Welcome the wild, wacky and wonderful Week 17 in the NFL.
Among other aspects of this Between the Lines column, we monitor big movements in the spread. And there were none bigger than the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns encounter.
The Steelers clubbed the Browns 38-7 midway through the season. But in Week 17, the Steelers announced they will rest some of their regulars, as they have little to play for. And the Browns need the game to get into the playoffs.
The line ballooned to Cleveland -10 and sat at -9 late in the week.
Imagine smashing a team by 31 points and being a 10-point dog in the rematch.
But that’s what happens here. Ironically, if Cleveland beats Pittsburgh and enters the playoffs, the Browns may have to face the Steelers in a first-round game. With the Pittsburgh regulars.
The Philadelphia Eagles are a big story in the NFC East because they will decide it. Just not in the way their fans expected.
The first-place team for much of the NFC East season was the first team out, squashed by the Dallas Cowboys last week. As the week begins, only the Eagles are eliminated in the division. The winner of Sunday’s New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys matchup will become the Eagles’ biggest fans for Sunday night only.
If the Eagles beat the first-pace Washington Football Team, the Dallas-New York winner takes the division. If Washington wins, the Football Team captures the division.
Although the Eagles’ season is over, their Sunday night game against Washington is nationally televised, and they should play hard.
The Eagles play a team that failed to clinch the title last week against the Carolina Panthers. Washington is in disarray. There is something fitting about the division being decided by a last-place team knocking off the first-place team, so we’ll see.
The NFC East set a record it won’t be proud of. This is the first time in history that a division winner will have started the season 2-7 or worse.
Week 17 this year is a season finale like no other because of the added playoff spots in each conference.
What’s different this year, besides the added team, is the reduction in byes. Only one per conference.
Kansas City has the AFC’s. Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle scuffle for the NFC version, with Green Bay having the inside track.
Another key battle Sunday involves the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. The Bills have, for all intents and purposes, clinched the No 2 seed in the AFC. Will their key players be activated?
Perhaps, perhaps not.
The Bills will host a first-round playoff game regardless of what happens Sunday against the Dolphins. The Dolphins need the game and will go all out. The Dolphins would be best served with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback over Tua Tagovailoa, but we’ll see who plays.
Another big line movement: the Arizona Cardinals became solid favorites over the Los Angeles Rams in their must-win game. That’s because Kyler Murray, the injured Arizona quarterback, said he would play. The initial lines hovering around pick-em reflected the expectation he would not.
The Rams are starting a backup quarterback because Jared Goff was injured last week.
Note that the Green Bay Packers vs. the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers-New Orleans Saints contests have been moved from the early-afternoon slot to the 4:25 p.m. slot. That’s because those games coincide with the Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers contest. If either New Orleans or Green Bay had won an early-afternoon game, the Seahawks game would have been meaningless. That definition, meaningless, costs the league money via reduced television ratings and betting volume.
This week’s spreads
Here are this week’s games, with DraftKings lines
Washington -2.5 AT Eagles
Dallas -1.5 AT New York Giants
New England -3 vs New York Jets
Cleveland -9 vs Pittsburgh
Baltimore -12.5 AT Cincinnati
Buffalo -3.5 vs Miami
Tampa Bay -7 vs Atlanta
New Orleans -6.5 AT Carolina
Minnesota -6.5 AT Detroit
Green Bay -5.5 AT Chicago
Tennessee -7.5 AT Houston
Indianapolis -14 vs Jacksonville
Arizona -3.5 AT Rams
Seattle -6.5 AT San Francisco
Kansas City -3.5 vs Los Angeles Chargers
Las Vegas -3 AT Denver
This week’s picks
This week’s selections against the spread, excerpted from Beat the Degenerates, which I co-host with Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City, and Brian Cahill from Shore Physicians Group. The show airs Wednesdays on Newstalk 1400-AM, WONDRadio.com and 92.5-FM from 5 to 6 p.m. Catch the next one 5 p.m. Jan 6.
Pickett Russell, “Da Kipster,” general manager of Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall in Atlantic City: Washington
James Rabic, WOND producer: New York Jets
Ky Carlin: Miami
Dave Weinberg: Cleveland Browns
The Kipster is in the lead with a 9-6 record, followed by Weinberg at 9-5-1 and Cronick at 8-7
Last Week’s Highlights
The Cleveland Browns continued to shoot themselves in the foot. They had key wide receivers against the New York Jets sidelined because of Covid-19 rules, and it made the difference. The Browns lost to the Jets, who entered with one win. That’s why Cleveland must win against the Steelers.
The Buffalo Bills continue to look like the real deal. They tore apart the New England Patriots on Monday Night in a 38-9 game that wasn’t even that close. The torch has passed. The Bills are a Super Bowl threat if they can avoid succumbing to post-season pressure.
The Las Vegas Raiders made one of the boneheads plays of the year last Saturday night. In their 26-25 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Raiders took the lead on a field-goal with 19 seconds remaining. So, what happens? Las Vegas allows a deep sideline pass to be completed by a team that can’t afford to throw into the middle of the field, AND they commit a facemask penalty.
The Dunce Daily Double. As a result, Miami stole the game by kicking a field goal on the final play.