Week 17 Betting Picks: How Playoff Scenarios, Eliminated Teams Affect Bettors
Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured: Jeff Saturday.
A common mistake I’ve seen many recreational bettors make late in the NFL regular season is blindly betting a team that needs to win against an opponent that has already been eliminated from playoff contention. On the surface, I can see the logic.
However, that’s just not how things play out on the field.
These are still professional athletes and coaches playing for jobs, incentives and basic pride. Additionally, these situations present an opportunity for so-called “dead teams” to play a meaningful game in the spoiler role. It becomes their de-facto Super Bowl.
Most importantly, as a result of these biases, the eliminated underdogs tend to get inflated lines in the market, especially early on in the week. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the historical ATS results.
Since 1990, eliminated teams playing teams that need to win over the final two weeks of the regular season have gone 95-57-4 (62.4%) ATS. I will detail some of the wildest results in my annual Week 18 article on this exact topic next week.
For this week, three teams still fighting for a postseason spot will take on teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention. Before we get into my betting thoughts on each matchup, let’s look at the potential postseason paths for these three teams.
- New York Giants: With a victory on Sunday over the Colts, the G-Men will clinch their first playoff berth since 2016. With a loss, the Giants could still lock up a postseason spot with a Week 18 win at Philadelphia. If they lose out, they would need some help but would still generally sit in a fairly strong position. They just couldn’t have both the Seahawks and Commanders win out.
- Washington Commanders: Speaking of the Commanders, they control their own destiny since winning out would lock up a playoff berth. They wouldn’t be eliminated with a loss, but it would drop their postseason odds to lower than 10%. In that scenario, they would need to beat the Cowboys in Week 18 and have the Lions, Packers and Seahawks each lose at least one more game — which is tougher considering Detroit and Green Bay face off next week.
- Detroit Lions: As a result of its loss in Carolina last week, Detroit no longer controls its own destiny. However, winning out would give the Lions close to a 75% chance of making the playoffs, with the most likely path involving the Commanders and Seahawks each losing at least one more game. If the Lions lose this week, their only path would involve beating the Packers in Week 18 with the Commanders and Seahawks losing out in addition to a few other necessary results in the NFC South.
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I bet the Colts in what I think is a super inflated line. Both of these teams lost by a field goal in Minnesota over the past two weeks. The Colts closed +3.5, and the Giants closed +4.5, implying the Colts are actually a point better on a neutral field. But now they are catching six points in New York?
I know there are other factors to consider (Jonathan Taylor injury, short week for Colts), but it’s still way too inflated of a line after adjusting for home-field advantage in my opinion.
Nick Foles will in all likelihood get the start under center again for Indianapolis. He was horrible in a loss on Monday night against the Chargers but should look much better after shaking off the cobwebs in his first action of the season.
Ultimately, I just don’t see much of a difference from a point-spread perspective between him and the ghost of Matt Ryan. Plus, the Colts should get their ground game going against a horrendous Giants rush defense.
This week will mark the fourth time the Colts will be listed as an underdog of over a field goal after a double-digit loss. They have responded very well in these buy-low spots all season.
Following their three previous double-digit defeats, they have gone 3-0 ATS against the Chiefs, Raiders and Vikings. If not for a historic blown 33-0 lead in Minnesota, they would have three outright victories as underdogs in those spots.
Buy the stock low.
Lastly, I have no issues fading a Giants team that will need to win by a touchdown-plus to beat me. That might be difficult for a squad that has eight wins on the season which have all come by one score with a number of fortunate fourth-quarter comebacks.
New York will have a major coaching advantage, but I can’t pass up taking the six with the Colts, especially in a game with this low of a total.
Notable Nugget: In the last two weeks of the regular season, teams with a winning percentage of 40-69%, who have a +5% to +35% winning percentage differential against their opponent have gone just 57-88-5 ATS (39.3%) over the past 20 years.
That speaks directly to some of the inflated lines we see late in the season with teams that need to win against perceived corpses. This ominous trend applies this week to the Commanders, Ravens, Bucs, Dolphins, Giants, Lions, Jaguars and Chargers.
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I believe we have another inflated favorite in a must-win spot that will have all of the pressure on them, while the Bears can come in very loose in the spoiler role against a division rival.
Don’t forget the Bears closed as three-point favorites (!) at home against the Lions last month. The Lions won that game by one but primarily due to a late pick-six that flipped the game. Chicago actually out-gained Detroit 408-323 with a 7.0-5.5 yards per play edge.
Everyone fell back in love with the Lions over the past eight weeks when they went 6-2 SU and 7-1 ATS. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that they were severely outplayed in many of those games with only one dominant performance in a great situational spot against the Jaguars. That was the only game of that eight-game stretch where they averaged more yards per play than their opponent.
Over that stretch, the Lions benefited from plenty of good fortune on special teams, in the red zone and turnovers. The defense has some intriguing young pieces with promising upside, but this is still a horrid unit that ranks 31st in EPA per Play over those eight games if you remove turnovers. And for the entire season, they are still allowing a touchdown or first down on the highest-frequency of drives of any team in the league while forcing a league-low punt rate.
The run defense is particularly bad, which Chicago should exploit with Justin Fields and company. For what it’s worth, Fields still has his sight set on the single-season quarterback rushing record.
I think this is the perfect time to buy low on the Bears, who are coming off a brutal stretch against the Jets (Siemian vs White), Packers (should’ve won), Eagles and Bills. Their defense is still horrid, but I like them to keep this within one possession and wouldn’t be shocked with an outright upset.
Notable Nugget: Since 2020, teams that lost by 20+ points have gone 75-52-1 ATS in their next game, including 58-32-1 ATS as an underdog. This buy-low trend applies to the Bears and Broncos this week.
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I actually show a bit of value on the Browns but would need +3 to back the road pup here.
However, I do think they are one of the best two-team, six-point teaser pieces on the board in Week 18. Getting Cleveland at over a touchdown against Carson Wentz in a game with a very low total is certainly appetizing. If you’re looking for a second team in that teaser, the Steelers, Chargers and Seahawks are all viable options.
Deshaun Watson obviously hasn’t looked good in his first four starts. However, he did face some very good defenses and dealt with horrendous weather conditions in two home starts.
Plus, rust had to be expected after going 700 days without any live regular season action. His personal preseason is basically over now, and I’d expect a better showing on Sunday.
Notable Nugget: Week 16 road dogs with losing records of over a field goal have gone 53-35-2 ATS (60%) from 2003-2020 (second-to-last week prior to schedule expansion). Division road dogs in this scenario have gone 21-8-1 ATS (72.4%), which applies to the Bears.