Early leans & analysis Wk 17
Early leans & analysis Wk 17

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 

Arizona +3 @ Atlanta

1:00 PM EST. The Eliminated Bowl. The Falcons were officially eliminated from the playoff race last weekend when they lost to Baltimore, 17-9. The Cardinals aren’t going anywhere either, but that is not news. They’ll be without Kyler Murray, who has yet to undergo knee surgery that will see him out for at least another nine months. Trace McSorley got the start against the Bucs last week and while he passed for 217 yards, he had an interception and two fumbles and will not play this week, In a late-week twist, Kliff Kingsbury named David Blough as the starting QB in place of Colt McCoy. The decision to sit McCoy was done out of an "abundance of caution" after McCoy experienced additional concussion symptoms following Thursday's practice.

What we’re reading and hearing just about everywhere is that these are two teams with very different motivation levels heading into this one. Atlanta has played hard for Arthur Smith all season, and the Falcons need to see what they have with rookie QB Desmond Ridder at the helm. Eight of Atlanta's 10 losses this season have come by one score, including four losses by three points or less. The vibe is very different on the other side of the field, where the Cardinals are counting down the days until vacation starts. That’s the narrative out there but there is much more. 

The offensive line has only two starters from Week 1, right guard Will Hernandez (who spent time on injured reserve) and right tackle Kelvin Beachum, who is banged up and is questionable to play here. At tight end, Zach Ertz is out for the season with rookie Trey McBride taking over. DeAndre Hopkins is also out. At cornerback, Antonio Hamilton, Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson have all missed time due to injuries. Hamilton and Murphy won't play and Wilson is questionable. And there is no Budda Baker to help them, as the Pro Bowl safety's season is over with a broken shoulder. According to the Cardinals, 34 different players have missed a combined 213 games due to injury this season and that list will grow over the next two weeks. Thirty-five different players have seen action this season on offense, and 34 on defense. Do we need to go on?

We have consistently preached about the dangers of fading teams based on injuries. Do you think the oddsmakers are unaware? Do you think you have an edge because of privileged information? With Trace McSorley and DeAndre Hopkins making one catch for four yards last week, Arizona easily covered against Tampa Bay. You think that David Blough doesn’t care? Another player that will want to finish strong is future Hall of Fame defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who announced his retirement this week. That’s two dudes we can count on that are not going to be lacking in motivation.

Most importantly, when we wrote this gane up on Friday, Atlanta was a -3-point favorite. With the 24-hour NFL news cycle hinting that McCoy wasn’t likely to play and Hopkins was doubtful, the inefficient market started hammering the Falcons to drive the price to what it is now. We don’t know if Arizona is going to cover. What we do know is that Desmond Ridder and the Dirty Birds cannot be priced in this range against another professional NFL team. Ridder’s learning curve is only starting and he's trying to learn on the job with nearly no weapons of note. The Falcons committee backfield hasn't been more than average overall this year and has declined as the season progressed much as it did in 2021. Next week, the Falcons close out the season at home against the Bucs with possibly a chance to knock Brady and Co. out of the playoff picture. Yeah, Atlanta might be looking ahead. Why wouldn’t they? 

Try not to be influenced by all the media spewing its BS about the Cards not caring. You don’t think Kliff Kingsbury is aware he’s on the hot seat? He wants to keep his job or at the very least, he wants to look good for potential employers in any capacity in the likely event that he is given the ax.   

Finally, the oddsmakers couldn’t give a rats ass about who is out and who is not for Arizona. If they did, they would have taken this game off the board or they would’ve waited for more info before posting a price. They didn’t because they couldn’t care less and welcomed all wagers. If you bet on Atlanta here, of course you may win but if you decide to, you would be playing them at a horrible and inflated price. There are roughly 40 to 50 young and hungry guys on that Arizona sideline auditioning for jobs next year. It is a massive window of opportunity and they are going to play their hearts out. Ridder and the Falcons spotting this type of lumber is a weak play that should be avoided. We’re calling the upset but will absolutely scoop up the inflated points.  Recommendation: Arizona +6½

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

Jacksonville  @ Houston +4

1:00 PM EST. What is on the line here for Jacksonville has been well publicized, as the Jaguars have played their way into first place in the AFC South, as the Titans continue to free fall. We “like” what the Jags are cooking up under Trevor Lawrence and head coach Doug Pederson. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what we “like,” or “think,” or “feel.” Those are all words that should be removed from any sports bettors vocabulary.

How can we not like Jacksonville? Duval County has won four of their last five games both straight up and against the spread. When you start winning and cashing tickets in a market where winning and cashing tickets is the most influential thing you can do, you are going to get noticed.

We don’t want to be the ones to rain on this potential playoff parade, but in the grand scheme of things this is a meaningless game for the Jaguars. Much like the Titans, who took their Thursday night game in Dallas off in advance of a winner take all game against the Jaguars next week, the Jags do not benefit from a win of any kind here. Seriously, do the math. Even if the Jags win this week to go to 8-8, if they lose to Tennessee next week, both they and the Titans would finish 8-9, but Tennessee holds the tiebreaker.

We doubt that Doug Pederson is going to celebrate that fact to his players this week, but it has to be in the back of their minds, no? This is a preseason game in everything but name. What reason do the Jags have to risk anything, either injury or even opening up their playbook to the Titans? Tennessee coach Mike Vrable had no shame in his approach to Week 17, sitting starters and saving his big guns like Derrick Henry for the game that really counts next week. 

Meanwhile at 2-12-1, the Texans are in line for the first overall pick, but do not think these 52 guys that dress for them are going to be concerned about the future of Bryce Young, Will Anderson, Jalen Carter, Bijan Robinson or even C.J. Stroud. If you're Davis Mills, you’ve got two more weeks to convince the Texans brass that another QB like Young or Stroud is not needed. For the rest of the young Texans, they are playing for their futures. Lovie Smith is a coach that likes a particular style of player. One that will play hard and not quit. It’s in these games you find those diamonds in the rough. The most likely scenario here is that the Jags will bring their C game here, thus allowing the Texans to get win number three. Recommendation: Houston +4

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

Cleveland +2 @ Washington

1:00 PM EST. Diving into the analytics over at Football Outsiders is one of our favorite things to do each week. The wealth of information offered by that group of bright football minds is vast. It’s so easy to pull on a thread and then head down a rabbit hole because you never know what you are going to find. That’s exactly what happened when we were researching this game.

We’ll save the playoff scenarios for the end, as they are the ones that will be covered ad nauseam until kickoff. Instead, we are going to spend time on a little statistic called Estimated Wins, which is exactly as it sounds. The Football Outsiders crew throw all their fancy stats and game situations into the big computer and out spits the number of wins a team “should” have if everything had gone the way it was supposed to. 

In the cases of the Browns and the Commanders, the Estimated Wins were different from the ones these two teams have posted in the standings. We often discuss that winning trumps all, but that wins and losses are not always a true reflection of a team’s quality or lack thereof. 

Washington, who is 7-7-1, and currently in possession of the third Wild Card, sports an Estimated Win total of just 6.2 all while playing the 17th ranked Strength of Schedule. In a world where the playoff field is larger than ever and with one more game added to the schedule to go along with that, an extra win and a tie are enough to make a huge difference on a team’s outlook.

The Browns are 6-9 and have already been eliminated from playoff contention. However, despite all of the turmoil and drama, Cleveland has an Estimated Win total of 8.0 after playing the fifth-toughest schedule in the league. They say life’s not fair in love and football, well buddy, the Browns are the walking embodiment of that.

Because the Brownies are done and the Commanders are still “in it,” market perception is that Washington must be the play here because it “must win.” Hell, even if the ‘Manders do win this game, it’s not going to be enough to clinch, as they would still need losses by Seattle, Green Bay, and Detroit. Don’t buy the “must win” angle, it’s lame and it rarely works and don’t pay a premium to back the inferior former Football Team. Wrong side favored. Cleveland +2

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

Indianapolis +5½ @ N.Y. Giants

1:00 PM EST. It’s nearly impossible to come up with the words to pump up the pathetic Colts (who blew the biggest lead ever two weeks ago, and then chased that with a no show on Sunday Night Football last week) while keeping a straight face, so we’re not going to bother. Even if we were wordsmiths the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolkien, or Poe, those words about a beaten down old horse, gasping for its last breaths, desperate to be put out of its misery back behind the barn, would fall on deaf ears.

With the Colts out of the way, let’s put the spotlight on the Giants, where it should be, as Big Blue can clinch a playoff spot with a win here or next week against the Eagles. If we were to ask 100 people about who they would rather face given those two choices, we’re sure 100 people would answer “Indianapolis.” If we know this, surely the Giants know this, too. That’s a lot of pressure, no?

While technically this is not a “must win” for the Giants, there is going to be a ton of heat if they do not knock off the lowly Colts and lock in that spot. We don’t care who dresses for the Eagles next week, if they have the chance to send the Giants home, they are going to throw the kitchen sink at the G-Men. If anything, there would be MORE pressure on the Giants to win in a game against the Philadelphia reserves than there is to beat this downtrodden Indy side.

If the Giants were a team that was underperforming or even one that was performing at its talent level, we might not be so eager to suggest they are going to crumble under the immense pressure of the biggest media market in the league and in the shadow of their roommates, who are also contending for a postseason position, but that’s not the case. 

The G-Men’s current standing is so far above their talent level that it would make most politicians blush. A quick look at the analytics shows us that the Giants are just the 23rd ranked squat by Weighted DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which values the games played most recently to assess a team’s current form. For some perspective, the Jets are 13th. The four NFC teams that all trail the Giants are all ranked higher than them—Washington-19th, Seattle-10th, Detroit-9 and Green Bay-11th. There are no bigger frauds in this league than the Giants, and surely they know it. Careful, boys, this old Blue Horseshoe is priced like it has one more good swift kick in the ass left in it. Recommendation: Indianapolis +5½

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

San Francisco @ Las Vegas +9

4:05 PM EST. No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you, as the Raiders are taking back a huge pile of points here. You may have noticed that the 49ers opened at what now looks like a modest 5½-point favorite, but that number has now skyrocketed on the news that the Raiders will bench QB Derek Carr for the rest of the season. You may recall a couple of months ago we wrote about how Las Vegas was in a tough spot when it comes to head coach Josh McDaniels, who is the one that made this call. With more than one former coach already on the payroll, the Raiders flat out cannot afford to fire McDaniels and are stuck with him unless owner Mark Davis wants to patrol the sidelines himself. We’re not going to get into the behind the scenes drama in Las Vegas, but from the outside, this looks like a power play and a big “eff you” from the embattled coach to his boss.

Carr will not even dress when Jarrett Stidham takes his place under center, as the former franchise pivot has been given permission to “take off ‘eh?” and he is no longer required to stick around the Raiders facility through the end of the season. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Raiders are going to cut Carr to get out of the three remaining years and over $100-million still remaining on his contract. Vegas can cut ties with Carr after this season and limit the financial damage to both their bottom line and their cap space.

Stidham will make his first start here as a pro. Dude was All-SEC in his sophomore year at Auburn, where he also won the SEC’s Newcomer of the Year in 2017. Stidham would lead the Tigers to a SEC West Division crown after he knocked off both Alabama and Georgia, but that team would lose to UCF in the Peach Bowl. Sensing his stock was high, Stidham split Auburn before his senior season and declared for the draft, but he didn’t get as much love as he may have thought after falling to New England in round four.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are rolling with their new quarterback, having not missed a beat under Brock Purdy, AKA “Mr. Irrelevant.” We’re not going to spend much time on the ‘Niners, as they are the hottest team in football. A true powerhouse, and Super Bowl contender. However, whether or not the 49ers are any good is not the question here. The question is are the ‘Niners spotting inflated points to a first time starter? With at least a four point jump since open (and more likely coming), we are going to have to come down hard on the “yes” side of that argument. As hard as it might be to back the Raiders, who look to be a mess, we cannot recommend spotting inflated points. Recommendation: Las Vegas +9½

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

N.Y. Jets @ Seattle +1½

4:05 PM EST. When something stinks, we can often sniff it out pretty easily. Well, this line stinks. How can the Jets be favored on the road in a tough as nails, loud as hell place to play like Seattle, especially when there are stakes on the line for both sides?

This anomaly forced us to dig deep and from what we can see, there has been a great overreacting to the return of Mike White to the Jets lineup. The “lookahead” lines, which are those posted for the weeks ahead rather than the one we are in, had the Seahawks favored, as did a few outfits at open. However, after White was named the Jets’ starter, those roles flipped and the Jets became the chalk. Y'all, we know that Zach Wilson is not good and his 92 passing yards against the Jaguars last Thursday night were truly pathetic, but are we supposed to believe Mike White, who is coming off broken ribs and who will be backed up by Joe Flacco are worthy of this distinction?

We might as well get the playoff implications off our plate, as they are not nearly as interesting on either side as they were before these teams lost a combined seven games over the last four weeks. We’re just going to give you the numbers because the rest is so convoluted—the Jets have a 15% shot to get in the dance, while the Seahawks are slightly higher at 27%. The reality is both need a ton of help, so until one team wins this week and we see what else shakes out, it’s really not worth discussing. It’s just useless fodder for the talking heads, as they look to what will “motivate” two teams that are barely hanging on. 

Seattle is coming off games against the suddenly warm Panthers, the red-hot 49ers and the juggernaut Chiefs and didn't look out of place oin any of them. The Seahawks could've beat both ther 49ers and Panthers (lost by once score) and now they'll take a big step down in class when facing the Jets. Add in the home-field edge, one of the best in the league and we don't see how the Seachickens can be favored here. Recommendation: Seattle +1½

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

Pittsburgh @ Baltimore -2

8:20 PM EST. The status of Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson has been at the forefront again this week, but it looks as of this writing, he is not going to play. We were expecting an overreaction in the market no matter which way that cookie crumbled, but now that it’s pretty well been decided Jackson is a no go, we’ve seen the “injury chasers” attempt to take advantage.

To suggest that the oddsmakers did not have a pretty good idea that Jackson would not play when they posted the Ravens as a 4-point favorite would be pretty naive. Everyone in the football world knows that Lamar’s status has been the primary topic of discussion in Baltimore, as he’s missed nearly all of December after getting hurt in the Ravens Week 13 edging of Denver, 10-9.

If Jackson hasn’t been top of mind, then Baltimore’s offensive impotence under Tyler Huntley, who by no fault of his own has been getting roasted by the hot talk satirizers for being the fourth alternate on the AFC’s Pro Bowl team. In most years, this would not matter, but in this year, when the game won’t even be played, it means even less. All it does is shine a brighter light on just how bad the Raven’s offense has been in recent weeks. After all, how can a dude who is leading a unit that has averaged just 11½ Points Per Game under him make a Pro Bowl? Bad takes aside, the Ravens are winning and they’re still in a position to win the AFC North. With the Bengals playing on Monday night in Buffalo, the Ravens will have no reason not to believe that they can take down Cincinnati from behind.

As we discussed with the Packers, when a blue blood like the Steelers starts to win, the bandwagon fills up quickly. After winning four of its last five, that Pittsburgh still has a look at the postseason is a nice story, but the reality is, the Steelers have just a 2½% chance to get in. That’s not good and it’s not worth going through the many scenarios that need to happen.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the emotional night that took place in Pittsburgh last Saturday, where the Steelers honored Franco Harris and his legacy in light of his sudden death on December 20. The festivities for Harris were already scheduled, as he was set to have his #32 retired. Instead, it was a celebration of his life, with every Steelers player wearing Harris’ jersey into the stadium. The Steelers would come from behind to beat the Raiders on the 50th anniversary of “The Catch.” You couldn't write a better ending for a chilly Christmas Eve in Western Pennsylvania and when the Steelers picked off Derek Carr with 29 seconds left, those gathered at former Heinz Field let out a sigh of relief. The game was finally over and it was time for more tears to be shed. Is it unreasonable to suggest there could be an emotional letdown in this spot, even with the hated Ravens in town on Sunday Night Football? Even if Pittsburgh is fully invested in punching Baltimore right in the mouth, the Ravens are more than capable of punching back and covering this short price on their home field. Recommendation: Baltimore -2½

Our Pick

Early leans & analysis Wk 17 (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)