Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
If you agree with me and think picking games in the NFL in 2020 was difficult, don’t look now. Picking NFL games in the last week of the regular season is way harder than any other week, and if you add the weirdness of 2020…
In Week 17, we have two teams (the LA Rams and the Arizona Cardinals) playing each other in a “playoff play in” must win game-and both teams may be playing without their starting quarterbacks. We have the Washington Football Team (??) playing for their playoff lives after cutting their quarterback of the future (!!) and possibly not having their most productive quarterback for this week’s game. We have the Cleveland Browns coming off a loss to the NY Jets (??!!) and now favored by an astounding 10 points in another must win game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. We have the Dallas Cowboys in pretty good shape to make the playoffs after being declared dead by many, including me. We have the Chicago Bears, declared “hibernating” by me, with a real chance of making the playoffs if they can beat the Green Bay Packers. And, like every year, we have several teams that probably will not risk injuries to star players for little or no gain, like Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. And is playing for a bye week or home field advantage worth risking injury for teams like Green Bay, New Orleans, and Seattle? So, figuring out matchups, momentum, and what teams already are booking tee times is not enough this week, we also have to try to figure out what certain coaches are thinking about who will play and how much.
I think that Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo have already shown their hands and are not going to play their key players much, if at all, and that Pittsburgh will do the same. I know Jared Goff will not play against the Cardinals, but I don’t know if that will make any difference because I don’t know if any NFL quarterback could play worse than Goff did last Sunday. I also don’t know if Kyler Murray will play against the Rams, or even who the Cardinals’ backup quarterback is. I know whoever plays QB for the Washington Football team can’t play any worse than Dwayne Haskins did against Carolina, but can it be enough to beat Philadelphia? I know the Cowboys and Bears are hot, but can I trust them after all the disappointments?
Many questions and few answers in the NFL this week. By comparison, picking the college football playoff games seems relatively straight forward, even though I have not picked any college games at all this year. All you have to do is figure out who the best teams are, and how much better they are than their opponents. Of course, all teams have not played much, if at all, outside their own conferences, and all teams have not played even close to the same number of games, but it SEEMS easier to me. We’ll see, but I would not bet more than I can afford to lose.
A couple more things. One is how grateful I am to have the NFL to watch during this pandemic. It has been crazy, but I sure look forward to Sundays when I can temporarily forget the world and watch a game played by some of the best athletes in the world. I would also like to thank Fernley Reporter editor Robert Perea for giving me the opportunity to write this article every week, and posting every rant I’ve made without revising. I think that it’s cool that a regular guy who likes to bet football games gets to do this. If you like what I’ve written, thank you. If you don’t, blame Perea.
Picks are against the point spread according to vegasinsider.com as of Tuesday. NFL odds, I believe, are subject to a great deal of changes this week due to all the unknowns, so the lines may be different as more information becomes public knowledge. If you like the odds, bet early.
Alabama (-20) vs. Notre Dame My dad always said, “Never bet against the Irish”, but Notre Dame used to win these games. Not lately.
Clemson (-7 ½) vs Ohio State I think Clemson is better, and will prove it on Friday.
Atlanta Falcons (+6 ½) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Based on my belief that Tampa Bay has little to gain, and a lot to lose. Atlanta has showed a lot of spunk lately
New York Jets (+3) at New England Patriots It looks to me like the Patriot QBs can’t throw the ball, but that’s ok because they have no one to catch it, either. The Jets, talk about way too little way too late, have shown integrity and fight the last few weeks.
Miami Dolphins (+1) at Buffalo Bills. Bet this one early, because once (if) it becomes known the Bills are resting many of their players, this line will flip.
Dallas Cowboys (-3) at New York Giants. As I have said, I respect that the Giants play hard, but the Cowboys are better in this must win game.
Philadelphia Eagles (+1 ½) vs Washington Football Team I respect what The Football Team did, but ya still gotta have a quarterback.
As Jim correctly stated, Week 17 in the NFL is often the most difficult to predict, because it often comes down to which teams actually want to win, and guessing that is never easy, because for teams already in the playoffs, staying healthy for next week is the most important thing. For the teams that are out of it, there are invariably some that go out with big efforts, trying to build momentum to go into the offseason, while others are glad to see the season end and just want to get it over with. For those players who have been away from their families because of the pandemic this year, that’s probably even more of a factor than normal.
Among the crazy things that happened on Week 17 last year:
- The Dolphins beat the Patriots in Week 17, which cost the Patriots a first-round bye.
- Carson Wentz, who has been benched by the Eagles this year, led a game-winning touchdown drive to put Philadelphia into the playoffs.
- The Cowboys fell flat with a chance to win a playoff spot.
- The Raiders lost their Week 17 game for the ninth straight year.
- An offensive lineman, Atlanta’s Ty Dambrailo, caught a 35-yad touchdown pass.
- Among the quarterbacks who started on Week 17 last year were David Blough, Sean Mannion and A.J. McCarron.
Meanwhile, the College Football Playoff is the highlight of the week. I don’t have a strong opinion in either game, and don’t plan as of now to bet either game, In the Notre Dame/Alabama semifinal, I expect Alabama to score into the 40s, and maybe exceed their average of 49 points per game. The question that will determine who covers the 20-point spread will come down to how much Notre Dame can score. This Alabama defense is gettable, but Notre Dame has neither the explosiveness of Florida or the field-stretching scheme of Ole Miss, the two offenses that gave the Crimson Tide the most trouble this year.
In the other semifinal, I think both Clemson and Ohio St. were better teams last year than this year. Trevor Lawrence doesn’t have as good of a corps of receivers as he had last year, but the Tigers are still plenty capable of scoring on any play. Ohio St. obviously is as explosive as anyone other than Alabama, although there were some very concerning signs in the Big 10 Championship game against Northwestern, the best defense they’ve faced.
This week’s picks (lines as of Wednesday at William Hill)
Georgia (-7) vs Cincinnati (Peach Bowl): Other than the playoff games, most bowl games often come down to motivation. As an undefeated team getting their shot at one of the big boys, I know Cincinnati will be motivated. But whether this will work out like Boise St. in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma or Hawaii in the 2008 Sugar Bowl depends on how motivated Georgia is, not Cincinnati. Cincinnati is obviously good, but Georgia’s defense is elite, and since J.T. Daniels took over at quarterback, the Bulldogs have been a transformed team. Much like Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl Wednesday night, this is a team that is seeing this game as a potential springboard into a playoff season next year. Cincy will fight, but the Dawgs will take the decision.
North Carolina St. (+2 ½) over Kentucky (Taxslayer Bowl): If Alabama’s offense is a Lamborghini, Kentucky’s is a 1974 Toyota with a blown head gasket. The Wildcats’ defense is legit, but this is a classic case of a team that can’t score being favored over a team that can.
Texas A&M (-7 ½) over North Carolina (Orange Bowl): I’m a little leery of laying significant points with Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, who has been erratic, but he’s had he best season of his career with 19 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions this year. But this is mostly about North Carolina, which has seen most of their offensive skill position starters opt out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft, including two running backs who both ran for more than 1,000 yards, and a 1,000 yard receiver. This could be similar to Oklahoma vs. Florida Wednesday night in the Cotton Bowl.
Philadelphia (+1 ½) over Washington: The Eagles got knocked out of the playoffs by losing to Dallas last week, while it’s win and you’re in for the Football Team. But in most cases, lots of teams lose when they get to the last game of the season needing to win to make the playoffs. That’s because teams in that situation often aren’t that good, or else they’d have won more. Such is the case with the Football Team. I expect the Eagles to compete, with Jalen Hurts looking to overcome last week’s mistakes and show he deserves a shot to be the starting QB next season.
Dallas (-1 ½) at New York Giants: If the Cowboys win and the Football Team loses, the Cowboys are in the playoffs, and that’s how I expect it to shake out. Despite their troubles, the Cowboys look to be peaking, and I think if they get in, they’re going to be a handful for somebody.