NFL Football Predictions: Week 17 Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 12/23/2014
Plenty of drama heading into the final Sunday of the 2014 regular season with one wild-card spot open in the AFC and three division titles still up for grabs in the NFC. Two NFC divisions will be decided in head-to-head matchups: Carolina at Atlanta for the sorry South Division -- the only playoff spot still up for grabs in the NFC -- and Detroit at Green Bay for the North. At least the Lions-Packers loser still makes the playoffs, but it slips from a likely No. 2 seed all the way to a No. 6. While New England has clinched the top seed in the AFC, it's up for grabs in the NFC but should be taken for the second straight year by Seattle. I would certainly be OK with a Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl.
Here are a few Week 16 opening lines at WagerWeb that caught my eye. I will preview three games Sunday (no Thursday or Monday games this week): Chargers-Chiefs, Lions-Packers and Bengals-Steelers. So I won't touch on those here.
Buffalo at New England (-3.5, 44): For those books that posted lines before the Monday night game, New England had been a 10.5-point favorite. That changed dramatically because Denver's loss in Cincinnati clinched the top seed for the Patriots. So they have no reason to play their starters against the Bills. No word yet on what Bill Belichick will do, but he also might not want his key guys having two weeks off and then be out of sync in the divisional round. I would definitely not play injury-prone tight end Rob Gronkowski regardless. It's a shame for the Bills as they could have had a potential layup game here with a chance to make the playoffs if not for last week's loss in Oakland. Buffalo still might have motivation to finish 9-7 for the franchise's first winning record since 2004. Cleveland will be rooting against Buffalo as it gets the Bills' first-round pick next year, so another loss can only help improve draft position potentially. The pick: Need to wait and see what Belichick does -- and he's not exactly open about his plans ... ever -- but I lean taking anything over 3 points.
Cleveland at Baltimore (-9, 42.5): The Ravens, particularly Joe Flacco, laid a major egg last week in Houston, and now they don't control their playoff destiny. Baltimore will get in with a victory and a San Diego loss in Kansas City, and the Chiefs are favored in that one. And boy do the Ravens potentially catch a major break here. They won't be facing Johnny Manziel, who has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. They probably won't be facing Brian Hoyer, either, as he suffered a shoulder injury in relief of Manziel last week (although Hoyer hasn't been ruled out). Thus, it could be undrafted rookie Connor Shaw, who was called up from the practice squad. He wasn't even very good at South Carolina. Cleveland was so desperate at the position it rang up Rex Grossman, but he declined. The pick: This should be a blowout for Baltimore. Go under as I don't see Cleveland scoring more than single digits even if Hoyer somehow plays.
New Orleans at Tampa Bay (+4, 47): Talk about two teams who don't give a s**t for a game. The Saints will be 100 percent deflated after losing last week at home to be eliminated from the playoffs even though they could finish with the most wins in the NFC South (if Panthers and Falcons have an unlikely tie). Bucs coach Lovie Smith should sit every starter he has and play scrubs. Why? A loss guarantees Tampa Bay the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and a choice between Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston. A win could hand it to Tennessee. So with both teams going through the motions, I expect a major slopfest. The pick: Love the "under." Lean Saints.
Carolina at Atlanta (-4, 47.5): The winner of this game will join the 2010 Seattle Seahawks as the worst division champion in NFL history in a non-strike shortened campaign. One thing to keep in mind: That 7-9 Seahawks team did pull a home upset (vs. New Orleans) in the wild-card round of the playoffs. I wouldn't put it past either the Panthers or Falcons to do so if they get to host Arizona next week, as expected, because the Cardinals have no quarterbacks. Atlanta won 19-17 in Carolina in Week 11 when the Panthers missed two late kicks (one blocked). Carolina had won the previous three meetings. The pick: I think Falcons win by a field goal, so will take the points. Go under.
Arizona at San Francisco (-6, 36.5): It's really too bad what happened to the Cardinals' quarterbacks because they probably would have gotten the No. 1 seed if Carson Palmer stayed on his feet all season. Maybe even with Drew Stanton. Ryan Lindley might be the worst starting QB in the NFL this decade, and he was totally lost in last week's blowout loss to Seattle. So the team reportedly is going to fourth-round rookie Logan Thomas. He can't possibly be as bad as Lindley and at least can run a bit. The Cards have an outside chance at the NFC West, but I don't see Seattle losing at home to St. Louis. So expect Arizona to drop to No. 5 and travel next week. Stanton surely won't be ready for that. Meanwhile, it's the finale for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who is expected to be let go on Black Monday. Then it's off to either Michigan or Oakland. The 49ers front office can't wait to be rid of him. The pick: Niners don't care, but I can't pick a rookie QB to win on the road in Week 17 in his first start. Give the points and, yes, go under that absurd total.
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