Early NFL bets for Week 18
The final week of the regular season has arrived. There is one playoff spot left in each conference and several games with seeding implications in Week 18, but arguably the bigger story is the long list of injuries that happened in Week 17. Several key players were banged up or suffered season-ending maladies. Some teams will rest guys for the playoffs, while others rest guys to preserve one game of wear and tear heading into next season.
What that means is that betting into early lines for Week 18 is tricky. News of who’s in and who’s out will move these lines around, even with what we already know about playoff scenarios and seeding. Getting out in front of the market is always the preferred course of action, but there is a chance this week that you can get burned if a team pulls a switcheroo and does something unexpected. Tread lightly, but try to get that important line value.
Check out the latest NFL odds and NFL betting splits.
Here are three early lines I like for Week 18 (odds from DraftKings at time of post):
It does look like Jalen Hurts will return for the Eagles in Week 18. His MVP case was pretty much proven after Gardner Minshew looked completely lost against the Saints, but the Eagles are torn a bit between looking at the big picture and also making sure that the NFC East and a first-round bye don’t slip away.
Even if Hurts goes, this line is simply too big in my opinion. Don't expect him to run as much as normal, so that impacts how effective he'll be. The Giants will likely rest Daniel Jones for the whole game, but Tyrod Taylor is an extremely experienced backup quarterback who has been around a long time and would seem to be a good fit in the Brian Daboll offense. Mobile quarterbacks are always tricky to prep for and the Eagles defense has had some recent hiccups.
The drop-off from starters to backups in the NFL is significant, but those are guys out there vying for jobs or better situations. They’re highly motivated to go out and play well. Getting about a two-touchdown head start with a well-coached team led by a consummate professional at QB looks like a good bet to me.
Pick: Giants +13.5
In the Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Bowl, we get the Texans and Colts playing out the string to finish off disappointing regular seasons. The level of quit we’ve seen from the Colts the last two weeks has been rather telling, losing by 28 to the Giants and 17 to the Chargers while being outscored 58-13. Blowing a 33-0 lead against the Vikings three weeks ago really felt like the last straw for Indy.
The Texans were rolled by a Jaguars team playing as well as anybody right now, but Houston beat Tennessee and had close losses to the Chiefs and Cowboys in the three games prior. A complete no-show from the Colts is not out of the question to give the Texans a win and possibly ruin their chances at the No. 1 overall pick.
Everything changes for the Colts after this game. Interim head coach Jeff Saturday will probably go back to coaching high schoolers. Owner Jim Irsay and GM Chris Ballard (assuming he isn’t fired) will hope to be able to draft a franchise quarterback and a loss may help leapfrog a couple teams in the order. With Nick Foles hurt, the Colts likely turn back to Sam Ehlinger, who has thrown 14 passes in game conditions since Saturday took over.
The Texans are terrible, but the Colts may be worse right now.
Pick: Texans +2.5
The Buccaneers clinched the NFC South crown last week and have no reason to put Tom Brady at risk against the Falcons. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he plays a couple series like it’s a preseason game, but I’d be shocked if he or any of the wide receivers play significant snaps. The only other player to record a pass attempt for the Bucs this season is Leonard Fournette, so newly-minted hero Blaine Gabbert will get his first action of the season.
This should be a good chance for the Bucs to get a look at Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons at Vanderbilt in 2018-19, as Fournette and Rachaad White should have light days. They can also look down the depth chart at some other receivers, with no or limited reps for Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.
Meanwhile, Atlanta is still looking at Desmond Ridder and the returns remain underwhelming. Ridder has yet to throw a touchdown pass in three starts and his longest passing play is just 26 yards. The Falcons remain a run-first unit, which should keep the clock moving in this game. Atlanta hasn’t scored more than 20 points in the last five games and has done so just once in the last eight. I’m looking for a low-scoring affair here.
Pick: Under 37.5