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Sunday, 1 January 2017

NFL Week 17 Picks 2017 (January 1st)

Happy New Year to one and all.

As you can imagine, the last few days have been very time consuming, but in a positive way, as I spent the final few days of 2016 with loved ones. Hopefully you all did the same and enjoyed the moments as well as put together some achievable New Year Resolutions.

Week 17 of the NFL season is with us on the opening day of the 2017 calendar year and most of the Play Off issues have been resolved. That doesn't mean there are only dead rubbers to be played though and I am looking to finish the regular season with some positive results to take into the Play Offs which will begin with Wild Card Weekend in the second week of the new year.

There isn't much more NFL Football to come before the seven month wait for the 2017 season to begin, but hopefully there is plenty of drama and memorable games to be played on the way to deciding the Super Bowl winner.

With the lack of time for this post to be produced, I am going to break down some of the bigger picks I have this week and then offer the picks for the other games in the 'MY PICKS' section below.

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: The Georgia Dome will be replaced with a brand new Stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, but this will not be the final NFL game to be played here after the NFC South was secured. The question remaining for the Atlanta Falcons is can they beat the New Orleans Saints, or hope Seattle fail to do the same against the San Francisco 49ers, to secure the Number 2 Seed in the NFC and ensure a bye through to the Divisional Round of the Play Offs?

The Falcons head into Week 17 as a big favourite to beat the New Orleans Saints who have had another year of underachievement even if there were some positive signs. Sean Payton's future as Head Coach remains up in the air with some linking him to a trade to the Los Angeles Rams, while Drew Brees will be another year older going into the 2017 season even if signs of regression are not really there.

The Saints Offense does tend to take care of itself, but the Defensive unit have made improvements after really bottoming out over the last two years. A lot of Draft picks have been invested in this unit and they have shown they can be better than advertised, although the Defense is in for a big test against one of the best Offenses in the NFL.

Matt Ryan and the passing game receives plenty of the plaudits, but Atlanta have the balance of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman coming out of the backfield and running the ball effectively to make them dangerous. Recent games have seen New Orleans just struggle at the Defensive Line position to slow the run so both Freeman and Coleman could have big games for the home team.

That will only open things up for Ryan even if Julio Jones has been a little limited in recent games. Freeman and Coleman are great safety blankets in the passing game with an ability to make plenty of yards after the catch, and Ryan has been very smart when throwing the ball to avoid Interceptions in recent games. The Falcons should move the ball with some consistency, although New Orleans will produce a pass rush that could have some success if they are able to get the Falcons in obvious passing situations from third and long.

Despite the injuries to a couple of key Defensive players, Atlanta's Defensive unit have been improved over the course of the season. They managed to shut down Carolina in Week 16, although that might have had a lot to do with the short week the Panthers were on, while this has to be considered a real litmus test of what the Falcons are able to do on that side of the ball.

Drew Brees is always the focal point of the New Orleans Offense, but Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower have been huge helps by establishing the run. That gives Brees a little more time to pick his passes and the Quarter Back has been in very good form over the last couple of starts. Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas offer Brees a strong Receiving corps and I do think he will have a strong statistical game, but has to avoid the Interceptions that have hurt the Saints at times.

If Brees can avoid the turnovers, this could be a shoot out and that makes this number of points very attractive. The underdog is 6-0 against the spread in the last six in this series and the pressure is all on the home team to win and lock up the Number 2 Seed. The Saints should be focused in a bid to avoid a Divisional rivals' season and I will take the points in Week 17.

New York Giants @ Washington Redskins Pick: When you saw some of the injuries that the Play Off chasing teams had in Week 16, it is no surprise that some of those who have locked up their spot in the post-season have decided to play their back ups in Week 17. One of those is not the New York Giants though despite already having a hold on the Number 5 Seed in the NFC and I think that has a lot to do with the fact they were beaten in Week 16 at the Philadelphia Eagles.

It looks like Ben McAdoo has made it clear that his starters will play through the game in Week 17 at the hated Washington Redskins who are desperate to make it back to the Play Offs. The Redskins know their situation very well in that a win will put them into the Number 6 Seed in the NFC unless the Green Bay-Detroit game is a tie later in the evening, while a loss will rule them out.

That looks a key reason why the Washington Redskins are favoured as much as they are and I like the New York Giants to keep this closer than the spread. There has been enough interest in the road underdog to move this spread back down to the key number 7, but I still like the Giants in this spot to at least build some momentum to go into the Wild Card Play Off game next weekend.

That doesn't necessarily mean I believe the Giants will win the game, but I think they will be desperate to do that despite already locking up a Play Off place. Eli Manning has usually played his best in January and the Giants will be looking to their two time Super Bowl winning Quarter Back to show signs of that having been inconsistent in recent weeks.

The Manning to Odell Beckham combination continues to work very well, but Washington can shadow one of the better Receivers in the NFL with Josh Norman and hope the latter can at least limit the damage OBJ can do. This Washington Secondary have given up some big numbers in recent games, but they have shown they can turn the ball over and have a decent pass rush which may put the pressure on Manning to make the bad throws he has been guilty of over the last month.

Not having a strong running game has hurt the Giants Offense too as they have become predictable or stuck in third and long too often. That has seen Manning make some poor throws but this Washington Defense have given up some big numbers and that gives the Giants to at least stay with them.

It is actually the New York Giants Defense that should be given credit for carrying this team to the Play Offs rather than the Offense and most of the key players will be starting this one. They have been strong at the line of scrimmage and will be looking to reduce the threat Rob Kelley has given the Redskins and then see if Kirk Cousins has the confidence to win this game for Washington with his arm.

The lack of a pass rush is a problem for the Giants and that should mean Cousins has time to make his plays especially with Jordan Reed looking likely to suit up. Reed has been limited by an arm injury, but Washington are hoping the big Tight End is more than a decoy in this one.

That will give Cousins another big target and I think Washington will have some success as Janoris Jenkins won't be risked as the Number 1 Corner for the New York Giants. I expect the Redskins to move the ball, but I also think the Giants can do the same and that makes the point very appealing.

The underdog is 9-3 against the spread in their last 12 meetings and the Giants are 5-2 against the spread in the last 7 against Washington. I will take the points in this game.

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: The San Francisco 49ers would love nothing more than to beat the Seattle Seahawks and force their rival NFC West Division winners to play on Wild Card Weekend. However there are also some self-interest concerns for the 49ers who still have a chance to finish with the Number 1 Draft Pick although that will have been decided earlier in the day if the Cleveland Browns lose as expected at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A third win of the season might be a going away present from Chip Kelly who is expected to be replaced as the Head Coach after one season with the 49ers. The General Manager Trent Baalke is also expected to be moved on on 'Black Monday' and it will be interesting to see how the players react to the rumours in their final home game of the season after snapping a 13 game losing run in Week 16.

The talent differential might mean that doesn't matter too much with the Seattle Seahawks looking much better than the 49ers and also trying to bounce back from a disappointing home loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16. That loss has given the Atlanta Falcons the inside track to the Number 2 Seed in the NFC and would mean Seattle have to play a home Play Off game next week in the Wild Card Round.

It has been an inconsistent month for the Seahawks who looked to be heading into the Play Offs as the biggest threat in the NFC. However they have suffered injuries to Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor which has ended the season for the former and at least limited the latter. Losing those two Safeties means there is more space to throw against the 'Legion of Boom' especially with the Seahawks struggling for a consistent pass rush.

There have been signs the return of Michael Bennett has given Seattle more of a push up front and they should get the better of the San Francisco Offensive Line and pressurise Colin Kaepernick at Quarter Back. I am not sure Kaepernick is going to expose the problems in the Seattle Secondary and he still has a tendency to stare down Receivers which will give Seattle a chance to turn the ball over.

Carlos Hyde has been ruled out for the rest of the season and possibly early into the 2017 season, but San Francisco are not going to find it easy to run the ball anyway. It could mean points are at a premium for the San Francisco 49ers which will give Seattle the chance to cover a big number on the road.

The San Francisco rushing Defense has been very poor for much of the season and Seattle should be able to expose those holes even if they have not run the ball as well as they would have liked. Thomas Rawls is back and could find more spaces, while Russell Wilson is always a threat to run the ball and especially more so behind an Offensive Line which hasn't been able to protect their Quarter Back.

San Francisco have been able to find an effective pass rush and could stall some drives by getting to Wilson, but it will be difficult for them to do that throughout the afternoon. The Seattle Seahawks can make some big plays in this one throwing the ball though and I think their Defensive unit will limit what the 49ers can produce.

The 49ers players should be motivated to play one last time for Chip Kelly having played hard through the season even if their talent has not quite been able to produce more wins. However I think the Seahawks are going to be too good on both sides of the ball and can win this big. The Seahawks have won by 16 and 17 points in their last couple of visits to the 49ers and I will back them to cover the number in this one.

Kansas City Chiefs @ San Diego Chargers Pick: This is very likely to be the final game in San Diego for the Chargers as they potentially decide to move to Los Angeles in the coming weeks and I am not sure the fans are going to be behind them. This has been a disappointing season for the Chargers which has collapsed on itself through some bad turnovers and misfortunes.

They now face the Kansas City Chiefs who still have hopes of not only winning the AFC West, but finishing with the Number 2 Seed in the Conference and the bye week it will give them in the Play Offs. There is some pressure on the Chiefs because a Miami Dolphins win earlier in Week 17 would mean the Chiefs would fall to the Number 6 Seed in the Play Offs if they lose this game and that means a visit to the dangerous Pittsburgh Steelers next week.

The home loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 is going to sting for the Chiefs if they are going to finish as one of the Wild Card teams in the AFC. However I do think they can win the AFC West and finish with the Number 2 Seed and I do think the Chiefs will play their part in the scenario by winning this game on the road in San Diego.

Kansas City are one of the more unappealing teams in the NFL to watch because they play a very cautious style, but that has worked for them more often than not. They should be able to run the ball effectively which will keep the Offense in the favoured third and manageable spots on the field and that helps Alex Smith make his plays from the Quarter Back position.

However the Chiefs have found a deep threat in Tyreek Hill which has given the Offense a new look, although Hill is more than capable of being lined up in a number of positions and take the ball to the house. The San Diego Defensive unit is under-rated as they have been able to get a huge pass rush together, but motivation has to be a question mark with the season coming to an end and some big decisions to be made about the future of the franchise.

It is those motivations that could also see the Kansas City Defensive unit continue their fine success of turning the ball over with Philip Rivers being guilty of too many of those in recent weeks. Losing to the Cleveland Browns, who had been winless, has to have affected the confidence of this team and the Chargers might just struggle Offensively to put together too many scoring drives.

The Chargers have been really struggling to run the ball without Melvin Gordon and that is going to play into Kansas City's hands as they are much better at stopping the pass than the run. Forcing Rivers into third and long has been a disaster for the Quarter Back and the Offense in general and this Chiefs Secondary have found a way to stop the pass even with the pass rush floundering at times.

Opposing Rivers as the underdog has been tough throughout his career because he can raise his game and really produce some top performances even when the supporting cast have been lacking. However the Chiefs are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games in San Diego and I think the motivation question marks for the home team is a concern.

The Chiefs also play the AFC West rivals well and I will look for them to win this one and cover the number in Week 17.

Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions Pick: The TV companies flexed the Green Bay Packers trip to the Detroit Lions into the late Sunday Night Football and no one would have been surprised by that. The NFC North and likely Number 4 Seed in the Conference is up for grabs with only a tie being enough to send both the Lions and Packers into the Play Offs.

The Lions can only blame themselves for their current predicament having lost back to back road games at the New York Giants and already secured Dallas Cowboys. Winning either would have been enough for the Number 6 Seed in the NFC already, but now they face the Green Bay Packers who have won five in a row and look to be a real contender to go all the way to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers looks far healthier than earlier in the season and more than counterpart Matthew Stafford who has been dealing with a finger issue that has to have contributed to his poor performances in recent games. Rodgers has looked back to his elite best, but importantly his Receivers have found a way to break free in coverage and the Green Bay Packers have discovered a running game that has been absent for much of the season.

Ty Montgomery can be thanked for that and the Packers have to be confident they can run the ball against this Lions Defensive Line which has looked worn down of late. Doing that means the balance for Rodgers to find the big plays downfield and the Quarter Back has been well protected and given the time to do that. With the Lions struggling for an effective pass rush, this looks a game where the Packers can move the chains consistently for much of the evening inside Dome conditions.

The Detroit Secondary have played well, but they will struggle with Jordy Nelson and Devante Adams both finding themselves open and it will be up to Matt Stafford to try and keep the Lions with Green Bay. That is partly because the Lions have struggled to run the ball consistently all season and left the pressure on their Quarter Back and even the struggles of the Green Bay Defensive Line might not be enough to ignite the Lions on the ground.

Stafford wouldn't have a bad match up if he was fully healthy, but he has thrown a few bad passes of late and this Packers Secondary have begun to turn the ball over to cover their own problems. The Packers are getting healthier on this side of the ball and while Stafford will have some successes, there is every chance Green Bay create extra possessions for Rodgers and the Offense to pull away from Detroit.

The Lions Offensive Line has had a few issues in protection and that is another area where Green Bay have come alive in recent games. Clay Matthews has looked as healthy as any point this season and I think the Packers will be too good on both sides of the ball for the hosts who have had their confidence dented in consecutive losses.

The favourite is now 8-1 against the spread in the last nine in this series and Green Bay are 8-3 against the spread in the last 11. I think they will do enough to win this game and also cover the number as Green Bay get set to host a Wild Card Play Off game next weekend.

MY PICKS: Baltimore Ravens - 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Carolina Panthers + 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints + 7.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
New York Giants + 7 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks - 10.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kansas City Chiefs - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

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