The playoff picture is becoming clearer into Week 17, but there are some big games that will impact divisions and playoff positioning. All sixteen contests are division games to close out the regular season. We're off a 2-2 Week 16 result with an outright winner on, yes, the New York Jets. We took +10 and the Jets closed +6.5 as the Browns had a number of receivers scratched. The Raiders covered for us but found a remarkable way to feed the fish and gift wrap the Dolphins a victory, 26-25. The Miami Miracle in Las Vegas keeps the Dolphins playoff hopes alive into Week 17. However, I do expect the Dolphins playoff hopes to end and their good fortune to run out in Buffalo against the Bills.
The Washington Football Team can go from last place a year ago to NFC East champs with a 7-9 record should they beat the Eagles in Philadelphia. If the Football Team tumbles, then the winner of the Cowboys/Giants game in the Meadowlands will win the division and make the playoffs with a losing record. Pathetic, and a crazy 2020 indeed.
More quarterback situations to monitor with Washington after hopeless QB Haskins was released last week. Other teams have QB injuries, backups playing and starters sitting. That includes Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Kansas City is 14-1 and locked into the No. 1 seed in the AFC Playoffs. Yet the Chiefs are a 3.5-point home underdog in Week 17 against the Chargers. A meaningless game for the Chiefs, and therein lies some of the Week 17 handicapping challenges and situations to monitor regarding who's playing, sitting and line moves.
It's a tricky week to be betting the NFL, but opportunities can be had if you're ahead of the line moves or anticipate what could happen like the Steelers coaches deciding to sit starters as well. That moved the Browns from last week's advance line of -3.5 to current line of Cleveland -9 at many online sportsbooks after even reaching -10.
So we shoot for a final week of winners knowing our sub-par season is now 22-25 ATS with 15 outright underdog winners. That's not good enough or up to past season's success. But the 3-plus year record selecting underdogs only is now 99-79 ATS (55.6%). This week we'll chip-in and support three home underdogs looking to cash in and hit the green.
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NFL Week 17 Underdog Picks
108 New York Giants (+1.5 / +2, -115) vs Dallas - Giants Moneyline +105
128 San Francisco (+6.5) vs Seattle - 49ers Moneyline +250
130 Denver Broncos (+2.5 / +3, -115) vs Las Vegas Raiders - Broncos Moneyline +135
Dallas at New York
The Cowboys (6-9) are the hottest team in the worst division with three straight wins. Can't get too excited about that considering they beat the depleted and decimated Eagles, 49ers and Bengals. The Dallas defense is so deficient, allowing 390 yards per game adn 5.9 yards per play. Opponents run nearly 67 plays per game against the Dallas' defense. Over the last three games, it's a league-worst 74 plays per game. That's against quarterbacks like Jalen Hurts, Nick Mullens and Brandon Allen - all backups until the starters were injured or replaced. The Dallas defense is deficient and wearing down. The Cowboys offense managed just 272 yards against the Bengals, but a plus-3 turnover edge played a big part in victory. In fact, Dallas was plus-4 in turonvers against San Francisco when the 49ers out-gained the Cowboys 458-291 and Dallas got lucky in victory again. Then last week another plus-2 turnover advantage against the Eagles.
The Giants (5-10) have had their own injured quarterback with Danny Dimes unable to stay healthy. He's been sacked 12 times in his last two starts. The G-men have the NFC's worst offense averaging 297 yards per game and 17 points per game. That includes just 238 YPG the past three contests - all losses by at least two touchdowns while managing just 22, 25 and 26 minutes of possession time. The Giants did find a way to stun the Seahawks in Seattle 17-12 before its current 3-game losing streak and they rushed for 190 yards that day. The running game has been poor the past three games, but the ground game will certainly be the focus in this match-ups against the Cowboys league-worst run defense allowing 161 rushing yards per game. The advance line on this game was the Giants -3 or 3.5, and Dallas got as high as -2.5 before dipping back down with sharp action on the Giants. Dallas has the superior receivers and momentum. But they have been so inconsistent this season; like their coach Mike McCarthy. Home underdog with the better defense and (hopefully) running game gets the call in a game that will put the winner a Washington Sunday night loss away from winning the worst division in NFL history. Two out of every three bettors believe that will be the Cowboys. I wouldn't bet on it.
Las Vegas at Denver
Speaking of history, let's go back to Week 10 when the Raiders routed the Broncos 37-12. A misleading fi
nal for certain despite the Raiders 203-66 rushing yards dominance. But five Broncos turnovers including four interceptions were part of a disastrous day for Broncos QB Drew Lock. We've had some solid success when betting on or against the Raiders (7-8) this season cashing in as 'Dog in both games against the Chiefs, and the only team to beat Kansas City this season. Then the last two weeks, we cashed in again on the Raiders (+3) as underdog in a Week 16 loss to the Dolphins 26-27, and the Chargers (+3) in Week 15 in a 30-27 overtime win. A home loss as 'Dog to Indianapolis in Week 14 makes it three straight losses at home for the Raiders. Let's hope they get it together next season with fans in the stands, as I hope to attend a few games as media in the new Allegiant Stadium.
But as Playbook notes, NFL road teams off three consecutive home losses are 1-8 SU in division games since 1980. Now we'll use the lack of motivation and back-to-back gut wrenching losses to cash in against the Raiders in the season finale versus the Broncos (5-10). This team is cooked, no matter what coach Jon Gruden says about still playing to win and looking to finish 8-8. There is nothing to like about the Raiders this week, even against the worst team in the AFC West (Denver Broncos). Both teams are banged up and beaten. Yet 86% of the spread bets are on Las Vegas according to Sports Insights, which is now ActionLabs and part of the Action Network. They track betting activity from seven leading online sportsbooks. Broncos coach Vic Fangio knows how to coach defense and get his players to respond. That's something no coach has been able to do with the deficient and disastrous defense of the Raiders. Las Vegas couldn't make stops when needed the last two weeks and it cost them a shot at the playoffs. Do you really think they are going to bring their best effort, focus and play well at Denver? No, nada, not a chance. Broncos outright in redemption.
Seattle at San Francisco
What's going on here? The Seahawks (11-4) are taking 83% of the spread bets with bettors thinking Seattle is going to go all out with a (small) chance to still get the NFC's No. 1 seed? Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle all play late afternoon games. Seems like a better opportunity for head coach Pete Carroll to rest some of his regulars, or at least in the second half when it's apparent Seattle won't be a top seed. San Francisco (6-9) goes from nearly winning the Super Bowl last season to out of the playoffs. But there is less separating these teams than meets the eye. By raw EPA (expected points added), the Seahawks rank No. 9 in the NFL and the 49ers are No. 12. The 49ers have actually out-gained five of their last six opponents, but gone have gone 2-4 with both wins against division opponents. San Francisco is also has a net +66 yards per game edge over Seattle, and Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has diagnosed division opponents better than his counterparts, with the 49ers outgaining nine of their last 11 division opponents the past two seasons.
The Seahawks defense has been playing better, but I'm not buying it or their defensive coordinator. Seattle has faced quarterbacks Goff, Haskins, Darnold, McCoy and Wentz in their last five games. Now it's C.J. Beathard for the 49ers at quarterback this week, which does not instill a lot of confidence either, as the Niners have suffered through so many injuries this season. Still, the takeback here is too good if San Francisco plays hard like they have through December, while suffering through untimely turnovers. I've never liked when analysts, media, handicappers, etc. say "I can lay less than a touchdown with Seattle," when the line is 6.5. Last I checked, a touchdown is 6 points. So, I'm taking more than a touchdown, and will certainly suggest taking +7 on gameday as the Seahawks continue to get support.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay