Betting News & Analysis

Sharpe's Take: Best NFL bets to make in Week 17

Dec 27, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) is pressured by Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year, and welcome to NFL Week 17!

The final week of the NFL regular season is generally the hardest week to bet, so I’ll go over my approach for the Week 17 slate, look at the scenarios at play and give my picks for the week. Enjoy!

HOW TO APPROACH WEEK 17 BETTING

Motivation is a key factor in Week 17. Different teams have different interests in terms of how this week impacts events after this season. To categorize this motivation, I put each team into one of four categories:

  • Locked: A locked team cannot meaningfully alter its playoff positioning, regardless of what happens in Week 17. Therefore, the team has an interest in resting its starters.
  • Cares: This is a team that will want a win to either meaningfully improve its playoff seed and/or make the playoffs at all.
  • Out: This is a team that is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and has nothing to gain from losing.
  • Draft: This team could be similar to “Out,” but it could get a top-five draft pick with one more loss. While no evidence suggests that players and coaches try to lose, there may be pressure from ownership or a general manager to put in backups earlier in order to make a loss more probable.

In general, my philosophy is to avoid picking games where either team is categorized as “Locked” or “Draft.” It is incredibly hard to predict what these teams will do, and it’s possible the market may have extra information about what teams are likely to do. If I do bet these games, it’s usually on higher payoff moneylines to capitalize on the higher amount of uncertainty Week 17 presents.

I am generally comfortable betting “Cares vs. Cares” or “Out vs. Out” games when I find value to the market line. “Cares vs. Out” is mostly the same, though I have a small bias for the “Out” team. Fading the

The “Team X needs it more so will play better” narrative can be helpful, but markets are getting smarter all the time, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into this; it’s a small bias.

WEEK 17 MOTIVATIONS

MIAMI DOLPHINS (CARES) @ BUFFALO BILLS (LOCKED) (-2, 44.5)

The Bills can only get the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, which only matters to see who hosts the game if both the Bills and Steelers win their wild-card games.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (CARES) @ CINCINNATI BENGALS (DRAFT) (+12, 44.5)

This is a win-and-in for the Ravens, while the Bengals cannot make the playoffs. If anything, Cincinnati may have some desire to lose to try to secure a top-five draft pick.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (LOCKED) @ CLEVELAND BROWNS (CARES) (-9.5, 42.5)

The Steelers can only get the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, which only matters to see who hosts the game if both the Steelers and Bills win their wild-card games.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (OUT) @ DETROIT LIONS (OUT) (-6.5, 54.5)

Both teams are eliminated from playoff contention.

NEW YORK JETS (OUT) @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (OUT) (-3, 39.5)

Both teams are eliminated from playoff contention.

DALLAS COWBOYS (CARES) @ NEW YORK GIANTS (CARES) (+1.5, 45)

Both teams could still win the NFC East and make the playoffs. The Washington Football Team may make this irrelevant if they win on Sunday Night Football, but the Cowboys and Giants have to play with the assumption that that doesn’t happen.

ATLANTA FALCONS (OUT) @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (CARES) (-6.5, 50.5)

The Buccaneers cannot win their division and have already secured a wild-card berth. Normally I’d consider them a “Locked” team, but they will want to win this game to secure the No. 5 seed, as the NFC East champion is likely going to be an easier opponent than any of the other NFC division winners (Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks).

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (CARES) @ CAROLINA PANTHERS (OUT) (+6.5, 47.5)

While the Packers are the favorite for the playoff bye, the Saints should be playing to try to earn it. The Panthers are eliminated from playoff contention.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (CARES) @ CHICAGO BEARS (CARES) (+5.5, 52)

The Packers haven’t yet secured the bye but can and will be trying to do so with a win. This is a win-and-in game for the Bears.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (OUT) @ DENVER BRONCOS (OUT) (+2.5, 51)

Both teams are eliminated from playoff contention.

TENNESSEE TITANS (CARES) @ HOUSTON TEXANS (OUT) (-7.5, 56.5)

It’s possible that the Titans will need this win to secure a playoff berth, but it’s also possible that earlier action will have already taken it out of their hands by the time kickoff rolls around. Even so, Ryan Tannehill & Co. are still going to try to win the AFC South.

The Texans would typically be a “Draft” team here, as they would have been looking to maintain a top-five pick had they not traded that pick away to the Miami Dolphins as a part of the trade for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (OUT) @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (CARES) (-14, 50)

The Jaguars are locked as the owners of the No. 1 draft pick, so there’s no reason for them to try to lose this game. Meanwhile, a loss would eliminate the Colts from the playoffs.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (OUT) @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (LOCKED) (+3.5, 44)

The Chiefs already have the bye regardless of this game. The Chargers have been eliminated from playoff contention.

ARIZONA CARDINALS (CARES) @ LOS ANGELES RAMS (CARES) (-3, 41)

This is a win-and-in game for both teams.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (CARES) @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (OUT) (-6, 46)

While the Green Bay Packers are the favorite for the playoff bye, the Seahawks should be playing to earn it. The 49ers are eliminated from playoff contention.

WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (CARES) @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (DRAFT) (+2, 43.5)

This is a win-and-in for Washington. The Eagles cannot make the playoffs. If anything, Philly may have some desire to lose in order to secure a top-five draft pick.

WEEK 17 PICKS

Once we remove the games that include teams that are either “Locked” or “Draft” and look at the remaining games, I have two picks (the first two listed) and two leans (the latter two) this week.

New York Jets (Out) @ New England Patriots (Out) (-3, 39.5)

Team EPA/Play EPA/Play Allowed QB PFF Grade PFF Power Rating
NYJ -0.12 (32nd) +0.10 (27th) 58.3 (41/47) -7.0 (30th)
NE -0.01 (24th) +0.08 (24th) 69.3 (24/47) -0.7 (17th)

The look-ahead line for this game was 10, and while some movement away from that number is warranted, this still strikes me as far too much movement.

The New England Patriots had no motivation in Week 16 yet still tried to win on Monday against the Buffalo Bills. And there’s no reason to assume they won’t do the same here.

The New York Jets are on a two-game win streak, and while the victory over the Los Angeles Rams was impressive and surprising, that was already accounted for in the look-ahead line. The victory over the Cleveland Browns doesn’t really move the needle much in my view, given that the Browns had no starting receivers due to COVID-19.

The Patriots have struggled recently but have done so against stronger teams than them — not teams like the Jets. Given the power rating difference between these teams, I’m happy to lay the points with the Patriots here.

Sharpe’s Take: Patriots -3


Green Bay Packers (Cares) @ Chicago Bears (Cares) (+5.5, 52)

Team EPA/Play EPA/Play Allowed QB PFF Grade PFF Power Rating
GB +0.21 (1st) +0.04 (12th) 94.5 (1/47) +6.7 (4th)
CHI 0.00 (23rd) 0.00 (8th) 61.9 (37/47) -0.2 (16th)

One of these quarterbacks is having an MVP year, and the other doesn’t deserve a starting job despite a recent string of solid performances against bad defenses.

This streak is causing the Chicago Bears to be somewhat overrated. Meanwhile, the Packers' defense is decidedly above average, which will make it hard for the Bears to keep up.

This line of 5.5 points isn’t far from the 5-point closing line the Packers had against the Tennessee Titans last week, and they’re a significantly better team than the Bears are. It’s not adjacent to a key number, and the PFF power ratings put the difference between these teams as close to 7 points, so I don’t mind laying the points with the Packers here.

Sharpe’s Take: Packers -5.5


Las Vegas Raiders (Out) @ Denver Broncos (Out) (+2.5, 51)

Team EPA/Play EPA/Play Allowed QB PFF Grade PFF Power Rating
LV +0.08 (12th) +0.15 (29th) 84.0 (10/47) -1.1 (19th)
DEN -0.05 (30th) +0.05 (16th) 60.8 (38/47) -3.8 (24th)

This one is more of a lean, especially as the real value was available earlier in the week when you could get the Las Vegas Raiders +3.

This has swung to make the Raiders the favorite at -2.5. However, I believe there’s still a little value on them here, given that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is a significantly better quarterback than Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock.

The Raiders were a potential playoff team a couple of weeks ago but have since come off two close losses (one with backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, though he had a solid game) and opinion has soured on them too much.

I’d still put a smaller bet on them at this line, as you still get the right side of the bet if the Raiders win by a field goal.

Sharpe’s Take: Raiders -2.5


Tennessee Titans (Cares) @ Houston Texans (Out) (-7.5, 56.5)

Team EPA/Play EPA/Play Allowed QB PFF Grade PFF Power Rating
TEN +0.18 (2nd) +0.12 (28th) 89.3 (7/47) +3.2 (10th)
HST +0.08 (11th) +0.16 (30th) 91.9 (2/47) -2.7 (21st)

This game is more of a lean, as well. The Tennessee Titans have the better offense overall, but the Houston Texans’ offense is still good and has the better quarterback. And, of course, both will be facing terrible defenses. I expect a lot of scoring in this game, as the total line of 56.5 suggests.

However, Mike Vrabel tends to run too often, which is less likely to produce successful drives and will slow the game down enough so that things can stay close.

Conversely, if the game script does involve the Titans getting out to a solid lead and the Titans decide to rest some starters, this could create a window for a Texans backdoor cover, especially getting over a touchdown at 7.5.

Sharpe’s Take: Texans +7.5

 

Note: Betting lines from VegasInsider.com consensus as of 9:18 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, December 30.

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