WEEK 17 typically is the trickiest one in which to try to pick NFL games. There are teams that are playing to make the playoffs or improve their seed. There are others that already are in the playoffs and will be resting starters. There also are differences among the teams that are out of contention. Some are in complete mail-in mode and have been for weeks. Others will be able to “get up” one last time to try to spoil things for a division rival.
The strongest instinct is to fade (bet against) playoff teams that are resting starters. But that may not be such a golden rule. According to a study by Steve Makinen of VSiN, teams resting their starters in Week 17 in the past nine years are 8-9 straight up and 10-6-1 against the spread. So it’s probably better to take these on a game-by-game basis and try to make your best decision given the circumstances.
The Giants are involved in one of these games, listed as near-touchdown favorites at home against Dallas. Jason Garrett said he will use his healthy players, but did not specify for how long. The Cowboys are locked into the four seed in the NFC and will be hosting a wild-card game next week.
The Giants have lost their past two, but are 5-1-1 ATS in their past seven and organizationally are hoping to end Pat Shurmur’s first season on an up note. There’s also a chance this is Eli Manning’s final game as a Giant.
The pick: Giants, -6.
Jets (+13¹/₂) over PATRIOTS: The Jets have averaged 29 points per game in their three games since Sam Darnold’s return. If they can get anywhere near that number versus the Patriots’ 21st-ranked defense, it will take a lot for Tom Brady to cover this number, given the current state of his offense (21.3 ppg over the past six games).
SAINTS (-7) over Panthers: New Orleans has clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs. But even as the Saints rest Drew Brees, we get Teddy Bridgewater against third-string Carolina QB Kyle Allen. And the Saints have plenty of skill players coming off their bench who will be looking to impress Sean Payton.
PACKERS (-8) over Lions: Detroit is one of the “mail-in” teams, at least off last week’s 27-9 home loss to the Vikings. Now the Lions have to go to Lambeau to face Aaron Rodgers, who still appears “into it,” in a forecast temperature of around 34 degrees.
Jaguars (+6¹/₂) over TEXANS: Houston can clinch the AFC South with a win and still has a shot at a bye. The Texans’ past three games, however, have been losses by three and two surrounding a deceiving seven-point win over the Jets. The Jaguars recently shut out the Colts and have given up just 23 points total the past two weeks.
BUCCANEERS (+1) over Falcons: Atlanta comes in on a two-game winning streak, but against the Cardinals and Cam Newton-less Panthers. The Bucs have lost three in a row, but had good moments in each against the Saints, Ravens and Cowboys.
BILLS (-4) over Dolphins: Mainly an anti-Dolphins pick. They are 1-6 on the road, with five of the losses by double digits.
Raiders (+13¹/₂) over CHIEFS: While Kansas City can clinch the AFC West and the conference’s top seed, not thrilled about giving nearly two TDs with the NFL’s 31st-ranked defense versus a bitter rival that has covered four of its past six games.
REDSKINS (+6¹/₂) over Eagles: The Eagles need a win and a Vikings loss to the Bears to make the playoffs, so there could be some discouragement popping up on the scoreboard. Redskins fourth-string QB Josh Johnson did a good job against a tough Tennessee D last week and probably should have won that game outright as a double-digit ’dog.
Browns (+6) over RAVENS: The newer Browns have a chance to knock the former Browns out of the playoffs. Willing to take a shot with Baker Mayfield and a team that has won five of its past six.
Bengals (+14¹/₂) over STEELERS: Cincinnati’s 32nd-ranked defense gives pause, but the Bengals have covered their past three and two-TDs-plus is a ton for a rivalry game. The Steelers need a win and help to make the playoffs, but their past six games have been decided by four, seven, three, three, seven and three points.
VIKINGS (-4¹/₂) over Bears: Chicago’s chance for a bye could dwindle quickly if the Rams start to distance themselves from the 49ers on the scoreboard. It’s safer to go with the Vikings, who are in “win-and-in” mode for a wild card.
Chargers (-6¹/₂) over BRONCOS: The Chargers likely will get bad news from Kansas City, but this team is great on the road (6-1 SU and ATS) and the Broncos are all kinds of done under Vance Joseph.
SEAHAWKS (-13¹/₂) over Cardinals: With only the difference between the fifth and sixth seeds in the NFC at stake, Pete Carroll won’t take many risks with his meal ticket Russell Wilson. But can’t recommend that anyone bet money on this Arizona group.
RAMS (-10) over 49ers: The Rams won the first meeting 39-10 in Santa Clara, Calif., and should have an easy time clinching the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Niners are 0-7 SU and 2-5 ATS on the road.
Colts (-3¹/₂) over TITANS: Marcus Mariota still might play in Sunday night’s battle for the AFC South, but if you have to pick now, you don’t want to end up with Blaine Gabbert. Andrew Luck is 8-1-1 ATS versus the Titans in his career, and the Tennessee D had a lot of problems with the depleted Redskins last week.
Best bets: Packers, Bills, Browns.
Lock of the week: Packers (Locks 11-4-1 in 2018).
Last week: 9-6-1 overall, 2-1 Best Bets.