Making sense of the ‘WTF’ final week of NFL betting

Making sense of NFL Week 17 is like trying to make sense of a David Lynch movie.

There’s no shortage of twists, turns and WTF moments, with some teams playing for a playoff spot, some resting up for the postseason, and others closing out disappointing campaigns with their motivation up for debate.

Then you throw in pointspreads and totals, and you might as well be watching the end of Mulholland Drive wearing your grandmother’s bifocals while having someone hit you over the head with a parking cone.

Through all this confusion, there’s been some consistency when it comes to Week 17 totals the past few seasons. Since the 2013 NFL season, Week 17 games have finished with a collective 17-31 Over/Under count – playing Under the number 64.5 percent of the time.

Those 48 games have produced an average of 41.89 points scored versus an average closing betting total of 45.05, staying below the number by 3.16 points or basically a field goal. Last season, Week 17 finished with 11 of its 16 contests playing Under the total, posting an average of 42.93 points scored against an average closing total of 44.25.

There are plenty of factors that could lead to this lean toward the Under: lack of effort, resting starters/playing backups on offense, bad or cold weather. And while every game should be handicapped as its own entity – regardless of week – the Under has shown up more in Week 17 than the Over.

Going back to 1990, games played in the final week of the regular season are 186-202-6 Over/Under, with the Under cashing in at the counter 52 percent of the time. And over the past six seasons, Week 17 games are 39-58-3 O/U – a 58 percent winning clip for fans of low-scoring football.

This Sunday, the 16 NFL regular season finales have an average betting total of just over 44 points, with only one game (Saints at Falcons 56.5) higher than 49.5. NFL teams are combining for 45.4 points an outing in 2016, the seventh highest-scoring season since 1922. On the year, NFL games have gone 125-112-3 Over/Under for a 52.74 percent lean to the Over.

If all these Week 17 Over/Under stats are making your brain hurt, you could always give it a break: skip the final weekend of football, cuddle up with a warm drink and binge watch Twin Peaks until your ears bleed.

From Day 1

The usual hangover cure for New Year’s Day is Aspirin, orange juice, and college football. But with Week 17 landing on January 1, the college kids get the heave-ho and the pros take center stage.

This Sunday marks just the seventh time the NFL has had action –regular season or playoffs – on New Year’s Day since 1967 and only the fourth time since 1989. There were two Divisional Round games on Jan. 1 1989, two Wildcard games in 1995, a full Week 17 slate in 2006, and 14 season finales in 2012 (two games on Dec. 31).

In those 34 New Year’s Day NFL contests since 1989, the home side has produced a profitable 21-11-2 ATS record (22-12 SU), winning by an average score of 25.44-19.76 versus an average closing pointspread of -2.95 – covering by 2.73 points or almost a field goal.

As for New Year’s Day totals, the fireworks didn’t stop the night before. Contrary to our Week 17 totals trend above, since 1989 NFL games played on Jan. 1 have posted a 19-13-2 Over/Under count with the average combined points of 45.2 going against an average closing betting total of 40.57.

So, if you’re trying to tackle totals this New Year’s Day – along with a hangover – you may want to just keep drinking. Hair of the dog, baby!

Sharps like…

Baltimore. The Ravens opened +2.5 at Cincinnati in what is a meaningless game as far as playoffs are concerned, with both teams missing out on the tournament. Sharp money – and rare sharp money in Week 17 – has sided with the road team.

“Very little sharp money, altogether, but they have bet Baltimore moneyline and against the spread,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas. “We’re now at Baltimore -1. For some reason they like Baltimore to do it.”

Biggest move…

The Ravens-Bengals spread is CG Technology’s biggest line move, but if you look at some offshore openers you’ll see the Patriots opened as low as -6 at Miami and have since climbed as high as -10.

“We waited on this line,” says Simbal. “We opened New England -10 (Even), with the Dolphins at +10 -120. We weren’t in any rush to put this one up there.”

Tampa Bay also suffered a significant drop, falling from -6 to -4 versus Carolina with a $10,000 moneyline wager on the Panthers at +180 coming in earlier this week at CG Technology sportsbooks.

“That caused us to move the spread too,” notes Simbal.

Biggest sweat…

Packers at Lions. The final game of the regular season – Week 17’s Sunday nighter – has drawn three times more bets on Green Bay than Detroit. That pushed the line from Packers -3 to -3.5, where the majority of action is hitting.

“Even if we get Packers by three, we’re OK,” says Simbal.

Banker game…

The regular season finale will determine what has been a lightly-bet Week 17 board, as of Thursday. According to Simbal, there is one-sided money on the visiting Cheeseheads and he sees that continuing through to Sunday.

“Ticket count will be massively in favor of Green Bay,” he says. “However, if Washington losses – even through they’re a 7-point favorite (hosting a resting Giants squad) – then both of these teams (Green Bay and Detroit) get in.”

Injury to watch

Travis Swanson, center Detroit Lions

The Lions have been without their starting center the past three games, with Swanson going through concussion protocol. Detroit is 2-1 SU and 0-3 ATS in that span, barely beating Chicago at home then dropping road dates at New York and Dallas, and has averaged just under 16 points per game (compared to 21.5 ppg on the season) and allowed eight total sacks.

Versus Dallas in Week 16, the Lions watched Matt Stafford get sacked four times along with taking nine hits. Rookie center Graham Glasgow has started in place of Swanson, who is hopeful to return after practicing this week. Having the veteran snapping the ball will be huge for Detroit in its do-or-die game versus Green Bay Sunday. The Packers have eight sacks the last three games and had three against the Lions in Week 3’s 34-27 home win.

We know how to pick’em

The tightest spread on the Week 17 board, as of Thursday, is the AFC North battle between the Ravens and Bengals, which opened Cincy -2.5 and is bet down as far as Baltimore -1. With the playoff picture pretty much set in the AFC, and both teams on the outside, motivation comes into question. But Baltimore and Cincinnati are prideful organizations, so expect them to go at it.

If you just can’t decide which team to take – Ravens or Bengals – do what we do in this spot each week and just pick the team with the hottest cheerleaders.

Sunday’s menu

I’m not a big Facebook guy but there are two times in the year I do make sure to check out my feed: Halloween and Christmas. And while I was creeping on everyone’s Holiday cheer this week, I stumbled upon a former co-worker’s pic of slow cooker jambalaya and instantly craved some hot seafood soup. I’ve never made it before, but this looks like a spicy recipe to warm my belly for a wintery Week 17.

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

For the second straight week, I took the Patriots and laid the points. And, for the second straight week, cashed in thanks to Tommy & Co. That’s pretty much makeup on a pig, with my yearly record now at 5-8 – or 7-9 if you count the three weeks I resorted to flipping a coin.

Bill Belichick is as warm to the idea of resting his starters in Week 17 as he is to the idea of hosting a party for the Boston media on New Year’s Eve. Not gonna happen. That could be why the Pats are 11-4-1 ATS in their 16 Week 17 outings with the Hoodie on the sidelines.

New England, which can clinch the AFC’s top seed and home field in the postseason with a win, opened -6 at Miami and has jumped to -9.5. I’m still grabbing the Patriots under the key number of -10. They’re 12-3 ATS heading into the season finale and aren’t showing any sign of taking their foot off the gas – especially after devouring the souls of the New York Jets with a 41-3 win last Sunday.

Pick: Patriots -9.5

Song for Sunday

Seeing that NFL Week 17 falls on New Year’s Day, it’s the perfect way to start 2017 on the right foot – and bid farewell to the past 365 days that were 2016. For many people this was a trying year, myself included, topping that shit sundae with the deaths of some of our most celebrated artists, actors and celebrities. Kiss my ass 2016, you rotten bastard!

Follow Covers’ Senior Managing Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns.

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