longest drought without a playoff appearance. That is correct; the Browns have been in the playoffs since the last time the Bills were there. Presumably, the Bills will be motivated to win; the Dolphins are out of the playoffs no matter what happens this weekend. However, the Dolphins are 4-3 at home this year while the Bills are 2-5 on the road. The Total Line for the game is 42 points; I kinda like the OVER here.
The Falcons host the Panthers and the Falcons are 3.5-point favorites at home. This is the most meaningful game of the week because it has potentially significant effects on both teams:
- The Panthers can still win the NFC South with a win here and a Saints’ loss.
- However, the Panthers are in the playoffs no matter what happens here.
- The Falcons can make the playoffs with a win, plus the Falcons are at home.
- The Falcons have the motivational edge and the venue edge here – – but do you really trust either team to perform to their top level on any given weekend? I don’t.
The Saints are 7-point favorites on the road against the Bucs. The Saints win the NFC South if they win this game. No matter the outcome, the Bucs have earned the label of The Hot Mess Express – 2017. If you like trends, check these out:
- Saints are 13-3 against the spread in their last 16 games against NFC South teams.
- Saints are 13-4 against the spread in their last 17 road games.
- Saints are 9-3 in their last 12 games against teams with a losing record.
- In this game the Saints are on the road against an NFC South opponent who sports a losing record…
I like the Saints to win and cover here.
The Titans host the Jags and the Titans are 3-point favorites at home. This game means little to nothing to the Jags, they are the AFC South champions for 2017. For the Titans, this is a big deal; despite losing their last 3 games in a row, the Titans remain in a “win-and-you’re-in” situation. Maybe the Jags’ defense will be motivated to hold the Titans down as a way to get the taste out of their mouths of giving up 44 points to the Niners last weekend? Or maybe not…? There are two opposing trends at work in this game:
- Jags are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 road games.
- Titans are 8-2-1 against the spread in their last 11 home games.
You make the call …
The Pats host the Jets and the Pats are 15-point favorites at home. The Pats clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win here. That situation plus the fact that the Jets are the opponents here ought to provide the Pats with sufficient incentive here. The Jets have been the underdog in the last 9 games versus the Pats; in those 9 games:
- Jets are 7-1-1 against the spread.
The Colts host the Texans and the Colts are 5-point favorites at home. This is another abjectly meaningless game and it is certainly one of Three Dog-Breath Games of the Week. This is probably Chuck Pagano’s last game as the head coach of the Colts; if the Texans lose to the sorry-assed Colts here in a blowout, it might also be Bill O’Brien’s last game as the head honcho in Houston. By the way, notwithstanding the Texans’ 4-11 record entering this game, they will not have a high draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft because they traded that pick away to the Browns. In fact, the Browns have the Texans’ first round pick AND the Texans’ second round pick next year…
Speaking of the Browns, the Steelers host the Browns and the Steelers are 10.5-point favorites at home. There are plenty of storylines at work here and as the Browns careen down the path to a winless record in 2017. Ponder how many fans in Cleveland will be tuned into their TV sets this Sunday and how many of them will still be sober by halftime. Back in Week 1, the Steelers beat the Browns 21-18; in Week 17, the Steelers can put bookends on a Browns’ season record of 0-16. That accomplishment would put the Steelers in tune with the symmetry of the universe – or something like that. Word out of Pittsburgh is that the Steelers will rest Ben Roethlisberger and LeVeon Bell. Does that matter – if in fact it is true?
The Skins are 3-point favorites on the road against the Giants. Here is another meaningless game and one of the Three Dog-Breath Games of the Week. The Skins are 2-5 on the road; the Giants are 1-6 at home. The only thing that is clear to me about this game is that for Kirk Cousins this is a “Money In The Bank Game”. It is not clear which NFL team is going to pay him a ton of money next year, but someone will, and this game will be part of the reason that they do so. By the way, the Total Line for the game is 39 points. Consider:
- UNDER has been the winner in 11 of the last 14 games between Skins and Giants in NY.
- UNDER has been the winner in 9 of the last 12 games between these teams wherever.
- Weather.com says it will be very cold and windy on Sunday afternoon…
The Vikes host the Bears and the Vikes are 11.5-point favorites at home. For the Vikes, a win gives them a BYE Week in the NFC playoffs; that should be sufficient incentive against a hapless Bears’ team bringing a 5-10 record to the kickoff. This game may prove to be John Fox’s last game as the head coach of the Bears.
The Cowboys are 3-point favorites on the road against the Eagles. This is a rivalry game, but it has no bearing on playoffs or standings or any of those sorts of things. The Eagles have home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs; the Cowboys are planning their January vacations with their families. Last week against a porous Raiders’ defense, the Eagles’ offense was inept or dormant. They will need to play Nick Foles at QB simply to get him in sync with the rest of the offensive unit.
The Chargers host the Raiders and the Chargers are 8-point favorites at home. The Chargers can make the playoffs with a win here and a Titans’ loss to the Jags. The Raiders just want this season to be over. Last week against the Eagles, the Raiders were in a close game and led 10-7 in the third quarter of the game. However, here is how the last 8 possessions of the game went for the Raiders on offense:
- Missed field goal
- Fumble returned for a TD
Some folks think the Raiders need changes to the coaching staff. Maybe that would help over the course of a season, but that performance on the final 8 possessions of the game last week is not the product of bad coaching; that is bad playing. By the way, how long is it going to take until the fans in Oakland realize that these are the Oakland Renters and not the Oakland Raiders and that the team is getting very close to skipping town on those fans once again?
The Seahawks host the Cards and the Seahawks are 9.5-point favorites at home. The relevance of this game is straightforward. The Seahawks make the playoffs if they win here and the Falcons lose to the Panthers. Other than that…
The Broncos host the Chiefs and the Broncos are 3.5-point favorites at home. The Chiefs will give Patrick Mahomes his first NFL start here; the Broncos will take a look at Paxton Lynch at QB here. So, basically, this is a JV game…The Chiefs will be the #4 seed in the AFC playoffs no matter what happens here; the Broncos are playing for whatever shards of pride remain.
The Niners are 3.5-point favorites on the road against the Rams. Jimmy Garoppolo has led the Niners to 4 straight wins after the team went 1-10 before him. The Rams clinch the #3 seed in the NFC playoffs with win here. The Total Line for the game is 43.5; I like the OVER.
Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald about an NFL tempest in a teapot:
“Jaguars fans are shipping garbage cans to Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney after he called QB Blake Bortles ’trash.’ I’m not sure what’s more surprising: That Bortles is having a good season. Or that there are Jaguars fans.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………