The regular season comes to a close this week, and just like every year, bettors have to wade through motivational questions with many of the matchups in Week 17. If these games were played on any other week of the season, some of these lines would be not just a few points different, but even a touchdown or more.
Each week, I break down what you need to know about each game from a betting angle before you lock in your picks. I’ll talk about big line moves, teasers and parlays to consider and more. But with the motivation angle to think about in each game, I’m not sure it does any good to tell you which lines DVOA disagrees with, or what the biggest line moves are when they’re tied solely to motivational circumstances changing. So instead let’s go game by game and try and figure out where we can get an advantage.
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Over at SportsLine, I’ll be posting my picks for Week 17 throughout the week. Join now and use promo code WHITE for $1 on your first month and you can get mine and every SportsLine expert’s picks throughout the year, as well as my SuperContest picks each Saturday.
Motivation: Positive for Titans, potentially negative for Texans. The Titans are obviously going all out, as they make the playoffs with a win. Texans coach Bill O’Brien says he won’t be resting players, but can we believe him? The Texans will know when they kick off whether they can jump to the No. 3 seed, which will be in play if the Chiefs lose. But if the Chiefs win as expected, we can’t expect Deshaun Watson and other key players to see action for the entire game. If both teams were equally motivated, you’d figure the Texans would be three-point favorites or more, so the market is not buying O’Brien’s claim.
Other factors: The lookahead line was Texans -1, which is basically staking the middle ground between equal motivation and no motivation. DVOA thinks the Titans are the much better team, and my metric accounting for weighted DVOA projects this line at Titans -2.5 if both teams were going all-out. Unless you think the Chiefs are going to lose, the Titans look like a great value. If you can get a moneyline parlay on Chargers and Texans at plus odds, that has a huge correlation as a Chargers win over the Chiefs would presumably swing the Texans to being favored in this game. As of Wednesday, that parlay would pay around +950.
Motivation: Neutral for both teams. If anything, the Bengals might have a slight motivational edge, as a win does nothing for their draft status and the Browns seem to be dealing with turmoil week in and week out with players reportedly unhappy.
Other factors: The lookahead line was Browns -3, but the edge in this game comes again in weighted DVOA, which doesn’t see too much difference between these teams. The metric would make Browns -1 on a neutral field, so in Cincinnati you would expect the Bengals to be favored, likely by only one point since they don’t have a great home-field advantage. Despite that, the Browns are getting 80% of the tickets, so score another point for the Bengals via our fading the public strategy.
Motivation: Positive for Bears, negative for Vikings. Though Minnesota is locked into the No. 6 seed, Mike Zimmer indicated on Tuesday that he hasn’t decided whether to rest key players. But because it makes sense to do so, the market has priced it into the line, as the lookahead was Vikings -7. But why would the Bears have positive motivation? Getting a win would make them 8-8 as opposed to 7-9, and avoiding the losing season should be something to get up for after this team fell short of expectations. Matt Nagy seemed to be considering resting some players early in the week, but with nothing but the offseason ahead, I don’t expect to see much of it from the Bears.
Other factors: The Bears defense has absolutely shut down the Vikings since the start of 2018, giving up just 222 yards and six points in the early matchup this year after holding Minnesota to 164 yards and 10 points in the season finale last year as well as 268 yards and 20 points in their first meeting of 2018, though all but three of those points in that first game came in the fourth quarter. The Vikings are a super public team in the early going, getting 82% of the tickets.
Motivation: Positive for Colts, neutral to negative for Jaguars. Technically the motivation factor is neutral for the Jags, but anyone that has watched this team in the second half has failed to see any signs of motivation in general. So if the Jaguars play to form, we shouldn’t expect much life from them. The Colts should have some motivation to finish 8-8 and avoid a losing record, which would say something about a team that dealt with a lot of injuries during the season after watching its quarterback retire a few weeks before the start of the season.
Other factors: The Jaguars were one-point favorites on the lookahead line, so this line has swung 4.5 points after the Colts dominated a similarly awful team in the Panthers last week. The Jaguars haven’t reach 300 yards on offense since November, and their defense has allowed 500-plus yards in two of their last three. Weighted DVOA thinks this line is underselling the difference between these two teams, projecting the line to be about Colts -6.5.
Falcons at Buccaneers (PK)
Motivation: Neutral for Falcons, neutral for Bucs. The Falcons have been playing hard over the second half of the season, and we should expect them to keep doing so and close out on a four-game win streak. The Bucs should also play hard to get to 8-8 in Bruce Arians’ first year. I don’t think we have an edge either way.
Other factors: This line is saying the Falcons are clearly the better team, and the margin is enough to cover the Bucs’ homefield advantage. But my power ratings have the Bucs as the better team on a neutral field, as aside from turnovers (which have been a major issue) they’ve been dominating teams statistically, including a 435-229 yardage edge in the loss to the Texans last week that ended their own four-game win streak. Weighted DVOA also has the Bucs as the clearly better team and projects a line of Bucs -6.5, which isn’t quite enough to cover a pick-six by Jameis Winston and subsequent extra point.
Motivation: Neutral for Redskins, positive for Cowboys. While a loss would lock Washington into the No. 2 pick, I’m not sure that’s a major factor for a coaching staff that won’t be around next year anyway. The Cowboys are obviously at max motivation needing a win and an Eagles loss to get into the playoffs.
Other factors: Dak Prescott’s injury clearly looked like a factor in the loss to the Eagles, and he’s now topped 40 pass attempts in five of his last seven games. You have to figure this game will feature a heavy run focus to give him some type of break. Washington is also dealing with QB injury issues, but is the move from Dwayne Haskins to Case Keenum a downgrade? I would say it’s not, and I would also say Keenum has the extra motivation to show potential free-agent suitors what he’s got heading into the offseason. Despite all of that, the line moved 3.5 points from the lookahead of Cowboys -7.5.
Saints (-13) at Panthers
Motivation: Positive for Saints, neutral for Panthers. The Saints are playing for a first-round bye and need to get this win to have a shot at it. The Panthers have collapsed after Kyle Allen’s initial undefeated run early in the year, and they head into this game playing for an interim head coach with seven straight losses in the bank and a rookie QB making his second start.
Other factors: Despite the massive line for the road favorites, weighted DVOA says it’s justified, as the gap between these two teams is bigger than in any matchup between any teams during the 2019 season. The lookahead was only Saints -10.5, but I can’t see anyone playing against that line move.
Eagles (-4.5) at Giants
Motivation: Positive for Eagles, neutral for Giants. The Eagles win the division and make the playoffs if they beat the Giants, while they’ll likely be out of the postseason with a loss as the Cowboys are double-digit favorites in Week 17. The Giants haven’t given up on the season, with three straight covers and two of their last three going to overtime.
Other factors: The Eagles continue to be beset by injuries with Zach Ertz the latest skill position player to get hurt. The lookahead was also Eagles -4.5, while the weighted DVOA metric projects the same, but if Ertz can’t play and Lane Johnson and Nelson Agholor are still out, we likely have to downgrade Philadelphia.
Motivation: Positive for Steelers, negative for Ravens. Because the Ravens have the No. 1 seed locked up and will rest players while the Steelers are playing for a playoff spot, this line is way off where it would be in a normal week. I project a normal line between these teams to be about Ravens -14.5, so we’re talking about a ton of adjustment based on motivation and rest.
Other factors: NFL rosters aren’t infinitely big and you can’t rest everyone, and the market is putting a lot of trust in Duck Hodges going on the road and beating what has been a fantastic Ravens defense. Teams also don’t “rest” their coaches, and you can bet John Harbaugh will be playing to win with the players that are on the field.
Motivation: Neutral for Jets, negative for Bills. The Bills are locked into the No. 5 seed, but Sean McDermott announced that Josh Allen will play in this game. However, he’s definitely not going to be out there all four quarters, and that’ll likely be the case with some other key players. If you’re betting the Bills, make sure you do it in the first half. In a normal week, I’d project a line of Bills -7.
Other factors: The lookahead line was Bills -4.5, which again was playing the middle ground between full and no motivations for Buffalo. Weighted DVOA is much more bullish on the Bills in this matchup and would have them as 10-point favorites in a normal week.
Motivation: Neutral for Dolphins, positive for Patriots. New England needs a win here to lock up the No. 2 seed, and they would sink to No. 3 if they lose and the Chiefs win. The Dolphins could improve their draft outlook with a loss, but nothing we’ve seen in December indicates they’re trying to tank.
Other factors: No movement from the lookahead line, and weighted DVOA thinks the line is about right.
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Motivation: Positive for Packers, neutral for Lions. The Packers are playing for a first-round bye and potentially the No. 1 seed depending on what happens in the Sunday Night Football game. The Lions have moved into position for the No. 3 overall pick in the draft after eight straight losses.
Other factors: The Packers were only 9.5-point favorites on the lookahead, but their impressive road win over the Vikings has bumped their value up three points in the market. Weighted DVOA doesn’t fully buy into Green Bay, however, projecting this line at Packers -8.
Chargers at Chiefs (-8.5)
Motivation: Neutral for Chargers, positive for Chiefs. The Chiefs have a shot at getting a first-round bye if they win and the Patriots lose, and they also could slip to No. 4 if they lose and the Texans win. They should be focused on getting the win and seem like a great teaser team to get under a field goal. The Chargers have lost five of their last six as they stumble to the finish line.
Other factors: The lookahead was just Chiefs -7, but weighted DVOA says the adjustment hasn’t been big enough, projecting a line of about Chiefs -11.5. The public also loves the Chiefs, with 88% of the tickets. I wouldn’t be shocked if they close as double-digit favorites in this matchup.
Motivation: Neutral for Cardinals, neutral for Rams. Nothing to play for with regards to either team, though the Rams could lock in a winning season if they get the W. But it appears the Rams are planning to rest key players in this one, and it’s even possible Jared Goff doesn’t play the entire game to shield him from hits in a meaningless game. Most books haven’t posted a line as of Wednesday, though the Circa had moved down from Rams -8 at midday Tuesday to Rams -3.5 by Wednesday afternoon.
Other factors: Weighted DVOA has these teams close, so even if both were playing all out the metric would project a line close to Rams -3. The lookahead line was Rams -7.
Motivation: Positive for 49ers, positive for Seahawks. The NFC West title is on the line in this matchup, with the 49ers going for the No. 1 seed. The Seahawks could also get a first-round bye but would need help even if they get the win, and they’ll know by kickoff whether they got that help. While I expect the Seahawks would want a home playoff game either way, it’s fair to wonder whether they have a better chance of beating the NFC East winner on the road rather than the Vikings at home.
Other factors: Injuries are key on both sides, so we’ll see through the week how the injury report shakes out. The lookahead line was pick ’em, so the loss to the Cardinals had a major impact on this matchup. Weighted DVOA, which isn’t taking into account the injury status of both teams, says the Seahawks should be one-point favorites.
Motivation: Positive for Raiders, neutral for Broncos. The Raiders still have Drew Lock at quarterback.with a win, and even if they don’t get in they’ll have an 8-8 record in reach. The Broncos don’t have any motivation but have played well over the last month with
Other factors: The Broncos were 4.5-point favorites on the lookahead line, but with the Raiders still alive it appears this line has tightened up a little. You could tell me any final score in this matchup and I’d buy it.
Underdog parlay of the week
Bengals +130 vs. Browns
Ravens +110 vs. Steelers
Jets +105 at Bills
We start with the Bengals, a team that has played better than people realize over the last month despite their awful record. Weighted DVOA projections say they should be the slight favorites in their matchup. The Ravens are home ‘dogs because they’ll be resting players, but I’m not sure we can trust Duck Hodges and that Steelers offense to go on the road and win. And the Jets have a great shot at beating a Bills team that will presumably be resting guys in the second half. This parlay pays around +900 if it hits.
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Teaser of the week
Chiefs -2.5 vs. Chargers
Giants +10.5 vs. Eagles
If you can tease the Chiefs under a field goal, that should be as much of a lock as you can get with them playing like one of the best teams in the league and the Chargers continuing to lose against mediocre opponents. You can definitely take the Ravens and Jets as a leg in a teaser, but rather than double up with our moneyline parlay, I’m going with the Giants. The Eagles are so beat up on offense that I can’t see them beating anyone on the road by double digits right now unless they get an unexpected defensive TD at the end of a close game like they did against Washington.
The teaser of the week is just 8-8 this year after a 12-5 run in 2018, but we got a win last week thanks to the Bengals rallying to send their game into overtime. We easily hit the Packers leg of our teaser.