Week 17 of the NFL season is usually a mess.
You have a handful of games with playoff implications while the majority of the card is loaded with teams just finishing up a lost season or resting their stars before the postseason.
But, thanks to the vast amount of parity in the NFL this season, Week 17 is no longer the most feared week for books and bettors. It could just be one of the best weeks ever.
“When you have incentive, the line is easier to make,” Peter Korner, founder of the Nevada-based odds service The Sports Club, tells Covers. “All those rankings and stats we look at make sense. You’re not wondering about who is playing hard or protecting their assets.”
All but a few of the Week 17 games have some sort of say in how the playoff picture is painted, including two divisional matchups that hold a golden ticket to the tournament for whichever team wins Sunday.
The NFC East title is on the line when the Philadelphia Eagles visit the Dallas Cowboys. Korner says his team of oddsmakers had the Cowboys as the early favorites before the Eagles thumped the Bears on Sunday night. That forced an opener of Cowboys +2.5. But once new hit that Dallas QB Tony Romo would be out for Week 17 with a back injury, the spread jumped to +7.5 and the total shrunk from 56 to 52.5
As for the NFC North, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers duke it out for the division. Korner sent out a suggested line of Chicago -5 with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers out.
If Rodgers does return for the first time since breaking his collarbone in Week 9, this line will rise – but maybe not as much as bettors would think. Most weeks, Rodgers would be worth at least a touchdown. But at less than 100 percent, Rodgers impact on the spread declines.
“I don’t know if the bettors will let us have too big of a jump,” Korner says. “I don’t think (Rodgers) is worth as much in a one-game situation where it could disrupt the flow that (backup QB Matt) Flynn may have. And he’s not healthy. If he would be a 100 percent Sunday, he would have been 100 percent this past game when they really needed him.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-13, 47)
The Saints need to win in order to punch their passport to the playoffs. New Orleans hasn’t looked like a Super Bowl contender in recent weeks but comes back to the Superdome, where its offense is averaging 32.9 points compared to 17.8 points on the road.
“We sent out 13.5 on this,” says Korner. “This is a game New Orleans is going to want to get out to a big lead and just cost from there. I think that the way bettors see this, the Saints need the win and they’re going to draw the money. And we don’t want to be cheap on any team that needs the win.”
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5, 44.5)
Both teams need to win Sunday. Cincinnati already has the AFC North locked up but can vastly improve its playoff seeding with a victory and some outside help. Baltimore is scratching and clawing for a AFC Wild Card spot after an embarrassing loss to New England Sunday.
“We sent out this at Bengals -7.5. The -5.5 is way too low,” says Korner. “Cincinnati isn’t relaxing. It may be more important for them to win and improve their playoff rankings. I know Baltimore needs to win but coming off a horrible loss and being on the road – I just don’t think they show up as much as Cincinnati will.”