Week 16 was a swift kick to the teeth. The Jets gave up 14 and 18 point leads before losing to a TD in overtime. Readers of this blog and I suffer a loss on New York +3 and give back 1.10x. My record for the NFL season heading into the final week is 15-9 (+8.81x).
Week 17 is like wading through a field filled with land mines. The final week of the season is the only week where prices do not have any prior precedent. Week 1 – Week 16 prices get set as far back as June and then reset with look ahead prices 10-12 days prior. Week 17 prices have a very short lifespan and open within 7 days of kickoff.
Week 17 also entices bettors to put more weight into coach speak and player news.
This is something that bettors should do each week, but Week 17 encourages some bettors who never put any weight into either to bet exclusively on quotes. This is not a terrible idea, but it is important to let the matchup on the field dictate the wager and the quotes to supplement the handicap.
A perfect example is my first bet of the week, Jacksonville +7.
The Jaguars end the regular season against their division rival Texans. The uninformed Week 17 outside looking in handicap is “Houston is playing for the potential first round bye while Jacksonville is not playing for anything and therefore will not put in as much effort.”
The informed looking inside out handicap is that Jacksonville is in a spot to put together their best performance since their 30-21 win against the New England Patriots back in Week 2.
Despite mustering just four wins on the season, the Jacksonville defence has never been the issue.
Overall on the season they rank 2nd in passing success rate defence and 1st in rushing success rate defence. If we squeeze that sample size down to the past six weeks where they are 1-5, the Jaguars are still 5th in passing success rate defence and 1st in rushing success rate defence.
The offence has been the weak point of the Jaguars. Their elite offensive line has been demolished with injuries the past six weeks and the QB switch to Cody Kessler has put undo pressure on Jaguars running backs. Opponents sell over vs. the rush, put the Jaguars in long down and distance and pressure an immobile QB in known passing spots. It is a bad scenario.
This week sets up to be different.
Blake Bortles was announced as the starter on Wednesday which does two things. One, it alleviates the pressure put on the patch work offensive line because Bortles mobility gives the Jaguars an out on offence. Leonard Fournette is unlikely to play and Carlos Hyde is banged up. Those handicapping outside looking in see this as a bad thing for the Jaguars. I see it as a positive. This opens up the spot for TJ Yeldon to step in. With Bortles ability to run, it is no surprise the other games with the QB and RB started together the Jaguars found offensive success. The duo featured together Week 2-5. The Jaguars put up 82 points in the four game span. Yeldon averaged 4.8 yards per carry (50) and 8.2 yards per catch (20).
There is also some spark that Bortles brings to the team. He has long been mentioned by players as one of the best guys in the locker room, and when he returned to action last Sunday, his first words in the huddle were “Ok guys, I am back, let’s go.” He led the team on a drive to take the lead and eventually won. I despise him as an NFL quarterback, but against a pressure-heavy team like Houston, his playing style sets up well this week.
Defensively there is energy to like as a bettor too. I was driving around doing last minute shopping listening to post-game interviews on the radio last Sunday. Jack did an on-field interview and said “We know the games are meaningless, but we enjoy coming out and playing spoiler against other teams, if we can’t go, we don’t want anyone to go.” Clear football player speak, but there was something in the way he said it and the way the Jaguars are performing on field that makes me truly believe there is motivation behind it. Franchises under management of Tom Coughlin are well known for not quitting too, which certainly plays into it.
With Lamar Miller less than 100%, the Texans rushing offence, which ranks 27th in rushing success rate, is going to be flat dead against the Jaguar’s defence that ranks tops in the league. This leaves the focus on the Houston passing game which just lost Demaryus Thomas for the season and will, in best case scenario, be with a very limited Keke Coutee as #2 to DeAndre Hopkins. No Coutee means Vyncint Smith – an ungraded WR – will be in at #2, along with Deandre Carter – another ungraded slot WR – at #3.
No QB has been hit and pressured more than Deshaun Watson, and with the Jaguars more than comfortable to play man to man on Hopkins, or any other step in receiver, the Jaguars defence should have another big performance. For those wondering, the last three games against this Jaguars secondary, Hopkins has caught just 13 passes for 185 yards.
Houston at -7 is just too high. Jaguars and the points is the way to look in this one.
My second bet of Week 17 is a bit of a different handicap, which boils down to fading a price point on Seattle.
Let me get all of the negativity out of the way with Arizona. The Cardinals are the worst team in the NFL. They rank 31st and 32nd in offensive rush and pass success rate. They are dead last in explosive plays rushing or passing on offence. On defence they rank 28th in passing success rate and 29th in rushing success rate. Arizona ranks 32nd in net yards per play at -1.
On the semi-positive side, I think that the argument can be made that this was expected. The Cardinals drew a historically difficult schedule to begin the season and were projected extremely low by any standard. Fast forward four months, and I think their price point is where many anticipated it would end up – and their numbers match that. Interestingly enough, against the 3rd most difficult of adjusted schedule of offences, the Cardinals have limited opponents to 103% of their average gain per play. That ranks 13rd among all teams in the NFL. They have also allowed the fewest number of explosive pass plays against – despite bleeding passing yards against for 60 minutes a game.
The team is bad, no doubt, but I don’t think they are as bad as their price point suggests.
The opposite perception applies for Seattle. The Seahawks have covered 9 of their last 11 games and won 7 of their last 10 outright to put themselves in a playoff position with a huge win on national television against the Kansas City Chiefs.
My gripe with Seattle is the fact that they do not rank high in any metric that matters. Even when the sample size of metrics is squeezed down into the game that they win, the highest Seattle ranks in offence or defensive success rate on either side of the ball is 12th (rushing offence).
Defensively, they are a bottom third team, offensively, they are a bottom five passing team and average rushing team – despite rushing the ball more than any other team in the league. Net yards per play has the Seahawks at 25th (-0.5 yards per play). All of these numbers have come against an average schedule of opposing offences and defences. Seattle has also been out-gained in 5 of their 9 victories.
All of the above creates a classic high low pricing spot.
The market opened with an extreme division price of Seattle -13.5. The Seahawks are not as good as their numbers suggest and the Cardinals are not quite as bad as their numbers suggest. Rolling perception takes over. The Seahawks continue to build market support by covering the number while Arizona is untouchable (1 cover in the last 6 games).
Intent and situation now factor into the equation. Seattle won their biggest game of the season on Sunday night at home to clinch a playoff spot after starting the season 0-2 – something just 9 of 91 teams since 2007 have done. Pete Carroll says it is “business as usual” heading into the game this week, but question marks around many key players loom large on the final practice report Friday.
DJ Fluker was not supposed to play Week 16, but rushed back and has found the injury report again this week, yet to practice. JR Sweezy was taken out and could not return to the game last Sunday and has yet to practice this week. That is both starting guards out of practice this week.
Bradley McDougald has been battling injuries all week and consistently misses early week practice. This week is no different with the safety yet to participate. McDougald moved over to cover for Tedric Thompson last week, who has yet to practice this week dealing with a chest and ankle issue.
Shamar Stephen and Dion Jordan on the defensive line has been dealing with lingering injuries and have yet to practice this week either.
Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Frank Clark and and Jarran Reed are all key players on defence and have each been limited in practice this week as well.
Doug Baldwin who was vital in the win last Sunday is now dealing with a shoulder injury which has kept him out or limited in practice this week.
In total, that is two offensive linemen (Ifedi is also on the report but has practiced in full on Thursday), two secondary, four pass rush, and one receiver on the injury report. While it may be “business as usual” for Carroll, how long will that narrative hold, especially if game state plays out and Seattle gets out in-front early? Everything about this game sets up for a “giant deep breath” for the Seahawks.
Combine all of that with the price point and the fact that Arizona veterans, led by Larry Fitzgerald have come out in support of head coach Steve Wilks, everything leads me to believe that the Cardinals are a 9-10 point underdog disguised as a 13.5 point underdog.
There is undoubtedly value in backing Arizona.
- Jacksonville Jaguars +7 (1.91). Risking 1.10x
- Arizona Cardinals +13.5 (1.91). Risking 1.10x