Early leans & analysis Wk 17
Early leans & analysis

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Posted Sunday, January 3

NFL Week 17

What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is also the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday

We’re intent on providing our readers with the best possible selections and doing so on Sunday instead of Friday just makes more sense. We made that change two years ago and ended up going 81-57 (+64 units) in 2018 and 65-59 in 2019 (+16 units). Again, we’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on the weekend but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST

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Week 17

BUFFALO +1 -103 over Miami 

1:00 PM EST. The Bills are the current No. 2 seed, and while that no longer means a bye week, it does mean they could host the AFC Championship game in the case that they reach it and the Chiefs do not. The Steelers are already sitting Ben Roethlisberger and surely other players when they play in Cleveland this week. They could, and probably will, lose that game and the Bills won't have anything to play for either but both games are at 1:00 PM EST.  It is possible that the Bills could find out that the Steelers appear certain to lose and then sit players for the rest of the game. But they sat numerous players last week once they had crushed the Patriots but had to finish the game. The assumption is that the Bills play this in earnest but there are no guarantees and they could pack up late in the third quarter and coast if the Steelers already look like they will lose.

The Dolphins are currently the No. 5 seed while tied with four other teams at 10-5. If Miami wins this, they advance. If they lose, they could still be a wildcard, but would need the Ravens, Browns or Colts also to lose. Miami will hope that the Steelers end up throwing their game early enough that the Bills do the same but we’re not going to buy the argument that the Bills will concede a loss.

No question this is a tough game to bet on. We can all speculate until we’re blue in the face and we’d still have no clue whether or not the Bills are going to concede a loss. We also have no indication that Pittsburgh is intent on throwing its game. More importantly, if Pittsburgh and/or Buffalo were throwing their respective games, wouldn’t Cleveland be favored by more and wouldn’t Miami be also? The oddsmakers aren’t nervous because this isn’t their first rodeo. The final week of the season featured many teams that were supposed to tank but didn’t so be warned that it’s an overused angle that didn’t work out well many times in the past. With all the uncertainty that surrounds this game and with so many other games available to bet throughout the week, is this really the type of game you want to get involved in? We don’t but at the end of the day and if all things were equal, shouldn’t Buffalo be at least -4? Just in case Buffalo isn’t in the mood to tank and wants to knock Miami out of contention…..Recommendation: Buffalo +1

N.Y. GIANTS +1 +104 over Dallas

1:00 PM EST. The NFC East might be a total cluster muck but it cannot be denied that this division should provide some drama throughout the day. First up is this game between the 6-9 Cowboys and the 5-10 Giants. The stakes are the same for both sides. This is a must win game with both needing help from the Eagles on Sunday Night Football to leapfrog the Football Team for the division championship and a home playoff game next week.

Winning is what matters in this market and so the Cowboys are going to look appealing here spotting a short price on the road after three straight wins and covers. This is a results based business, but with that comes an increase in the price you’re going to pay to back a team on a winnings streak. The problem is, the Cowboys are in a prime position to sell. This is not the time to buy. Dallas was a three point pooch at Jerry’s World to a rookie quarterback starting his third game. Now, the Blue and Silver are going on the road to Jersey are the betting chalk? That’s not right, but it’s easy to see why. The G-Men haven’t hit paydirt in almost a month and have chased just one ticket since before Thanksgiving.

The Giants just haven’t just been beat the last three weeks, they’ve lost by double digits to the Ravens (27-13), Browns (20-6) and Cardinals (26-7). While those outcomes are disappointing, they all came against teams that are either in or competing for a playoff spot in Week 17. Meanwhile, the Cowboys beat the Joe Burrow-less Bengals, the Nick Mullens led 49ers and the Eagles last week. Those three teams have won a combined 14 games this season. The Giants will likely be happy as hell to see Andy Dalton under center this week after the trio of pivots they’ve just played. The wrong team is favored here, making the Giants an extreme value play. Recommendation: N.Y. GIANTS +1

CINCINNATI +14 -101 over Baltimore

1:00 PM EST. There is a reason that Week 17 is loaded with division matchups, as that provides at least some shred of modivation for both sides regardless of their season ending standing. Inevitably, you are going to get one team that has much to play for with regards to postseason standing, while the other does not, which is the situation here. When that happens, you get a perfect blend of inflated points and lopsided market perception, which equals extreme value.

The Bengals are huge underdogs here, but the role of spoiler is one to be relished. We’ve seen double digit favorites go down in recent weeks, perhaps most relevant here, the Bengals 27-17 win on Monday Night Football against the Steelers in Week 15. Cincinnati then parlayed that victory into another last Sunday down in Houston. We backed the Texans in that game and are very aware of a potential “zig-zag” situation if we were to go hog wild on the Bengals here, but the situation does not appear to allow Cinci to be “overvalued” here in Week 17. This is a “dog friendly” number that is going to look like an easy one for the Ravens to cover after they’ve won big over the Giants, 27-13 and Jacksonville 40-14 the last two weeks.

Laying a price like this with a Lamar Jackson offense is playing with fire. Sure, you are always a big play or two from heading to the pay window, but this offense can be very run heavy, which kills the clock and is not conducive to covering a large spread. You must also factor the potential for Jackson to fumble the ball, which he has done 10 times this season. As for Baltimore's path to the playoffs, it’s clear. If it wins this game, it is in. If the Ravens lose, they can still get in with a Browns loss in Pittsburgh or a Colts loss against the Jaguars, however, both of those teams are significant favorites as well. There are also a couple of scenarios in which Baltimore would qualify with a series of ties, but those are not worth mentioning.

This line suggests that the Bengals have little chance to win here, but winning and competing are two totally different beasts. We understand that the outright victory may be unlikely, however, we do not doubt that we are going to get a strong effort from everyone wearing tiger stripes on their helmets. At the end of the day, we are forced to take the inflated points if we were to bet it. Recommendation: CINCINNATI +14

Minnesota -4 -106 over DETROIT

1:00 PM EST. The 6-9 Vikings are on a three-game losing streak because they faced teams with winning records. This season finale is just what they need to enter the offseason on a high note. They need it after the entire country spent their Christmas afternoon playing with toys, reading assembly manuals and watching the Saints destroy the Vikings who gave up six touchdowns to one player.

On the Detroit side, it appears as if Matthew Stafford will start again this week despite injuring his ankle in the first quarter in last week’s game against the Buccaneers. In addition to a banged up pivot, the Lions are also limping into the offseason with a decimated defense that has been torched for 30 or more points the last five games. Hell, if the Bradys hadn’t taken their foot off the gas last week, they might have scored 100 last Saturday.

Neither the Vikings or Lions are going anywhere, so who is motivated and what they are motivated by is the challenge the handicapper faces here. What we know for sure is that Matt Stafford is rumored to be on the trading block and a new coaching staff has to be hired. This will be a tremendous offseason of change for the Lions and it appears that the team has already checked out.

Meanwhile, Davlin Cook will miss this game after the death of his father. That takes the big gun out of the Vikes arsenal, thus, the slingshot and pile of rocks that are left really aren’t that appealing. However, we’re going to trust the Vikes to be more motivated here in support of Cook, a tremendous teammate, talent and all around good guy that everyone in that Vikes locker room greatly respects. Not showing up in his absence would be insulting. Coming off a blowout loss and playing for the grieving leader, it's not unreasonable to trust the Vikes to leave nothing on the table today. Recommendation: Minnesota -3½

TAMPA BAY -7 -108 over Atlanta

1:00 PM EST. The Dirty Birds are coming to a crossroads that will see them have to make some bid decisions this offseason, most importantly whether or not to pick up an option on quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan and company may have made that decision a little more difficult after pulling the nose up on their season after interim coach Raheem Morris took the reigns. That is to say, if you call a 4-6 run after starting 0-5 a success, which was when Morris stepped in to replace former coach Dan Quinn. While it does look better for the Falcons on paper, they have one just one game since Thanksgiving, a 43-6 drubbing of the Raiders in Week 12. Most recently, the Dirty Birds have put up a fight in back to back games against playoff bound teams. In Week 15, at home against the Bradys, the Falcons stormed out to leads of 17-0 and 24-7 before giving it all back and then some in a 31-27 defeat. Last week, Falcons went toe to toe with the defending champion Chiefs. Atlanta had a 14-10 lead on the road in K.C., but could not get a stop when it needed it, as Mahomes and company ripped the victory with less than two minutes to go in a 17-14 final. While nobel performances, those are two pretty demoralizing losses. As for motivation today, the damage the Falcons can to the Bradys is limited. Tampa is in and can finish no worse than sixth.

The Bucs are currently the fifth seed in the NFC, which does have come appeal, as the holder of that position will get to tangle with whatever flaming dumpster fire wins the NFC East. The Cowboys? Giants? Football Team? Does it matter? All are a much more appealing road trip than one to Seattle even if the 12th man will be silent. Depending how things shake out, trips to New Orleans or Green Bay are also options, as the top three in the NFC are yet to be decided. No team would ever admit they would rather play one club over another, but in this instance nothing needs to be said. It has to be obvious the Bucs would rather play a sub .500 team than one with double digit victories. Tom Brady was rested in the second half last week, which was a shrewd move by head coach Bruce Arians. You don’t think he knows he’s going to need a full cast to ensure victory today?

As far as value goes, one only has to look to the contest these two teams played in Week 15. Tampa was a six point favorite that day and now are a similar range today on their home turf. That would appear to be an overreaction to the recent success of the Falcons at the pay window against quality opposition, however, we have to question what they have left here. Sure, they could always win on for the Gipper and show ownership that Morris is the man for the job long term, but even if they come out with a strong effort, will the Falcons have enough to hold on to the lead? The alternative is that Atlanta is finally spent after a long season and gets the doors blown right off it. Underlay. Recommendation: TAMPA BAY -7

HOUSTON +7 over Tennessee

1:00 PM EST. The Titans are the current No. 4 seed but they fall out of the playoffs if they were to lose this game and the three other 10-5  AFC teams all win - it is possible. This is a road game and the closest the Texans will come to a Super Bowl like game this year. The Titans couldn't handle the snowy conditions in Green Bay last Sunday, much less the connection between Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. But all they have to do is beat the Texans who are on a four-game losing streak to win the AFC South and host a Wildcard Round game.

The Texans finish up with a likely five-game losing streak and start their search for a new head coach that will have to figure out how to do more with less since the last two seasons with HC Bill O'Brien's regime not only drained talent but removed the ability to rebuild in the NFL draft. The Texans are held together by Deshaun Watson who is the only reason that they are not equals to the Jets or Jaguars.

These two played in Week 6 in Tennessee where the Texans lost 42-26. It was one of the more entertaining matchups of the year but at that time, the Texans had motivation. They probably have motivation here with a chance to make life miserable for the Titans but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge how difficult it is to pull the trigger on the inflated points here. If we took the Titans, that would be a prediction based on what us and the entire world thinks. If we’re looking to back a team taking back inflated points, there is only once choice and it’s not the chalk. Recommendation: Tennessee +7 

Jacksonville +14 -102 over INDIANAPOLIS

1:00 PM EST. On paper, it’s going to look a lot like the Jaguars tanked last week against the Bears to lock in their position as the league’s worst team and winner of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, but that would be false. While the Jags went down 41-17 to Chicago, they played a solid first half and should have gone into the break locked in a 10-10 tie. Instead, Jacksonville had to try and force it before the half and threw an interception, which led to a Bears field goal and the start of a run of 31 unanswered points. How many times this season have we seen a team with momentum mismanage the final minute before the half?

This is being billed as the Philip Rivers farewell tour, as it could very well be his last game, even if the Colts win today. Indy still needs to win and it has to be combined with a loss from either the Browns, Ravens, Dolphins or Titans to get in. Both the Ravens and Titans are big favorites today while the Dolphins are a small fav in Buffalo.

The Colts are coming off a disappointing 28-24 loss to the Steelers in a game that they had a 17-point lead in with just under 10 minutes to play in the third quarter. Blowing that game has made life much more difficult for Rivers and crew, while also dangling a big juicy carrot in front of the Jags. With #1 locked up, the Jaguars have accomplished their goal this season. Why not go out in style and send Rivers packing? Recommendation Jacksonville +14

SAN FRANCISCO +7 -105 over Seattle

4:25 PM EST. The Seahawks offense has dropped off significantly in the second half of the season but the win over the Rams gives them a three-game winning streak. They still have a chance to improve their current No. 3 seed with a win here, but at worst they will be the No. 3 seed with a home game in the Wildcard Round. The Seahawks have a chance to score a first-round bye, needing a victory and then losses by both Green Bay and New Orleans. All three play at the same time to expect Pete Carroll to play this one like it means the world. That’s how Carroll rolls. He plays exhibition games like it’s life or death.

Meanwhile, the Niners demonstrated last weekend that they have not bailed on this season. Star tight end George Kittle returned from injury and posted 92 receiving yards, helping San Francisco upset Arizona. C.J. Beathard replaced Nick Mullens and provided better quarterback play. The 49ers proved that they do not care if they have nothing to do in January. They are still playing as if they are. They are down to their No. 3 quarterback and just lost Raheem Mostert yet again. But they are well-coached and play against adverse situations as well as anyone. This week is their Super Bowl and a chance to leave the disastrous 2020 season on a high note and we’re going to trust them to bring their A game once again and make life difficult for an overpriced Seahawks’ team. Recommendation: San Francisco +7

Green Bay -4½ -109 over CHICAGO

4:25 PM EST. When the Bears played the Packers in Green Bay at the end of November, they were a +7½ point pooch. Chicago was dismantled in that game 41-25. At the time, it was the Bears third loss in a row with fourth on deck against the Lions in Week 13. Since blowing that game against Detroit, the Bears have found new life with quarterback Mitch Trubisky back under center and have ripped off three wins in a row to find themselves in the position to clinch the final Wild Card spot with a win and an Arizona loss. The Bears can also clinch if they and the Red Birds both tie. While that scenario is unlikely, it’s possible.

These have not been your daddy’s Black and Blue Bears either, as it’s been primarily the offense that has done the job, posting point totals of 36, 33 and 41 against the Texans, Vikings and Jaguars respectively. As you may or may not know, those are some pretty bad football teams. Market perception is that the Bears have more to gain here, as the Packers have already locked up the NFC North, but Green Bay still needs either a win here or a Saints loss to clinch the NFC’s top spot and the only available bye in the NFL’s new 14 team playoff. The Saints kickoff at the same time in their game against the Panthers that the Bears and Packers do here, so there will be no pregame scoreboard watching.

We have no doubt the Packers are going to be pumped up for this game. While the bye week is a nice prize, do no discount the extra spring that could come in this team’s step to make sure the Bears are sent home with nothing to show for this season, other than what appears to be an impossible decision to be made on Trubisky, who is in line for a new contract next season. Do the Bears pay this guy? Franchise tag him? Do not forget that they brought in Nick Foles and did everything they could to rid themselves of “Fucking Mitch” but dude will not go away. Paying up for him after a strong finish to the season so they can go 6-10 next year would be so on brand for the Bears that it’s not a matter of if, but when. Recommendation: Green Bay -4½

San Francisco +7 -105 over Seattle 

8:00 PM EST. The Zags are the top-ranked team in the country and they’re playing a team that has done jack since the mid 50’s. There is nothing to write or discuss about Gonzaga because it’s redundant. You’ve read it, heard it or saw it that this team is as good as any in the country but few are aware of just how good the Dons are. This is not a fade on the Zags, it is instead getting behind a tournament-worthy, quality opponent that few know anything about. We also love that the Dons of San Francisco have failed to cover in four straight, thus decreasing its stock even more.  

Dons HC Todd Golden and his staff gained national notoriety for their innovative use of analytics, particularly with the use of the one-and-one free throw rule, consistently choosing to play the numbers and foul foes with questionable track records at the line as a way of gaining an extra possession themselves. Sometimes it worked, others it did not, but the outside-the-box mindset is a great way to gain incremental advantages within the game. It’s not just micro decisions like that, though – Golden clearly understands the macro advantages of things like shot selection, limiting inefficient mid-range jumpers on offense and making a concerted effort to force them on the other end.

On paper, the Dons have a loss to UMass Lowell. That’s not a good look but upsets happen. The Dons also lost to Cal, Oregon and Rhode Island so what we have here is a team with zero pedigree and four losses in 11 games. The point is that the Dons body of work does not stand out. Overlooked is that the Dons have a win against then #4 Virginia. They also have three speedy guards and solid depth across the roster. USF will be constantly searching for incremental edges, statistical or otherwise, and anything gained in the margins will sum with a talented roster and smart staff to give the Dons a squad capable of rising all the way to 2nd in the WCC. And if anyone had the formula to steal one from Gonzaga last year, it was the Dons. We get them today taking back an incredible amount of inflated points. Recommendation: San Francisco +14

KANSAS CITY +5½ over L.A. Chargers

4:25 PM EST. The Chiefs haven’t cashed one ticket in the last two months and we doubt this situation will do much to entice the market to back them here. Kansas City is set to sit many of its starters, including Patrick Mahomes, which means that Chad Henne will make his first start since 2014. We don’t know much, but we doubt that the players that do suit up for K.C. today are going to be supremely motivated to keep the ball rolling into the playoffs. For many, this might be their best chance to make an impact or get noticed to improve on their role for next season. As for Henne, like Colt McCoy, there is a reason this dude has been in the league this long. He is more than capable of putting in a quality performance today.

Ending the season with a win is nice, we guess, but how jacked up can one be to travel into near freezing temperatures to play Kansas City’s practice squad? There is nothing to be gained here for the Chargers. Anthony Lynn is going to be fired, win or lose, and really, how much value is there in this potential victory? To assume that the Chiefs will “no show” but the Chargers will “show up” is awfully presumptuous. However, that perception is likely running rampant in the market, which creates the potential for L.A. to be spotting more points in this spot than a six-win team ought to. Buyer beware with this one. The Chiefs personnel moves have been factored into this line, creating a situation where the Chiefs are being offered up inflated points. Don’t be afraid to scoop them up. Recommendation: KANSAS CITY +5½

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Our Pick

Early leans & analysis (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)

Tampa Bay +3 +100 over GREEN BAY
KANSAS CITY -3 -102 over Buffalo
Bet at 5dimes