It’s hard to believe that it’s already Week 17, but we’re back for last regular-season installment of our spread and over/under picks. We’re 43-33-4 (56.6 percent) on our article’s picks the season, and overall we’re 90-81-7 (52.6 percent) against the spread and 121-88-3 (57.9 percent) on over/unders. In Week 16, said picks we were 4-5-2 and 6-10, respectively.
This week of NFL play includes many games without playoff implications for one or both teams, significantly reducing the games where we feel confident we have an edge. This means we’re picking one game twice, taking New Orleans against the spread and the under down in Tampa. We’re going back to the Atlanta well for our lock of the week, where we’ve been 8-4 (if you include Thursday night games). We were ready to take Pittsburgh until it was discovered that they were starting Landry Jones for the second straight Week 17 matchup with the Browns, so we’re going to go with a first-half line in Los Angeles instead.
Each of the five feature picks below comes with a point/counterpoint analysis, including a deeper dive into our “Lock of the Week” that is heard on the PFF Preview Podcast that comes out each Friday morning. The Lock of the Week is 11-5 so far (68.8 percent). For the remainder of our spread and over/under picks, check out PFF Elite and the PFF Elite Facebook Group. For our thoughts on future spread and over/unders, as well as general thoughts on each game, follow us at @PFF_George and @PFF_EricEager on Twitter each week. Thursday night graphics finished 11-2 (84.6 percent) on the season, going 4-2 against the spread and 7-0 on over/unders.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (over/under 42.5)
Pick: Bills 23-19 (the under hits)
Point (Eric Eager): Two weeks ago, we backed the over in this game when it was at 38.5 in Buffalo, and it was a sweat until the very last Cody Parkey field goal. Now the number is at 42.5, even though neither team scored over 16 points in last week’s games after scoring 40 total in the aforementioned matchup. While both teams have run the football well in recent weeks, their passing games (ranking 25th and 27th in net yards per attempt this season) are such that this could turn out to be the slow, grind-it-out type of game that is conducive to unders. Additionally, the Dolphins are the seventh-worst team in terms of producing turnovers defensively, meaning fewer short fields in what might be a race to the end for a Dolphins offense firmly out of the playoff race in Week 17.
Counterpoint (George Chahrouri): The two most explosive offensive weapons in this game are the running backs. That makes this game about as exciting as hearing hundreds of identical New Year’s resolutions. So why the pause? Both defenses have missed run tackles at bottom-five rates; the Bills are dead last, missing 17.5 percent of their run-tackle attempts, while the Dolphins are fourth-worst at 15.0 percent. Kenyan Drake, ranks third in broken tackle rate (18.5 percent) and first with 4.1 yards per carry after first contact (among running backs with 50 or more carries). Meanwhile Tyrod Taylor has the third-highest rushing grade among quarterbacks and LeSean McCoy is always liable to make a few guys miss despite having a subpar year in the broken-tackle department with just 30 (15th). After totaling 40 points in their Week 15 matchup, it wouldn’t take a ton to squeeze this one past 42. I would be remiss not to mention Jay Cutler and the exquisite look he had going this holiday, steak in one hand and condiment bottle resting on the chest – we are all Jay Cutler.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (over/under 50.5)
Pick: Saints 27-19 (the under hits)
Point (GC): This Saints’ offense is great, but their defense is just as good, and having already secured a playoff berth it would be surprising to see Sean Payton play too aggressively here. Saints games have gone over this number just five times this season, and the Bucs have not eclipsed 22 points since Week 11. Marshon Lattimore (PFF grade of 90.5, fifth at the position) and Ken Crawley (84.5, 22nd) should once again be up to the task of shutting down Mike Evans (83.6, 13th) who caught just one of 6 targets for 13 yards in their first meeting. Michael Thomas (90.7, third) has been limited in practice this week and the Saints would be wise to make sure he doesn’t reaggravate the hamstring injury he’s been dealing with. This feels like a Jameis Winston pump-up-speech game, but, regardless of what body part he digests pregame Winston is unlikely to eat the ball when he needs to, instead opting to fling it wildly into harm’s way as Cameron Jordan (94.5, second) hunts him down. Winston has the ninth-most turnover-worthy plays under pressure this season, despite missing time.
Counterpoint (EE): As with last week, we both love the New Orleans under here. However, there are scenarios where the Buccaneers (as they have the last four weeks) make the game competitive through the end. In these scenarios it’s likely that Jameis Winston (possessing the league’s highest passer rating during the last four weeks) plays at the upper bound of his distribution, utilizing the skills of wide receiver Mike Evans (83.6 player grade) and tight end Cameron Brate (79.4) downfield. If this ends up being the outcome, the game very well might go over the total of 50.5, giving us a classic to finish the season in the league’s best division.
Pick: Saints 27-19 (Saints cover)
Point (EE): For the first time all season we’re picking the same game twice. In this pick we’re going with a Saints team that seemingly covered every game during the middle of the season, to take care of business in a big way down in Tampa. With key contributors Gerald McCoy (79.4), Robert Ayers (89.6), DeSean Jackson (82.5) and Chris Godwin (77.8) limited by injury all week, and the lack of something to play for Sunday, look for the Saints to roll in their quest for their first NFC South title since 2011. The Tampa Bay defense has surrendered the 10th-most rushing yards per attempt, meaning that Alvin Kamara (averaging 6.2 yards per carry) and Mark Ingram (5.0) should be able to help the Saints control the ground game and give Drew Brees (with a 114.1 passer rating when clean) time to find the bevy of receiving options available to take advantage of a Buccaneers defense allowing the second-highest net yards per passing attempt in the league through 16 weeks.
Counterpoint (GC): You know it’s Week 17 when… All of my previous statements about the Saints defense aside, it would be surprising to see the lens cap come off Alvin Kamara (89.6, third) too many times with his health being of the utmost importance. Meanwhile, Winston has found the deep ball in his last two games, going 7 for 11 and generating a passer rating of 146.8 on throws traveling 20-plus yards downfield. While not a single one has gone to DeSean Jackson, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him finally catching the deep passes that every Bucs fan saw in their preseason fantasies.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-4)
Pick: Falcons 26-20 (Falcons cover)
Point (GC): An interesting math fact that could help the Falcons out this season: 3+3<7. With that in mind, there is no time left to pander around kicking field goals. The Falcons have the third-highest-graded offense and fourth-highest graded defense, the only team in the top-five of each facet. There is no team that is more well-equipped to take chances on offense and continually leverage fourth down to scare their poor opponents to death. And yet, here we are. I’m not going to even bring up the thought experiment of where this team is with a certain offensive coordinator at the helm this season. The Panthers need New Orleans and Minnesota to lose for their playoff seeding to change in a dramatic way, making this game far less meaningful. The last time these two met, Cam Newton completed just 60 percent of his passes from a clean pocket (he ranks 31st in the NFL this season at 62.8 percent), and only hit two throws 10-plus yards downfield. It was on the ground that he did his damage, 9 attempts for 86 yards and a TD. It would be prudent to limit Cam’s rushing attempts in this one. In that 20-17 loss in Carolina, Julio Jones (91.6, second) dropped a 40-plus yard pass for the first time in his career, the Panthers secondary has just one starter grading above 65.0 (Mike Adams, 81.6) – let’s just say we’re willing to take Julio in round two.
Counterpoint (EE): It’s the Falcons. It’s Dan Quinn. If you hate points and love field goals on fourth down, the Falcons are your team. While I love our numbers as much as the next guy, and think that the Panthers’ penchant for running the football is less than a #stable means by which to win football games, it’s hard to get over the fact that the Falcons failed to cover two weeks ago in Tampa, and struggled mightily last week in New Orleans. In their last matchup in Carolina, the Panthers rushed for 201 yards (88 after contact) at a rate of 5.3 yards per carry, limiting the Falcons to 60 offensive plays and 17 points. While that’s the blueprint, we both think the Falcons will buck this and win by a score or two in this one.
Kai Forbath Memorial Extra Point: In a game like this, the kicking game often ends up being the difference. While Matt Bryant has missed some kicks in games for which we’ve backed the Falcons this year, he’s far better historically that what the Panthers have in Graham Gano, who has yet to hit a field goal further than 50 yards this season (0-1), and hit fewer than 79 percent of his kicks in 2016.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (+2 first half)
Pick: 49ers 13-10 halftime score (the 49ers cover first half)
Point (GC): Jimmy Garoppolo has graded better than any other quarterback on third down since he took over the starting job. I have zero idea why he is playing in this game, but since he is we are going to bet that he plays at least the first half. Without Aaron Donald (98.4, first) terrorizing him from the middle, Garoppolo should have time to operate from a clean pocket, where he is averaging 8.8 yards per attempt since Week 13 (fourth). He has also been immaculate outside the pocket — his passer rating of 117.9 is the best of any signal-caller with at least 25 dropbacks ending outside the pocket. No Todd Gurley (92.0, first) should be a pretty decent hit to Sean Mannion, who has 59 career snaps. A solid half of football will only bolster the gifts that Lynch, Shanahan, and one other Wiseman bring to Jimmy Jesus in early January. Peace be with you all.
Counterpoint (EE): It says something about the slate of games for a week that we’re picking a first-half line, but here we are. While I like Jimmy G (he’s saved our bacon a few times this year), there’s a legitimate chance he goes the way of Jared Goff and plays less than the full game or half. Even if he does play a substantial portion of the first half plays, non-superstar players in Michael Brockers (83.8), Nickell Robey-Coleman (86.2), Trumaine Johnson (75.7), Lamarcus Joyner (90.1) and John Johnson (87.3) have enough talent to slow the 49ers to the point where their depleted offense can keep the game close through two quarters. If Sean Mannion and the second-string Los Angeles offense can manage a score or two, there’s a chance this first-half side is too big for even Jimmy G himself to cover.