Week 17 of the NFL season is a tough one for models and predictions in general. Some teams have their playoff spot completely determined, like the Pats, and so have nothing to play for and have to balance keeping sharp with avoiding injury. Some teams are completely out of the playoffs and have nothing to play for except a slightly different draft spot, like Buffalo. And some teams, obviously, have playoff spots and/or seeds to play for. My models don’t take any of that kind of thing into account, and even if you try to it can be hard to know in advance how long starters will actually play, etc. So for this week’s predictions, I’m going to go through each game and make some guesses on what the models say versus the lines.
Cleveland-Baltimore. According to SBR (which I’ll be using for all the lines, as usual), the Ravens started as 8.5 point favorites but are now close to two touchdowns. I’m not sure how much things moved since Josh Gordon’s suspension was announced earlier today. Obviously a good portion of that has to do with the Browns having nothing to play for and them starting their practice squad QB. The models all had the number at closer to 6; it seems reasonable that it should be higher now. Baltimore needs the Chargers to lose to even have a chance to get in, so they should be playing hard the whole game through.
Dallas-Washington. The line here has actually swung toward Washington, from +6ish to +3.5ish. That could be because Dallas is roughly locked into the 3 seed unless unlikely things happen, or it could be an honest adjustment. Luigi and Yoshi 2 have Dallas as more like 3 point favorites, so the current line is maybe more ‘correct’.
Indianapolis-Tennessee. The Colts also only have so much motivation, as they’re roughly locked into the 4 seed in the AFC. They might want to work some things out after their beatdown by Dallas last week, but their line has stayed at a touchdown all week. The models all predict a closer game, but they also thought that the Titans would cover against the Jaguars last week.
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Houston-Jacksonville. Speaking of the Jaguars, they’ve been kind of feisty recently. The Texans are still nearly double-digit favorites, as they have a tiny chance of making the playoffs still. The models rarely have anyone as that large of a favorite, especially a fringe playoff-quality team, but they do have the Texans by about a touchdown. That’s probably a legit line.
San Diego-Kansas City. Our first game with something on the line for both teams. If the Chargers win, they go to the playoffs. If the Chiefs win they need Baltimore and Houston to also lose. Not good odds, given the lines in those other two games. The Chiefs won’t just lay down though; still, the line has moved against them from about KC -3 to -1. The models like them by about that field goal number, so maybe look for the Ravens to make the playoffs in the end.
Jets-Miami. A game with nothing for anybody. The somewhat odd thing about these week 17 games for teams with nothing to play for is that they rarely involve any tanking or resting. Coaches are trying to get an extra win on their resume to help keep their jobs and players are trying to look good to make sure they stay on the team or catch on somewhere next season. The line has moved a bit towards Miami, from -4.5 to -6, maybe because of the news of Rex Ryan likely being fired. But the models also have the number at more like 5 or 6, so it could be an honest reassessment.
Chicago-Minnesota. The line moved towards Chicago a little bit when Jay Cutler was announced as the starter again in a ridiculously ironic turn of events, but not very much. The Vikings have been solid if a bit below average as Bridgewater has gotten more into the game, and they’re set as touchdown favorites. Chicago also could have been blow out last week by the Lions if any of four or five plays had gone another way (the muffed punt, the roughing the kicker, either red zone interception, a blocked kick, etc). The models all have the number at more like 5, probably reflecting the fact that Minnesota simply isn’t that much better a team, but there doesn’t seem to be any week 17 magic going on here.
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Buffalo-New England. The Pats have talked like they’re going to play their starters for at least most of the game, but that remains to be seen. The line has come down from about 10 to about 5, probably reflecting that people don’t expect Brady and co to play more than a half if that. The models see it as about a touchdown game, again because they rarely predict big favorites, so this will come down to how much the Pats rest their guys.
Philly-Giants. This one could be the Disappointment Bowl. Despite the Eagles being the team that’s narrowly missing the playoffs, the Giants are actually the favorites. The models have it that way too, but not by much. I would hope that with this being something of a rivalry game that the Eagles won’t take it too easy; they certainly should be the better team if they play like they can.
New Orleans-Tampa Bay. The last early afternoon game also has the lowest total wins between the two teams, befitting the NFC South. The models have this as a close one, while the Saints have been steady favorites all week. I guess we’ll see if we get the good Saints or the bad Saints.
Carolina-Atlanta. Staying in the NFC South, we have the game that will decide which sub-.500 team gets to host a playoff game. Since both teams will be trying, the line has stayed at Atlanta -3. The models’ guess that the Falcons cover should have a legit chance.
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Detroit-Green Bay. The winner gets a bye, and perhaps even home field if Seattle takes a loss, while the winner probably goes to Dallas in the wild card round. That’s a big difference. The line is Packers -7, which is what I guessed it would be last week, and the models have it at about 5 or 6. I’ll be out watching the game, so if you hear anguished yelling anywhere between 4:30 and 7:30, it’ll be me.
Oakland-Denver. Denver needs to win (likely if they try) or have the Bengals lose (also relatively likely) to get the two seed. So they’ll probably play the whole game, maybe more probable since they haven’t looked great in recent weeks. The Broncos have been steady two touchdown favorites, and Luigi and Yoshi 2 even have them up in the double digits. This seems like a good place to link to Bill Simmons’ picks, since perhaps the most likely to come back and bite him thing he said this week is that Peyton Manning has lost some of his invulnerability. Obviously he’s forgotten that Tom Brady also looked done at the beginning of the year and turned out to be fine. Sometimes guys just don’t play well for a little bit.
Arizona-San Francisco. Arizona is playing to convince everyone that they’re just limping into the playoffs as opposed to dragging themselves into the playoffs with their dying breaths. A team that is potentially going to get a bye probably shouldn’t be four point underdogs to a team that has solidly been eliminated from the playoffs, but not only is that the case but the 49ers have grown to nearly touchdown favorites. The models don’t have it nearly that far gone, but the Cardinals are likely skating by on their defense and the fact that they have a good record overall. I’m going to be really curious to see what the line is next week when Arizona travels to Atlanta. They’ll have four more wins but could be underdogs.
St. Louis-Seattle. For every NFC team that isn’t Seattle or in the South, this is the game they’ll be looking to when they have a chance. They’ll all be pulling for another Rams upset, as that will open the door to someone besides the Seahawks getting the #1 seed. Unfortunately for all that, Seattle is nearly two touchdown favorites. The models have it at closer to one touchdown, and that could be right, but it would still give Seattle home field throughout the playoffs.
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Cincinnati-Pittsburgh. Finally we have the battle for the AFC North title. If the Bengals win and the Broncos manage to lose, Cincy would get a bye. The winner will get the 3 seed in all likelihood though and probably get another division game with the Ravens (or they could get the Chargers). The loser will be the 5 seed and go to Indianapolis to play the Colts. The models think that the Steelers should be slightly bigger favorites than they actually are.
Finally, we have the last week of the SuperContest. Sticking to our guns, I’ll just run out the picks using my usual method and ignore that some predictions might be off due to these week 17 considerations. Luigi is going with Cleveland +13.5, Tennessee +7, Arizona +6, Rams +11.5, and Washington +6 (basically a toss-up with Bills +4.5). Yoshi 2 has the same picks, although they have Oakland +14 as pick #6. Yoshi 1 is going with Tennessee, Washington, Cleveland, Oakland, and the Rams. Aside from Cleveland’s injuries, which aren’t really a week 17 issue per se, these are all fairly legit games. So maybe the SuperContest picks will end on a high note. I won’t hold my breath though.