The weather this time of year in the NFL sometimes makes games more interesting than they otherwise would be. Who doesn’t like snow, single-digit temps and wind chills of -20 on fields that resemble sheets of ice? That’s only if you don’t have to be there, mind you.
For some reason, however, it seems New Year’s week often offers a temporary reprieve – almost to lull you into thinking we might have an early spring. There’s rain and fog and plain ugliness, but at least it’s warmer for a few minutes.
In the average Dunk Joe and Aunt Mabel minds, they very often lock in whatever they saw the previous week, which means it could be time for the overs to bounce back this week. With just two weeks to go in the regular season, let’s see if we can keep rolling with our best bets and get back above 60 percent. Come along for the ride as we begin our Happy New Year!
NOTES: All spreads, money lines and over/under totals (as of late Friday night) are provided by FanDuel Sportsbook.
THE WEEK 17 BEST BETS
HOME TEAM in CAPS
1 / ML parlay, DETROIT over Chicago and San Francisco over LAS VEGAS
WHEN: Bears at Lions on Sunday at 1 p.m.; 49ers at Raiders on Sunday at 4:05 p.m.
First, this basically is the same as playing a teaser with better value, as we’re getting six points from each side for -112 instead of the usual -120 fee.
For the first leg, the Lions are coming off a horrific performance at Carolina and could be seeing their crazy dreams of making the playoff slip away. And even though they finish with Green Bay next week in a game that very well could decide who gets the seventh and final postseason spot in the NFC, they cannot and will not look ahead past a division rival that has a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
There is talk swirling that Justin Fields might not play for Chicago, but even if he does, the Bears are incredibly banged up and can’t stop this kind of offense (as proven in the first game in Chicago in November – a 31-30 Detroit victory).
Can’t see the Bears putting up the same kind of fight in this one they did back then.
SCORE PREDICTION: Lions (-6) 36, Bears 24.
This leg was a little more difficult to choose, and we would never take San Francisco -6 as a best bet in this spot. It’s too tough to speculate how motivated the 49ers will be with almost no shot at the top seed while being locked into playing either the Giants or the seventh seed (Washington/Detroit/Green Bay) at home in the opening week of the playoffs.
That being said, the Raiders are coming off their “reality strikes” game, in which whatever postseason hopes they had were dashed in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve, which also puts their motivation level in question at an even higher level.
What this pick comes down to is the 49ers simply being a better football team, regardless of what they’re playing for and they haven’t lost on the road since that fluke of flukes in Atlanta in mid-October.
SCORE PREDICTION: 49ers (-9.5) 24, Raiders 17.
2 / Teaser, Carolina +9 over TAMPA BAY and Cleveland +8 over WASHINGTON
Teaser explanation: At most books, a bettor can parlay two teams in a “teaser” and get 6 points of cushion for each bet. However, it costs -120 to play and – like a parlay – both legs must hit to cash the ticket.
WHEN: Both games Sunday at 1 p.m.
We have talked all season about how to get value in a teaser, and we have helped bettors break out max success on a weekly basis by going 9-3 in such bets so far this season. This one also is proof of where to extract as much value as possible.
With Carolina getting nine, we get out of the +3 at extra juice (-115 as I type this) and pass up the +7. A simple look back at past scores this season tells us that when the Bucs win, they usually don’t win by much and haven’t had a larger margin of victory by more than five points since Week 2 at New Orleans (in which the Saints imploded and gave away 17 fourth-quarter points).
Here, while I think the Panthers are the better team and the 21-3 victory over Tampa Bay in Week 7 was no fluke, it’s still tough to think Tom Brady won’t have a little extra juice in this one with the division title potentially on the line. In other words, I trust Carolina to at least keep it close.
SCORE PREDICTION: Panthers (+3.5) 19, Bucs 15.
There are few teams in the NFL that have been more hot and cold than the Cleveland Browns. Their overall numbers say they should be much better than 6-9, but I don’t think anyone can figure out how much the Deshaun Watson saga has messed this team up this year.
Still, let’s throw last week’s loss to the Saints in the trash, as playing in 7 degrees with a minus-15 wind chill on a sheet of ice could be considered completely random. If that’s the case, we have two teams going in opposite directions, as the Browns had won three of four before Week 16, while the Commanders have now gone 0-2-1 in their last three.
Beyond that, I’m not sure Washington coach Ron Rivera even knows who is playing quarterback, but my guess is he’s going to go back to Carson Wentz with the playoffs on the line.
Does it matter? Weather won’t be a factor here, and this could be the game Watson gets a little going with Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones if the Browns’ O-line keeps Chase Young out of the backfield.
SCORE PREDICTION: Browns (+1.5) 20, Commanders 17.
3 / Pittsburgh ML (+122) over BALTIMORE
WHEN: Sunday at 8:20 p.m.
Stop me if you have heard this one before: In his 17th season as Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season. There’s only one way to continue that streak, and that is either to win his last two games or win and tie.
Against the likely Lamar Jackson-less Ravens, we love his chances to get to 8-8. (Even if Jackson plays, it’s doubtful he’ll be his old self.) Although Pittsburgh lost to Baltimore a few weeks ago, there is much more on the line here. And while we understand the Ravens have similar motivation with the AFC North crown still in view, it’s the Steelers who have their playoff lives on the line (and the aforementioned streak).
I see Pittsburgh coming out at their best, and I think that’s good enough to win against a team that has struggled five weeks in a row against opponents who now have a combined record of 29-46. After scoring 19 or more points in all of their first nine games before their bye week, Baltimore has done so only once in the past six games.
Their defense has done a good job in holding foes down on the scoreboard, but they have allowed 115 or more rushing yards in two straight and more than 260 yards passing in two of the other three games prior.
Kenny Pickett and George Pickens should have a nice game here, especially with the weather a non-factor.
SCORE PREDICTION: Steelers (+2.5) 21, Ravens 16.
4 / HOUSTON +3 over Jacksonville
WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m.
“Here we go again,” you’re thinking. Yeah, yeah, my failure in picking Jaguars games this season has been well documented, but I simply cannot buck facts such as the ones that defend the Texans here, despite how well Jacksonville has played as of late.
The No. 1 trend/fact is this: As bad as Houston is and has been the past couple of years, they have won nine consecutive games STRAIGHT UP against Jacksonville and 15 of the past 17 dating back to 2014. That includes a 26-3 thrashing less than 2 months ago.
No. 2 trend/fact: Before defeating Tennessee on Dec. 11, the Jags had lost 14 consecutive division games on the road. Considering those factors, I am not even certain they should be favored here, and certainly not by more than a field goal. This spread has already dropped from -6 on Dec. 23 to -5 on Christmas Day to -4, which tells me the people who really know what they are doing are betting Houston.
No. 3 fact: This game is meaningless for Jax, as the Week 18 matchup against the Titans is the only thing that matters when it comes to who will be crowned champion of the AFC South. And for those wondering, “Well, if Houston wins, they screw themselves out of the No. 1 pick,” consider this: If they aren’t No. 1, it’s going to be Chicago, who does not need a quarterback. While the Bears theoretically could trade the pick away if they get it, it isn’t likely, and really, is there THAT much difference between Bryce Young and CJ Stroud?
SCORE PREDICTION: Texans 27, Jaguars 23.
5 / Over 41.5 in New Orleans at PHILADELPHIA
WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m.
This is a terrible matchup for a Saints team that finally won back-to-back games against a really bad Atlanta team playing for 2023 and a dysfunctional Cleveland squad whose starting quarterback remains in preseason mode. In other words, the last two weeks were fun for Who Dats, but it doesn’t mean much to me in the grand scheme of things.
What does mean a ton is that with Philly’s loss last week, they still have to win one more to clinch that No. 1 overall seed, and if they win, that first-round pick they get from the Saints gets a little sweeter.
That being said, I could see the Black and Gold putting up a fight. With non-January-type conditions in Philly – just the opposite to what they played in last week in Cleveland – the offense should be able to move the ball against an Eagles defense that has plenty of injuries and was porous against Dallas last week.
It would be quite a surprise if the Saints win here, but not a shock if they play within a touchdown. But the defense has been susceptible to good offenses, and even without Jalen Hurts, the Eagles still should be able to score in this one. Remember, this was a 40-29 win for Philly last year with Sean Payton at the helm of New Orleans and Dennis Allen running the defense.
SCORE PREDICTION: Eagles (-5.5) 30, Saints 20.
Sunday at 1 p.m.
ATLANTA 14, Arizona (+6) 13: Two bad teams using second- and third-string quarterbacks with nothing to play for but draft position. Hmmm, I’ll split the difference and take the Falcons to win at home but not cover.
KANSAS CITY (-12.5) 38, Denver 10: The interim coach for the Broncos is Jerry Rosburg. Who? Who cares? The Broncos’ defense finally got tired of carrying the offense and quit. That could make for an ugly, ugly game at Arrowhead against a team that is fighting for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
NY GIANTS (-5.5) 27, Indianapolis 17: I nearly made this a best bet, but then I realized I was with Aunt Mabel, and that was enough to keep me off of it. Look, Mabel has had a decent enough December to cover her supplies for the pumpkin pies and half of her fruitcakes, but I am not crazy enough or dumb enough to bet with her now.
You either take the Giants small or stay away. Now that Jonathan Taylor is done for the season and Nick Foles is quarterback, this legitimately might be the worst team in the NFL. They sure looked like it Monday night. Still, whenever everyone is on one side, it’s a no-play for me.
P.S. If you play DFS, Saquon Barkley might have one of his best games of the season.
NEW ENGLAND (-2.5) 23, Miami 17: Repeat after me: The Dolphins are done. Keep saying it until all you people on the Fins’ train finally believe it. Even if they find a way to sneak into the playoffs, they’ll be one and done, especially if Tua misses any more than just this week.
And the Patriots have a chance now to lift themselves in position to sneak in? I’ll take Belichick all day. (But if this spread goes to -3, I won’t play it at all. In other words, do it now if you agree with my pick.)
Sunday at 4:05 p.m.
SEATTLE (+1.5) 30, NY Jets 23: I understand Mike White is returning at quarterback for the Jets, but it’s only because this team is desperate and Coach Robert Saleh doesn’t have anyone else that gives them a chance.
As awful as the Seabags have been in turning back into what most of us expected, there’s no way they should be getting points at home from a similar-type team.
Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
GREEN BAY 34, Minnesota (+3) 31: In what could be a top-five most-entertaining game of the season, my handicap is simple when it comes to the spread: The Vikings play almost all close games, and they’re due to lose one of them.
I said before the season in my win-totals picks that the Vikes would come out strong and beat Green Bay in Week 1 to set the tone for the season. But now, the division is locked up, and Aaron Rodgers is fighting (yes, he is actually fighting!) for one last ride into the playoffs (at least with the Packers).
Green Bay must have some kind of pixie dust that keeps them alive despite what our eyes have told us all season, but we’ll revisit where they stand next week. Either way, it would surprise me if this is a blowout.
P.S. This is a rare instance where the weather likely won’t be a factor for a January game at Lambeau.
LA Rams (+6.5) at LA CHARGERS (no pick): Los Angeles is well known for having the most visiting fans in the stands of any stadium. So does that mean no one is going to show up for this one? I mean, the Chargers have sewn up their playoff spot and the Rams are waiting to see what the Lions will do with their top-10 draft pick?
This game is pretty close to meaningless, and I have no idea who is going to care less. The Rams flexed their muscles last week against Denver, but that doesn’t mean squat this week. I don’t even have a lean here, and I’ll only watch on the Red Zone channel when the Chargers have the ball because I have Mike Williams in my fantasy championship game.
Monday at 8:15 p.m.
Buffalo (-1.5) 27, CINCINNATI 22: I know this seems like it should be an easy pick for the Bengals, and one might think I would have learned my lesson about how well they play in big games with Joe Burrow at QB. However, I still think the Bills are better than many sharps are giving them credit for (although I am not sure if they are better than Kansas City), and this game is crucial in their hopes for the top seed in the AFC.
If they want to beat the Chiefs later this month in the conference championship, they have to get them at home. That means they MUST win this game. And they will. Just barely.
Also, La’El Collins out for the Bengals means Burrow needs to prepare to be sacked 4 to 5 times per game again. Could be a really big deal in a few weeks.
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