The final week of the NFL season is unlike any week that precedes it. All 32 teams play on one day. A few teams are battling to save their seasons while most have nothing at all to play for. Season-long fantasy football is over for most people. DFS tournaments will be won or lost based on which third-stringer getting first-team snaps goes off (and the main slate includes 15 games, instead of the usual 11-13).
And when it comes to sports betting, the odds on some games will leap several points in any direction as information flows in about who’s starting and who’s sitting. Jump on the right side at the right time and you’ll get your best opportunity all year to middle a game. Jump on the wrong side at the wrong time and you’ll be praying on Sunday for nonsensical outcomes.
Before you bet any game, you need to know which teams are suiting up to win and which teams don’t care. So here’s a game-by-game breakdown (all times Eastern) of what’s at stake to inform your Week 17 wagering:
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.
The Bills are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs no matter what, and the Jets are playing for whatever pride there is in finishing 7-9 after a 1-7 start. Motivation advantage: Jets, narrowly.
But the Bills are favored, by 1.5 at FanDuel Sportsbook and PointsBet and by 1 at DraftKings, and coach Sean McDermott hasn’t announced yet how much playing time, if any, his starters will get.
This is a tricky one, but betting the Jets now might open up an opportunity to middle (unfortunately, across zero) if the Bills do end up announcing that Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, etc., will have the week off.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m.
The Bengals have “earned” the top pick in the draft, win or lose, while the Browns have locked up their 17th straight season without a playoff berth and their 12th straight losing record.
That said, Nick Chubb is in pole position for the rushing title, 92 yards ahead of Christian McCaffrey and 124 ahead of Derrick Henry. Question: Can Freddie Kitchens be counted on to hand Chubb, who started the season at +2000 for most rushing yards, the ball enough to keep his lead safe? Answer: It’s Freddie Kitchens.
If you can overlook the mind-numbing challenge that is anticipating the Browns’ rookie head coach’s play calls, DraftKings Sportsbook has an odds boost on Chubb rushing for 120 or more yards, from +200 to +225. He’s crossed that line in four of 15 games this season.
Cleveland is favored by 2.5 points at PB and by 3 at DK and FD. Both teams are playing for pride, in theory. (And for the first time in a while, Bengals management shouldn’t be motivated to put the team in a position to lose.) But if you’ve bet on the Browns or Bengals anytime this season, you know the deal by now: Proceed with caution.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m.
The Packers have a lot on the line, as a win secures a first-round bye and gives them a shot at home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Lions are playing for absolutely nothing except a chance to spoil those hopes for a division rival. But it’s not like they can cost Green Bay a playoff spot. Detroit is trying to play minor spoiler, not major spoiler.
So this game has one of the highest lines of the day: 12.5 at PointsBet and FanDuel, and 12 at DraftKings. If you’re willing to risk a lot to win a little, the Packers moneyline (best price: -590 at DK) looks fairly safe, as does teasing Green Bay down to 6 or so.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m.
While the Chargers are just playing out the string, the Chiefs are still playing for playoff positioning. Or, at least, they will be when this game starts. If they win and the Patriots should somehow lose at home to Miami, K.C. gets the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. If the Chiefs lose and the Texans win later in the day, Kansas City will be the No. 4 seed. Otherwise, they’re No. 3.
And while they’d surely prefer that third spot in order to avoid the Ravens a little longer, the difference between being No. 3 and No. 4 isn’t worth risking injuries over. So if the Pats are blowing out the Dolphins at halftime, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Chiefs take their collective foot off the gas.
And that makes this line — Chiefs by 9 at PointsBet, 8.5 at FanDuel, and 8 at DraftKings — fascinating. Those seem like safe numbers for a K.C. team that’s been playing well of late and is piloted by a healthy Patrick Mahomes, but not if he spends the fourth quarter in bubble wrap on the sidelines.
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m.
The Vikes are locked into the No. 6 seed in the NFC and just want to come into the playoffs as healthy as possible. The Bears are locked into an early start to their offseason. All of the major NJ online sportsbooks have Minnesota favored by 1 at home because, well, who the heck knows with this game?
It’s a Bears team playing for pride vs. a Vikings team playing for absolutely nothing. Unfortunately for Bears fans, that’s a coin-flip situation.
Want to make it fun? DraftKings’ series of holiday-themed odds boosts includes one called “Rudolph the Reindeer,” pumping up the odds on Vikes tight end Kyle Rudolph to score the game’s first touchdown from +1400 to +1540.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots, 1 p.m.
If ever there’s a team hungry to make noise in a meaningless game, it’s these Miami Dolphins, whose season was over before it started but who played with heart all season long and would love nothing more than to shock New England to close out the campaign. That isn’t scaring the bettors, though. The Patriots, once 15.5-point faves, are up to 16 at the various NJ books.
That’s because a win clinches the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye for New England. A loss sets them up to drop to No. 3 if the Chiefs beat the Chargers. So expect to see the best of this fearsome New England defense and whatever the best currently is of this banged-up, aging Pats offense.
Still, 16 is a lot of points. And nobody in the NFL is better than Ryan Fitzpatrick at turning a 21-point blowout into a 14-point respectable defeat in the closing moments of a game.
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m.
Both teams are out of the playoff hunt. Both teams love putting up points and have shown no signs of easing up even after all postseason hope was lost. This game is highly stackable in DFS, and it’s not a bad game to bet if you have real conviction about which one of these middling teams is better.
The books have very little conviction, with FanDuel and PointsBet both making the Bucs 1-point favorites at home and DK pushing it to 2 points — even with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both done for the season.
If you want to gamble, dig in your heels on a side. If you want a sure thing, lay big money on Jameis Winston to throw an interception. He’s delivered (to the other team) in six of his last seven games and needs two more picks to become the first QB since Vinny Testaverde in 1988 to reach the 30-interception mark.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.
Here’s a game where mid-week news is shaping the outlook. The Saints are currently trending toward the No. 3 seed, but with a win and a little help elsewhere, they can move up and get a bye. So the latest word out of New Orleans is that they’re planning to play all their starters.
Carolina, meanwhile, has no motivation, except Christian McCaffrey is 215 yards away from breaking Chris Johnson’s 10-year-old record for yards from scrimmage (among other statistical thresholds he’s in range of). So the Panthers staff said Thursday they plan to give him his normal workload, at least early on, in hopes of padding his stats.
That fact in no way impacts the Panthers’ chance of pulling the upset, though. McCaffrey has put up huge numbers in blowout losses plenty of times this season. So the Saints, appropriately, are favored by 13 at all the major NJ sportsbooks. It’ll take a brave bettor to back rookie QB Will Grier on Sunday, especially with his best receiver, D.J. Moore, trending toward missing the game due to a Week 16 concussion.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m.
By losing to the Eagles last week, Dallas slipped to second place in the NFC East and would need to beat Washington and see the Giants beat Philly in order to play postseason football. The games will be concurrent, so maximum motivation is expected for the Cowboys, at least until late in the game.
Washington is one of two NFC East doormats (insert your own joke here about how the whole division consists of doormats) with a chance to play spoiler in Week 17. And the team certainly has a chance to spoil against the spread. With the way the Cowboys have sputtered to four losses in their last five games, Washington getting 10.5 points at DK and PB and 11 at FD looks awfully juicy.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, 4:25 p.m.
The game with the most interest for the greater New Jersey market is a tricky one to bet. The Eagles have enormous motivation — win and they’re in, lose and they’re probably out — but remain ravaged by injury, getting the news this week that Zach Ertz has a broken rib and injured back and is questionable for Sunday’s game.
The Giants have no motivation other than wanting to spoil things for their local rival, but they nearly upset these same Eagles two weeks ago and certainly have their share of talented young players capable of making a statement to end the season. On the one hand, rookie QB Daniel Jones has proven capable of putting up huge numbers. On the other hand, he only seems to do so against no-hope teams like Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay, and the Jets.
Philly is favored by 4.5 at FanDuel and by 4 at DraftKings and PointsBet. The Eagles have the far better coach and the far better quarterback, but this still feels like a game where anything can happen.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m.
Got a comfy chair? Explaining what the 7-8 Raiders need to make the playoffs might take a while. They need to beat a Broncos team that is playing purely for pride. They need an unmotivated Ravens team to beat a hungry Steelers squad. They need an unmotivated Texans team to beat a Titans team in must-win mode. They need the Colts to win an otherwise meaningless game with the Jaguars. And they also need one team from among the Bears, Lions, Chiefs, and Patriots to win.
This line is telling: Despite being the only team playing for anything at Mile High, Oakland is getting 3 points at PointsBet and 3.5 at the DFS giants’ respective sportsbooks. Some say the matchup favors Denver, with its stout defense. Then again, the Raiders beat them way back in Week 1.
This is a weird one all around. But if you think motivation will make all the difference, ignore the point spread and take the Raiders on the moneyline, where you can win $154 for every $100 you bet at FD. FanDuel Sportsbook also offers “Close Loss Insurance,” refunding wagers (in the form of site credit up to $50) if the team you take on the moneyline loses by 6 or less.
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m.
You don’t see lines move like this very often — except in Week 17, when you can count on seeing one or two massive swings each year. The Rams opened as 7.5-point favorites, but on Wednesday the team, mired at a disappointing 8-7 and eliminated from playoff contention, announced fans would mostly be treated to a look at the second-stringers.
On the other side stand the 5-9-1 Cardinals, frisky all season long, fresh off back-to-back wins over the Browns and Seahawks, and with quarterback Kyler Murray in the hunt for Offensive Rookie of the Year if he can play through his hamstring injury and finish strong.
So now Arizona is down to 3.5-point ’dogs at FanDuel and 5 at DraftKings. (PointsBet took the line down on Wednesday night and hasn’t put it back up yet.) If you ask us, there’s still good value on the Cardinals. After all, they’re having fun out there every Sunday. The Rams look and sound like a team that can’t wait for their Super Bowl hangover season to be over.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars, 4:25 p.m.
This game’s outcome is meaningless to the two teams involved, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bet it. The Colts were a decent team for most of the season, then hit the wall. The Jags were a passable team until midseason, when they transformed into maybe the most inept squad in the NFL, resulting in the firing of Tom Coughlin as their top football executive.
How motivated are the Colts to finish .500 without Andrew Luck and to beat their preseason over/under of 7.5 wins? Only they know.
DraftKings and FanDuel favor Indy by 3.5 on the road, and PointsBet has them giving 4. It’s an awkward number. The Colts are on the wrong side of the hook. But is the opposite side of these Jaguars ever really the wrong side?
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens, 4:25 p.m.
Baltimore has secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They have hurting players (like Mark Ingram) who could use a couple of weeks of healing time. And QB Lamar Jackson doesn’t need another week of stat padding to lock up the MVP trophy. So the Ravens are trotting out all of their most expendable players, with Robert Griffin III getting the call under center.
Pittsburgh is in the opposite situation. It needs to win this game and have the Titans lose to the Texans. (Or there’s a funky scenario where both the Steelers and Titans lose and a wacky five-team parlay hits that puts Pittsburgh on the right side of the tiebreaker, but that has as much chance of coming into play as Ben Roethlisberger does of suiting up on Sunday.)
So it’s a simple question: Can the Devlin “Duck” Hodges-led Steelers beat the Ravens’ backups? Sadly for the people of Pittsburgh, it’s not an easy question to answer this season. DraftKings and PointsBet favor Pittsburgh by 2, and FanDuel has the line at 1.5. If the Ravens needed to win this, they’d probably be favored by double digits. Ah, the weirdness of Week 17.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans, 4:25 p.m.
The Texans have clinched the AFC South, and by kickoff, they’ll know if they’re locked into the No. 4 seed. They need the Chiefs to lose to the Chargers earlier in the day in order to be playing for No. 3.
The Titans, on the other hand, will be motivated no matter what. If they win, they’re bound for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. If they lose, they need the Steelers and Colts — both favored to win Sunday — to also lose. So it’s pretty much a win-and-you’re-in situation.
Tennessee is favored by 3.5 everywhere you look. That line might drop right before kickoff if the Chiefs lose. If you’re a Titans fan or bettor, you’re hoping the Texans are already looking forward to January football.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks, 8:20 p.m.
The last game of the regular season is rightly viewed as the main event of Week 17, even though both teams have already clinched playoff berths. For both teams, the stakes range from the No. 1 seed in the NFC (assured for San Francisco if it wins, possible but unlikely for Seattle if it prevails) to a road game as a wild-card qualifier.
The Niners probably would have been favored Sunday night anyway, but the number ballooned when Seattle running back Chris Carson got injured in Week 16, opening the door for the unretirement of Marshawn Lynch. Yes, really.
The 49ers are -3.5 at FanDuel and DraftKings and -3 with -125 juice at PointsBet. And this is on the road against a Seahawks team that edged them in overtime in San Francisco six weeks ago. But the line feels right.
PointsBet has a special promo just for the Sunday night game, paying out early — up to $50 — on moneyline bets if the team you wager on scores the first touchdown.
This game is also the focus of PointsBet’s weekly “Fade Rovell” promotion, where customers get slightly boosted odds to go against former ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell’s pick. Here the promo gets you +100 odds, instead of -115, for 49ers tight end George Kittle to finish with under 70.5 receiving yards.
The lack of juice is nice, but still, wait for the weekend and one of these mobile sportsbooks in this highly competitive market is sure to offer easier money somewhere.
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