NFL Week 17 Lookahead Picks: Bets for Steelers vs Ravens, Browns vs Commanders
Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Tomlin.
Welcome back to The Lookahead.
While everyone else is busy betting on this weekend’s games, we continue to get out ahead with a pair of picks for next Sunday. It’s all about locking in that sweet closing line value (CLV) and gobbling up easy value before this week’s results move next week’s lines.
We’ve got to be careful looking ahead this time of the year with so many unknowns. Injuries are mounting, weather is wreaking havoc, and the ever-changing playoff picture is constantly shifting team motivations in games. Be careful about pushing in your chips too early with so many unknowns.
This week features two totals that are a bit more unknown-proof than sides, plus one side for an underdog that’s just about always a good play historically.
I’ve already got your NFL Week 16 picks covered, so let’s look ahead and get some CLV for Week 17.
Steelers (+6.5) at Ravens
We played the Steelers as Lookahead underdogs against the Ravens a few weeks ago and hit a grand slam.
Our Steelers +4.5 ticket turned into Steelers -3 when Lamar Jackson went out injured, and if you followed on the app, we were able to hit both sides (Ravens +3) and a pair of winners when the Ravens ended up winning by two.
That was yet another close win in this division rivalry, pretty much par for the course when these teams meet. Check out the final margin between the Steelers and Ravens over the last three seasons: 2, 3, 1, 5, 4. These teams are averaging a field goal game, and what else is new? Over the last 15 Steelers-Ravens games, 12 of them (80%) have come down to a touchdown or less.
These teams almost always play close, and that means that historically, it’s almost always a great decision to take a big underdog in this rivalry. Since 2005, underdogs of three or more in this division rivalry are an incredible 18-2 ATS! That’s a 90% cover rate, as close to a perfect trend as you can find.
So, why should the Steelers keep it close yet again?
Well, for starters, I like the Under 42 too. Neither of these teams trusts its passing game much right now, and there’s no guarantee that Lamar Jackson is back either since he still hasn’t even practiced. That means a heavy dose of the run game, which moves the clock along, and both of these defenses rank top three against the run by DVOA over the past six weeks.
Steelers games have gone under 42 in four straight and eight of the last 10, while Ravens games have gone under 42 in five of the last six. That includes the 16-14 meeting between the teams a few weeks ago, and seven of the last nine meetings between these teams have gone under 42. Mike Tomlin road unders are 73-54-1 (57%), and late-season division trends point under too.
If we do go under 42, that makes it a lot harder to win by a full touchdown. Baltimore has only done that twice since September, and we won’t have to worry about motivations here since both sides always get up for this rivalry.
Regular readers will also remember that we love backing Rah Rah Mike Tomlin as an underdog. From Week 5 forward, Tomlin is 71% ATS as a dog, and that includes 19-4-1 ATS (83%) as a division underdog and a perfect 6-0 ATS as a division dog of four or more. From Week 14 forward, AFC North division underdogs are also quite profitable at 41-23-1 ATS (64%).
Beyond all that, are we sure the Ravens are even better than the Steelers right now, let alone a touchdown better? Baltimore’s offense has been stuck in molasses over the past six weeks, ranked just 25th in DVOA. Even the return of Jackson probably wouldn’t fix that against this resurgent T.J. Watt defense.
And Pittsburgh continues to play excellent football! Over the past six weeks, Pittsburgh ranks top 11 on both offense and defense and 9th overall in DVOA. That’s the profile Baltimore is getting treated as, while the Ravens are actually playing like the profile Pittsburgh has been pigeon-holed into.
I think the Steelers are better, and the trends love this spot for Pittsburgh. This is one of my favorite Lookahead picks of the year. I’ll play the Under 42 too, but I’ve already got multiple units on Steelers +6.5.
THE PICK: Steelers +6, Under 42
Browns vs. Commanders Under 42.5
The Browns still haven’t found what they’re looking for since Deshaun Watson entered the lineup. Cleveland’s offense has stumbled to 24th in DVOA in Watson’s three starts, bottom 10 in the league both running and passing the ball, and it’s hard to see them getting much better in an ugly weather game against the Saints this weekend with a total sitting around 32.
I’m not expecting many fireworks from Washington in their game either. The Commanders hit the road to play the red hot San Francisco defense. They couldn’t even put up points against the Giants, and now there’s talk of a switch back to Carson Wentz.
Both of these offenses are struggling in a big way. But the defenses are shining.
Cleveland’s defense has quietly taken a huge step forward after an ugly start. The Browns are winning these Watson games with outstanding defense led by Myles Garrett. Washington’s defense has also come together nicely, now ranked 7th in DVOA over the last six weeks. Both teams are especially good rushing the passer and in pass defenses.
This total should only move in one direction, so I’m grabbing the Under 42.5 before it drops. Don’t be surprised if we see a number in the 30s by kickoff, especially if we get wind and rain as forecast right now.
Washington games have gone under 42.5 in six of the last seven and 10 of the last 12, and Browns games are under that number in four straight. That includes all three Watson starts, and I expect both teams to add another under-42.5 to that tally this weekend.
Kevin Stefanski road unders with a total of 44 or below are 8-4 (67%), and Washington unders are 9-4-1 (69%) so far this season.
Both defenses are playing well, and I don’t trust either offense. Give me the Under 42.5 before this total starts to drop.
THE PICK: Commanders-Browns under 42.5