Bettor’s Playbook: NFL Week 17 Exceeds Expectations, Wild Card Weekend Cometh

Written By Dave Bontempo on December 31, 2019

Betting on the NFL in Week 17 immensely exceeded expectations.

Beyond the Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers thrill ride, the final games had noted achievements.

There were only two playoff spots to be decided, but enormous implications surrounded the final 30 seconds of several contests.

NFL playoff takeaways

The Baltimore Ravens showed why they are going to be nearly impossible to beat in the AFC. They toppled a playoff-hungry Pittsburgh Steelers team by 18 points — with their backups.

The Ravens rested imminent MVP, Lamar Jackson because they already clinched home field throughout the AFC playoffs. That’s why DraftKings Sportsbook had them as a two-point underdog, and they still won.

Only an eyelash separates the 49ers, Seahawks and New Orleans Saints atop the NFC. 

The Niners completed an unheard-of feat as a three-point favorite at FanDuel Sportsbook Sunday night. Their fifth straight game was decided on the final play. The run includes:

  • Loss to Baltimore
  • Win over New Orleans
  • Loss to Atlanta
  • Victory over the Los Angeles Rams

And now this.

Literally, a couple of inches more on the final Seattle pass completion would have given the Seahawks the NFC West, the Green Bay Packers the top seed, the New Orleans Saints the second seed, and San Francisco would have been forced to open the playoffs on the road.

Now the Niners have the home-field edge throughout, Green Bay has the second bye and New Orleans opens the playoffs by hosting the Minnesota Vikings.

The Seahawks, underdog of 3-3.5 points according to the William Hill Sportsbook, looked fine with Russell Wilson scrambling and Marshawn Lynch rushing Sunday night. Although they were afflicted with three season-ending injuries to their backs, the Seahawks got a touchdown from Lynch.

And they probably would have gained another from him, and the win, except for a costly delay-of-game penalty when they were on the one-yard line in the final seconds. That took Lynch out of the game, and Seattle came up just short with a pass to the goal line.

The Seahawks will visit the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening playoff round.

Philadelphia Eagles flying high

AHH, the Eagles.

What a story.

The Eagles captured the NFC East with a 34-17 victory over the New York Giants, winning their fourth straight game to finish 9-7.

The Eagles rewarded their SugarHouse Sportsbook betting base, which backed them with 82% of the moneyline and 74% support for them to cover a 3.5-point spread.

They are a heartwarming story because media outlets were ready to fire coach Doug Pederson and replace quarterback Carson Wentz when the Eagles were 5-7 and 14 points down late to the Giants three games ago.

Fast forward to now and Wentz not only led the Eagles to a division crown, but he owns a strange stat. He is the Eagles’ first-ever 4,000-yard passer for one season and the first QB in NFL history to amass 4,000 yards with no receiver having more than 500 of it.

Talk about having to spread the ball. He doesn’t have a go-to pass catcher. Think of all the chemistry needed between this quarterback and the large variety of receivers.

The Eagles are riding a head of steam and will host the Seahawks, who edged them in a previous meeting.

Philadelphia delivered its third consecutive cover in Sunday’s win and is beginning to look comfortable in the fourth quarter. Success brings an attitude and the Eagles are starting to get the look of a team that expects to find a way to win.

They found their best output just in time.

The moneyline rules at NJ sportsbooks

Sunday was what some moneyline players and NJ sports betting apps live for.

A mammoth upset by the Miami Dolphins over the host New England Patriots provided the ultimate underdog triumph. It rewarded savvy individual bettors at a big price and vanquished an avalanche of parlay tickets, helping the sportsbooks.

It also upended the AFC playoff structure, vaulting the Kansas City Chiefs into a first-round bye and forcing the Patriots to host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

We have talked about the Dolphins being hot against the spread ever since Ryan Fitzpatrick became quarterback early in the season. FitzMagic not only led Miami to its ninth cover in 12 games on Sunday, but a 27-24 victory that rewarded DraftKings bettors at +900.

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Say what?

There was nothing accidental about this. Miami moved the ball methodically with short plays and, despite coughing up the lead with less than four minutes left, tallied the winning score with 24 seconds left.

The win was also a remarkable turnaround. Remember Week 2?

That’s when the Patriots clobbered the Dolphins 43-0, in Miami. Good for those bettors Sunday with the guts to take Miami at +900 and the 16.5 points.

This also provided a seasonal victory William Hill sportsbook bettor did not expect.

The Dolphins’ over-under win-loss total was 4.5 on Opening Day. Miami winning its fifth game of the year against the defending Super Bowl champions, who entered at 12-3, just seemed unfathomable Sunday. But that’s why they play the games.

Patriots loss is the Chiefs’ gain

New England’s loss helped the Chiefs, who struggled before subduing the Los Angeles Chargers 31-21, snare the second playoff bye. The Chiefs were -9.5 at FanDuel and had 86% of the spread tickets.

Did NJ sports betting customers appreciate the covering score Kansas City gave them when they were trying to run out the clock? The Chiefs were trailing until a kick-return touchdown turned the game around in the second half.

Another team nearly basked in the moneyline glory.

The Detroit Lions, -13 at SugarHouse and a + 600 moneyline play, never trailed the Green Bay Packers. Until the final play of the game.

That’s when Mason Crosby capped Green Bay’s furious comeback from a 17-3 second-half deficit to deliver the critical victory. Green Bay earned a first-round bye with the win.

Flip-flopping roles in NFL Week 17

Some teams that had nothing to play for, and it showed. The Ravens, however, proved they are the class of the league with their 12th straight win, accomplished against the Steelers, who needed the game.

Not only did the Ravens triumph 28-10, but they did it as a 2.5-point underdog. You won’t see them getting points for a long time.

And just for fun, the Ravens faked a punt with the game on the line, from their own 11 — and made it. They also notched a defensive touchdown, which provided over 36.5 players across the major books a winning ticket.

One team that needed a big effort proved the wisdom of a substantial line movement.

The Tennessee Titans, who lost two weeks ago to the Houston Texans, faced a must-win scenario versus a team that did not need the rematch. Houston rested star players like DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson and the line soared from Tennessee -3.5 to -8.5, in Houston, across the major books.

But the line did not go up enough. Tennessee romped 35-14, taking care of business and gaining the final AFC playoff berth.

Jameis Winston: Take a bow for the “over”

This was the year one player became the darling of “over” bettors like no one else.

Jameis Winston departed in an appropriate fashion Sunday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback has caused numerous prop totals to go “over” because he throws touchdowns and interceptions that get returned for touchdowns.

Winston is the gold standard for “over” bettors. And he saved the best for last.

When the Tampa Bay-Atlanta Falcons game finished regulation at 22-22, Winston supplied the coup’ de grace for the “over” bettors. 

He lobbed an overtime pass that was picked and returned for a touchdown, giving Atlanta the 28-22 victory. The over was 48. Although his teammates and fans most likely fumed, gamblers danced in the aisles.

Winston became the first player in NFL history to throw 30-or-more touchdowns and 30 interceptions, finishing with 33 scores and 30 catches by the other team. He also set a new league mark with seven interceptions returned for touchdowns.

NJ online gambling patrons should erect some shrine for Winston. Unlike fans, bettors don’t care if a player has a sub-par performance, as long as they can wager into it.

The same goes for Daniel Jones, the Giants quarterback. It’s been outlined in this piece how he usually is in the middle of one awful play per game that costs his team dearly. Jones surrendered touchdowns in three successive weeks in the middle of the season.

Sunday, with the Giants trailing the Eagles 20-17, Jones was on the wrong end of a bad snap. The Eagles recovered, ran it to the one-yard line and scored what became the “winning” touchdown to those who took the Eagles at -3.5

A new meaning for “cover two”

We know about the defensive formation. But a two-point conversion attempt became a cover for Oakland Raiders’ bettors Sunday.

Last week, I mentioned teams may consider more two-point conversion attempts at the end of games rather than risk overtime.

Maybe Jon Gruden saw the piece.

His Oakland Raiders team scored with seven seconds left against the Denver Broncos to pull within 16-15. The Raiders were getting 3.5 at FanDuel.

Gruden went for two, seeking the win and ensuring the cover for Raiders’ bettors. Denver swatted the pass down, but Oakland bettors had their cover.

No risk of an overtime touchdown, just an unexpected victory. That was also a burn for Denver gamblers, as the team was up 16-3 and cruising in the fourth quarter before coughing up the cover.

Would Gruden have taken the tie and risked overtime if the Raiders were still mathematically alive for the post-season at that point? Probably. But the Raiders had been eliminated from post-season consideration during the day and had nothing to lose.

Values abounded in the early games, with the perceived rest of teams not needing to win substantially impacting the spread.

The Chicago Bears went from a 7-point underdog before Minnesota’s Monday Night Football loss to the Green Bay Packers to a -3 before kickoff. The Vikings were land-locked into a road playoff game and had nothing to compete for.

They lost 21-19, so the key for Bears bettors was when they made the wager. Making that bet last week and then seeing Minnesota rest its regulars Sunday made a few bettors feel like geniuses, which they were.

A tip of the hat to those able to ignore the line movements regarding the Indianapolis Colts-Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Colts surged from a 3.5-point favorite against the Jacksonville Jaguars to -6 before game time. That seemed like positive news for William Hill sports betting customers who had taken the Colts’ projected win total over 7.5 before the season started. Indy entered with seven wins.

But eight would not come. The Jags rallied from an early deficit and pounded the Colts 38-20.

A team that started the season getting blown out at home by the Kansas City Chiefs at the beginning of the Nick Foles era ended it with an encore from Gardner Minshew. And Minshew Mania was intact after this one, as he finished 6-6 as a starter and gave the Jaguars decisions to make in the off-season.

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Cleveland: Too much heat in the Kitchens

The Cleveland Browns did not wait that long. The first firing of the post-season happened right after Cleveland was beaten by the two-win Cincinnati Bengals, 33-23. Cleveland terminated Freddie Kitchens after one disappointing season.

The Browns were one of the best offensive teams in the second half of last season, and, after acquiring star running back Kareem Hunt along with stud receiver Odell Beckham, they looked ready to be a playoff team. But they finished an underwhelming 6-10.

But the players did not mesh, Beckham substantially under-achieved, and Cleveland’s goal-line play-calling was abysmal.

There is a lot of talent in Cleveland, but it looks like a collection of “me’” players rather than a “we.” Although Kitchens took the ax for the performance, this is fixable for his successor.

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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others. He writes significantly about the emerging world of legal New Jersey sports betting.

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