Early leans & analysis Wk 17
Early leans & analysis

Posted Saturday, December 30 at 1:00 PM EST. Odds are subject to change.

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NFL Week 17

What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is also the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday. We’re intent on providing our We’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on Friday but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST

Sunday, January 1

NFL Week 17  

Carolina @ Tampa Bay -3

1:00 PM EST. We vowed weeks ago to never bet another dollar on Tom Brady and we’re not going to come off that stance this week. The Buccaneers can lock up the saddest of division championships with a win here, while the Panthers need a victory to keep their slim shot at that same NFC South crown alive for another week.


We often preach that no one, no ONE can predict games by dissecting the X’s and O’s, and this game is no different. The winners and losers each week are those breaks, bounces, penalties and turnovers in their favor. While we cannot predict which team that will be, there have been strong indications over time that any team quarterbacked by Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is going to be the team that is going to get those calls, especially the flags, when they matter the most. 


We’re not trying to say that the outcome of this game is predetermined, but we are saying that Uncle Roger and the networks would much rather have Brady hosting a playoff game on Wild Card weekend rather than a team led by Sam Darnold or Andy Dalton. As for where the value lies, unfortunately, it appears that is with the Bucs. When these two teams played back in Week 7, Tampa was a double digit favorite in Charlotte. Now, 10 weeks later, the Bucs are just a 3-point favorite at home in Tampa. Look, we don’t want to wager on Brady, but if a wager is to be made here, holding our noses and taking the Bucs is the only play. Recommendation: Tampa Bay -3


Philadelphia @ New Orleans +6½

1:00 PM EST. The Eagles lost very little in their unlucky 40-34 defeat in Dallas on Christmas Eve, as Philadelphia can still clinch the NFC East, a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win here or even next week against the Giants. Perhaps more important for the Eagles is the status of Jalen Hurts, who is still nursing that shoulder injury. If Hurts’ status at practice this week is any indication (he didn’t participate), Gardiner Minshew is going to get the nod here, and likely next week, too, which would give Hurts three more weeks to recover for the Divisional round.


We doubt the market will be phased by the prospect of Minshew starting, as it didn’t care that he started last week in Dallas. Rightfully, Minshew has a solid reputation as a QB that could start for half the teams in this league, New Orleans included.


The Saints faintly cling to life in the NFC South, but they do not control their own destiny, as a Tampa Bay win would seal up that division for the Bradys. The Saints have a shot, but it’s not going to be easy, as they need to win their last two games, while also needing the Buccaneers to lose both of theirs to Carolina and Atlanta. If the Saints win here, and the Bucs lose, New Orleans would play the Panthers in a potential winner takes all next week. You can’t start a fire without a spark, well this game is that spark for the Saints. 


Rather than ramble on, we’re going to get right into the heart of the matter, which is of course this opening line of 6½, which on the surface, is going to look like a very manageable number for the Eagles to cover. We do not know how much urgency there is on the Eagles side, as they’ll still have another crack at clinching. We can only trust that oddsmakers knew what they were doing when they priced the Eagles like this. In a world, where the books need to protect themselves mostly from teaser tickets and money line parlays, would it have not been in their best interest to tack on a couple extra points here? We doubt if the Eagles were -8½ that too many bets would be swayed. The number dictates the play here, and that number tells us that the Saints are supposed to be a live pooch that has a great shot to win this game outright. Recommendation: New Orleans +6½


Chicago +6 @ Detroit

1:00 PM EST. Market perception here is of course that the Lions have everything to play for, while the Bears have nothing. At this time of year, that is a common perception in many of these games, but it is a perception that is totally warped and nothing more than another useless talking point for the scumbag pick sellers and pundits. Much like the “revenge” and or any of the other useless trends or angles you see spewed out each week, siding with a team that has “something to play for” is more of that same low hanging fruit. It’s lazy and it’s boring. If you hear that kind of chatter (and you will trust us) turn the station. If you read it, close your browser and chuck your phone in the toilet. 


After you’ve saved your mobile from being flushed you can join us at a little junction we like to call, “Misery Loves Company.” Taking down one of your fiercest rivals is as motivating as playing for a playoff spot. For the Bears this week, between the players and coaches, nothing would be as satisfying as taking down the Lions. Furthermore, the Bears can accomplish that without any pressure on them whatsoever.


While it wasn’t a “must win” last week in Carolina, it was billed as such, and the Lions performed as you would expect a squad with the moniker, “The Team of the 50s” would, by blowing their best chance to punch a ticket to the postseason for the first time in six seasons. Yeah, we were a little surprised that it hasn’t been that long either and that Jim Caldwell’s dopey ass led the Lions to the playoffs twice (both Wild Card losses), but we digress. There is a reason the Lions are the Lions and that they have a reputation as perennial losers that can’t win when it matters most. To that point, Detroit didn’t even get off the bus in Charlotte and was steamrolled by the Panthers, 37-23, with that final score flattering the Lions greatly.


In hockey they call it “gripping your stick too tight,” but that is the situation the Lions find themselves in now. The weight of the world is on their shoulders. Last week was Detroit’s best chance to keep pace and make a run at the playoffs, but now the Lions need all the help in the world. In addition to a win over the Bears, which will not come easily, Detroit needs to beat the Packers next week. The Lions could also use some help by way of the Commanders and Seahawks dropping their remaining games, too. While it technically wasn’t the death knell in the Lions season, that loss last week in Carolina might as well have been. Instead of holding all the cards, the Lions flipped the table and now have the rest of the players pointing their pistols at them. That’s likely not going to end well. Recommendation: Chicago +6


Denver +12½ @ Kansas City

1:00 PM EST. The Broncos were the talk of  the football world again this week, and again it was for all the wrong reasons, as they sent former first year head coach Nathaniel Hackett packing with two games left to go. Did Hackett deserve better? Maybe. He wasn’t the one who traded a king’s ransom to the Seahawks for the charred remains of Russell Wilson. Nor did he trade the heart of the franchise, Von Miller, last season. 


Miller, who is still basically the mayor of the Mile High City, went on Pat McAfee’s show this week and threw his two cents into the discussion of who should be the next head coach in Denver, “Everybody wants to talk about Sean Payton and all of these guys. I think for me, we’re riding on the Russell Wilson ship, we’re riding on the success of Russell Wilson. I want to get a coach that has some kind of experience with Russ and brought the best out of Russ.” 


It’s not a huge surprise that Miller would side with his brethren on the field, but he makes a great point that whoever the Broncs hire next is saddled up with Wilson for better or worse. Those first rounders John Elway sent to John Schneider and the Seahawks are not coming back. Hell, Schneider is going to win Executive of the Year on the back of that now lopsided trade. The next coach is going to be in a huge hole, while Elway sits a mile high in his big fancy office. Free from criticism with a Super Bowl ring plugging each ear hole.


The top of the AFC is a three horse race that could still go anyway, as the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals are all vying for that first round bye, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Kansas City does not control its own destiny, as a Bills win either this week or next will lock that top spot up for Buffalo, as the Chiefs lose that tiebreaker by way of their Week 6 loss to the Bills. We mention the Bengals only because if there is a three way tie between those three teams, Cincinnati would get the one seed. The Bills and Bengals play on Monday night so much of this mess will be sorted when the dust on Week 17 settles.


The way it’s most likely to play out, the Chiefs are going to be locked into the number two position, which will earn them a home playoff game on Wild Card weekend. Kansas City has already locked up the AFC West and cannot fall further than 3rd, which is more unlikely than their climbing up to 1st. With their spot all but locked in, how hard is coach Andy Reid going to want to push his guys, as they prepare for another Super Bowl run? As much as the Broncos are a total disaster, that is not the kind of question we want to be asking while holding a ticket spotting a significant price. Recommendation: Denver +12½


Miami +1 @ New England

1:00 PM EST. The playoff implications here are simple so we’ll get right to them. If the Dolphins win this game, the Patriots are golfing in two weeks. However, Miami would still need help by way of a Jets loss to clinch its playoff spot in Week 17. If both the Dolphins and Jets win this week, it sets up a “winner take all” game next Sunday in South Beach. As for the “must win” end of this coin, which is the Patriots, we can’t help but notice they do not pass the eye test. The G.O.A.T. coach has loaded up on scrubs and it’s costing him dearly now without Tom Brady in his prime to pick up the slack. The Pats were down 22-0 last week before Bill Belichick could change into his good hoodie, you know, the one with the sleeves, but the Bengals for one reason or another let their foot off the gas and allowed the Pats to make the final score a respectable 22-18, which flatters  New England greatly. 


With that all out of the way, we must tackle the medical malpractice (allegedly) in the room, and that is the status of Miami pivot, Tua Tagovailoa, who was once again hammered by a hard hit and was allowed to finish a game despite clearly being concussed. We say “again” because the carelessness displayed by the Dolphins coaches and medical staff on Christmas day was not the first time they’ve done their franchise QB wrong this season. You may remember (you know Tua doesn’t) that Tagovailoa was cracked in the Fish's Week 3 game v Buffalo. Tua was not only allowed to finish that game but he would also start on a short week in Cincinnati, where he got cracked again, this time in front of the football world.


Now you would think that awful scene of Tua convulsing unconsciously on the field on Thursday Night Football would have been enough for the Dolphins and certainly, the league to make sure that scene was not repeated, but here we are just less than four months later and we talking about Miami’s season resting on the arm of one Teddy “Wobbly Balls” Bridgewater.


The heat the Dolphins are taking this week is warranted, but we’re going to leave how they proceed next season and whether or not Tua will play again for Miami or anyone else to the talking heads. Instead, we are going to talk about our “injury chasers” strategy, which we’ve already seen in full force, as this line has moved from the Dolphins being favored on the road in New England to now being the underdog. That extreme overreaction is due to one thing—no Tua, but it’s not like he was setting the world ablaze either. 


Miami had lost four straight prior to last week’s loss to the Packers, and they’ve covered just once in those four defeats. The Fish were not losing pretty either, as they got rolled by the 49ers (33-17), dropped a 23-17 decision to the Chargers as a 3-point favorite and then lost outright by a touchdown at home as the favorite to the Packers last week. The point being, are we sure the Fish are not better off under “Wobbly Balls?” Recommendation: Miami +2½



Minnesota +3 @ Green Bay

4:25 PM EST. This game features two teams that the market perceives are headed in opposite directions. First up we’ll start with the surging Packers, who like other blue blood squads such as the Steelers can have their hype trains heated up very quickly. Green Bay was left for dead around Thanksgiving, but since then have won three straight games to find themselves back in the playoff race. How “in it” the Packers are will depend on the talking head you are forced to listen to babble on about their chances.


Last week, the Packers got every break outside of their control, as the Commanders, Giants, Lions and Seahawks all lost, which worked in Green Bay’s favor. In their own game, a win over Miami on Christmas morning, the Packers benefited greatly from another undiagnosed Tua Tagovailoa concussion, as he got his bell rung, but still finished that game despite the quality of his play dropping off significantly after he was hit. 


Entering Week 17, the Pack are on the outside looking in, and they still need to win out and have the Commanders lose one of their remaining games to get in, or the Packers need that same scenario and the Giants to lose both of their games. If you’re more of a numbers guy who wants the odds, the Packers playoff hopes are 31.6%, while the Commanders are 29.7% and the Seahawks are 25%.


Meanwhile the Vikings have been fighting off the reputation they’ve developed in the market as frauds. How else can anyone justify a 12-3 team being offered up these points against one that is just 7-8? This is the ultimate “buy low, sell high” situations, and one of the best opportunities on that front we’ve seen this season. We cannot predict the outcome of this game, but there is only one way to play this one as purveyors of value, and that is to side with the Vikes, who have not cashed a ticket in three weeks.


To close, how can the Vikings, champions of the NFC North, not feel disrespected by this line? This is fine locker room fodder in a game that needs little. Minnesota can stamp out the Packers playoff hopes at Lambeau Field. Other than a run to the Super Bowl, what else could a Purple People Eater want in this life? Recommendation: Minnesota +3


L.A. Rams +6 @ L.A. Chargers

4:25 PM EST. The Chargers punched their ticket to the playoffs last week with that Monday night win over the Titans. They currently sit in the sixth position in the AFC, but there is a chance they could fall to seventh, or move as high as fifth. However, we have to wonder how much the Chargers care about that, as they celebrated this playoff berth last week like they had already won the Super Bowl. We get that nine years is a long time, but let's not act as if just “getting in” is going to matter if the Chargers get whacked by the Chiefs, Bengals, or Bills on Wild Card Weekend.


When we see an emotional dump like the one the Chargers took at SoFi Stadium on Monday Night Football, it always resonates. In an emotional game like this, it can be very difficult to get back to the level you need to be at once you cross the finish line on that season’s goal. Just look at the Vikings last week v the Giants after they clinched the NFC North in the biggest comeback of all time. Sure, Minnesota won that game, but they did not look interested until the last three minutes or so when the game was on the line. The Chiefs, winners of the AFC West, have also struggled to stay engaged since clinching that division and settling into the second seed in the conference.


With as many injuries as the Chargers have racked up and suffered through this season, we have to wonder when or if head coach Brandon Staley is going to shut it down. His team needs to win these last two games like they need a hole in the head. Fifth seed, six seed, seventh seed, who gives a shit? If we were the owners of the Chargers we’d be telling Staley to sit everyone, we’re going to get healthy for our Wild Card game at all costs.


It’s for that reason and the others we’ve discussed that the Chargers are going to be a tough team to trust when spotting points. We understand that Baker Mayfield and the Rams lit it up on Christmas, but that was against the lowly Broncos, and it was a meaningless game that was easy to skip if someone actually wanted to spend some time with their family between the Miami/Green Bay and Tampa Bay/Arizona games, which had playoff implications. Regardless, 100 million people could have watched the Rams beat the Broncos and we doubt it would have had much of an influence this week. The perception is the Rams are done for the year and the Chargers have work left to do, but that is just not the case. The inflated points present great value here. Recommendation: L.A. Rams +6

Our Pick

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