Trick in final week of NFL regular season is figuring out who’s going to play

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on the sideline at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson on Sunday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

NFL Week 17 is always one of the toughest to handicap as several matchups resemble NFL Week 4 preseason games with some playoff-bound teams resting or limiting the play of their starters, while other non-contenders are playing out the string.

As handicappers, we have to figure out the teams’ motivations in addition to what players are actually going to be playing. Then all that has to be weighed against the adjustments that oddsmakers make to the point spreads.

As for the L.A. teams, I’m passing on the Rams’ finale against the Cardinals, but the Chargers (believe it or not) against the Chiefs is in my five best bets for Sunday:

Chargers (+8.5) at Kansas City


The Chiefs are most likely going to be the AFC’s No. 3 seed, but they’re still aiming for the No. 2 seed if the Patriots lose. They also have to hold off the Texans if they beat the Titans. Meanwhile, the Chargers certainly let down their backers last week as they lost to the Raiders, but I still might back them here getting more than a touchdown. As much as Philip Rivers and the Chargers have underachieved this year, this is the role they’ve thrived in the most as Rivers is 31-14-1 (68.9%) against the spread (ATS) in his career as a road underdog of three or more points -- and 7-3-2 ATS since the team moved from San Diego.

USC is currently a two-point underdog to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. But, late action could drop the line to pick-’em.

Dec. 26, 2019

Miami (+16) at New England

The Dolphins have been playing well since their horrendous start when everyone was saying they were tanking and predicting an 0-16. They’ve actually won four of their last eight games and are 5-3 ATS in that stretch. Meanwhile, even though the Patriots covered in their 24-17 win over the Bills on Saturday, their offense still isn’t in sync and shouldn’t be trusted to cover this big of a spread even if they’re trying to clinch the AFC’s No. 2 seed (though they don’t need to win by three scores to do that).

Washington (+11) at Dallas

After losing 17-9 to the Eagles on Sunday, the Cowboys now must win this game -- and hope the Eagles lose to the Giants -- to make the playoffs. The Cowboys covered in a 31-21 win in their first meeting in Week 2, so it’s possible they could blow out Washington here, but I’m betting against it. Washington has been playing better the last five weeks (3-2 ATS). Besides, Case Keenum isn’t a downgrade from Dwayne Haskins, so this should be a lot closer than the blowout that a lot of people are expecting.

New York Giants (+4.5) vs. Philadelphia


The Eagles came through big time for us last week in upsetting the Cowboys and taking control of the NFC East, but with the inconsistent and injury-riddled Eagles now being road favorites of more than a field goal. So, the value is clearly on the underdog Giants as they play spoiler. Besides, the Giants covered in their 23-17 loss in Philadelphia in Week 14 and should have won the game. And even though their last two wins are against lowly Miami and Washington, it could be argued that they’re playing even better. This won’t be a walk-over for the Eagles.

As teams focus on maximizing revenue from the current generation of fans, they risk losing a future generation of fans.

Dec. 26, 2019

Oakland (+3.5) at Denver

The Raiders are miraculously still alive for a possible wild-card spot (needing Tennessee and Pittsburgh to both lose and Indianapolis to win to help with the tiebreaker), so I’m actually a little surprised that the Broncos are favored, but I’ll take the bonus points. While the Broncos have certainly been playing well down the stretch (3-1 straight up and ATS in their last four games), I still have the Raiders as the better team and like that they won the first meeting, 24-16, but are now getting points.

Last week in The Times: 3-2.

Season (SuperContest): 41-36-3.

Dave Tuley writes for, the sports betting network.