On Dec. 10, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ playoff hopes were down to one drive. They were trailing and on the road.
With 3:23 left, the Atlanta Falcons scored to take a 25-22 lead. With a loss, the Bucs would have fallen to 5-8. While they wouldn’t have been mathematically eliminated if they lost, they’d have been two games behind the Falcons.
As the new year approaches, the Buccaneers aren’t just alive, they’re the type of team that might even win a playoff game.
Tampa Bay won that game against the Falcons as Baker Mayfield drove them downfield for a game-winning score with 31 seconds left. They’ve been one of the hottest teams in football since. Mayfield put up a perfect passer rating at the Green Bay Packers for another win. Tampa Bay blew out the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. The Buccaneers have won four in a row, and winning the NFC South seems to be inevitable. They have an 86% chance to make the playoffs according to Next Gen Stats.
When Tampa Bay named Mayfield its starting quarterback before the season, there were countless jokes about tanking and Caleb Williams. That ignored that the Buccaneers still had plenty of blue-chip players. Mayfield has played better than expected as well. It’s all coming together late in the season. There is a very good chance the No. 4 vs. 5 game in the NFC playoffs will be the Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay. That wouldn’t be a gimme for the Cowboys.
This week’s line is a bit odd. Tampa Bay is just a 2.5-point favorite at BetMGM against the New Orleans Saints. Maybe the Saints have a little more to play for. The Buccaneers are a practical lock to win the division, something that might have snuck up on everyone. The Saints can still get a wild-card spot, but their small hopes rest on winning Sunday. Still, the Bucs are way better than the Saints and they already beat them once, in New Orleans.
The Buccaneers are the pick for this week. They’ve covered the spread in seven of their last nine games. It might not be the last time this season they cover either.
Here are the rest of the picks against the spread for Week 17, with odds from BetMGM:
Browns (-7.5) over Jets
It’s hard to take a favorite of more than a touchdown when the total for the game is just 34.5. I just wonder how many points the Jets can really score on this Browns defense, which gets even better in home games.
Cowboys (-6) over Lions
We’re dealing with Home Cowboys here instead of Road Cowboys, which is an entirely different NFL team. The Cowboys seem unbeatable at home. It’s a lot of points but my issue with the Lions is that they reached their big goal of winning the NFC North, and now what? They’re not getting the No. 1 seed and I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 seed. They might be flat, like a baseball team the game after clinching.
Patriots (+13) over Bills
Maybe the Bills got their wake-up call with a bad performance against the Chargers. They also won that game, so maybe we’re in for another game in which Buffalo plays down to the competition. The Patriots aren’t good, but they did beat the Broncos last week. They haven’t quit. The Bills should roll to a win, but they also might be having an eye on next week’s game against the Dolphins.
Bears (-3) over Falcons
The Bears have been pretty good lately. Much better than the Falcons, though Atlanta did play well as Taylor Heinicke took over at QB. But the Falcons haven’t been very good on the road this season. The Bears are the better team right now, home or road. Easy call here.
Raiders (+3.5) over Colts
The Raiders aren’t going to get two defensive touchdowns in seven seconds again to save a flailing offense. But I do like how hard Las Vegas is playing, and their playoff hopes are not dead yet. Just feels like a field goal game either way.
Giants (+5.5) over Rams
The Giants have been mostly competitive when Tyrod Taylor has played. He gives them a better chance than Tommy DeVito. The Giants did play hard in the second half last week and it feels like they want to finish the season on a high note. Maybe playing spoiler to the Rams is an incentive.
Eagles (-10.5) over Cardinals
It has been a long time since the Eagles won a game by double digits. Oct. 22 against Miami, to be exact. This feels like a get-right spot. The Cardinals aren’t good, they’re much worse on the road, it’s their second straight long trip in a lost season and an early start on top of it. Three of the Cardinals’ last four games have been double-digit losses. If Philly lets Arizona hang around in this one, it’s yet another reason to believe the Eagles are in trouble come playoff time.
Commanders (+13) over 49ers
The concern is an angry 49ers team takes it out on the Commanders, who can’t stop anyone on defense. But Jacoby Brissett could give the team a shot in the arm. They do have some offensive talent. And 13 points is a lot for a 49ers team that is a really good bet to get the No. 1 seed. It just might not be fun rooting on the Commanders to keep it somewhat close.
Panthers (+6.5) over Jaguars
The Jaguars haven’t looked the same since Trevor Lawrence suffered a high-ankle sprain. Not that the Panthers are great all of a sudden, but they are playing better. It’s scary to take the Panthers but the Jaguars are deep in a slump.
Ravens (-3.5) over Dolphins
There has to be a concern over the Ravens letting down. They just won a massive game at San Francisco. But they also know that the Dolphins take control of the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win. This is a huge game for the Ravens. Let’s assume John Harbaugh will have his team ready, especially after the Dolphins beat them in Baltimore last season. This pick is nothing against the Dolphins, who are a good team, but I’m not stepping in front of the Ravens train right now.
Titans (+5.5) over Texans
It’s hard to call this game before knowing if C.J. Stroud will be back for Houston. It might not matter. The Titans aren’t good but they are playing hard. The Texans can’t assume Stroud will be his normal self right away after two weeks off following a bad concussion. The first Texans-Titans game was close, with Houston rallying to win in overtime, and this one should be close too.
Steelers (+3.5) over Seahawks
Maybe Mason Rudolph will save the Steelers season. He probably played the best game of any Pittsburgh quarterback this season. Played well enough that I’ll take more than a field goal. I don’t love the Steelers on the road, and can’t forget that two weeks ago they went on the road against Indianapolis and looked entirely done for the season, but this feels like another field goal game.
Broncos (-3.5) over Chargers
A lot of this depends on how the Broncos view the quarterback change. If they believe benching Russell Wilson was just a money move, they might not take kindly to that switch with a playoff spot still mathematically possible. But if they buy that it was just a football move — everyone should be very skeptical about that — then they’ll rally around Jarrett Stidham and maybe play very well. I’ll figure on the latter.
Bengals (+7) over Chiefs
The Chiefs aren’t dead this season like everyone seems to believe, but do I trust them to start covering touchdown spreads? Not yet. There’s no reason to lay this many unless you think they are going to take out their frustration on the Bengals. The Bengals haven’t been bad with Jake Browning, before last week. Seven points seems like too much.
Vikings (-2) over Packers
Well, the Packers don’t have to worry about Jaire Alexander hopping out to call the coin toss. They do have to worry about covering Justin Jefferson without their top cornerback. The Packers aren’t very good. They needed all 60 minutes to beat the Panthers. Now they’re going on the road and covering a small spread at Minnesota? Nah.
Last week: 9-7
Season to date: 123-113-8
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