Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 17 NFL Picks
The bad news for NFL bettors in Week 17 is that it's extra difficult to get a read on who will or will not actively try to be successful. The good news is the sportsbooks are also in the dark.
With that in mind, Bleacher Report NFL correspondents Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski will do their best to take advantage of the fact books are forced to hedge on a lot of games this week.
Here's how the group has fared overall:
1. Gagnon: 118-116-6 (6-9-1 last week)
2. Sobleski: 116-118-6 (8-7-1 last week)
3. Davenport: 114-120-6 (9-6-1 last week)
Consensus picks: 97-103-5 (7-6-1 last week)
And here are 16 fresh takes for the final Sunday of the 2020 regular season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) at Cleveland Browns (10-5)
DraftKings Line: Cleveland -9
The Cleveland Browns are heavily favored to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers simply because the latter will be resting key players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, for a game that doesn't mean much—if anything—to them.
However, the Browns organization continues to be impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak, and the team facility was again closed Thursday. That, combined with the fact Murphy's Law has surrounded this franchise for about a quarter-century, has our crew under the impression Cleveland will complicate matters for itself Sunday.
"Yes, Ben Roethlisberger won't be playing," Davenport said. "He won't be alone, either. But this is Cleveland, where hope goes to die. Where the entire wideout corps was wiped out the day before the team's Week 16 loss to the New York Jets. This is the team that brought us 'Red Right 88,' 'The Drive' and 'The Fumble.' There is no chance I'm laying nearly 10 points on top of counting on the Browns to be victorious in a must-win game."
The Steelers defense has been vulnerable on the ground without Devin Bush Jr. and Bud Dupree, and that could be a problem if it's even more deliberately shorthanded against Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. But Cleveland's D is even more exploitable, so Pittsburgh's backups should be capable of keeping this close.
Consensus: Pittsburgh +9
Score Prediction: Browns 23, Steelers 20
Baltimore Ravens (10-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)
DraftKings Line: Baltimore -12.5
Since the start of 2019, the Baltimore Ravens have won 17 games by 14 or more points. During that same span, nobody else in the NFL has accomplished that feat on more than 11 occasions. They know how to stomp on inferior opponents, and they've done exactly that over the course of a three-game home winning streak against the Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants.
With that in mind, the majority of our writers are backing Baltimore as a 12.5-point favorite in an important Week 17 meeting with the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals.
"I try to avoid heavy public favorites like the Ravens are this week," Gagnon said, "but I think we've gained enough line value based on Cincinnati's two-game winning streak to get behind Baltimore. This is a critical game for the Ravens, who have outscored the Bengals 76-16 in their last two meetings. They won't likely overlook a familiar foe with the playoffs on the line."
The Bengals have indeed won back-to-back games. But Pittsburgh was in a bad place when they met, and the Houston Texans are terrible right now.
Baltimore, meanwhile, has looked unstoppable during its four-game winning streak. Don't overthink this one, but do be conscious of the backdoor-cover possibility for which Sobleski appears to be accounting.
Consensus: Baltimore -12.5
Score Prediction: Ravens 31, Bengals 17
Dallas Cowboys (6-9) at New York Giants (5-10)
DraftKings Line: Dallas -1.5
On the brink of the playoffs (maybe, for at least one of them), the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants appear to be headed in opposite directions.
Dallas has scored 30-plus points in three consecutive victories to remain in the postseason picture, while the Giants have scored 13 or fewer points in three consecutive losses to blow their lead in the NFC East. That has our crew confused as to why the Cowboys are laying less than a field goal in an empty MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
"The Cowboys caught fire as of late with the possibility of claiming an NFC East crown," Sobleski said. "Three straight wins against the Bengals, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles may not be impressive on paper, but considering where the Cowboys were less than a month ago—aka dead in the water—their turnaround is impressive. The Giants shouldn't offer much resistance after showing very little over the last three weeks."
The limping Giants offense (Daniel Jones has lost his mobility, and Evan Engram, Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard are all on the injury report) could wake up a bit against the Cowboys' 30th-ranked scoring D, but their bottom-10 defense in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders) was just destroyed on the ground by the Ravens and could be in trouble against a suddenly rejuvenated Ezekiel Elliott.
That's enough to bring about a unanimous call.
Consensus: Dallas -1.5
Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Giants 17
Atlanta Falcons (4-11) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5)
DraftKings Line: Tampa Bay -6.5
With a playoff spot locked up and a division title out of reach, you'd ordinarily be smart to fade a team featuring a 43-year-old quarterback in Week 17. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to ensure they secure the No. 5 seed in order to draw a wild-card matchup with the NFC Least winner, and head coach Bruce Arians has already stated his team won't hold back Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
That being the case, the entire gang is laying 6.5 points with Tampa Bay.
"That is what you call motivation," Davenport said of the Buccaneers' circumstances. "Tampa should come out firing and put it to a Falcons club that got its heart ripped out late in Kansas City last week."
The Falcons did have a lot of fight in them against the Chiefs, but they ultimately fell short. Now, it might be hard to get up for a meaningless road finale. To boot, they're likely to be completely one-dimensional against the league's top run defense in DVOA and without top receiver Julio Jones.
The Bucs, meanwhile, are 8-0 this season with an average margin of victory of 19 points against teams that currently possess losing records. The Falcons obviously fit that profile.
Davenport: Tampa Bay
Gagnon: Tampa Bay
Sobleski: Tampa Bay
Consensus: Tampa Bay -6.5
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 20
New York Jets (2-13) at New England Patriots (6-9)
DraftKings Line: New England -3
This marks the first time the New England Patriots have been favored by a field goal or less against the New York Jets at home since Week 2 of the 2001 season. That was the day an injured Drew Bledsoe was replaced by Tom Brady, who made his first NFL start one week later.
That must be an indication the Pats are in a free-fall while coming off their third consecutive double-digit-point loss. And that slide down to a three-point spread against a two-win opponent still isn't enough for our guys to take Bill Belichick's squad.
Of course, it helps that the Jets' two wins have come in the last two weeks.
"Nobody's suggesting the Jets are good," Gagnon said. "But they're obviously motivated right now, and it's not apparent the Patriots have anything left in the tank. In fact, a calculating Belichick might be cool with one more L here in order to improve his team's draft position.
"The Jets actually play pretty good run defense—they rank in the top 10 in DVOA in that category—and New England hardly has a passing game. As we saw when the Patriots barely beat the Jets in November, it's not a great matchup for New England."
You might want to consider a swing at Gang Green on the moneyline here.
Davenport: New York
Gagnon: New York
Sobleski: New York
Consensus: New York +3
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Patriots 17
Minnesota Vikings (6-9) at Detroit Lions (5-10)
DraftKings Line: Minnesota -6.5
This is one of the real dart throws of the week because nobody knows how much motivation will be involved in a game between the eliminated Minnesota Vikings and the even more eliminated Detroit Lions.
The majority of our predictors are siding with the team with the better record even if it means giving up nearly a touchdown.
"Neither team is playing for anything other than pride at this juncture," Sobleski said. "While Dalvin Cook won't be in the Vikings lineup due to a family death, Minnesota is still the better team. Detroit is in that phase of the season at which the players seem like they're just trying to get the season over with since sweeping organizational change is coming this offseason."
As the lone wolf, Gagnon will argue in dissent that the Lions might be fired up by quarterback Matthew Stafford's expected return to the lineup. If indeed you have a feeling Stafford will overcome multiple injuries in order to play what could be his final game as a Lion, you're getting good line value right now with Detroit.
But that's a big "if" considering Stafford's physical state, and it's worth noting each of Detroit's last seven losses have come by seven or more points.
If you plan on betting this thing, watch Stafford's status closely and try to get an edge on expected line changes.
Consensus: Minnesota -6.5
Score Prediction: Vikings 31, Lions 23
Miami Dolphins (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (12-3)
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -3.5
We've at least got one key piece of information regarding Sunday's matchup between the desperate Miami Dolphins and the not-at-all-desperate Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park: Miami will be starting rookie Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who saved the day against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 16, won't be available following a positive COVID-19 test.
"I'm not gonna lie. When I backed the Dolphins as a near-pick'em underdog, I considered the strong possibility that Fitzpatrick would have a positive impact on this game," Gagnon said. "When he became unavailable, I almost jumped to Buffalo out of fear that Tua Tagovailoa could stumble without a safety net in such a big spot.
"However, this line also shot up above a field goal when Fitzpatrick was ruled out. That's a lot of points to spot a Buffalo team that has little to play for against a desperate, familiar opponent that has surrendered a league-low 18.8 points per game this season. Brian Flores should have his team ready to put up a fight here, and Tua has plenty of big-game experience in the SEC, so I'm not dealing with that hook."
This line could still shift dramatically if the Bills reveal they will be sitting starters. You're welcome to wait for that development if you're not facing a deadline, but there's a good chance they hold at least something back here, which makes Miami a pretty tempting bet with a field goal and the hook on its side.
Consensus: Miami +3.5
Score Prediction: Dolphins 21, Bills 20
Arizona Cardinals (8-7) at Los Angeles Rams (9-6)
DraftKings Line: Arizona -3
At the start of the week, there was uncertainty surrounding both starting quarterbacks in Sunday's crucial NFC West tilt between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. Now, we know Arizona's Kyler Murray will be good to go while L.A.'s Jared Goff will not.
Congratulations if you jumped on the Cards when the Rams were still on the board as a small favorite. That's no longer the case due to the double dose of quarterback news that hit midway through the week, but the majority of our pickers are still laying a field goal with Arizona at an empty SoFi Stadium.
"This is an easy call even with the Cardinals laying points on the road," Davenport said. "Quarterback Kyler Murray has indicated he plans to play Sunday, while Jared Goff will be sidelined by an injured thumb. As big a fan as I am of John 'Destroyer of Worlds' Wolford, rolling out a quarterback who threw seven interceptions as a member of the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF doesn't strike me as a recipe for success in L.A."
Lone-wolf Gagnon will argue that the Rams often bounce back from adversity (they haven't lost three consecutive games since the first half of 2019, and this is their first two-game skid since last season) and that Goff wasn't exactly the key to L.A.'s success before suffering his thumb injury. But few would argue Arizona isn't the better all-around team, and at least it has its starting quarterback.
Maybe the Rams have run out of bounce-backs.
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Consensus: Arizona -3
Score Prediction: Cardinals 21, Rams 17
Green Bay Packers (12-3) at Chicago Bears (8-7)
DraftKings Line: Green Bay -5.5
The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears both need wins to take critical steps toward the Super Bowl, so there's at least no question about either squad's motivation. In this case, we can look at a Green Bay team that is coming off just its second win of the year over an above-.500 opponent and a Chicago squad that is only 1-5 against winning teams in 2020.
The Bears don't need to win. They only need to cover a 5.5-point spread in favor of Green Bay. But the majority of our experts still aren't backing Mitchell Trubisky and Co.
"The NFC's No. 1 seed remains in play for the Packers," Sobleski said. "Aaron Rodgers may not play the entire game, but expect the MVP front-runner to create some damage against the Bears defense before he's taken off the field. Besides, the Packers are a much better team than those the Bears played in recent weeks when Trubisky performed better than expected. It'll be a surprise if he continues to do as well against Green Bay."
Trubisky played surprisingly well against the Lions, Texans, Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars, but has he earned anyone's trust? Three of those four teams rank in the bottom four in DVOA against the pass, while Green Bay's pass defense ranks above the league median in that metric.
But a clincher for Gagnon? Chicago's lack of home-field advantage.
There will be nobody at Soldier Field to support the Bears in a game that might be do-or-die, they've lost four of their last six home games under those circumstances, and Rodgers has won seven of his last eight games at Soldier Field, with five of those seven victories coming by at least seven points.
Gagnon: Green Bay
Sobleski: Green Bay
Consensus: Green Bay -5.5
Score Prediction: Packers 30, Bears 23
Tennessee Titans (10-5) at Houston Texans (4-11)
DraftKings Line: Tennessee -7.5
The Houston Texans have lost three consecutive games by at least six points, and the last came at home against the lowly Bengals. With that in mind, it's easy to argue they'll have no fight left against the hungry Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
But does anybody want to spot the Titans more than a touchdown in Houston after seeing what J.J. Watt essentially telegraphed to his teammates last week?
None of our analysts are laying 7.5 points with Tennessee on the road.
"Don't get me wrong. I think the Tennessee Titans will win this game," Davenport said. "Houston can't stop the run to save its life, which means Derrick Henry should get approximately all the carries ever in Week 17. But the Texans can score points, and the Tennessee defense, in technical terms, is awful. The Titans will get the victory that gives them the AFC South title, but Houston will keep things close enough to get the cover."
They usually do. They took the Titans to overtime in Nashville earlier this season and beat them there last December. Keep in mind that Deshaun Watson is the AFC's highest-rated passer and that Tennessee's pass defense ranks 30th in DVOA.
Consensus: Houston +7.5
Score Prediction: Titans 30, Texans 27
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
DraftKings Line: Indianapolis -14
Nobody in our gang is actually taking the Jacksonville Jaguars to upset the Indianapolis Colts in the other late-afternoon AFC South matchup, but the majority is happy to take those 14 points with a Jacksonville team that defeated the Colts for its only win this season.
"The Colts have everything to lose, and the Jaguars don't," Sobleski said. "With the No. 1 overall pick secured and jobs on the line, expect Jacksonville's players to give everything they have in Week 17 while trying to play spoiler. If anything, the approach should keep this contest closer than a two-touchdown spread."
Philip Rivers isn't healthy for the Colts, who just lost left tackle Anthony Castonzo to a season-ending ankle injury. Can they really take advantage of the Jags' 31st-ranked pass defense in terms of DVOA?
But this isn't a unanimous consensus, either, and the dissenting argument centers on the Colts having a tied-for-league-high five 17-plus-point victories this season, while only the Jets have more 17-plus-point losses than the Jags (six). Three of those Jacksonville defeats have come in the last three weeks.
Throw in injuries to DJ Chark Jr. and James Robinson for the Jags and this is one you might want to avoid altogether.
Consensus: Jacksonville +14
Score Prediction: Colts 30, Jaguars 20
New Orleans Saints (11-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-10)
DraftKings Line: New Orleans -6.5
More than 80 percent of the public is backing the New Orleans Saints as a 6.5-point favorite on the road against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and 67 percent of our writers are doing the same. The Saints have a shot at the top seed in the NFC, while the Panthers have lost their last two games against winning teams by a combined 31 points.
"When last we saw the Saints, the team was dropping a 50-burger on the Vikings on Christmas night," Davenport said. "It's unlikely that New Orleans can capture the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the possibility exists. And so long as that possibility exists, the Saints will be motivated to give this game maximum effort.
"There's also the matter of the Panthers not being especially good. Add in that the spread here is (barely) less than a touchdown and I'll lay the points on the road."
The Panthers put up a fight in a three-point loss to the Saints earlier this season, but now they might be without Robby Anderson, Brian Burns, Russell Okung and Mike Davis in addition to Christian McCaffrey. It's fair to wonder if they'll phone this one in, and 6.5 points ain't much when you can score like New Orleans.
Davenport: New Orleans
Sobleski: New Orleans
Consensus: New Orleans -6.5
Score Prediction: Saints 28, Panthers 17
Seattle Seahawks (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (6-9)
DraftKings Line: Seattle -6
We're in the midst of a run of picks in which our crew is rolling with heavy public faves. An even larger percentage of bettors are backing the Seattle Seahawks minus six points on the road against the San Francisco 49ers, and this time, the experts are unanimously behind Seattle.
"I wanted to fade the public here," Gagnon said, "but I can't wrap my head around the idea that the Seahawks are spotting San Francisco just six points in a critical game in an empty stadium. Seattle will enter this game believing it has a legitimate shot at the top seed in the NFC. The Seahawks have won three straight games by a combined 53 points, while the 49ers have practically run out of players."
It sure feels that way.
Brandon Aiyuk (ankle), Javon Kinlaw (knee), Deebo Samuel (hamstring), Richard Sherman (calf), K'Waun Williams (shin) and Trent Williams (elbow) have all been out of practice for a San Francisco team that was already without Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas and Jaquiski Tartt. It's been absolutely brutal.
The 49ers did, however, find a way to beat the Cardinals on the road last Saturday, and they're slightly more rested than Seattle here. There's always a risk with a home underdog getting this many points in a divisional game, but that doesn't change the fact the group is getting behind the favorite here.
"It's just hard to see how that incredibly shorthanded offense is going to do anything against the hottest defense in football," Gagnon added.
Consensus: Seattle -6
Score Prediction: Seahawks 30, 49ers 17
Las Vegas Raiders (7-8) at Denver Broncos (5-10)
DraftKings Line: Las Vegas -2
To cap the run on public favorites, only 14 percent of bettors are willing to join lone-wolf Gagnon on the Denver Broncos as a two-point underdog at home Sunday against the eliminated Las Vegas Raiders. The other two members of the crew outvoted this season's picks leader.
They're backing the team with the better record while laying less than a field goal, which doesn't exactly feel like a tremendous risk.
"Jon Gruden has something to prove," Sobleski said. "While it may be too little, too late for the playoffs, the Raiders head coach can't go into the offseason with six losses in Las Vegas' last seven contests, which could have been all seven if not for the miracle against Gregg Williams' Jets defense. Gruden and Co. let another season slip away. A loss to the rival Broncos in the regular-season finale might just break this franchise."
It's been a bit of a rocky sophomore season for Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, but he turned it on against the Dolphins last week and now has a matchup with a bottom-10 run defense in terms of DVOA. Besides, the Broncos offense doesn't appear to have the firepower to exploit Las Vegas's awful D.
The Raiders might merely have to ride Jacobs and shorten a game the Broncos might not have much interest in winning anyway.
Davenport: Las Vegas
Sobleski: Las Vegas
Consensus: Las Vegas -2
Score Prediction: Raiders 24, Broncos 21
Los Angeles Chargers (6-9) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-1)
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -3.5
Books likely wish they could just keep this game off the board. You're essentially rolling the dice against the line they've thrown out there because the Kansas City Chiefs have already indicated they don't care about the result of their Week 17 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers.
That number, by the way, is Los Angeles minus a field goal and a hook, which isn't scaring off any of our correspondents. They're unanimously backing the Bolts on the road.
"With Los Angeles likely to go all-out as Anthony Lynn attempts to keep his job, it's hard to justify taking the Chiefs with a spread anywhere in the single digits here," Gagnon said. "I think the oddsmakers and the public are afraid to make the Chargers bigger favorites because they're the Chargers and they're playing the Chiefs, but they won't look like the Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes and other key starters Sunday.
"The Chargers took the Chiefs to overtime when Kansas City was actually interested in winning back in September, and they went toe-to-toe with K.C. in both of their meetings last season. With the Chiefs committed to rest and the Chargers committed to winning, I don't know how anybody believes this will be close."
When the Saints had wrapped up the NFC's top seed in 2018, they sat back in Week 17 and got hammered by the Panthers. This might have a similar feel.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Consensus: Los Angeles -3.5
Score Prediction: Chargers 27, Chiefs 17
Washington Football Team (6-9) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)
DraftKings Line: Washington -1.5
All the Washington Football Team has to do in Week 17 is beat the four-win, depleted Philadelphia Eagles, and it will be off to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. But the majority of our analysts just don't trust this Washington team enough.
Not after back-to-back brutal losses to Seattle and Carolina. Not on the road against a rival that has nothing to lose and an exciting replacement quarterback in Jalen Hurts. Not with Washington quarterback Alex Smith fighting to get back from an ankle injury.
"Like any NFC East game with a near-pick'em line, this could go either way," Gagnon admitted. "But Jalen Hurts has injected nice energy into the Eagles, and Washington's miserable quarterback situation has become a big problem. Remember, even before he got hurt, Smith had thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes (four). Fletcher Cox's injury could help Washington's cause, but I still think the Eagles show their resiliency and win a close finale at home to spoil everything for their rival."
Appropriately, though, we end the regular season with a decision that is not unanimous.
Consensus: Philadelphia +1.5
Score Prediction: Eagles 23, Washington 20
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