NFL Week 17 Picks Against the Spread: Vikings handle Bears, Ravens snuff out Baker Mayfield's Browns
Plus more of Will Brinson's best bets for the Week 17 NFL season
The last week of the NFL season is here. That's wild, man. It's also time, for once, to focus in on motivation for some NFL teams. There are a lot of teams who are eyeing Cabo in a week, knowing their season is over. There are also a lot of teams who want to squeeze the juice out of the season by chasing awards. And there are some teams who know that they're locked into a certain playoff spot and therefore don't need to play their starters.
But mostly there are teams who need a playoff spot locked up or need a certain seed. Those teams will be motivated to make something happen against their opponent and keep their starters in unless the game is completely out of hand. Let's try and find some motivation and close the season strong.
Listen to Will Brinson pick every Week 17 game with Pete Prisco, Nick Kostos and R.J. White on the Pick Six Podcast (and subscribe!):
This is a tricky game from a motivation standpoint, but I'm going to trust the trends here. The Vikings are playing a win/get-in game against the Bears at home. Chicago is a better team, but Minnesota has more to play for. And thus far, the Vikings have been a very good home team against the spread, going 4-2-1 this season. The Bears are 4-3 as a road team, but I don't think they'll be extremely motivated to win this game. It's dependent on the Rams, of course, because if Los Angeles is losing to San Francisco, Matt Nagy will leave his guys in and try to play for a first-round bye. But if the Rams are taking care of business against the 49ers -- which they should do, as 10-point favorites -- Nagy is going to yank his guys at the end of the first quarter or first half.
I don't mind taking the Bears in the first half as a bit of a hedge, and there's a window to hit both. (Bears could easily be up at the break or only down a few points and the Vikings could easily still cover.) If the Rams are losing to the 49ers in the second half, this thing could go sideways, but Nagy has a history of resting his guys when he can and it falls in line with how his mentor Andy Reid handles things. One wrinkle here: Doug Pederson, Eagles coach and former co-worker of Nagy's, has said can help get Philly in the postseason. But I'm not sure Nagy wants the Eagles in the postseason; Nick Foles is too hot to invite into your own home.
It's rather unfortunate that the Browns are going to give it their all in this game, because the Ravens would be a layup with Cleveland laying down (or maybe even just Hue Jackson coaching). Baker Mayfield is going to come into Baltimore and try to ruin the Ravens season in the same way Andy Dalton did last year on a last-second throw. But one thing people are missing here: Mayfield has not been great on the road against top-tier defenses this season. Only twice has Mayfield played a defense currently ranked in the top 10 in DVOA, once against the Texans and once against the Broncos. Cleveland went 1-1 in those games, and while Mayfield's stats aren't a disaster, he threw three early picks against the Texans before making his totals look respectable in a game that was never close. And against Denver the Browns won, but Vance Joseph might deserve more credit than Mayfield, who played well for spurts but not the whole game.
Since John Harbaugh took over the Ravens in 2008, rookie/first-year quarterbacks are 1-10 straight up in Baltimore. Only two AFC North rookie quarterbacks -- Andy Dalton and Brandon Weeden -- have kept a game in Baltimore within a single score. The Ravens are the best non-Bears defense in the NFL this year. It's just a bad matchup despite Mayfield's success this season.
Dallas keeps saying it plans on playing everyone in this game against New York, but I don't believe that. We saw how Jason Garrett handled this exact situation two years ago when the Cowboys were 13-2 and locked into a playoff seed. They trotted out Dak Prescott for a series or two, then played Tony Romo off the bench, let him throw a touchdown pass to wrap up his season and then turned the game over to Mark Sanchez. I expect nothing less from them here, and the Giants will be very motivated to put up points, even if they aren't trying to ruin the Cowboys season.
Specifically, New York is going to want to showcase Saquon Barkley in this game knowing a monster effort from him and an egg by Baker Mayfield in Baltimore could quickly secure votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Barkley's currently the favorite, but him laying an egg and Baker beating the Ravens would flip things in favor of the Browns quarterback. The Giants really want Barkley to win OROY as a means of helping to justify the selection of the running back at No. 2 over other available quarterbacks. He's gonna have a huge day.
Falcons (+1) at Buccaneers
Initially I had the Bucs in this spot, but the buzz about Ryan Griffin potentially playing for Tampa Bay is highly concerning. If Dirk Koetter is willing to throw his third-string quarterback in the game just because he's worked his butt off, it means that Koetter is taking this week to evaluate personnel rather than trying to win the game. It appears not everyone on the Tampa Bay roster is taking this game very seriously either; DeSean Jackson was apparently sleeping in meetings recently.
The Falcons aren't a good team or anything -- and they're certainly bad on defense -- but they're a better team than Tampa Bay and have spent the last two weeks putting it on bad teams. Tampa Bay is more capable of keeping up with the Falcons than the Cardinals and Cam Newton-less Panthers, but if they get down early, it might be a pack-it-in situation for the Bucs and that could lead to an easy victory for the Falcons. Atlanta is now favored in this game, by the way, and it wouldn't be shocking to see the line move up even higher than Falcons -1.
There is definitely some concern with the Raiders and Derek Carr storming in the back door here, but the Chiefs need to win in order to secure the AFC West and lock down the No. 1 overall seed, as well as homefield advantage throughout. It doesn't matter how much they win by, but it would behoove the Chiefs to get up big early, lob some points on the scoreboard and make sure this isn't a close game. Andy Reid would love to be able to see 35-0 on the scoreboard at halftime and be able to rest some guys.
Again, that would still open up the potential issue of the Raiders outscoring the Chiefs by a large margin in the second half of the game, but even if it's 28-14 that still covers for K.C. Patrick Mahomes is the prohibitive favorite (-285) to win the MVP award, and while he could still lose it to Drew Brees, I think people are mostly settled on Mahomes. One big half from the Chiefs quarterback and he locks it up. Reid wants a Super Bowl and will be worried about keeping his guys healthy, but he also wants his young quarterback to get the hardware. He can pretty easily have his cake and eat it too here.
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