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Between the Lines: Betting the NFL Week 17 Edition

Joe Burrow / Bengals OL Injuries Bills

Every Monday during the NFL season, I’ll compare game spreads to my own power ratings and give my perspective on whether I think the betting lines are accurate. Paying attention to the NFL market is one of the single most important aspects of successful wagering. With all the variance and volatility of pro football, placing a bet on the most advantageous side of a number is often the only difference between a winning or losing ticket. 

All lines are consensus numbers across the U.S. Sportsbooks as of Monday morning. Some may not be out yet. Early lines that show great disparity with my own are highlighted in red.

Cowboys at Titans (+9.5), Total: 44.5

Where I set the line: Titans +8, Total: 46

This is too many points, according to my power ratings, but I’m probably not betting on Tennessee Thursday. The Titans are spiraling right now. Fresh off another disappointing defeat, their 5th loss in a row, the Titans’ playoff hopes are dwindling. The Jaguars won again in Week 16, putting them officially in first place in the AFC South. If the Titans have a shot at the postseason, their Week 17 contest is a must-win scenario. That’s especially true since Jacksonville faces the Texans on the road next week, which should be another win for the surging Jaguars. 

Tennessee only mustered 272 yards in Week 16, and most of that was on the ground. Without Ryan Tannehill and with a slew of injuries to their wide-receiver group this season, they haven’t had a sustained, proficient offense since October. 

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys offense was the story of their Week 16 win against their divisional rival, the Philadelphia Eagles. Although Dak Prescott was sacked six different times, Dallas’ offense pulled through when it mattered most. Star wide-receiver CeeDee Lamb had a huge game (10 catches, 120 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Prescott played mostly mistake-free football. As a group, they accrued 419 yards against the vaunted Philly defense. 

Dallas can still win the NFC East, and that will be a huge motivational factor on Thursday Night Football. They own a better conference and divisional record than the Eagles, but the Eagles would have to lose their final two games for that to happen. Philly is at home against the Saints in Week 17 and at home against the Giants in Week 18. The Titans are a well-coached team who will give everything they have in this contest, so I can’t bet on either side. My gut and power ratings say Titans, but my brain doesn’t think Tennessee's offense keeps up.

Browns at Commanders (-2), Total: 40.5

Where I set the line: Commanders -3, Total: 42

The Browns were officially eliminated after their Week 16 loss to the Saints in the blustery weather of Cleveland. It wasn’t a pretty game, nor was it a pretty performance from an already-struggling offense in the cold and wind. Cleveland was shut out in the second half, partially because of a stiff New Orleans defense and partially because of some grossly inefficient offense. Deshaun Watson couldn’t find a groove in the conditions all game, but the Browns still had a chance to tie it up on their final drive. A sack on fourth and ten ended that crusade, ending any hopes for a Browns’ postseason. 

The Commanders were out-classed in San Francisco, to no one’s surprise. Taylor Heinicke could never find a rhythm, and one of the NFL’s best defenses limited the Commanders’ production throughout the game, forcing two turnovers and only allowing 349 total yards. Washington’s defense, which I consider a fringe top-10 unit, could not stop the 49ers’ rushing attack or short-passing game. Washington still holds on to the No. 7 seed in the NFC Playoffs, only because the Lions and Seahawks both lost in Week 16, too. They’ll need to win to keep their hopes alive.

And that’s why I like Washington in this game. The Browns could present problems if they can find a way to produce consistent offense, but that’s not something we’ve seen since DeShaun Watson took over. At home, with playoff hopes on the line, the Commanders should take care of business, and you’re getting a line that’s less than a field goal. I’d take it.

Jaguars at Texans (+4), Total: 43.5

Where I set the line: Texans +6, Total: 44

I think the Texans might get smoked in Week 17. Not only is this a huge game for the Jaguars and their playoff hopes– all they need to do is win out to win the AFC South (or if Tennessee loses in Week 17 and they win, they clinch)– this is also a revenge game for Jacksonville. 

The Jaguars’ potential for a better year was obvious since Week 1, when they went toe-to-toe with the Commanders in Landover, Maryland. Four games later, a 2-2 start seemed like a sterling turnaround for a team that was a laughingstock of the league last year with Urban Meyer at the helm. Then they played the Texans in Week 5, they only mustered six points, and they fell, at home, to one of the worst teams in football. That led to a four-game losing streak, leaving many Jaguars supporters voiceless midway through the season.

Then, we saw another turnaround. After a 2-6 start, Jacksonville won 5 of their next 7 games behind significantly better quarterback play from Trevor Lawrence, a renewed rushing attack with Travis Etienne Jr., and more effective defense when it mattered. Now Jacksonville is 7-8, they’re atop the AFC South, and they control their own destiny to make the playoffs. The ascent of Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars has begun. 

The Jaguars asserted themselves in Week 16 in a really difficult road spot against one of the best defenses in the NFL. They beat the Jets 19-3. The Houston Texans won their second game of the season against the fledgling Titans in Tennessee, which probably tells us more about the Titans than it does the Texans. Neither team played that well, and frankly, I don’t care much about what Houston did well. The Texans are a bad team, and the Jaguars have a ton of momentum right now. I would bet on the Jaguars or not bet on this at all.

Broncos at Chiefs (-13.5), Total: 44

Where I set the line: Chiefs -11.5, Total: 45

My line on this game is a bit different, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be betting on the Broncos. I’m not sure what to say about the Russell Wilson-led Denver Broncos at this point, but it looks like their defense gave up on the team, too. In Week 16, the Broncos were thrashed by one of the worst offenses in the NFL all season. Baker Mayfield and the Rams dropped 51 points on Denver. The Broncos, on the other hand, mustered only six points until garbage time in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson threw three interceptions in the contest, further cementing one of the most questionable free-agent signings in recent memory. 

The Chiefs quietly won by a small margin in a pivotal game for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Neither team did anything that impressive on offense, but Patrick Mahomes made big plays when it mattered; Geno Smith and the Seahawks' offense did not. 

I simply cannot bet on the Broncos anymore. The Chiefs at home, competing for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, are the side to look at in this contest. I wouldn’t consider any other angles.

Dolphins at Patriots (+1.5), Total: 43.5

Where I set the line: Patriots +2, Total: 46

As of today, the weather shouldn’t be much of an issue next week in Foxboro, so that’s a good thing for the Dolphins. Miami is in a desperate spot, in the seventh and final spot for the AFC Playoff. They’re coming off another disappointing loss Sunday (that’s four losses in a row, in case you lost count), but this is a revenge game for New England. Way back in Week 1, Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins shocked Bill Belichick and the Patriots in a convincing 20-7 win. That’s not something Belichik will forget.

The Patriots got embarrassed by the Bengals early on Saturday, falling 22-0 at the end of the first half, but they fought their way back and had a chance to win on the game’s final drive. Cincinnati’s defense made sure that didn’t happen, stifling the Bengals’ attempt in the game’s final 30 seconds. The Patriots were outgained 442-285 in total yards.

The winner of this game will control their own destiny in Week 18. Win out, and that team makes the playoffs. This game is bound to deliver another entertaining battle in the AFC East. The importance of this game and the animosity between two AFC East rivals means this will probably be a close game. The Dolphins have played well, even in losses the last two weeks, but it’s tough to bet against Bill Belichick at home in December. Maybe that trope should be dispelled at this point– Belichick’s record without Brady is rather mediocre– but the Patriots’ defense is still a top 5 unit and their coaching staff has a ton of experience in these situations. No play from this guy for now.

Bears at Lions (-5.5), Total: 51.5

Where I set the line: Lions -4, Total: 53

Well, it feels like every NFL fan, sans maybe Packers, Bears, and Vikings supporters, were disappointed by the Lions showing in Week 16. Detroit learned that the Carolina Panthers aren’t a team to take lightly, especially if your defense isn’t elite. The Panthers ran all over the Lions Saturday, gaining a whopping 320 yards on the ground. The Lions never found a lead in the contest. The Panthers simply out-muscled the Lions in the trenches, preventing big plays from the Lions’ offense and consistently moving the ball down the field when they had possession.

The Bears fell to a superior team on Saturday; it’s as simple as that. Justin Fields wasn’t able to create the same magic we’ve seen in so many of his previous games. He ran for only 11 yards, and the Bears only scored 13 points at home. They’ll look to shatter the dreams of Lions’ fans in Week 17 – the Lions cannot lose another game if they hope to make the postseason.

I think this game will be close. Justin Fields and the Bears were limited by one of the better defenses in football Saturday, but the Detroit defense isn’t the same caliber. In a dome, Fields should be able to break loose and formulate big plays like we’ve seen in preceding weeks against similarly talented opposition. I imagine both teams will be able to score at will, too. I’d take a look at Lions team total bets, as well as a bet on the over, but I’m not ready to bet on the Lions in this spot. They should win, but winning by distance against Justin Fields is easier said than done, as we’ve seen plenty this season. 

Saints at Eagles (-6.5), Total: 44

Where I set the line: Eagles -7, Total: 45

We can’t comment too much on this game without knowing if Jalen Hurts will return for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. One thing we do know: the Eagles can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win. That should be motivation enough for one of the best squads in pro football. 

Gardner Minshew played well against Dallas, throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions were at crucial moments of the game. Still, Philadelphia went toe-to-toe against a healthy Cowboys team and nearly got a win without Hurts. Their defense sacked Dak Prescott six times, although permitting 40 points probably wasn’t part of their game plan. 

The Saints got a huge win in Cleveland, keeping their NFC South title hopes alive. In the blustery cold, with winds gusting over 60 mph, the Saints relied on a sustained rushing attack and stingy defense to overcome an early deficit. They shut out DeShaun Watson and the Browns in the second half, scoring the game’s final 17 points. 

The game line and total are right. The Saints have the talent to hang with Philadelphia as long as Andy Dalton and their offense avoid any egregious mistakes. The Eagles are one of the most well-coached and consistent teams in football, so I’m inclined to look their way as a potential Week 17 teaser leg. Let’s wait and see what happens with Jalen Hurts. With Minshew at quarterback, the Saints have a higher chance of covering this line.

Panthers at Buccaneers (-3), Total: 40

Where I set the line: Bucs -1, Total: 38

I might need to bet on the Panthers Sunday. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Sunday night, outlasting a competitive surge by the Cardinals in the second half. Tampa Bay gained 396 yards, but their offense still looked graceless and underwhelming. Tom Brady threw two more interceptions, and their run game was, again, inconsistently effective. Their defense made stops late when it mattered, but they also buckled and looked vulnerable at times against a Trace McSorley-led offense. Gross. I just don’t think the Bucs are a team any bettor can depend on.

The Carolina Panthers already beat the Bucs once this season (21-3 in Week 7). If they win this game on Sunday, they’ll be at the top of the NFC South. Crazy, but true!

The Panthers will very likely be on my betting card this weekend. I’m not sure if this line will move or not, but if it drops down to -2 or -2.5 in favor of Tampa, the Panthers qualify as a fantastic Wong Teaser leg. Either way, I love Carolina’s momentum, the Bucs’ run-defense isn’t what it was in the past (although if Vita Vea returns, that would be a huge help on their d-line), and the Panthers have been a more consistent offense than their division foe. It’s Panthers or nothing for me on Sunday.

Colts at Giants (-3), Total: 41

Where I set the line: Giants -3, Total: 40

I don’t have too much to say about this game. These are two unfamiliar teams, and the line is right– the Giants deserve to be short favorites at home against a bad team. 

The Giants’ defense was impressive on Saturday in Minnesota. The Vikings eventually put up 27 points and beat New York by a field goal, but they had to fight and claw for every yard gained. Daniel Jones led a Giants offense that outgained the Vikings 445-353, too. An ill-timed interception by Jones and a 61-yard field goal at the end of regulation made the difference in the end. For a period of time, it looked like the Giants were in-line to earn an upset victory.

The Colts are playing tonight on Monday Night Football at home, fresh off their insane loss to the Vikings in Week 15. In case you’ve forgotten, the Colts led 33-0 against Minnesota through two-quarters last Saturday, and they still lost

The Giants should win and cover this line, but the Colts can be feisty, as we’ve seen many times this season. A game that should feature a lot of tough defense in the elements, this should also be a lower-scoring affair. The pressure will be on Daniel Jones and the Giants to step up and earn their playoff bid– win, and they’re in. Since everything is right about this betting line, this is a game I’ll probably pass on.

Cardinals at Falcons (-4), Total: 40

Where I set the line: Falcons -3, Total: ?

Sometimes as a sports bettor, it’s okay to simply say: I don’t know how to bet this or set the line on this game. That’s the conundrum I’m facing with this contest.

Both of these try-hard franchises fell in close games in Week 16. Atlanta was out-classed by a determined rushing attack from the Baltimore Ravens, while the Cardinals just didn’t have the talent or execution to take advantage of an overtime opportunity against Tampa Bay. Both teams enter this game with very little to play for; both are eliminated from postseason contention.

Let’s just move on, shall we? Cool.

49ers at Raiders (+6), Total: 44.5

Where I set the line: Raiders +7, Total: 46

This qualifies as a rather sleepy spot for the 49ers, although they’re still competing for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Sleepy or not, how can I bet against San Francisco at this point?

Along with the Bengals, the 49ers are the hottest team in football right now. They’ve won eight straight games, and their defense has only allowed 12.1 ppg to their opponents in that span. Those are jaw-dropping numbers. On top of that, Brock Purdy continues to lead the offense with poise and dynamic playmaking ability, while the 49ers’ rushing attack is as prolific as ever. Their multi-tiered backfield ran for 153 yards on a good rushing defense Saturday. 

The Raiders led the Steelers for 59 minutes in a cold Saturday night battle in Pittsburgh. In the end, it wasn’t enough. Kenny Pickett led a 76-yard drive in the game’s final two minutes, earning another victory for the surging Steelers. The Raiders only gained 201 total yards. Their stars, Devante Adams and Josh Jacobs had two of their worst performances of the season.

As long as the 49ers’ defense is motivated, we might see more of the same this coming Sunday. I can’t trust the Raiders, even though they’re still technically in the playoff hunt (+8000 to make the playoffs on DraftKings), the probabilities are extremely low. The 49ers probably make yet another fine teaser leg, but the spot for San Francisco isn’t ideal. This is another game I’ll likely avoid.

Jets at Seahawks (-1), Total: 43

Where I set the line: Jets -1, Total: 44

These are two teams in very similar situations. Both outfits had impressive starts to their respective seasons. Both teams have also been disappointing lately. 

We reviewed their Week 16 games already so let’s get to the handicap. This game will be decided when the Seahawks’ offense is on the field. Against one of the better defenses in the NFL, it’s hard for me to find any confidence in Seattle. What was once a team on the rise, led by a resurgent Geno Smith out to prove his worth as a starting quarterback, is now a team that struggles to score and struggles to stop anyone on defense. They’re at home in Week 17– that’s certainly a good thing– but Robert Saleh’s defense will be up to the challenge. 

On the other side, Mike White should be returning as the Jets’ starting QB. I think most of the Jets’ fanbase, as evidenced by the resounding boos shouted from the stands last Thursday night, should be rather happy that White is returning. White isn’t necessarily an ace behind center, but he clearly gives New York a better chance to win. His downfield throwing ability and on-field moxie are beloved by Jets’ wide receivers and fans alike, and I think he’ll be the difference in this game. 

I’m not sure Smith and the Seahawks can score enough points to win this game. It’s as simple as that. I favor the Jets and will bet on their side based on that premise.

Vikings at Packers (-3), Total: 47

Where I set the line: Packers -3.5, Total: 48

Ut oh. I believe I spoke about this in my To Fade or Not piece last week, and it may be coming to fruition. The Green Bay Packers are officially feisty again and right back in the NFC Playoff picture. One team that stands in their way– the same team that embarrassed the Packers in Week 1 this season– the Minnesota Vikings. I love that setup for Green Bay.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were very impressive in Miami on Sunday. Matt LaFleur’s game plan was aggressive from the jump, as the Packers went for it on fourth down multiple times in the first half. They failed to convert on both occasions, giving Miami a short field and falling 20-13 at the end of two quarters, but the Packers were far from giving up. Rodgers led multiple scoring drives in the second half, including an amazing 78-yard touchdown drive at the start of the third quarter, and the Green Bay defense showed why they still might have some championship merit left in the tank. Their defense shut out the Dolphins in the final 30 minutes, intercepting Tua Tagovailoa three different times in the second half. Green Bay got the W in South Florida, and their playoff chances exponentially increased since the Seahawks, Lions, Giants, and Commanders all lost in Week 16. The Packers need to win out and hope for one Commanders loss or two straight Giants losses to clinch a playoff berth. 

Meanwhile, the Vikings were grossly outgained by the Giants and eked out a win at home on Sunday. Enough said about the incredibly lucky, incredibly underwhelming 11-3 Vikings.

The only side I can look at in this game is Green Bay. They have momentum, this is a revenge game, and this is a must-win for the Packers if they hope to make the playoffs. The Vikings are hoping to hold onto their No. 2 seed in the NFC, but their spot isn’t nearly as desperate. This is a bet-the-Packers or don’t-bet-at-all situation.

Rams at Chargers (-7), Total: 40.5

Where I set the line: Chargers -5, Total: 43

The Chargers have yet to play on Monday Night Football, but they can earn a playoff berth with a win. We think that’s likely to happen against a flawed Colts team, so there’s a chance this game won’t mean as much to LAC next week. That makes the Rams, who someday dropped a 50-burger on the vaunted Broncos’ defense in Week 16, an interesting underdog.

Sean McVay is proving critics wrong that he might not be that interested in coaching in the NFL after this season. Rumors have been circulating, but the Rams are finally finding some offense behind Baker Mayfield. The Rams are, if nothing else, a proud organization that won last year’s Super Bowl title. That’s enough motivation for them to give it their best and challenge their opponents on a weekly basis, but it’s hardly been consistent this year.

The last time the Chargers were favored by this many points (they were -6.5 hosting the Jaguars in Week 3), they lost by 28 points. Even though they’ve been playing better, I just don’t trust that a team led by Brandon Staley can overachieve consistently. I’d look at ways to bet the Rams in Week 17.

Steelers at Ravens (-3.5), Total: 36.5

Where I set the line: Ravens -2.5, Total: 38

Sunday Night Football features two AFC North rivals that always play in close games, and that’s why I like Pittsburgh in this contest.

We reviewed what happened in Week 16 for both of these teams. The Steelers still have an outside chance to make the playoffs, while Lamar Jackson should finally return at quarterback for the Ravens as they chase the AFC North title. Since Cincinnati faces Buffalo in Week 17, there’s a real chance they could pass the Bengals with a win on Sunday night.

But the Steelers are playing really solid football. When Kenny Pickett is behind center, the rookie quarterback who seems to be improving every week, Pittsburgh is a different team. Their offense moves the ball (350 yards and 19 first downs in the biting cold Saturday), and their run game opens up. Pittsburgh’s defense might be playing even better. In their last five games, they’re only allowing 15 ppg. They won four of those contests, and one was a short loss to the very same Ravens just three weeks ago. Kenny Pickett left that game early.

AFC North battles typically favor the underdog if the number is right, and we’re getting over a field goal on the Steelers this Sunday. That’s really good value in what should be another hard-hitting, testy battle in the cold. 

Bills at Bengals (+1), Total: 49.5

Where I set the line: EVEN, Total: 48

This is obviously such a hard game to handicap. Two of the best teams in the AFC will battle in a huge game for the AFC Playoffs since Cincinnati is technically still competing for the top seed in their conference. With a win, they’re immediately in contention. The Bills, on the other hand, can secure the No. 1 seed with a win. The Bengals have won seven straight games, while Buffalo has won six straight themselves. In the words of Hall of Fame wrestling announcer Jim Ross, this one should be a real "slobberknocker."

And that’s what makes it such a hard game to bet on. I have the Bills as a half-point better than the Bengals. The hard part is: Joe Burrow and his team have a special poise that’s hard to quantify, but you could say the same about Josh Allen and his squad.

Both teams are full of fantastic on-field leaders. Both teams have talented, young defenses that fly to the ball. Both teams have incomparable offensive talent, and both teams have quarterbacks whose trajectory suggests they’ll be enshrined in Canton, Ohio someday. Motivation is even, and the only advantage from my purview is that the Bengals have home field advantage. Two of the three Bills’ losses were on the road this season, while Cincinnati has only lost one game in the jungle.

Your most famous sports bettors may look for trends or flaunt reasons for you to believe that they own an assertive angle to play in this game. I don’t see it, and I’d tread cautiously. My one angle is this: whatever team is the underdog makes a great teaser leg. At such a short number, I can’t bet on either side at this juncture.

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