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NFL Week 17 best bets: Three games with early intriguing lines

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady slaps hands with wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, right, slaps hands with wide receiver Antonio Brown during a win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
(Brian Westerholt / Associated Press)
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Bowl games are dropping like flies, which will lead more people to look at Week 17 NFL early lines. The playoff picture in the AFC remains a jumbled mess, but five of the seven spots in the NFC have been claimed and there are already two division winners. Most of the games this week have some sort of postseason implication, though there are some that will feature teams playing out the string.

Spreads and totals have been adjusted from the lookahead lines to give bettors a starting point for Week 17 and there are a few games that I like, as we’ll see 15 games Sunday and one game Monday.

Here are the best early lines for Week 17:

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-13, 46.5) at New York Jets

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson passes while a referee watches from the side
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
(John Munson / Associated Press)

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The Jets barely hung on to beat the hapless Jaguars, hurting their draft position in the process. This is not a team content to mail it in the rest of the way and every snap is an important one for Zach Wilson and his development going forward. The one thing I’ve noticed about the Jets throughout the season is that they are capable of holding their own in the trenches.

It would be hard for any team to overcome a -13 turnover margin to be competitive. The Jets do lack skill-position talent. Wilson may not be the guy in the long run. But this team plays hard and should play hard here against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay locked up the NFC South to win the franchise’s first division title in 14 years. The Bucs did so with a depleted roster and very few healthy bodies at the skill positions.

Tom Brady had just 18 completions, with 10 of them to Antonio Brown. The Bucs creatively ran the football for 5.1 yards per carry and kept Brady out of harm’s way. I would expect a similar plan of attack here. You have a warm-weather team going north to the Meadowlands in a game that really doesn’t mean much. All four losses for Tampa Bay are against NFC teams, so they are unlikely to have the tiebreakers to get the No. 1 seed. We may not even see Brady for the entire game. Thirteen points feel like a lot here.

Pick: Jets +13

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Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers (-15, 45.5)

Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills passes.
Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills passes during a win over the Chargers on Sunday.
(Justin Rex / Associated Press)

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One of the most stunning performances Sunday came from Davis Mills of the Houston Texans. Mills was missing top target Brandin Cooks, a player who had 80 catches on 119 targets, along with running back David Johnson, who was second in receptions with 29. All Mills proceeded to do was throw for 254 yards with no blemishes on the stat sheet. The Texans also ran it down the Chargers’ throats with Rex Burkhead.

Houston also gave up more than seven yards per play to Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense. The Texans have allowed more than 400 points this season and don’t really appear to have much hope of shutting down the 49ers. Houston has graded near the bottom of the league in run defense in several different metrics throughout the season, including yards per carry allowed. San Francisco has a top-10 offense by most stats and metrics, including DVOA.

Houston has allowed at least 31 points in seven games this season and the 49ers could very well exceed that number here. As long as the Texans find the end zone a couple of times, this one has a great chance of going over.

Pick: Over 45.5

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Cleveland Browns (-2.5, 40) at Pittsburgh Steelers

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passes.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passes against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 12.
(Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

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The story of the season for the Browns has been losing games that should have been won. That includes the last two weeks and also the first game against Pittsburgh. Approach with caution, but the Cleveland roster is far superior to the Pittsburgh roster. The Steelers are actually a really bad team. After getting blown out by the Chiefs in Week 16, Pittsburgh ’s point differential is now -70. This line swung from Pittsburgh -1 to Cleveland -2.5 from the lookahead.

The Browns are better than their record would suggest and the Steelers are worse. This is a Pittsburgh offense near the bottom five of the league in yards per play. Even the defense isn’t performing up to expectations, ranking in the bottom third in yards per play allowed. The Browns are actually +0.4 in yards per play differential. The Steelers are well on the negative side.

Pittsburgh has been outscored 114-19 in the first half over the last six games and hasn’t scored a first-half touch down in five straight. The Browns are at their best when they can play from in front and run the ball. They should get that chance on “Monday Night Football.”

Pick: Browns -2.5

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