NFL favorites went 9-6 ATS in Week 16 to end the recent run of underdogs, but we found enough barking mutts (Jets, Bengals and Falcons) at the Tuley’s Takes home office to go 3-2 with our @ViewFromVegas entry in the Westgate SuperContest and move into a tie for 77th place with RoughRider39 (aka VSiN superfan Randy McKay) among others, just a half-point behind Brent Musburger’s VSiN2 entry. I’m also half a point behind Uncle Brent in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s NFL Challenge.
This is obviously a great weekend coming up with NFL Week 17 wrapping up the regular season — and all the Vegas handicapping contests I follow as a journalist and a participant — plus the ongoing college bowl season and Friday night’s College Football Playoff semifinals as we ring in the new year.
In addition to the dogs treating us great all season in the NFL, we’re off to a 3-1 ATS start with our Best Bets from the VSiN Bowl Betting Guide. The staff as a whole is off to a 19-7 ATS combined start heading into Tuesday night’s bowls, so don’t forget to check out those picks — especially when several handicappers land on the same selection — as well as the updated Best Bets file on the vsin.com website.
But let’s get back to NFL Week 17 with a full slate of 16 games all played on Sunday. With only the Chiefs’ No. 1 seed in the AFC being set in stone, most games have at least some sort of playoff implication. We’ll look at which teams are resting players and which lines are overinflated with teams in “must-win” situations. And don’t forget our adage that “just because a team must win doesn’t mean it will win” and our other favorite: “if a team was good enough to automatically win a must-win game, it wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.” Note: We usually list games in the standard Don Best rotation order, so we’ll stick with that except for moving the Washington-Philadelphia game to the end as it has been chosen as the Sunday night finale on NBC.
Per usual, I’ll give my takes on each game. Even if I don’t have an opinion that I think warrants a bet, I’ll include my “pool plays” in which I give my level of confidence for SU and ATS contests, especially for those of us who have to pick every game.
Jaguars at Colts (-14)
To make the playoffs, the Colts must win and then either have the Titans lose to give them the AFC South title or have one of the Browns, Ravens or Dolphins lose to open up a wild-card spot. This line would have been double digits anyway as the Jaguars have lost 14 straight and sunk below the Jets to secure the No. 1 draft pick. But, guess what, I like the Jaguars plus the points here, and not just because it’s a huge amount of points. For one, the Colts just need to win, so the margin doesn’t matter that much to them. Sure, they want to win comfortably, but as long as they’re up by seven or 10 points, they’ll be happy and we’ll be happy with the cover. But don’t forget that the Jaguars’ lone win was the huge Week 1 upset of the Colts, so we know they have the talent to match up with them again. In addition, I believe NFL teams show up every week to win and don’t put much stock in “tanking,” but even if you do, you have to admit the Jags have no reason to tank anymore with the rights to Trevor Lawrence wrapped up, and players will be auditioning to be part of the new era. Best Bet: Jaguars + 14 (pool play: Jaguars in all my ATS pools, though will still go Colts around 80/20 in SU pools).
Packers (-5.5) at Bears
The Bears must win this game, which has been moved back to 4:25 p.m. ET or get a Cardinals loss against the Rams in the same time slot. I would love to take the Bears as home underdogs in this spot, however, the Packers also need to win to secure the NFC’s No. 1 seed, first-round bye and coveted home-field advantage. With the Packers expected to give their top effort, that makes me think this line is actually a little short. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Bears 55/45 in ATS contests, but Packers around 80/20 in SU pools).
Cowboys (-3) at Giants
The winner of this game only claims the NFC East if Washington loses Sunday night. The Cowboys are playing better recently with three straight wins, but I still have no faith in that defense and this could turn into a shootout like the Cowboys’ 37-34 win in the first meeting Note: I picked the Over 45 on the VSiN NFL Consensus page, though I’m not calling it a best bet here. I’d still prefer Daniel Jones, but I’m confident Colt McCoy could get the job done against the Dallas defense too. This is also a good spot to list the teasers we’re considering that capture the key numbers of 3 and 7. Even though not included in our overall records, these have been very profitable for us all season and went 6-2 last week as only the Texans and Rams failed us. Along with the Giants + 8.5 or + 9, we are using the following in our two- and three-team 6-point teaser portfolio: Titans down to -1.5 at Texans, Jets up to + 9 at Patriots, Vikings down to -1 at Lions and Broncos up to + 8.5 vs. Raiders, and possibly the dog in the Cardinals-Rams game. Best Bet: Giants + 3, plus Giants in teasers (pool play: Giants 70/33 in ATS contests — though lower in contests only offering + 2.5 — and also going with Giants 55/45 in SU pools).
Steelers at Browns (-10)
With the Browns needing to win to get in as an AFC wild card and the Steelers locked in as a division winner and first-round host — and not controlling their destiny for the No. 2 seed — this line was already inflated to Browns -7. When Mike Tomlin announced that Ben Roethlisberger would not start and the Steelers were going with Mason Rudolph (cue the Myles Garrett helmet-swinging footage!), this line jumped to Browns -10. It’s tempting to take the points with the Steelers, but they’re already expected to have some starters on snap counts and there’s the very real possibility that more starters could hit the bench, especially if they’re scoreboard-watching and the Bills get up big on the Dolphins. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Steelers 55/45 in ATS contests on principle — more if given + 10.5 — but Browns still 75/25 in SU pools).
Titans (-7.5) at Texans
The Titans need to win for the AFC South title, unless the Colts lose to the Jaguars, and could miss the playoffs completely with a loss if everything falls the wrong way. Still, I’d be tempted to take the Texans and the over-adjusted points here (the advance line last week was Titans -4.5) if Deshaun Watson is 100% as we recall the 42-36 shootout in the first meeting, but Watson hurt his arm late Sunday, so I can’t pull the trigger yet. Best Bet: Pass for now, except Titans in teasers (pool play: Texans 55/45 in ATS contests, but Titans 80/20 in SU pools).
Saints (-6.5) at Panthers
The Saints have clinched the NFC South and have an outside chance at the No. 1 seed if the Packers lose to the Bears. But even without the chance that the Saints could pull starters if the Packers get out to a big lead, I’m on the Panthers here. They’ve been competitive all year, including a spread-covering 27-24 loss at New Orleans in their first meeting, and I expect them to keep this close regardless. So I’m confident in taking the points (and waiting to see if the public bets this up to 7 or higher). Though the possibility of the Saints pulling starters is what gets us looking at the + 240 or higher moneyline. Best Bet: Panthers + 6.5 (pool play: Panthers 67/33 in ATS contests — higher if offered + 7.5 — but Saints still around 75/25 in SU pools).
Jets at Patriots (-3)
The Jets have been very good to us in the second half of the season — 5-2 ATS in their last seven games, starting with covering in a 30-27 loss to these Patriots in Week 9. And the Patriots have arguably regressed since then, while the Jets have beaten two teams that were previously rolling toward the playoffs. I’m on the fence in backing the Jets at this short price as they pretty much have to win the game to win the bet. Count me in if it gets to + 3.5, but regardless I’ll tease them as we’re really confident they can stay within a touchdown. Best Bet: Pass unless Jets + 3.5, though definitely Jets in teasers (pool play: Jets 55/25 in ATS contests — higher if offered + 3.5 — but Patriots 60/40 in SU pools).
Vikings (-7) at Lions
This is one of the games with absolutely no playoff implications whatsoever. But we’ll be watching — or at least checking in occasionally — if we have a bet, right? In these types of games with no incentive for the defenses to show up, they tend to turn into sandlot/street football-type shootouts, so I like the Over 54.5 despite the high total — but only if Matthew Stafford gets the go-ahead. Best Bet: Over 54.5 if Stafford plays, plus Vikings in teasers (pool play: Lions 55/45 in ATS contests — higher if getting + 7.5, flipping to Vikings if 6.5 — but Vikings 80/20 in SU pools).
Falcons at Buccaneers (-6.5)
The Buccaneers have clinched a wild-card berth, but they want to stay as the No. 5 seed so they get to visit the sub-.500 NFC Least champ in the first round. However, I’m on the Falcons here just like last week when they covered against the Chiefs and almost beat them. And don’t forget they nearly upset these same Buccaneers two weeks ago before covering in a 31-27 loss. We’re not asking them to win outright, just cover again. Best Bet: Falcons + 6.5 (pool play: Falcons 75/25 in ATS contests but Buccaneers still 70/30 in SU pools).
Ravens (-12) at Bengals
The Ravens need a win to clinch a wild-card spot, but just like similar situations above, I’m willing to take the inflated points with the underdogs, especially as the Bengals came through for us again last week in upsetting the Texans after beating the Steelers the week before. Heck, the Jets, Bengals and Falcons came through for us last week so why not again? The same reasons apply as above with the Ravens not needing to win by two touchdowns to achieve their goal. Best Bet: Bengals + 12 (pool play: Bengals 75/25 in ATS contest, though Ravens still 90/10 in SU pools).
Dolphins at Bills (-1)
The Dolphins need to win to clinch a wild-card spot while the Bills want to win to nail down the No. 2 seed in the AFC and ensure a home game in the conference semifinals if they get there. So that’s the only thing that has kept this from flipping to the Dolphins being favored as of Tuesday night, though some books have gone to pick-’em. I originally had the Dolphins + 7.5 as one of my teaser portfolio suggestions but would pass if it stays within a point either way. Best Bet: Pass, but add teaser if either team can get + 7.5 (pool play: Dolphins around 55/45 in all SU and ATS contests).
Chargers (-3.5) at Chiefs
The Chiefs have clinched the AFC’s No. 1 seed and first-round bye and are expected to rest Patrick Mahomes and a lot of starters while the Chargers are playing out the string. I’m almost tempted to take the Chiefs backups at + 3.5 against the Chargers starters — and the Over is appealing as it’s shaded down to 44 — but I’ll probably pass and watch other games. But you have my leans if you so desire. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Chiefs 55/45 in ATS contests and probably just Chargers 55/45 in SU pools).
Seahawks (-5.5) vs. 49ers
This is the third “home” game the 49ers have been forced to play in Glendale, Ariz., not that home-field advantage has meant much all season. The Seahawks have an outside chance at the NFC’s No. 1 seed if the Packers and Saints lose — not too outrageous — so we expect them to show up and take care of a still-depleted 49ers team. This is not enough points for me to back the dog here. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Seahawks 55/45 in ATS contest and closer to 80/20 in SU pools).
Raiders (-2.5) at Broncos
Both teams are playing out the string, so again I’m looking to Over 51. The Broncos scored just 12 points in the first meeting, a 37-12 loss in Las Vegas, but should put up more this time. The weather should also cooperate as the forecast calls for a game-time temperature of 54 degrees. The Broncos have jumped up as underdogs for us but come up empty other times, so I feel more confident just using them in teasers. Best Bet: Over 51, though adding Broncos in teasers (pool play: Broncos 55/45 in ATS contests, but Raiders around 60/40 in SU pools).
Cardinals at Rams (Off)
The winner of this game earns an NFC wild-card berth, but it was off the betting boards early this week as Jared Goff was out for the Rams and Kyler Murray’s status was in doubt for the Cardinals. Circa Sports was dealing Rams -2.5 on Tuesday night (with low limits). If that ends up being the line, I would definitely use the Cardinals + 8.5 in my teaser portfolio. If Murray is cleared to play, we expect this line would flip to the Cardinals favored. If it gets adjusted too much the other way, say, Rams + 1.5, we’d change our recommendation to the Rams teased to + 7.5. Best Bet: Pass, except for possibly teasing the underdog over a touchdown (pool play: Cardinals slightly more, around 55/45, in all SU and ATS contests, increasing if Murray is a go).
Washington (-1.5) at Philadelphia
This is the Sunday night regular-season finale with Washington in a win-and-in spot regardless of what happens in the earlier Cowboys-Giants game. A lot of people are picking the Eagles to play spoiler, but as usual I’m taking the contrarian approach and feel this line should be at least a field goal, and maybe it will be if Alex Smith is officially cleared to play, so I’m passing on what I feel will be the popular public dog. Note: I left the Eagles off my teaser portfolio recommendations, but feel free to add them if you like. I took Under 42.5 on the VSiN NFL Consensus page and I’m liking it more and more. Best Bet: Under 42.5 (pool play: Washington 60/40 in all SU and ATS contests, though would flip to Eagles if a contest commissioner were to give us + 3.5).