NFL Week 17 best bets and expert picks for the Sunday slate. Find best bets for NFL Week 17 featuring Saints vs. Buccaneers, Falcons vs. Bears, Panthers vs. Jaguars, Rams vs. Giants, Raiders vs. Colts, and Bengals vs. Chiefs.
NFL Week 17 Best Bets
We’re onto Week 17 of the NFL season, and this week’s slate is loaded with exciting matchups. In this article, you can find best bet breakdowns for some of the exciting games on Sunday. Check out the Lineups YouTube page for coverage of all of the NFL games this week. Let’s get to work.
Jacob Wayne’s Record: 25-18-1 (+6.2 units)
Kody Malstrom’s Record: 19-11 (+7.0 units)
Will Schwartz’s Record: 16-22-1 (-7.3 units)
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On a week where playoff fates will be determined, this is one of the most significant games on the docket. The Buccaneers have won four straight games and can clinch the NFC South with a win over the Saints this week, while the Saints are hanging on by a thread in the playoff picture. A loss would all but eliminate them from postseason contention.
Both teams need this win badly, so who has the edge? I believe the answer to this question lies in the early down metrics. Third down metrics are often fluky while early down success is much more predictive over a larger sample. The Saints have been the better team on early downs in almost every aspect. Check out the following:
- Early down offensive success rate: Saints 14th, Buccaneers 30th
- Early down defensive success rate: Saints 4th, Buccaneers 29th
Despite being 8-7, the Buccaneers have performed like a bottom five team on early downs. They’ve been very fortunate in some key areas, especially in the turnover department, where they’re tied for the best mark in the league at +10. They’ve forced 23 fumbles (second-most) to the Saints’ 11 (fifth-fewest).
Baker Mayfield is due for significant regression in the turnover department with 19 turnover-worthy plays to just eight interceptions. For comparison, Derek Carr has the same number of interceptions, but six fewer turnover-worthy plays according to PFF. Carr has been playing really well overall, with 7.6 yards per attempt over his last four games – that would rank sixth in the NFL this season.
With Chris Olave increasingly healthy on the perimeter, the Saints’ passing attack is in a strong position to succeed against a Tampa Bay pass defense that ranks 21st in EPA. The Bucs blitz at the third-highest rate to compensate for coverage deficiencies, but they get pressure at the seventh-lowest rate. Carr’s nine big-time throws against the blitz are tied for the sixth-most in the NFL.
There are plenty of trends to love in this game, as well, courtesy of Action Labs. Baker Mayfield is a putrid 13-25-1 ATS (34%) as a favorite and is 3-11 ATS (22%) as a favorite in divisional play. Finally, the Buccaneers are 3-8 ATS (27%) in their last 11 games against the Saints – New Orleans has had their number in recent years.
Tampa Bay has hit peak market value, and while I haven’t been rushing to back the Saints this season, they have the much better defense in this game, ranking 8th in EPA while the Bucs are 20th. I believe regression hits the Buccaneers this week as the Saints get the road win to muddy up what has been the most confounding division in the NFL this season.
Best Bet: Saints +2.5
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears
Much like the Buccaneers, we’ve reached the top of the market on the Chicago Bears. For the second straight week, they’re looking to close as a favorite – it would be the first time that’s happened since 2019. I included the Falcons in my best bets column last week as a team due for positive regression, and it hit in spades in a 29-10 win over the Colts.
I believe that continues this week, especially with Taylor Heinicke under center. Heinicke has plenty of flaws, but he is an enormous upgrade over Desmond Ridder. Heinicke ranks 17th out of 55 qualified quarterbacks in EPA/play while Ridder ranks 38th. Ridder had a penchant for back-breaking turnovers at the worst possible moments, and Heinicke is at least capable of leading sustained drives.
The Bears’ defense has been much improved since trading for Montez Sweat – they’re second in EPA since Week 9. However, they have a +7 turnover differential in their last five games, and that’s likely to regress. The Bears rank 3rd in run defense DVOA but 18th against the pass, and I expect Arthur Smith to employ a pass-heavy approach with short area throws to Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts against the Bears’ Cover 3 defense.
Atlanta also employs a heavy Cover 3 defense, but the Bears haven’t shown the same ability to beat it. Luke Getsy has often relied on poorly designed screens and underneath routes, and the expected absences of Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet will leave Justin Fields without two of his more important pass-catchers. D.J. Moore is also dealing with an ankle injury he suffered last week and will likely be shadowed by former All Pro corner A.J. Terrell.
I expect the Bears to skew very run-heavy with all of those considerations, and that’s not a recipe for success against the best run defense in the NFL by EPA, especially with defensive lineman David Onyemata back in the lineup. Onyemata is PFF’s seventh-highest graded defensive lineman and is the lynchpin of their run defense.
I’ve enjoyed the progression of Fields into more of a poised passer this season, but he’s still an awful 13-22-1 ATS (37%) in his career and is 4-10 ATS (28%) as a favorite or a dog of 3 or fewer. The Bears’ six wins have come over the Cardinals, Panthers, Raiders with Brian Hoyer, Vikings with Josh Dobbs, Commanders, and Jared Goff outdoors. That’s a horrid resume, and it’s time to sell high on this team.
Best Bet: Falcons +3
Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Panthers have been the worst team in the NFL this season. We’re in Week 17, and they still haven’t run a play in the fourth quarter with a lead. No team since at least 1991 has gone an entire season without leading in the fourth quarter at any point. However, this team is clearly trending up as they’ve gone 3-1-1 ATS since firing Frank Reich.
Bryce Young has especially started to look better in an offense better suited for his strengths. He’s 5th among all quarterbacks in PFF’s passing grades over the last two weeks, and he’s consistently making timely throws over the middle of the field and showing poise in the pocket. In the fourth quarter over the last two weeks, he’s completed 18 of 26 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions.
The Jaguars’ defense, meanwhile, has fallen off in recent weeks, ranking 28th in EPA/play since Week 9. Their pass coverage has been shaky at best, and star cornerback Tyson Cambell has clearly been playing through injuries as he’s become a major liability. Young should have another productive game against this declining defense.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s offense has been disappointing all season. Christian Kirk’s season-ending injury was a massive blow, and now Trevor Lawrence will miss this week’s game. C.J. Beathard will get the start, and the journeyman is an underwhelming option at best with more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws in his career despite spending most of his time in a Kyle Shanahan 49ers offense.
The Panthers have been most vulnerable against the run, where they’re dead last by DVOA and EPA, but the Jaguars aren’t well positioned to take advantage of that weakness. Jacksonville ranks 29th in rushing EPA with an offensive line that ranks 30th in adjusted line yards. Travis Etienne can’t generate big plays when he’s being met at or behind the line of scrimmage on every snap.
This game also fits a strong trend for this week that tells you to fade teams that need a win to either get into the playoffs or improve seeding. According to Evan Abrams from Action Labs, teams with a win percentage of 40% to 69% facing a team with a worse win percentage are 64-95-5 ATS (40%) over the last 20 years.
There should be a theoretical buy low for the Jaguars at some point, and hosting the Panthers could have been it, but Jacksonville’s issues are not fixable at this point in time. I’ll happily take over a field goal with the better quarterback and a team trending up under new management. I bought the Panthers at +6.5 at open, but I’d play them down to +3.5 with Beathard in for Lawrence.
Best Bet: Panthers +4.5
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
I normally limit myself to 2-3 picks on this column, but with the Chiefs’ spread universally dipping below a touchdown to -6.5, I had to make an exception. The sky is falling in Kansas City after a shocking home loss to the Raiders, and concerns about this offense’s stagnation have been circulating throughout the public narrative.
However, they get a week of reprieve here against a truly terrible Bengals defense. Cincinnati ranks 26th in defensive DVOA and they’re dead last in yards per play allowed. They already ranked 28th against the run by DVOA, and now D.J. Reader is out for the season. He ranks sixth among interior defensive linemen in run defense per PFF. Isiah Pacheco should dominate on early downs after being cleared.
The Bengals are also dead last in yards per pass attempt allowed (8.2) and 28th in pass defense EPA. In recent weeks, they’ve been carved up by Nick Mullens and Mason Rudolph, both of whom finished with over 9 yards per attempt. Now, they have to face the reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes, who will be eager to get this offense back on track.
When the Bengals have the ball, Jake Browning is in for a brutal afternoon. The narratives were fun about his surge as Cincinnati’s starter, but it’s ultimately smoke and mirrors as he’s survived with the second-lowest average depth of target in the NFL at 6.5 yards. An offense with such a limited downfield passing threat was always destined to have an expiration date, and we hit that last week against the Steelers.
Kansas City’s defense ranks 5th against the pass by DVOA, and they’ll bring the heat on Browning with their second-ranked pressure unit. Steve Spagnuolo will dial up creative blitzes to make Browning’s life hell in the pocket, and he’ll struggle behind an offensive line ranked 28th in pass-block win rate per ESPN. It’s easy to see this game getting off the rails quickly for Browning in a brutal road atmosphere.
The Chiefs are still a top 6 team in DVOA and net EPA this season, and they’re laying under a touchdown against a fraudulent Bengals team whose clock struck midnight last week. Mahomes should look much better in the easiest matchup he’s faced in weeks while Browning could give the Chiefs some short fields after throwing three picks with five turnover-worthy plays last week.
For what it’s worth, Mahomes has been highly profitable in these spots throughout his career. He’s 11-4-1 ATS (73%) after scoring 20 or fewer points in his prior game per Action Labs, including four times earlier this season. Back the Chiefs to right the ship against a still overvalued Bengals team
Best Bet: Chiefs -6.5
Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants
It’s a changing of a guard, again, for the New York Giants as the Tommy DeVito experiment comes to an end and Tyrod Taylor takes the reins. Taylor’s presence breathed life into the Giants offense, nearly mounting a massive upset victory in a narrow 25-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Taylor now gets the starting duties heading into a home date against the Los Angeles Rams, getting to shred another exploitable secondary as the Giants try to find any sort of offensive production. Like the Eagles in the game before, the Rams have also struggled to contain opposing pass production as they rank 21st in Def Pass DVOA and 17th in Def Pass EPA.
That bodes well for the Giants and their chances of doing their part towards the over, getting the chance to use Tyrod’s dual threat ability to put stress on the Rams secondary and create wide open passing lanes. The Giants group of pass catchers may be underwhelming, but the anchored linebackers in coverage will help their chances of converting through the air.
Star running back Saquon Barkley also finds himself in a peculiar position, getting the chance to take advantage of a Rams defensive line that ranks 20th in Def Adjusted Line Yards and 17th in Def Rush DVOA. Their Def Rush Success is top-10, meaning that they struggle to make contact in the backfield but bottle up rush production shortly across the line.
Should Barkley be able to extend the play and start doing damage in the open field, that will command defensive attention and force the Rams to stack the box. That mightily helps Tyrod Taylor and the Giants pass attack, getting to exploit newfound passing lanes outside the numbers.
As for the Rams offense, it should be business as usual for one of the hottest offenses in football. Matthew Stafford is playing as one of the best quarterbacks in football, hitting his star duo of Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua in stride. He now gets to face a Giants secondary who ranks 20th in Def Pass DVOA, 19th in EPA, and 28th in Success Rate.
Kyren Williams is also in a position to continue his magical year, especially in the red zone against a Giants front seven who ranks 26th in Def Rush EPA. That allows the Rams to avoid potential back breaking turnovers, capitalizing on scoring opportunities and doing their part towards the over as well.
Best Bet: Over 43.5
Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Arguably no team has gone through more stress than the Las Vegas Raiders this season. They fired their head coach, benched their starting quarterback, and are still within a puncher’s chance of making the playoffs. They also come off the biggest win of their season, beating the Kansas City Chiefs 20-14 on Christmas.
While that normally makes this a fade spot, the market is still undervaluing the Raiders as their improvements have shown to be for real. Especially on the defensive side, once ranking near dead last across the board in coverage metrics and now ranking sixth in Def Pass DVOA, 11th in Def Pass EPA, and 14th in Def Pass Success Rate.
Their secondary is in a position to succeed once again as Gardner Minshew has fallen hard back down to reality as the quarterback for the Colts. Indianapolis comes into this contest ranked 19th in Pass DVOA, 22nd in Pass Success Rate, and 19th in Pass EPA.
Better yet for the Raiders chances of keeping this tight, their front seven does a phenomenal job at limiting opposing rush production when backed up into the red zone. They rank seventh in Def Rush EPA, being more than capable of holding a Colts offense who turns towards a heavier dose of the run when in scoring position.
By slowing down the scoring pace of the Colts, that gives the Raiders offense a better opportunity of staying within the key number of +3.5. Especially if they implement the same offensive attack that we saw against the Chiefs, abusing the ground game and dominating time of possession.
The Raiders offense may afford to give Aidan O’Connell another night off as both Josh Jacobs and Zamir White are in a position to run through a weak Colts front seven. Jokes aside, the Raiders may be better off avoiding turnover worthy plays from O’Connell by abusing the run against a Colts front seven who ranks 24th in Def Rush DVOA, 27th in Success Rate, and 23rd in EPA.
With a defense capable of halting the Colts downfield production, as well as dominating time of possession with their own ground game, take the Raiders at the key number of +3.5 as they continue to ride their momentum. Should they hit +3 before reading this, then use them as a valuable Wong Teaser piece instead.
Best Bet: Raiders +3.5
Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants
The Los Angeles Rams are on an absolute tear at this time. They’ve won five of their past six games, with the lone loss being an overtime defeat on the road against the NFL-best Ravens. Outside of that one instance, they’ve been ripping through the competition, especially teams like the Giants, who rank dead last in the league as per DVOA and net EPA. They won by eight against the Commanders and Saints, by 17 against the Browns, and 13 against the Cardinals, all solid points of reference.
The Giants also sit at or near the bottom by all offensive and defensive line metrics, and they own just the 21st-best pressure rate in the NFL despite blitzing more than anyone except the Vikings. That’s not going to fly on either side of the ball, with the legendary Aaron Donald set to wreck house against that makeshift Giants o-line, and veteran star Matthew Stafford playing some of his best ball.
According to PFF, Matthew Stafford is the league’s seventh-best passer when blitzed, but just 15th-best when pressured. That means that sending heat that doesn’t get home is a death sentence when he’s working with a full, healthy arsenal of weapons highlighted by Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua, who should be able to annihilate a below-average Giants secondary.
The Giants’ short run of good results seems to be over after a pair of losses to the Saints and Eagles. There were some positive flashes after Tyrod Taylor took over in the game against Philly, but regardless of who’s at quarterback, the G-Men allowed far too much against an offense that has struggled of late. Philly ran for 170 yards, and a red-hot Kyren Williams, who has run for over 100 yards in five of his last six games, including three efforts of more than 140, should be able to do something similar.
While the Giants will always be looking to put forth a good product in front of their home crowd, and individual players are definitely auditioning for their place on the team next year, let’s not pretend that the motivation levels are equal. The Rams are in the thick of a postseason hunt, and many of their core players were the heart of a championship team just two years ago.
These players and coaches know what is possible if they keep pushing hard, and they’ll do everything in their power to pick up a tremendously important win ahead of a potential loss to the 49ers next week. If LA wins this week, that loss could mean very little- if they lose to the Giants, another loss next week to send them down to an 8-9 record would likely end their season. They’re not going to open themselves up to that possibility, and this should be a comfortable win for Sean McVay’s squad, even on the road.
Best Bet: Rams -4.5
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears aren’t officially eliminated from the playoffs just yet, and as long as there’s a mathematical chance, they’ll be pushing as hard as possible to get in. Either way, this is Justin Fields’s audition for Chicago or any trade suitors, as it looks like the team will receive the #1 overall pick from the Panthers, and thus a chance to draft generational prospect Caleb Williams.
The Falcons are also making their final playoff push, but things aren’t looking so rosy on their end. The Desmond Ridder experiment was a complete failure, and Arthur Smith is looking the same way of late. The Atlanta offense has often been a complete failure to launch, and while they had a nice day against the Colts, that defense is 24th in DVOA against the run, which opens up a lot of what the Falcons like to do. Conversely, the Bears are third in just about every rushing metric, which will be a huge issue for Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier.
Perhaps an even bigger issue is the continued decline of the Atlanta pass defense. Whether you’re looking at PFF scores, adjusted sack rate, or DVOA, both the secondary and pass rush have fallen off a cliff resulting in an overall pass defense that is sitting in the league’s bottom five. Against a revitalized Chicago air game, with Justin Fields healthy and slinging it to DJ Moore, they’re going to have a tough time. Cole Kmet’s availability is in question, but it seems that he’ll play, which would present another challenge for the Falcons.
Realistically, the Bears should be on a six-game winning streak, and own around eight or nine wins. As things stand, they’re 6-9 and have won four of their last six, but they’ve had some unbelievably poor closing performances; they’ve lost three games they had at least a 91% chance to win while holding double-digit fourth quarter leads. Two of those games are their most recent losses, in one of which their win expectancy peaked at 98.2%.
The point of all of this, besides upsetting Bears fans, is that this team is playing better than their record shows. Week in and week out, they play winning football, and since it’s not reflected by the end results, they aren’t being priced appropriately. This team has looked completely different after getting some key players back from early injuries, especially in terms of the offensive line, and the Montez Sweat trade has visibly and statistically transformed the defense. They should run away from this Falcons team, playing away from their home dome, on a cold Chicago day, and leave this spread in the dust.
Best Bet: Bears -3.5