NFL expert Mike Carlson recommends his first bets of 2021 and puts his faith in the Green Bay Packers to see off Chicago Bears in week 17...
"Green Bay quarter-back Aaron Rodgers is now a virtual lock for the league MVP and is having one of his very best seasons..."
There can't be too many NFL pundits out there giving thanks for the NFC Least, but Iron Mike rode the division to a winning week 16. It was a good week overall, which I hope you noticed, even though on the Betfair NFL Only Bettor podcast last Wednesday, Kieran O'Connor, John Balfe and I had agreed on the Titans +3 in Green Bay as a best bet: the only excuse I could come up with is that I misheard during the recording and thought it was the Titans +30, which would have covered by four!
Last week my column best bet was Indy and Pittsburgh to go over 44.5, which they did easily with 53. I had Miami straight up over the Raiders, though the Dolphins didn't cover the -3,and the two went over 47.5 when I'd called it for unders.
But bless the NFC East. On the pod, the Ravens were my best, giving 10.5 to the Giants, who duly obliged by losing by 14. Dallas was getting points and beat the Eagles anyway, Carolina were getting points and beat Washington straight up as well, and I'd advised you to take them both ways. So week 16 was overall a winner.
Week 17 will be tougher, because week 17 always is. As there is only one bye week on offer in the new Covid playoffs, there are fewer "junk" games. Over the years, I have become convinced that if you are guaranteed a bye, as the Chiefs are, it's risky not to play in week 17, although Andy Reid clearly has no worries about his offense getting rusty, and he probably thinks guys like Sammy Watkins and Clyde Edwards-Hilaire can benefit from rest.
The advantage of the two-seed this season is only the guarantee of the second home game if you win in the wild card round, but the Steelers feel resting Big Ben and keeping him free from injury out-weighs the outside chance of catching Buffalo. They would have to beat the Browns, who need the win to get into the playoffs for the first time since 1995, and have the Bills lose to the Dolphins, who are also in a win and in situation.
Throw in late injuries (Jared Goff's thumb?) and Covid shockers (all the Browns' wideouts last week, though they may be back this week -- I'm writing this a day early and we won't know their status until New Year's Day).
So with those caveats, here's your first picks of 2021. Have a safe New Year's Eve tonight, and a very Happy New Year.
Rampant Rodgers can fire Packers to victory
The Packers need a win to preserve their top seed, which is important both to get their rest next week and to be at home rather than in New Orleans or Seattle when they come off the bye. Aaron Rodgers is now a virtual lock for the league MVP, having one of his very best seasons despite a perceived lack of weapons around him: last week he threw 12 passes to Davante Adams, who despite double coverage caught 11 for 142 yards and three scores. Rookie RB AJ Dillon got his first extended playing time and ran for 124, Aaron Jones added 10/94 and they shredded Tennessee's defense.
Chicago's is better, and their linebacking means I'd shy away from Robert Tonyan as a TD scorer if the bet is available, but if the Pack can rack up a couple of early scores, get the Bears away from David Montgomery, and make Mitch Trubisky win the game with Allen Robinson (probably the best overlooked receiver in the league this year) they should be able to cover.
Denver D is key to unders bet
It's week 17, you never know who's going to take it less than seriously or quit early but my thinking on this is that Denver remains pretty tough defensively (allowed the Chargers only 19 last week) and are at home at altitude, while Vegas could manage only 25 against Miami at home. Given that the Broncos remain offensively challenged, I don't see a 24-17 kind of scoreline being a lot here. By the way, on the pod my own best bet was the Chargers/Chiefs to go Over (43.5 at 10.11).
Rams look underrated against Arizona
The Rams are home dogs for a reason, or multiple reasons, as Jared Goff is out with a thumb, Cooper Kupp is out on the Covid list and Darrell Henderson is on IR. Malcolm Brown has a shoulder and Cam Akers an ankle are both are doubtful. That would leave two rookies: undrafted Xavier Jones or Tampa R7 pick Raymond Calais as their running back. But I have a certain amount of faith in the Rams' D to control Kyler Murray, and I think John Wolford, with nothing to lose, may be able to generate a bit of passing offense himself. Remember the Rams signed Blake Bortles from the Denver practice squad this month, but still prefer Wolford. Maybe Sean McVay actually knows something. This is an outside bet for sure.
The same goes for backing the Eagles +1.5 at 10/11 v Washington Team Football. WTF are in for the division title and the playoffs at 7-9, if they lose the winner of Dallas at New York Giants is in (the Cowboys -2.5 at 10/11 was our agreed best on the podcast). If you think Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders can generate a few points against the Washington defense you might even look at the Eagles on the moneyline at evens. If you like Washington, I'd reckon go under 43.5 at 10/11. If you like the Eagles it may be over.