Editor's Note: Due to the state of flux that is Week 17, we have decided to not break down the games between the Jets/Patriots, Vikings/Lions, Chiefs/Chargers and Broncos/Raiders, as both sides of those games have all been eliminated from playoff contention and motivation is shaky at best, with the added potential for backups playing more minutes than usual. All remaining 13 games for Sunday are below.
Author's Note: Two stats that I will be referencing throughout this weekly matchups column are Yards Per Point (YPP). and DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average). The goal of YPP is for an offense or defense to make the most of their opportunities when it comes to scoring points, but there are some important things that YPP doesn’t account for that DVOA does. In fact, DVOA accounts for everything YPP does plus important factors like turnovers, field position (where your drive starts) and special teams.
These stats not only play a big part in scoring/preventing points, but they also play a big part in winning/covering spreads. With these statistics, my goal is to help us figure out which are the teams that are the most efficient at scoring AND at preventing points. A quick primer on YPP and its importance in our handicapping: One of, if not THE most powerful measuring statistics in football, to measure how great an offense or defense is (or isn’t), in my opinion, is Yards Per Point (YPP). Yards Per Point is effective because it measures how many yards an offense gains before they score a point. A different stat that is regularly used by handicappers isYards Per Play, which only takes into account how many yards an offense gains and not its scoring. Gaining yards is a good thing to measure, sure, but in this world, we need to score points, and it does us no favors if a team gains yards without producing those points.
This is where YPP will come into play for us. For an offense, the lower the YPP is, the better. Between 10-13 is a very good YPP number for an NFL offense, while 14-15 is average and 16 or lower I consider to be below average for an NFL offense. For defenses, the higher the YPP number is, the better. A defense with a high YPP doesn’t give up a lot of points for the yards that are gained against them. Throughout our weekly matchups column I will reference this stat quite often here.
Washington (-4.5) @ Eagles **Best Bet**
The Philadelphia Eagles suffered a loss last week, officially knocking them out of contention to win the NFC East and their only chance to make the playoffs. I like this spot for the Washington Football Team because it can control its own destiny with a win. Win, and they're in. It's that simple in Week 17. With Alex Smith more than likely to start at this point, I like Washington's chances even more at beating a depleted Eagles squad that also be without star running back Miles Sanders for this contest. Smith, on the other hand, was the quarterback that Washington responded to the most this season. The veteran signal-caller simply just made smarter decisions with the football than Dwayne Haskins did. The Football Team will lean on its defense to try and keep the Eagles and Jalen Hurts in check here. Washington is ranked 4th overall in total yards allowed, 3rd in passing yards allowed and 5th in points allowed. Chase Young is having a great rookie season with 6.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles, and he’s coming off an amazing week against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 after recording another sack, forcing a fumble and getting another fumble recovery. In Week 1, the last time these two teams faced off, Young also had 1.5 sacks against a still-decimated Eagles offensive line. The Eagles showed how bad their defense was last week against the Cowboys once Fletcher Cox left the game with an injury, and his absence will be more than felt on a team with simply nothing other than "pride" left to play for. On top of all the injuries the Eagles have dealt with this year, they’re expected to be without another 12-15 key players that played a week ago. Washington should win this game and get in the playoffs as the NFC East champions. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles were doing Washington a favor by giving them a win, because that’ll send Alex Smith to the playoffs and make his comeback story even more sweeter than it already is. Washington is also expected to get stud wideout Terry McLaurin back, even if he's not 100% for this game I expect him to feast on this atrocious Eagles secondary, and for this team to rally behind Smith one more time, for one more win.
Best Bet: Washington -4.5
Steelers (+9) @ Browns **Teaser Pick**
Last week the Cleveland Browns could’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs and put themselves in a position to play for the AFC North division crown, but they blew it with a loss to the New York Jets. This week they can still clinch a playoff spot, however, with a win over the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers might also have done the Browns a favor by giving Ben Roethlisberger the week off and going with Mason Rudolph under center. A big reason why the Browns lost last week is that their top four wide receivers were suddenly placed on the COVID list and the offense struggled to move the ball, averaging just four yards per play and not surprisingly leaning on their running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Cleveland gets all of four of its top wide receivers back in Week 17, and I don’t think Kevin Stefanski makes the same mistake twice. I believe we’ll see Chubb and Hunt involved in the game plan early and often, no matter how good the Steelers rush defense has been all year. Pittsburgh's run defense has been vulnerable as of late, however, allowing the Indianapolis Colts to rush for 127 yards on 4.5 yards per carry between Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Chubb and Hunt should be able to have the same or better performance here in this spot, considering the Steelers are likely to rest more starters on defense because they haven’t had a true bye week all season. Look for the Browns to roll and clinch a playoff berth here.
Like: Browns -3 **Tease by 6**
Cowboys (-1.5) @ Giants **Teaser Pick**
The Dallas Cowboys and New York Football Giants still both have a shot at making the playoffs by winning their division with a win and a Washington Football Team loss. It seems like Andy Dalton has found a nice rhythm playing in this Cowboys offense, leading them to score 30 or more points over the last three games while averaging 257 yards and only 1 interception in the process. Ever since their upset win over the Seattle Seahawks on the road as double digit dogs, the Giants have been headed in the wrong direction going as of late, going 0-3 SU and ATS in their last three games. Back in these teams' first matchup, Dalton came in for an injured Dak Prescott and played really well on a small sample size, completing 80% of his passes on 10.1 yards per attempt while Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both nearly averaged five yards per carry. I’m expecting that type of offensive production to continue for a surprisingly hot Cowboys squad, and this could be Dalton’s best game since he took over Dallas' starting role.
Like: Cowboys (+4.5) **Tease by 6**
Dolphins (+3) @ Bills
The Miami Dolphins control their own destiny with a win in Week 17 against the division rival Buffalo Bills. Win, and they’re in the playoffs with one of the AFC wild card spots. With a loss to Buffalo, then Miami could potentially still make the playoffs, but it would need one of the Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Ravens to lose. All in all, expect the Dolphins to play with extra motivation to get a win. The Bills, on the other hand, will more than likely rest some starters and key players in this spot. Some other key guys for Buffalo could also just play one half of football as they’ve already won the division and secured a playoff spot and would only lose its grip on the number two seed with a Steelers win (with backups) over the must-win Browns. The Dolphins won’t have the luxury to go to Ryan Fitzpatrick if Tua Tagovailoa struggles, however, because Fitzpatrick tested positive for COVID and will be out for this game. Back in Week 2 it was Fitzpatrick that lit up this Bills secondary for 328 yards and two touchdowns, so hopefully for Dolphins fans Tua is able to study where Fitzpatrick was able to take advantage of this Bills secondary and duplicate that performance. I'll still bet on Tua to beat the Buffalo backups here though.
Like: Dolphins +3
Falcons (+6.5) @ Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already clinched a playoff spot after their Week 16 win against the Detroit Lions, they still might be playing with some motivation to get a win in Week 17, because that would mean locking up the 5th seed a matchup against the NFC East champions (4th seed) in the first round. The Bucs and division rival Atlanta Falcons both tend to score a lot points when they match up, with the over hitting in the last five matchups between these two teams and the over going 8-2 in the last 10 meetings. The highest total number in the last 10 matchups has been 57, so I like playing the 50.5 over with their last matchup going over the total of 49.5 by 8.5 points. Give me over to hit for six straight here.
Like: Over 50.5
Ravens (-13) @ Bengals
With a win in Week 17, the Baltimore Ravens can secure a wild card spot, and they probably have the easiest path to do so out of all AFC playoff hopefuls with a matchup against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. In these teams' Week 5 matchup - one in which the Bengals had their number one draft pick Joe Burrow under center - the Ravens managed to win by 24 as 12-point favorites and for this matchup they’re still just 13 point favorites at Paul Brown Stadium with Brandon Allen under center instead of the injured Burrow. Lamar Jackson only ran the ball twice in that matchup, but I’m pretty certain with a playoff berth on the line that he’ll run it more than twice here. Lamar has actually ran it at least nine times in his last five games, and with the Bengals being so bad on offense - outside of their Week 16 upset victory over the Houston Texans - then the Ravens could have this win secured by halftime. I will look to play the Ravens first half (-7) and the Lamar Jackson rushing yards player prop to the over as Baltimore rolls.
Like: Lamar Jackson Over 64.5 rushing yards AND Ravens 1H (-7)
Packers (-4.5) @ Bears
With a win, the Chicago Bears are "in." With the way Mitch Tribusky has been playing since being named the starting quarterback (again), that’s certainly possible, but the Green Bay Packers can also clinch the number one overall seed here and earn a first-round bye week. Both teams will obviously be playing with motivation in this NFC North divisional contest, and because of that, this should be one of the better, more entertaining games in the final week of the 2020 regular season. Tribusky has now led the Bears offense to score 30 points or more in their last four games, but those games were also against bottom-dwelling defenses in the Texans, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. In Week 12, the last time these teams met, Trubisky got the start out of the Bears' bye week and led the Bears offense to score 25 points. It wasn't enough, however, as Aaron Rodgers & Company put up 41. We'll see if Trubisky can finally earn a 2021 starting spot for the Bears here, in what should be a close, competitive matchup.
Lean: Bears (+4.5)
Seahawks (-7) @ 49ers
The Seattle Seahawks still have a shot at winning the number one overall seed - although they would need both the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints to lose - so look for them to play with some motivation and secure a win even though they've already won the NFC West division title. They’ll be up against a San Francisco 49ers team that’s looking forward to this season coming to an end. The 49ers started this season with a slew of injuries and will end this season with another slew of injuries. They’ve also had to play their last few home games in Arizona because of their home county being shut down due to COVID. Because of all these factors, I believe that San Francisco is looking forward to getting this season over with and re-tooling in the offseason and getting healthy. Over the last few weeks, this Seahawks defense has been getting healthier in holding the New York Jets, Washington Football Team and Los Angeles Rams all to under 15 points, they should have no issue doing the same thing to the 49ers.
Like: Seahawks -7
Cardinals (-3) @ Rams
The Arizona Cardinals were essentially handed a late Christmas gift to make the playoffs by facing a Los Angeles Rams team without its starting quarterback in Week 17. Jared Goff wasn’t elite by any means, but he’s also significantly better than any backup quarterback on the Rams' roster. Los Angeles already struggles scoring the ball, and now it'll have to depend on a backup quarterback against a motivated Cardinals defense. Kyler Murray is banged up, sure, but he should still be able to depend on the running game with Kenyan Drake shooting for a 1,000-yard season. I believe Drake's impact should be enough for Arizona to get by with a win while Murray plays through injury and is likely limited in his own rushing.
Like: Cardinals -3
Jaguars (+14) @ Colts
The Indianapolis Colts need to win and have any of the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns or Tennessee Titans to lose in order to clinch an AFC wild card berth. The Colts loss last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers really hurt their chances, however, as they were in control for the majority of the game and allowed the Steelers to comeback and steal the win. Their best bet is for the Browns to somehow struggle against the Steelers' backups, but either way it will take another team's loss to secure a playoff berth for Philip Rivers, Jonathan Taylor in company. If all those teams win, however, and the Titans have their game locked up in the 4 p.m. window, the Colts could be eliminated before this game actually ends. Because of that reason alone this game is a pass for me. Too many unknowns here.
Saints (-6.5) @ Panthers
The New Orleans Saints still have a shot at clinching the number one overall seed in the NFC with a win and a Green Bay Packers loss, so I expect them to play with extra motivation to get a win, but they’ll have to do it without all of their running backs (COVID-19). Drew Brees is coming off his first 300-yard passing game since Week 5, and he’ll need to show his team that he’s still capable of having a big day through the air with likely only Ty Montgomery left to handle touches out of the backfield. I still expect the Saints to have a heavy passing game plan against a Carolina Panthers a squad with seemingly nothing to play for and looking forward to an offseason in which Christian McCaffrey can get back to full health for 2021.
Lean: Saints -7