Analysis

Between the Lines: Betting the NFL Week 18 Edition

Every Monday during the NFL season, I’ll compare game spreads to my own power ratings and give my perspective on whether I think the betting lines are accurate. Paying attention to the NFL market is one of the single most important aspects of successful wagering. With all the variance and volatility of pro football, placing a bet on the most advantageous side of a number is often the only difference between a winning or losing ticket. 

All lines are consensus numbers across the U.S. Sportsbooks as of Monday morning. Some may not be out yet. Early lines that show great disparity with my own are highlighted in red.

Since this is the final week of the NFL season and some games may be without any playoff implications, I’ll breeze over those contests and focus only on where I see the value. 

 

Chiefs at Raiders (+9.5), Total: 50.5

Where I set the line: Raiders +10, 50

The Raiders are eliminated from playoff contention, so their motivation could be lacking heading into this contest. Somehow, with Jarrett Stidham as their signal caller, Las Vegas exhibited some of its best offense of the year against arguably the league’s best defense in Week 17. Davante Adams had another huge game (seven catches, 153 yards, two touchdowns), and Stidham looked like a formidable passer for the entire contest.

In the end, Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey were too much for Vegas. They lost 37-34 in overtime. The Raiders are the only team in NFL history to lose 5 or more games when leading by double-digits in the second half. It was also their ninth one-possession loss this season. 

The Chiefs survived yet again in Week 17, winning 27-24 and moving to 13-3 on the season despite a valiant effort by the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs can still secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC if Buffalo loses either tonight or next week and if the Chiefs beat the Raiders in this final contest. That’s why I have Kansas City as the clear favorite. I’m not sure Vegas will have the same determined energy with nothing to play for. This is a game where you bet KC or don’t bet it at all.

Titans at Jaguars (-6.5), 39

Where I set the line: Jaguars -6, 42

This game should be among the most competitive of any in Week 18, thus the Saturday night slot, but the question is: Can the Titans muster enough offense without Ryan Tannehill? Indications suggest it might be “struggle city” for last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Jaguars took care of business in a 31-3 stomping of their divisional rival the Houston Texans on Sunday, fortifying even more momentum heading into this matchup. The Titans fell 27-13 with Joshua Dobbs under center and without Derrick Henry. They were competitive in the first half before Dallas found their rhythm in the second. Keep an eye on the injury report this week. While we expect Henry to return, key defensive starters like Jeffrey Simmons, Denico Autry, Amani Hooker and others are banged up. The Titans will need all the defensive firepower they can, particularly on their defensive line, if they hope to limit a surging and healthy Jaguars offense. 

I have no issue with this line or total. I give the Titans slightly more credit – they’re well-coached and something tells me they’ll put up a tough fight. However, I probably won’t bet against Jacksonville in this spot. At home, with significantly more momentum and a much healthier roster, the Jags should take care of business. 

Browns at Steelers (-3), Total: 39

Where I set the line: Steelers -4, 40

Kenny Pickett just might be special. Time after time, in a tough, hard-hitting AFC North battle in Baltimore, Pickett stepped up and made exceptional passes when it mattered most. On their final touchdown drive, Pickett completed sensational passes to George Pickens and others, willing his team to keep fighting on long third-down conversions (10/16). Pickett’s last throw, a laser to Najee Harris into a small window, put Pittsburgh on top Sunday night. Then, as we’re all accustomed to seeing, the Steelers’ defense closed it out with a late interception. Tyler Huntley and the Ravens take another step back, while the Steelers are now 8-8 and still have a chance to make the playoffs.

While we think Mike Tomlin will, yet again, finish the season with another winning record. Postseason or not, the Steelers have now won five of their last seven games. They’re holding opponents to less than 15 ppg in that span. The maturation of Pickett, their offensive line and their offensive skill players is obvious. This isn’t a team I want to bet against right now.

The Browns upset the Washington Commanders on the road Sunday, ending the home team’s chances of making the playoffs after Green Bay won in the late window. While the Browns deserve credit, that was more about Carson Wentz throwing errant, terrible interceptions and Cleveland taking advantage. Deshaun Watson still had an underwhelming performance (9/18, 169 yards, three touchdowns, sacked five times). 

I like Pittsburgh. The motivation to win for their coach and for their chances to make the postseason should provide an extra incentive in the trenches. Pickett is not making the same mistakes we saw earlier in the season and Harris should be able to run right through a porous Browns’ defense. I’m taking the Steelers now.

Buccaneers at Falcons (-7), Total: 39

Where I set the line: Doesn’t Matter

Tampa Bay won the NFC South, and they’ll be the No. 4 seed in the NFC Playoffs. The Falcons’ playoff chances were already shot and this line indicates Tampa will sit all of their starters/star players. Due to these reasons, a stale -7 is granted to Atlanta at home. I can’t trust Atlanta, and I have no idea how motivated the Bucs’ second units will be on Sunday. This is an easy game to pass on.

Though I’ll end it with this: Tom Brady’s connection to Mike Evans and the Bucs’ defensive response Sunday after going down early against Carolina, should leave other NFC playoff teams a little nervous. The Bucs still have all the ingredients to win their way to the Super Bowl.

Has it ever been smart to doubt Brady in the postseason? Exactly.

 

Cowboys at Commanders (+5.5), Total: 41.5

Where I set the line: Commanders +6, Total: 43

Are the Commanders going to start Wentz again? They shouldn’t, but then again they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention anyway. He was awful in their Week 17 loss to the Browns. There’s just something clunky and disconnected about the Commanders’ offense when he’s the quarterback. 

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are suddenly in a fantastic position. Dallas can clinch the No.1 seed in the NFC Playoffs with a win on Sunday, an Eagles loss to the Giants and a 49ers’ loss to the Cardinals. All that doesn’t seem likely, but even a Dallas win and an Eagles’ loss would be significant. That would mean the Cowboys win the NFC East. Point is, the Cowboys should have plenty of motivation to win in convincing fashion in this historic rivalry.

Dak Prescott is not an elite quarterback. I’ve battled with a few people on Twitter recently over this topic. However, Prescott doesn’t have to be elite for the Cowboys to win and cover in this contest. He’ll need to be elite in the playoffs when he needs to make big throws under pressure, but I digress.

With all the motivation and momentum on Dallas’ side, the Cowboys can sustain their rushing attack against Washington’s sub-average run defense (they allow 4.5 yards per carry). And the Dallas defense should certainly be up to the task, especially if Wentz is starting again at quarterback. 

Watch the quarterback situation closely. If Taylor Heinicke comes back in, I think Washington can be feisty, and I’d lean on them covering this line. If it’s Wentz, I see another sad ending for the Commanders. 

Cardinals at 49ers (-13.5), Total: 40

Where I set the line: Doesn’t Matter

This is another game that I don’t think anyone should bet on. The 49ers are human. We finally saw that in their close game against the Raiders. Nonetheless, they should be super-favorites in this contest on Sunday. San Francisco can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs with a win and an Eagles’ loss, so there’s plenty for them to be motivated.

The Cardinals are playing for J.J. Watt it seems, and that’s about it. There’s reason to like the Cardinals because of that– they certainly fought hard in a loss to the Falcons on Sunday (and Watt snagged the only Arizona sack). Yet, the 49ers are still lightyears more talented than the Cardinals at this point.

I just wouldn’t touch this game. 

Ravens at Bengals (-6.5), Total: 42.5

Where I set the line: Bengals -7, Total: 44

This is lined like Lamar Jackson won’t play so we’ll treat it as such. The Bengals are big favorites at home against the Ravens in Week 18 and the winner takes the AFC North if and only if the Bengals lose tonight against the Bills. If Cincinnati wins tonight, they earn the AFC North crown. If the Bengals win on Monday night, Baltimore will have little motivation to seek a win in Week 18. They’re locked into the sixth seed right now and really the only difference will be who they face in the wildcard round. As the No. 6 seed, they’d face the No. 3 seed Bengals (in the jungle), if it all ended right now.

Although winning in Week 18 would mean they could eclipse the Chargers for the fifth spot if LAC loses to the Broncos on Sunday, Jan. 8. Since there are so many ifs and unknowns, my advice is to wait until after Monday night if you’re leaning on Baltimore. The Bengals are short underdogs (+1.5) tonight against Buffalo, which feels like a crime with the way they’ve been playing for the past two months. They’ve won seven straight games, and they’re scoring 29 ppg along that span. They’re even more prolific at home (31 ppg in their last three home games). 

If the Bengals end up winning tonight, there’s still not a ton of value on the Ravens as 6.5-point underdogs. That’s because if Cincinnati wins, they can still compete for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. If they beat the Bills tonight, then beat the Ravens and the Chiefs lose to the Raiders in Week 18, the No. 1 seed belongs to Joe Burrow and his team.

Since all scenarios favor a more motivated Bengals team at home against the Ravens without Jackson, the right side is probably Cincinnati. Since Jackson went down to a knee injury, the Ravens are averaging a pitiful 11.8 ppg. Good luck keeping up with Burrow and the Bengals in the jungle.

Giants at Eagles (-13.5), Total: 42.5

Where I set the line: Doesn’t Matter

If I knew the Giants would care about this game, I would bet on them, but I do not. Therefore, this isn’t a game I can set a line for or wager on.  

The Giants are playing some of their most efficient football in the last few weeks. They’re averaging 28.3 ppg in their last three contests and their defense has been more formidable. Giants’ defenders are flying to the ball, contesting passes, while their defensive line is getting to the quarterback more and more. Kayvon Thibodeaux, their first-round draft pick last offseason, has provided a spark along their front.

In his last three games, he’s produced 23 tackles, five tackles for a loss and two sacks. The Giants may not have the talent or ceiling of other more elite NFC teams, but they rarely go down easy. It makes sense Giants coach Brian Daboll should be considered among the favorites to win coach of the year and would let his starters rest in Week 18.

The Eagles beat the Giants 48-22 in Week 14, and there’s reason to believe they’ll do the same on Sunday. After one of their worst performances of the season, a clunky 20-10 loss to the Saints, Philadelphia can still secure the No. 1 seed and NFC East with a win in Week 18. I’m sure they’ll do it, but I can’t bet on them to cover a huge line like this. It’s still two NFC East rivals, and the Giants would love to spoil the party.

Lions at Packers (-4.5), Total: 48.5

Where I set the line: Packers -3.5, 49

I show value on the Lions in this contest, but I’m not sure I’ll bet on it. Let me explain. 

I talked about it in my Week 16 To Fade or Not Piece, and it holds even more true now: the Green Bay Packers are a dangerous team if they make the playoffs. After their Week 17 annihilation of the Vikings at home, I imagine few are debating the accuracy of that statement now. Pound for pound, Green Bay is as talented as any team in the NFC. They deserve to be favorites at home in this win-and-in game. 

The Lions took care of business on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make the postseason. Detroit needs to beat the Packers, and they need the Seattle Seahawks to lose at home against the Rams. The latter part of that equation doesn’t feel probable. 

The Packers have won four straight games by an average margin of 13 points. Their defense, special teams and offense are functioning at a high level. Aaron Rodgers and his supporting cast are playing with confidence and renewed energy. While at the end of the day, the Lions’ defense just isn’t good. 

There’s a chance this game ends on a field goal. So it may be worth betting on both sides to hedge your bets. I’d consider betting on the Lions to keep it close and then betting on the Packers’ money line (-210) as a hedge. You may not have to pay so rich a price if this line ebbs and flows throughout the week, so pay attention and see if you can get better value on both sides.

 

Patriots at Bills (-7.5), Total: 42.5

Where I set the line: Bills -7, Total: 44

The playoff implications of this game are straightforward for the Bills. Things are as simple for the Patriots. Buffalo needs to win on Monday night against the Bengals and next week against the Patriots to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth with a win at the Bills on Sunday or a Dolphins loss vs. the Jets and a Steelers loss vs. the Browns. Either way, both teams will be motivated in this huge AFC East showdown.

In their first matchup, the Bills imposed their win on defense, allowing New England to gain only 242 total yards and 10 points at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots’ offense has looked better recently, but they’ll need to be at their best to overcome a speedy, hard-hitting Bills front seven. 

The Bills play tonight on Monday Night Football. If they lose again in Week 18, they could fall as low as the No. 3 seed in the AFC. Buffalo is by far the better team, they’re at home and they’ll be motivated to win. At first glance, they make a great teaser leg next Sunday.

Chargers at Broncos (+3), Total: 40

Where I set the line: Broncos +3.5, Total: 42

It makes sense the Chargers will want to win this game. If they do win, they’d retain the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and go on to face the winner of the Jaguars and Titans. If I’m the Chargers, I’d rather face the Jaguars or Titans than the Chiefs, Bills or Bengals. If they lose and the Ravens win, they fall to the No. 6 seed, and they’d have to face one of those elite squads.

In short, I don’t know how to bet on this game.

The Broncos played valiantly in a loss on Sunday, giving the Kansas City Chiefs everything they could handle at Arrowhead Stadium. Russell Wilson had one of his more productive games of the season (26/38, 222 yards, ran for two touchdowns), and their defense limited the Chiefs’ explosive offense all game. If Denver wants to play spoiler, they could be feisty at home behind a stingy defense. 

Then again, the Chargers deserve to be at least three-point favorites. Justin Herbert and the Bolts are quietly ascending at the end of their season. They’ve won four straight games by an average margin of over 10 points per contest and their defense hasn’t let a team come close to 20 points in that span. This is another team to watch out for and I wouldn’t be surprised if they easily won and covered in Week 18.

For now, there’s nothing I want to wager on.

Rams at Seahawks (-6.5), Total: 41

Where I set the line: Seahawks -6, 43

The Seahawks need to win in Week 18, and they need the Packers to lose to reach the playoffs. Needless to say, everyone in the Pacific Northwest will be big Detroit Lions fans next Sunday.

The Seahawks were impressive in their Week 17 win against the New York Jets. The Jets came into that game with a top-five defense with playoff dreams on their minds, but that didn’t matter. Geno Smith and a struggling Seahawks’ offense asserted themselves early, marching right down the field and putting up 17 points on their first three possessions. The Jets, led by Mike White, never caught up.

It was a dominant performance from a Seahawks squad that hasn’t looked fluid or productive since the midway point of the season. Once a 6-3 team, Seattle lost five of its last six games before their Week 17 win. On Sunday, they showed why they could still be a threat. They forced the Jets into three turnovers, controlled the game on the ground (198 yards rushing) and held the Jets to only 279 yards. 

The Seahawks eked by the Rams in Week 13 thanks to a late game-winning drive from Smith. Now, back at home against an even weaker Rams team without its stars.

I expect the Seahawks will try and take care of business early. This line is right; no bet for me.

 

Vikings at Bears (+1.5), Total: 46

Where I set the line: Bears -3, Total: 47

Be cautious betting on this game, but it makes sense the Vikings won’t care much in Week 18. As the No. 3 seed, Minnesota is in line to face the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs. New York played them close just two weeks ago in Minneapolis, so maybe they shouldn’t be too confident in that matchup, but it’s probably a better situation than facing the Packers, Lions or Seahawks.

My point is – I think the Vikings may rest their starters. 

If that happens, and only if that happens, there’s immediate value on the Chicago Bears. The Bears fight hard in every game, and Justin Fields, who was limited in Week 17 and still ran for 132 yards, has an opportunity to show out one more time for his team.

My handicap is based on a skeletal version of the Vikings. I think it makes sense to bet small on Chicago now.

Panthers at Saints (-3.5), Total: 41.5

Where I set the line: Doesn’t Matter

I would absolutely not wager on this game. Two proud teams, sure, but it’s lined like it’s a regular season game with no immediate implications. The Saints deserve some value at home after two big wins, but the Panthers are one of those teams that’s hard to fade. They play hard, their defense is formidable and if their run game has momentum, they’re tough to stop.

No play for me here – a sad ending for these two hopeful teams.

Texans at Colts (-2.5), Total: 38

Where I set the line: Doesn’t Matter x 1000

Do anything else; do not bet on this game. Seriously. Two of the worst teams in the NFL clash in the final week, and they’ll both have plenty to correct in another long offseason. Everything about this line is nebulous. 

Jets at Dolphins (-2.5), Total: 39.5

Where I set the line: -3, 44

Let’s end our final regular season “Between the Lines” with a play!

The Dolphins have a straightforward path to the AFC Playoffs. They need to win, and they need the Patriots to lose to the Bills on Sunday. Buffalo will be motivated, as we covered in our write-up of their Week 18 matchup above, so this scenario is plausible. I think Miami will indeed make the playoffs, and I think they might do it in an exciting fashion. Tua Tagovailoa may not play for the rest of the season, but he already stated he’ll be ready if they make the playoffs.

While the Jets surely want him to play on Sunday against their division foe, I’m not sure that will matter.

The Jets looked lifeless for long stretches of their game against the Seahawks on Sunday, failing to match Seattle’s energy and intensity. I think we could see the same situation in this contest. Mike McDaniel and the Dolphins fell to the Patriots Sunday, their fifth straight loss. Teddy Bridgewater was also injured in that game, leaving Skylar Thompson to take under center once again.

While that’s disappointing, there’s reason to believe the Dolphins can outlast and overwhelm the Jets in Week 18. 

Firstly, this is a revenge game. The Jets took full advantage of the Dolphins’ injury woes way back in Week 5, defeating the Dolphins 40-17 at home. Although, we know how these games in South Florida can go late in the season. While the Jets have been adjusting to the bitter cold of a Northeast winter, Miami might eclipse 80 degrees on Sunday. That could mean sideline temperatures that feel like 100 degrees on the Jets’ sideline, which could be a terror to compete through for a team that has nothing left to play for.

Lastly, McDaniel has proven even in his first year of coaching he’s one of the most innovative offensive minds in the NFL. I think McDaniel and the Dolphins pull out all the stops in this game, no matter who plays at quarterback, and the Dolphins secure a win for their playoff hopes. Their defense plays hard, even if it’s not quite elite, and the Jets are still greatly limited on offense. This is a short line for a team that will be ultra-motivated on their home turf. I suggest taking the Dolphins to cover.

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