Week 16 was an interesting week, to say the least.
The Bears are now in position to make the playoffs, the Steelers now throw the ball down the field, the Rams will be without Jared Goff, the Jets won another game, the Colts may not make the playoffs, and the Dolphins have a quarterback controversy. Oh, and the Bills beat the Patriots by 29 points in primetime. Besides that, it was perfectly normal!
With that, let us examine my model’s projections for every game in the Week 17 slate. My model is able to calculate a team’s chances of winning by using Pro Football Focus grades and coaching adjustments, and from there, calculating the gap between the two teams before covering it into a win probability. In the past, that win probability was used to project a spread, and from there, it served as more a model to pick against the spread.
However, this was never my goal with the model. Rather, I want it to be able to project the estimated margin of victory by each team. Luckily, I have now transformed my model to calculate how much better a team is than average on a neutral field, and from there, those totals can be used to project how much one team will beat another by. Now, I can provide reasonable expectations for you all on how a game should turn out.
If you had been interested in the betting aspect of this model, however, fret not! You can still utilize the difference in margin of victory and spread to find the best values from a spread perspective, while my model now projects recommended money lines and over/under totals. After we go through all the games, I will go over the model’s top bets of the week, so you will want to stick around until the end!
Also, home-field advantage has been non-existent this season in terms of point differential, so for more accurate projections to made, there won’t be any points added to help home teams.
With that addressed, let us get to the Week 17 slate! This week, multiple teams will rest their starters, meaning model projections won’t be provided for those three matchups. However, there are plenty of tight matchups that are exciting, with THREE teams in position to win the NFC East!
NOTE: Model will be updated with injury updates, power ratings calculated with injuries in mind
*Odds via Vegas Insider
RESTED STARTER GAMES
These three games involve players likely to be rested, so I’ll quickly go over each of them; there is tremendous uncertainty regarding who will actually play, which likely prevents my model from giving an accurate projections.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-9.5)
The Steelers will not start Ben Roethlisberger in Week 17, opting to rest him and start Mason Rudolph. Right now, my model believes Cleveland will win by about four points, which would be enough to justify PIT (+9.5) being a worthwhile pick. However, I’m guessing Pittsburgh won’t let several of their key players play the whole game, so it’s hard to get a grasp of this game. Losing to Rudolph would certainly be the most Browns way possible to miss the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-3)
The Bills haven’t announced that they’ll rest their starters, but it is likely that they do so- there is no difference between being the #2 or #3 seed, and the Steelers are likely going to lose with Rudolph starting. If they play their starters, my model believes they’d win by 9-10 points, but the Dolphins have everything to play for and Buffalo doesn’t.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5)
Patrick Mahomes will not start for the Chiefs this week, but even with Chad Henne, my model and I believe they would win. The problem is that this certainly won’t be the last of them resting key players, and they also probably won’t try in this game. It will be interesting at least to see how Justin Herbert caps off an exciting rookie season.
SUNDAY 1 PM ET
Baltimore Ravens (10-5, 8th) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1, 28th)
Ravens Win Probability: 78.9195125%
Personally, I believe my model, which takes the whole season into account, is underrating the Ravens. They’ve looked like a completely different offense over the past month of the season, and although they have faced an easy schedule, the main change has been the schematics of their offense- it is far less predictable. They are averaging 0.04 expected points (EPA) added per rushing attempt, which is an absurd amount, while Lamar Jackson has played tremendously as of late. This is not a team I’d want to face in the playoffs.
Bengals Win Probability: 21.0804875%
How about those Bengals? They’ve won their last two games, and have scored a combined 64 points in that span. Although it has been costly for their draft position, it’s nice to see them have some sort of positivity and competitiveness, and I’m excited to see what they look like next year with Joe Burrow back healthy.
Projected Winner: BAL by 12.43
Spread: BAL (-12)
Projected Spread: BAL (-9.54)
Moneyline Value: CIN
Over/Under Total Projection: 42.79 (Real O/U= 44.5)
The Bengals have played really bad against the Ravens in the past, as they simply don’t match up well with them at all. I am guessing this game could get ugly in a hurry, especially since Baltimore needs a win to secure a playoff berth. Once that happens, they will be a team no one will look forward to playing. Their offense looks like it did in 2019, and their defense still possesses exceptional talent in the secondary. Also, it’s good for Bengals head coach Zac Taylor that he got two late-season victories, as this might be a very sour way to end the season.
Minnesota Vikings (6-9, 14th) at Detroit Lions (5-10, 30th)
Vikings Win Probability: 83.5%
Although they only have six wins this season, the Vikings are far from a terrible team. They still have a top-ten offense by almost every metric. Kirk Cousins has been a top-ten quarterback based on Pro Football Focus grade, while the Vikings have the highest-graded receiving corps in the NFL. The Lions, on the other hand, may be one of the worst defense I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I think the Jets could score 30+ points on them. Heck, even the Lions could score 30+ points on their defense!
Lions Win Probability: 16.5%
If Matthew Stafford plays, they’ll have a chance. However, when you’ve lost your last two games by 61 combined points, and have a -121 point differential in your past six games, there isn’t much reason to expect you not to pack it in with nothing to play for in what has been a disastrous season
Projected Winner: MIN by 11.62
Spread: MIN (-6.5)
Projected Spread: MIN (-11.02)
Moneyline Value: MIN
Over/Under Total Projection: 52.23 (Real O/U: 54.5)
The Vikings this season have been a microcosm for why you should evaluate front offices based on team performance, rather than individual success. Yes, they have individual star talent, but their rigidity in their run-heavy strategy, lack of defense depth, and other holes on the roster have prevented them from tapping into the makings of an elite passing offense. Their front office has done a nice job accumulating draft capital, but this is a team in transition. At the same time, their star talent can easily put them past the Lions, who have allowed 30+ points in each of their past five games. This is a fringe pick on the spread, while the money line makes some sense for Minnesota as well; this has the makings of a blowout between two teams that are a lot different in talent level than the records would indicate.
New York Jets (2-13, 31st) at New England Patriots (6-9, 26th)
Jets Win Probability: 34.5%
If you would have told me a month ago that the Jets would have two wins going into Week 17 and would not have a chance to get the #1 pick in the draft, I would have though you were crazy. Yet, here we are, and it’s not like they’re beating bad teams- they took down the Rams and Browns. Sam Darnold has shown nothing to be the team’s quarterback moving forward, but the offense has been competent, while their poor pass coverage won’t be exploited by the Patriots. In fact, their strengths when it comes to defending the run should help them against an offense that can only generate production through the ground.
Patriots Win Probability: 63.5%
At the end of the day, this is the Jets! Bill Belichick is as competitive as a coach as there is, and even if Jarrett Stidham starts, New England has a better team. They are the only team not starting undrafted rookies in their secondary, to be fair.
Projected Winner: NE by 5.01
Spread: NE (-3)
Projected Spread: NE (-5.12)
Moneyline Value: NE
Over/Under Total Projection: 40.46 (Real O/U= 39.5)
This is assuming Stidham plays, though I’m still pretty sure my model is overrating New England’s ability to function with him- he has shown no signs of optimism. At the same time, the Jets are really bad, while the Patriots aren’t going to be an easy team for them to move the ball against. To be honest, I have no idea what is going to happen this game, which is what makes it so fascinating.
Dallas Cowboys (6-9, 25th) at New York Giants (5-10, 27th)
Cowboys Win Probability: 52.72389613%
Who would have guessed that the Cowboys would be going into Week 17 with a legitimate chance to win the division? By virtue of three consecutive wins, all of which have been won with ease and with them scoring 30+ points, they could very well host a playoff game in a week. Honestly, they look like the team we expected them to be when Andy Dalton initially came in for the injured Dak Prescott. He is playing really well and distributing the ball effectively the one of the top receiving crops in the league, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has also finally de-emphasized Ezekiel Elliot from the offense. Heck, even their their pass coverage has been functional as of late.
Giants Win Probability: 47.27610387%
The Giants have lost their last three games, but they have also faced three teams in playoff contention (Cardinals, Browns, Ravens), while Daniel Jones has either not played or has played injured. If he’s healthy in this game, that’s a major boost for New York, who have enough offensive playmakers to score points against a poor Dallas defense. Also, you never know when the Cowboys could have a relapse and look more like they did when they were one of the laughingstocks of the league.
Projected Winner: DAL by 0.57
Spread: DAL (-1.5)
Projected Spread: DAL (-.9)
Moneyline Value: NYG
Over/Under Total Projection: 45.99 (Real O/U= 45)
This is close to being a pick-em, as all the teams in the NFC East are essentially the same. I’d feel more comfortable siding with the Cowboys, who have a more explosive offense, but I wouldn’t fault you for picking either side. That being said, Dallas is more likely to be somewhat competitive with the #5 seed in a playoff game, so perhaps it’d be better for the NFL’s sake if they win.
Atlanta Falcons (4-11, 13rd) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5, 4th)
Falcons Win Probability: 38.33523151%
There may no team in the NFL better than their record than the Falcons. Despite being 4-11, their point differential is only negative-one, they have lost their last four games by a combined sixteen points, and have lost three games this season with a win probability over 98%. That’s hard to do, folks. Honestly, their unluckiness this season has been such an anomaly, but with them in position to get a top-five pick and perhaps draft a quarterback, it is honestly the best thing that could happen to them. As for this game, they almost beat the Bucs the last time these two teams faced off, and they’ll always have a chance to win with a top-ten quarterback (Matt Ryan), a receiver playing at an elite level (Calvin Ridley), and a defense that ranks 12th in PFF’s opponent-adjusted grades.
Bucs Win Probability: 61.66476849%
Few teams are as hot right now as the Bucs. They have outscored their last three opponents by a combined 56 points, and they have scored 26+ points in each of those games as well. Tom Brady, with a 91.9 PFF grade, 6.49% big-time throw rate, and 1.9% turnover-worthy play rate, has been one of the best-performing quarterbacks in the NFL, and now that he is being helped out more by a less-deflating play-calling, the overall talent of the offense is showing. They scored 31 points in the second half against Atlanta, and there isn’t much reason to expect that to not carry over into this game.
Projected Winner: TB by 7.6
Spread: TB (-6.5)
Projected Spread: TB (-3.85)
Moneyline Value: ATL
Over/Under Total Projection: 51.06 (Real O/U= 50.5)
I’d be petrified to play the Bucs right now, though I would always have been, given how much talent they have. I don’t think this game is a shoo-in for them – the Falcons were beating them by 17 at halftime just two weeks ago – but they have a lot to play for; a win locks them in as the #5 seed, which allows them to play the NFC East winner instead of the Saints or Seahawks in the playoffs. The team that honestly stands to gain the most from this game is Atlanta by losing, so naturally, they will find a way to stage a comeback win and mess up their chances at landing a future quarterback!
SUNDAY 4:25 PM ET
New Orleans Saints (11-4, 9th) at Carolina Panthers (5-10, 23rd)
Saints Win Probability: 69.89918963%
The Saints still have an outside shot at the #1 seed, so they’ll definitely try to win this game. After a rough two-game losing streak, their offense got back on track in a major way. Yes, they ran for 264 yards, but they also averaged 12 yards/pass attempt, and Drew Brees was much more aggressive. The Vikings defense may not be much of a threat, but the same can be said about the Panthers, who have an injury report that is as long as it can be.
Panthers Win Probability: 30.10081037%
The Panthers remain a feisty team, thanks in large part due to their offense, which still ranks as an above-average unit when passing the ball. Their point differential of -25 is impressive given the overall difficulty of their schedule, and they had no problem moving the ball against the Saints the first time these two teams faced off. Even as they have lost games, they have played as hard as any team in the NFL, and they have enough talent to keep this close.
Projected Winner: NO by 8.73
Spread: NO (-6.5)
Projected Spread: NO (-6.57)
Moneyline Value: CAR
Over/Under Total Projection: 50.4 (Real O/U= 48)
Carolina played the Saints awfully close in Week 7, and it’s possible that could happen again. They’ve also, however, been decimated by injuries, and New Orleans appeared to turn a corner last week. Weather doesn’t appear to be an issue in this game, which is important for any game with Drew Brees playing, and if the Saints remain committed to being somewhat aggressive through the air, they are in good shape. Plus, they might just turn for 250 yards against a bottom-five run defense that is filled with young, inexperienced players that Brees and Sean Payton could look to exploit.
Green Bay Packers (12-3, 2nd) at Chicago Bears (8-7, 17th)
Packers Win Probability: 65.11241312%
With a win, the Packers would secure the #1 seed, and rightfully so. Outside of the Chiefs, they are the best team in the league. This season, they have the highest-performing quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, and offensive line. When that is the case, you’re going to be a good team. Aaron Rodgers versus Mitch Trubisky tells you all you need to know about how this game is likely to pan out.
Bears Win Probability: 34.88758688%
I really don’t know how the Bears win this game, but they have scored 30+ points in the past four games and now rank as PFF’s 18th-best offense in opponent-adjusted grades. Head coach Matt Nagy, perhaps realizing his job was on the line, appears to have turned back the clock to 2018, where he’s boosting Mitch Trubisky significantly with play-action passes and yards after the catch.
Projected Winner: GB by 9.84
Spread: GB (-5.5)
Projected Spread: GB (-4.99)
Moneyline Value: CHI
Over/Under Total Projection: 49.67 (Real O/U= 50.5)
Rivarly games are strange, but how are the Packers not favored by more? When these two teams faced off in Week 12, Green Bay was an 8.5-point favorite and easily covered that spread. Since then, they’ve only boosted their stock, while Chicago has mostly played bad teams. In other words, when it is all said and done, I think the Bears will be relying on the Cardinals losing to make the playoffs, and if this spread goes down any further, the Packers with the spread could hold value.
Tennessee Titans (10-5, 5th) at Houston Texans (4-11, 22nd)
Titans Win Probability: 68.883538196%
The Titans are coming off of a blowout loss to the Packers, but they’re still a really good football team. Their offense ranks third in PFF opponent-adjusted grades, and with such a poor pass-blocking offensive line, plays much better when they can take control of a game early. Facing the Texans, who are atrocious defensively, will help with that, and it should be expected that AJ Brown and Corey Davis each have huge games as they look to win the AFC South.
Texans Win Probability: 31.16461804%
When you need to win a game to clinch a division title, you don’t want to face Deshaun Watson. He has earned a 91.9 PFF grade this season with a 5.83% big-time throw rate, which has led Houston to having the second-best offense, based on yards/play. The Titans aren’t exactly strong when it comes to defending the pass, nor do they have the pass rush to take advantage of Watson holding onto the ball too long. With this likely to become a shootout, Watson gives the Texans a legitimate chance.
Projected Winner: TEN by 9.8
Spread: TEN (-7)
Projected Spread: TEN (-6.22)
Moneyline Value: HOU
Over/Under Total Projection: 54.72 (Real O/U= 56.5)
It’s possible that this game could come down to the wire, but there is also blowout possibility present with the Titans’ prolific offense. You could consider Houston’s money line as a long shot bet on Watson, but with the division on the line, I expect Tennessee to roll here. Even facing Watson, they have the better offense and just have way more roster talent, and the Texans, despite having Watson, have lost to the Bengals and Bears in recent weeks- not quite an ideal optimization of a star quarterback.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14, 32nd) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5, 7th)
Jaguars Win Probability: 5%
Congratulations Jaguars fans: you have gotten the #1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft! It actually is a shock this is their first time picking #1 in the draft, but their fortunes are certain to change. They did beat the Colts in Week 1, and perhaps they’re more inclined to win now that the #1 pick is locked up, though the players don’t tank; the only way to push their chips harder into this game would be starting Gardner Minshew.
Colts Win Probability: 95%
The Colts should win this game easily. Plain and simple. They should move the ball consistently against arguably the worst defense in the league, while their strong defense isn’t going to be tested by Mike Glennon and co. Jacksonville has solidified themselves as the worst team in the league, and Indianapolis should make that clear. Heck, perhaps they play even harder given their recent collapse to the Steelers and the possibility this is their last game, and maybe Phillip Rivers’.
Projected Winner: IND by 17.29
Spread: IND (-14)
Projected Spread: IND (-17.1)
Moneyline Value: Neither
Over/Under Total Projection: 48.06 (Real O/U= 50)
Colts fans, your best exercise on Sunday will be watching other teams play, as they need someone in the AFC playoff picture to lose in order to sneak in. If you end up losing twice to the Jaguars, you don’t deserve the make the playoffs anyways! Missing out on the playoffs like this would be close the way for Phillip Rivers to go out, though for his sake, I hope he gets a chance; they’re certainly a playoff-caliber team and have been built tremendously by general manager Chris Ballard.
Las Vegas Raiders (7-8, 24th) at Denver Broncos (5-10, 21st)
Raiders Win Probability: 40.84482387%
Once upon a time, the Raiders were in the thick of the AFC wildcard race. Now, they can’t even have a winning record. On the bright side, their offense has continue to produce at a high level, and they have completely turned the career of receiver Nelson Agholor around. If they could only be competent in other places, they could be a much better team given their consistent offense production.
Broncos Win Probability: 59.15517613%
Unfortunately for the Raiders, they aren’t competent elsewhere. There are four defenses in the NFL that are so bad that they are a complete liability: Lions, Jaguars, Texans, and them. Turnovers doomed Denver when these two teams first faced off, but they still moved the ball down the field consistently against Las Vegas, and I expect that to happen here. Both of these are very reliant on big plays, but the Raiders allow them with ease while Vic Fangio’s defense is built to limit them.
Projected Winner: DEN by 2.61
Spread: LV (-2.5)
Projected Spread: DEN (-3.02)
Moneyline Value: DEN
Over/Under Total Projection: 47.59 (Real O/U= 50.5)
My model has faded the Raiders all season long, so why not stop here! The last time it backed Denver against Las Vegas, it went poorly, to say the least, but Drew Lock theoretically shouldn’t turn the ball over five times! The Broncos are a better team than the Raiders, and I think this is the type of game that gives them irrational hope about Lock’s prospects. I don’t know why they’re almost a three-point underdog.
Also, the under in this game holds some value. My model may be overrating Denver’s defense, but 50.5 points is a lot, especially since both offenses are volatile due to their reliance on big plays, and are naturally run-heavy. Personally, I think that Las Vegas’ offense has been overvalued due to their mid-season performance, and in a very cold-weathered game, this should be a classic grueling, slow-paced January matchup.
Arizona Cardinals (8-7, 19th) at Los Angeles Rams (9-6, 15th)
Cardinals Win Probability: 45.91889689%
Due to their loss to the 49ers, which my model saw coming, the Cardinals now need a win and a Bears loss to make the playoffs. That isn’t a lot to ask for. Sure, their offense is inconsistent, but it is certainly better than the Rams offense, which will be led by John Wolford under center. Plus, they scored 28 points against this strong Los Angeles defense the first time they played them, as Kyler Murray will look to wrap up his second season by continuing to impress; he has a 83.2 PFF grade and has established himself as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks.
Rams Win Probability: 54.08110311%
It’s not as though Goff was driving the Rams to prominence. In fact, he has held them back at times. Thus, the drop-off to Wolford may not be as extreme as many think, especially since the Cardinals aren’t exactly strong on the defensive side of the ball. They too need to win this game to secure a playoff spot, and I just have much more trust in their coaching staff than I do in Kliff Kingsbury.
Projected Winner: LAR by 1.75
Spread: ARI (-3)
Projected Spread: LAR (-1.35)
Moneyline Value: LAR
Over/Under Total Projection: 45.9 (Real O/U= 41)
Even without Goff, the Rams are a better team than the Cardinals. Obviously, they are a much-more talented defense, but is their offense far off? A lot of Goff’s production comes after the catch, and if Cooper Kupp can play in this game, then it’s likely that the offense can still function. Then, you factor in the coaching mismatch, and a lot is on Los Angeles’ side. I certainly cannot advocate this line moving as significantly as it has; Goff is clearly being overvalued.
Seattle Seahawks (11-4, 6th) at San Francisco 49ers (6-9, 12th)
Seahawks Win Probability: 55.59792654%
Believe it or not, but there’s still the smallest of chances the Seahawks could be the #1 seed! With Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf, and Tyler Lockett, they will continue to have an explosive offense, even if they hold themselves back with their conservative play-calling. Plus, they are no longer getting in their way defensively, and for that reason, they’re a team that is closing up potential weaknesses that can be exploited. In what has been a long season for the 49ers, Seattle could catch them looking towards the offseason.
49ers Win Probability: 44.40207346%
My model has loved the 49ers for some time, and it’s easy to see why. Despite all of their injuries and the fact they can’t play in their home state, they still have an above-average offense, based on yards/play. Kyle Shanahan remains a genius, and the same cannot be said for members of Seattle’s coaching staff. Shanahan, in fact, has always been able to exploit a predictable Seahawks defense, and their defense is built to limit explosive plays. The Seahawks are vulnerable to dud performances, and this could be one.
Projected Winner: SEA by 3.56
Spread: SEA (-6)
Projected Spread: SEA (-1.85)
Moneyline Value: SF
Over/Under Total Projection: 49.19 (Real O/U= 46)
My model has been high on the 49ers throughout the season; they are decent turnover luck away from being a playoff team despite all the adversity they have dealt with. Kyle Shanahan continues to prove himself as one of the elite coaches in the NFL, and his ability to keep this team competitive no matter what is admirable. With how conservative the Seahawks are, they struggle to separate from teams, so siding with San Francisco definitely seems the smart option, even as their injuries continue to pile on. Most of all though, any game with Russell Wilson and Shanahan should feature more than 46 points, making the over on the total the best pick to make for this game.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Washington (6-9, 18th) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1, 29th)
Washington Win Probability: 76.6821053%
By being the only team not ranked in the bottom ten, the Washington Football Team deserves to win the NFC East. Yes, defense doesn’t win championships, but it can get you to being mediocre, and by being mediocre, they’re the best team in the division. They’re going to provide major resistance to Jalen Hurts and an Eagles offense that a) relies on running the ball and b) still isn’t very productive with Hurts at the helm. Hurts has playing with fire when it comes to turnover-worthy plays (5.33% rate), and turnovers are exactly what Washington can use to win this game.
Eagles Win Probability: 23.3178947%
Alex Smith isn’t practicing and Terry McLaurin is in a walking boot, which is far from ideal for Washington’s offense. Although turnovers have been a problem for Hurts, he provides the Eagles with big-play ability, and they have far more explosiveness than Washington. Yes, they’ve been beaten by injuries in the secondary, but I’m not confident in Washington exploiting that lack of depth.
Projected Winner: WSH by 7.89
Spread: WSH (-2)
Projected Spread: WSH (-8.81)
Moneyline Value: WSH
Over/Under Total Projection: 43 (Real O/U= 43)
With the NFC East on the line, Washington comes into this game with uncertainty regarding the status of their top-two offensive players. My model is assuming there is a 50-50 chance that Smith plays, but even if it’s Taylor Heinicke, it believes Washington wins this game outright and covers the spread. Thus, Washington with the money line and spread is a worthwhile pick, as it holds value even in their worst-case scenario. After all, their offense has exactly been the driving force of their recent success, nor are the Eagles bringing much to the table.
Best Model Picks
Although my model is more of a projection model than a betting model, we can still use it to identify the best value picks. To do so, I calculated the average difference from Vegas’ lines and the model’s projections, as well as the standard deviation. Thus, all of these picks are listed because they are one deviation over from the average difference.
- WSH (-2) at PHI
- DEN (+2.5) vs LV
- DEN (+125) vs LV
- LAR (+135) vs ARI
- MIN (-300) at DET
- WSH (-130) at PHI
- LAR at ARI (Over 41)
- SEA at SF (Over 46)
- DEN at LV (Under 50.5)
All odds are updated from Vegas Insider as of Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Additionally, all advanced metrics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Remember, these are based on blind projections, so when it comes to betting on games, please bet responsibily and realize that as a small-sample size sport, anything can happen within one game of football! Hey, that’s the fun of it all; enjoy a great week of football!