The regular season is winding down, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing games left on the slate, as teams are still jostling for playoff positions, and in some cases, still battling for their playoff lives. This season, one of the recurring themes in the NFL has been parity. Unlike last year, there were no teams striving for perfection (in fact, the last unbeaten team was the Chiefs, who started 3-0 and then had a bye). There was also no team that ran away and hid this year, as it seemed that every week the pundits were crowning a new team as the class of the league. Entering the playoffs, it seems like the Patriots are the consensus pick to get out of the AFC, but there are no gimmes in the AFC, as perennial powerhouses like the Steelers and Ravens are always tough to play in January, and upstarts like the Chiefs are undefeated at home, where they will be playing at least their first playoff game. In the NFC, the Falcons were on everyone’s lips for a while, but the Saints just beat them, so now they need to be considered in the same breath. Meanwhile, the Bears have proven that they deserve the bye they will receive, and there is no way anybody can be looking forward to having to face Michael Vick and the Eagles, or Aaron Rodgers and the Packers should they sneak into the dance. But for now, let’s take a look at 4 of the best picks of the week, to end the regular season on a winning note.
Week 17 Picks Against The Spread:
An important factor about betting on week 17 is to consider that there are many teams that don’t have anything left to play for but pride. This isn’t to suggest that they will mail it in, as these men are professionals, but in a game that has big playoff implications for one team, and not the other, it is prudent to consider who will be coming out with more fire. In this case, the Giants need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and then hope that the Bears don’t rest a lot of key guys against Green Bay. The Redskins, for their part, showed great vitality last week against Jacksonville, but the Giants just have too much at stake here to let an inconsistent Washington team give them many problems. Let us remember that Rex Grossman struggled last week against one of the worst defenses in the league, and now faces one of the best. You can bet that New York will be in Grossman’s face all night, and Eli Manning shouldn’t have too many problems with an average Redskins defense. In their last 14 as a road favorite, the Giants are 11-3 ATS, while the Redskins have only 1 win ATS in their last 6 against teams from the NFC. The clear pick in this one is the Giants, even though they will likely find themselves on the sidelines once the playoffs begin.
The Chargers deflated what could have been a very exciting final week in the AFC West with a surprising loss to the Bengals last week, handing the division crown to Kansas City. Now that San Diego realize they can’t depend on late season pushes to make up for their early season struggles, they will decide to actually show up for the first half the season moving forward. It has been suggested that Norv Turner will be back next year, but we have seen coaches get a vote of confidence only to see them fired soon after. Turner knows he needs to end the season strong, so even though his Chargers are eliminated, they are still going to be looking to end the season on a high note. Meanwhile, the Golden Boy Tim Tebow proved to a lot of people that he belongs in the NFL after he generated a comeback victory against the Texans last week. But before we start showering him with even more praise, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Texans have probably the worst defense in the league. Tebow will face a far stiffer task in the Chargers, and they will be looking to knock around the newest AFC West quarterback on the block. Philip Rivers was in the discussion for MVP for much of the season, but has struggled recently, and was unable to guide his team into the playoffs. Nevertheless, he should be able to pick apart a weak Denver defense, while Ryan Mathews figures to factor into the attack heavily this week, as Denver struggles mightily against the run. In what has been a disappointing season for the Chargers, they will end on a high note with a romp in the Mile High City. San Diego is 8-2 ATS following an ATS loss, and 6-2 ATS in their last 8 overall. Meanwhile, Denver is 0-6 ATS after a win ATS, and 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games. As long as San Diego plays all their starters, this should be a one-sided thrashing, as the Chargers are simply better in all aspects of the game.
Pittsburgh Steelers -5 (-110) @ 5Dimes.com
Pittsburgh can shore up the AFC North crown with a win against the Browns this week. More importantly, they would also get an all-important bye with a victory here, allowing them to miss playing a dangerous team (likely the Colts), and also avoid playing the Patriots until the AFC championship. With all that at stake, you can bet the Steelers will be fired up against Cleveland. While the Browns have not been an easy out for anyone this year, they have lost 3 in a row, including winnable games against Buffalo and Cincinnati. In their last 4, they have scored all of 46 points. Last week, the only touchdown they scored was thrown by a wide receiver. All of this does not line themselves up for much of a shot against an extremely good Steelers defense, even if Troy Polamalu rests again. The Steelers are playing on extended rest, after playing in the Thursday night game last week, which is another factor in a situation that is already heavily weighted in their favor. After setting the AFC ablaze with his ramming power and unrelenting running style, Peyton Hillis has cooled down as the wear and tear of the season has caught up to him, and it seems as though he would do better as part of a two-pronged rushing attack in future years. His hopes of finishing the season strong don’t seem that encouraging given that the Steelers are virtually impossible to run against, meaning Colt McCoy will have to shoulder the load in this one. While McCoy has impressed in his rookie campaign, the Steelers should be able to handle him without any great difficulty. Big Ben and the rest of the Steelers offense should be able to systematically move the ball down the field, as they figure to have possession for at least two thirds of the game. The Steelers are undefeated in their last 4 ATS against teams from the same division as them, and are 5-1 ATS versus teams with losing records. Cleveland is 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games, and are 0-4 in their last 4 after a straight up loss. The Steelers should cruise in this one, even on the road.
The Patriots have already done all that was needed to set themselves up in the best position possible for the playoffs. They have clinched the number one seed in the AFC, meaning they will have a bye and home field advantage as long as they are still in it until the Super Bowl. While the Patriots are not a team to let up (in fact, quite the opposite), there is a good chance that some of the back up players could receive a healthy dose of playing time. New England has likely learned from the costly lesson they learned last year, when Wes Welker was injured playing in an essentially meaningless week 17 game. The Pats should be playing it safer here, giving at least Tom Brady, Deion Branch and Welker some rest. With Miami putting over 14 points in only 1 of their last 4 games, one cannot expect a whole lot of offense to come from their side. While the Pats will likely see at least a half from their starters, it is hard to expect the points to flow once they are taken out. The Under is 10-1 in Miami’s last 11 games played on turf, and is 12-3 in the Dolphins’ last 15 as a road underdog. Expect this game to be run heavy and rather dull. Look for the Under as the Pats rest up for a run at the Super Bowl.
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