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Red Zone Returns – Week 17

We’re into the pointy end of the NFL season but playoff spots still make plenty of Week 17’s matchups worth watching. We’ve picked out five best bets as the regular season starts to come to a close.

Carolina Panthers @ Jacksonville Jaguars

The Carolina Panthers are a tough tip every time. They’re the worst team in the NFL but have been relatively consistent since Frank Reich was shown the door after Week 12.

Outside of their bigger loss to the Saints, the Panthers have beaten the Falcons and lost to the Buccaneers and Packers by a combined six points.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars have lost each of their last four. Trevor Lawrence is below his best. He’s battling a knee injury, a dodgy ankle, a concussion and shoulder problems. It all caught up with him last week as he threw for only 211 yards along with two interceptions.

Lawrence is under an injury cloud but the expectation is for him to play. Jacksonville’s season is on the line here…

Even with Lawrence, though, the Jaguars are hardly deserving of being big favourites. The Panthers’ offence is poor to be 24th in offensive EPA per play but the Jaguars aren’t much better to be 20th. On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are relatively impressive to be 16th to the Jaguars 24th.

We can’t trust the Jags offence and the Panthers defence is performing well. Despite it being late in the NFL season with nothing to play for, Carolina is still playing tough. They can keep this one within a touchdown.

Best Bet CAROLINA PANTHERS +7.5 @ $1.88

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Baker Mayfield’s resurgent season continues for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to come into this one following four wins on the bounce. We had our doubts about the sustainability of Mayfield’s start to the NFL season. However, he’s continued to improve and the Buccaneers have improved around him. Mayfield has struck up a handy partnership with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, in particular.

Derek Carr and the New Orleans Saints, on the other hand, have been typically inconsistent and often average at best. While Carr is known for his ability to pull off a game-winning drive, they’re often in position to need one because of his turnovers. This Buccaneers passing defence ranks last in the NFL for yards allowed but ranks 4th in the red zone. It should be enough to limit the Saints’ scoring.

Tampa Bay has averaged 28.5 points per game throughout the four-game winning streak. Mayfield’s uncharacteristically efficient play is paying dividends and is somewhat reliable moving forward. Meanwhile, the Saints have won only three games on the road this season with those three wins coming over the Colts, Patriots and Panthers – not great. Mayfield’s form and that of the Saints on the road points to a Buccaneers victory here. Remarkably after starting the season 4-7, the Buccaneers can clinch the NFC South with a win.

Best Bet TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS -2.5 @ $1.88

Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys

We’ve consistently had success with two things throughout the NFL season: Not buying a ticket on the Detroit Lions hype train when it’s at its fastest, and backing the Dallas Cowboys at home.

The two line up well here.

Detroit just won their first division title since 1993. They’re coming off a nice enough 30-24 win over the Vikings last week, too. While it’s not a win that adds coal to the hype train, they’re playing a Cowboys outfit who lost to the Miami Dolphins on the road and added fuel to the fire of their issues away from home.

But this game is in Dallas where the Cowboys have dominated.

“Unbeaten in seven at home, Dallas has scored 39.9 points per game while only giving up 15.4 points per game.” Week 16 In Review

Push the period out to their last 15 games and the Cowboys are 12-3 against the spread at home. They’re 10-1 straight up when playing as favourites. If they’re to win, the expectation is for it to be by a touchdown in what will likely be a high-scoring game (53.5 Total Points).

There aren’t many X’s and O’s to this one. It’s more or less a fade of the Lions on the road after an emotional win, up against a Cowboys team that puts up massive numbers at home and will want to right the wrongs of Week 16.

Best Bet DALLAS COWBOYS -5.5 @ $1.90

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

The New England Patriots have been one of the worst teams in the NFL all season, but it could have been a lot worse if not for their defence. Their rush defence, in particular, has been fantastic. Had they received any production at quarterback, this season could have looked a whole lot different for Bill Belichick and the Pats.

Meanwhile, things have looked different a few times for the Buffalo Bills. Written off as a playoff team only a month ago, they now look likely to feature in the post-season. Not only that, they’re creeping into Super Bowl LVIII contention at $11.

They’ve done so on the back of an impressive month. That impressive month has been highlighted by Josh Allen and the rushing game. While it’s been the catalyst to their resurgence, the Bills come up against an elite rush defence here.

The style matchup plays into a closer game. So too does the history of big underdogs in division games. Since 2003, double-digit underdogs in division games have covered at 55%.

New England has been an ugly bet to be 4-11 against the spread this season. Still, their rush defence looks good to keep within touching distance of a desperate Bills team.

Best Bet NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS +12.5 @ $1.93

Las Vegas Raiders @ Indianapolis Colts

The Las Vegas Raiders picked up a shock win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16 so we need to play into that result. In reality, they had two touchdowns come from their defence and a quarterback who didn’t complete a pass after the first quarter. While a great win as Las Vegas looks to take something out of their season, it isn’t one that is likely to translate into an improved performance in Week 17. Doing it after thrashing the LA Chargers has this circled as a sell-high opportunity.

The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, aren’t as bad as their loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week suggests. It’s one of Gardiner Minshew’s poorer games and Jonathan Taylor will be better for the run in his return from injury.

The Colts -3.5 line appeals at home but the Under at 43.5 is the better play. The Raiders’ scoring output has been inflated by an outlier game against the Chargers and some turnover luck against the Chiefs. It’s more likely that they struggle to put points on the board on the road and look to turn this one into a grind.

Best Bet UNDER 43.5 TOTAL POINTS @ $1.90

 

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