It's been a long, up and down season here at Pickwatch.
We've launched a lot of new features that have had great feedback, including last week's launch of 'Favorites' - you can now select and save your own favorites list direct from the table, and we have plans to expand this feature a great deal over the offseason - though believe me, the changes to how Pickwatch works will be far greater.
To share some insight, we believe that while we love working with the experts (many of whom have logins and now make their own picks on our site), our duty is to help you win. We're always going to make those picks the focal point of the site, but we want to add competition to everything you do on Pickwatch.
From 2019 you'll be making picks every week with the chance to win tangible rewards, competing with others and even becoming a legitimate, recognized expert in your own right, followed by others and earning actual cash, just for picking games.
We've got lots more on this to come over the next few months, but for now let's just say that you'll see the next step (matchup hubs) in time for the playoffs, bringing all of our stats and the important game stats and rankings into one place. Apart from a few bells and whistles, we will then move on to our 2019 plans and keep you updated throught the offseason. If you're not a member, then register for free and receive exclusive updates when we launch our new features over the offseason, and you can head into 2019's season with the best information possible.
With that out of the way, let's look at week 17's Upset Watch
We all hate week 17. Will teams rest starters? For how long if so? Will the teams with nothing to play for shock a playoff-bound contender? Or will a team with it all on the line crumble under the pressure of 'win and in'?
All of these questions are good and well, but how often do 'dogs cover in week 17 generally? Let's take a look:
Week 17 underdog covers:
Yes, it's true that 58% of teams cover over that period, however if we take out the top and bottom of that range, we get a more realistic 50%. I'm going to suggest that 8 underdog picks will be about right this week, with the potential for a 9th if you really like one (albeit I do not). But Pickwatchers, where should you allocate those upsets?
|Year||Spread 10+||6 to 9.5||less than 6|
As you can see, it's easy to take the big points thinking that a severely overmatched team may have a point to prove against a playoff-bound team nursing it's best players, but that's not necessarily been the case. In a lot of those games, the big time favorite very much came through.
To break this down further, I think that three of the teams facing a -10 or above spread, the Steelers, Patriots and Seahawks, are perrenial playoff contenders, and regularly face this scenario (being favorites in week 17). The fourth and fifth, LA and Kansas City, have largely not been in the same boat - in fact in 2013, the Chiefs faced a +13.5 point spread against San Diego!
Perhaps more importantly, none of those teams are a million miles away from what they were five years ago at Coach, QB and core skill positions. Many of the same players are in similar roles and can expect similar workloads depending on game situations. Even with home field or first round byes on the line, the aforementioned teams have largely been cautious about risking too much, so it's a good indicator of how hard they'll go in order to clinch their aims this week.
Week 17 records as favorites last 5 years:
When facing a -10 or above spread
- Pittsburgh's spread in 2014 flitted between 9.5 and 10.
I have more confidence in the Seahawks and Steelers to cover than the Patriots this week, but the Pats covered a 16pt spread against a poor Jets team last year quarterbacked by Bryce Petty who could manage just 6 points. It was 21-3 by half time and really got out of hand. Tom Brady didn't come out until late in that game, and in fact has regularly played deep into meaningless week 17 games...
Let's factor all of that in when we make our week 17 upset watch picks. Last week we were 5-0-1, so let's also try and keep that up as we head to the end of 2018:
Upset of the week: Jacksonville (+7) @ Houston
No team heads into the NFL playoffs knowing as much about the reliance on their quarterback as the Texans. Last year, DeShaun Watson had led the team to a reasonable 3-4 record as a rookie when he tore his ACL, sending the team into Tom Savage mode. That mode resulted in just one win for the rest of the season, emphasizing the perilous balance that the Texans face headed into tomorrow's game.
I think the Texans will rest all of their main offensive starters, Watson, Hopkins and Miller, and likely their major defensive players too. The Texans have one of the most bizarre playoff scenarios, being unable to drop out, but theoretically being able to finish anywhere between top and bottom seed, depending on other results.
Realistically, even winning their game against Jacksonville will not guarantee them much more than what they already have unless both the Chiefs and Patriots lose, which means the likelihood of pushing hard will probably come down to whether the other two results look likely to feed into their first round bye dreams.
I think both the Pats and Chiefs will score early and coach Bill O'Brien will pull Watson early to avoid a disaster. That would leave either Joe Webb or - shudder - Brandon Weeden to take over. Imagine the feast for the Jags D against either of them! I can see the Jags playing harder than most teams at this stage given the need for many of their players to earn their starting spots for 2019 after a tumltuous year, so for those reasons, I'm picking the Jags to win.
2) Cleveland (+5.5) @ Baltimore
Is any team with less to play for more fired up to win in week 17 than Cleveland? The team has come together under Baker Mayfield and Gregg Williams to give a sense of purpose to their football team again. Imagine that! A Cleveland Browns team that wants to win! Outrageous!
In all seriousness, the Ravens are not a high powered offense by any stretch and they should be scoring around 23pts on Sunday, vs 20.5 for Cleveland. I think the margins and the way the Browns hit form last week should make the Ravens not only nervous about the points margin, but about whether they can win this game at all. The way the Browns got into their stride against the Bengals was not only impressive, but it also felt like they are more determined than any other team to end this regular season on a high.
As much is at stake for the Ravens, I just don't see them winning by more than a field goal, and if anything, I am likely taking the Browns to win.
3) San Francisco (+10.5) @ LA Rams
This one will be contentious.
The 49ers are playing good football. They're not scoring many points, sure, but over the last 3 games have given up 14, 23 and 14 points respectively. Sure, the Rams are different to most teams, but I think they will be glad to see the back of this regular season that has proved somewhat dicey heading into the final few weeks. Todd Gurley won't play, and I imagine Jared Goff will not play the entire game either. A solid outing last week gives the Rams extra impetus to keep Goff from undoing that momentum after 3 extremely poor outings in the preceding weeks (TD:INT of 1:6) despite the first round bye that is on the line.
Once the game is in hand, I expect the Rams to turn to Sean Mannion, and that may well allow the 49ers to run them a little closer than they may like at the end.
4) New York Jets (+13.5) @ New England
I hate this spot for the Pats. They beat the Jets last year against an inept QB (Petty) and go into this one in almost the same shape. The spread is almost the same too, yet the Jets are a very different animal, averaging 29 points per game over their last three even with nothing to play for (second in the league). New England will likely win, but by how much? I think the Jets will go for everything they can to prove that they are another Cleveland-esque dark horse for 2019. I'm taking the points.
5) Atlanta @ Tampa Bay (+2)
The Bucs are at home which helps, but the Falcons are at the end of a long season and have genuinely nothing to play for. Not only that, but they are of course victims of the dreaded injury curse. You think they'll risk Ryan, Jones and co to win a nothing game when this could be their highest draft pick for years in their minds? OI see this as an uber-tank.
The Bucs have many players who simply won't know if they have an NFL future. Peyton Barber, Jameis Winston and their entire porous defense. That, in a twisted way, is what you need to win a week 17 game. Bad players who need to win to survive. The Falcons are the antithesis of that, talented players with a scapegoat.
6) Cincinnati (+14.5) @ Pittsburgh
Did I say earlier not to pick the big spreads? This one really stands out as a bad one for the Steelers. They have lots to play for, they need a win and otehrs to lose to make the playoffs, but they are beat up badly. Antonio Brown is questionable, but the signs look as if it's a serious injury he has. The fact that the wide receiver is still 'having tests' does not bode well.
More importantly, the Bengals have played spoiler for 3 games in a row now (at least vs the spread...) and while they've only won one game in the Jeff Driskel era (the 2018 Chad Hutchinson), they certainly haven't embarrassed themselves. I don't see that starting in what will likely be another ill-tempered affair on Sunday.
Oh, and you know, sometimes having lots to play for? That can backfire...
7) Miami (+5.5) @ Buffalo
We're really into the dregs here.
The Bills have sputtered badly ober the last two weeks, scoring 12 and 14 points. The Dolphins? Not much better (7 and 17). The problem for Buffalo is that while the Dolphons have at least shown some regularity in their ability to put 20+ points on the board (9 times in 2018) the Bills have shown the opposite. They've not made it to just 15 points 9 times. Think about that, the spread is big enough to say that the Dolphins won't be dead and buried as long as they score at least one touchdown.
If the Cardinals weren't so bad (called by someone ahem in week 2) these two teams would be arguably the worst in the league. There are no winners tomorrow, only a team that loses slightly less badly.
8) Chicago (+5.5) @ Minnesota
Ok now this the bottom of the barrel. I don't see Mitchell Trubisky playing every snap on Sunday, and the Vikes have a lot of reason to push hard all game, but equally, I think there is enough incentive for the Bears to win that they may start most of their defense for much of the game. Of all the teams you wouldn't want to face in cold weather, it's the Bears, who can not only clinch a bye, but also home field advantage in the dvisional round with a win.
Think about how defining that could be for Chicago. The choices are that they play an extra game (possibly against the Vikings), then travel somewhere like LA or New Orleans if they win, or they put their feet up, get Trubisky healthier, and face one of the four wild card round teams at home in a cold Soldier Field (likely below freezing).
I think there's definitely a weird case here where I may have underestimated how much the Bears have to play for. Only when you consider the implications of losing, do the advantages of winning become very apparent. Sure, they need some help, but the Vikes have struggled mightily to put up points against good opponents this season, and at every turn have lost to better teams. They've failed to beat the Rams, Saints, Bears, Patriots and Seahawks so far, while grabbing a couple of wins against the Dolphins and Lions over the last two weeks has disguised a relatively big downturn in form.
It's a longer shot, but the trick is not to think about favorites and underdogs, just think of those points, those beautiful 5.5 points.
Here's the rest of the week's games, ranked by potential for an underdog cover:
- Detroit @ Green Bay (-7.5)
- Dallas @ NY Giants (-6)
- Arizona @ Seattle (-13.5)
- Indianapolis (-3) @ Tennessee
- LA Chargers (-6.5) @ Denver
- Oakland @ Kansas City (-13.5)
- Carolina @ New Orleans (-7)
- Philadelphia (-6.5) @ Washington