Season Record ATS (Overall): 3-1 (75% win percentage)
Season Records ATS (Units): 6.5-1 (87% win percentage)
After a scorching hot start in our opening week, which featured our top-three recommended bets each crushing the spread by 12.5+ points, we are back with our Week 17 edition. While the Browns unfortunately decimated our dream of opening with a perfect 4-0 record, we’ll take 3-1 all day, every day. With that being said, let’s get to it.
I would argue that Week 17, where the high majority of teams are either a) mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, b) locked into a specific playoff seed, or c) locked into a playoff spot and have no preference of seeding based on Week 17 results (i.e. LA Rams, who are guaranteed a 3 or 4-seed and are resting starters), is perhaps the trickiest week to bet on throughout the entire season. Though we have a full slate of 16 games to choose from, predicting winners is more about handicapping a team’s motivation than recognizing trends in performance.
As such, I’d like to take this as an opportunity to point out a lesson I’ve learned in my experience as a poker player, as I believe it applies here. When I’m jonesing to play in a 5-10 cash game of Texas Hold’em, which represents a large buyin of $2,000 generally, I will only play if the players at the table look weak enough collectively for me to have an edge. If I look at the tables and it looks like shark-infested waters, I will calmly move over to 2-5, and wait until another time to play 5-10. This aligns with my approach this week – I don’t know whether Nick Foles is going to play the whole game in Philadelphia, or whether Doug Marrone’s comments that Jacksonville is going all out to win (despite being locked into the 3-seed) is just gamesmanship. Therefore, I am “picking my spots”, and limiting my bets this week to the couple of games I feel I have an edge. See below for my picks:
Best Bet (1.5 units):
Arizona (+9) over SEATTLE
For the second week in a row, we like Arizona quite a bit; however, this one has more to do with some negative trends we’ve identified with Seattle than it does with our affinity for Arizona:
Myth #1 –“Seattle has playoffs on the line; Arizona has nothing on the line. Let’s play the team fighting for a spot!”: For all of you scared off by the seemingly one-sided “motivation meter” on this game, let me dispel that fear for you with some similar logic to what we used last week in our Bengals-over-Lions handicap. While the Bengals sat at 6-8 with a 0% chance at reaching the postseason, the Lions were favored in a must-win situation. Judging based on that sentence alone, one would think the Lions would come out with more motivation and win the game. I would like to point out; though, that motivation can be derived from many sources. In that game, the Bengals were coming off an embarrassing loss to the Chicago Bears, and wanted to send its 15-year head coach out on a high-note in his final home game. The Lions, it can be argued, came out tight, with the added pressure of knowing it was a win-or-go-home game. That leads me to my next point: as was the case with Cincinnati last week, Arizona just found out that this week may be Bruce Arians’ last game. Arians, like Marvin Lewis of the Bengals, is the winningest coach in franchise history and is well liked within the locker room. Additionally, given that Arizona is currently sitting at 7-8, there is a clear goal that can be accomplished this week (finishing .500 for their coach). I expect team leaders Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, etc. (who were all there for Arians’ golden years) to fire up the team all week, with their eyes dead set on sending Coach Arians off with a W.
Myth #2 – Seattle righted the ship last week! They will continue to march on into the playoffs: Yes; I did see that Seattle won by over a touchdown at Dallas, but did you see that they had a mere 136 yards of total offense in that game? Given that they got the victory despite such low production, this week is now the perfect opportunity to fade them. Teams historically are worse off a win than a loss (52% ATS off a loss this year; 48% ATS off a win in 2017), and I think this stat is even stronger in this case. Seattle has some serious offensive line issues, and I feel as though they would have been more motivated in practice all week to fix those issues had they lost.
Myth #3 – “Seattle has a dominant home-field advantage. How could we not take them?”: While this is historically true, especially in the Russell Wilson era, common bettors have been slow to realize that this year’s team is a) decimated by injuries and b) features one of the worst offensive lines we’ve seen in the last 10 years of the NFL. In fact, Seattle is 2-5 against the spread (ATS) at home in 2017. Furthermore, Arizona typically plays well in Seattle. In the Bruce Arians era (since 2013), Zona has 3 wins in 4 tries at Seattle, while the rest of the NFL has 3 wins in 28 tries (from 2013-2016)! Given that spreads are manufactured partially based on the public’s opinions, I think the Seattle home field is already baked into this line by a few extra points; thus, we’re getting some extra value on Arizona.
Given these factors, plus the (9!) points we get here, Arizona is a no-brainer.
Other Bet(s) I’ll Dabble With:
MIAMI (+2) over Buffalo:
Call me crazy, but despite a 2-7 record straight up in its past 9 games, we like Miami here. Though the Dolphins have been a huge disappointment this year, they do have a few factors working in their favor this week. First and foremost, the team is a home underdog, which is consistently the most undervalued type of team in NFL. This trend applies specifically the Dolphins, too, as Adam Gase is 5-2-1 as a home dog in his two years in Miami. Coming fresh off of two consecutive losses, Gase, whose job is secure going into next season (i.e. the team will be less likely to quit on him), will be motivated to avoid ending the season on a three-game skid. Additionally, Buffalo is, by all accounts, a below-average team. Despite its 8-7 record (which has an impact on the spread here), it boasts a -64 point differential, good for 10th worst in the NFL. Given that home field is worth 3 points, I don’t see how Buffalo should be a road favorite over anyone outside of maybe Cleveland, the Colts, or either of the 2 New York teams right now. One last point: I’m not a big “revenge” guy, but the Fins did lose pretty handily to this Buffalo team just 2 weeks ago. I think they’ll be motivated to play spoiler here, and knock a division rival out of playoff contention. Give me Miami and the 2.
Thank you for the support last week, and good luck this week! As always, any feedback would be greatly appreciated – reach out via my Twitter handle @zachzaffos