Pittsburgh is favored over Baltimore? Tennessee is laying nearly a touchdown at Houston? Chicago is favored by a field goal in Minnesota? Week 17 looks to be a crazy slate of NFL games. Here’s a guide to taking advantage of unusual circumstances and avoiding traps.

Eli Manning farewell in Week 17
Week 17 is expected to be the final game for many NFL stars, including two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning of the NY Giants. (Image: Giants Maven)

The final week of the NFL regular season is upon us. Sunday offers 16 games. All are divisional matchups.

Week 17 is unlike any other. This is due to the fact that some teams have nothing to play for and thus no reason to win. Even some playoff-bound teams might not give 100 percent. And, given that draft-seeding will be determined in the final week, there’s some possibility that losing teams with bad records aren’t necessarily motivated to win, which could cost them a higher position when making future draft selections. At least a few coaches are certain to be fired. Some players are playing their final game before retirement.

All of these factors, and more, contribute to making this week’s games more predictable in some way, but less predictable in others. Here’s a short primer on how to handicap the final week of the NFL regular season:

Week 17 Key Word: Motivation

Which teams want to win?  Which teams don’t care?  This cuts to the heart of “motivation.”

Let’s begin with teams that presumably want to win since a victory means making the playoffs, earning a bye, or may result in hosting home playoff games.

— Philadelphia wins the NFC East with a victory.

— Dallas wins the NFC East with a victory and a Philadelphia loss.

— Green Bay earns a first-round bye with a victory.  The Packers can also clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win but need some help.

— New Orleans earns a first-round bye with a victory but also needs some help.  The Saints are also playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but need some help.

— San Francisco wins the NFC West with a victory and can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win.

— Seattle wins the NFC West with a victory.

— New England earns a first-round bye with a victory.

— Pittsburgh earns a wild birth with a victory but also needs some help.

— Tennessee earns a wild card birth with a victory.

— Kansas City earns a first-round bye with a victory and a New England loss.

— Oakland earns a wild card birth with a victory but also needs some help.

Non-Playoff Teams Worth a Look?

How can a team with no playoff aspiration be worth betting on in the final game of the season?

Such circumstances include teams looking to end up with a winning season (9-7 or better), teams hoping to reach the .500 mark (8-8), teams with coaches in the hot seat who are popular with players, teams with star athletes chasing individual records, and in some cases teams with players playing in their final game.

Let’s break down some of these categories:

Teams aiming for a winning season:  LA Rams

Teams aiming to reach the .500 mark:  Chicago, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis

Teams with coaches in the hot seat (Note:  It’s uncertain as to their popularity with players):  NY Jets, LA Chargers, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Jacksonville

Pro Tip: Avoid Teams with Nothing to Play for

As we see above, win-loss records have little to do with how some teams approach their final game of the regular season.

Some winning teams have no incentive to win, nor will risk injuries to starters since their playoff seedings are already set.

Some losing teams have completely given up in the season and seemingly can’t wait for it to end. Let’s add the caveat that for a losing team to have “given up” on the season, it must have a losing record against-the-spread in the second half of the season.  Hence, teams that still play tough — such as Denver, Arizona, and a few others — do not qualify. These losing teams which have fared poorly against-the-spread down the stretch should be avoided by bettors.

Winning teams with nothing to play for:  Minnesota, Buffalo, Baltimore

Losing teams who may have given up (and probably should be avoided): Washington, Detroit, Carolina, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Cincinnati, LA Chargers

Other handicapping factors to look at include trends. Here are a few recent articles which focus on this week’s games:

Key Trends for Handicappers in Week 17 Matchups

NFL Week 17:  Totals Trends Suggest Four Possible Under Wagers


Nolan Dalla can be reached at [email protected]

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