Week 17 is full of storylines as the playoff picture is starting to take shape. Nine of the 14 playoff spots are secured, leaving 15 teams battling it out for the remaining five. A few teams simply need to win out, while the majority need to handle their business and hope the dominoes fall in their favor.
If sportsbooks gave odds on how many times I will have to refer to the league's web of tiebreaker scenarios, the over would be free money. A big part of these final two weeks will be tracking motivational spots to see which teams successfully stave off elimination and which will see their season end.
Here's the beauty of the league's playoff format. Even the top teams in each conference are highly motivated due to the massive benefit of being the conference's No. 1 seed. The Eagles missed their opportunity last week at Dallas, but here's why they are an excellent bet to capitalize against a much more favorable opponent this weekend. But, of course, motivation comes in many forms, and I also targeted one other team in a very different spot for this week's best bets.
As disappointing of a season as it's been for the Saints, this is only the second time they are underdogs of more than four points. Here's the bad news for Saints fans: The other time was a 13-0 shutout loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Now, I'm not here to convince you that the Eagles' defense is as strong as the 49ers, especially after getting smoked for 40 points at Dallas. However, it is good enough to cause chaos for a Saints offensive line with PFF's 10th-lowest pass-blocking grade.
Even after last week's disaster in Dallas, Philadelphia comes in fifth using Football Outsider's defensive DVOA metric, has PFF's third-highest defensive grade in the league and ranks second overall in EPA per play allowed. The defense should be rock solid at home and highly motivated to put last week behind it.
The Saints have scored only 43 points over the last four road games (10.8 ppg), and now face an Eagles team that averages 30 at home. Philadelphia's offense isn't the same without Jalen Hurts and Lane Johnson, but they proved they could score in the 30s against a quality defense in Dallas. As I always say, nobody likes to lay seven points in the NFL, but this one has 27-13 written all over it. Bet on the Eagles dominantly clinching the No. 1 seed and covering the big number in front of their fans.
I understand all the reasons to back the Texans, but those same reasons are creating value on the other side. The Texans have been a feisty underdog, covering the last three weeks and beating the Titans outright. For Jacksonville, it is a massive lookahead spot for a young, inexperienced team. Plus, the game has little meaning, as they can still clinch the AFC South title with a win next week. These are the calculated risks bettors have to weigh this time of year. Of course, there is always a possibility the Jaguars will rest their starters, but I am confident Jacksonville shows up Sunday.
A different type of motivation is in play here. I don't believe the Jaguars view this as just another game on the schedule. Head coach Doug Pederson is building a new culture in Jacksonville that requires consistency and discipline. After winning their last three games and clawing into the playoff picture, it's hard for me to imagine the Jaguars disrupting their progress by letting up now. They have the opportunity to head into the postseason on a five-game winning streak.
Jacksonville has let down in all three games as a favorite this season, going to 0-3 S/U and ATS. However, this team has grown throughout the season and is playing its best football offensively heading into this matchup. Over the past three weeks, the Jags' passing game ranks second to only Kansas City in dropback success rate. Houston has had one of the league's worst defenses throughout the season and should allow Jacksonville to build some solid momentum going into next week's showdown with Tennessee. It's one of the few games where the Jaguars will have the better defense on the field, and there is a pretty big gap between the offenses. I will put my money on Pederson keeping his team focused and bet they make a statement with the playoffs in their sights. Lay the points with the Jaguars.
Stats provided by pff, teamrankings, rbsdm (based on 90-10 WP), football outsiders