B/R Expert Consensus NFL Picks for Week 17
Amateur sports bettors should generally view NFL Sundays the same way they view a craps table, and there's no bigger crapshoot all season long than Week 17. Like it or not, luck will play a significant role in how you fare this weekend, simply because it's impossible to predict with certainty how a lot of coaches will approach their games.
Sunday's results mean a lot to a few teams but a little to a lot of teams. And while there could be some money to be made by gauging motivation, don't blame Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski if they don't hit a collective home run for a second consecutive week to wrap up the season.
Through 16 weeks, here's how they're batting against the spread (last week's records in parentheses):
1. Brad Gagnon: 126-110-4 (11-4-1)
2. Brent Sobleski: 118-118-4 (9-6-1)
3. Gary Davenport: 115-121-4 (11-4-1)
Consensus picks: 113-123-4 (9-6-1)
Moneyline consensus: 154-84-2 (10-6)
And here are 16 fresh selections for the final week of the 2019 season.
Lines from Caesars as of 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, Dec. 26.
Atlanta Falcons (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)
The Atlanta Falcons have generally played playoff-caliber football since their Week 9 bye, but the same can be said of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dating back to their Week 7 bye. And while both teams have been hit hard by injuries, the Bucs are on an extra day's rest and at home.
That being the case, the majority of our panelists figure Tampa Bay should at least be laying a field goal for Sunday's matchup between the two eliminated NFC South foes.
"The Bucs nearly beat the AFC South champion Houston Texans last week despite the fact they didn't have their two Pro Bowl wide receivers and turned the ball over five times," Gagnon said. "Even for Tampa Bay, that's unlikely to happen against a Falcons defense that isn't opportunistic. Atlanta got its big victory in its home finale last week; now the Buccaneers and their underrated defense will be well-positioned to do the same this week."
Much of the talk this season has surrounded Jameis Winston and those now-injured receivers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. But Gagnon is right about the Tampa Bay D, which quietly ranks fifth in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders.
Davenport: Atlanta (+1.5)
Gagnon: Tampa Bay (-1.5)
Sobleski: Tampa Bay (-1.5)
Consensus: Tampa Bay (-1.5)
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 26, Falcons 23
Chicago Bears (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (10-5)
Without top running back Dalvin Cook, the Minnesota Vikings couldn't move the ball in a critical Week 16 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Now, in a meaningless Week 17 game, the Vikes have to face an even stronger defense and a Chicago Bears team that has nothing to lose.
With that in mind, the majority of our predictors are surprised Chicago is actually getting a point in Minnesota.
But it's complicated.
"This is a tough call and a game I'd avoid," Gagnon admitted. "You never want to bet against the Vikings at home against an inferior opponent on a Sunday afternoon. And while the Bears will likely fight here, they've really struggled without defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. He'll likely miss this game, as well. All of that being said, I really don't see Mike Zimmer investing much into this game, and the Vikings offense could be a mess if Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook both sit. I just can't justify getting behind the Vikes under those circumstances."
Sobleski can, though, and he could be onto something if Zimmer decides to let some of his starters roll. That's entirely possible, and Minnesota has certainly stood out in situations like these. It is 5-0 straight-up and 4-1 against the spread in 1 p.m. ET kickoffs at U.S. Bank Stadium this season.
You might want to sit this one out.
Davenport: Chicago (+1)
Gagnon: Chicago (+1)
Sobleski: Minnesota (-1)
Consensus: Chicago (+1)
Score Prediction: Bears 20, Vikings 17
Cleveland Browns (6-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-14)
Back when games mattered to the now-eliminated Cleveland Browns, and back when the lowly Cincinnati Bengals needed to lose, Cincinnati went toe-to-toe with Cleveland on the road in a one-score Week 14 loss.
Now, the Browns have nothing to play for, and the Bengals have secured the league's worst record. The majority of our experts figure Cincinnati, at home, can keep things extremely close against a Cleveland squad that might be ready to phone this one in.
"The Browns are about to put a bow on a craptastic season in which the team fell short of every single expectation," Sobleski said. "Of course, the Bengals are the league's worst team, but now they have nothing to lose since the No. 1 overall pick is secured. At the same time, Cincinnati played extremely well in the second half of last weekend's overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins. Meanwhile, the Browns will likely be the same undisciplined squad everyone has seen all season to give the Bengals more than a chance to not only cover but also win this game outright."
The Bengals really haven't embarrassed themselves too often of late, and Cleveland could be defeated and unmotivated on the road after a letdown last week.
That being said, we're only talking about three points, and few would claim the Browns aren't a significantly better team than the Bengals. That might explain why Davenport is blocking a unanimous consensus on this pick.
Davenport: Cleveland (-3)
Gagnon: Cincinnati (+3)
Sobleski: Cincinnati (+3)
Consensus: Cincinnati (+3)
Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Browns 21
Green Bay Packers (12-3) at Detroit Lions (3-11-1)
The Green Bay Packers are fighting for a first-round bye, while the Detroit Lions look like they're ready to move on to 2020. That might explain why the Packers are laying 12.5 points for this Week 17 matchup despite the fact they haven't beaten the Lions by 13 points on the road since 2009.
Still, two of our three analysts are backing the Pack.
"I know we're looking at a lot of points here," Gagnon admitted. "But with so much at stake, I really don't think the Packers will mess around against a sorry opponent that has seen the wheels come off in recent weeks. Green Bay had turnover issues last week against Minnesota, but that's also unlikely to happen two weeks in a row, and the Lions defense has just six takeaways in its last 10 games. The Lions are a mess on both offense and defense, and there's no way I'm backing David Blough against that Green Bay pass rush."
This is a divisional home game for the Lions, who might want to go out with a bang. And Davenport isn't willing to give up that many points. With the backdoor cover on the table, that's fair. Still, Detroit has lost three straight games by double-digit margins, so it's also fair to wonder if the Lions have just written off the 2019 season.
That's the way our guys our leaning, albeit without a unanimous consensus. And it's worth noting that those picking against the majority as lone wolves are 76-56-2 this season.
Davenport: Detroit (+12.5)
Gagnon: Green Bay (-12.5)
Sobleski: Green Bay (-12.5)
Consensus: Green Bay (-12.5)
Score Prediction: Packers 30, Lions 14
Los Angeles Chargers (5-10) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
If the New England Patriots take care of business against the Miami Dolphins, the Kansas City Chiefs won't have anything to play for on Sunday. But New England plays Miami at the same time Kansas City hosts the Los Angeles Chargers, and the majority of our experts figure K.C. won't take its foot off the gas pedal against an opponent that has struggled with stiff competition this season.
In four games against teams that currently have 10 or more wins, the Bolts are 1-3 with an average margin of defeat of seven points.
To boot, Kansas City has really hammered softer, familiar opponents.
"In divisional games this season, the Chiefs are 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 20.0 points," Gagnon said. "They've been destroying the weaklings in the AFC West, and head coach Andy Reid has already made it clear they're playing to win with a first-round bye potentially on the line in their regular-season home finale. So while it's tempting to fade the public here, I think the Chiefs are a safer bet with a single-digit spread."
Still, this is another game on which you shouldn't spend much of your hard-earned money.
Even in the best-case scenario for Chiefs backers, the backdoor cover will likely loom throughout. The Chargers are a good road team that hasn't lost by more than a field goal in any of its last 15 regular-season games outside of Los Angeles, so it's appropriate that our guys again lack unanimity.
Davenport: Kansas City (-9.5)
Gagnon: Kansas City (-9.5)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (+9.5)
Consensus: Kansas City (-9.5)
Score Prediction: Chiefs 30, Chargers 20
Miami Dolphins (4-11) at New England Patriots (12-3)
The Miami Dolphins are a sizeable public underdog Sunday against the New England Patriots, which is somewhat understandable considering the Pats are laying 15.5 points, the Dolphins are playing hard and the Patriots have just one 16-point victory since Week 8.
But that victory came by 21 points over the Cincinnati Bengals, who took Miami to overtime last week. And that was also the only truly bad team the Pats have played in the second half of the season.
In seven games against teams that currently have six or fewer wins, New England is 7-0 with an average margin of victory of 24.9 points. Meanwhile, Miami has faced only four teams that have nine or more wins, and the Dolphins are 0-4 with an average margin of defeat of 29.5 points in those games.
With a first-round bye on the line for New England, two of our three panelists figure Bill Belichick and Co. will take out a lot of their frustration on the talent-starved Dolphins in Foxborough to cap the regular season.
"The Patriots have never won a Super Bowl in a year in which they played on Wild Card weekend—a fact they know just as well as we do," Davenport said. "That means Tommy Terrific and the Bradyettes will be pulling out all the stops against a Dolphins team they beat 43-0 in Miami earlier this season. A backdoor cover is possible here if the Pats get a big lead and take their foot off the gas, but I'd rather take my chances with that than the Dolphins."
Davenport: New England (-15.5)
Gagnon: New England (-15.5)
Sobleski: Miami (+15.5)
Consensus: New England (-15.5)
Score Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 13
New Orleans Saints (12-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-10)
At this point, it'd be pretty hard to justify putting even a dollar on a Carolina Panthers team that has covered just one spread in the second half of the season and has suffered four 20-plus-point defeats since Week 8. Their opponent, the New Orleans Saints, has too much to play for and should step on Carolina's throat in Week 17.
Our crew feels strongly enough about that to unanimously lay 13 points with the Saints.
"The Saints have plenty to play for. New Orleans is still in the hunt for both a first-round playoff bye and maybe even the No. 1 seed in the NFC," Davenport said. "The Panthers are a complete disaster, losers of seven straight after getting blown out by Indianapolis last week. This game could get ugly quickly. I'm not sure how big the spread would have to be for me to consider Carolina."
The Saints have averaged a ridiculous 35.3 points per game the last six weeks, while Carolina's terrible defense has surrendered the second-most points per game in the NFL (28.5). The Panthers are particularly awful against the run, which is a bad omen considering star Saints back Alvin Kamara found a groove with two touchdowns and a 7.3 yards-per-attempt average against the Tennessee Titans last week.
New Orleans should run away with this.
Davenport: New Orleans (-13)
Gagnon: New Orleans (-13)
Sobleski: New Orleans (-13)
Consensus: New Orleans (-13)
Score Prediction: Saints 34, Panthers 13
New York Jets (6-9) at Buffalo Bills (10-5)
It's somewhat surprising there was even a mid-week line available for Sunday's finale in Orchard Park between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills because there's still a major lack of clarity regarding Buffalo's approach to a game that doesn't impact its playoff standing.
As of Thursday, Bills head coach Sean McDermott had not definitively announced what he'd do with his starters against the Jets, only noting that he and general manager Brandon Beane would "do what's best for the team," according to ESPN's Marcel Louis-Jacques.
Talk like that usually indicates there'll be some resting, which is enough to get the majority of our experts behind the Jets plus a point-and-a-half.
New York's top-notch run defense (second in DVOA) could make it hard for the Bills to coast. And more broadly, it's important to realize the Jets are actually 5-2 in the second half of the season. This isn't a pushover.
"It's simple, really. Were this Week 8 instead of Week 17, I'd be on the Bills and also laying more than 1.5 points. But it's not Week 8. It's Week 17," Davenport said. "The Bills are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. Sean McDermott can talk all he wants about playing Buffalo's starters on Sunday, but I don't believe him.
"Josh Allen might start, but he ain't playing all four quarters. And given that these two teams played a one-point game all the way back in Week 1, that's enough to flip me to Gang Green. Given the year I've had (recent hot streak notwithstanding), that means Buffalo will win by 30."
Davenport: New York (+1.5)
Gagnon: New York (+1.5)
Sobleski: Buffalo (-1.5)
Consensus: New York (+1.5)
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Bills 17
Indianapolis Colts (7-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)
Outside of a seemingly aberrational fourth-quarter comeback against the Oakland Raiders a couple of weeks ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been utterly uncompetitive throughout the second half of the 2019 season.
That victory in Oakland was the only game since Week 9 Jacksonville didn't lose by at least 12 points, and now it's running into a much more talented Indianapolis Colts team that showed it wasn't giving up on a lost season with a 32-point Week 16 win over the Panthers.
We might not see a repeat of that Sunday, as even the Jags are better than Carolina right now, and Indianapolis isn't at home. But there's no way any of our predictors are willing to back the Jaguars with just four points in their back pocket.
"The Colts have been all over the place this year," Davenport said. "At times, they've looked like one of the better teams in the AFC. In others, they've looked like a tomato can. The truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle. The Colts have their flaws, but not nearly as many as a reeling Jaguars team whose once-potent defense has been getting gashed with regularity. I'll lay the points with the road team here."
The key for the Colts could be their fourth-ranked running game against a Jags D that—as Davenport mentioned—can't stop anyone, especially on the ground. Devonta Freeman and Brian Hill ran with ease against a defense that is a shell of its former self as the Atlanta Falcons totally controlled the Jags last week, and Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins should do the same Sunday against a run D with the league's second-worst DVOA.
Davenport: Indianapolis (-4)
Gagnon: Indianapolis (-4)
Sobleski: Indianapolis (-4)
Consensus: Indianapolis (-4)
Score Prediction: Colts 24, Jaguars 17
Oakland Raiders (7-8) at Denver Broncos (6-9)
The Oakland Raiders are technically still alive in the playoff race after a victory that technically came on the road, and yet they're getting a field goal plus a hook for a season-ending away game against a Denver Broncos team that, on paper, is inferior.
That's got all of our analysts siding with Denver for its home finale.
"Apparently, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs had surgery this week," Sobleski said. "As the catalyst for Oakland's offense, his unknown status will have a tremendous effect on how the Raiders approach their final contest. It's not like Derek Carr is going to carry the team since he hasn't thrown for more than 293 yards in any game this season. Whereas the Broncos are doing just fine with rookie quarterback Drew Lock behind center."
Yes, the Raiders still have a shot at the playoffs, so they won't let up. But the Broncos have been eliminated for a while, and they're 3-1 this month. Lock has been good, the defense has been strong, and they've won four of their last five home games.
Plus, Oakland's Week 16 "road win" came against the Chargers in L.A., where the majority of the fans were supporting the Raiders. It could be a different story in Denver for a Raiders team that has four 18-plus-point road losses this season.
Avoid that hook if you can, but don't take the Raiders here.
Davenport: Denver (-3.5)
Gagnon: Denver (-3.5)
Sobleski: Denver (-3.5)
Consensus: Denver (-3.5)
Score Prediction: Broncos 23, Raiders 14
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at New York Giants (4-11)
Sunday's matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions is an example of a game for which you might have to look beyond what's on paper. Because on paper, the injury-ravaged Eagles probably shouldn't be laying 4.5 points away from home against a Giants squad that nearly beat Philly on the road earlier this month.
But that comeback victory over Big Blue seemed to galvanize the well-coached, resilient and mentally strong Eagles, who have now won three consecutive games by at least six points and might need a victory here to keep their season alive.
Under those circumstances, the majority of our panelists are reluctantly willing to give up those 4.5 points.
"It's time to stop doubting the Eagles," Sobleski said. "Sure, their wide receiver corps is being held together by bubble gum and paperclips. But it hasn't mattered. Philadelphia won its last three games with three active receivers on the roster. Instead, quarterback Carson Wentz picked up the slack and played his best ball with the tight ends and running backs stepping up to fill significant roles. A win and cover would give Philadelphia exactly what it deserves: a division crown."
We wouldn't fault you for joining Davenport on the Giants because this could certainly be an upset—or at least a field-goal game in New Jersey.
It's a tricky line, but it's hard to bet against the Eagles and just as hard to trust the Giants. Against teams that currently have winning records, the G-Men are 0-5 with an average margin of defeat of 15.4 points this season.
Davenport: New York (+4.5)
Gagnon: Philadelphia (-4.5)
Sobleski: Philadelphia (-4.5)
Consensus: Philadelphia (-4.5)
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Giants 17
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7) at Baltimore Ravens (13-2)
"Numerous top performers, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, won't play in the Baltimore Ravens' final game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers," Sobleski said. "There's a lot on the line for Pittsburgh since it's still battling for the AFC's sixth playoff spot. Usually, these two factors are more than enough to swing the advantage toward the team in Pittsburgh's situation.
"But how are the Steelers going to score points? Mason Rudolph is now on injured reserve. Devlin Hodges has been a turnover machine as of late. James Conner is dinged up again. Even against Baltimore's backups, Pittsburgh will struggle to move the ball."
Indeed, Conner has a quadriceps injury, which could further hinder an offense that has averaged just 14.3 points per game over the last six weeks. And the Ravens might be deliberately shorthanded, but let's keep in mind this has been the best team in the league this year. That requires serious depth, and Robert Griffin III, Gus Edwards, Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle aren't slouches.
The Ravens are also at home, where they've already defeated the division-leading New England Patriots, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers in the second half of the season. There'll be some inspiration to close a magical regular season strong, and their opponent appears to be out of gas.
That said, this isn't a great betting spot, and it's fitting that our gang lacks a unanimous consensus considering the state of one team and the potential effort level of the other. This year's runaway picks leader is laying 1.5 points with the desperate Steelers.
Davenport: Baltimore (+1.5)
Gagnon: Pittsburgh (-1.5)
Sobleski: Baltimore (+1.5)
Consensus: Baltimore (+1.5)
Score Prediction: Ravens 20, Steelers 17
Tennessee Titans (8-7) at Houston Texans (10-5)
In order to guarantee a trip to the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans need a road win Sunday against the Houston Texans. And while the Texans were smoked by the Broncos when they last played at NRG Stadium, Tennessee has already enjoyed some nice moments away from home this season.
"The Titans have four double-digit road victories this year," Gagnon said. "And while those came against teams that currently have losing records, the Texans have nothing to play for and might essentially look like a low-caliber opponent. It's still unclear how much key Texans will play in a meaningless game, but there's no questioning how much this means to a Titans team fighting for its life.
"It's been well over a year since the Titans last lost three in a row, and I'm pretty confident they'll come through in this spot. That hook is a little scary, so buy half a point if you can. But Tennessee should roll here, potentially by a wide margin as the Texans look ahead to the wild-card round."
Davenport concurs, but this is a bad week for unanimous agreements. Sobleski is rightly concerned that the Titans are unreliable, the Texans won in Tennessee just two weeks ago, and Houston head coach Bill O'Brien has stated his team is "playing to win."
Tread carefully here.
Davenport: Tennessee (-3.5)
Gagnon: Tennessee (-3.5)
Sobleski: Houston (+3.5)
Consensus: Tennessee (-3.5)
Score Prediction: Titans 26, Texans 20
Washington Redskins (3-12) at Dallas Cowboys (7-8)
The Washington Redskins haven't lost by more than 10 points in any of their last five games, while the limping Dallas Cowboys are just 2-5 straight-up since the start of Week 10. That has all our experts backing Washington as an 11-point 'dog in Dallas on Sunday.
"An 11-point spread is interesting because the Cowboys are rightly the favored team with some hope of making the playoffs and jobs still on the line," Sobleski said. "But the rebuilding Washington squad hasn't lost by more than 10 points in over a month. Yes, Washington lost its last three contests, but those have been by an average of seven points. No, Dwayne Haskins won't play, but Bill Callahan and his staff will almost certainly try to shorten the game with a strong ground attack and make the Cowboys earn every yard when they're on offense."
The Redskins could indeed excel on the ground with Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson. The Dallas defense has struggled against the run lately, as we saw when Miles Sanders did a number on that unit in Philadelphia's critical Week 16 victory over the Cowboys.
And it's not as though Case Keenum is a significant downgrade at quarterback. He's auditioning for a job next year, he could easily have been a Pro Bowler two years ago, and he performed tremendously last week.
Meanwhile, too many key Cowboys are injured. The team looks defeated and deflated, and it appears as though major changes are coming in the offseason. Knowing that even a win likely won't save their season, it's easy to envision them laying an egg to wrap up the year.
Davenport: Washington (+11)
Gagnon: Washington (+11)
Sobleski: Washington (+11)
Consensus: Washington (+11)
Score Prediction: Redskins 24, Cowboys 20
Arizona Cardinals (5-9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (8-7)
At publication time, most books still hadn't posted a line for Sunday's meaningless matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. That's probably because Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was limited in practice throughout the week.
In some spots, you can find the Rams laying seven points, which is far too many points for the majority of our panelists. Using that line for now, our gang is getting behind Arizona on the road.
"As long as this doesn't get inside a field goal," Gagnon said, "I'm on a Cards team that has put up back-to-back impressive wins and seems to be finding a groove on both offense and defense. The Rams hammered Arizona on the road earlier this month, but this team is now dead, and head coach Sean McVay has even suggested it could rest key players on Sunday. I figure the Cards are less likely to lie down, and they've performed pretty well on the road this season."
You might want to watch to see where this spread winds up on Sunday afternoon. But if you can grab the Cards plus a touchdown right now, you're probably getting value assuming Murray suits up.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-7)
Gagnon: Arizona (+7)
Sobleski: Arizona (+7)
Consensus: Arizona (+7)
Score Prediction: Cardinals 26, Rams 23
San Francisco 49ers (12-3) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4)
The Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Bay Area last month, but Seattle is just 3-2 with a negative scoring margin since then. The Seahawks have been crushed by injuries to such an extent that they had to coax Marshawn Lynch out of retirement for Sunday's pivotal finale with the 49ers.
That has the majority of our gang giving up 3.5 points in favor of a San Francisco team that is quite simply in better shape and certainly more talented.
"I expect a relatively close affair on Sunday night," Davenport admitted. "But while the Seahawks may have the better quarterback in Russell Wilson, that's about all they have—the Seahawks defense was just embarrassed by the Cardinals, and the run game has been ravaged by injuries. The return of Beast Mode is a nice story, but the Niners have the better team here—and it's going to show in the regular-season finale."
The Seahawks are at least at home, where they've traditionally dominated. But they've actually been outscored by 19 points at CenturyLink Field this season.
And yet, for the 13th time this week, our analysts don't have a unanimous consensus. Gagnon's actually incredulous that the 49ers are laying more than a field goal on the road against an experienced team that beat them at home just last month, especially considering that Wilson is always a gamer.
"Has a lack of support ever held Wilson back?" he said. "I know Seattle's been gutted by injuries, but let's not pretend the 49ers haven't also been hit hard. I think they miss Weston Richburg, Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford, and that once-vaunted defense has surrendered 33.3 points per game the last three weeks. In the Pacific Northwest, this will come down to the wire."
Davenport: San Francisco (-3.5)
Gagnon: Seattle (+3.5)
Sobleski: San Francisco (-3.5)
Consensus: San Francisco (-3.5)
Score Prediction: 49ers 26, Seahawks 20