NFL Week 17 predictions: Our picks against the spread
By Emmanuel Morgan
With the league barreling toward the end of the regular season and facing a coronavirus surge that included 90 players testing positive Monday, the NFL on Tuesday halved the number of days players who test positive have to quarantine.
The decision to reduce their isolation from 10 to five days, regardless of vaccination status, if their symptoms improve, aligned both with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and with the postseason pushes of their teams entering Weeks 17 and 18. Unvaccinated players who tested positive, like Carson Wentz of the Indianapolis Colts and Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers, could be cleared to play this week after originally being ruled out.
That should particularly affect the AFC, which has seven teams still mathematically alive to contend for the final wild-card spot, and where Williams’ Chargers will host the bubble-clinging Denver Broncos and Wentz’s Colts will try to end the hopes of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Arizona Cardinals have clinched a playoff spot, but after losing three consecutive games, they may play with some desperation against the Dallas Cowboys, while Kansas City and Cincinnati will likely provide the best-contested game of the weekend.
Below is a look at NFL Week 17, with all picks made against the spread.
All times are Eastern.
Last week’s record: 9-7
SUNDAY’S BEST GAMES
Kansas City at Cincinnati Bengals
1 p.m., CBS
Line: Kansas City -4 | Total: 49
Joe Burrow threw for 525 yards last week against the depleted Baltimore Ravens and Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon all posted more than 100 yards from scrimmage. The Bengals (9-6) will want to keep those high-flying performances going with a statement win over Kansas City (11-4), the conference’s top seed.
It won’t be easy. After a 3-4 start, Kansas City has not lost since October, and its defense has improved drastically after being one of the league’s worst. Kansas City should also return tight end Travis Kelce, who missed last week’s blowout win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the COVID-19 list. Expect this to be a shootout, in which case the Bengals could cover the spread. Pick: Bengals +4
Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
1 p.m., Fox
Line: Rams -3.5 | Total: 46.5
Though injuries to key starters have decimated the Ravens (8-7) all season, they still have about a 30% chance to make the postseason, according to The New York Times’ Playoff Predictor. But there is little wiggle room, and a loss to the Rams (11-4) would essentially end their playoff hopes.
It is unclear if quarterback Lamar Jackson (ankle) or his backup, Tyler Huntley, who was on the COVID-19 list last week, will play. Baltimore needs either one or both of them available against Los Angeles’ pass rush, which is tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks with 42. Baltimore’s secondary, also depleted by injuries, has allowed the most passing yards per game this season (280.5), which should excite Matthew Stafford. But if Baltimore plays with a sense of urgency, and Stafford produces a turnover or two, and if Jackson plays, the Ravens can keep the score within the spread. Pick: Ravens +3.5
Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers
4:05 p.m., CBS
Line: Chargers -6 | Total: 45.5
Los Angeles (8-7) complicated its wild-card scenario by losing to the Houston Texans last week, dropping its chances of entering the postseason to 40%, according to the Times’ Playoff Predictor, and making the Chargers’ two remaining games “must-wins.” Running back Austin Ekeler, who missed last week because of the coronavirus, is likely to return, but it is uncertain if Williams, defensive backs Chris Harris Jr. and Nasir Adderley, and defensive end Joey Bosa will be cleared to return from the COVID-19 list. Safety Derwin James’ status is also questionable because of a hamstring injury.
The Broncos (7-8) beat the full-strength Chargers in Week 12 and, even with Drew Lock starting at quarterback, can beat them again. Pick: Broncos +6
Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys
4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Cowboys -5 | Total: 51
Kyler Murray and the Cardinals (10-5) have lost three consecutive games and have looked lost on offense with receiver DeAndre Hopkins out resting his hamstring until the playoffs. Facing a renewed Dallas defense on the road isn’t exactly a recipe for getting back on track, either. Fueled by pressure from Micah Parsons, the versatile linebacker, and Trevon Diggs, the turnover-inducing cornerback, the Cowboys (11-4) allow an average of only 20.5 points per game. Arizona is 1-3 this season when held below 21 points and can likely win this game if it corrects simple mistakes. But the Cowboys are a safer bet at home right now. Pick: Cowboys -5
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Packers -6.5 | Total: 47.5
Fourteen (!) of Minnesota’s games have been decided by one score, a vivid depiction of its dancing-on-a-needle-point season, but one of those was a Week 11 win over Green Bay in which it exploited the Packers’ lone weakness: defending the run. In their past three games, the Packers (12-3) have given up an average of 166.3 rushing yards.
The Vikings (7-8) expect to return star running back Dalvin Cook from the COVID-19 list. Completing the season sweep of Green Bay (at Lambeau Field) is probably too tall a task, but Minnesota could cover — and edge its way into a playoff berth — if it feeds Cook during a night game in which the temperature isn’t expected to top 13 degrees. Pick: Vikings +6.5
SUNDAY’S OTHER GAMES
Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills
1 p.m., Fox
Line: Bills -14 | Total: 44.5
This could be considered a trap game for the Bills (9-6), who would lose their newly established grip on the AFC East if the Falcons (7-8) pulled off an upset. It would also be a reversal of every football norm if Atlanta, whose defense has surrendered 30 or more points six times, could carry out a win at Highmark Stadium, where below-freezing temperatures and snow are predicted for kickoff.
If Buffalo keeps Josh Allen upright against the pass rush, which it failed to do in a Week 9 loss to Jacksonville (a true trap game), the Bills will cover the spread easily. Pick: Bills -14
New York Giants at Chicago Bears
1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bears -6 | Total: 38.5
The Bears (5-10) and the Giants (4-11) have been two of the worst teams in the league, but Giants coach Joe Judge is reportedly staying for at least one more season while Matt Nagy’s future in Chicago is unclear. The result of this game is unlikely to change either of those circumstances, though the Bears will probably win.
The Giants’ offense struggled even before Daniel Jones injured his neck, and has not had more than 200 yards passing in a game since early November. Nick Foles, the Bears’ third-string quarterback, got a win over Seattle last week and after confirming this week that he had criticized Nagy’s offense, he may relish the chance to be the reason they win. Pick: Bears -6
Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
1 p.m., Fox
Line: Colts -7 | Total: 45
The Colts (9-6), for all intents and purposes, have secured the top wild-card spot, making this game more important for the Raiders (8-7), who still technically have a chance at the playoffs. Indianapolis placed Carson Wentz on the COVID-19 list this week, and coach Frank Reich said it will not be clear until Sunday if he will pass protocols. If Wentz cannot play, rookie Sam Ehlinger will start. Jonathan Taylor is still the league’s leading rusher (1,626 yards on 297 carries), and the Raiders’ defense is average against the run (14th in yards allowed, with 1,736).
The Raiders stayed alive last week, winning while committing three turnovers against Denver. Extra possessions for the Colts would mean more chances for Taylor to exploit Las Vegas’ defense. Pick: Colts -7
Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans
1 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -3.5 | Total: 41
It’s time for the Dolphins (8-7) to face reality. Their seven consecutive wins have given them (at least for now) the AFC’s final wild-card spot, but those victories came against the COVID-19-ravaged Saints and Ravens, and the weak prey of the Giants, Texans, New York Jets (twice) and Panthers — teams that will all be selecting in the top eight of the upcoming draft.
The Titans (10-5), with receiver A.J. Brown healthy from a chest injury that kept him out of three games, should bring Miami back to earth. The Dolphins’ blitz-happy defense can get pressure on Ryan Tannehill, but if the Titans can protect him long enough for him to get the ball to Brown, they should more than handle Miami’s one-note offense. Pick: Titans -3
Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
1 p.m., CBS
Line: Patriots -15.5 | Total: 41.5
As we’ve said in previous weeks, the Jaguars (2-13) have been the NFL’s universal “get-right” opponent: the doormat that allows an elite team to get its rhythm back after a frustrating loss. Now it’s New England’s turn. The Patriots (9-6) have lost back-to-back games after Mac Jones’ production slipped from his normally efficient standards. In losses to the Colts and Bills, Jones completed 51.9% of his passes, a far cry from his 67.2% completion rate for the season, and threw two interceptions in both games.
He will likely play better against Jacksonville, whose defense is average against the pass and allows 229 yards per game. The Patriots’ defense should also pounce on Trevor Lawrence, who will play without starting running back James Robinson (ankle). The spread is large, but after losing control of the AFC East, New England will likely want to run up the score. Pick: Patriots -15.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets
1 p.m., Fox
Line: Buccaneers -13.5 | Total: 41.5
The Buccaneers (11-4) can coast to the playoffs while key starters heal, as their next two games are against the Jets (4-11) and Panthers, the league’s bottom feeders. Running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) is on injured reserve and receiver Mike Evans’ status is unclear as he deals with a hamstring injury and was placed on the COVID-19 list.
Without Evans and Chris Godwin, Tom Brady will continue rebuilding his chemistry with Antonio Brown, who caught 10 passes for 101 yards in his return from a three-game suspension. The Jets allow the fifth-most passing yards per game (250) and will struggle even against Tampa Bay’s backups. Any euphoria remaining from their gutsy win against Jacksonville last week will be short-lived. Pick: Buccaneers -13.5
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team
1 p.m., Fox
Line: Eagles -4 | Total: 45
The Eagles (8-7) are in the NFC’s final wild-card slot and have a 55% chance to make the postseason, according to the Times’ playoff predictor. That probability increases to 78% with an altogether likely win against Washington (6-9). NFL teams rarely take a beating like the Footballers did against Dallas last week, and the sideline skirmish between Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen epitomized the frustration of Washington’s season.
The Eagles’ top running back, Miles Sanders, fractured a bone in his hand and will be out Sunday, but the team can lean on Jordan Howard and Boston Scott in his absence. Philadelphia can balance the running game against Washington, which allows the third-most passing yards per game (269.2) and should not be able to keep pace. Pick: Eagles -4
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Saints -6.5 | Total: 39
Third-string quarterback Ian Book, a rookie, started for the Saints (7-8) last week as 21 players were placed on the COVID-19 list. It’s unclear if Book, or Taysom Hill, or Trevor Siemian will return to play against the Panthers (5-10), though coach Sean Payton said he expects Hill to return to lift an offense that has scored 12 total points over the past two games.
Sam Darnold and Cam Newton have underwhelmed this season, and Panthers coach Matt Rhule has yet to say who will start after both played in last week’s loss to the Buccaneers. But both are capable of keeping the score within the spread if the Saints again look pedestrian offensively. Consider betting on Carolina in this one, which should be sloppy. Pick: Carolina +6.5
Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers
4:05 p.m., CBS
Line: 49ers -13.5 | Total: 44
The 49ers (8-7), clinging to the NFC’s sixth seed, may be without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who reportedly tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his right thumb last Thursday. If he is unavailable, rookie Trey Lance could make his second career start. That may be a welcome change for 49ers fans, who watched Garoppolo misfire on key throws in the team’s 3-point loss to the Titans last week.
The Texans (4-11) upset the Chargers in Week 16 behind Rex Burkhead’s 149 rushing yards, a performance that won’t likely be repeated against a 49ers defense that has given up an average of only 79 rushing yards in each of its past three games. Houston will be forced to throw the ball more than it would like, with Nick Bosa chasing down quarterback Davis Mills on most plays. Lance, San Francisco’s running backs and its defense are more than enough to carry the spread. Pick: 49ers -13.5
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks
4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks -7 | Total: 42.5
In the long run, each embarrassing performance from the Seahawks (5-10) gives Russell Wilson more reason to force his way out of town. In the short turn, last week’s 1-point loss to the Bears, and the Lions’ (2-12-1) paltry record should motivate Seattle to save face at home.
Having been on the COVID-19 list, Detroit quarterback Jared Goff should play after missing last week, when his replacement, Tim Boyle, threw a red zone-interception on a potential game-winning drive. The Lions are 9-6 against the spread, and normally lose games late because of poor clock management, a turnover, or just sheer bad luck. They are capable of keeping this one close. Pick: Lions +7
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Browns -3 | Total: 41
The Browns (7-8) and the Steelers (7-7-1) have less than a 20% chance of making the playoffs, and the winner of this game would need the Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins and Raiders to lose in order to make the season finale matter. Baker Mayfield’s four interceptions last week against the Packers cost the Browns a prime chance of improving their odds, but they should handle Pittsburgh with relative ease.
The Steelers are the worst defense against the run this season, and have allowed an average of 142.7 rushing yards per game. Nick Chubb, the NFL’s third-leading rusher this season (1,143 yards) should find enough success against a horrible unit that Mayfield may not even need to attempt a pass. Pick: Browns -3