Just like that we have made it to the penultimate week of the regular season and the final Thursday Night Football game of the year. Hopefully everyone had a good Christmas and you are just about ready for what promises to be a bit of a strange Week 17. With several teams having clinched their playoff spots or officially eliminated from contention, we look set to see a number of teams resting key players or turning to youth to “see what they have”, even if (in the case of the Raiders), they know what they have is trash. It might be tricky to navigate from a betting or fantasy football point of view as we aren’t sure who is going to see the field or get their normal workload.
Our first Week 17 game looks like it will set the tone for the week as the Cowboys head to Nashville to take on a Titans team that only has their eyes on a key Week 18 matchup.
Dallas Cowboys -12.5 @ Tennessee Titans: 40.0
The Titans were impressive the last time they played on a Thursday, back in Week 11 when they beat the Packers in Green Bay. But they have lost five in a row since then and their season now comes down to a win and in game in Jacksonville next week. You can’t really blame them for making sure their roster is in the best possible position for that game by resting a number of key players tonight.
Dallas are 7-3 with Dak Prescott as their quarterback this season and after defeating a Jalen Hurts-less Eagles team last week have secured back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2006/2007. If the Eagles decide to rest Hurts for the playoffs and can’t beat either the Saints or Giants over the next two weeks, then the Cowboys could become the first team since 2004 to retain the division. That’s still a big if, but they will certainly want to win this one to keep the Eagles honest.
Over their last ten games the Cowboys have averaged over 32 points and are now behind just the Eagles and Chiefs as the third highest scoring offense in the league. Their defense ranks second in DVOA for the season but has allowed opponents to score almost 100 points over the last three games, recording just one sack in the process. There are signs that this could be the roster that gets them past the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time since the 90’s but they will be thankful for a kind schedule for the final two games of the season to help them address any issues on the defensive side of the ball.
Prescott’s return to the lineup is what prompted the turnaround in an offense that was averaging under 20 points per game through the first six weeks of the season. He has thrown multiple touchdown passes in all but two games since his return and has ten over the last four weeks, although the 12 total interceptions on the season is a slight concern. This is a fantastic matchup against a poor Titans defense that is set to be missing a number of starters. Prescott to throw over 1.5 touchdowns is 4/5 with Bet365 and you’d think it should be a safe bet against a team that has allowed three times as many touchdowns through the air as it has on the ground (Prescott o1.5 passing touchdowns).
When they traded Amari Cooper to the Browns, the hope was that CeeDee Lamb would step up and become a true number one. It was a pretty slow start to the season with his first 100 yard game coming in Week 10 but he has now hit that mark four times, including in each of the last two weeks. As with Dak, this is a great matchup for Lamb and he should see enough work to clear his line of 71.5 yards and I also like him to score a touchdown at 6/5 (Lamb anytime TD), a brace is 17/2 with SkyBet. Outside of Lamb there are no real consistent roles in the passing offense for the Cowboys; Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup and Noah Brown will see something like 12-15 targets between them but it’s hard to predict who will produce.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have been putting opposition defenses to the sword this season with 23 total touchdowns between them. Pollard has been one of the most explosive running backs in the league but looks like he will either miss out or see limited snaps tonight in a game the Cowboys should be able to win without risking him. Props aren’t up yet with the uncertainty over whether Pollard will play or not but I’d be more inclined to take the over on Elliott’s line if Pollard is playing than if he isn’t. The Titans are solid against the run and awful against the pass and I think if Pollard does play, he loses some work to Elliott anyway. Malik Davis is the next man up in the Cowboys backfield and has been drawing some buzz while we await the Pollard news. He could be in line for his biggest workload of the season if this game is a blowout and is as high as 19/4 to score in some places.
You would think a team that has lost five in a row would be looking to stop the skid ahead of a must win game in the final week of the season but with a difficult game against the Cowboys on the cards and a list of injuries, the Titans look set to concede this game in preparation for next week. Derrick Henry was the only running back to have a carry last week against the Texans but is almost certainly not playing tonight and with Dontrell Hilliard on IR, it is probably Hassan Haskins leading the backfield. Haskins has just 11 carries on the season and while you can run on the Cowboys, it’s not worth paying attention to this backfield tonight.
Malik Willis will be the starting QB again and will be looking to record either his first passing touchdown or his first game of over 100 passing yards, so the bar is not set very high for the passing game either. None of the Titans pass catchers have lines of over 28.5 yards but we just don’t know how much they will see the field. Update: Josh Dobbs has been named the QB with Willis seemingly rested for next week as well, so the offense is even more of an unknown.
We won’t dwell on the Titans for too long as it’s probably best to just completely avoid this offense from a betting perspective for this game.
Unfortunately for the last TNF of the season, there is only one winner here and in fact only one team remotely bothered about winning as well. The Cowboys should win comfortably and I would lean towards them covering the spread but I’d worry about them resting players and taking their foot of the gas so I’ll avoid with it as high as 12.5. In the circumstances, under on the 40 point total would normally be the way to go but the Cowboys have hit 40 points on their own in five of their last eight games so that’s probably an avoid too.
Overall not a lot we can be confident of in this game and I’d worry that’s the case for a lot of the weekend games too.