Christmas has barely passed, but I’ve already got my first item on my 2019 wish list for Santa: change the sports betting rules so that underdogs get the point spread cover if they take the game into overtime.

Yeah, I know there are times when overtime can work to your advantage, like when you need a few more points to cash your Over ticket or when you need the favorite to cover the spread. But when you lose a bet like I did last week on the New York Jets +3 (the Jets led Green Bay all game, only to see the Packers storm back to force overtime, then win by 6 on a touchdown in the extra session), it can be pretty frustrating. It was enough to turn what would have been a profitable 3-1 weekend into a 2-2 showing with a small loss on juice.

But as they say, yesterday’s history and tomorrow’s a mystery. You gotta roll with the punches and move on in this business, and bad beats are part of the game. It’s also why proper money management is so important, so that you can survive a tough loss and have enough money left in your account to make it back the following week.

That’s what we’ll try to do here in Week 17. While the final week of the NFl regular season can be a bit of a minefield with some teams lacking any motivation, some fighting for their playoff lives and others looking ahead to the postseason, there are opportunities to make some cash if you do your homework. With that in mind, here are my 4 NFL predictions for Week 17 as I roll with bets on games that all have playoff implications – including the highly-anticipated Sunday Night Football clash that will determine whether the Colts or Titans take the final wild card spot in the AFC.

Good luck, thanks for following all year, and Happy Holidays!

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from at 2:30 p.m. eastern on December 28, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

1. Houston Texans -6.5 (-110) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)

It’s been a bit surprising to see the early money come in here on Jacksonville, dropping the Jags from an opener of +8.5 down through the key number of 7. But as I wrote last week (unfortunately while unsuccessfully fading the Jaguars), I don’t understand why Jacksonville continues to get priced as the threat it was in the AFC a year ago. A 17-7 win over the Dolphins last week in Miami isn’t enough to change my mind about that.

Yes, the Jaguars defense looked really solid in last week’s win over the Fish. But when a team gains only 11 first downs and manages just 183 total yards, part of the blame needs to go on their offense as well, so I’m going to blame Miami for that debacle just as much as I’m going to credit Jacksonville. In the Jaguars’ previous 6 games on the road this year, they’d failed to hold any opponent under 20 points, and the Chiefs, Cowboys, Colts and Titans all hung 29 or more on them. Long story short, I don’t see Jacksonville’s defense stifling Deshaun Watson and a much more powerful Houston offense in this one.

Especially with the Texans motivated by the opportunity to win the AFC South (if they don’t beat Jacksonville, the winner of the Sundy nighter between Indy or Tennessee would steal the division crown and home field advantage in the first round). Even if Houston didn’t need a win here to help its playoff chances, I’d still like the Texans’ incentive to turn their recent “struggles” around, having lost 2 of their last 3 following a 9-game winning streak. Offense hasn’t been the issue lately for Houston, which has averaged nearly 30 points per game over its last 5. Instead, it’s the defense that needs to get better if the Texans are going to go anywhere in the playoffs – and there’s no better cure for a struggling defense than to see Blake Bortles and the inept Jaguars attack come into town.
Betting Prediction

Would the Jags like to spoil the AFC South title hopes of their division rivals? Absolutely. But Jacksonville simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with Houston here, even if the Jaguars’ defense manages to slow them down a little bit. If this line were over a touchdown, I might not be as quick to lay the points, but the early line movement has dropped this one into a range that I’m quite comfortable with. I’ll take the Texans at -6.5 or better.

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2. Cincinnati Bengals +14.5 (-110) at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. eastern)

Wait, don’t the Steelers have to win this game to keep their playoff hopes alive? Yep, they do. But Pittsburgh needs a lot more to go its way Sunday than simply earning a win over an injury-decimated Bengals squad that it absolutely should beat. The Steelers also need the Ravens to lose at home as 6-point favorites to the Browns, something that isn’t out of the realm of possibility but is also not likely to happen.

The Steelers’ and Ravens’ games will be played at the same time, so you know that the Pittsburgh players will have one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard throughout this affair. If Baltimore jumps out to a big lead or even if the Ravens have control in the second half, it’s hard to imagine the Pittsburgh players won’t lose a bit of jump in their step. And when you’re being asked to cover more than 2 touchdowns in the home finale of what can only be described as a disappointing year in Steeltown, that point spread will look like a mountain in a hurry.

Not that I’d be in a hurry to lay more than 14 points with the Steelers if they were in full control of their playoff destiny anyway. Not much has come easy for Pittsburgh this year, beginning with the holdout of Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers stumbled out of the gate with a tie at Cleveland and entered Week 5 with just 1 win on the campaign. Then, after rattling off 6 consecutive wins to apparently take control of the AFC North, Pittsburgh has since lost 4 of its last 5 games – with 3 of those losses coming by a field goal. Heck, even the wins this year haven’t been easy, with only a Week 5 rout of Atlanta and a blowout of Carolina on Thursday Night Football (when road teams all seem to struggle badly) coming by more than 15 points.

Cincy must be licking its lips for a chance to finish the Steelers off. Pittsburgh has tormented the Bengals for years in the AFC North, including a devastating win at Cincy in the 2015 AFC Wild Card Round – a game that has been described as Cincinnati’s worst loss in franchise history. And the Bengals have played competitive football down the stretch despite losing 6 of their last 7, covering 3 straight and not losing by more than 15 points since early November. Even last week, when Cincy found itself in a big early hole against the Browns, the Bengals showed a lot of fight in getting back into that game and earning a point spread cover in a 26-18 loss as 10-point dogs.

Betting Prediction

Finally, let’s not forget all the pressure that is on Pittsburgh here. The longer the outcome of this game is in doubt, the bigger that pressure gets. The Steelers have no excuse not to win this game, but I don’t see it happening by a wide margin. I’ll take the 14.5 points here with an underdog that is more motivated than people may think.

Place Your Bet Here

3. L.A. Chargers -6.5 (-110) at Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. eastern)

Normally, I’d be all about taking the Broncos when they’re catching points at Mile High. It’s a formula that has delivered again and again over the years. In their last 30 games as home dogs, the Broncos are 18-12 against the spread (19-11 ATS if you grade their 4-point loss to the Chiefs earlier this year as a point-spread cover, since the Broncos were 4.5-point dogs earlier in the week.)

But I have absolutely no interest in backing Denver in the home pup role here. This team looks like it’s completely quit on coach Vance Joseph, and I don’t blame them. Joseph is a lame-duck coach after making questionable decision after questionable decision during a couple of disappointing years as the Broncos’ bench boss. Judging by last week’s no-show in a blowout loss at Oakland, this group of players knows that Joseph won’t be making any personnel decisions for next year and doesn’t seem concerned with mailing it in down the stretch. Finally, not only do the Broncos have a short week of preparation after playing on Monday Night Football, but that week probably feels even shorter after Denver played a road game on Christmas Eve and then probably spent the next couple of days focusing on spending time with family during the holiday season.

LA’s going to be all business here. I don’t think the Chargers will get the help they need from the Raiders in order to overtake K.C. for the AFC West title (the Chiefs need to lose from Oakland in order for the Chargers to finish first), but Los Angeles needs to get the bad taste out of its mouth from a 22-10 loss last week at home to the Ravens. Philip Rivers threw 2 interceptions and 0 touchdowns in that contest while finishing with just 181 yards through the air, and Melvin Gordon was limited to 41 yards on the ground. I think that motivates the Chargers to play a lot better on offense in their regular-season finale, knowing that they’ll need to be better if they’re going to go anywhere in the playoffs.

Betting Prediction

Denver has had its hands full with the Chargers over the years at Mile High, covering just 2 of the last 15 meetings there (LA is 8-2-5 ATS during that span). LA’s also been solid off a double-digit loss at home, covering 9 of its last 11 games in that situation. With LA going 20-8-1 ATS in its last 29 on the road and Denver not likely to get much of an advantage playing in front of a disgruntled fan base, I like the Chargers to earn a comfortable victory here and regain some confidence going into the playoffs.

Place Your Bet Here

4. Tennessee Titans +3.5 (-110) vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. eastern)

I gotta admit, this one pains me a bit. I was really eager to back the Colts in this game because I’m convinced they’re the better team. They’re certainly the more exciting team, riding the rejuvenated right arm of Andrew Luck to a number of high-scoring victories this game while the Titans seem to grind things out every week on the ground and with their defense. In a game that will determine the final wild card spot in the AFC, there’s no doubt that the more fun bet here is on Indianapolis.

But if you put aside personal bias for a minute and just look where the point spread value lies in this game, there’s no question which team is the better bet. I don’t think Tennessee should be an underdog in this game at all, let alone by more than a field goal. The Titans are 6-1 at home this year, while the Colts are 3-4 on the road. The Titans have won 4 straight games by 4 points or more (although last week’s 25-16 win over the Redskins was a bit misleading, since Tennessee returned an interception for a touchdown on the final play of the game), while the Colts needed a fourth-quarter rally last week to avoid an outright loss as 10-point favorites over the visiting Giants. Tennessee has allowed just 25 points in its last 3 games, while the Colts have allowed 24+ in 4 of their last 8.

These teams have identical 9-6 records, yet the bookies are making you lay 3.5 points if you take the Colts. To put that into perspective, if you evaluate home field advantage to be worth a field goal, this line suggests Indianapolis would be a 6.5-point favorite on a neutral field and a 9.5-point fave if this game was being played in Indianapolis. See what I mean about all the point spread value being on Tennessee here?

Betting Prediction

Other than the public infatuation with Indy, the only other reason I can see here that the Colts are favored in this point spread range is because of the injury status of Tennessee starting QB Marcus Mariota. Mariota suffered a stinger in the Titans’ last game against Washington, leaving backup Blaine Gabbert to finish up a tight win over the Skins. It does appear that Mariota will be back under center, since he returned to Titans’ practice on Thursday, and if official confirmation comes out that Mariota will play, look for this line to move back under a field goal. But I’m taking the extra point spread value with the Titans right now because I don’t think Mariota really is that much better than Gabbert, and it’ll be Tennessee’s ground game and defense that determines this game anyway. This should be a great game that has all the potential to be decided on the final drive, which makes having 3.5 points in my pocket with the home underdog feel really, really good.

Place Your Bet Here

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