Week 17 Edition
*Note – DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: It’s Football Outsiders’ primary efficiency statistic and I believe it to be the best and most predictive measure of assessing the strength of NFL teams
***Note – All betting odds courtesy of Vegas Insider
****Note – Public betting refers to the amount of wagers taken on the spread
Records Entering Week 13
Straight Up: 145-93-2 (.608)
Last Week: 9-7
Spread: 134-97-9 (.577)
Last Week: 10-6
Over/Under: 124-116 (.517)
Last Week: 9-7
Locks: 28-6 (.824)
Last Week: 1-0
Best Bets: 116-88-1 (.573)
Last Week: 8-6
Houston Texans (9-6) vs Tennessee Titans (8-7)
Spread: TEN -3 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: HOU (29) < TEN (9)
Public Betting: HOU 69%
With the Texans locked into the fourth seed in the AFC, many think they don’t have much to play for. I’m not sure that’s true. It appears that Bill O’Brien wants to use this game to get Tom Savage, who looked shaky in his first start last week, ready for the postseason. I’m also skeptical that the Titans offense can move the ball against Houston’s D with Matt Cassel at quarterback in place of the injured Marcus Mariota. Tennessee’s offense had been struggling as is, averaging only 4.6 yards per play in their last three games–and now they have a very turnover-prone Cassel starting. I’ll take the Texans to move to 10-6.
Houston 27, Tennessee 21
Buffalo Bills (7-8) vs New York Jets (4-11)
Spread: BUF -3.5 Over/Under: 42.5
’16 DVOA: BUF (17) < NYJ (32)
Public Betting: BUF 71%
I saw first hand last week how bad the Jets are. Buffalo obviously isn’t as formidable as New England, who the Jets lost to 41-3, but it’s clear that Gang Green has given up on the 2016 season. However, the Bills are embroiled in their own turmoil, as interim coach Anthony Lynn took over for Rex Ryan this week hoping to prove that he’s worthy of being Buffalo’s next coach. For that reason, I have a hunch that Lynn gets his guys to come out and play hard. Even with E.J. Manuel projected to start in place of an injured Tyrod Taylor, I’ll take the Bills.
Buffalo 26, New York 19
Baltimore Ravens (8-7) vs Cincinnati Bengals (5-9-1)
Spread: Pick ’em Over/Under: 41.5
’16 DVOA: BAL (6) > CIN (20)
Public Betting: BAL 80%
Injuries have derailed Cincinnati’s season, as they’ll once again be without the likes of A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Vontaze Burfict. These losses have particularly taken their toll on the offensive end: The Bengals have fallen from 5th in scoring in 2015 to 24th this season. The Ravens might not have anything to play for either at this point, but their defense, which ranks 3rd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, projects to stifle Cincinnati.
Baltimore 23, Cincinnati 17
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) vs Indianapolis Colts (7-8)
Spread: IND -4.5 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: JAC (25) < IND (18)
Public Betting: IND 68%
By nearly every metric, Indianapolis is better than Jacksonville. What’s ironic, though, is that the spread has fallen by nearly three points after the line opened at -7.5 in favor of the Jaguars. What gives? Well, I think it’s because the Jaguars are coming off their best performance of the season in a 38-17 victory over Tennessee. But while Jacksonville’s defense has quietly had an excellent season, I’m not ready to buy into their offense after one great showing. The Colts’ defense hasn’t been awful in recent weeks; and their offense, which is 6th in the NFL in yards per drive, should be good enough to pick apart Jacksonville’s formidable defense.
Indianapolis 24, Jacksonville 20
Dallas Cowboys (13-2) vs Philadelphia Eagles (6-9)
Spread: PHI -4.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: DAL (2) > PHI (14)
Public Betting: DAL 66%
It’s tough to make predictions in Week 17. After all, I’m not in Cowboy headquarters: I don’t know exactly what Jason Garrett’s game-plan will be this week with Dallas having already secured the NFC’s number one seed. I suppose I expect he’ll play the starters for a series or two since he’s already announced that Dak Prescott will start. But from there, who knows how Tony Romo will play, if he even gets in at all? Given how unsure I am about Dallas’s strategy, I have more faith that Philadelphia will take this game seriously based on how well they played in their upset over the Giants last Thursday night. I’ll take the rested and likely more motivated Eagles.
Philadelphia 27, Dallas 17
Chicago Bears (3-12) vs Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
Spread: MIN -6 Over/Under: 42.5
’16 DVOA: CHI (19) > MIN (26)
Public Betting: CHI 54%
I’ve backed Chicago multiple times in recent weeks. Though the Bears let me down last Sunday against the Redskins, they’ve been excellent at covering the spread even with Matt Barkley at quarterback. Part of the reason why is that they are often severely undervalued because their 3-12 record is a poor indicator of how strong the Bears are. Their yards per play differential is actually better than Minnesota’s (+0.5 vs -0.1), and they’re surprisingly 5th in yards per play overall. Since Minnesota’s defense has taken a huge step back since midseason, I bet the Bears will do what they usually do: Keep things surprisingly close, but ultimately fall short.
Minnesota 24, Chicago 21
Carolina Panthers (6-9) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7)
Spread: TB -4.5 Over/Under: 46.5
’16 DVOA: CAR (22) < TB (12)
Public Betting: CAR 58%
It’s still surprising to think that Carolina has been out of contention for the past month. But while many point to their defense as the main reason for their regression, that’s not necessarily true. The Panthers actually rank a respectable 12th in defensive DVOA. It’s really been there offense, which only ranks 23rd in yards per drive, that has led to their downturn. The good news for Carolina, though, is that I like them to finish their disappointing season with a victory over an overrated Tampa Bay team. The Buccaneers may be 8-7, but they have a below-average net yards per play differential (-0.7). Tampa may still have an outside (emphasis on the word outside) chance to make the playoffs, but Carolina is actually the slightly better team.
Carolina 20, Tampa Bay 17
Cleveland Browns (1-14) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)
Spread: PIT -5.5 Over/Under: 42.5
’16 DVOA: CLE (31) < PIT (3)
Public Betting: PIT 70%
Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown all project to sit out for this matchup. No matter. Pittsburgh should win this game in a blowout. For starters, the Steelers still have to play all of their other good players. They can’t rest everybody! Plus, it’s not like Pittsburgh’s backups at these key positions are bad. Landry Jones has experience at quarterback and DeAngelo Williams has been great before in Bell’s absence. But the main reason why the Steelers are a great bet to win this game by a wide margin is because Cleveland, in theory, should try to lose this game. A win, coupled with a 49ers victory, would mean Cleveland will not get the number one pick in spite of all their suffering. Don’t expect the Browns to go out of their way to win this one, and don’t be discouraged by Pittsburgh resting its starters.
*Pittsburgh 33, Cleveland 10
New England Patriots (13-2) vs Miami Dolphins (10-5)
Spread: NE -9.5 Over/Under: 44.5
’16 DVOA: NE (1) > MIA (15)
Public Betting: NE 58%
One key matchup to watch is whether the Dolphins, winners of nine of their past ten, can establish their running game against New England’s stout front. Miami’s offensive line ranks as one of the worst run-blocking units in the league, which could be problematic for Jay Ajayi against the Patriots’ top-five run defense. That means it could be up to Matt Moore to keep pace with Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense, which actually isn’t out of the question considering that the Dolphins offense has actually been better with Moore at quarterback in place of Ryan Tannehill. After all, Miami is averaging 6.5 yards per play over their past three games with Moore at the helm, good for fifth in the NFL.
New England is clearly the superior team, but they’ve had problems against much weaker Dolphins teams before. Miami’s offense will likely keep them in the game, but I doubt whether their 18th-ranked defense is strong enough to contain the Patriots for four quarters. Remember: Back in September, Jimmy Garoppolo threw three touchdowns against this defense in only one half. Brady should have similar success on Sunday.
New England 30, Miami 23
Arizona Cardinals (6-8-1) vs Los Angeles Rams (4-11)
Spread: ARZ -6.5 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: ARZ (23) > LA (30)
Public Betting: ARZ 61%
The league’s leading defense in opponent yards per drive (Arizona) faces off against the league’s worst offense in yards per drive (Los Angeles). Edge to Arizona in this meaningless game.
*Arizona 27, Los Angeles 6
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) vs San Diego Chargers (5-10)
Spread: KC -4.5 Over/Under: 44.5
’16 DVOA: KC (5) > SD (21)
Public Betting: KC 72%
For a team that could potentially secure a first round bye with a win (plus an Oakland loss), Kansas City is still a tough team to get a read on. They may rank fifth in DVOA, but they’re only 12th and 13th respectively in offense according to Football Outsiders. Since they lack a truly dominant unit, the Chiefs aren’t very consistent on a weekly basis. That explains why they’ve been upset in recent weeks by the Buccaneers and Titans. I’m not saying Kansas City will lose to a Chargers team that is coming off a loss to the Browns, but I bet they’ll have to grind it out.
Kansas City 23, San Diego 20
Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1) vs San Francisco 49ers (2-13)
Spread: SEA -9.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: SEA (13) > SF (28)
Public Betting: SEA 74%
San Francisco may have some value with the spread, considering that the Seahawks have struggled since losing Earl Thomas to a season-ending leg injury. However, the 49ers have arguably the league’s worst run defense in the NFL. I bet Seattle will get their running game going this week and win relatively handily.
Seattle 30, San Francisco 21
Oakland Raiders (12-3) vs Denver Broncos (8-7)
Spread: DEN -1.5 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: OAK (11) > DEN (24)
Public Betting: DEN 61%
If Denver is prepared to play, they’ll destroy Oakland. The Raiders, of course, no longer have Derek Carr; and that’s horrible news for them because, statistically, they have one of the league’s worst defenses. In fact, they’re still ranked dead last in opponent yards per play. It’s unlikely that Matt McGloin will be able to bail out the Raiders quite like Carr did, particularly against Denver’s defense.
Plus, look for Trevor Siemian to play well. The Broncos may not have anything to play for, but Siemian certainly does. He’s in danger of being replaced by Paxton Lynch or possibly even Tony Romo. Luckily he has a great opportunity to finish the year strong against a suspect Oakland defense.
Denver 27, Oakland 23
New York Giants (10-5) vs Washington Redskins (8-6-1)
Spread: WSH -7.5 Over/Under: 45.5
’16 DVOA: NYG (10) < WSH (8)
Public Betting: NYG 64%
I’m confident that the Redskins will win. After all, the Giants are locked in as the fifth seed in the NFC, so they know they’ll have to play Wild Card weekend. Why would they not rest their starters for most of this game? Washington rides some good fortunate into the playoffs.
Washington 27, New York 17
New Orleans Saints (7-8) vs Atlanta Falcons (10-5)
Spread: ATL -7 Over/Under: 56.6
’16 DVOA: NO (16) < ATL (4)
Public Betting: ATL 57%
This should be a shoot-out, as the Saints and Falcons rank third and first respectively in points per drive. I could see this game coming down to who has the ball last, so why not give the edge to Matt Ryan. He has a convincing case to be the league MVP this season. I’ll pick Atlanta to out-score New Orleans and secure a first round bye.
Atlanta 34, New Orleans 30
Green Bay Packers (9-6) vs Detroit Lions (9-6)
Spread: GB -3 Over/Under: 49.5
’16 DVOA: GB (7) > DET (27)
Public Betting: GB 73%
My brain says take the Packers. Green Bay has topped thirty points in each of their past three games, making Aaron Rodgers’ prediction that the Packers will run the table after they dropped to 4-6 look damn good. Meanwhile, the Lions defense, which ranks 25th in opponent yards per pass attempt, projects to have a lot of trouble slowing down Rodgers and company. But let’s look at the other side: Detroit’s offense is dangerous, and the Packers are no better than the Lions at stopping the pass, as they’ve allowed the second most yards per pass attempt in the NFL. Matthew Stafford’s had that fourth quarter mojo all season long. I bet it continues for at least one more week.
Detroit 27, Green Bay 24
And lastly, here are my best bets for Week Seventeen…
- Houston vs Tennessee OVER 40.5
- BUFFALO (-3.5) over New York
- BALTIMORE (-0.5) over Cincinnati
- CHICAGO (+6) over Minnesota
- Chicago vs Minnesota OVER 42.5
- CAROLINA (+4.5) over Tampa Bay
- Carolina vs Tampa Bay UNDER 46.5
- PITTSBURGH (-5.5) over Cleveland
- Teaser: MIAMI (+16.5) over New England & New England vs Miami OVER 37.5
- Teaser: ARIZONA (+0.5) over Los Angeles & SEATTLE (-2.5) over San Francisco
- Oakland vs Denver OVER 40.5
- WASHINGTON (-310) over New York