Must-Win Games in Week 17: Don’t Fall Into the Obvious Betting Traps

Dec 30, 2018 10:00 AM EST
Credit:

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8).

  • 13 NFL teams are fighting for playoff seeding or a playoff berth on the final Sunday of the regular season.
  • Don't expect the teams that are eliminated from playoff contention to roll over for the must-win crowd.

We will be treated to a special NFL Week 17 in 2018, as we have plenty of meaningful football on Sunday.

And that’s not always the case. Just look back at the 2015 and 2016 seasons when all 12 playoff teams had clinched headed into the final weekend.
This season, we have a number of teams playing for their playoff lives:

  • Ravens
  • Steelers
  • Vikings
  • Eagles
  • Colts
  • Titans

Others are fighting for critical seeding:

  • Texans
  • Patriots
  • Bears
  • Rams
  • Chiefs
  • Chargers
  • Seahawks

In fact, there are only two teams locked into a seed entering Sunday’s games:

  • Saints
  • Cowboys

That leaves more than half of the league, which has already been eliminated from playoff contention and is seemingly playing for nothing.

Naturally, we have a few matchups between these eliminated teams and the teams with “motivation.” On the surface, one might want to rush to bet the team playing for something. That seems like a logical angle, but that is not only baked into the line, the impact is usually over-accounted for.

These are still NFL players that are playing for pride, job security, incentives and some just for the love of the game.

It’s also the last game of the season for these teams and why not end the season playing spoiler, especially if against a division rival. These teams can also play loose, as all of the pressure lies on the other side with the team playing for their playoff lives.

Historical Results

This all sounds nice on paper, but how has it played out?

Dating back to 2003, teams that need to win to get into the playoffs (or would need help with a loss) in Week 17 have gone 12-19 against the spread (38.7%). And even more shocking, those teams are just 19-12 straight up on the money line in those 31 games. A $100 bettor backing those 31 teams that needed to win against “dead” teams in Week 17 would have lost approximately $1,350.

And if you focus in on favorites laying more than a field goal, the case for fading these “must-win” teams becomes even more glaring: 13-9 SU and 6-16 ATS.