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NFL Sunday Predictions - Week 17
by Josh Nagel - 12/30/2009

Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

Game: Philadelphia Eagles (11-4, 10-5 ATS) at Dallas Cowboys (10-5, 8-7 ATS)

Spread: Cowboys -3.

Overview: In the final week of the NFL season, finding games in which both teams are motivated is paramount to finding a good bet. Some gamblers found this out the hard way last week, when the previously unbeaten Indianapolis Colts pulled their starters early in the third quarter and ended up gift-wrapping a 29-15 win to the desperate New York Jets.

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This week, there are even more teams with their fates sealed, whether it involves postseason plans or a comfy seat on the couch for the playoffs. Running into a club on either side of the ledger that has little to play for can spell a disaster in Week 17 of the NFL season.

The Philadelphia Eagles traveling to face the Dallas Cowboys presents no such questions of motivation. With the NFC East title hanging in the balance, two of the league’s hottest teams are bound to give maximum effort. This is good news for bettors regardless of which side you are on, because at least you know you will get a fair chance from your team.

Choosing the correct side is another matter; the pick here says take the Eagles. Even though it’s tough to fade the home team in this spot, the Cowboys are as ripe a candidate as you’ll find to pick on.

The Eagles have won six straight and cashed in four of those. They are ranked in the Top 10 in both offense and defense, and will be looking to avenge a home loss to the Cowboys earlier this season.

Although Dallas has reversed its recent December woes, and pulled off a noteworthy road upset of the previously unbeaten New Orleans Saints, this is a spot in which Tony Romo and friends have struggled all season. Facing similarly big stakes three weeks ago, they dropped a 20-17 decision at home to the San Diego Chargers.

Moreover, the Eagles might have too many weapons for the Cowboys to handle. Whereas in past seasons they called for Donovan McNabb to bail them out in tough situations, Philadelphia has done a great job of drafting playmakers over the past few seasons to give McNabb more help. With game breakers like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in the lineup, and another solid runner in LeSean McCoy to add balance, the Eagles have more versatility on offense than at any time in coach Andy Reid’s tenure.

The Cowboys’ 21st-ranked pass defense surely will be tested, and the bet here says take McNabb in the clutch over Romo.

Trends: The Eagles are 4-0 ATS against home teams with winning records, and 7-1 ATS following an ATS loss. The Cowboys are 0-6 in their last six Week 17 games and 0-4 ATS as a favorite of three or fewer points.

Pick: Eagles.

Game: Baltimore Ravens (8-7, 8-6-1 ATS) at Oakland Raiders (5-10, 7-8 ATS)

Spread: Ravens -10.

Overview: This is another contest that should have both clubs properly motivated, though it might not look that way on paper. The woeful Raiders are in the midst of finishing another dismal season, filled with their familiar ugly play on the field and controversy off it. Coach Tom Cable’s job may well depend on this game. Despite surprisingly strong performances in a home win over the Eagles and a road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, there were still way too many performances like last week’s 23-9 debacle at the Cleveland Browns. The Raiders are still a mess, but spoiling Baltimore’s playoff hopes in front of the Oakland faithful might be enough to save Cable’s job.
Not that he deserves it. The Raiders are still close to dead last in almost every offensive category and are No. 27 in overall defense. You would think they are an easy target for the Ravens, who must win to get into the playoffs.

The problem is, the Ravens have been almost as erratic as their Oakland counterparts. If they miss the playoffs, they will have only themselves to blame. Baltimore missed last-minute chances to beat both the Colts and the Minnesota Vikings, and practically refused to accept a game the Steelers dared them to take on several occasions last week.
Despite all of the hype surrounding their improved offense, the Ravens still boast the league’s No. 2 overall defense, yielding just 16.5 points per game. This should be enough to get them past the offense-challenged Raiders, but don’t expect it to come easily.

Are you enjoying this column? Check out Doc's NFL strength of schedule page. If you plan on betting NFL you'll also want to read our proposition bets page. Our NFL Division Winner Predictions page is also must read when studding the NFL. For 35+ years the team at Doc's Sports Service has provided and insight on NFL handicapping.

Trends: The Ravens are 11-0 ATS against teams with losing records and 5-0 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more points. The Raiders are 4-1 ATS against teams with winning records, and 4-1 ATS as an underdog of 10 or more points.

Pick: Raiders.


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