Week 17 Football Pick’em Strategy & Advice (2021)

The Week 17 Pick'em value picks include several key AFC games, including Miami at Tennessee and Kansas City vs. Cincinnati.

Miami needs a big win at Tennessee to make the playoffs (Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

Here, we’ll track Week 17 news and discuss the implications for maximizing your edge in NFL and college football pick’em contests. We’ll also provide some of the rationale behind picks potentially recommended by our Football Pick’em Picks product.

Week 17 Pick’em Updates

We will continue to add to this post until Sunday of NFL Week 17, so check back for daily updates. Here’s what’s available now:


Tuesday 12/28

Week 17 Early Value Picks Outlook

Here’s our early look at some potential value plays in NFL pick’em pools for Week 17.

Cleveland Browns (at Pittsburgh Steelers)

Line: -3.0
TR Win Odds: 59%
Popularity: 55%

The Browns and Steelers meet in an elimination game in the AFC North. The victor will keep hope alive of winning the division if the Cincinnati Bengals lose to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, while the loser will be in trouble.

The Browns have had their share of player absences and close calls recently, but they have played better than the Steelers this season. Pittsburgh is 7-2-1 in one-score games, while Cleveland is only 4-6. Those differences make their overall records very similar.

But Cleveland is the road favorite here, and with the public nearly evenly split, stick with the Browns to gash the Steelers’ porous run D.

Miami Dolphins (at Tennessee Titans)

Line: +3.0
TR Win Odds: 40%
Popularity: 15%

Ryan Tannehill will face off against his old team in a surprisingly key AFC matchup. The Titans are still alive to get the top seed in the conference, while the Dolphins moved into the final playoff spot with their Monday Night Football blowout of the New Orleans Saints, but they need to keep winning.

The Titans continue to get a lot of respect from the public, so the Dolphins are coming at some big value here in weekly pools to pull off the upset.

Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)

Line: -5.0
TR Win Odds: 64%
Popularity: 76%

The Chiefs aren’t a value favorite, but relative to some other picks, they are still worth slotting in here as a favorite play. The Rams, Titans, and Chargers all have similar win odds as Kansas City but higher popularity.

So go with the Chiefs in this AFC showdown as they go for a ninth straight win, against a Cincinnati team that is also playing well and drawing some public confidence in the upset.

Philadelphia Eagles (at Washington Football Team)

Line: -3.5
TR Win Odds: 62%
Popularity: 73%

Similar to the Chiefs, the Eagles are a reasonably priced favorite when you consider how much of the public is picking other teams favored by just over a field goal.

Philadelphia is catching a Washington team that appears to be in disarray. Meanwhile, the Eagles have won five of their last six games to pull into the final wild-card spot in the NFC.

So stay with the Eagles in season-long pools and bump them up a bit in confidence value.

Baltimore Ravens (vs. Los Angeles Rams)

Line: +3.5
TR Win Odds: 36%
Popularity: 18%

If you’re looking for another upset in addition to the Dolphins, consider the Ravens as an option.

Baltimore should be a lot better off on offense if it gets QB Lamar Jackson back after two weeks off due to his ankle injury or backup QB Tyler Huntley returns from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

The Ravens secondary is still an injury-riddled mess, which is why they’re a home underdog here against the Rams. But Baltimore is a well-coached team playing for its playoff life at home against a West Coast team, and it’s coming at low popularity right now.


Tuesday 12/28

Week 16 Results Summary

Week 16 was a rough one. Every close value-play outcome seemingly went the other way, giving back some of the gains that our picks have been steadily making over the last month.

Favorites and blowouts also dominated in Week 16 as teams continued to be impacted by COVID-19.

Game-Winner Pools

In game-winner pools, the public averaged 10.6 wins in Week 16. The biggest upsets were the Chargers losing to the Texans and Seattle losing to Chicago.

Our season-long “Max Profit” picks averaged 8.4 wins this week, while the weekly picks averaged 7.1 wins. The biggest swing outcomes included Las Vegas, the New York Jets, and Los Angeles Rams winning, while value favorites San Francisco and Arizona both lost.

Spread Pools

The two most popular spread picks did not cover, as Green Bay won by only two points against Cleveland and the Chargers lost outright to Houston. Both of those teams were drawing 80-plus percent of pick popularity.

After that, though, the more popular public side (especially if tied to big line moves) covered. The public averaged 8.6 wins in spread pools.

Our season-long recommendations averaged 6.6 wins, while the weekly pick sets came in ahead of that at 8.2 wins.

The biggest negative results were a combination of the same toss-up games that impacted game-winners (Las Vegas, Jets) and several bigger favorites covering the spread.


FYI

Important Notes About Picks We Highlight

Keep in mind three things about picks we highlight in this article:

  1. Optimal pick strategy balances risk and potential reward.
    Maximizing your odds to win a pick’em pool generally requires identifying the best opportunities to differentiate your picks. You want to fade the public while taking on minimal risk to do so. For example, taking a favorite being picked by less than 50% of your opponents is usually a great opportunity.
  2. Not all of the picks we highlight are suitable for all pools.
    Don’t be surprised if our Football Pick’em Picks product doesn’t recommend several of the picks we mention in this post—especially the upset picks. The best pick strategy for your pool depends on a number of factors such as your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure (a concept that’s covered in part by our article on season vs. weekly prize strategy).
  3. Picks we highlight may no longer look compelling by game day.
    We analyze and write about picks using data (e.g. win odds and pick popularity), but that data can change up until kickoff. A key player being ruled out or a shift in public sentiment about a team can erase the differentiation value that a pick initially offered.

We’ll provide periodic updates in this post if major data changes occur for picks we’ve mentioned, so make sure to check back. However, there’s a much better way to stay on top of changing data trends throughout a week, which all sharp players need to do.

Our Football Pick’em Picks product automatically imports the latest win odds and pick popularity data multiple times per day. You can see the latest information in the Data Grid.

After you generate customized picks for your pool, you can also update those pick recommendations whenever you want via the My Pool Picks screen. The updated picks will incorporate the most recent data we have.


FYI

About Our Pick’em Pool Advice

What makes our football pick’em advice different from other sites is that it isn’t generic.

In any given week, the best picks for your football pool depend on a number of variables. Your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure all influence strategy, as do factors like your place in the standings and how many weeks are left.

So many different scenarios exist that it’s impossible to give pick advice that makes sense for every one. An underrated six-point underdog could be a great pick in a big weekly prize pool and a terrible pick for a small season-long pool where you’re currently in the money.

Technology to the rescue

Other sites don’t understand this stuff, or they just ignore it because it’s complicated and hard. We’re the only site that has built algorithms to evaluate these strategy factors and provide you with customized pick recommendations every week.

The result? Every year, an average of 71% of our subscribers win a prize in a football pick’em contest.

So if you want to see all the Week 1 picks we recommend for your football pool, you need to use our Football Pick’em Picks product.

Why we write this column

At the same time, we know our subscribers like to understand the rationale behind picks the product may recommend, especially when those picks go against the grain. So over the years, we’ve started to write more about the “whys” behind our approach.

We also utilize this column to help educate our readers about pick’em pool strategy. We highlight tactics proven to result in more pick’em pool wins over the long term and point out common pitfalls to avoid.

Our goal with these articles is to dig deeper into pick’em pools than anyone else by using an objective, data-driven lens. We’ll recap key results from the previous week, identify the most compelling value picks of the current week, and evaluate the implications of breaking news on pick’em strategy.

We hope you enjoy reading, and we encourage you to check out more of our football pick’em strategy articles.


Wednesday 12/29

Carson Wentz on COVID-19 List, Lamar Jackson Returns to Practice

The big news yesterday was Indianapolis QB Carson Wentz going on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

With the adjusted protocols, there is a chance he could return by Sunday if he shows no symptoms and tests out. Otherwise, Sam Ehlinger will start for Indianapolis.

The Colts are currently a 6-point favorite against Las Vegas, but that number will likely adjust depending on final confirmation of Wentz’s status. If he is out, expect the spread to shrink, potentially providing some value on the Raiders.

Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson has returned to practice after missing two games with an ankle injury. However, given his style of play and need for mobility to be more effective, there’s still no guarantee that he’s healthy enough to return to game action.

That’s another scenario we will keep an eye on as we approach Sunday.


Thursday 12/30

Chicago Leads Most Popular Spread Picks

Picking against the New York Giants may be a hard habit to break for the public, as Chicago leads all teams in spread popularity this week.

After the Jake Fromm debacle last week, Giants head coach Joe Judge is undoubtedly letting Daniel Jones know the team is “wishing you were here.”

If you leave me now after all of these Chicago puns, just know that this week will be no Saturday in the park.

If you’re trying to go against the public, here are the most popular picks for Week 17:

  • Chicago (74%) vs. NY Giants
  • Green Bay (74%) vs. Minnesota
  • LA Rams (74%) at Baltimore
  • Tampa Bay (73%) at NY Jets
  • Philadelphia (72%) at Washington

Sunday 1/2

Reviewing The Week 17 Dynamics Entering Sunday

We have 15 games today, with no games having been played yet this week. That’s the most we’ve had on a single Sunday all season.

Few Close Matchups

It’s also a Sunday with fewer “close” matchups. Tennessee (-3) is the smallest favorite today. The only other game with a three-point line is Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh.

Only five total games this week feature a favorite with win odds under 70 percent (Tennessee, Cleveland, Kansas City, Dallas, and Philadelphia).

Cleveland-Pittsburgh Is the Only Game Where the Public Is Close to Divided

Every single favorite except for Cleveland on Monday Night Football has public popularity greater than 75 percent, with half of them above 90 percent. Thus, the key swing game doesn’t come until after all of today has been finished.

Cleveland is the lone true value favorite this week. Given the higher win odds for most favorites, you have to pick your spots if you need an upset.

Cincinnati and Miami Are the Two Most Likely Upset Picks

Unless you’re in a trailing position where you need to take even more risk, the two most likely upset picks are Cincinnati (vs. Kansas City) and Miami (vs. Tennessee).

Both lines have moved in favor of the underdog, and the favorites have fairly high popularity (77% for both).

Spread Pools

Green Bay is the most popular pick (83%) in spread pools. But the Packers have had significant line movement in their favor because Vikings QB Kirk Cousins is out after testing positive for COVID-19, so that popularity is understandable.

The Rams are the second-most popular, and they’ve also had line movement in their favor as Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is unlikely to play.

In many pools, you may be suggested picks to take advantage of line moves this week depending on your place in the standings. Other teams that have seen line movement in their favor include the Chargers, Eagles, Colts, and Bengals.

Our top model spread plays are Green Bay, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Arizona, so you could see those teams featured in your picks.