Week 17 of the NFL season gives us several rivalry games with playoff implications on the line Sunday.
What is worth looking at from a betting perspective? And what are the best plays to help you make smart wagering decisions?
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan, fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings, ESPN Stats & Information’s Seth Walder and Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz offer their insights into the games with tips and picks.
Note: Lines are from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
The New England Patriots (-3, 41.5) are favorites over the Miami Dolphins in a pivotal matchup with AFC playoff implications. The Dolphins (-225 to make playoffs) will start backup QB Teddy Bridgewater against a Patriots team coming off two devastating losses to the Raiders and Bengals. Whom do you like in this matchup, and what do you think of the Dolphins’ odds to make the playoffs?
Fulghum: I like the Patriots in this spot. It is concerning that Teddy Bridgewater is 19-4 against the spread as a starter on the road in his career, but the word is out on Teddy ATS at the books. With the Dolphins going north to Foxborough in December to face the elite pass defense that Bill Belichick still coordinates, I like this spot for New England to win and cover in a low-scoring game. I do NOT like Miami’s chances of making the playoffs. I actually think the Dolphins lose, not only this game, but a Week 18 game against the Jets that might be a pseudo play-in game. I would bet the Jets to make the postseason with more conviction than the Dolphins.
Schatz: I will go against the grain and pick Miami +3 here. There’s no doubt Tua Tagovailoa has been better than Bridgewater this season, but that’s a sample size of 60 pass attempts for Bridgewater. Based on his performance over the past couple of years, I don’t see any reason why Bridgewater shouldn’t be able to operate the Miami offense that much worse than Tagovailoa — and probably better than what Tagovailoa has been for the past four weeks. Yes, the Patriots’ defense is very strong, but that unit is only 19th in DVOA against passes in the middle of the field, including 23rd on passes to the intermediate middle area (10-19 air yards) that the Dolphins love so much. That includes Jaylen Waddle‘s 42-yard touchdown reception on a blown coverage on fourth-and-7 when Miami beat New England in Week 1. I also think Miami will end up as the seventh seed in the AFC, whether it wins this week or beats the Jets next week.
Marks: I like the Pats and the under in this game. The Dolphins’ offense has been sputtering as of late (27th over the past six weeks). The Pats’ defense is their backbone, and the Fins will not only have a difficult time scoring, but they’ll have trouble converting third downs (only 25%). The Pats’ offense is nothing to write home about either. Small lean toward the Pats, but I love the under.
The Green Bay Packers (-3.5, 48) are on a three-game win streak and welcome the Minnesota Vikings to Lambeau Field on Sunday. The Vikings have won an NFL-record 11 one-score games this season, including their past two games against the Colts and Giants. Meanwhile, Green Bay upset the Dolphins last week and is still alive in the NFC playoff race. Despite a 12-3 record, the Vikings are underdogs to the 7-8 Packers. What are your thoughts on this line, and whom do you like in this NFC North showdown?
Fulghum: I urged viewers of “Daily Wager” three weeks ago not to count out the Packers as a playoff team. At the time, they were 5-8 and +900 to make the postseason. Looking at their schedule, I thought it was very conceivable they could go 4-0 down the stretch. My biggest concern was actually the game they just won, on the road in Miami, on a significant rest disadvantage vs. the Dolphins. Now they have two games against division opponents in Week 17 and 18 at Lambeau Field. I think the right team is favored in this matchup with Minnesota, and I like Aaron Rodgers to continue his record of dominance at home in the winter months and get the Packers to 9-8 — and quite possibly an NFC wild-card berth.
Schatz: It’s getting tiring talking about how the Vikings are not as good as their record, but, you know, the Vikings are not as good as their record. The Packers are 11th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings and the Vikings are just 25th despite their 12 wins. The Packers’ offense ranks sixth in DVOA since Week 10. Green Bay has the worst run defense in the league by DVOA, but how much can the Vikings take advantage? Their run game is only 26th in DVOA. Justin Jefferson will get a big game — the Packers are only 16th against WR1s — but I think the Packers will take home the win. Our numbers also really favor the under in this game, as Green Bay plays at a very slow pace and division games tend to be a bit lower scoring.
Dolan: I would have to take Minnesota +3.5. Overall, Minnesota has been the better team for the totality of the season. People like to make fun of the Vikings having 11 one-score wins, but let’s be honest — somehow, someway, Minnesota continues to win. The Vikings also beat the Packers 23-7 in Week 1, and while that was a long time ago, have the Packers really turned things around in this three-game win streak? Green Bay should have beaten the Bears, Rams and the Dolphins. The Packers have momentum on their side and something to play for in terms of playoff seeding, but bettors are getting three and a hook with the Vikings, so I’d have to play Minnesota.
Marks: I’ll lay the points with the Packers at home in chilly January. The Vikings already clinched a playoff spot. If the Eagles beat the Saints at 1 p.m. ET, then Minnesota is no longer playing for the 1-seed — and the Packers will be playing just to get in. Rodgers and his receiving corps are finally in a groove and have a juicy matchup against the Vikings’ 31st-ranked pass defense.
Speaking of still alive, the Pittsburgh Steelers are fighting in December yet again after defeating the Raiders on a game-winning drive to cap off Christmas Day. They face a Baltimore Ravens (-2.5, 35) squad that needs a victory to still have a chance at winning the AFC North and securing a home playoff game. This game has the lowest over/under of the week by three points. Can the Ravens walk away with a victory, or will Mike Tomlin and the Steelers pull off the upset on New Year’s Day?
Fulghum: I love Mike Tomlin. He’s incredible. Prior to the season, I laughed at the books posting a win total of 7.5 for a guy who’s never had a losing season in 15(!) years on the sideline. Despite all the struggles this season, here they are one win away from cashing that over. I don’t think it’s a lock by any stretch of the imagination against this team, especially on the road, but the Ravens are struggling mightily to score points. I comfortably like the under 35 points in this classic rivalry game. First team to 17-20 points probably wins the game. Picking a side is a toss-up here, but picking the total is a comfortable bet. This is going to be a classic Ravens-Steelers slugfest.
Schatz: I’ll take the Steelers +2.5 here, as they rank 10th in offensive DVOA and fourth in defensive DVOA since Week 10. Baltimore is 24th on offense in that same time frame, though also second on defense. The Ravens love to run the ball, but the Steelers’ defense is sixth against the run. Ravens-Steelers games are always close, which suggests always taking the underdog and the points when these teams meet up.
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What is your favorite player prop for Sunday?
Fulghum: Aaron Rodgers over 1.5 passing TDs (-115). In a “must-win” game against a defense allowing 281.5 passing yards per game this season (32nd in the NFL), with a fully healthy cadre of weapons to work with on the offense, I think Rodgers delivers a vintage performance. The total for this game is 48, and the Packers’ team total is 26.5 points. The market is expecting this game to feature plenty of scoring, and I agree, especially on the Green Bay side.
Dolan: Justin Fields anytime TD scorer against Detroit. In a 31-30 loss to the Lions earlier this season, Fields had 147 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Fields can be successful again against a Detroit defense that ranks 28th at stopping the run. Fields has eight rushing touchdowns this season, which is the second-highest mark for a quarterback behind Jalen Hurts. This is also the highest total on the slate for Week 17, so oddsmakers expect points.
Marks: Cam Akers over 69.5 rushing yards and anytime TD scorer (SGP +150). Akers had his best game last week (23 carries for 118 yards & 3 TDs). He has six TDs in his last four games with 71 of 93 backfield touches. The Chargers have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL — allowing a league high 5.48 YPC.
Moody: Travis Kelce over 72.5 receiving yards. Kelce has surpassed 70 receiving yards in each of his past three games and amassed 27 targets over that time frame. While the Broncos secondary has allowed the fewest yards to wide receivers this season, Kelce has averaged 77.9 receiving yards per game against Denver in his career. There is a good chance he’ll put together another strong performance on Sunday.
What is your favorite bet for Sunday’s games?
Fulghum: Chicago Bears–Detroit Lions over 52. We’ve had a lot of fun betting games to go over the total this season at Ford Field. Six of eight Detroit home games have gone over this year, and they are doing so with ease. Lions home games are clearing the closing total by an average of 9.0 PPG this season, easily the highest mark in the league. Jared Goff is significantly more productive at home. Justin Fields now gets to run on a fast track. These are the two most accommodating defenses in the league; Chicago ranks 31st in PPG allowed (26.2), and Detroit ranks 32nd (26.7).
Schatz: Let’s go with the New York Giants -5.5 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts’ offense is such a mess, ranking last in the league in DVOA. They’re on pace to rank as one of the 20 worst offenses ever tracked by DVOA since 1981. Even if the Giants are not as good as their 8-6-1 record, they are significantly better than the Colts. They also have a lot more motivation, since they’re playing for a playoff spot. Look for the Giants specifically when they get into the red zone; New York ranks second on offensive DVOA in the red zone, trailing only Tennessee, while the Colts’ defense, which is 10th overall, falls to 24th when opponents get inside the 20.
Moody: Lions over 28.0 points. Detroit has performed very well offensively at home this season, averaging 2.1 points per game at Ford Field (first in NFL). Only the Jaguars (407.2), Bills (416.5) and Bengals (433.0) have averaged more total yards per game than Detroit (400.6). It should be a great day for Jared Goff and his offensive playmakers against a Bears defense that surrenders 28.1 points per game.