Market Moves, Playoff Positioning, Players Status and Motivation Just Part of the Process in Handicapping and Betting NFL Week 17
Week 17 is unlike others in the NFL, and it is often both challenging and tricky for not only bettors, but oddsmakers as well. With playoff-clinching scenarios and positioning at stake, there is much to consider including motivation for teams out of the playoffs. So too for teams resting starters for the upcoming playoffs, and coaches handling injury issues to players impacting lineups.
In evaluating this year’s Week 17 card and underdogs along with the betting lines at the leading online sportsbooks, bettors need to navigate the potholes and stay on top of the information and announcements by teams regarding players status. Bookmakers are going to shade numbers towards teams needing to win, and William Hill's director of trading Nick Bogdanovich notes that "the majority of the money will be just on teams who need to win."
That's certainly the case on top teams looking to improve their playoff position with New Orleans (-13), Green Bay (-13) and Kansas City (-9) all having their price rise a few points with the Saints and Chiefs taking more than 80% of the bets from a consensus of seven leading online sportsbooks tracked by Sports Insights live NFL odds and data feed, including BookMaker and 5Dimes.
Most bettors won't support the ugly underdogs with their money, even if taking inflated prices like the Dolphins and Lions against the Patriots and Packers. But what's the motivation for New England (-16) and Green Bay (-13) other than to just win the game to secure a No. 2 seed? The second half of those games will also be interesting as halftime lines and in-game wagering numbers are posted. Same with the Eagles (-4.5) in pursuit of a playoff spot needing a win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium to secure their playoff position. Note that line has not moved from the opening number or look ahead line even with the Eagles taking more than 60% of the spread bets.
Yet it's interesting to note that the Dolphins are taking more than 62% of the spread bets against the Patriots according to the betting data from Sports Insights.
Last season there were 10 teams in Week 17 playing with either a backup or rookie quarterback, or a quarterback returning from a long layoff. Nine of those teams were underdogs. This season, no less than 15 teams have replaced their starting quarterback from the start of the season. But with last week's results and the pending playoff picture, we see some major line adjustments from last week's look ahead lines.
Along with the big favorites of Green Bay, New Orleans, New England, Kansas City and now Dallas up to double digits, we've seen a flip in favorites with Tennessee going from an underdog to a 3.5-point road favorite at Houston. The Titans (8-7) need a win to make the AFC playoffs as a wild card.
Pittsburgh (8-7) has also moved from an underdog to a 2-point road favorite at Baltimore after Ravens coach John Harbaugh announced that league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson would sit out and backup Robert Griffin III would start at quarterback in Week 17. The Steelers need to win and get help from Houston, and the Ravens are expected to rest some starters having secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
There are other major moves along with adjustments in totals. Three Week 17 games have a posted total of 38 or less at the leading online sportsbooks. NFL totals lined 38 or lower this season are 7-3 UNDER.
Chicago at Minnesota (-1) - Total 37
Pittsburgh (-2) at Baltimore - Total 37
NY Jets at Buffalo (-1.5) - Total 36
The Vikings (10-5) are locked in as a wild card and No. 6 seed in the NFC, and the line has moved from Minnesota -7 to -1 against the Bears. The game is essentially meaningless to the Vikings, and expect even more starters to be sitting by the second half of the game against Chicago. The Steelers (8-7) playoff scenario must include a Pittsburgh win and Tennessee loss or a few other scenarios with a tie. The Bills (10-5) are locked in as a wild card and No. 5 seed in the AFC, and the Bills line has dropped from -5.5 to -1.5 over the Jets in anticipation of some starters resting or getting pulled against the Jets.
The second half situations with teams potentially resting players and others scoreboard watching with their playoff fate at stake makes for dramatic swings in second-half and in-game wagering lines.
Turnovers may be the biggest equalizer and is part of our Inside the Numbers evaluation of box scores and games. Teams that have a +3 or greater turnover margin in a game are now 39-4 SU and 37-4-2 ATS this season. It's a long term 92% ATS profile for the team that has the sizable turnover advantage in a contest. Teams that are +2 in the turnover column are 34-9 ATS this season. So the impact of turnovers is significant; just ask any bettor who has bet on or against the Buccaneers often this season as QB Jameis Winston puts up great stats and fantasy football numbers. However, in his fifth NFL season, Winston has not yet learned or understood the importance of protecting the football with four more interceptions last week and a league-high 28 this season.
No such turnover troubles in Seattle (11-4) with QB Russell Wilson, who has thrown just 5 INT's to 29 TD's as he prepares for the first place showdown with San Francisco (12-3). But the Seahawks injury situations and updates are worth monitoring. The line has moved sharply towards the 49ers (-3.5) with more than a field goal line adjustment. The 49ers are taking more than 70% of the spread bets pushing the line off the key number 3. A 49ers victory secures the NFC West division and No. 1 NFC playoff seed in the prime time Sunday night match-up. Seattle can win the NFC West with a victory while securing anywhere from a No. 1, 2, 3 seed with a win and a No. 5 seed with a loss. San Francisco falls to a wild card and No. 5 seed if they lose Sunday night.
Much to monitor and play for in a tricky and challenging Week 17 handicapping and betting NFL games.
You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay