Spread picks for NFL Week 17
What a strange holiday weekend of football. After going just 3-39 in their first 42 combined games, the Browns, 49ers, and Jaguars all won straight up, throwing a monkey wrench into many people’s survivor-league fates. This week should be equally odd, as some games have substantial meaning regarding playoff berths and/or seeding, while other games are largely meaningless, there only for diehard fans looking towards the future. After falling a bit in recent weeks, we had a winning week in Week 16, with an 8-5 record. We now sit at 108-104-6 (50.9 percent) against the spread and 153-86 (64.3 percent) overall. In games where our spread is two, three, or four points or more different than Vegas’, we sit at healthier 55.0 percent, 56.5 percent, and 56.3 percent marks against the spread, respectively.
For win probabilities for Sunday games, follow me on Twitter at @EricEager82.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here.]
Texans at Titans (-3)
Prediction: Texans win by 2
This is a battle of backup quarterbacks, with Houston continuing to roll with Tom Savage in the place of the ineffective Brock Osweiler, and Tennessee going with the veteran Matt Cassel in the place of the injured Marcus Mariota. Savage struggled in his first-career start on Christmas Eve night against Cincinnati, getting sacked four times and generating just 20 accurate throws in 29 attempts for a 6.1 yards per pass. Cassel graded poorly in relief a week ago, and has graded negatively every season since 2013. Even though the Texans cannot move from the fourth seed in the AFC, I think they will be motivated to get Savage and their top-10 PFF-graded defense ready for the Wildcard round of the playoffs.
Bills (-3.5) at Jets
Prediction: Bills win by 3
Both of these teams had been playing for the future of their head coaches, as two playoff-less seasons had both Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles on the hot seat. The Bills pulled the trigger this week, ending the Rex Ryan era with a record of 31-32. They also benched their starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, who (presumably) ends his Bills career as a top-10 graded quarterback in the league. Speaking of quarterbacks, things are so bad in New York that Christian Hackenberg is set to dress for his first-career game Sunday (although Ryan Fitzpatrick is set to start). I (hopefully understandably) don’t feel great about either side here.
Ravens at Bengals (-1)
Prediction: Bengals win by 1
This game features two disappointing AFC North squads fresh off close defeats on Christmas weekend. Reports are that this will be the final NFL game for WR Steve Smith Sr.—a career that included a remarkable eight seasons with overall grades above 80.0. If this is indeed Smith’s final game, it ends with a matchup between fellow old-timer Adam Jones, who is currently eighth among cornerbacks with just 0.82 yards per coverage snap allowed through 16 weeks. With both teams banged up and out of the playoff hunt, look for the home team to win a close one this week.
Giants at Washington (-7)
Prediction: Washington by 7
The Giants are firmly in the five seed in the NFC playoffs, while Washington can still make the postseason with a win at home and some help Sunday night in Detroit. While it would probably benefit the Giants to rebound from their poor showing last Thursday in Philly, it’s probably more important that they leave Washington healthy. With defensive standouts Janoris Jenkins (88.3), Damon Harrison (85.6), and Jason Pierre-Paul (86.2) already injured for New York, look for a more-motivated Washington team to build on their solid effort a week ago in Chicago and move to 9-6-1 on the season.
Jaguars at Colts (-4.5)
Prediction: Colts win by 5
The Jaguars put it all together a week ago at home against the Titans, with Blake Bortles earning a positive grade by completing nine of 12 targets for 147 yards to Allen Robinson, and the defense creating three sacks, three quarterback hits, and 15 hurries against Tennessee’s emerging attack. The Colts’ defense was back to its flimsy ways in Oakland, generating just two pressures and surrendering 210 yards (with 102 after contact) on the ground against the Raiders. This one really could go either way, in which case I pick the (easily) better quarterback.
Cowboys at Eagles (-3.5)
Prediction: Dallas win by 3
The Eagles have had a rough second half of the season, but continue to play hard for Doug Pederson and his staff. Last week against the Giants on Thursday Night Football, Brandon Graham showed why he was one of our 2017 Pro Bowl snubs , generating four quarterback hits and five hurries on Eli Manning in the Eagles’ surprise win at home. A lot of this pick will depend on what the Cowboys do with their starters, as they’ve had the top seed in the NFC wrapped up for more than a week now. Dallas had nothing for which to play against a good Detroit team last Monday, and proceeded to win by 21, so I’m bullish on them getting more than a field goal this week.
Bears at Vikings (-5.5)
Prediction: Vikings win by 7
The Vikings are experiencing one of the more substantial meltdowns in recent memory, taking a 5-0 start to a meaningless Week 17 game against their division rival. During the course of their eight losses in the last 10 games, the Bears handled the Vikings in Chicago, with five sacks, four QB hits, and 13 QB hurries propelling them to just 10 points allowed. Matt Barkley is nowhere near as good as the two quarterbacks that have decimated the previously-impressive Vikings secondary the last two weeks, but he has graded as a top-10 quarterback since assuming the starting gig in Week 12. Given that the Bears have played better than the Vikings recently, it will be interesting to see if Minnesota is up to covering such a big number at home in this one.
Panthers at Buccaneers (-5.5)
Prediction: Buccaneers win by 6
Tampa Bay has (very slight) playoff chances remaining, while the Panthers are looking to end what has been a largely-disappointing season in Charlotte. 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes since Week 7, a mark that is lowest in the league over that time. With that efficiency, it will be difficult for Carolina to keep up with Jameis Winston and the highest-graded wide receiver in the NFL, Mike Evans (93.9). While Winston has just an 85.8 passer rating throwing in Evans’ direction, the Panthers have struggled all season in the secondary, earning just the 26th-highest pass-coverage grade in the league and jettisoning two of their three opening day corners before the season’s end. Look for the Bucs to finish above 0.500 for the first time since 2010.
Browns at Steelers (-6)
Prediction: Steelers win by 11
Even though the Steelers have nothing to play for, the Browns are playing for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, which makes this an uber-tricky selection. It looks as though Robert Griffin III will play if he’s healthy, which in many ways hurts the Browns’ chances to find their second win in as many games. Griffin has been nowhere near as effective as his rookie backup, Cody Kessler. Much of this can be attributed to his lack of accuracy, where his 69.0 adjusted completion percentage is substantially lower than Kessler’s 78.2, leading to almost a yard less per pass attempt for the fifth-year player out of Baylor. Look for the Browns to find a way to make it 1-15 in this their (seemingly perennial) rebuilding season.
Saints at Falcons (-7)
Prediction: Falcons win by 7
Playoff seeding is on the line for the Falcons as they enter into a rematch with a Saints team that continues to give teams fits both in the air, where Drew Brees is the fifth-highest graded quarterback in the league, and on the ground, where they’ve gained more than 120 yards the last two weeks. Much like their first matchup, it may not be enough against an Atlanta offense that has been statistically one of the best in league history. Our grades have correlated with this success, as only two of the Falcons’ offensive starters have earned overall grades below 70.0. With the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye on the line, look for the Falcons to roll in this one at home.
Patriots (-9.5) at Dolphins
Prediction: Patriots win by 6
While both teams have earned a playoff berth, and the Patriots a first-round bye, seeding is on the line down south in Week 17. The Dolphins have won nine of 10 games since starting 1-4, relying on a running game that has been all Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins’ run-blocking grade is the second-worst in the league through 16 weeks, while Ajayi has compensated with 850 yards after contact (second in the league) and 3.5 yards per carry after contact (also second). I have a hard time seeing the Patriots’ defense, allowing just the 11th-most yards per carry, allowing Ajayi to beat them by himself, which should be enough to propel them to home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Cardinals (-6) at Rams
Prediction: Cardinals win by 6
Disappointment and hopelessness engulf the set of emotions for this one in Los Angeles. Like the last version (1994) of the Los Angeles Rams, the 2016 version started 4-5 before losing six consecutive games prior to its season finale. It would be nice if there was some reason for hope in regards to first-overall pick Jared Goff, but the data just hasn’t been there to this point. In his six starts, only Eli Manning has earned a lower overall grade, and only Bryce Petty has a lower quarterback rating. Arizona is missing many of its defensive starters, but is still more than capable of shutting down a Rams offense likely without wide receiver Kenny Britt (shoulder), who recently became the first Rams player with more than 1,000 receiving yards since 2007.
Chiefs (-6) at Chargers
Prediction: Chiefs win by 2
The Chiefs need to win and hope the banged-up Raiders lose to secure their first home playoff game since 2010 and their first first-round bye since 2003. They travel to San Diego to face a Chargers team fresh off a loss in Cleveland. If Melvin Gordon (82.5) plays, there may be a chance for the Chargers offense against a Chiefs defense that is still struggling against the run without their long-time ILB Derrick Johnson (81.5). Against Tennessee, D.J. Alexander and Ramik Wilson were the lowest-graded Chiefs defenders, and against the Broncos, they used safety Daniel Sorenson at linebacker, and surrendered 4.5 yards per carry before that game got out of hand. For as good of a year as the Chiefs have had, this is the type of game I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost.
Seahawks (-9.5) at 49ers
Prediction: Seahawks win by 10
The Seahawks are the most enigmatic team in the league, and it’s overshadowing a really nice season by quarterback Russell Wilson. The sixth-highest graded quarterback (87.8) in the league has overcome an early-season ankle injury and the third-least efficient pass-blocking offensive line to grade positively in 10 of his 15 starts—and lead Seattle to the playoffs despite numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball. While the Seahawks are bad up front offensively, the 49ers are bad everywhere, and will be without one of their few bright spots (RB Carlos Hyde, with 990 yards on 4.6 yards per carry) in Week 17. As with many games this weekend, go with the team with something to play for in this one.
Raiders at Broncos (-1)
Prediction: Raiders win by 1
Both teams suffered big losses a week ago, with the Broncos producing a three-score clunker in Kansas City, while the Raiders lost star quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg (though they still defeated Indianapolis 33-25). Denver has been eliminated, but Oakland backup Matt McGloin has the immediate task of leading a team battling with Kansas City for the second seed (and a first-round bye) in the AFC. They get there with a win this week in Denver, and although McGloin faces a tough Broncos defense in his first start since 2013, he’s actually graded positively in four of his six starts (and those four games were in a row). Combine this ability with Oakland’s solid supporting class offensively, and I’m relatively bullish on the Raiders—even if only for the immediate short term.
Packers (-3.5) at Lions
Prediction: Packers win by 4
As the Lions look to earn their first division title since 1993 (when it was the NFC Central), they have gone about it the same way—with a regular-season finale matchup in Michigan against the Packers. Lions cornerback Darius Slay, allowing less than 1 yard per coverage snap on the season, missed last week against the Cowboys with a hamstring injury, and appears questionable for this one as well. Given that the Lions have the 29th-highest-graded pass-rush in the league, while the Packers have the most-efficient pass-blocking offensive line, Detroit will need Slay to be on top of his game to slow Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, the two highest-graded players at their respective positions during the Packers’ five-game winning streak. After a year as a wildcard, look for Green Bay to regain their NFC North supremacy on Sunday night at Ford Field.