Betting NFL Week 18: How Motivated Will Each Team Be?

Week 18 is different from any other week in the NFL since many teams already have been eliminated from playoff contention. On the other hand, the final week of the regular season always presents a few games with do-or-die playoff implications. Finally, some teams may seem like they shouldn’t care about the final week of the NFL season, but they do for other ancillary reasons. To sift through this motivational mess, the below rankings can help you decide which teams are worth betting on and which teams you should avoid altogether in Week 18.

Remember, motivation alone is never a reason to bet on or bet against a team. The marriage partner of motivation is pressure, and not all franchises are equipped with experienced leaders on/off the field to handle it. When handicapping motivation, evaluate the team’s ability to thrive in big moments and under high stress. That’s what will make the difference in the end, not whether those teams are motivated or not.

Highly Motivated Teams

Chiefs (-9): The Chiefs can put themselves in position to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win in Week 18, although some aspects of that designation have changed due to the NFL’s scheduling news following the Bills/Bengals game. Regardless, the chance for Kansas City to gain a bye-week and home-field advantage is something they will take very seriously. After all, home-field advantage at Arrowhead served KC well in the past. In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, they were the No. 1 seed and found themselves in the Super Bowl. Motivation ranking: 10/10

Steelers (-2.5): The Steelers have more than a playoff berth to motivate them Sunday. At 8-8, Pittsburgh can give Mike Tomlin yet another winning season. It would be his 16th straight, further cementing his legacy of one of the best coaches in the NFL. In order to qualify for the postseason, the Steelers need to defeat the Browns, the Dolphins to lose to the Jets and the Patriots to lose at Buffalo. Would anyone be surprised if Pittsburgh ended up earning the final spot? I wouldn’t. Motivation ranking: 10/10

Jaguars (-6.5): The Jaguars could complete one of the biggest turnaround seasons ever, just one year after a terrible 3-14 season led by coach Urban Meyer and interim coach Darrell Bevell if they win Saturday night. A win against their divisional foe, the Tennessee Titans, secures the AFC South crown and the No. 4 seed in the AFC. Since the Titans still will be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill and their defense isn’t close to 100% healthy, the Jaguars are deserving 6.5-point favorites at home. Motivation ranking: 10/10

Packers (-4.5): The Packers’ playoff chances are more straightforward. No matter what, Green Bay makes the postseason if it wins a revenge game against the Detroit Lions. Accumulating momentum from their four-game win streak, the Packers’ motivation shouldn’t wane. Motivation Ranking: 10/10

Patriots (+7): The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth with a win at the Bills on Sunday or a Dolphins loss vs. Jets and a Steelers loss vs. Browns. That should create an extremely desperate situation for Bill Belichick and his team. Win, and you’re in, period. This is also a revenge game for the Patriots, who lost 24-10 on Thursday Night Football to the Bills earlier this season.

Unfortunately, Buffalo is the better team, but after the events on Monday night, it’s hard to assess how present they’ll be. New England’s chances of getting in should mean they’re still hyper-focused on their opponent Sunday. Motivation Ranking: 9/10

Eagles (-14): All the Eagles need to do is win, and they secure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs. It’s that simple. While it’s not quite as desperate as a win-or-go-home type scenario, it’s the ultimate opportunity to claim a leveraged position in the postseason. Motivation ranking: 9/10

Lions (+4.5): The Detroit Lions have won five of their past seven games and, astoundingly, they could earn a spot in the NFC playoffs. They need to win at Green Bay on Sunday night, the final contest of the NFL regular season, and they need the Seahawks to lose to the Rams. This creates a dicey situation. The Seahawks and Rams play earlier in the day, so the Lions will be fully aware of their situation before kickoff.

If the Rams lose (and the sportsbooks think they will; they’re 6.5-point underdogs), how motivated will Detroit be? Temperatures will be well-below freezing when the Lions and Packers clash, and the Packers will be motivated to win and make the playoffs. Since we don’t know what Detroit’s situation will be, we can’t be sure if they’ll show up motivated in Wisconsin. Motivation Ranking: 8/10

Titans (+6.5): The Titans will battle the Jaguars, the same team that bested them 36-22 four weeks ago, in an effort to win the AFC South. The likelihood of that happening looks bleak. Tennessee is on the road, they’re without their franchise quarterback, they’re banged up in the trenches, and their defense has allowed 27 points per game in their previous five contests. They’ll be motivated, but that could wane quickly if Jacksonville comes out with fiery energy. Motivation ranking: 8/10

49ers (-14): The 49ers have won nine straight games, and they can clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a win and an Eagles loss. The Cardinals are playing like one of the worst teams in the NFL, so hopefully, the 49ers don’t fall asleep at the wheel because of it. The reality of Philadelphia losing to the New York Giants, who might also rest some starters, is more reason to ponder if San Francisco could be less inclined to pour it on their rival. Motivation Ranking: 7/10


Kinda-Sorta Motivated Teams

Rams (+6): I think the Rams might beat the Seahawks in Week 18, and the biggest reason is motivation. We’ve seen a more competitive Rams squad since Baker Mayfield showed up, and they almost beat the Seahawks back in Week 13 with John Wolford behind center. If Los Angeles wins, it would knock Seattle out of playoff contention. I’m not sure if there would be a better ending for Sean McVay and his team after such a disappointing season. Motivation Ranking: 7/10

Jets (-1.5): The New York Jets can no longer make the playoffs, but they can spoil the Dolphins’ chances of getting there. That might be all the motivation they need, especially since their defense likely will face a struggling rookie quarterback. The Jets have shown a lot of spirit and pride throughout this season, and they nearly qualified for the postseason themselves. After getting eliminated last week in Seattle, I think they respond. Motivation Ranking: 6/10

Broncos (-2.5): The Broncos are slight favorites at home in the season finale against their divisional foe, the Los Angeles Chargers. Denver played well last week against the Chiefs, another AFC West rival, in a game where Russell Wilson had one of his better performances of the season. I think Denver wants to go out with positive vibes despite missing the postseason, and the Chargers might not care much for this game. Los Angeles clinches the No. 5 seed with a Ravens’ loss, which is plausible considering they’re facing the white-hot Bengals on the road. I think Denver takes advantage and looks better than usual at home. Motivational Ranking: 6/10

Chargers (+2.5): The Chargers clinch the No. 5 seed in the AFC Playoffs by either winning this game or a Ravens’ loss earlier in the day. As mentioned above, the latter is probable. That creates a situation where the Chargers’ motivation could dwindle right before kickoff, and I’d suspect Chargers’ coach Brandon Staley will elect to rest his starters. If the Ravens win, the Chargers will be motivated to secure the fifth spot. After all, falling down to the sixth seed would mean LAC has to oppose Buffalo, KC or Cincinnati in the first round. That’s a scenario worth avoiding. Motivation Ranking: 5/10

Cowboys (-7): The Cowboys can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs with a win Sunday, an Eagles loss to the Giants, and a 49ers’ loss to the Cardinals. The problem is that’s not likely. Dallas was a touchdown favorite against the Commanders when this line first came out. Now it’s down to -4. As unpredictable as any NFL game can be, I expect the Eagles and 49ers – the top two NFC teams according to my power ratings – to take care of business against weaker opponents Sunday. So while the Cowboys might want to end their season on a high, I could see them mailing this one in and giving the reserves some playing time in Week 18. Motivation Ranking: 5/10

Cardinals (+14): The Cardinals may be feisty on Sunday, and for me, that’s all about J.J. Watt. Watt announced his impending retirement a week ago, informing fans that it’s the final season for the 10-year veteran. He was the only player to earn a sack for the Cardinals last week, and they were competitive in their three most recent losses almost solely because of their defense. I think Watt has been a big part of that. Playing against a seemingly unstoppable divisional foe in the 49ers, I think Arizona cares more than most non-playoff teams this weekend. Motivation Ranking: 5/10

Vikings (-7): The Vikings are in a weird spot. Minnesota has little to gain in Week 18. Right now, they’re in line to face the New York Giants, a team they already beat, in the Wild-card round. They can secure that match-up with a loss. The Giants played them closely a few weeks ago, but they’re still an ideal matchup for Minnesota. This line has moved from Vikings -1.5 to Vikings -7 throughout the week, but most of that is because Justin Fields won’t be playing for the Bears. Whether it happens later in the game or not, I’m not sure Minnesota will care much for this result. Motivation Ranking: 5/10

Falcons (-4): The Falcons don’t have anything to play for, but Desmond Ridder continues to take reps as their new quarterback. Plus, I’m sure they’d love to knock off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Many of their players are competing for roles on the team next year, too. Motivation ranking: 5/10

Commanders (+7): The Commanders were eliminated from NFC playoff contention after their loss and Green Bay’s win in Week 17. Sam Howell is expected to start at quarterback, but I’m not sure if there’s much of a difference at this point. The Commanders and Cowboys are one of the most storied rivalries in football, so that might create some minor motivation for the home team. That aside, I doubt their players will want to risk injury or worse in a game that doesn’t matter much. Motivation Ranking: 4/10

Bears (+7.5): I thought the Bears would be live dogs Sunday, but then they announced Trevor Siemian is starting at quarterback. Gross. Without Fields to break the single-season quarterback rushing record, I’m not sure the Bears will care much about this game. It’s another divisional matchup, so that’s worth some value. Motivation Ranking: 4/10

Ravens (+7): Since we don’t know the situation with the Bills/Bengals game yet, it’s hard to make any assumptions about this AFC North rematch. If the Bengals and Bills game is canceled, the Ravens would automatically lose the AFC North, which would reduce their motivation to play hard in this contest. If that’s not announced, Baltimore will be motivated to beat their rival. The reality is this game probably won’t matter much to John Harbaugh’s team. Motivation Ranking: 4/10

Browns (+2.5): The Browns have an opportunity to spoil their divisional foe’s chances of making the playoffs – that alone is pretty good motivation. Plus, Deshaun Watson clearly isn’t himself yet. One of the more talented rosters in football might have more energy left in the tank than pundits recognize. Their upset victory vs. the Commanders in Week 17 suggests as much. I like the Steelers to win and cover in Week 18, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see a feisty, contentious Browns team battle until the end. Motivation Ranking: 4/10


Not-So-Motivated Teams

Raiders (+9): The Raiders are out of the playoffs, they’ve benched their franchise quarterback, and last week they lost by blowing their ninth double-digit second-half lead this season. That’s a record. Forgive me if I don’t have any more faith in Las Vegas, but I think they mail this game in and go home, where more positivity no doubt awaits. They do face their rival at home, so perhaps there’s a modicum of excitement in that regard. Motivation Ranking: 3/10

Giants (+14): Regardless of Week 18’s outcome, the Giants will remain the No. 6 seed in the NFC Playoffs. The Eagles, who can secure the top seed with a win on Sunday, will be ultra-motivated at home. I’m not sure why Brian Daboll would want to risk injury or show the Giants’ schemes against an Eagles team they could meet again if the Giants find a way to win in the first round. I imagine they’ll have little motivation to stay competitive. Motivation Ranking: 2/10

Bucs (+4): The Bucs are the NFC South champions, finally, and I’m sure they’ll be happy to rest most if not all of their starters this week before the playoffs. They’re underdogs against the worst team in the division – the Falcons – for a reason. Motivation ranking: 2/10

Panthers (+3.5), Saints (-2.5), Texans (+2.5), Colts (-2.5): Every game is a divisional game in Week 18, but it’s hard to find any reason why these teams would be motivated the final week. Like any team, they have a roster of talent that would love to show off, but that doesn’t mean there’s any true motivation to consider. Motivation ranking: 1/10

Cincinnati, Buffalo

Bengals (-7): Considering the mental impact of what transpired Monday night – every one of those players experienced trauma – it’s also hard to speculate on where their heads will be in Week 18. The Bengals are clearly a buttoned up organization, with first-class leadership from Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out on fire.

Bills (-7): Considering Damar Hamlin’s terrifying injury on Monday Night Football, it would be completely understandable if the Bills weren’t quite themselves on Sunday. Their players are recovering from a traumatic experience, and every player is entitled to as much time and as many methods they need to heal. Based on Josh Allen and Sean McDermott’s comments yesterday, the good news on Hamlin and the call-to-action from Hamlin’s father adds even more inspiration for a Bills team that’s been hyper-focused on a title this season.

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