Written By Billy Attridge
What a ride it’s been but at last the final NFL regular season week is upon us. While we’ve battled Covid-19 news since Week 4 and changes in practice and game schedules, we must be grateful the NFL carefully navigated its way to the finish line and it looks like we’ll have exciting playoff matchups ahead. For NFL Week 17 market moves I will look focus on two NFC games that have playoff implications. Starting in the North, an old-school rivalry gets ramped up with the #1 seed and a playoff birth on the line in Chicago. The second game features rivals in the Giants and Cowboys fighting to stay alive with a win so their other rival Philadelphia can later assist in helping them represent the East in the playoffs. I will do my best to let you know why some of these prices have moved and give my best estimation on where the lines ultimately close.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears +6 (-120):
Green Bay looks the part of the #1 seed in the NFC, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Probable MVP Aaron Rodgers has led the Packers to the most efficient offense in the NFL this season, and we know offense correlates to winning at a 4x greater clip than defense in the modern era of football. Green Bay hits the road to Chicago, a game that’s of the highest importance for the NFC playoff picture. Let’s start with the line. The Packers opened as low as -4 some places and moved out to -6 (-105) before settling in at the current price, a price I fully anticipate dropping. The first matchup at Lambeau Field back in Week 12 on Sunday Night Football did not feature Chicago defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, and the Packers closed under the key number of “7” at some of the sharpest sports books in the world. Now we’re seeing a price only 1-point off that closing number despite the offensive improvements for Chicago that feature a change along the offensive line that’s really opened up their ground game. Sam Mustipher has moved to center, allowing Germain Ifedi to shift to right tackle which seems to be the ideal offensive line set-up. Additionally, new play-caller Bill Lazor has used more two-tight end sets the last four weeks allowing David Montgomery to run absolutely wild. Now, there is no doubt the Bears are playing their best football on offense this season over the last month, but they have played 4 below average defenses over this stretch including #30 Houston, #31 Jacksonville, and #32 Detroit in defensive efficiency. The truth of Chicago’s offensive improvement likely falls between very real and scheduled aided. In saying that, Green Bay’s defense is anything but elite, especially against the run where they rank 19th in defensive rush efficiency. On the other side defensively, Chicago has concerns in the secondary with Jaylon Johnson, Buster Skrine, and backup Deon Bush all questionable and none having practiced to this point in the week. The secondary is arguably the second most valuable position group on a team, but I don’t believe the question to ask here is whether or not Chicago can stop Green Bay. The Packers will score, as they have all year. The return of Akiem Hicks will be a big for Chicago and Green Bay right tackle Rick Wagner is battling an injury and is questionable. Additionally, moments ago all-world left tackle David Bakhtiari tore his ACL in practice. This massive injury news will certainly help Chicago get to the window, but this is truly about the Bears offense. The improvements to the scheme Bill Lazor implemented over the last month should be enough to keep Chicago close. This is the rare Week 17 instance where a “must win” situation hasn’t caused market inflation. This line is high and I expect the market to trend down as we get closer to kickoff with a close of Green Bay -4 or lower.
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Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants +2.5 (-110):
We’ve seen a massive adjustment in a weeks time for this crucial NFC East game, as the Giants were as high as 3.5-point favorites on the look-ahead line. Early this week shops re-opened Dallas a short road favorite of -1 to -2 depending on where you looked, and that soft number was quickly moved out to -3 across the market before we saw a BUY on the New York Giants Wednesday at the key number of +3. The Cowboy’s offense looked extremely competent against an Eagles secondary that unfortunately featured corner Michael Jacquet who was picked on mercilessly. Jacquet was targeted 9 times and allowed 7 catches for 143 yards, 6 first downs, and 1 touchdown. With Andy Dalton and the wide receiver core starting to click, the early move on this game towards Dallas seems to make some sense. However, let’s take a peak at who Dallas has faced recently and how that may have something to do with the offensive explosion. The Bengals and 49ers gifted Dallas with turnover after turnover that led to either defensive touchdowns or very short fields to complete scoring drives, while the Eagles secondary was injury riddled and the departure of Fletcher Cox after 7 snaps shifted the entire makeup of the matchup and allowed Dallas to be balanced. The Giants have been stingy all year defending the run, ranking 9th in defensive run success rate, and with Zack Martin’s comeback looking unlikely for Dallas, it will prove difficult to move the ball on the ground against New York. On the other side of the ball, Joe Judge’s squad has faced the toughest schedule of opposing defenses in the NFL, and should feel some reprieve as they take on a Dallas defense that still ranks 21st in overall defensive efficiency, and 24th in defensive rush efficiency, an area the Giants can target. Surprisingly, New York ranks 8th in offensive rush efficiency, so we could see Wayne Gallman have himself a game. Bottom-line, this number shifted too much from the look-ahead price, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the Giants +3 get gobbled up. The G-Men will also find themselves in the portfolio’s of professional bettors as a teaser leg this week getting them back up through the 3, 4, 6, and 7.