The end of the season is here! Man, that was fast. It shouldn't have been quite so quick, what with me not having the time of my life on these best bets, struggling to an OK record and missing an opportunity to surge above .500 for the season with a bad Week 16 showing. I got too cute after following a clear set of rules for a lengthy stretch. 

Oh well. Let's bounce back this week and close strong in what is, without question, the hardest week to make picks against the spread. Motivation is all over the place in terms of these different teams, so we're going to try and isolate five teams that actually care about what happens in Week 17, coupled with matchups against teams that, preferably, might not care. The only exception would be the Panthers-Falcons situation, but I just see the Panthers as a better team and one that should care deeply about the outcome of its game, pending some other results.

Cowboys -3 at Eagles

Did you see how quickly this line moved after the Eagles locked up home-field advantage? The Cowboys are playing for nothing, having been eliminated by the Seahawks at home during Week 16. The Eagles are playing for even less -- they have the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC and need to avoid suffering any injuries during the next week. Maybe they bring out Nick Foles to wing it around, but the smart move is to play it safe and to get out of Dodge without anyone suffering any harm that will keep a critical player off the field over the next two weeks. Dallas, meanwhile, would love to secure a 9-7 season where they can say "we just got hosed by the league on the Ezekiel Elliott thing" and point to Elliott running for 1,000 yards regardless of the legal issues he dealt with off the field. It just feels like the opposite of last year, with the Cowboys dominating in a game that no one really cares about. 

Vikings -11.5 vs. Bears

Huge spread here, but I'm fully comfortable with it. The Vikings are really good at blowing out bad teams, and the Bears are a bad team. Will they be inspired for what is likely John Fox's last game? Nah. And Minnesota is still fighting for the No. 2 overall seed. The Vikings can't catch the Eagles for home field, but they can secure a bye with a win, and that's a big deal for a team that has overcome a lot of obstacles and, if things break right, might not have to leave home before the Super Bowl. Minnesota could easily take its foot off the gas in a situation where the Vikings are up big and let the Bears creep back in. But, again, this is about securing a playoff bye. The Vikings aren't going to relax until it's the fourth quarter and they're up 21 points. At that point, you have to just cross your fingers and hope that Mitchell Trubisky does not have a pair of late-game touchdowns hanging around.

Panthers +4 at Falcons

Carolina has too much to play for here. The Panthers literally just fought the Buccaneers to the bitter end in Week 16; why would they assume that the Bucs will just roll over against the Saints at home? Dirk Koetter is fighting for his job and, assuming Jameis Winston likes his coach, his quarterback should be fighting for his coach's job too. The Saints have been a better team away from the turf in terms of diversifying their offense and could storm into Tampa Bay and blast the Bucs. That's why I'm not messing around with Tampa here. But the Panthers know that there's a chance Minnesota could lose and the Saints could lose and that would result in Carolina, if it won, securing the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Even just New Orleans losing and Carolina winning would result in the Panthers winning the NFC South. That's a massive swing, and I expect that you could see the Panthers do some scoreboard watching here. But if things are close they'll keep fighting, especially with a shot to keep a divisional rival out of the playoffs. 

Patriots -15.5 vs. Jets

For some stupid reason I bet against the Patriots at home in December last week. I didn't like it, I never liked it and I still went ahead with it. Now I'm going to the other way and maybe it costs me, but I don't care. New England is ROLLING right now on offense and knows that it simply needs to blow out the Jets to be put in a position where there isn't a question about the No. 1 seed. The Jets are not going down without a fight, but they are starting Bryce Petty and Bill Belichick/Matt Patricia will do a number on the inexperienced quarterback. There is some infighting with the Jets defense, and Tom Brady has heard all the chatter about Todd Gurley. He might go out and sneak in four touchdown passes in the first half to set up an easy victory at home that involves a lot of Mike Gillislee running the ball and melting the clock in the second half.

49ers -3 at Rams

No one would have seen THIS coming before the trade deadline: a 49ers team tracking for the No. 1 overall pick is a field goal favorite on the road against the upstart Rams, who somehow became the team du jour for the NFL. But thanks to the Rams clinching either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed and deciding to bench most of their starters, and thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo turning into the hottest name in football, the Niners are favored here. They opened as four-point dogs, but Sean McVay's announcement that almost all of the Rams starters would sit for this game puts the 49ers in a position to be a big favorite. The crowd in Los Angeles should not be a factor and going against backups for a team clearly waving the white flag portends another big game from Jimmy G and a Niners victory. 

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