The College Football Playoff is upon us, while the 2019 NFL season wraps up with a full Sunday slate. This is your Weekend Primer.
FIVE HOT TOPICS
1. Starters resting: Some teams have already announced key players will not play in Week 17, headlined by the Ravens, who will sit quarterback Lamar Jackson (among others) after clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC last week. The Vikings and Bills are also prime candidates to rest players, as both are locked into their playoff seeding.
2. Early slate ripple effects: Bettors should monitor the results from the early window on Sunday — Chiefs-Chargers in particular. If Kansas City wins, that will lock the Texans into the AFC’s No. 4 seed and make it increasingly likely that Deshaun Watson and other starters will be limited or inactive vs. the Titans.
3. Beast Mode back in Seattle: After losing their top three running backs over the past few weeks, the Seahawks have turned back the clock by signing Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is expected to be eased in, though, with Pete Carroll publicly stating he will lean on Travis Homer in Sunday night’s de facto NFC West title game vs. the 49ers.
4. Heisman Curse dead: LSU fans will be comforted in the knowledge that the Heisman Curse is over. For many years the Heisman Trophy winner’s team lost its bowl game and rarely won the national championship. Since 2009, though, four players have won the Heisman and gone on to win the title, most recently Derrick Henry in 2015.
5. Bulldogs lose Shrader: Mississippi State will be without starting quarterback Garrett Shrader in the Music City Bowl against Louisville. Shrader was injured in an altercation with a teammate that is sure to receive further attention.
Sharp money has come in on Memphis +7.5 in the Cotton Bowl (line down to 7), as well as Washington State +3 in the Cheez-It Bowl (number down to 2.5). Ohio State +2 has seen a bit of professional interest in their CFP semifinal showdown vs. Clemson. The NFL market, meanwhile, has moved a ton as usual in advance of Week 17, with the Bears shifting from underdogs to 3-point favorites vs. the Vikings following Minnesota’s loss to the Packers on Monday night. Baltimore +2 and Cincinnati +3 (number down to 2.5) have also generated sharp action.
Minnesota (+215) vs. Auburn: Motivation is key in bowl season, and the Golden Gophers figure to be the more motivated side after their first 10-win season since 2003. Minnesota has been a strong play in non-conference games as well, going 7-2 ATS in their last nine. Auburn, meanwhile, began the season with loftier expectations than an Outback Bowl berth.
Bengals (+130) vs. Browns: Speaking of motivation, the Browns don’t figure to have much in a meaningless Week 17 game vs. Cincinnati after beginning the campaign with Super Bowl aspirations. The Bengals, on the other hand, have been competitive since Andy Dalton reassumed the quarterback reins.
Saturday — Clemson (-2) vs. Ohio State: This is an outstanding matchup between two programs with visions of a title. Clemson, which is chasing its third national championship in four years, has covered nine of its last 10 nowl games while thriving during the CFP era. Ohio State is making its first appearance in the CFP since losing to Clemson, 31-0, in the 2016 semifinal.
Sunday — 49ers (-3) at Seahawks: The NFC West title and a first-round bye are on the line in this one, making it a stellar regular-season finale. The loser, meanwhile, will drop to the No. 5 seed and be forced to be road warriors in the playoffs. Seattle has covered 13 of its last 14 as a home dog, while the Niners are just 6-20 in their last 26 as a road favorite.