Does Tom Brady own the Atlanta Falcons? His Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a tempting NFL pick for Sunday’s regular-season finale.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, January 3, 2021 – 1:00 PM ET at Raymond James Stadium
Football players don’t spook easily, but the Atlanta Falcons seem to get the heebie-jeebies whenever Tom Brady shows up. As if that epic meltdown at Super Bowl LI weren’t enough, the Falcons found themselves up 24-7 on Brady and his new club, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, back in the third quarter of their Week 15 contest. Atlanta’s chances of winning were 95.7 percent – allegedly. Final score: Bucs 31, Falcons 27. Sorry about your damn luck.
Guess what, Falcons fans: You get to face Brady twice this year. Sunday’s season finale is a meaningless game for Atlanta (4-11 SU, 7-8 ATS), except for that whole revenge/spoiler thing, of course. It means enough to Tampa Bay (10-5 SU, 8-7 ATS) that head coach Bruce Arians says he’s playing to win, hoping to lock down the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs, so there might be some value with the Bucs as 6-point home faves on the NFL odds board at Heritage Sports.
Take any motivational angles out of the equation, and Tampa looks like the choice on paper for our Week 17 NFL picks. FiveThirtyEight project them to win by 8.5 points; Jeff Sagarin has the Bucs at –6.15 (Rating) and –7.94 (eigenvector). Two of these numbers give us enough potential profit margin to throw some cash at the home side, especially with us crossing the magic number seven. The third, not so much.
The Buccaneers might be the game-theory optimal pick, but can we exploit those aforementioned angles? As frustrating as that Week 15 loss was for Atlanta, they did cover as 6-point underdogs in their home finale, and in theory, they’ll be even more keyed up to finish the job this time. They certainly didn’t pack their tents in last week’s 17-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs (–11). Why start now?
As for the Bucs, does it really matter whether they go into the playoffs at No. 5? Actually, yes: That would give them a shot at the No. 4 seed in the first round, which will be whoever wins the awful NFC East. That would be a lot more desirable for Tampa Bay than facing any of the other three division winners in their conference: the 12-3 Green Bay Packers, the 11-4 New Orleans Saints, or the 11-4 Seattle Seahawks.
Sunday’s forecast does call for some rain over Raymond James Stadium, which could throw some chaos into the mix, but it looks like the clouds will part a few hours before kick-off. Given the relative importance of this game for Tampa, let’s go ahead and stick with our “GTO” play, but let’s respect the Falcons and make it a small bet size. It’s just the right thing to do.