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NFL Week 17 pick against the spread: Vic Tafur’s predictions

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Well, it’s official. I stink. I used to be 4-12 against the spread last week as I frantically mixed bad decisions and bad luck like a Benihana chef. The Bears and Patriots got here up just short, Lovie Smith owns me and the Vikings did it to me again, winning but not covering by some extent for the second straight week.

A minimum of Chargers coach Brandon Staley was attempting to get the Colts cover for me on Monday night. He’s the most effective, going for it on fourth down up 10-3 within the third quarter against a team that may’t rating. The Chargers converted and got the win and canopy, but’s hard to have much faith in Staley and the Chargers come playoff time — even with the return of Mike Williams and the boost that it gave Justin Herbert.

We’re rolling with the Dolphins over the Patriots, Eagles over the Saints, Giants over the Colts and (double-take) the Cardinals over the Falcons as our greatest bets this week. What do now we have to lose besides more of our pride?

Last week: 4-12 against the spread. There will probably be no miracle finish to .500. Just a number of tough losses, very similar to the Raiders team I follow around. Perhaps it’s contagious.

Season record: 109-126-5 ATS (Plays of the week were 1-3 last week and 20-25-3 overall)

All odds are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.

GO DEEPER

NFL Power Rankings: Packers, Chargers jump into top 10 with late-season surges

The Titans couldn’t protect Malik Willis against the Texans last week, and now they get the Cowboys. Plus, the sport doesn’t mean anything to Tennessee, as they will probably be playing the Jaguars for the AFC South title next week and can likely be resting Derrick Henry, who’s doubtful with a hip injury.

Amongst QBs who’ve began three or more games in a season since 2000, Willis has averaged the fewest pass attempts per start (16.33) and passing yards per start (78). He also has the third-worst EPA per dropback out of those 500 QB seasons featuring three-plus starts.

While the Cowboys’ pass rush has actually hit a snag of late, their offense has hit its stride. They rank first in points per drive (3.02) since their bye week, after rating seventeenth (1.93) before the bye.

The pick: Cowboys -11

Tip of the cap to J.J. Watt, who’s going out while still playing well. His 9 1/2 sacks are his most since 2018, and he’s tied for eleventh amongst defensive linemen in tackles for losses that aren’t sacks (6) and sixth in passes defensed.

He will probably be chasing down Falcons rookie QB Desmond Ridder, who could be very raw but not less than knows who his go-to guy is. Rookie receiver Drake London has accounted for 35.1 percent of the Falcons’ targets in Ridder’s two starts. The subsequent closest Falcon is Olamide Zaccheaus at 17.5 percent. The Falcons are still trying, by the best way. 

Quarterback Colt McCoy cleared the concussion protocol and is back for the Cardinals. That and an honest defense ought to be enough to present Watt one last win.

The pick: Cardinals +3.5



Give J.J. Watt another win before he hangs ’em up. (Joe Rondone / USA Today)

The Lions got here crashing back right down to earth last week, as they were steamrolled by the Panthers. The Bears also needs to have the option to run all day on the Lions similar to the Panthers did.

And the Lions’ running game, meanwhile, has gotten bad. Since Week 9, they rank twenty fifth in EPA/rush, twenty first in rushing success rate (36.4%) and twenty seventh in yards before contact/rush (1.27). Compare that to ninth in EPA/rush, twelfth in rushing success rate (41.7%) and third in yards before contact/rush (2.14) from Weeks 1 through 8.

Amon-Ra St. Brown will likely shred the Bears secondary, but we’re still taking the points. The Bears — who’ve made some big moves this season under latest GM Ryan Poles — owe us for last week, staying close against the Bills until the very end.

The pick: Bears +6

Are we sure Russell Wilson was healthy when he got here back to play the Rams on Christmas? He looked terrible after having made some strides against the Chiefs three weeks ago. The embarrassing loss to the Rams was the feather that broke Nathanial Hackett’s back and the over-his-head coach was finally fired. Wilson was sorry he didn’t play higher for him.

The Chiefs finally covered a giant point spread last week (they were 0-3 as double-digit favorites). Since their Week 8 bye, the Chiefs rank seventeenth in defensive DVOA. Before that, they ranked twenty sixth. Throughout the Patrick Mahomes era, the most effective a Kansas City defense has ever finished in defensive DVOA is 14th in 2019.

Make it two big covers in a row for great pass blocker Orlando Brown Jr. and the Chiefs.

The pick: Chiefs -12.5

go-deeper lazyload

GO DEEPER

NFL’s worst performances: Broncos go big and bust; Patriots find baffling strategy to lose

Tua Tagovailoa is out with one other concussion, and that’s pretty scary stuff. Teddy Bridgewater has been OK when he has played and he has some nice weapons to work with. The Dolphins are the twentieth team ever to have two receivers gain 1,260 yards and Tyreek Hill has been a part of three of those duos, per Football Perspective. (The 2018 Chiefs and 2020 Chiefs are the opposite two.)

Mac Jones, meanwhile, will probably be screaming at his coaches and teammates despite being mediocre himself. He ranks ninth in pass attempts on plays featuring a WR/TE screen (63), but he’s nineteenth in yards/attempt (5.41) and EPA/dropback on these plays. Perhaps Bill O’Brien can save the day. Yeah, I typed that sentence.

The pick: Dolphins +3

Colts fans thought it couldn’t worsen than hiring a man as coach off his couch with only highschool experience. Well, that guy, Jeff Saturday, played a mummified guy at quarterback last week who either got sacked or threw interceptions. Man, Nick Foles was awful. (Nonetheless, he never expected to play.)

The Colts now rank last within the NFL in point differential (-109; -7.27 per game). Since 2000, only two Colts teams have had a worse point differential on a per-game basis: 2017 (-8.81) and 2011 (-11.69).

Only Josh McDaniels has lost to Saturday and the Colts, and Brian Daboll is not any McDaniels. And Derek Carr is no Danny Dimes.

The pick: Giants -6

It doesn’t appear like Jalen Hurts will probably be back and it doesn’t matter. Gardner Minshew was wonderful last week in a detailed loss to the Cowboys, and the Saints are worse and have a banged-up secondary.

Minshew might get pressured greater than you think that due to absence of Lane Johnson (who will probably be back for the playoffs). The Eagles’ splits with and without Johnson last season (where it will have ranked across the whole 2021 season in parentheses):

• With: 34 percent pressure rate allowed (16), 2.43 yards before contact per carry (1)
• Without: 46.7 percent pressure rate allowed (32), 1.6 yards before contact per carry (10)

The Eagles — the rare Super Bowl contender in the combination for a top-10 draft pick — have to win to rest some starters next week, and stacking the box and forcing Andy Dalton to beat you is at all times fun.

The pick: Eagles -6.5



Gardner Minshew should have the option to maintain business against the Saints. (Jerome Miron / USA Today)

The Bucs held on to beat the Cardinals last week, and so they wouldn’t have beat anybody else except a team quarterbacked by Trace McSorley. The Bucs can’t rating and have hit the under 11 times, tying for a league-high and probably the most instances in Tom Brady’s profession. His only other time hitting the under 11 times was with the 2018 Patriots.

However the old man can still sling it with the sport on the road. The Buccaneers rank ninth in EPA per play when in no-huddle situations and twenty ninth after they’re not.

The Panthers still have playoff dreams because they’re playing small ball with Sam Darnold: 34.1 percent of his throws haven’t traveled past the road of scrimmage. That’s up from 20.9 percent through the previous 4 years of his profession.

The betting line has been bet down by 4 points, and I don’t trust Darnold. Plus, the Bucs should have the option to run the ball and if it’s close, the old man will pull it out.

The pick: Buccaneers -3

This one appears too easy, because the Commanders have a a lot better defense and can have the option to run the ball against the Browns. Carson Wentz is starting again for the Commanders and that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, especially if he learns the apparent lesson to throw more to Terry McLaurin. McLaurin was targeted on 27.6 percent of his routes with Taylor Heinicke, in comparison with just 15.2 percent with Wentz before that.

As for the Browns, they’re a large number and it’s hard to have much hope for the longer term, let alone Sunday. Deshaun Watson ranks forty first out of 42 qualified QBs in EPA per dropback since getting back from his suspension. That’s ahead of only Colt McCoy. Previous Browns starter Jacoby Brissett ranks twelfth.

The pick: Commanders -2

I want to stop messing with Lovie Smith. The Texans have covered three in a row and are 3-0 against the boy wonder, Trevor Lawrence. In actual fact, since 2020, the Texans are 5-0 vs. the Jags (4-1 ATS) and 5-37-1 against the remaining of the league.

The sport also doesn’t mean much to the recent Jaguars, who have to beat the Titans next week to win the division.

The pick: Texans +4.5 

The Derek Carr era is over after nine years and the Jarrett Stidham era is here for the Raiders for 2 weeks. He may have a painful day behind an overmatched offensive line against tackle monster Nick Bosa and this tough 49ers defense.

The Raiders defense will probably be without injured Chandler Jones and Denzel Perryman and it wasn’t good with them. The 49ers may have loads of explosive plays running and throwing the ball (their explosive pass rate with Brock Purdy is 15.7 percent and truly up from after they had Jimmy Garoppolo — 15.6 percent). Since Week 13, Purdy is tied for tenth in completions of 20 or more yards with 10, putting him ahead of Brady (9), Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and Aaron Rodgers (all 8), amongst others.

Did we mention that almost all of the fans in Las Vegas will probably be wearing red?

The pick: 49ers -10

go-deeper lazyload

GO DEEPER

Tafur: In Derek Carr’s ultimate prove-it 12 months, Raiders QB fell short in Mark Davis’ eyes

The Zach Wilson era can also be over, and everybody is de facto enthusiastic about Mike White. And a part of that’s how bad Wilson was. There have been 56 QBs drafted in the primary round during this century which have began not less than 20 games. Amongst that group, Wilson ranks 53rd in EPA per dropback, ahead of only Blaine Gabbert, Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell.

Now, while the Jets still have a path to the playoffs, I’m undecided about White as a road favorite in Seattle The Seahawks have been on a steep downward trajectory but I still think about Geno Smith — who shouldn’t be regressing. While his completion percentage has dropped from 73.1 percent (Weeks 1-9) to 67.7 percent (since Weeks 10), his off-target rate has actually dropped — from 6.7 percent (tied for best in league from Weeks 1-9) to five.2 percent (best within the league since Week 10). A part of that’s Seahawks receivers have dropped eight passes since Week 10.

The pick: Seahawks +1.5

The Packers’ unconvincing resurgence continues, and though I’m undecided how they stop Dalvin Cook and Danielle Hunter is finally emerging, I can’t possibly pick the Vikings again.

Green Bay ranks eighth in pressuring the quarterback, and Kirk Cousins is definitely higher at holding up this season than he has ever been.

Cousins has been hit greater than any QB within the NFL this season, and has a 51.3 percent completion rate under pressure with 7.46 YPA, 14.53 yards per completion and is throwing at or past the sticks 54.5 percent of the time. Compare that to a 49.8 percent completion rate from 2018 to 2021, with a 5.96 YPA, 11.97 yards per completion, and he threw at or past the sticks 44.7 percent of the time.

Still, if the Vikings are 3.5-point underdogs, they’ll lose by 4. Aaron Rodgers only needs one good knee to get the win.

The pick: Packers -3.5

We mentioned earlier how a lot better the Chargers are with Williams. Listed here are Herbert’s stats when he has each Williams and Keenan Allen: 77.8 percent completion rate, 7.94 YPA, 35.3 percent first down rate (would rank ninth), 49.6 percent success rate (would rank fifth).

When he doesn’t have one or each of those guys, the numbers drop to a 65.6 percent completion rate, 6.41 YPA, 29.2 percent first down rate (would rank twenty eighth), 43.3 percent success rate (would rank twenty third).

Baker Mayfield, meanwhile, doesn’t have those sorts of weapons and will probably be facing a team that cares this week, unlike last week’s rout of the Broncos. Since their Week 8 bye, the suddenly well-rounded Chargers defense ranks twelfth in EPA per drive. Since Week 14, the beginning of their current three-game winning streak, they rank second. The Rams ought to be waiting for a crazy offseason anyway.

The pick: Chargers -6.5

It was a pleasant moment for the Steelers, getting the last-minute win over the Raiders to honor the late Franco Harris at home on a blustery Christmas Eve. But it surely probably doesn’t occur if the Raiders’ Jones and Perryman don’t get hurt, as their defense had Kenny Pickett and Najee Harris under wraps — I don’t care what Mike Tomlin says.

The Ravens are a much different animal than the Raiders and their defense is peaking. Since joining the Ravens in Week 9, Roquan Smith ranks second amongst linebackers in splash plays (29). (Splash plays are defined as sacks, TFLs, pressures resulting in throwaways, stuffs for no gain, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, pass breakups, stops on third and fourth downs.) Smith ranks first in snaps per splash play (13.2) amongst 51 qualified linebackers who’ve played 350 or more defensive snaps since Week 9,

The Ravens won’t need Lamar Jackson back to beat the Steelers.

The pick:  Ravens -2.5



The Steelers got a pleasant win against the Raiders on Christmas, but things will probably be tougher against the Ravens. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

The Bills finally pulled away in a game late and covered a giant spread last week, while the Bengals let the Patriots back right into a game that was a blowout at one point.

The Bills are moving the ball around more, which is nice if you happen to are big fans of Isaiah McKenzie and Dawson Knox, but not great if you happen to’re a fantasy owner of Stefon Diggs. He accounted for 29.6 percent of Buffalo’s targets from Weeks 1 to 10, which ranked sixth. Since then, his goal share has dropped to 24.2 percent, which ranks twentieth. Psst, Bills, throw the ball more to Diggs. 

The Bills have never really recovered from the lack of Von Miller, though, and Burrow must have enough time — even with the lack of La’el Collins — to match Allen’s production after which some.

The pick: Bengals +1.5

— TruMedia research courtesy of NFL editor Aaron Reiss. 

(Graphic: John Bradford / The Athletic; photo of Mike Williams: Michael Allio / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images)

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