NFL Week 17 Tipsheet: Tampa Bay can push New Orleans close

Can Tamp head coach Dirk Koetter (above) mastermind victory against the Saints?
Can Tamp head coach Dirk Koetter (above) mastermind victory against the Saints?
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American football expert Mike Carlson makes some cheeky remarks about English cricket and selects his best bets for what he dubs "the worst" week of the NFL season for tipsters...

Best Bet: Tampa +7 at 5/6 v New Orleans

"The Bucs' ability to put points on the board may squeeze a win out of this one, even if Marshon Lattimore closes down Mike Evans. At any rate I like the seven points."

Week 17 is the worst week of the NFL season for predicting results. You have to look at teams who have nothing to play for - yes, they say every game is meaningful, or else why would they keep score, and of course English cricket fans like to pretend the fourth match of a five match cricket series they've already lost 3-0 is something more than garbage time (but hey, Dunkirk was a win, right?) - but the reality is that teams must balance their priorities. Thus, some teams who have little or nothing to gain in terms of play-off positions already achieved will be tempted to rest their key players. This has two purposes: one is to avoid injury, the other is actually to rest, and recuperate from nagging injuries, which after 15 games can be valuable.

But teams who have a bye week coming will risk taking, in effect, two weeks off from competitive football, and lose whatever rhythm or, as we say, momentum they've established. Some of us like to remind others that momentum is more often something we identify after a result than something that causes a result, but even so, the Big Mo is a sports yakker's favourite fallback.

The Rams, and 31-year-old coach Sean McVay, have already announced they're taking it easy, with little in the way of play-off seeding to worry about. Which sends a message; they don't care who they play in the wild card round. This gives Jimmy Garoppolo, or Jimmy GQ as he's known in the Bay area, a chance to extend his unbeaten streak into next season.

The Jags, on the other hand, having lost badly to Jimmy GQ last week, will probably go all out to grab a win in Tennessee, even though losing to the Titans would get them a rematch the following week in Jacksonville, rather than a game against the Bills or Chargers. Tom Coughlin famously had his Giants go for the win in week 17 of 2007, when they narrowly lost to the unbeaten Patriots--then went on to beat those Pats in the Super Bowl. The Jags can't meet the Titans in the Super Bowl, which is good news for us fans, but you get the point.

The Steelers are likely to take it easy with their stars, which could open the door for the winless Browns to save Hue Jackson. Do they want to? The Chiefs will start rookie Pat Mahomes in Denver, and even though I would rather play him than any of the guys Denver might throw out there, I kind of think the Broncos are more likely than Cleveland to scrape a win.

Best Bet: Tampa +7 at 5/6 v New Orleans

The Bucs have played everyone close in the past month, put points on the board, but been unable to close out games. Where Cam Newton drops a snap and has it bounce right back into his hands and runs for a TD, Jameis Winston drops a snap and it rolls right into the arms of the opposition's fastest player - that sort of thing. I think the Saints can pull off a win, but I'm not convinced they will go all out to do so, and the Bucs' ability to put points on the board may squeeze a win out of this one, even if Marshon Lattimore closes down Mike Evans. At any rate I like the seven points.

Value Bet: Denver (-3.5 at evens) v Kansas City

The Chiefs are going to start Pat Mahomes at quarter-back. I actually would rather play Mahomes than any of the bozos who've been throwing the ball for Denver, but the Denver D at home is going to be a tough test for him, and the likelihood is that the Chiefs will also rest the team's other best weapons (Hunt, Hill, Kelce) for much of the game. It's odd that NFL teams rarely rest key defensive players, as if they are just as tired and bang-up as those on offense, but there you go. I think the Broncos win this by more than a field goal, and even money seems pretty good value.

Outside Bet: New England (-16.5 at 11/10) v New York Jets

I am innately conservative when it comes to big spreads. But even if you consider the fact that Bryce Petty is a large part of the formula for a double-digit loss, and if Christian Hackenberg arrives in the huddle the formula gets a lot worse, there is always the likelihood the Pats take their foot off the pedal and let what might be a big lead dissipate. And then there is the Jets' defense, which is still a tough unit. Although the Pats have been very good at covering when they are double-digit favourites at home, so you might want to consider going over 43.5 at 10/11 or betting the Pats for more points and the lead at halftime.

If you are feeling conservative, how about Baltimore (-10 at evs) against Cincinnati/strong>? The Ravens need to win and the Bengals need to see their season over as quickly as possible. Happy New Year!

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