NFL Week 17 Picks
By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)

Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):
Best Bets: 11-5 (69%)
Units: 36-23-1 (61%)
All Bets: 24-18-1 (57%)

Week 16 Recap:

2 units (Best Bet): SAN FRANCISCO (+4) OVER Chicago

San Francisco: 4 redzone trips; 2.25 points per trip
Chicago: 3 redzone trips: 4.67 points per trip (Chicago scored a TD both times it reached the opponent’s 18-yard line)

It’s pretty difficult to win a game with that type of disadvantage, but the Niners came close. Given the aforementioned redzone luck coupled with the fact teams were pretty close in yards per play for the game (5.4 to 5.2), we likely had the right side here. Unfortunately for us, we were one point short, as San Francisco lost by a five-point margin.

1 unit: Houston (+2) OVER PHILADELPHIA

Conversely to our Best Bet, we were lucky to get a push here. Our handicap questioned the likelihood that the streaky Nick Foles could duplicate his performance from the prior week, and in hindsight, we looked foolish, as Foles put up a cool 471 yards and 4 touchdowns. While our prediction of the Eagles offense was dead wrong, we were clearly correct to doubt the Eagles’ secondary, which allowed Texans QB DeShaun Watson to throw for his most passing yards since Week 5.

Now that we’ve recapped our Week 16 results, it’s time to get into our Week 17 picks. We’ve been harping on motivation as the number one factor the past few weeks, but that element only magnifies for Week 17, where many teams rest starters, utilize vanilla gameplans, or mentally pack it in before the game begins. Moreover, other teams throw the kitchen sink (i.e., best trick plays, highest motivation, etc.) in order to reach the playoffs, and some tighten up from the pressure in must-win spots. Thus, past performance is less of an indicator than usual. Consequently, it’s no stretch to say that Week 17 is the hardest week to predict.

But based on what we’ve seen the past few weeks, we’ve identified a couple motivational edges, which we believe to be highly actionable for us bettors. Let’s get to it! (HOME teams in all caps).

BEST BET

BUFFALO (-3.5) OVER Miami – 1.5 units

Let me first get this out of the way: You will rarely ever see me lay 3.5 points. NFL games most commonly end in 3, so swallowing the 3.5 leaves us most vulnerable to losing by half a point.

However, what makes us comfortable laying the 3.5 is the key factor we mentioned above: motivation. You see – If our handicap here is correct, the 3.5 points is less likely to matter than in a typical game. If one team is motivated, and the other is not, it could easily be a margin of three-plus scores.

With that being said, let’s go into a few reasons why Buffalo is going to be motivated, and Miami is not:

• Playoff Mindsets: While Buffalo has known for weeks (and perhaps, months) that it would not reach the postseason, Miami went into Week 16 with a realistic chance. In a must-win game, it laid an egg, scoring 7 points vs. a Jacksonville team that had lost 9 of 10 coming in.
• Turmoil in Miami: Reports have already have declared a Dolphins’ overhaul to be forthcoming. The front office is likely to be gone, Tannehill is on the outs, and coach Adam Gase is going to be sent packing as well. With one game left in the season in cold-weather Buffalo (of all places), it’s hard to see why a bunch of Florida boys would be up for the challenge here.
• Buffalo – Something to Play For: We’ve mentioned this concept in weeks’ past, but with teams that are out of the playoff picture, it is important to evaluate their motivation. The Bills have had some of the worst quarterback play in NFL history through the first half-or-so of the 2018 season (see Peterman, Nathan and Anderson, Derek), and the team has been moving the ball significantly better since rookie QB Josh Allen returned. The rookie QB has given the team hope for the future, and thus will be more motivated to close 2018 on a strong note.

Apart from the motivation, we have some additional trends that back up our selection:

• Unsustainable Touchdown Luck: Believe it or not, Miami has entered the redzone only four times in its last three games, as it has benefited significantly from an interception-return-for-touchdown, a 75-yard TD run, a 54-yard TD run, and, of course, the 69-yard Miami Miracle. The team has also scored a touchdown on 75% of its redzone opportunities. Is any of this sustainable? I think not.
• Buffalo-Miami History: Since 2004, Miami has struggled in Buffalo. And I mean – struggled. In its past 14 games played up north, the Dolphins have scored 17 points or fewer in 12 of those meetings. Yes – the players have changed during that span, but Buffalo always seems to get up for this game more than Miami does. Additionally, Buffalo has the revenge factor going for it here, as it outgained Miami by 200 yards earlier in the season, and somehow lost the game.
• The Home-Road Dichotomy: Buffalo has won its last 3 home games with Josh Allen behind center. Miami has lost its last 6 on the road (5 by double digits). A 3.5-point spread says these teams are relatively even, so the line is not accounting for something.

We are 4-0 this season when betting on or against Miami in the column, and we expect the trend to continue for the reasons listed above. Give us a more motivated Bills team over a Dolphins team that is just ready to close the books on the 2018 season.

OTHER BETS I’LL DABBLE WITH

GREEN BAY (-8) OVER Detroit – 1.5 units

For those of who you read the column weekly, it’s pretty rare to find an occasion where we like multiple teams laying 3.5-or-more points.

But again, the big difference here is the motivation factor.

The simple handicap is this: Detroit has given up on its season, while Green Bay has had new life (i.e., a reinvigorated Aaron Rodgers) since the Mike McCarthy firing. But let’s get into some numbers:

• Detroit, Somehow Outperforming Its Stats: Led by a hobbled Matthew Stafford and a sub-replacement level LaGarrette Blount, Detroit has scored 39 points in its last 3, and is actually lucky to have that many. In fact, similar to Miami, the team is 4th in redzone touchdown percentage in that span (on only four redzone appearances in three games), and is 31st in first downs per game (Green Bay is 4th). These stats suggest Detroit may not even be able to replicate its 13 points-per-game moving forward.
• Bigger Aspirations: Let’s be clear – both teams expected to reach the postseason before 2018 began. But ever since the McCarthy firing, Aaron Rodgers has been motivated to show that McCarthy was the Packers’ problem. When your best player is motivated, the team will follow suit. Conversely, multiple reports have come out throughout the season that Lions coach Matt Patricia isn’t very well liked. The team has shut down some of its best offensive weapons (see: Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones) for the season, and it’s hard to see why a dome team would get up for the finale in the cold in Green Bay.
• The Home-Road Dichotomy: Similar to our Buffalo handicap, we note that Green Bay is a different team at home vs. the road. Apart from the team’s 5-1-1 home record this season (and its 1-7 road record), Aaron Rodgers and the Pack have simply been a different team at Lambeau. Since 2008 (Aaron’s first season), the Pack is 3rd in the NFL in ATS margin at home. The team is 20th on the road. Since 2014, the Pack is 4th at home, and 27th on the road. Spreads are supposed to account for Lambeau, but clearly, they are not factoring this in enough.

While the line is high here, Detroit laid down in Minnesota last week, and it’s hard to see why anything would be different in Week 17. Give us Green Bay and we’ll swallow the 8.

Note: For all you teaser bettors out there, there is no better game than this one, as long as you can tease the Pack under 3 points.

With apologies to Cleveland (+6), we’re keeping the column at two picks for this week. Best of luck to us all, and may the picks be with us. See you all in the playoffs!

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Zach Zaffos
Zach is a South Florida native who doubles as a CPA and semi-professional poker player. He is also an avid sports bettor, with a specialty in the NFL. Known to be a bit of a contrarian, Zach provides insight into trends on the field not typically noticed by the casual fan.