Time for the NFL Week 17 picks! This is it for the regular season. Next week we'll be on to Wildcard Weekend and picking every Playoff game. But for the last week of regular season picks we'll stick to the relevant games. There are four games with zero Playoff implications: Green Bay/Detroit, Houston/Indy, Washington/NYG, and KC/Denver. The first three involve eliminated teams. The last one has the Chiefs but they're locked into the AFC's #4 seed with nothing to gain or lose. So no need to dare pick those games ATS since we have no idea how many starters will even play. And I'm still boycotting the Giants, so we're definitely not touching that one. But that leaves 12 games of consequence. Here we go! All the picks, previews, and commentary from the rest of the team at The Football Pod:
***These are Wednesday morning lines for Week 17. If you pick later in the week and need help with adjusted lines just find me on twitter, and I'll help you out. That's what friends are for!***
Carolina (+4) @ Atlanta:
To me, this is the game of the day even though neither of these teams was particularly impressive last week. Carolina was a heavy favorite at home to beat a bad Tampa team, but needed a touchdown with less than a minute to go to pull out the win. The Panthers were pretty good all day on defense and special teams, but really stagnant on offense. Give credit to Cam Newton though, for leading the game-winning drive when it mattered. For the majority of the afternoon, this seemed like the classic Panthers letdown game, but they avoided that fate and clinched an NFC Playoff spot with the win. Where will the Panthers end up playing on Wildcard Weekend? Well, believe it or not, they can still actually go into the Playoffs as high as the #2 seed and skip the Wildcard altogether. That's unlikely but possible. It's more likely that Carolina will be the #5 seed. Everything in between 2 and 5 is possible. You can read a good summary for each scenario here. What's for sure is that the Panthers have no chance at winning the NFC South unless they beat the Falcons. They also need New Orleans to lose to make that happen. Both of those NFC South divisional games will kick at 4:25 Eastern, which is fun since it means both the Panthers and the Saints will have to play to win if they want the division.
For the Panthers, it won't be so easy on the road as underdogs. Atlanta looked terribly over-matched in New Orleans last week. But the Falcons are generally better at home, and that's why we see the four point spread here. It's essentially a must-win game for the Falcons if they want to get back to the Playoffs and defend their NFC title from a year ago. The Falcons are also in if the Seahawks lose, but Seattle will be favored at home in their regular season finale. So for the Falcons it's simple: Win and they're in. The Panthers are in already, but playing for the possibility of the division title and a better seed. So we should see a little more urgency out of the Falcons. But Atlanta's been so up and down this year that it's hard to predict which team we'll see on Sunday. We've been led to believe that Matt Ryan desperately misses Kyle Shanahan. I'd argue this is only half-true. Yes, Ryan was a much better quarterback in Shanahan's offense. But without Shanahan, and/or another elite offensive coordinator, this is what Ryan is... a good, but not great, quarterback. The Falcons are much better when they get their run game going to take some pressure off of Ryan. Atlanta is a top ten running offense this year, but the Falcons ground game lacks consistency. Last week they only managed 67 yards on the ground in New Orleans and they were never really in the game. Earlier this year in a close loss at Carolina, their run game was similarly held in check. They only managed 53 yards against a very good Carolina run defense. The Panthers are giving up just under 90 yards per game (YPG) on the ground, sixth best in the NFL. They won't stifle Atlanta like they did in Charlotte, but they're good enough defensively to keep this close, even if Carolina gets off to another slow start on offense. More than a field goal seems like too much here. Now, here's where you have to be careful on Week 17... If New Orleans gets up big on Tampa - by more than say 20 points in the second half - does Carolina start to sit Newton and other players? The scoreboard may indicate that the Saints have the division wrapped up, so why would the Panthers risk injury? Why not simply shut it down and get ready for Wildcard Weekend? That makes this a tough call. But more than a field goal still seems like too much for me. Panthers to cover in Atlanta:
New Orleans (-7) @ Tampa Bay:
As discussed, New Orleans kicks off in Tampa at the same time that Carolina does in Atlanta. So the Saints will have to play to win this game if they want to secure the NFC South division title. Tampa showed some fight in Carolina last week and easily covered a double digit spread. But found a way to self-destruct and lose, as usual. The Bucs covered the week before on Monday Night Football in a close loss to Atlanta too. So even though the Saints have everything to play for here, and the Bucs just want this season to end as soon as possible, the big line worries me. Also consider that New Orleans isn't quite the same away from home. The Saints are 7-1 (straight-up) in New Orleans but only 4-3 outside Louisiana. The last two road games for the Saints were losses in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Those losses came at the hands of winning teams, so this isn't quite the same challenge, but I still think a full score is a lot to cover. That being said, the Saints ground game has traveled well this year. New Orleans has the NFL's fifth best rushing offense, averaging 131.9 YPG. Impressively, the Saints are slightly better away from home where they get 132.4 YPG. Tampa is hardly an elite rushing defense; the Bucs rank 24th in the NFL when it comes to stopping the run. To their credit, they typically play much better defense at home. So this could be a decent matchup. But the Saints have definitive advantages at quarterback, coaching staff, and on the offensive line. They're also playing to secure home field for at least the first round of the Playoffs - something that's key to the Saints getting off to a good start in the postseason. And I think Tampa gave everything they could the last two weeks and still lost. It probably comes undone here. Saints to pull away and cover the touchdown:
Dallas (-2.5) @ Philadelphia:
***Editor's Note: Rick York was on thefootballpod a few weeks ago to discuss the Cowboys long-shot Playoff chances. Things were looking good up until Seattle came to town and delivered the Christmas Eve disappointment that Rick had feared. Now here's Rick's preview and pick ATS for the final Cowboys outing in 2017.***
The Dallas Cowboys head to Philadelphia to close out the 2017 regular season this weekend. The regular season finale will be it this year, since the Cowboys lost any chance at the Playoffs when they lost to the Seahawks last week. The loss to Seattle took me by surprise. I assumed they would wait till this week to blow the season in Philly. Instead, the Cowboys threw away chance after chance to put points on the board early. Penalties, missed field goals, interceptions, dropped balls... Everyone was screwing up. There is plenty of blame to go around. Jerry looked somewhere between pissed off and utterly disgusted late in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys missed multiple field goals. When he left his booth with a couple minutes to go, I shut the game off too. As usual, after another disappointing season, I want nothing to do with this team for a few months.
Now that that's out of the way, it's actually not all bad going forward. Would Dallas have one or two more wins had Zeke not missed six games? It's certainly possible. What if Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, and Dan Bailey had been healthy all year? Would that have translated to another win or two? Again, very possible. So minus the suspension and the plethora of injuries to very key players, maybe Dallas was more like a 10 win team this year that should have been a Wildcard team, even if Philly was the better team in the NFC East...? Nothing's for sure, but it's reasonable to think that Elliott, Smith, Lee, and Bailey - four of the very best players in the league at their respective positions - missing that much time cost the team wins this year. At their best, this isn't a bad roster. It's not even mediocre. It's a pretty solid team with a lot of positives in place now that Zeke's suspension and drama is behind them, plus an offseason to get everyone healthy. The offensive line should come back better next year, and more reminiscent of 2016. Jason Witten is nearing the end of his hall-of-fame career, and Dez Bryant's best days may be behind him as well. Dallas needs to upgrade at receiver and/or tight end through the draft and free agency. Otherwise the offense is in very good shape.
I'm a bit worried about Dan Bailey, but I'm hoping his issues are stemming from the groin injury he suffered mid-season. Like the rest of the Cowboys players that dealt with injuries this year, he needs an offseason to get healthy. Going into next year he should again be one of the most effective and lethal kickers in the league.
The defense played above their heads for a good part of the season, and that should not be overlooked. But to continue to get better, Dallas will need to draft well, and maybe sign a couple free agents. The defense is better up front, but could use some new play-makers in the secondary. If they can add a couple pieces on defense, and stay healthy on offense, I have no doubt this is a Playoff team next year.
Back to this week... Take the Eagles getting points at home. They're only getting the points because they've already clinched the NFC's top seed and home field throughout the Playoffs. So they have nothing to gain and we can expect them to sit some of their starters. But after Nick Foles struggled on Monday night, Philly's staff may play him a little longer to try and get him feeling confident, in sync with the receivers, and ready for the Playoffs. They'd like to go into the postseason with some momentum, rather than two lackluster efforts. There's no better way to do that than to pound Dallas at home for their fans. Normally I'd hate to be taking Philly in this spot, but I know the Eagles will never win a Super Bowl, so let them have this meaningless regular season win:
Chicago (+13) @ Minnesota:
Last week was interesting in the NFC. The Vikings played Saturday night at Lambeau and dominated the Packers. Yes, I know it's not the same without Aaron Rodgers playing. But I thought it was an impressive outing, nonetheless. Green Bay is a a bad team without Rodgers but the Vikings still had to go on the road and take care of business to stay in the race for the NFC's top spot. The Eagles, meanwhile, played Monday night in a similar "take care of business" type of game against a bad team. Philly was at home and the Eagles had to simply win to clinch the top spot in the conference. But Philly wasn't nearly as impressive as Minnesota. If those two get the top two seeds in the NFC and end up facing off in the conference title game, I like Minnesota right now.
First though, the Vikings have to close out the season against a bad Bears team on Sunday. Minnesota is almost assured of the second seed in the NFC. There is a pretty crazy scenario where the Vikings could drop, and you can read about it here, but it's unlikely. Minnesota can simply win on Sunday and none of it matters anyway. With a first-round bye at stake, and after having seen the way Minnesota looked last week, I expect Mike Zimmer and the staff to finish strong. Minnesota has been competing with Jacksonville for the top rank in every meaningful defensive statistic this year. After the Vikings shut-out win at Lambeau last week, Minnesota has the league's best scoring defense. The Vikings only allow 16.1 PPG, and that number is even better at home, a mere 12.9 PPG. Chicago's 29th ranked scoring offense will have plenty of problems on Sunday. Vikings to close out the regular season with a big win and a cover:
New York Jets (+17) @ New England:
***Editor's note: Hopefully you've been listening to Greg Armstrong this season as he's previewed each and every New York Jets game for you. If you have, you know that Greg is an awesome 11-3-1 ATS picking the Jets games this year. That's an excellent number and indicative of someone that covers the team like a true professional. In between sports talk radio segments and his work for TurnOnTheJets.com, we caught up with Greg to get his take on the Jets-Patriots season finale.***
Well, here we are. It's Week 17 and the New York Jets are in line for a top seven draft pick yet again. This game means absolutely nothing to the Jets, and will actually hurt them if they win, by moving them down in the 2018 NFL draft. I don't think the Patriots will let that happen, but I do like the Jets to cover the 17 point spread.
This has actually been a fun season for Jets fans. The team punched above their weight class in a lot of games, but the lack of talent at premium positions doomed them in fourth quarters. Still, there is a lot to build on moving forward. Back in preseason, there was talk that the roster would be completely turned over a year from now... that this version of the team may struggle to win a game or two. It just goes to show you that these talking heads don't do their research. Or they're just dumb. Or both. The 2017 Jets have proven that much.
What I want to see in this game is a first half led by Bryce Petty and a second half featuring Christian Hackenberg. I want every Jets fan to realize that these guys clearly aren't NFL quarterbacks. They're borderline backups at best. Both have a weapon Sunday in receiver Robby Anderson. Anderson needs just over 60 yards to have a 1,000 yard season. The Jets should force-feed him the football until he gets there. I'd also like to see minimal Matt Forte and maximum Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire.
On defense, Jamal Adams gets his rematch with Rob Gronkowski. A big game for Adams could be a huge stepping stone in his development. In addition to Gronkowski, Dion Lewis has been an excellent weapon for Tom Brady over the last month. I want to see Darron Lee have a good game against a dual-threat back like Lewis.
Ultimately, this game is all about the future. Just like most of the season, I want to see development and improvement from the core young players that will be part of this team beyond 2017. They've got youth, hunger, and fight on their side. You'll see that fight on display in New England as they look to end this season on a high note. They won't beat the Patriots, but they'll keep it closer than this big spread, which is a great omen for Jets fans going forward.
Cleveland (+14) @ Pittsburgh:
Pittsburgh can do no worse than the AFC's second seed. The Steelers could technically still win the top spot in the conference if they win and the Patriots lose. But the Pats have the lowly Jets this week so that's not happening. Pittsburgh and New England both kick in the early games so there will be some scoreboard watching by both teams. But as soon as the Patriots are up big on the Jets, the Steelers will throttle back and get some of their players out of the game. They took Ben Roethlisberger out on Monday night when they were up big on the Texans. There's no reason to believe they won't do the same on Sunday when there's nothing to gain. And despite all of Cleveland's problems this year, the Browns haven't quit. They won't on Sunday either. I like the Browns to cover the big number after the Steelers let up:
Cincinnati (+10) @ Baltimore:
Baltimore hasn't clinched a Playoff spot just yet but the Ravens have a clear path: Beat the Bengals on Sunday and they're in. Baltimore could lose and still have a pretty decent shot at the Playoffs, as outlined here. But Ravens fans would rather not go that route. On the strength of their defense, Baltimore should secure their Wildcard slot on Sunday. The Ravens are a top five scoring defense, and ranked in the top ten in total defense. They also beat the Bengals in Cincinnati in a 20-0 shutout way back in Week 1. Most stats, metrics, and common sense say to take the Ravens in a game that means something to them and nothing to the Bengals. But it's also a divisional game between rivals, and Baltimore sometimes struggles to put bad teams away. (See their unimpressive win over Indy last week, for example...) I expect the Ravens to win but I'll take the Bengals to keep it closer than double digits:
Buffalo (-2.5) @ Miami:
Buffalo kept it close for a few quarters in New England last week but I think realistic Bills fans knew there was no way they were winning that game. Going into their final three games, the Bills had the Dolphins twice and the Patriots once. So realistically, they needed to go 2-1 over that stretch, get to 9-7, and hope for some help. We'll come back to the Dolphins game, but let's focus on the help the Bills need. There are four AFC teams that are competing for the two Wildcard spots. Joining the Bills are the Chargers, Ravens, and Titans. The Bills need to win in Miami on Sunday, and then they need one of two scenarios to unfold: Either the Ravens lose to the Bengals, or losses by both the Chargers and Titans. Of all the teams in Wildcard contention, the Bills have the most difficult road. Hopefully Buffalo coach Sean McDermott and his staff have the team focused solely on beating Miami. If the Bills come out flat and lose that game on Sunday, then none of this matters anyway.
We know the Bills should have a huge motivational advantage here since they're playing for the Playoffs and the Dolphins aren't. But what hurts the Bills is their clear limitations on offense. The Bills struggle mightily to the move the ball and score points. Buffalo is easily in the bottom half of the league in both scoring offense and total offense. The Bills are actually fourth worst in the NFL when it comes to total offense. They're even worse than the winless Browns when it comes to moving the ball. Because Buffalo is so bad at moving the ball down the field and scoring points, they can't separate, even from bad opponents. The Bills last three wins have all been one possession games. They haven't had a "big win" when it comes to scoring differential since October when they beat the Raiders by 20 points. As much as I'm tempted to pick the Bills to beat up on a Jay Cutler-led team that has every reason to quit early, the Bills offensive struggles will keep the Dolphins in this game. Miami may even win it late. It'll be an ugly game in front of a largely empty stadium in South Florida. I'll take the Dolphins getting points at home:
Jacksonville (+3.5) @ Tennessee:
A few weeks ago it looked like this game could be a de facto AFC South division title game. But the Titans continue to find ways to lose games so the Jaguars have already clinched the division. Jacksonville is actually locked into the number three spot in the conference. So they'll be hosting the six seed on Wildcard Weekend. There's a very good chance that the six seed could be these same Titans. If Tennessee wins this game on Sunday (remember, Jacksonville has nothing to play for RE Playoff seeding) and Baltimore beats Cincinnati (likely), then these teams will meet again next week in the 3/6 game. The Titans can actually lose this game and sneak into the Playoffs too, but that would take a lot of help. A victory guarantees them a trip to the Playoffs, so they're in a good spot if they can actually win a game. But that's been hard for Tennessee as of late. The Titans have lost four of six games, and they haven't beaten a team with a winning record since the first week of November. Maybe because the Titans just aren't that great. They actually give up more PPG (23.1) than they score (21.3). If this was their potential Playoff game, I'd be going with Jacksonville. I think the Jaguars have the far better roster (outside of quarterback), a much better defense, and they're better coached. But with nothing to play for, and the likely possibility of seeing these same Titans a week later, could the Jags totally shut things down here? Could they play reserves most of the game, give their starters a break, and (most importantly) give them zero insight into what they'll do the following week? I say yes. If beating the Titans would assuredly eliminate them, I think the Jags would play for that. They'd love to avoid seeing a division rival on Wildcard Weekend. But when they kick-off, they won't know how that will play out. They could beat the Titans, and Tennessee could still get in as the six seed if Buffalo and LA lose. That's why I think Jacksonville will it play it safe here. And Tennessee is desperate. Missing the Playoffs would be catastrophic when you think about how weak the AFC's Wildcard scene is this year. Tennessee to finally get it done and win this game. Next week will be a different story, but Titans to cover for now:
San Francisco (+3) @ Los Angeles Rams:
Are we looking at the future rivalry of the NFC West here? Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers versus Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and the Rams for the better part of the next decade? It's certainly possible. I think Russell Wilson may have something to say about that, albeit with a new-looking Seahawks roster as soon as next year, but it definitely sets up an interesting NFC West for years to come. We get a sneak preview this weekend with San Francisco going down to LA for the regular season finale. The 49ers, winners of four straight, probably wish the season was just starting. With Garoppolo under center, it looks like a totally different team. I've been writing about their ascension for a few weeks now; mostly in regards to how well positioned they are for the future. But after the way Garoppolo and the 49ers put up 44 points on the NFL's best defense last week, it's apparent that this team can compete with almost anyone right now. The NFC Playoff teams, including the Rams, are happy that they don't have to deal with the upstart 49ers in January. But LA does have to host San Francisco for the regular season finale. On the surface, there's not a lot to play for. The Rams are locked into either the three or four seed in the NFC. So they'll host a Wildcard game and then hit the road for the Divisional Round. Winning this game would ensure them the three seed. Most years, I'd argue that there's not much difference between three and four. Sean McVay appears to agree with that reasoning for this year. Here's why I think this year may be different though... Let's say the Rams win Sunday and take the three seed. Let's say the Saints win the NFC South and get the four. Then let's say LA upsets Minnesota in the Divisional Round and New Orleans does the same in Philly. Would anyone be surprised if the Saints knock off the Nick Foles-led Eagles? I say no. The NFC has a number of very good teams, but I wouldn't call any of them great. The Rams have a great offense and the Vikings have a great defense. But I wouldn't call any of these teams great, overall. I wouldn't be shocked by any NFC Playoff results this year with no clear favorites. So back to our hypothetical... If LA and New Orleans both advance to the championship game, then LA would host if they had won the three seed. They hosted the Saints last month and controlled that game throughout. Would it be different in New Orleans? Yes, the Saints are just that much better at home in their dome. That game could be decided by home field advantage. I think the number three seed could mean a lot. But it sounds like LA will sit several starters. Meanwhile, San Francisco has nothing to lose and they're playing lights out. Based on everything we've heard this week, I'll take the 49ers to cover, although I wish the Rams were playing for that positioning:
Oakland (+9.5) @ Los Angeles Chargers:
Los Angeles took care of business in New Jersey last week and beat the Jets to stay alive for the Playoffs. But like the Bills, the Chargers need to win this week and get some help to get into the Playoffs. They'd need the Jaguars to win (to eliminate the Titans) and a win from either the Dolphins or the Ravens. So while they need help, none of that is unthinkable. First, though, they have to take care of the Raiders. Oakland came alive in Philly last week. The Raiders covered a big spread and well into the fourth quarter it seemed like they were on their way to spoiling the Eagles chances at the NFC's top seed. A Derek Carr interception ultimately cost them, but prior to that it was one of the better outings by the Raiders this year. On defense it was one of their absolute best. Maybe it's just an indictment on how limited Philly will be without Carson Wentz. But I expect Oakland to play well again in this season finale. Raiders to stick around and keep it closer than double digits:
Arizona (+10) @ Seattle:
I've been writing about the up and down nature of the Seahawks for a couple years now. I've called them a "flip-a-switch" team, meaning they've fallen into the mentality of "we can flip a switch and play well when we want to, when it really matters..." This generally comes back to haunt teams in every sport that fall into this mindset. I think it cost Seattle a few years ago when they lost a Divisional Round game in Carolina. They fell way behind and after flipping the switch in the second half, their furious comeback came up just short. They fell victim to this mindset last year when they slept-walked through several important games, lost some of them, and then lost home field advantage for the duration of the Playoffs. Instead, they went to Atlanta and lost a game that I think they'd have won at home. Their lack of urgency on a week-to-week basis has been alarming for a few years now. But now injuries and age have caught up with them. Somehow, though, they summoned their old defensive prowess last week in Dallas and ruined the Cowboys season. The offense is still Russell Wilson and nothing else, but the defense was great. Perhaps it was just an indictment on Dallas, or maybe Seattle still has just enough defensive play-makers to carry them in a must-win game. But the Seahawks, true to form, have tripped up a couple too many times this season. That includes a home loss to the Falcons last month that may cost them everything. If Seattle and Atlanta both win on Sunday, then Atlanta will have the head-to-head tiebreaker to take the last Playoff spot in the conference. The Seahawks and the Falcons both kick-off in late games, so the scoreboard watching will absolutely ensue. Your guess is as good as mine on how this Seattle team will handle that. Do they finish strong no matter what, or quit if Atlanta is up in the second half? The Seahawks are bad favorites, they're inconsistent, and I stopped trusting them long ago. Cardinals to cover the big number:
Did you like our NFL picks this week? Hate the picks? Want to play along and teach us how to pick? Let our experts know what you think:
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