NFL Week 18 Betting Picks: Expert Previews All 16 Games
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Tom Brady.
Don’t fall for the easy logic in the final week of the regular season. Since 1990, eliminated teams playing teams that need to win over the final two weeks of the regular season have gone 96-59-4 (61.9%) against the spread (ATS).
For Week 18 this season, the following three eliminated teams fit this trend:
Teams that the market perceives as “dead” actually get to play spoiler and play looser, while the team that needs to win tends to play tighter and has to cover what tends to be an inflated spread. These are still professional athletes playing for jobs, contracts and incentives.
You see it every year with major upsets in the final week of the regular season. I list a number of infamous examples from previous seasons here, but look no further than last year when the Jaguars upset the Colts, who just needed to win to get in as two-touchdown favorites.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Matthew Stafford came off injured reserve to beat the Seahawks and keep his old Lions team alive? Regardless, the Rams are still playing hard and should get their run game (which has finally showed signs of life lately) against a poor Seahawks defense. Even with Baker Mayfield at the helm, they should have a ton of success in the short passing game against a Seattle defense that struggles to defend backs and tight ends. I think this spread is a bit too high and love a juiced +7 below -125.
Next up, the Steelers are overvalued compared to where I project the game. Pittsburgh definitely had value in the market after a gauntlet of a schedule, especially once it got TJ Watt back in the mix. However, I think the opposite is now true after a stretch of very easy opponents with a few miraculous late comebacks. We also finally saw some production out of Deshaun Watson in the second half of last week’s game after he obviously still was dealing with plenty of rust (and nasty weather conditions).
I also fancy the Jets, especially if Teddy Bridgewater is unable to play, but I’m going to wait on more info there.
We also could have another team that fits this mold on Sunday night. If the Seahawks win earlier in the day, the Lions would be eliminated from playoff contention before their date with the Packers. If that’s the case, I don’t think Detroit will try any less with a chance to eliminate division rival Green Bay from playoff contention. In fact, it could actually work in its favor, allowing Dan Campbell and company to play a bit looser.
I like the Lions in this spot against a Green Bay team that has now become overvalued after its recent run. However, I might be better off waiting for Sunday for that line to rise if the Seahawks win. While I don’t think that outcome will have any impact on the Lions, the market likely will.
Other Week 18 Thoughts:
On Saturday, I like the Raiders, especially if I can get +10. The Chiefs will be motivated to get the No. 1 seed, but this is also the Super Bowl for the Raiders, who showed a lot of life last week with new quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who absolutely shredded the league’s top defense.
Stidham actually had a better statistically day than any of Carr’s previous starts. It’s clear Carr just isn’t a great fit for McDaniels’ system, while Stidham has plenty of familiarity and looked very comfortable running the offense.
In the primetime slot, I do show a bit of value on the Titans, who have a major rest advantage and should be as healthy on defense as they’ve been in quite some time.
This is also a prime Mike Vrabel underdog spot for a team I believe has bottomed out in the market after a brutal stretch.
I personally have Jaguars +750 to win the division from my preseason futures piece. If you followed along and are curious for my plans, I will likely try to middle it for at least a piece since I do also see value in Tennessee.
Week 18 is always more art than science to me and I tend to have a lot of plays that are correlated with each other based on how I see the day playing out, which I will detail below. That means the day can either go very well or well poorly, which I’m okay with but that could differ for others depending on their personal risk aversion. I personally love betting Week 18.
Here’s how I see the rest of Sunday playing out.
Ravens vs. Bengals | Bills vs. Patriots
If the Chiefs handle their business on Saturday, it could potentially make both of those aforementioned contests much less meaningful if Kansas City locks up the No. 1 overall seed and the Bengals clinch the AFC North — depending on the league’s decision. I also don’t want to speculate on the state of mind of either the Bills or Bengals after last week.
Vikings vs. Bears
With the Bears starting Nathan Peterman, it’s pretty clear they have their sights set on the potential No. 1 overall draft pick. That makes the Vikings, who do have some incentive to win with the No. 2 seed still a long-shot possibility. an intriguing teaser piece against a team with one of the worst quarterbacks in the history of the league and a historically bad defense.
Texans vs. Colts
Also, with the Bears apparently tanking, I believe the Texans will answer with a tank of their own. It’s worth noting that Lovie Smith openly tanked in the regular season back in 2014 with the Bucs in order to get the No. 1 draft pick, which led to the selection of Jameis Winston.
Giants vs. Eagles
The Eagles have all of the incentive in the world against the Giants, as a win would lock up the highly-coveted lone bye in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Meanwhile, New York is already locked into the No. 6 seed no matter what happens on Sunday. I’d imagine they rest most of their starters for a majority of the game (don’t be surprised if they get a few drives in to start) and spent this week preparing for a likely date with the Vikings.
The Eagles already beat their rival up I-95 by 26 points earlier this season when the Giants had incentive to win. With Hurts expected back under center, I think this turns into another blowout in a favorable schematic matchup for Philly. I bet the Eagles.
Cowboys vs. Commanders
Now, if the Eagles rout the Giants like I expect, that will serve as a signal to the Cowboys to likely pull their starters in the second half (assuming Philly has a big lead) since a Philadelphia victory would lock Dallas into the No. 5 seed with a trip to Tampa on deck.
That would obviously help the Commanders, who I bet at +7.5. I’m sure Dallas spent a good chunk of this week preparing for that Bucs game and not surprise starter Sam Howell, who can’t be much worse than what Washington has trotted out there under center recently.
Also, the Cowboys have a first-time starting center with a reshuffled offensive line and injuries elsewhere, which may lead them to be a bit more cautious here. Plus, the pass offense and defense have not been firing on all cylinders and Washington‘s defense remains stout against the run.
Buccaneers vs. Falcons
Since the Bucs are already locked into the No. 4 seed, they have absolutely nothing to play for in Atlanta. That’s why the Falcons are listed as favorites. However, Tampa Bay has come out and said it wants to play its starters.
Do I think it will for the entire game? No. Do I think some with nagging injuries will sit? Absolutely.
However, I do think Tom Brady and other key starters will at least start the game. Brady historically played at least a half in this exact scenario during his time in New England.
The 49ers do have an incentive to beat what could be a very undermanned Arizona squad for a second straight week. However, if the Vikings lose earlier in the day and the Eagles are up big at the half, San Francisco could go super conservative in the second half and pull its starters at some point since it would be locked into the No. 2 seed in that scenario. If it plays out that way, I’ll be seeking a 2H or live under.
Chargers vs. Broncos
The Broncos are intriguing especially at +3.5. I’m waiting to see the official time announcement of Ravens-Bengals since a Baltimore loss (if played earlier in day) would lock Los Angeles into the No. 5 seed, giving it no incentive to play its starters against Denver.
Panthers vs. Saints
I have no interest in watching or betting this game.