Week 17 NFL Pick’em Strategy: One Last Shot At Glory?

posted in NFL, NFL Pick'ems

It’s the final week of the regular season, so you need to assess your position and act accordingly. If you’re not near the very top of your pool, you’re almost certainly not going to win it. If the contest awards weekly prizes, though, should try to maximize your odds of winning this week’s prize by rolling the dice with very aggressive, unpopular picks.

In smaller pools, if you’ve been using our Conservative game winner picks, you may be finding yourself around 5th place in a 100-person pool, or even better if you’re in a spread based pool. In that case, your pool’s prize structure is the most important factor at this point.

If you’re in position to win some money (or only 1-2 wins out of the money) and are happy with that, you should probably play it conservatively. In that case, you should look to pick teams that you think many of your close competitors will also pick, regardless of which team you think will win, in order to minimize opportunities for opponents to gain ground on you. Making a risky, unpopular pick isn’t a good way to defend a lead.

If you’re more than a few games behind the money positions then you need to take some risks. How much risk depends on how far out of the money you are, so feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer.

Where We Stand After Week 16

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 17. While the more aggressive strategies basically held their positions, our Conservative strategy dropped slightly, yet still continues to rank in the top 5% nationally on ESPN:

  • Conservative: 95th percentile (-1.4 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 87th percentile (+0.2)
  • Very Aggressive: 81.5th percentile (-0.2)

Our against the spread picks similarly more or less held their positions last week. Notably, the Conservative strategy continues to rank in the top 1.1% nationally:

  • Conservative: 98.9th percentile (-0.6 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 85.3rd percentile (-1.2)
  • Very Aggressive: 74.4th percentile (+0.4)

(Keep in mind that we “flip” picks if the point spread listed on ESPN is significantly different than the point spread listed on our site, as explained in the Against The Spread Pick’em Strategy section below.)

Week 16 Advice Recap

Last week there were three odds-on contrarian picks. While Dallas and the New York Jets fell short, Seattle dominated the 49ers 42-13.

There were no low risk upset picks last week, but there were three high risk upset picks that we recommended for those needing to take some chances late in the season. Detroit and Buffalo both lost on Sunday, but St. Louis upset Tampa Bay 28-13. With one win, the high risk upset picks performed about as well as expected, but it obviously wasn’t the good luck week likely needed to bring home a weekly prize.

Finally, while we didn’t recommend taking a shot with a long shot upset pick except for those almost out of contention in a big pool, we should note that Kansas City, Arizona and Philadelphia all lost.

Our Week 17 NFL Office Pool Picks

Here’s where you can find our computer generated picks for NFL office pools:

Note: If you notice any mis-graded games on the point spread pick’em picks page, sorry about that. There’s an error and we’ll make sure to fix it by next season.

Also, if you haven’t read our NFL pick’em strategy series, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’ll ensure our choices here make a lot more sense.

OK, time for our handy Game Winner table, which summarizes a few teams that look like they could be smart picks for people that need to take some risks. It’s based on our detailed pick’em analysis page.

Week 17 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadValue Indicator
Cincinnativs Baltimore51.6%44%7.6%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
New York Jetsat Buffalo39.2%16%23.2%+3.5High Risk Upset
Jacksonvilleat Tennessee36.2%17%19.2%+4.0High Risk Upset
Carolinaat New Orleans33.5%7%26.5%+5.0Long Shot Upset
Philadelphiaat New York Giants29.4%7%22.4%+7.0Long Shot Upset

This week there is one odds-on contrarian pick, which occurs when our models (and in this case Vegas) favor a team that less than 50% of the public is picking. We see Cincinnati as slight favorites and the Bengals are a 1-point favorite in Vegas. Yet, just 44% of the public has picked them to win. That’s not a ton of value though; if you’re defending a lead and the majority of your close competitors are going to pick Baltimore, you should go Ravens too.

There are no low risk upset picks to recommend this week, but there are several high risk and long shot upsets. We give the New York Jets and Jacksonville about 35-40% win odds, and only 17% of the public or less has picked each.

For those needing to take some chances, it’s worth taking a serious look at the New York Jets and Jacksonville. Carolina also provides solid value, but is a little risker still.

Although the Eagles are a value pick, given the alternatives, we wouldn’t recommend picking them unless you’re almost out of contention in a big pool and really need to pull out all the stops to make up ground. In confidence pools, though, you may want to lower the value of New Orleans and the New York Giants, who are playing against Carolina and Philly.

Week 17 Against The Spread Pick’em Strategy

A lot of point spread based pick’em contests publish the games and associated point spreads at the beginning of the week, but give you until Sunday to submit your picks. This means a great strategy is to look for a game where the official spread in your contest is different from the current spread offered at most sports books, and take the “free points.”

In general, the edge you get from those free points is going to be stronger than any lean you have on who is favored to cover, especially if the difference is more than one point.

Below are the biggest line movements from earlier in the week, which could indicate “free points” opportunities in your pool. Highlights can also be found on on the right side of our NFL odds page.

Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Houstonat Indianapolis-4.0-7.03.0
Philadelphiaat New York Giants+9.5+7.02.5
Baltimoreat Cincinnati-3.5-1.02.5

The other major source of value in ATS pick’ems is finding teams that a huge majority of your opponents are picking, and then taking the other side. Most Vegas point spreads are pretty efficient, so if a large majority of your opponents are picking a certain team to beat the spread, that team is probably overvalued. And that means you’ve got roughly a 50/50 shot of pulling ahead of a huge chunk of your opponents by picking against them, no matter what your personal opinion is of that game.

Here are five teams where the lines for the Yahoo! ATS pick’em are the within half a point of those found at Pinnacle sports book on Wednesday afternoon (or better), yet only 30% or less of the public is selecting them to cover:

Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Spread
Carolinaat New Orleans21%51%+5.0
St. Louisat Seattle22%53%+10.5
Miamiat New England26%54%+10.0
New York Jetsat Buffalo27%54%+3.5
Dallasat Washington30%53%+3.5

If the lines in your pick’em contest are the same or better as those shown above, and if you think your competitors will be picking teams in roughly the same manner as the general public (e.g., in line with the Yahoo! contest picking trends), we’d recommend playing all five of these teams.

For advice on other games in your spread-based pick’em pool this week, check out our NFL office pool spread picks page, or our NFL ATS picks page.

As always, please feel free to ask questions in the comment section below. We’ll do our best to answer as many as possible, and we look forward to a fun and interactive college football weekly pick’em advice column this season.

  • saint69em

    Great job all year! If i get this game correct i win the whole chabang and if i loose im broke. No in between..game.. bucs@falcons..thoughts?!?!?

  • Mark

    Hi guys,

    Great picks. I am one pick away from the top spot in my ATS pool. I am going to roll with the conservative strategy because it’s just too hard to try to predict what my opponents will do (there are five others in contention for the top spot). If I win, I’m sharing 10% of my winnings with you!

  • tmrules

    Confidence pool…leading by 11. Thoughts other than already posted?

  • Davisra

    I’m in the same boat as tmrules – ahead by 11.5 pts. for 3rd place and out of first by 49 pts. Not likely to catch the 1st place but would like to hang on to 3rd. Your web site is awesome – just hope the other players in my pool don’t discover it too!

  • The Dude

    Hello, I’m in a pick’em pool and currently two picks out of second and one pick out of third, any suggestions on which strategy to follow

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Our latest game winner projections can always be found here: http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl-win-picks/

    Falcons are solid favorites, so they seem like the obvious pick.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Sounds like a good strategy to me. You’re right that predicting individual picks like that is probably fruitless. It’s much easier to predict general trends than individual pickers. Good luck!

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    When you’e in the lead, the ideal situation is to have picks identical to the people who are trying to catch you. If you have the same picks, they can’t gain any ground. That said, if there is more than one person back there chasing you, it’s pretty unlikely you can match all of them. So, a generally good strategy in a situation like that is just to play a conservative strategy of ranking the teams by the Vegas money lines or TR win odds. Basically, take as few risks as possible, and hope that it’s not a crazy upset-filled week.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Well, you’ll need to have a couple picks that are different than the first and second place payers. So, it would be good to figure out how they generally pick. If it looks like they’ll be picking all favorites, you need to pick a couple of small underdogs and hope that they win. If they generally both pick a couple of underdogs, then you can stick to an all-favorites strategy. The goal is to have as safe of a strategy as possible that still fulfills the requirement of being 2 or 3 games different than the first place entry.

  • Los

    David, I’m on a large pick’em pool (70+) and tied for 3rd with 4 other people 4 games out of 1st and 3 out of second. What upsets would you recommend to take? I was thinking Dallas, Jacksonville, Detroit, or may be Carolina

  • RJL

    Curious why you changed the format in the last week from conservative, aggressive, very aggressive to small, midsize, large?

    Also are you able to take into account, in anyway, whether a team locked in or out of the playoffs will actually try to win? Some coaches / teams have failed to show up for the final season games in previous years.

    Thanks for having a great site!

  • ESR

    In a 26 person league I am in first by 1 game – straight picks – going conservative this week and hoping for nothing crazy.

  • DB

    Oh well. Conservative strategy deteriorated in the last few weeks. Went from 1st to 5th and finished out of the money in my ATS pool after 6-10 Week 17. Unfortunately the stats don’t take into account those unpredictable intangible short term factors like Tony Romo throwing late 4th quarter interceptions or Kansas City being Kansas City. It was a nice run for most of the year and now on to the playoffs (where hope springs eternal)

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    The name change is just a cosmetic thing due to college football bowl season. Our template for both NFL and college football is the same, and “S/M/L” makes more sense for the bowl picks.

    As for motivation issues, our approach is to assume that the betting markets do a decent job of accounting for that in the betting lines, which are some of the inputs to our pick models.