Week 17 oddities and picks

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Week 17 oddities and picks

Week 17 is historically the most volatile in terms of lines and shifts because of the many variables in play (motivation, playoff seeding, resting starters, outcomes of other games) that are unique unto the final Sunday of the regular season. This year is a special case due to the injury statuses of Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo, but there are nonetheless many unknowns heading into the action. Among them …

Will Houston (7.5-point ‘dogs at Tennessee) roll over with a chance to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft? How hard will Indy (11-point favorites vs. Jacksonville) play with only a minimal chance of securing a bye? Are Peyton Manning and the Broncos (11-point favorites at Oakland) looking to break more records or simply lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and get out of town? How many key players will Andy Reid bench with the Chiefs (10-point underdogs at San Diego) playing a meaningless game vs. the Chargers? Which teams out of playoff contention will be motivated to submit a max effort for a coach on the hot seat?

Indeed, handicapping Week 17 can be a tough proposition. The flip side is the numbers the books put out aren’t as strong, which is to say lines can be exploited by contrarian bettors or those who have an angle into the tendencies of certain coaches or teams that find themselves in one of the aforementioned spots. Taking that into consideration, let’s move on to the picks.

Packers (-3) at Bears

Conventional wisdom says to take the points with the home ‘dog, and the Bears have been a good play at home in 2013 (5-2 straight up), but in this spot it’s all about Aaron Rodgers. The Packers should have been dead to rights when he went down, but both Detroit and Chicago refused to win the NFC North when it was there for the taking. Rodgers has also had the Bears’ number in recent years. Dating back to September 2010, he has beaten them six straight times (including playoffs) while completing 67 percent of his passes with a 12/4 touchdown/interception ratio. In each of those games, the Packers have won by at least a touchdown. Barring a recurrence of injury, Rodgers will comfortably lead Green Bay back to the playoffs.

Ravens (+6.5) at Bengals

The Ravens are a prideful franchise, and to get their clocks cleaned at home by a hated rival in the Patriots while in control of their playoff destiny last week was uncharacteristic to say the least. The odds may not be in their favor to make the playoffs for a sixth straight year – Baltimore is going to need to win and get some help from the Dolphins or Chargers – but the Ravens can be counted on to leave it all on the field after their no-show last week. Joe Flacco is 4-0 straight up vs. Andy Dalton in meaningful games (both played sparingly in the Bengals’ 23-17 Week 17 win last year), and Dalton has struggled mightily in his career vs. Baltimore (52 percent completion rate with three touchdowns and seven interceptions in the four games that meant something). A game like this – division rivalry, high stakes – figures to be tight.

Rams vs. Seahawks – under 43

The Rams have been something of a thorn in the side of Russell Wilson since he came into the league. Wilson is 2-1 against St. Louis and has completed over 67 percent of his passes, but he’s thrown just three touchdowns against three interceptions and has been sacked a total of 15 times while averaging just 4.4 yards per carry (compared to a career 5.6 mark). Defense has owned the day for both teams in their matchups during that span, with totals of 32, 33 and 23. Both have also trended heavily toward unders in December, going 4-0 apiece. With the Seahawks seething over their first home loss since 2011 and the track record of the Rams D against Wilson, points should be at a premium once again in this one.

Cardinals (+1) vs. 49ers

If the Saints beat the Bucs as anticipated, the Cardinals will miss the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game. The rest of the NFC will then probably breathe a big sigh of relief. Arizona has won seven of its last eight (its only loss a 24-21 nail-biter at Philly in Week 13), including back-to-back road wins in Tennessee and Seattle. At home during that stretch, the Cards have been dominant, beating the Falcons, Texans, Colts and Rams by an average of nearly 17 points. San Francisco won the first matchup, 34-22, but the game was a lot closer than that, as Arizona was driving with a chance to take the lead late in the third quarter before Larry Fitzgerald fumbled at the San Fran 31-yard line. The Cardinals outgained the Niners, 403-387, but were doomed by four turnovers. With San Francisco coming off a short week and an emotional final game at Candlestick Park while also looking toward the playoffs, this is something of a sandwich spot for them. The Cards, meanwhile, are peaking at the right time. That may not translate to a playoff spot, but it won’t affect their approach to this key game.

Eagles vs. Cowboys – over 52.5

Tony Romo’s season-ending back surgery dominated the headlines this week, and while the Cowboys’ chances of winning the NFC East have taken a hit as a result of the injury, Romo’s absence shouldn’t affect the tempo and pace of scoring in this game. Kyle Orton is an old-fashioned gunslinger in his own right. The Cowboys know they won’t stand a chance of keeping up with the high-octane attack of the Eagles simply by handing the ball to DeMarco Murray. Orton is going to have to find a way to get the ball downfield to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. It’s a win-win scenario for Orton. He is expected to lose the game, which is always a dangerous proposition for a quarterback who isn’t afraid to air it out. And Orton will certainly have his chances against an Eagles pass defense that’s allowing over 285 yards per game (30th in the league) and is two weeks removed from getting torched by Vikings backup Matt Cassel for 382 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Jets (+6) at Dolphins

In many cases, teams that at one time had playoff aspirations but now find themselves playing out the string late in the season can’t be counted on to submit anything close to a complete effort (see: Lions, Detroit). The Jets are the exception to the rule. It’s no secret Rex Ryan’s job could be on the line. It’s also no secret he has the undying loyalty of his players. With a chance to secure a respectable 8-8 record while also thwarting the playoff hopes of a division foe, expect a “kitchen sink” effort from the Jets as they try to make it that much tougher for the New York brass to fire Ryan. On the other side are the Dolphins, who totally crapped the bed in Buffalo last week with an excellent chance to essentially lock up a playoff spot. Miami had been playing with house money in the wake of the Incognito/Martin scandal. Suddenly, the pressure and spotlight are both squarely back on Ryan Tannehill and Co. A perfect spot for Ryan and the nothing-to-lose Jets.

Overall picks: 27-25

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