As the regular season comes down to the final week of 16 games, 10 of the 12 Playoff teams have been determined, including all six in the NFC.
Handicapping Week 17 can be dangerous as many teams are playing either to make the Playoffs or to improve their seeding, often facing teams that have already been eliminated, and are looking forward to making it through their final game without injury. Other games involve a pair of teams both of which are out of Playoff contention.
Over the past six seasons (2009 through 2014) underdogs overall are just 43-49-4 ATS in Week 17. Underdogs of 7 points or more are just 18-25 ATS while dogs of +10 or more are just 7-14 ATS.
Although it’s a small sample size these results suggest perhaps playing favorites of 7 points or more might not be such a bad strategy. Often such teams are either seeking to make the Playoffs or are already in and are facing an opponent with nothing on the line, just waiting for the season to end, perhaps just going through the motions with little intensity.
Note there is the possibility, while the games that start at 10 a.m. Pacific are being played, betting on the later starting games may be suspended until the results of the early games are in should certain results make one or more of the later games meaningless. That should not be the case for the game that has been moved to Sunday night, Minnesota at Green Bay, with the winner earning the NFC North title and the loser settling for a Wild Card.
We could see some very unusual line moves this week, both in terms of pointspreads and money lines, as several unique strategies are in play. Some bettors are in position to make hedge plays to protect or recover from futures plays, including some teams having their season win total being decided in the final regular season game.
Here’s a look at the 16 games, all of which are Divisional contests and all of which will be played on Sunday, bringing an end to the 2015 regular season.
NY Jets -3 at Buffalo Bills (43): The Jets have won five in a row (4-0-1) ATS and have developed a balanced offense to compliment what has been their strength all season – their defense. Buffalo’s defense, a strength last season, has fallen short of that performance as coach Ryan has tweaked a unit that needed no tweaking. Despite their win over Dallas, the Bills have lost 4 of 6. JETS.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +10.5 at Carolina Panthers (47): Carolina may play its starters well into this game, even with a comfortable lead, so as to avoid rust with a guaranteed bye the following week. Tampa Bay has little to play for, although it should be noted in their first meeting, a 37-23 home loss, the Buccs did outgain Carolina 411 to 244. Still, with the pressure for 16-0 gone but the number one seed within their grasp, the Panthers should put forth a focused effort to avoid a two game losing streak entering the Playoffs. CAROLINA.
New England Patriots -8.5 at Miami Dolphins (44.5): The Pats know the importance of playing well on the precipice of the Playoffs and they will take a no nonsense approach to this game after their lethargic effort last week. It’s hard to see Miami counter punching if and when they fall behind, which could also make the Pats a good play in the second half. NEW ENGLAND
Baltimore Ravens +7 at Cincinnati Bengals (41.5): The Bengals still may be without TE Tyler Eifert and should again rely on backup quarterback A.J. McCarron. Baltimore’s offense has struggled all season, including when they were healthy. But all those key injuries and the resultant lack of depth have taken their toll and points may be at a premium for both teams, especially if Cincinnati is in position to rest or limit starters’ playing time. UNDER.
New Orleans Saints +4.5 at Atlanta Falcons (52): New Orleans has one of the league’s worst defenses and the Falcons, who suffered their first loss of the season in New Orleans after starting 5-0, seek to end the season on a positive note with a three game winning streak. This line may stay off the boards until late in the week pending status clarification of Saints’ QB Drew Brees who played very well in last week’s win over Jacksonville despite having some foot issues that may again surface this week. ATLANTA.
Jacksonville Jaguars +5.5 at Houston Texans (44.5): Jacksonville had a brief surge in midseason, winning 3 of 4, but the Jags have since lost 4 of 5. Houston’s offense has been hurt by injuries all season and it’s been since the defense gelled and played as it did last season that the Texans have surged. Jacksonville has lost 6 of 7 true road games. The offense will face a ferocious defense capable of forcing turnovers. In their first meeting, the Texans were +3 in turnover in their 31-20 road win. HOUSTON.
Pittsburgh Steelers -9.5 at Cleveland Browns (47): Cleveland is looking toward next season and there may be changes both at coach and QB although Johnny Manziel does have one last chance to audition to keep his job. If the Steelers are able to keep Johnny Manziel in the pocket they will force mistakes that should lead to another lopsided win. PITTSBURGH.
Oakland Raiders +6.5 at Kansas City Chiefs (43.5): Oakland has exceeded expectations and a win here gives them an 8-8 record (season win total was just 5.5). Coach Jack del Rio has changed the culture in his first season and, despite fading over the past month, QB Derek Carr and the offense show great potential for the future. The Raiders led the Chiefs 20-14 in the fourth quarter of their 34-20 loss in Oakland a month ago before some critical Carr turnovers. OAKLAND
Tennessee Titans NL at Indianapolis Colts: The Indy QB situation keeps this game off the boards at the start of the week after Matt Hasselbeck was injured and had to leave Sunday’s win at Miami. The Titans have lost 6 of 7, including 3 straight, each by at least 17 points. They’ve allowed 30 or more points in four straight games and have held to under 17 points 10 times. The Colts need a win and a Houston loss to win the AFC South. Indy has been outscored by 81 points, which makes laying points in a must-win situation tough to defend. TENNESSEE.
Washington Redskins +3 at Dallas Cowboys (44): The Cowboys’ defense has played well under the circumstances and in allowing 22.7 points per game, they are right at the league average. Dallas has been able to run the football, rushing for under 100 yards just four times. The pass defense has played well all season, ranking fifth in yards allowed. Dallas won the first meeting, 19-16, in a game that featured just 583 yards of total offense (the NFL average is 706). UNDER.
Detroit Lions +1 at Chicago Bears (45): Chicago has been favored just twice all season, both times at home and within the last month. They lost both games outright. Playing their best football of the season, recall the Lions were an 11 win team and in the Playoffs last season as they seek to sweep the season series. The Bears had lost three straight prior to last week’s win in Tampa, appearing to have run out of gas although coach John Fox has started to turn things around. DETROIT.
Philadelphia Eagles +3 at NY Giants (52): The Giants have been held under 100 rushing yards in 12 of 15 games. WR Odell Beckham Jr should be back for the Giants who have had trouble all season protecting fourth quarter leads. Thus getting at least a FG against a team that ranks number 31 in yards per play allowed (6.1) and last in yards allowed per game (420) represents the lesser of two ugly alternatives. PHILADELPHIA
Minnesota Vikings +3 at Green Bay Packers (48): In their earlier meeting Green Bay won 30-13 at Minnesota. Both teams have winning ATS marks this season so neither can be considered a solid “go against” team. With the Division title at stake and the line at a FG or less the preference is to back the more experienced team, playing at home and with the more accomplished and proven QB. GREEN BAY.
San Diego Chargers +7.5 at Denver Broncos (40): San Diego followed its emotional win in its final home game with an overtime loss in Oakland last Thursday and thus has several extra days of rest to prepare. The Chargers may not play with great intensity after those two big efforts whereas the Broncos should play with purpose to build momentum for a deep Playoff run with the NFL’s top ranked defense. DENVER.
St Louis Rams +3.5 at San Francisco 49ers (37.5): St. Louis completed a season sweep of Seattle with their road win on Sunday and would finish 8-8 with a win here. The 49ers were expected to struggle this season and at 4-11 that’s exactly what has transpired. The Rams have been below average on offense all season and have averaged less than 5 yards per play in 6 of their last 8 games, including under 4 yards per game twice. Despite their limitations the 49ers have not quit in recent weeks even though their season has long been over. SAN FRANCISCO.
Seattle Seahawks +3.5 at Arizona Cardinals (47.5): Both teams are in the Playoffs and may rest their starters for much of the game. Arizona has clinched a first round bye while the Seahawks will play next week on the road. Unlike their first meeting, won by Arizona, 39-32, this one likely will not be a shootout as it is in both teams’ interests to shorten the game and reduce the chance of injury by greatly emphasizing the run over the pass in a game that has little meaning for either team although a loss by Carolina earlier in the day would give Arizona the NFC’s top seed with a win. UNDER.
NFL Last Week:11-4-0
NFL Season: 123-110-6
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]