Larry Merchant used to call handicapping pro football the National Football Lottery. Feels about right in 2021.
Five picks a week, that’s what we do. Here’s the Week 17 plan. Feel free to share your picks, especially before the games are played; I’m at @scott_pianowski on Twitter.
Steelers +3.5 versus Browns
All narrative here, thinking Mike Tomlin can somehow coax his flawed team to hit the high end of its emotional range, with it likely being the final Ben Roethlisberger home start. Of course, it helps that the Browns are a flawed team, too. I mean, who isn’t in 2021? The Browns won at Heinz Field in last year’s playoffs; prior to that, Cleveland had lost 17 straight games at Pittsburgh. Give me the home condiment guys.
Saints -6.5 versus Panthers
Revenge game for Saints after losing the September matchup, when Carolina looked radically different. New Orleans' offense has a shot now that quarterbacks are healthy. Stumbling Panthers offense has 51 points in four weeks, now faces a Top 5 defense.
Patriots -15.5 versus Jaguars
Normally I would avoid a game with a spread this high, and if I had to pick it, lean towards the underdog. But we love Bill Belichick in bounce-back spots, especially against a rookie quarterback, and if New England can hold Jacksonville to 10 points or less — seems reasonable — the weight of the line doesn’t feel so heavy. Attention to detail game for the Patriots.
Colts -7 versus Raiders
Vegas has been running pure for two weeks, eking out victories against a pair of teams starting backup quarterbacks. But it’s possible the Colts could have Carson Wentz for Sunday, and even if they don’t, the manpower should be a significant upgrade from what was available at Arizona — a game the Colts won anyway. I also like fading Josh Jacobs props against Indy’s staunch running defense, ranked third in DVOA.
Football Team +3 (first half) versus Eagles
I commonly like to back a team that was just embarrassed, especially on a national stage. The Football Team obviously qualifies. But Washington’s roster is missing all sorts of key talent, which pushes me to back this team in a specialized way. Given how Philadelphia often has trouble getting started (consider the win over the Giants last week, or some of the Jalen Hurts splits), I’ll predict this game stays competitive for at least a half. Give me those points.