While only a small group of teams remain with legit motivation, bettors are left wondering who will be giving 100% or packing their bags early
The NFL has done us a large favor this week. Sports betting aside, seven early games mean relatively nothing, while a record nine late games have some playoff implications for at least one team involved. How easy is that?
Does that mean bettors seeking opportunity will not turn on their televisions until 4:25 PM EDT this Sunday? I don't think so. What it does mean is that seven wagering lines for games starting early offer the greatest mystery and challenge of the NFL season. Who is "playing for pride or a paycheck"? A few AFC teams are potentially playing for an early kill. Which traditional six to seven head coaches are coaching their final games? With potential of serious injury, which players have that in the back of their mind? A major risk eyeing six month of vacation after a brutal season. All that vital info isn't available in a stat report or a handicapping forecast.
For all the NFL would like to swipe under the carpet, these early games are forgettable. Much like the preliminary 20 or so college bowl games ESPN broadcasts prior to New Years Day. Those glued together for a corporate sponsor that might as well be labeled "for gambling purposes only". From the Cactus Bowl to the Gasparilla Bowl, a new trivia game could be created for those who could remember who played or who won. Only a traditional bettor could recall a possible back door cover that destroyed them in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Case in Point
When the NFL schedule was drawn up back in May, this Sunday's Cowboys-Eagles game in Philadelphia was intended to be a circled showdown. Possibly for the NFC East Division title or at the very least a major influence on the playoffs.
Due to perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles already have clinched the #1 seed for the NFC Conference with a 13-2 record while the Dallas Cowboys have stunned the football world being eliminated. This week's game has no significant bearing whatsoever on the football world except for a potential disaster for the Eagles. Should even one starting player be injured for their upcoming playoff game in two weeks it is a loss worse than any on-field defeat.
Hmmm. What does that say? The oddsmakers, including offshore wagering leaders Bovada, BetOnline and Diamond Sports, say Dallas Cowboys -2.5 at this juncture with a likely -3 posting by kickoff. IF the Eagles had anything to play for with any motivating force whatsoever, the line likely would have been Eagles -10, coming off their uninspiring 19-10-win last week over the Oakland Raiders. Most preferred offshore sportsbooks have listed the current Over/Under Total on this game at 41, quickly dropping from an opening 43.
If ever there was a game to get a difficult read on it would be this one. Equated to the third game of the NFL pre-season with starters playing for maybe two to two and half quarters. What could happen toward the finish may be decided by turnovers or fluke plays. The only lock is bags will be safely packed by both teams. Look for players on their knees, not ignoring the national anthem but praying they don't get hurt.
Getting to the Points
The NFL has gotten cute and relatively mean NOT scheduling the New York Jets at New England Patriots game at 4:25 PM, bringing the total to a more ridiculous ten late games. The league has maintained kickoff for 1:00 PM EDT, conceding the Patriots will waffle the Jets. The only question is by how much? Currently, Bovada has the game listed at Pats -15.5, with an extra half point or more expected by game time.
No, this isn't a miracle Super Bowl III with Joe Namath in at QB for the Jets. New England indeed does have motivation needing a win to cement the #1 seeding for the AFC Conference Playoffs. The problem could be they don't need to win by 17 or more points. A last second back end Jets touchdown is a possibility, but an outright Jets win is within the same odds category as a Phoenix Suns NBA Championship.
All kinds of worries here playing the Pats into the fourth quarter. A 20+ point lead insures Tom Brady will be speed home to his Connecticut mansion to be with Gisele rather than risking getting a cold on the field. Same goes for the rest of key New England starters. Look for the Patriots to put the pedal to the metal ASAP to insure the best scenario.
Over in Pittsburgh, the Steelers are a rising -13 over those hapless Cleveland Browns. It's possible the Steelers will be more focused on watching their cell phones for Pats-Jets updates then taking care of the Browns. It's inconceivable the Browns win this one but who knows what happens involving coaching decisions around 3:45 PM. That would not make Steelers bettors very happy expecting a lopsided cover.
As a best suggestion, check the "first half lines" at the top online sportsbooks for optimum opportunities involving both Patriots and Steelers wagering. But be prepared for lines makers forecasting obvious early cover strategies for both New England and Pittsburgh.
NFL Draft Choice Point
My biggest prediction is soon the NFL will adopt a similar system to the NBA in creating a new first round draft selection process. This could also become mandatory predicated upon the upcoming ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States involving the recent PASPA legalized U.S. wagering appeal hearing.
A microscope has already come down on referees, coaches and the NFL itself involving late game rulings and plays. With the week15 New England-Pittsburgh "non-catch" controversy, the rumblings have begun.
These week 17 games have major implications on key draft selection order for next season. It so happens the Cleveland Browns have already locked up the first selection for the 2018 NFL Draft. But it is likely two or more teams with poor records will be tied going into the last week in subsequent seasons. With no motivating force to win, they also will enter the cloudy mix of gambling suspicion. Will teams give their best with nothing to gain? With U.S. legalized gaming a new issue it creates a new challenge and feeds a popular Twitter topic.
Good luck everyone unraveling the mysteries involving Week 17 of the NFL season. Which, unfortunately and strangely, is more difficult to forecast against the spread than NFL Week 1.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding previews and picks from Glenn, click here.