NFL Betting Predictions: Week 17 Opening Line Report and Picks
I'm not one to gossip, but in sports it's always fun to speculate. And that's what we shall do regarding the New England Patriots' regular-season finale against the visiting New York Jets on Sunday.
First off, be aware that for all the Patriots' dominance, they have yet to reach a Super Bowl under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady without a first-round bye. You can only get a 1 or 2 seed by winning your division, and the Patriots have every year since 2001 but twice. The Pats clinched the AFC East again with Sunday's 24-12 victory over Buffalo. They can earn a coveted bye week with a victory here thanks to Houston losing Week 16 in Philadelphia on the final play. They could get the No. 1 seed with a win and Chiefs home loss to Raiders (not happening) AND a Chargers loss in Denver (possible).
What I really want to speculate about is how different the Patriots might look the next time they take the field at Gillette Stadium for a regular-season (or, I suppose, preseason) game. Many have said this for the past few years, but doesn't this really feel like the potential end of the dynasty?
Brady says he wants to play until at least age 45. He has been solid in 2018 but far from great - especially lately. He had an incredibly rare red-zone interception two weeks ago in Pittsburgh that might have cost the Patriots a win. He wasn't very good at all Sunday against the Bills in throwing for 126 yards and two picks. Brady doesn't have a potent group of receivers to work with, especially in the wake of Josh Gordon's relapse and suspension.
Rob Gronkowski will go down as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, but Gronk has undergone multiple major surgeries in his career and has looked closer to 40 than 30. Remember how old Gronk looked trying to tackle Kenyan Drake on that miracle play at the end of New England's 34-33 loss in Miami in Week 14? He was held without a catch in Week 16. If I had to lay odds on Gronk returning for 2019, no would be around a -300 favorite. He's got plenty to keep him occupied off the field and probably would like to keep walking for a while.
Then there's Belichick. His offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, agreed to become head coach of the Colts last winter but bailed at the last second when owner Robert Kraft swooped in with some sort of sweetheart deal. A nice raise was involved, but most believe a wink-wink promise to take over for Belichick was part of that. Even after leaving the Colts at the altar, McDaniels is coveted as a coach around the league. If he doesn't interview this winter, I'd start to wonder if Belichick is ready to retire. He and Brady aren't on the best of terms.
It will be an interesting offseason, to be sure.
As for the Jets? This 100 percent will be the last game as head coach for Todd Bowles. Ownership will look to find an offensive mind like Sean McVay or Matt Nagy to replace Bowles and tutor rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. Who might that be? Oh, you see the home-run possibilities on all the lists coming out of New York like Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh or Stanford's David Shaw, but all three are highly unlikely. Former Vikings OC John DeFilippo was on every short list a month or so ago, but his stock is in the toilet after being fired. Then again, he'd come cheap. Expect Gang Green to target the likes of former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who was under McVay in 2017. New York is a 13-point underdog for this one .
It's the final Opening Line Report story of the 2018 season, although obviously we will have the playoffs covered in depth here at Doc's. Here are some Week 17 early lines that caught my eye, with all games Sunday. I won't touch on Colts-Titans or Bears-Vikings as I will be previewing them here individually. Most of the drama is in the AFC.
Eagles at Redskins (+6.5, 41.5): The defending Super Bowl champions still have a chance to defend their title. They will get the last NFC wild-card spot with a victory and a Minnesota home loss to Chicago. Philadelphia stayed alive with a thrilling 32-30 comeback win over Houston as Jake Elliott kicked a 35-yard field goal as time expired. Nick Foles was terrific, completing 35 of 49 for 471 yards and four scores. Zach Ertz dominated in catching 12 balls for 110 yards and two scores - in the process, breaking Jason Witten's single-season league record for catches by a tight end. Ertz now has 113 (Witten had 110 in 2012 for the Cowboys). Foles did leave briefly after a big hit late but returned and says he'll be fine for Week 17. Washington was eliminated from playoff contention with Saturday's 25-16 loss at Tennessee. The Skins were outscored 16-3 in the fourth quarter even though they had knocked out Titans starting QB Marcus Mariota. Afterward, cornerback D.J. Swearinger ripped defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for not playing more zone coverage. I'd imagine Swearinger is suspended for this game. It could be the last as Redskins coach for Jay Gruden as it appears the inmates are starting to run the asylum in Washington. The pick: Eagles and "over."
Jaguars at Texans (-8.5, 40.5): Houston's loss in Philadelphia was New England's gain as written above. The Texans are in the playoffs but haven't clinched the AFC South yet even though that felt like a formality not long ago. Houston would cede the division to the Colts-Titans winner if the Texans lose this one. Deshaun Watson was great vs. the Eagles in throwing for 339 yards and two scores and leading the team with 49 yards rushing and two scores. Top tailback Lamar Miller was out with an ankle injury, and it's too early to know if he'll play here. Receiver Demaryius Thomas and cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Kayvon Webster all left injured. The team believes Thomas tore his Achilles' tendon, which would put next season in jeopardy. Jacksonville hurt itself from a draft perspective with Sunday's 17-7 upset win in Miami. Cody Kessler was awful and benched late in the third quarter for Blake Bortles. He probably starts here. The Jags lost 20-7 at home to Houston on Week 7. Bortles was benched in the third quarter in favor of Kessler. The pick: Jaguars.
49ers at Rams (-9.5, 50): Los Angeles still has plenty of motivation as it is playing for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye; the Rams lost any shot at the No. 1 with the Saints' victory in Week 16. L.A. gets the No. 2 with a win or Bears loss at Minnesota (games kick off at same time). The big question here will be the status of Todd Gurley, who was surprisingly inactive for Sunday's easy win over Arizona. Signed off the street earlier last week, C.J. Anderson took over as the featured back and ran for 167 yards on 20 carries. The Rams rushed for 269 yards and three scores overall. Aaron Donald set an NFL record for single-season sacks by a tackle with 18.5; he took Josh Rosen down three times. The Niners are just playing out the string and attempting to improve their draft status. They would pick fourth as things stand. San Francisco lost to the Rams in Week 7, 39-10. Gurley rushed for two scores and had one receiving. CJ Beathard as the San Francisco QB back then but it's Nick Mullens now. The pick: Rams.
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