Of the three quarterbacks in the AFC who are playing at an elite level, only Josh Allen has not played in a Super Bowl. Allen is well aware his postseason path would be a lot easier if the Bills can earn the conference’s No. 1 seed, which is up for grabs with two weeks to go.
The stakes will be high Monday night when Allen squares off with Joe Burrow and the Bengals, who are 12-1 ATS in their past 13 games. Cincinnati has won seven in a row yet is a home underdog to Buffalo in the only Week 17 game between teams with winning records.
The AFC’s third elite quarterback is obviously Patrick Mahomes, who is 0-2 against Allen and Burrow and 12-1 against all other opponents this season. Allen led the Bills to a 24-20 win at Kansas City on Oct. 16. Burrow beat Mahomes and the Chiefs 27-24 on Dec. 4.
Allen or Burrow? Take your pick. Although this looks like a pick-em game, DraftKings opened the Bills as 1.5-point favorites.
Buffalo won its sixth straight game and clinched its third consecutive AFC East title by beating the Bears 35-13 in Chicago a week ago. The Bills rushed for a season-high 254 yards, led by Devin Singletary with 106. Cincinnati has the seventh-best run defense (106.4 yards per game) in the NFL. Allen, who threw two interceptions against the Bears, has not been so hot on the road with 15 touchdown passes and eight picks.
The Bengals will need Burrow’s arm to carry the offense because the Bills rank No. 4 in run defense (104.4 ypg). Burrow finished 40-for-52 for 375 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions last week at New England, but the Bengals were limited to 73 rushing yards on 24 attempts, and their ground attack figures to stall again in this matchup.
Buffalo can secure the top seed by beating the Bengals and Patriots in its final two games. Cincinnati is within striking distance of the top seed and also could fall as far as the No. 6 spot in a worst-case scenario.
It’s hard to make a rock-solid case for either side, but the line does present an attractive teaser opportunity on the Bengals at +7.5, which is how I’m betting this game. My preference is for Burrow as a home dog.
Pick: Bengals +1
Four more plays for Week 17:
Steelers (+2.5) over RAVENS: When he’s in, Lamar Jackson is another elite quarterback in the AFC, but he’s out for a fourth straight game with a knee injury. Tyler Huntley will get the start. Without Jackson, Baltimore is 2-1 with a total of three touchdowns in 15 quarters. T.J. Watt makes Pittsburgh’s defense elite. The Steelers are 4-1 in their past five games — including a 16-14 loss to the Ravens—while allowing an average of 15 points. The underdog is another good teaser option at +8.5.
PATRIOTS (-2.5) over Dolphins: Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) will be replaced by Teddy Bridgewater, who’s not going to create many big plays. The Dolphins have dropped four in a row. The Patriots, 1-4 in their past five games, are fortunate to still be alive in the wild-card hunt. Under the total of 41.5 might be the better bet, but I’ll side with New England coach Bill Belichick’s defense to shut down Bridgewater in a low-scoring grinder.
RAIDERS (+9.5) over 49ers: The Derek Carr era is history. Las Vegas is moving ahead with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, and the 3.5-point line move is probably an overreaction because Carr was playing poorly. Raiders coach Josh McDaniels can be expected to call a better game for Stidham, who has plenty of receiving weapons to work with in addition to Josh Jacobs, the league’s leading rusher. San Francisco’s defense ranks No. 1 in scoring (15.3 PPG) and against the run (75 yards per game), but the 49ers have little to play for and seem locked into the NFC’s No. 2 seed. Wait to see if this line hits 10 before kickoff.
Rams (+6.5) over CHARGERS: The situational edge is with the Rams, who are dogs in their home stadium in the battle of Los Angeles. The Chargers clinched a playoff spot in Week 16 on the road, so this has been a short week for a team that’s a fragile favorite and rarely wins by more than one score. Baker Mayfield is playing with fire, in a good way, and completed 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 51-14 blowout of the Broncos a week ago, when the Rams’ running attack came to life with Cam Akers rushing for 118 yards.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread