It all comes down to this. It’s the final week of the NFL regular season, and there is still so much up for grabs. Only seven teams have clinched a spot in the postseason, which means that seven spots are still up for grabs. That’s the most heading into the final week of the regular season in at least 30 years!
In the NFC, the Packers, Saints, and Seahawks all have a shot at the No. 1 overall seed. The Packers are in the driver’s seat, and a win over the rival Bears will secure Green Bay the first-round bye.
Speaking of the Bears, they are currently holding on to a slim lead over the Cardinals for the final spot in the NFC Wild Card. If they managed to secure a victory vs. Green Bay, they will officially qualify for the postseason.
The Cardinals are taking on the Rams, and both teams are still looking to punch their ticket to the playoffs. The Cardinals control their own destiny, but their seed is still up for grabs. If the Cards and Bears both win, both teams will be in the playoffs and the Rams will be on the outside looking in. If the Cards win and the Bears lose, the Cardinals and Rams will grab the final two playoff spots. If the Cardinals lose this matchup, the Rams and Bears automatically will advance to the postseason.
Finally, three teams are still in play for the NFC East division crown. If Washington beats the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, they will represent the division at 7-9. If they lose, whoever wins the matchup between the Cowboys and Giants at 1 p.m. ET will go to the playoffs. Regardless of who comes out on top, a team that started the year at 2-7 will head to the postseason for the first time in NFL history.
In the AFC, the Titans, Browns, Ravens, Dolphins, and Colts all sit at 10-5, but only four of those teams can make the playoffs. I won’t go into all the different scenarios, but there’s a chance that an 11-win Colts team will fail to qualify for the postseason.
Add it all up, and it’s safe to say the expanded playoff format has been a smashing success in its first year.
Since the main slate this week is so massive, we’re going to split it up into two parts. I’m going to handle the games starting in the 4 p.m. ET window, while Matt Dickason will handle the early games.
Let’s dive right in.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts (-14) — 50.0 total
Moneylines: Jaguars +650/Colts -910
The Colts need a win this week to have any shot at making the playoffs. Luckily, they have an extremely favorable matchup vs. the Jaguars. Jacksonville has lost 14 straight games after upsetting the Colts back in Week 1, so the Colts are in a great position to at least hold up their end of the bargain.
Not only is Jacksonville one of the worst teams in the league, but they are also clearly waiving the white flag on their season. Stud rookie running back James Robinson has already been ruled out for the second-straight week, while Mike Glennon will earn another start at quarterback. Glennon has been markedly worse than Gardner Minshew in every statistical category this season, so there’s is no reason he should be starting with Minshew healthy. The Jaguars have already secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, so there’s no need for them to tank anymore.
This looks like a slam dunk for Indianapolis, but there are still a few concerns.
The first is the injury report. The Colts were missing nine players at practice on Wednesday, including eight starters. It’s early in the week, but that’s still a huge number. Both of their starting offensive tackles missed last week’s game vs. the Steelers, which is a big reason why Pittsburgh was able to overcome a 17-point deficit and secure the win. The Steelers recorded five sacks in that contest and ultimately forced two turnovers.
They probably don’t need both of their tackles back this week vs. the Jaguars — Jacksonville owns a significantly worse pass rush than Pittsburgh — but it would be nice to get them back on the field. If they’re active, the Colts should have no issues moving the ball against the team that ranks 31st in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA.
The other possible issue is that the Colts will be under a significant deal of pressure in this contest. People normally think of motivation as a good thing, but teams like the Colts who NEED a win tend to struggle to live up to expectations. They have everything to lose in this contest, while the Jaguars can play free and easy knowing that they have nothing at stake.
This is especially true when we look at home teams who need a win to qualify for the playoffs in Week 17. Those teams have posted a record of just 40-57-3 against the spread dating back to 2004, which is good for a cover rate of just 41.2%. Add in the fact that large divisional favorites have also struggled to cover — they’ve posted a win rate of just 45% against the spread — and I think this game could be closer than expected.
The early betting activity also seems to point towards the Jaguars. They are receiving just 42% of the spread bets, but those bets have accounted for 93% of the spread dollars.
I don’t actually want to bet on Jacksonville given how bad they’ve looked recently, but it would not surprise me if they pull off a backdoor cover.
The Pick: Pass
Green Bay Packers (-5.5) @ Chicago Bears — 52.0 total
Moneylines: Packers -235/Bears +198
This should be a really good matchup. Not only do these teams hate each other, but both teams have everything to play for in the final week of the regular season. The Bears have a bit more at stake than the Packers, but don’t underestimate the Packers’ desire to secure the first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers is so lethal when playing at home, and Lambeau Field is one of the toughest places for road teams during the playoffs.
The Bears have won three-straight games, which coincides with their decision to go back to Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Trubisky has been so much better than Nick Foles this season, and it’s fair to say that the Bears may have already qualified for the playoffs if they just stuck with him for the full year. He’s posted a record of 6-2 as a starter this season, while Foles has limped to a record of just 2-5.
Trubisky has played exceptionally well over his past four contests in particular. He’s averaged 8.54 adjusted yards per attempt while racking up seven touchdown passes and two interceptions. He’s also added an average of 18.3 rushing yards per game and an additional rushing touchdown.
David Montgomery has also played the best football of his career recently. He’s scored a touchdown in five straight games, and he’s averaged 105.8 rushing yards and 32.6 receiving yards per game over that time frame. He’s had plenty of opportunities in those contests, but he’s still averaged a hyper-efficient 5.63 yards per carry.
The big question is if Chicago can keep up that offensive production against the Packers. As good as Trubisky and Montgomery have been, it’s important to keep in mind that those performances have come against subpar competition. Their past four games have come against the Jaguars, Texans, Vikings, and Lions, and all four of those teams have been dreadful defensively. The Packers aren’t a juggernaut on that side of the ball — they rank 15th in defensive DVOA — but it still represents a big step up in weight class. Trubisky’s first start after being benched came against the Packers in Week 12, and the Bears ultimately trailed 41-10 before closing the gap a bit in garbage time.
Still, I think the Bears are the correct side here. The early betting activity points to Chicago being the sharp pick — they’ve received 75% of the spread dollars on 26% of the bets — and Rodgers is not nearly as good on the road as he is at home. He’s posted a record of 58-33-3 against the spread when playing in Green Bay, but that mark drops to just 49-45-1 as a visitor.
I don’t believe in Chicago enough to actually place a wager on them, but I might reconsider if this line increases before kickoff.
The Pick: Pass
Tennessee Titans (-7.5) @ Houston Texans — 56.0 total
Moneylines: Titans -357/Texans +290
The first thing that jumps off the page in this contest is the massive total. That is a huge number, particularly for two divisional opponents meeting late in the season.
The under in this contest fits two separate trends that have been very profitable in the long run. Unders have historically been profitable between divisional opponents playing in Week 11 or later, posting a mark of 208-129-5 dating back to 2004. That’s good for a return on investment of approximately 20%, which is an elite mark in NFL betting.
The second is simply taking the under any time there’s a total of at least 55.0 points. It’s hard to score that many points in an NFL game, and the under has historically gone 44-31-0 against the spread in that situation. That includes a mark of 14-6 this season.
As much as I love trends, I’m not sure if I can actually back them in this contest. Both of these teams are so bad defensively that it’s hard to envision a scenario where they don’t put up a ton of points.
The Texans rank 30th in defensive DVOA, and they have been absolutely mauled in the run game recently. They gave up 169 yards on the ground last week to the Bengals, who have had virtually no run game to speak of with Joe Mixon out of the lineup. Cincinnati ranks just 25th in rushing yards per game this season, and they were undoubtedly lower than that prior to last week’s performance.
That could spell disaster against Derrick Henry. Henry has reached the point where he ran for 98 yards last week vs. the Packers and it felt like a disappointment. That’s how good he’s been this season. He averaged a ridiculous 139.3 rushing yards per game over his previous six contests, and he scored seven touchdowns over that time frame. He destroyed the Texans for 264 total yards and two touchdowns back in Week 6, and the Texans simply don’t have the facilities to stop the big man.
On the other side, DeShaun Watson should be able to move the rock vs. the Titans’ defense. They have had some major problems on that side of the ball, especially after losing Jadaveon Clowney for the season. They gave up 40 points to the Packers last week, and that was the second time in four weeks that they’ve surrendered at least 40 points.
As bad as the Texans have been this season, Watson is still one of the absolute best in the business. He ranks second in terms of Pro Football Focus grade at the quarterback position, so giving him a bunch of points is dangerous. He owns a 15-11 record against the spread as an underdog, including a mark of 6-3 when getting more than four points. I think he does enough to secure a cover in this contest, and he should keep the backdoor open at a minimum.
The Pick: Texans +7.5
New Orleans Saints (-6.5) @ Carolina Panthers — 47.5 total
Moneylines: Saints -300/Panthers +245
This is a very interesting contest that could go in a number of directions. The one thing that is the hardest to handicap is how seriously the Saints will take this contest. They still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they need the Packers to lose in order for that to happen. If the Packers jump out to a big lead vs. the Bears, would Sean Payton consider benching his starters? I’m not sure, but it’s something that we have to take into account.
The Saints looked shaky in Drew Brees’ first game back in the lineup, but I think it’s safe to say that the rust is gone following last week’s performance. They put up a ridiculous 52 points vs. the Vikings, and Alvin Kamara led the way with six touchdowns. That tied the record for most touchdowns in a single game in NFL history.
I thought it would be interesting to see how teams fare in the week following a massive offensive output, but there’s nothing notable in that sample. There have been 55 teams to score at least 50 points in a game dating back to 2004, and those teams are 26-26-3 against the spread the following week.
Still, it’s not surprising that the public is all over the Saints following last week’s performance. They’ve received 80% of the early spread bets, which makes them the second-most popular to start the week.
That said, the betting dollars are split much more down the middle. The Panthers actually have a slight edge in that department — they’ve received 57% of the early spread dollars — which suggests that the sharps are siding with the underdog.
They were able to keep it close in New Orleans in their first matchup, losing by just three points, and Teddy Bridgewater has historically been one of the best quarterbacks in football as an underdog. They call him “Teddy Covers” for a reason: He owns a career record of 24-6 when getting points. That includes a mark of 7-3 as an underdog in his first season with the Panthers.
The one big concern with the Panthers is their lack of depth at the running back position. Christian McCaffrey will not suit up in Week 17, and backup Mike Davis has also been ruled out. That means that Rodney Smith and Trenton Cannon will handle those responsibilities vs. the Saints. Running back is probably the least important position on the field in 2020, but the difference between Davis to those guys could be worth something on the spread.
I think the Panthers are the correct side here, but I’m going to wait this one out before locking in a selection. I have no problem locking in the Panthers if they get to +7, but they’re a little bit dicier at just +6.5.
The Pick: Pending
Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs — 44.0 total
Moneylines: Chargers -190/Chiefs +160
This line would obviously make no sense under normal circumstances, but the Chiefs are essentially approaching this game as a preseason contest. Patrick Mahomes is going to get the week off, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and some of their top defenders were also inactive. Even if they do suit up, don’t expect them to play the full game with the top seed in the AFC already secured.
I also wouldn’t expect to see Andy Ried break out anything exotic from a play-calling perspective. The Chiefs have one of the most creative offenses in the league, but it makes no sense to waste any of their good stuff in a meaningless game.
Since the Chiefs are treating this like a preseason game, it makes sense to see how Andy Ried has historically fared during the preseason. Those games are all about effort, and some coaches clearly care about winning them more than others. Reid does not appear to be someone who particularly cares about winning exhibitions given his record of 29-35-1 against the spread dating back to 2004.
With Mahomes out, Chad Henne will draw the start at QB vs. the Chargers. He hasn’t started a game since all the way back in 2014, and he hasn’t been particularly effective as a starter throughout his career. He’s gone just 23-30-1 against the spread as a starter, and he’s only won 18 career games straight up. It seems very unlikely that he’ll play well given that he won’t benefit from the Chiefs’ elite receiving options or Andy Ried’s genius play-calling.
It feels weird to back the Chargers as road favorites, but I think that’s clearly the correct move. Justin Herbert has such a massive advantage over Henne, and the supporting casts shouldn’t be enough to make up the difference. Herbert took the Chiefs to overtime in his first career start, and that was with the Chiefs playing at full strength. They should be able to cruise to a comfortable win in this contest.
If you like the Chargers, make sure to lock this one in as soon as possible. They’ve received 99% of the spread dollars to start the week, so this line is going to rise like a helium balloon before kickoff.
The Pick: Chargers -3.5
Seattle Seahawks (-6) @ San Francisco 49ers — 46.0 total
Moneylines: Seahawks -265/49ers +220
This game has a very similar feel to the game between the Saints and Panthers. The Seahawks are on the road against an inferior opponent, and they will start the game with a chance at securing the top seed in the conference. That said, this game could become meaningless very quickly if the Packers take care of business against the Bears.
The big difference is that the 49ers are clearly not as good as the Panthers are at the moment. They would be if this team was near full strength, but that’s not going to be the case in this contest. The 49ers have already ruled out Brandon Aiyuk and Trent Williams, and C.J. Beathard will get the start at quarterback. Beathard isn’t a huge downgrade from Nick Mullens — he might actually be better — but he’s going to have very little to work with in this contest.
That could be a problem against a suddenly resurgent Seahawks defense. They’ve held five straight opponents to 17 points or fewer, and they’ve allowed an average of just 12.2 points per game over that time frame. Those games haven’t come against the stiffest competition, but they did hold the Rams to just nine points in a battle for the NFC West division crown last week.
Part of their improvement has come from getting Jamal Adams back in the lineup, but the Seahawks have also made a schematic change over that time frame. They rank just 25th in pace over the past five weeks, and their pass rate has dropped to just 56% over that time frame. That makes them below average in that department after starting the year as one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league. Sadly, it appears as though the #LetRussCook movement is officially over.
With that in mind, I think the under is the best bet in this contest. Not only does it fit the late-season divisional under trend, but both of these teams have questions on the offensive side of the football. Add in the fact that the Seahawks could pull their starters in the second half and this seems like a strong bet. The total has already dropped from 47.6 to 46.0, so let’s lock this one in now.
The Pick: Under 46.0
Las Vegas Raiders (-2.5) @ Denver Broncos — 51.0 total
Moneylines: Raiders -135/Broncos +115
This game features one of the most drastic changes on the advance point spread. The Broncos were listed as three-point favorites prior to the Week 16 games, but they’ve moved to 2.5-point underdogs. The Broncos are dealing with an injury to Bradley Chubb, but that’s not nearly enough to move the line by 5.5 points. There’s also a chance Chubb is still able to suit up this week, so this line move is based solely on the public perception of both teams.
That said, I’m not sure why public perception has changed that much. The Broncos were competitive last week vs. the Chargers, while the Raiders lost a back-breaking game vs. the Dolphins that officially eliminated them from playoff contention. If anything, the Broncos should be getting more respect from the public this week, not less.
The Raiders have absolutely no reason to show up motivated for this contest. Last week’s game was a kitchen-sink contest for them. Derek Carr played hurt and the team ultimately ended up kicking a field goal to grab a two-point lead with just 28 seconds left. The Dolphins had to try to get into field goal range with no timeouts, which gave the Raiders a win expectancy of 86.91% according to numberFire.
It is impossible to understate how devastating it is to come back from a loss like that. That would be a tough loss in any circumstance, but it is crippling in a game with the playoffs potentially at stake. Add in the fact that Jon Gruden made some questionable coaching decisions — they took a knee instead of trying to punch in a touchdown on third down — and I think this team is completely unfocused for this contest.
This is another spot that I think we should wait on. A whopping 99% of the money has inexplicably landed on the Raiders, so this line could get up to 3.0 or even 3.5. I will gladly take the Broncos in that situation.
The Pick: Pending (Looking for Broncos +3 or better)
Arizona Cardinals (-3) @ Los Angeles Rams — 40.5 total
Moneylines: Cardinals -157/Rams +135
The final game of the week is probably the most interesting. Both of these teams need a win to qualify for the postseason, but both teams are dealing with question marks at the moment.
The Cardinals are dealing with an injury to Kyler Murray. He was able to practice on Wednesday and has already said that he’ll play, but there’s no guarantee that he’s going to be effective against the Rams. He struggled mightily while dealing with a shoulder injury earlier this season, and there has been a direct correlation between Murray’s rushing ability and the Cardinals’ success.
The Cardinals have posted a record of 6-1 when Murray has at least nine rushing attempts this season, and they’re just 2-6 when he doesn’t. I normally think stats like that are stupid — teams run the ball more when they’re winning so it’s not a huge shocker that they have good records in games with lots of carries — but I think this split is a bit different. Murray wouldn’t be running a ton in garbage time like a running back would, so this speaks more about how difficult it is to stop the Cardinals when Murray is a threat as a runner and a passer.
The Rams are in an even worse place from an injury perspective. Jared Goff is not expected to suit up after undergoing thumb surgery, and Cooper Kupp has already been ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19. That means John Wolford will take his first-ever snaps in a must-win game.
Unsurprisingly, the public can’t wait to bet the Cardinals in this spot. They’ve received 65% of the bets and 90% of the money to start the week, which has caused this spread to shift drastically. The Cardinals were originally listed as 2.5-point underdogs, but they’re all the way up to 3-point favorites.
Is there still value with the Cards at that number? I don’t think so. In fact, I think you can make a case that the Rams are the correct side.
As much as Wolford is a question mark, he will benefit from getting to play for one of the best offensive coaches in the league. Sean McVay is capable of designing a gameplan to take advantage of Wolford’s strengths, just like he did previously with Goff. Remember, Goff looked like a massive bust before McVay showed up, and plenty of people (myself included) still question if he’s actually a good quarterback. There’s a chance that the downgrade from Goff to Wolford isn’t as drastic as it appears.
Additionally, the Rams defense should be a major factor in this contest. They have been one of the top defensive teams in the league this season, ranking third in DVOA both against the pass and against the run. If Murray is even slightly limited, he’s going to struggle to put up points against this unit.
This is another spot where I’d love to see the line move in my favor, but I have no problem locking in the Rams as three-point home underdogs. Anything better than that would be gravy.
The Pick: Rams +3
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