The 0-15 Cleveland Browns aren’t too proud to accept some charity.
Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers have a shot at the No. 1 seed, they seemingly understand it’s a long shot. It would require the 15-point underdog New York Jets to win at the New England Patriots. So, at least according to one Steelers player, the team will sit some key starters. (Many teams are facing the question of sitting or playing their starters in Week 17, and here’s a primer on what each team has told us.)
Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert told Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Tim Benz that the team will sit Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell. Antonio Brown is going to be out with injury, and we knew that already. Gilbert denied he said that in a tweet he deleted, but there’s audio. Nothing is official just because one of the Steelers’ offensive tackles said it, but let’s assume he regrettably told the truth when Mike Tomlin wanted to keep it a secret. It’s big news for the Browns.
Nobody will remember many years from now if the Browns beat Landry Jones and Stevan Ridley to get their only win of the season. Everyone will, however, remember it forever if the 2017 Browns go 0-16. One win makes a big difference.
(Let’s step back a bit: I’m not sure if I agree with Tomlin or not, if he is in fact sitting starters. I think if teams don’t have a bye they should absolutely sit everyone. With a bye it’s trickier. Teams with byes who sit starters then are going almost three full weeks between games. However, it would probably do wonders for Bell and his 400-plus touches this season to get some extra rest. Also, what if the Patriots lose and your backups blow a shot to get a No. 1 seed? I’m undecided here.)
The Browns were in a similar situation in Week 17 last season. Jones started against the Browns and played relatively well, throwing for 277 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns almost won, but fell in overtime. The Browns also had a win going into that game, having won the week before. Maybe they weren’t as motivated as they’ll be Sunday.
Gilbert’s revelation shouldn’t have been a huge shock — Tomlin spoke Tuesday about the possibility of sitting starters — but sportsbooks in Las Vegas moved quickly. Most took the game off the board. When it reappeared in some places, it had moved from the Steelers being favored by 10.5 or 11 to them being favored by 7. Yes, the Browns are still a touchdown underdog to a team that is probably resting its starters.
Assuming Tomlin will clarify at some point who is playing and who isn’t, the most interesting question is how to pick the game in contests and pools, where lines are set early in the week. The Browns are plus-14 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em. They’re plus-11 in the Westgate SuperContest. Yet, even with the extra line value, do you really trust the Browns? The Browns have lost 13 in a row at Pittsburgh and by an average of 13.4 points according to OddsShark, and are 3-25 in their last 28 against the Steelers anywhere. They’ve failed to cover the spread in seven of their last eight games. Even though everyone in the world has known for months how bad these Browns are and the point spreads have been large, the Browns have rarely covered. Even if they’re playing the Steelers’ JV squad, it’s not a sure thing they can keep it within a touchdown. They’re that bad.
Reluctantly, I’ll pick the Browns with the ridiculous Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em line (I’m saving my final SuperContest picks for later and will tweet them out). Even if the Browns cover, can they get a win? Probably not. The Browns want to avoid 0-16, but the Steelers don’t want to be the team to lose to them, and the backups who will play need to play well to help their careers. I think the Browns keep it relatively close, but we’re going to see the second 0-16 team in NFL history.
Here are the rest of the picks for a strange Week 17:
Packers (+7.5) over Lions: You knew Week 17 would be weird when the NFL didn’t have any decent option for “Sunday Night Football,” so they skipped SNF altogether. I’m picking the Packers not because I’m impressed with anything they’ve done, but you have to assume the Lions are crushed after their playoff dreams were ended last week in Cincinnati.
Colts (-4) over Texans: Before news that DeAndre Hopkins would likely be out Week 17 with an injury, I was on the fence. But the thought of that Texans team without Hopkins is pretty scary. Even against a bad Colts defense.
Vikings (-13) over Bears: The Vikings still need to win to ensure a first-round bye (they will be the No. 3 seed if they lose, the Saints lose and the Panthers win). It has historically been a pretty good play to pick against the team that needs to win, as counterintuitive as that sounds. But I do think the Vikings roll here.
Jets (+17) over Patriots: The Patriots need to win to get the No. 1 seed, though a Steelers loss gets it for them too. It’s always scary to go against the Patriots. They’ve covered seven straight home games as a favorite of 14 points or more, according to OddsShark. But I’ve consistently gone against favorites this large, I like to go against the inflated lines of the “need to win” teams, and that matches up here to land on the Jets.
Redskins (-3) over Giants: Seems like a low spread. The Giants have been awful all season, and they’re dealing with many key injuries. If they were going to rally and play well for Eli Manning, they’d have done so long before now.
Cowboys (-2.5) over Eagles: While most teams have made it clear what they plan to do with resting starters or not in Week 17, the two teams that have been the most secretive about it play against each other here. Jerry Jones seemed to say this week that young players will play more, but Jason Garrett says the starters will play. The Eagles haven’t really played their hand either. Maybe you’re getting Nick Foles vs. Dak Prescott in the fourth quarter of this one, and maybe you’re getting Nate Sudfeld vs. Cooper Rush. Welcome to Week 17.
Panthers (+4) over Falcons: So we’re giving the Falcons a bump because they need to win? The Panthers are still alive for the NFC South title, and that’s a huge deal considering you get to host a first-round playoff game (the Panthers could also get a No. 2 seed, though that’s a long shot). The Panthers are a better team, they’re motivated too, and I’ll happily take the points.
Chiefs (+3.5) over Broncos: I’m excited to see Patrick Mahomes. I hope the Chiefs play other starters to give Mahomes the best shot to succeed, but I doubt it. I’m picking the Chiefs simply because the Broncos are starting Paxton Lynch at quarterback.
Jaguars (+3.5) over Titans: The Jaguars should be trying to lose this game coming off the bus. If the Titans win, the Jaguars and Titans will play again next week in a playoff game. If the Titans lose, the Chargers will probably get in and be the Jaguars’ opponent. The Chargers are much, much, much better than the Titans. Also, the Jaguars can’t change their seed and it would be good to rest starters. Still, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone says he’ll play this as normal. I don’t get it. But, if he’s telling the truth, the Jaguars are far superior to Tennessee and they’ll cover. They might even win, as dumb as that would be.
49ers (+2.5) over Rams: This line has moved to the 49ers being 3- or 3.5-point favorites after Sean McVay announced his star players will sit. There has been speculation that McVay is doing this because he feels being the No. 4 seed is better than being the No. 3 seed, because the Rams could travel to Philadelphia instead of Minnesota in the divisional round. That doesn’t factor in that the No. 6 seed could win in wild-card weekend and play at Philadelphia, but doing whatever to get Philly and not Minnesota makes sense, especially after seeing the Eagles struggle on offense last week. There aren’t many coaches who would think this way (see Doug Marrone’s absolute ignorance of situation in his publicly stated decision this week to play his starters), but McVay is one who would.
Dolphins (+2.5) over Bills: This line looks way, way too easy for the Bills. Step right up, get the team that needs to win laying less than a field goal! There’s no trap here, just a lock!
Raiders (+9.5) over Chargers: Another instance of a line being inflated because one team needs to win to stay alive in the playoff race.
Cardinals (+10) over Seahawks: I think the Cardinals play hard. This is a big rivalry to them. They view this as their playoff game. If this is Bruce Arians’ last game, they’ll want to send him off right. The Seahawks won last week, but for two straight weeks their offense has looked horrible. This one will be close. It wouldn’t completely shock me if the Cardinals won.
Buccaneers (+7) over Saints: Let’s just keep rolling with teams getting too many points against the “need to win” opponents.
Bengals (+10.5) over Ravens: And yet another. There’s another layer here though: The Bengals looked really bad for two weeks, but they were dealing with major injury issues. When those injuries cleared up, they beat the Lions. Maybe the Bengals hadn’t quit, they were just too banged up to compete.
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