The weather was a much more critical factor last week if you were betting on NFL totals and trying to gain an edge before the steam incinerated any remaining value. So it's nice to get back to having a more straightforward approach to betting totals in Week 17. We lost our first bet last week when scoring halted in the second half of the Packers and Dolphins game, but we were fortunate enough to hit our other two plays, putting us on a 7-1 run. I have three plays lined up for this week, all to the under. It won't be much fun to watch, but let's hope another winning week is enough consolation to compensate for sweating out these games.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers under 48
Winning wagers is uncomfortable at times. Betting an under in a game featuring the Vikings' defense feels a bit like throwing our money into a bonfire. The headlines will be about Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins, but I think both teams will run the ball more than anyone expects. The key to success against the Vikings' offense is slowing down Justin Jefferson, and the Packers' secondary, led by CB Jaire Alexander, has the personnel to do it. It's much easier to attack Green Bay on the ground, where they rank 32nd in rush DVOA. Another benefit of a run-heavy approach is that it allows Minnesota to keep its struggling defense off the field. With Christian Watson battling a bad hip injury, the Green Bay passing attack might look more like the mess we witnessed in the first half of the season. That has me betting on a big dose of the run game from both sides, which will keep the clock running, making the under a solid bet.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers under 40.5
Speaking of large doses of the run game, Carolina handed the ball off on 66% of offensive plays in its 37-23 win over Detroit. The Panthers have found a formula under Steve Wilks and don't expect them to back down from Tampa Bay's rush defense with their playoff chances on the line. In non-garbage-time situations, Tampa Bay holds its opponents to a 39.2% success rate on rushing plays (seventh best), but ranks outside the top 20 in explosive rushing plays allowed. Carolina will be rewarded with big plays if it is willing to be consistent and keep pounding the rock. I don't expect Wilks to put his playoff fate on the arm of Sam Darnold.
Dragging the Bucs, who average only 17.7 points per game, into a slugfest will be pretty easy, considering they have only scored more than 23 points once this season. The Carolina defense held Tampa Bay to three points in its 21-3 win in Week 7, and should find similar success on Sunday. In the first half, the Panthers run plays at the slowest pace in the league, and they should be able to dictate the tempo, ensuring this game is a slow grind. Tampa Bay is 11-4 to the under this season, and the light switch is not turning on for this offense.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots under 41
There was a time when I would hit the ATM when I found out Teddy Bridgewater was starting. During his time with the Saints, Bridgewater was fantastic against the spread. However, times have changed. At this point in his career, your money should be on the other side. Out of 52 quarterbacks who have taken at least 50 snaps this season, Bridgewater ranks in the bottom 25% for both EPA per play and success rate and last (52nd) in expected completion percentage. This year's version of the Patriots isn't one of Bill Belichick's best defenses, but it is capable enough to put the clamps on Miami in front of the home crowd.
The Dolphins' defense really struggles to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, so Matt Patricia's insistence on calling screens over and over again will likely result in long, sustainable drives. The average closing total in New England's last eight games is 41.9, and it is 6-2 to the under during that time. I bet Miami doesn't have the quarterback to open this game up.
Stats provided by Clevanalytics, Football Outsiders, Rbsdm (based on 90-10 WP) and teamrankings.com.