NFL Week 17 odds, picks: Andrew Luck’s comeback gets the ending it deserves, plus other best bets

It’s remarkable Andrew Luck has even gotten to this point. After a surgery announcement that included a promise for a quick recovery, an unsuccessful return to the practice field, a trip to the Netherlands, the inability to throw a football, getting substituted for a Hail Mary, and countless underneath passes, Luck isn’t just back playing football again. He’s back playing like a fringe-MVP candidate, which has the Colts on the verge of a postseason berth. 

On Sunday, Luck has a chance to lead the Colts back to the playoffs with a win over the Titans in Nashville. The NFL has flexed the game into the primetime slot on Sunday night, giving Luck the platform he deserves to put the finishing touches on a harrowing journey that at multiple points appeared to be leading toward the dead marshes rather than the promised land. How he got back to this point was anything but ordinary. 

Twenty-three months ago, Luck underwent surgery to fix a nagging, mismanaged shoulder injury. 

It didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time. Colts owner Jim Irsay said Luck would be good to go for the beginning of the 2017 season. But when the season began, Luck wasn’t on the field. 

Dearest mother —
The day has arrived. The unit will engage in its first battle against the cantankerous Rams. I long for action.
— Andrew

Dearest mother —
It appears my sidearm will continue to accumulate rust as I again will not drill this week. I remain flummoxed.
— Andrew

Dearest mother —
The trigger on my sidearm remains in the locked position. As such, I am still unable to drill. Frustrations mount.
— Andrew

After a short-lived return to the practice, Luck was shut down before his season could even begin

His journey took him all the way to Europe, where he searched for answers. Almost exactly a year ago, Luck returned from Europe and broke a lengthy silence by expressing optimism that he’d be able to play football again. 

Dearest mother —
I shall remain in Europe a bit longer. I have been informed no battle will take place this week; the men deserve a rest. Funny, they have no squirrel oil in this land, but rather mole grease. Confounding.
— Andrew

Dearest mother —
I remain in Europe, in search of a treatment for my neckbeard. I am far too young for a transplant using bear fur, which has been suggested. I shall try to relax today, in much the same fashion as my unit. I find myself flummoxed, yet buoyant.
— Andrew

Dearest mother —
I intend to leave Europe soon. I believe I found what I sought. Just how luscious my neckbeard shall become, only time will tell. I hope to be back with my unit before the Titan men attack the camp. My feet ache, but my spirit soars.
— Andrew

Dearest mother —
I write with splendid news. I believe I have successfully replaced the firing pin in my sidearm, which means I can once again use it. I cannot lie, a great deal of rust has accumulated from non-use. However, I am confidant my aim shall return quickly.
— Andrew

Given the Colts’ mismanagement of the situation, it wasn’t wrong to question Luck’s future in football. He couldn’t even throw a football until June

When he did step onto the field in game action, he spent most of his time checking the ball down, leading many of us to assume his shoulder couldn’t handle the rigors of a downfield passing game. In Weeks 1-3, Luck averaged 5.3 yards per pass. At the end of a Week 3 loss to the Eagles, the Colts replaced Luck with backup Jacoby Brissett for a Hail Mary, adding more ammunition to the belief that he wasn’t capable of making downfield throws. Three months later, Luck is averaging only 7.1 yards per pass, which ranks 24th out of 33 qualified passers. He’s averaging 7.5 air yards per pass, which falls toward the lower end of the spectrum, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. For the sake of comparison, consider that Luck averaged 8.9 air yards per pass in 2016.

But that might not be a bad thing. In Frank Reich’s offense, Luck is getting rid of the ball quicker. In 2016, his average time to throw was 2.88 seconds, which ranked near the top of the league. This year, it’s at 2.62, which ranks near the bottom of the league, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Suddenly, Luck is no longer taking the kind of shots that can lead to a shoulder getting messed up in the first place. He’s been sacked 17 times so far this season. He was sacked 41 times in 2016. 

And it’s working. Through 15 games, Luck is completing a career-high 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,308 yards, 36 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and a career-high 98.0 passer rating. By DYAR, a Football Outsiders’ metric that measures a quarterback’s total value, Luck ranks seventh. By DVOA, a Football Outsiders’ metric that measures a quarterback’s value per play, Luck ranks 10th. By QBR, Luck ranks sixth. WIth everything that happened to him over the past two years, this season should be considered nothing other than a resounding success for Luck. He’s back to being a top-10 NFL quarterback, he should win Comeback Player of the Year, and suddenly, the roster around him isn’t awful either. The Colts’ offensive line ranks eighth in run blocking and third in pass blocking, according to Football Outsiders.

Sunday night will be the culmination of an arduous process that has fittingly led to this point. While Luck has outshot expectations in his first season back under center, his return has been somewhat overshadowed by the ascent of quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, and stellar play from the likes of Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. Even in his own division, Luck is competing for attention with the flashier, newer Deshaun Watson. Luck has mostly flown under the radar when he deserves widespread acclaim, but he’ll get all the praise he deserves by sending the Colts to the playoffs with a primetime win over the Titans.

And so, with the first of my five best bets this week, I’m taking the Colts -3 at Tennessee. Luck’s comeback gets the fairytale ending it deserves.

Last week: 3-2
This year: 45-34-1

All odds via SportsLine

Colts (-3) at Titans

The easiest argument in favor of the Colts is that the Titans might have to start Blaine Gabbert in a win-and-in game. Even if Marcus Mariota is able to play, I feel good about the Colts’ chances of winning handedly. By DVOA, the Colts check in at ninth. You won’t find the Titans until No. 20. In recent weeks, Titans running back Derrick Henry has come alive, rushing for 492 yards over his past three games, all of which the Titans won. But he should have tough time against a Colts defense that ranks fifth against in the run by DVOA.

Chiefs (-13.5) vs. Raiders

I rode the Chiefs all season long. So it seems fitting to include them one final time. 

The Chiefs need to win this game to clinch the top playoff seed, so we should see them at their best against a Raiders team that just won its Super Bowl on Monday night. So, on a short week, an awful Raiders team will be traveling to Kansas City to face a Chiefs team that will be desperate to win. The Chiefs haven’t covered a spread since early November (related: my picks fell apart over the past month), but I think they’ll beat up on the Raiders in this one as they look to clinch home-field advantage and Mahomes looks to put a wrap on the MVP race.

Stream all of Sunday’s games on fuboTV, try it for free, and stream the CBS games on CBS All Access.  

Texans (-6.5) vs. Jaguars

The Texans lost to the Eagles last week, but in the process, Deshaun Watson cemented his status as one of the league’s best quarterbacks regardless of age. So far this season, Watson is completing 68.1 percent of of his passes for 3,931 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine picks, and a 104.1 passer rating in addition to his 485 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. On the other side of the field will be … Blake Bortles. The Texans still have a first-round bye to play for, so I think we’ll see them roll against an inferior Jaguars team.

Ravens (-6) vs. Browns

Baker Mayfield has breathed life into the Browns, but I don’t like them in this spot on the road against a Ravens team that is going for the division crown. The last time we saw the Browns go on the road to take on a playoff team with a strong defense, they got beat up by the Texans in a loss that included three Mayfield interceptions. This time, Mayfield is going up against the Ravens’ No. 1 ranked defense (in terms of both yards and points allowed) that just ended Philip Rivers’ MVP candidacy. By DVOA, there’s a huge gap between these two teams (the Ravens are fifth and the Browns are 19th). The Browns have an incredibly bright future, but the Ravens are playing like a fringe Super Bowl contender right now. Despite Mayfield’s ascent, he’s still been somewhat inconsistent. In six starts, he’s finished with a passer rating below 84. 

The Ravens get the win they need to take the AFC North behind a dominant defensive outing and just enough from Lamar Jackson and the offense. 

Eagles (-6.5) at Redskins

The Eagles are rolling, having picked up two straight wins over playoff teams. The Redskins have been surprisingly competitive since making the move to Josh Johnson, beating the Jaguars and hanging with the Titans. But without much to play for on Sunday, I’m expecting the Redskins to succumb to the unstoppable object that is wintertime Nick Foles. In his past two starts, Foles has completed 73.8 percent of his passes for 741 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 108.4 passer rating. We all know what he did last December and January. 

Expect the Eagles to roll in a game they need to win if they want to surpass the Vikings and steal the final playoff spot in the NFC.

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