Los Angeles Chargers +4 vs New England Patriots (Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET)
Intriguing match-up between AFC powerhouse New England, who has made the last two Super Bowls, and a 13-4 Chargers team that has covered seven straight on the road.
Los Angeles arguably playing better football, winning on the road at Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Baltimore over the last six weeks. New England did not face a playoff team during the second half of the season but lost three of the last seven games against Tennessee, Miami and Pittsburgh. Those were all road tilts and Pats posted an 8-0 SU (6-2 ATS) at home.
Bill Belichick and Gillette Stadium are advantages that must be considered when analyzing this match-up.
Chargers offense hasn’t been as effective in recent weeks as earlier in the season but the competition has been a factor, including a pair of recent games against Baltimore. Philip Rivers can’t afford a slow start – he threw interceptions on the first drive over the consecutive games late in the season – and this match-up could favor him because New England doesn’t have much of a pass rush. Pats strength is the secondary but Rivers can still pick them apart with a deep and talented roster of wide receivers and tight ends (Hunter Henry expected back).
Surprisingly, defense has been the star of the show for Los Angeles down the stretch of the season. After being blitzed in the season-opener, Chargers held Chiefs to only 14 points over the final three quarters and Patrick Mahones to only 234 yards passing in a Dec. 13 road win. Los Angeles held Baltimore to only 90 rushing yards in an impressive road victory last week
Chargers finished year ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Patriots still have Tom Brady but he has not gotten the same production from his receivers, with all-time great tight end Rob Gronkowski likely playing his final season as he’s become a shell of his former self. Losing Josh Gordon didn’t hurt them against low-scoring teams down the stretch, but they’ll miss having the downfield threat in this match-up.
This isn’t the same New England offense from past seasons and the defense has gotten older as well. Pats allowed rushing plays of 10+ yards 61 times this year (25th-ranked) and while Buffalo and the New York Jets couldn’t hurt them on the ground in the final two games, Miami and Pittsburgh put up nearly 350 combined rushing yards on New England late in the season.
New England 8-0 SU at home this year and has never lost to Phillip Rivers with Brady at quarterback (7-0 SU). But Los Angeles plays well under this scenario, 5-1 ATS in playoff road games and 5-1-1 ATS in the last seven January games. New England 6-1 ATS in last seven divisional playoff games but Pats did finish year on 1-3 ATS slide.
Chargers have a viable chance of winning and I expect the game to be decided by a field goal or less. Give me the points with Los Angeles Chargers!
Week 17 NFL Free Picks – Bet Los Angeles Chargers +4 over New England!
Philadelphia Eagles +8 vs New Orleans Saints (Sunday 4:40 p.m. ET)
New Orleans loves playing at home (14-2 SU last two years) and Sean Payton had a week off to prepare his high-powered offense. Philadelphia was crushed 48-7 at New Orleans in mid-November but defending Super Bowl champs playing at a much higher level presently and exit a road win at Chicago.
Saints featured the NFL’s sixth-best rushing offense behind Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara and it was another outstanding season from 39yo Drew Brees, who broke his completion percentage record (74.4) and had a league-best 115.7 quarterback rating. Michael Thomas led all receivers with 125 catches (1,405 yards, nine TDs) and the offensive line consistently ranked among the top 10, allowing the second-least sacks. They have a pair of all-pro tackles (Armstead and Ramcyzk) and appear to getting healthier as the postseason begins.
New Orleans ranked second versus the run, allowing only 80.2 yards per game, and they can put pressure on the quarterback up front with Cam Jordan and Sheldon Rankins. Saints did a better job forcing turnovers during second half of season, but the secondary remains a weakness (29th ranked allowing 269 yards per game).
Eagles play with confidence behind Nick Foles, who replaced Carson Weinz late during last year’s Super Bowl run and has won four straight this season. They’ve gotten healthier as well, with the offensive and defensive lines resembling the dominant units from last year, and Philadelphia outplayed the Bears in the trenches last week.
But don’t underestimate the difference Foles has made: he’s the definition of clutch!
Chicago still brought pressure with their mighty defense and Foles never flinched, completing 8-of-11 passes (72.7%) with a 122.9 quarterback rating on third and fourth downs. He’s 38-for-46 (82.6%) for 431 yards, with five TDs, one interceptions and a 132.9 rating, on third and fourth downs over the last four weeks.
He’s calm under pressure and Foles runs Doug Pederson’s complicated offense better than Weinz in my opinion. Weinz is more talented, Foles is a better fit.
Philadelphia has improved significantly on the defensive side in recent weeks, with a disruptive front seven applying pressure and stopping the run, and coordinator Jim Schwartz and players will be highly motivated to avoid being embarrassed twice at the same venue.
The 41-point loss turned around Philadelphia’s season and I expect the surging Eagles to play their best as this one comes down to the wire. I don’t know whether it will be enough to beat New Orleans, but Philadelphia will cover the spread. Take the points!
Week 17 NFL Free Picks – Bet Philadelphia +8 over New Orleans!