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Many sports bettors enjoy betting week 17 for several reasons, not the least of which is that there are lots of teams that simply must-win for their season to continue. I, too, enjoy betting week 17.
I enjoy betting week 17, but I hate week 17. I hate week 17, mostly for non-gambling reasons.
Week 17 is actually an enjoyable gambling week for the non-casual bettor in that there are steals to be found when too much money floats toward a team in a must-win scenario. When betting teams in must-win games, you must understand that the motivation from a must-win scenario is already included in the lines.
Not only that, but you must also understand that the line may get inflated by the amount of money bet by folks who don’t understand how this works.
Therefore, we must be cautious when betting money on teams in must-win scenarios, which are favored by a significant number of points. To illustrate this, we’re going to look at why I hate week 17.
On week 17 of the 2004 NFL season, my Buffalo Bills hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in a must-win game to snap a four-year postseason drought. The bad news: the Steelers were 14-1. The good news: Pittsburgh had locked up the first seed in the AFC playoff bracket and were resting their starters. The Bills, winners of six straight and scoring at least 33 points in each one of those wins, were favored by 9.5.
The Bills lost the game straight up, and the drought continued.
The 2004 Buffalo Bills aren’t a complete anomaly here. Just last year, Pittsburgh needed a win in week 17 against the Ravens for a shot at the playoffs. Baltimore decided to rest their starters and rolled to the tune of 28-10, leading to locker cleanout for the Steelers the very next day.
In fact, in week 17 must-win scenarios, the teams that need a victory have a losing record against the spread. This is why I use week 17 to take lots of points against teams that have to have a win.
WAS (-2) at PHI
The NFL makes lots of divisional matchups in week 17 because they keep teams eliminated from the playoffs motivated and their fans interested in the game. I don’t think the Eagles lay down and simply let Washington take a division title. This line opened for me at WAS +1.5 and has already moved all the way to -2. Vegas likes the Eagles, but should we be following the casual bettors throwing money at Washington just because it’s a “must-win” for them? No thank you, let’s watch this line move some more and take Philadelphia when they’re getting 3.
The pick: PHI
TEN (-7.5) at HOU
How soon we forget. The Texans took Tennessee to overtime in a 78 point barnburner in Nashville back in week 6. October football has little to do with January football, but Deshaun Watson is an excellent quarterback playing at home. Getting 7.5 points makes Houston a very nice-looking bet; grab them up. And take the over (56.5) while you’re at it.
The pick: HOU
PIT (+10) at CLE
I know, the Steelers haven’t looked all that great recently. Yes, Cleveland did just lose to the Jets and will probably come out swinging on Sunday. And yes, Mason Rudolph is starting for Pittsburgh. But consider: this line opened at 6.5, moved to 7.5 after the money started flowing, moved to 9 after the QB announcement, and kept moving to 10. I don’t buy it. Not with the Browns. I’d prefer to wait and see just how many starters Pittsburgh is sitting, but right now, the bet is Steelers getting double digits.
The pick: PIT
You’ll note that at your favorite online sportsbook, there aren’t many player props in week 17, at least not early. Keep an eye out for an over/under passing yards total for Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts has thrown for 342 and 338 against Dallas and Arizona, respectively, as head coach Doug Pederson has abandoned the run. The Eagles are trying to see what they have at the quarterback position, as they have decisions to make regarding former second overall pick Carson Wentz in the offseason. Add that to a rivalry matchup with Washington, and we have a recipe for the over in a Jalen Hurts passing yards total, assuming it’s reasonable. Hit that over if it’s 250.5 or less.