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Week 17 keeps bettors, oddsmakers guessing

As anticipated in August, the Washington Redskins have nothing to play for in Week 17, and Kirk Cousins’ status as their starting quarterback is shaky.

But this is not exactly what was expected: The Redskins, who finished last in the NFC East in 2013 and 2014, have nothing to play for because they already have clinched the division and a home playoff game. Cousins is set to start Sunday, but there’s no sense of urgency to play him.

On Wednesday, four of 16 games were off the betting board at most Las Vegas books. The lines in some key games are fluid. Bettors and oddsmakers are similarly puzzled by several pieces of this picture.

Welcome to the final week of the NFL regular season. But it would be wrong to say there’s nothing quite like this week because it’s a lot like every week in August.

“You definitely have that preseason element in these lines,” said Ed Salmons, Westgate Las Vegas sports book manager.

The game that probably matters most is the first one on the betting rotation. The New York Jets, needing a win to get in the playoffs, are 3-point favorites at Buffalo. The Bills are eliminated, but they will come to play because of coach Rex Ryan’s motivation to knock out his former team.

Arizona and Carolina still are competing for the top seed in the NFC. New England still has not clinched the top seed in the AFC.

Minnesota and Green Bay are playing Sunday night for the NFC North title. The Packers are 3-point favorites at Lambeau Field, where the forecast calls for a kickoff temperature of 20 and wind chills in the single digits.

With a division title on the line, it could be assumed Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy desperately wants to win. However, the Packers might be in a more favorable position if they lose, because in that scenario they likely would be favored in a wild-card game at Washington instead of facing Seattle.

Ten days or so ago — previous to the Week 16 results — the Westgate posted a lookahead line of Seahawks minus-2½ at Arizona. The current line is Cardinals minus-6½.

“Our thoughts were Carolina would beat Atlanta, so Arizona couldn’t be the No. 1 seed, and that was a reason to sit their guys,” Salmons said. “Now, Arizona could be the No. 1 seed, so the motivation is on the other side.”

Despite getting upset at home by St. Louis in Week 16, the Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot. The Panthers, who were upset by the Falcons to fall to 14-1, are 10½-point home favorites over Tampa Bay. The Arizona and Carolina games kick off simultaneously (1:25 p.m. PST).

Pittsburgh, off a stunning upset loss at Baltimore, can get into the playoffs with a win and a loss by the Jets. The Steelers are 11-point favorites at Cleveland. Those games kick off in the early time slot, setting up an intriguing situation for bettors.

“The smart play is Pittsburgh minus-6 in the first half,” said Las Vegas handicapper and radio host Brian Blessing (Sportsbookradio.com). “The Steelers can put pressure on the Jets, who will be scoreboard watching.”

Cincinnati and Denver are fighting for better seeds in the AFC. The Bengals are 9-point home favorites over the Ravens. The Broncos are 9-point home favorites over the Chargers, who could be playing their final game as a team from San Diego.

The Cincinnati and New England games kick off at 10 a.m., with Denver playing in the afternoon.

Indianapolis needs a complex — and almost impossible — formula of results to fall into place to pass Houston in the AFC South. The Colts host Tennessee in the only game that remained off the betting board Thursday.

Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is out. As for the Colts, Andrew Luck has been ruled out and Matt Hasselbeck is doubtful, leaving Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley as candidates to start. When the line is posted, Indianapolis will be a small favorite.

The Redskins-Cowboys line was posted midweek, with Dallas as a 3½-point home favorite. The line moved to 4 on Thursday. The Cowboys will start Kellen Moore at quarterback, something no one could have anticipated in August, before Tony Romo went down and when Moore was a forgotten backup in Detroit.

In his first career start last week against Buffalo, Moore failed to lead a touchdown drive. For the second straight week, Moore will be working without top wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was placed on injured reserve. Still, Moore is favored to beat Cousins, who has led Washington to an 8-7 record.

The Washington Post quoted Redskins coach Jay Gruden on the idea of sticking with his starters Sunday: “It’s important for us to be healthy come playoff time, but it is also to have some kind of momentum going in. I’d like to end on a four-game winning streak … and finish 9-7. I think it’s a hell of a step in the right direction. The guys that are able to play are planning on playing and competing.”

Salmons and other oddsmakers have closely monitored quotes from coaches and all relevant information on Week 17 games while adjusting and watching movement in the lines.

“The games that are difficult are Washington-Dallas and Seattle-Arizona, the games where you don’t know what the teams’ motivation will be,” Salmons said. “You never know how the coaches are thinking.

“Common sense says the Cowboys should lose, because if they win it hurts their draft selection. But if you look through history, teams have been more than happy to win meaningless games in the past.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247

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