It’s hard to get excited about the last week of the NFL season. The traditional schools of thought are somewhat useless. Some teams have flat out given up (Giants, Dolphins), others are already looking ahead to the playoffs (Rams, Jaguars), and then there are some that could try to save their head coaches but also maybe not (Lions, Cowboys). The lines are all over the place, and if you want to go with favorites this week, it’s going to cost you as the average line on Friday was about 6.5 points. Frankly, it might be a good day to save your bankroll for the playoffs. The worst part is you can’t just fade the public and expect a winning week: Sports Insights reports Week 17 historically is the best time of year for teams getting at least 70 percent of bets. But I wrote on Nov. 24 — when I was 22-32-1 on the year — that I would get back to .500 by any means necessary. So here’s hoping my recent hot streak doesn’t hit the wall.
I correctly predicted Cleveland’s only win last year, so I’m going to take a flier on them not going 0-16 again. They’ve waited as long as they can, it’s now or never if they don’t want to join the 2008 Detroit Lions in the pantheon of pathetic football teams. Pittsburgh will be starting Landry Jones, and sitting Le’Veon Bell. It’s going to be a winnable game as the Steelers pack it in to prepare for the playoffs. We’ll see how much pride the Browns players have, and it’s a low-risk proposition.
I found a game worth caring about because Buffalo needs to win to keep its playoff hopes alive. Miami has been pathetic since beating the New England Patriots in prime time. The Dolphins have lost their last two games by an average of 14 points, and one of those games was against the Bills. Jay Cutler generally doesn’t care, so why would a game coming after he was eliminated from the playoffs register as important? He’s 60-87-5 against the spread in his career, per Evan Abrams, and there’s nothing in this matchup that would suggest he bucks that trend.
Washington/NYG — under 39.5
The Giants were shutout last weekend in Arizona. Washington doesn’t have much to play for other than Kirk Cousins trying to will his way to a huge payday — but I don’t see how that would motivate his teammates. Add a forecast that has high winds and low temperatures at kickoff and you get a crazy low total. This is the rare case this week where I’ll fade the public because the majority of bettors are all over that low number. But we saw in Philadelphia last week — when the Eagles and Raiders struggled despite playing poor defenses — how hard it is to put points on the board in bad weather.
Kansas City +3
This game promises to be tough to watch. The Chiefs opened as favorites by a field goal, but bettors moved decidedly toward the Broncos when it was announced Patrick Mahomes would be starting. There really isn’t much to like about this game except the prospect of betting against Paxton Lynch. Denver is still home to one of the best defenses in the league, but how much can they really care about this game after their season was squandered by John Elway’s refusal to sign a professional-caliber quarterback? Give me the points and Mahomes’ potential.
Carolina/Atlanta — over 45
The Falcons also need a victory to keep their season alive, and they’ve had a good offense for most of the season. Julio Jones had his best game of the season last week, and it would benefit the Dirty Birds to keep him involved in the red zone. Head coach Dan Quinn will probably opt for a field goal too frequently, but that’s where Cam Newton and the Panthers come in. The hope here is that Carolina keeps the pressure on its divisional rival by getting into the end zone, leaving Quinn with no choice. The formula for an over: Jones torching the Panthers’ subpar secondary plus a motivated Newton running wild on the Falcons.
Week 16: 5-0
MATCHUP SPREAD MONEYLINE OVER/UNDER
Cincinnati at Baltimore BAL -10.5 CIN +350, BAL -440 +/- 40
Green Bay at Detroit DET -7 GB +240, DET -280 +/- 43
Buffalo at Miami BUF -2.5 BUF -135, MIA +115 +/- 42.5
Carolina at Atlanta ATL -3.5 CAR +165, ATL -190 +/- 45
New Orleans at Tampa Bay NO -7 NO -300, TB +250 +/- 49.5
Jacksonville at Tennessee TEN -2.5 JAX +135, TEN -155 +/- 41.5
NYJ at New England NE -17 NYJ +850, NE -1300 +/- 43.5
Houston at Indianapolis IND -5.5 HOU +195, IND -235 +/- 40.5
Cleveland at Pittsburgh PIT -7 CLE +250, PIT -300 +/- 36.5
Washington at NYG WAS -2.5 WAS -155, NYG +135 +/- 39.5
Chicago at Minnesota MIN -13 CHI +465, MIN -630 +/- 39
Dallas at Philadelphia DAL -2.5 DAL -145, PHI +125 +/- 39.5
Oakland at LA Chargers LAC -8.5 OAK +290, LAC -350 +/- 42
Arizona at Seattle SEA -10.5 ARI +350, SEA -440 +/- 38.5
Kansas City at Denver DEN -3 KC +153, DEN -173 +/- 38
San Francisco at LA Rams SF -3 SF -185, LAR +160 +/- 43.5
Lines updated Friday, Dec. 29