Sports | December 31, 2020 8:19 am

Expert NFL Picks for Week 17, Including Cowboys-Giants and Packers-Bears

Chris Altruda of NJ Online Gambling, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights

Expert NFL Picks for Week 17, Including Cowboys-Giants and Packers-Bears
Davante Adams of the Packers avoids a tackle by Buster Skrine.
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This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.

For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for NJ Online Gambling, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 17 games, including a divisional matchup between the Packers and Bears and a Sunday Night Football game that could send the Washington Football Team to the postseason.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Dallas Cowboys (6-9) (-160, -3, O/U 45) at New York Giants (5-10)

A compelling matchup because … if the Washington Football Team loses later in the day on Sunday Night Football, the winner of this game will go to the playoffs and actually host a game on wild-card weekend. A 6-10 division winner would seem almost appropriate for what has been a bizarre 2020 season. The Cowboys have won three in a row, while the Giants have lost three straight and are just 2-5 at home on the season.

Altruda’s Angle: Dallas has momentum on its side after throttling Philadelphia, and it has a veteran quarterback in Andy Dalton coming off his best game of the season with 377 yards and three TD passes. The Giants have three consecutive losses on the heels of a four-game win streak and the limitations of their offense have been laid bare, with 26 points in those defeats. Daniel Jones may be their quarterback of the future, but he is hard-pressed in being the quarterback of the present, as New York has gone four games without reaching 300 yards of total offense. Dallas held off New York in Week 5 when Dalton came on after Dak Prescott suffered his season-ending injury and rallied them to a pair of field goals in the final 1:56. This game should be more straightforward and a slim spread makes the Cowboys the pick laying the points.

Gable’s Guess: The Cowboys are finally playing like I believed they would when Dalton came in for Dak Prescott. The team looked left for dead on Thanksgiving when they lost to Washington and yet they’re still here in the hunt to win the division. The Giants have taken the opposite path as of late. They were a team that was playing tough, but haven’t looked good at all the last few weeks. Dallas has won three straight now and they’ve scored 108 points combined during those games. The offense is definitely clicking. Conversely, you have the Giants who are averaging only 18 points per game. In their last three games, they’ve only scored 26 points combined. Their offense just has no life whatsoever. I’m going to lay the points with the Cowboys.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Cowboys (5-10 ATS) are hot and winning, including a 37-17 upset win over the Eagles last week as 3-point home dogs. Meanwhile, the Giants (8-7 ATS) are stumbling down the stretch. Last week, New York fell to Baltimore 27-13, failing to cover as 9.5-point road dogs. The early lookahead line on this game was Giants -3. But, with the Cowboys rolling and the Giants struggling, we’ve seen massive lopsided betting on Dallas, flipping the Cowboys to -3. The Giants saw big buyback at +3. The Giants have value as a home divisional dog (63 percent ATS this season). The Giants are in a classic buy-low spot, while the Cowboys seem to be an overvalued sell-high play. Give me the G-Men plus the points.

Our Pick: The Cowboys are dysfunctional but more talented. Lay the points.

Baltimore Ravens (10-5) (-751, -13, O/U 44.5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)

A compelling matchup because … the Ravens are looking like the Titans of last season and are on a roll with four straight wins heading into the final week of the regular season. To ensure they make the playoffs and play next week, they need to take care of a Bengals team that has won two straight. Three of Cincy’s four wins this season have come at home.

Altruda’s Angle: The Ravens from the last four weeks are the Ravens we were waiting for the entire season: an explosive ground game directed by dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson that can run through or around opponents. Baltimore clinches a wild-card spot with a victory and could be seeded as high as fifth depending on how the results with Cleveland, Miami, Indianapolis and Tennessee break. Jackson has been efficient passing the ball recently — throwing for 696 yards and eight TDs the last four games — and that has augmented his standout running abilities, which have him 92 yards from a second straight 1,000-yard season. Cincinnati enters this game seeking its first three-game winning streak since opening the 2015 season with eight victories and Zac Taylor’s offensive pieces have gelled around backup QB Brandon Allen. Rookie wideout Tee Higgins also needs 92 yards for 1,000 on the year and Giovani Bernard has keyed a rushing game that has churned out 321 yards in back-to-back wins. But, at the end of the day, it would be nice for the Bengals to win, while the Ravens need to win. Given how both offenses are humming, I’m grabbing the OVER at 44.5 points with the expectation the Bengals should not need more than 14 points to deliver.

Gable’s Guess: These are the type of games that make Week 17 so hard to handicap every year. The Ravens are in the playoffs with a win. Despite the Bengals winning two in a row, they’re double-digit underdogs in this one. The team is still playing pretty hard and trying to work on things to build for next year. The Ravens appear to have found their groove again. Jackson isn’t playing again like he did the last season, but he’s still pretty dangerous and certainly hard to contain when he leaves the pocket. Interesting stat here for the Ravens this year: with their victory over the Giants in Week 16, they have more NFC East wins than any of the NFC East teams actually do. It’s certainly a big number for Baltimore to be laying here, but I know they’ll be giving it their best effort and I’ll lay the points here with the Ravens.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: At first glance, this AFC North matchup looks like a David vs Goliath blowout. The Ravens (9-5-1 ATS) are playing their best football at the right time, most recently crushing the Giants and easily covering as 9.5-point home favorites. Baltimore currently occupies the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs and can clinch a postseason berth with a win. On the flip side, the Bengals (9-5-1 ATS) have long been eliminated from the playoffs and are looking at picking fifth overall in the draft. However, the Bengals haven’t quit and have actually won their past two games, including a 37-31 win over the Texans last week as 7.5-point road dogs. This line opened with Baltimore listed as a 13.5-point road favorite. The public is once again rushing to the window to lay the wood with the Ravens. However, despite this lopsided support, we’ve seen this line tumble to Ravens -12. This signals some sharp reverse line movement on the contrarian home dog. Cincinnati has value as a divisional home dog (61 percent ATS this season) and a double digit dog (55 percent ATS this season). Give me the Bengals getting double-digits inside the division.

Our Pick: Baltimore may score 40 themselves. Take the over.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) (+360, +10.5, O/U 42) at Cleveland Browns (10-5)

A compelling matchup because … for the Browns, it is pretty simple: win and you’re in the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. The Steelers don’t have much to play for and have already announced they’ll be resting Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph — who almost had his head bashed in by Myles Garrett with his own helmet the last time he played against the Browns — will get the start in his place.

Altruda’s Angle: The Steelers are turning this into a glorified exhibition of sorts by starting Rudolph at quarterback over Roethlisberger. The line has moved accordingly and in rapid fashion, with the lookahead line at Browns -4 and then opening at -7.5 prior to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin opting to rest Roethlisberger. Yet Cleveland is not without issues as it seeks its first postseason berth in 18 seasons. These are the Browns after all. After not having any of their top receivers due to COVID-19 related issues in their Week 16 loss to the New York Jets, the Browns have nine players on the COVID-19 reserve list after Harrison Bryant, Andrew Sendejo and Karl Bryant joined the group. All but Sendejo and B.J. Goodson have a chance of playing, but Cleveland really needs No. 1 receiver Jarvis Landry and fellow wideouts Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones to be available and help keep a stout yet injury-ravaged Pittsburgh defense honest. There was some surprise Baker Mayfield threw the ball 53 times last week with his best receiving options being tight ends, but expect a heavy dose of running back Nick Chubb in this contest. Chubb missed the first meeting — a 38-7 thrashing by the Steelers — due to injury, and establishing the ground game early could put game pressure on Rudolph late. The Steelers have never been a team that mails it in, which makes that double-digit spread challenging. The better play here is a same-game teaser knocking the line down to Browns -4 and UNDER 49 points with the expectation Garrett and Cleveland’s defense can fluster Rudolph.

Gable’s Guess: The Browns have everything to play for here. The Steelers didn’t really have a bye week this year due to all their scheduling issues. They played a lot of games in a short period of time. So, a lot of uncertainty on who’s going to actually be on the field for them. On the Browns’ side, Mayfield had three fumbles against the Jets and he’s obviously going to need to avoid turnovers against the great Steelers defense. The Steelers blitz at a 42 percent rate and Mayfield’s going to have to get rid of the ball quickly. Hopefully he has receivers available to him. The big thing really is also their offensive line. If they have to start two third-stringers again, it could really get ugly. The Browns are in a must-win situation here, but that’s a big number even if the Steelers are resting a lot of people. I would take the Steelers plus the points.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This AFC North grudge match features two teams handling the regular season finale much differently. The Steelers (9-6 ATS) snapped a 3-game losing streak last week, winning as a home pick-’em. Meanwhile, the Browns (6-9 ATS) are struggling down the stretch and have lost two of their last three. This game opened with Cleveland listed as a 4-point home favorite. We’ve seen pros hammer the Browns with the news that Pittsburgh will rest some starters. This lopsided action has pushed Cleveland all the way up to -10, but some late buyback dropped it back to 9.5 at some shops. Despite being shorthanded and having nothing to play for, Pittsburgh has value as a divisional dog (58 percent ATS this season) and a road dog with a low total (42.5). I’ll still back the Steelers to keep it close.

Our Pick: The Browns will win but the Steelers will cover. Take the points.

Green Bay Packers (12-3) (-240, -5.5, O/U 51.5) at Chicago Bears (8-7)

A compelling matchup because … with help, the Bears can still make it into the playoffs without beating the Packers, but a home win over Green Bay would ensure Chicago gets into the postseason. The Packers also have something to play for: the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bears are just 3-4 at home on the season.

Altruda’s Angle: The Packers make the trek down I-43 and I-94 already NFC North champions but with some work remaining to wrap up the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. Green Bay showed its Super Bowl credentials to the nation last Sunday night, withstanding a challenge from Tennessee as Aaron Rodgers continued to do Aaron Rodgers things. The NFL MVP frontrunner had his sixth game with four TD passes and has a league-best 44 against only five INTs. Rodgers also has made life miserable for the Bears over his career, with a 20-5 record that includes a 9-3 mark at Soldier Field (including his 2010 victory in the NFC title game). As Rodgers gets his due, don’t sleep on Green Bay’s defense. It did yeoman’s work in keeping Derrick Henry under 100 rushing yards, and has held three of its last four opponents to 16 or fewer points. The Bears, meanwhile, are currently running hot after a six-week cold spell, as Mitch Trubisky has led an offense that has averaged 35 points over the last four games. One can argue that Chicago’s three-game winning streak has come at the expense of teams a combined 11-33, but a resurgent running game paced by David Montgomery has made Trubisky effective. This will be a referendum game for Trubisky, who accrued most of his 242 yards and three TDs in a Week 12 loss at Green Bay after Rodgers had dissected the Bears to build a 27-3 lead. Teasing the Packers line down to grab points and sliding the number down worked last week against Tennessee and it should work again this week – give me the Packers +0.5 and OVER 44.5 points.

Gable’s Guess: Rodgers is now the favorite to win MVP and Davante Adams is having an extremely impressive season, probably an understatement. If he had played in every game this year, he’d be very close to some records at wide receiver. The Green Bay defense has really stepped up in a big way. On Sunday, they limited the No. 1 scoring offense in the league to only 14 points. They’ve looked much better against the run over the last few weeks, and on the offensive side they’ve rushed for 180 yards or more in three of their last five games. This really hasn’t been the rivalry it once was due to the Packers dominating Chicago for the last decade or so. Trubisky has the offense playing better than it has all season, but they haven’t really been up against the cream of the crop of the league. So, while they’re scoring more points over the last three weeks, I can’t really make the statement the Bears have turned that corner. So, I’m going to lay the points here with Green Bay.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This NFC North matchup has playoff implications for both teams. The Packers (9-6 ATS) have won five straight and just crushed the Titans 40-14, easily covering as 3-point home favorites. Meanwhile, the Bears (8-7 ATS) were once left for dead but have since won three straight with Trubisky, most recently crushing the Jags 41-17 and easily covering as 9.5-point road favorites. The Bears control their own destiny. This line reached Green Bay -6 before falling down to 5.5 or even 5. The Bears have value as a contrarian bet and a home divisional dog (61 percent ATS). Chicago is playing well and this game means more to them. I’ll take the points with Trubisky.

Our Pick: The Packers have the No. 1 seed to play for. Lay the points.

Washington Football Team (6-9) (-131, -2, O/U 43.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)

A compelling matchup because … all Washington needs to do to make the playoffs is beat an Eagles team that has been ravaged by injuries and inconsistent play all season. The Football Team could also use a postseason berth in order to put a positive spin on the team moving on earlier this week from Dwayne Haskins this week, their first-round pick in 2019. Jalen Hurts, who is hoping to lock down the 2021 starting job at QB for the Eagles, will start.

Altruda’s Angle: For the umpteenth time this season, the WFT has had a WTF moment with the release of Haskins before the biggest game of its season. The surprise is not that coach Ron Rivera sought to jettison Haskins, but that he got owner Daniel Snyder’s blessing to do so. Rivera is hoping Alex Smith, who sat out last week with a strained calf, will be under center, but he may be forced to turn to Taylor Heinicke for a second straight game. Heinicke performed well after Rivera benched Haskins, completing 12-of-19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in Week 16, but Washington is clearly a much better team with Smith under center. The Eagles are the lone NFC team mathematically eliminated from the division race as they continue to audition Hurts. His performances have been expectedly uneven: there was the good of an 81-yard hookup with DeSean Jackson for a touchdown in last week’s 37-17 loss at Dallas and 411 total yards of offense, but also a pair of interceptions and a lost fumble. He has back-to-back 300-yard games but also been sacked nine times. You buy the ticket, you take the ride. Washington opened the season with a come-from-behind win over Philadelphia and chances are it may need something similar in this game to win the NFC East. This line has swung hard in WFT’s direction — the lookahead line was Philadelphia -4 — and the feeling is to get on Washington now and lay a slim number of points in hopes bettors don’t drive the line higher.

Gable’s Guess: For weeks, people in Philadelphia were thinking this was going to be the game to decide the division — but the assumption was the Eagles would be contending for it. That isn’t the case and I think this is really a must-lose game for the Eagles so they get a better draft pick. I don’t think this is a game they want any part of winning. The Washington defense should be able to hold the Eagles offense in check. If Smith is the starter, hopefully they can muster enough points against a dreadful Philadelphia secondary. So, I’m going to take Washington here, laying the points.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This Sunday Night Football showdown is one of the most consequential games of the Week 17 slate. Washington (8-6-1 ATS) has lost two straight, most recently falling to the Panthers 20-13 and failing to cover as 1-point home dogs. However, Washington still controls its own destiny. This game doesn’t mean much to the Eagles (5-10 ATS), who have already been eliminated from the playoffs. Philadelphia has lost two straight and is just 1-6 over their last seven. The Eagles got rolled by the Cowboys 37-17 last week, losing outright as 3-point road favorites. The early line on this game was Eagles -1 but we’ve seen respected money move Washington to -2. Ron Torbert, the lead ref, has been historically profitable for away teams (59 percent ATS). As long as Alex Smith starts, I’ll take Washington as a short favorite to win on the money line.

Our Pick: Smith’s story should end happily. Lay the points with the WFT.

Last Week: 3-2, Season: 44-34-1

Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.

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