We have a love/hate relationship with the last week of the NFL regular season here in the Tuley’s Takes home office. We love it because it concludes the handicapping contests I cover all year as I race to get the scoop with the first interview with the champions, but I hate it because there are so many games that have lines skewed by teams in must-win situations and games in which playoff-bound teams are resting starters or other teams playing out the string.
We didn’t have those worries last week, and even though favorites ended up going 12-4 SU (the Browns closed as short favorites) and 8-7-1 ATS, we were able to find enough live dogs to go 3-2 ATS on the VSiN NFL Best Bets page in Point Spread Weekly and 5-3 ATS with our plays overall as we nailed the four outright upsets with the Raiders, Bengals and Cardinals and Steelers.
Two-team, 6-points teasers were hit-and-miss as the Colts, Chargers and Seahawks were the only true “Wong teasers” that captured both the key numbers of 3 and 7. And the Colts failed while the Chargers and Seahawks hit – though they didn’t need the points as they both easily covered their spreads. Some people surely used borderline teasers like the Bears (winner), Rams (push if teased down to -1) and Cowboys (loser), so hopefully you made the right calls. Unfortunately, I did lose a teaser play on “Monday Night Football” that I added in the daily version of “Tuley’s Takes” at VSiN.com as I advised to go with Browns + 8/Under 48 when the Steelers were favored on Sunday night/Monday morning. We nearly cashed along with an earlier Steelers + 3 bet, but that’s one middle that got away.
Anyway, let’s get to the full NFL Week 18 card from my dog-or-pass point of view, though I’m going to pass on more games than usual because of the circumstances mentioned above. Per usual, even if I don’t have a strong opinion on a game, I’ll give my pool-play strategy for those in contests that require picking every game. Otherwise, Sunday will mostly be spent reporting on — and living vicariously through — the contestants going for the big bucks!
Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) at Denver Broncos
This game was moved up to Saturday afternoon. The Chiefs still have AFC playoff seeding to play for while the Broncos are playing out the string. That has caused this line to be overinflated over a touchdown as the Chiefs were 8.5-point home favorites when they grinded out at 22-9 win in Week 13. If Teddy Bridgewater was starting for the Broncos, I would be all over that, but I made the mistake of going with the Broncos last week with Drew Lock starting and I won’t do that again.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Chiefs 55/45 in ATS contests and all SU pools).
Dallas Cowboys (-7) at Philadelphia Eagles
Here’s another game moved to Saturday when there were more appealing options. The Cowboys slipped to the No. 4 seed in the NFC with their 25-22 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. They would like to improve their position but also might rest starters. The Eagles are unplayable as they’re locking into a wild-card berth and have COVID-19 issues that add to their incentive to rest starters for the playoffs. In a normal week, I would start the “teaser portfolio” discussion here as this looks like a good spot to use the Cowboys teased down to -1 and basically just needing to win the game. I guess I just did start the discussion, but with so many of these lines likely to be bouncing around during the week, I won’t finalize my recommended teasers until later in the week in the “Tuley’s Takes Today” column and in the NFL Best Bets file at VSiN.com.
Best Bet: Pass, except for Cowboys possibly in teasers (pool play: Cowboys 55/45 in ATS contests and all SU pools).
Green Bay Packers (-2) at Detroit Lions
This line has already bounced all over. It was Packers -11 on the advance line last week. Then, after the Packers clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed on Sunday night and it was assumed Aaron Rodgers and several starters would sit out Week 18, several books actually made the Lions around 1.5- to 2-point favorites. However, Rodgers has since said he wants to play, so the line has flipped back to Packers -2 as of Tuesday morning. I put in a couple of teaser plays using the Lions + 8 as I think that’s the best way to play this. The Lions, despite letting us down Sunday at the Seahawks, have been competitive all season (10-6 ATS despite a 3-12-1 SU record) and I can’t imagine them not trying to end the season with a great effort against their divisional rivals. Besides, even if Rodgers plays and builds a double-digit lead, the Lions should still be in position to get a backdoor cover in the second half against the Green Bay backups. Note: if the Packers starters are definitely playing and this line goes up over a touchdown, I would also take the Lions plus the points. Again, check out “Tuley’s Takes Today” and the NFL Best Bets file later in the week.
Best Bet: Lions in teasers if dogs in + 1.5 to + 2.5 range (pool play: Lions 55/45 in ATS contests, but Packers still 80/20 in SU pools).
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5)
Both teams are out of the playoff conversation. consideration. In a game of also-rans like this, I like to go with the Over as we usually don’t see a big effort from the defenses. However, I’m finding it hard to pull the trigger on this one as we remember the Vikings’ ugly 17-9 win in the first meeting in a Week 15 Monday nighter. The Bears are a potential teaser play as we can move them up over a touchdown, though I would prefer if Andy Dalton starts over Justin Fields again this week.
Best Bet: Pass, but Bears possibly in teasers (pool play: Vikings 55/45 in ATS contests — but flip to the Bears if a contest goes to Vikings -3.5 — and around 67/33 in SU pools).
New England Patriots (-6.5) at Miami Dolphins
The pesky Dolphins were finally eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Titans on Sunday. The Patriots are still playing for playoff seeding, so this line is inflated a little bit, but not enough for me to take the underdog.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Patriots 55/45 in ATS contests and 75/25 in SU pools).
Indianapolis Colts (-16) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts need to win this game to clinch an AFC wild-card spot and, of course, every analyst breaking down the playoff scenarios is pretty much writing down a Colts “W” in permanent marker as if it’s a foregone conclusion. But, hey, we’ve seen teams in “must-win” situations like this put in clunkers all the time, and this season is also littered with several previously inconceivable results, including these Jaguars beating the Bills 9-6 in Week 9 as 16-point home underdogs and + 800 on the moneyline. We all know how much the Jaguars suck, but these are still professionals trying to put their best performance on tape for the new coaching staff and they’re not going to just roll over for the Colts. I’m not predicting an outright upset, but don’t forget that the Colts beat the Jaguars only 23-17 as 10.5-point home favorites in Week 10, so we look for a similar spread-covering result here.
Best Bet: Jaguars + 16 (pool play: Jaguars 75/25 in ATS contests, though Colts still at least 90/10 in SU pools).
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-17)
Here’s another huge point spread, but I’m not going to fall for the banana in the tailpipe. Yes, this line is inflated with the Bills having clinched an AFC wild-card spot but still needing a win to clinch the AFC East title over the Patriots. Now, it’s a little tempting to take the Jets with all these points after they covered against the Pats on Sunday and should have upset them outright, but the Bills have shown the ability to run up the score on lesser foes — including a 45-17 domination of the Jets as 13-point favorites in Week 10.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Jets 55/45 in ATS contest on principle, but Bills in all SU pools).
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8)
The Buccaneers can’t get the NFC’s No. 1 seed and first-round bye, but coach Bruce Arians is saying all the right things about playing his starters in this game to stay sharp for the playoffs and possibly get the No. 2 seed if the Rams lose to the 49ers. While it’s a little tempting to take the Panthers plus the points, I was certainly glad I passed on the Panthers last week as they should have covered against the Saints and let it slip away. I’m also discouraged by the fact the Bucs just whipped the Panthers 32-6 in Week 16. But the play I love is the Buccaneers in 6-point teasers as we can move them down to just -2 if this line stays at 8 (or -1.5 if it dips to 7.5).
Best Bet: Buccaneers in teasers (pool play: Buccaneers 55/45 in ATS contests and at least 90/10 in SU pools).
Tennessee Titans (-10.5) at Houston Texans
The Chiefs’ loss to the Bengals on Sunday moved the Titans back into the AFC’s No. 1 seed, which they can wrap up by beating the Texans on Sunday. Again, most people are expecting this to be a cakewalk, but give me the inflated points with the Texans. Once considered the worst team in the league with Davis Mills at QB, they’ve been surprisingly competitive down the stretch. When most people expected them to be tanking for a higher draft pick, they’ve beaten the Jaguars and Chargers in recent weeks. And don’t forget they actually beat the Titans 22-13 as 10-point road underdogs in Week 10, so they have the blueprint for success. Again, I’m not calling for another outright upset, but I definitely believe they can stay within single digits at home.
Best Bet: Texans + 10.5 (pool play: Texans 67/33 in ATS contests, but Titans at least 80/20 in SU pools).
Washington Football Team (-6.5) at New York Giants
I mentioned above that I like to bet Overs in games between teams playing out the string, but even with this total set low at 38.5, I can’t see myself betting it despite Washington having won a 30-29 shootout in the first meeting. The Washington offense has shriveled up as it hasn’t scored more than 20 points in six straight games while the Giants – regardless of who’s been playing QB – have topped 20 just once (at the Chargers in Week 14) in their last seven games.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Football Team 55/45 in ATS contests and around 75/25 in SU pools).
New Orleans Saints (-4.5) at Atlanta Falcons
The Saints can clinch an NFC wild-card berth if they beat the Falcons and the 49ers lose to the Rams, so the NFL moved this game to a later 4:25 p.m. ET start so the games take place at the same time. The Falcons had been hanging around in the wild-card race until Sunday’s 29-15 loss at the Bills, but we were able to cash on them at + 14.5 and are taking them here + 4.5, though we were hoping to be getting a few bonus points with the Saints in a must-win spot. Regardless, the Falcons beat the Saints 27-25 as 6.5-point road dogs in Week 9, so we expect another close game and actually like the Falcons to pull the upset again.
Best Bet: Falcons + 4.5 (pool play: Falcons 67/33 in ATS contests and we’ll also go 55/45 in SU pools).
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-5)
The Steelers kept their slim playoff hopes alive with their win over the Browns on Monday night. Both teams need to win to have any chance at the playoffs, though the winner would still need a lot of help — most notably needing the Jaguars to beat the Colts. But we certainly expect top efforts from both teams even if it was just rivalry bragging rights on the line. Most books still had this game off the board as of this writing on Tuesday morning as Lamar Jackson’s status is uncertain, but those that had it were around Ravens -5. We saw the pride come through for the Steelers in Ben Roethlisberger’s last home game and we expect them to at least cover in a close game if not pull the upset. We also like that the Steelers won the earlier meeting 20-19 as 4-point home dogs in Week 13, when the Ravens went for a two-point conversion and the win but failed. The Steelers are the value play at anything more than a field goal.
Best Bet: Steelers + 5 or anything above 3 (pool play: Steelers 60/40 in ATS contests though Ravens around 55/45 in SU pools).
Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) at Cleveland Browns
This line has been bouncing around as the Bengals clinched the AFC North with their win over the Chiefs on Sunday. Most books actually opened the Browns as short home favorites, but with the Bengals still having a chance at a higher playoff seed and with Baker Mayfield having shoulder surgery and being replaced by Case Keenum, the line has flipped back to the Bengals as small favorites. Many will argue that the Browns offense is better with Keenum, and I wouldn’t argue against that, so I like the Browns in teasers if the line stays in this neighborhood.
Best Bet: Pass, except Browns possibly in teasers (pool play: Browns 55/45 in ATS contests though Bengals still 67/33 in SU pools).
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-6.5)
The Cardinals are in the playoffs and still have a chance to win the NFC West if the Rams lose to the 49ers. They’re going to be a popular teaser play even though they’re not in the “Wong Teaser” zone of -7.5 to -8.5 as they would just need to win outright. This line isn’t inflated enough for me to consider the Seahawks as underdogs, especially as the Cards beat them 23-13 in Seattle in Week 11 after closing as 4.5-point dogs with Colt McCoy at QB.
Best Bet: Pass, except for Cardinals possibly in teasers (pool play: Cardinals 55/45 in ATS contests and closer to 80/20 in SU pools).
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-4.5)
The Rams are currently the NFC’s No. 2 seed, but they still haven’t clinched the NFC West, so they still need to win this game or the Cardinals could take it. Meanwhile, the 49ers need a win to get a wild-card spot. I’ll take the points with the 49ers, though I prefer if Jimmy Garoppolo gets the start over rookie Trey Lance, especially after the 49ers routed the Rams 31-10 in their first meeting in Week 10 as 3.5-point home underdogs. It sure seems like this number should be higher with the Rams at 12-4 and the 49ers at 9-7 and with the Rams at home, but I think it’s the oddsmakers telling us that the Rams aren’t that much better overall.
Best Bet: 49ers + 4.5, preferably with Garoppolo (pool play: 49ers 60/40 in ATS contests, but 49ers still 60/40 in SU pools.
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) at Las Vegas Raiders
This game was flexed to the Sunday night regular-season finale as it’s expected to be winner-take-all for the last AFC playoff spot. A tie could come into play, but not unless the Colts lose to the Jaguars. For most of the season, the Chargers have been considered the better team and won the Week 4 meeting 28-14. But they’re both 9-7 and this finale is pretty much a coin flip. In fact, as great as Justin Herbert has looked at times in his first two seasons, I actually trust Derek Carr more in a close game if needing a tying or winning drive. Neither team should dominate and this looks like it will come down to the end. And hey, if it ends up that a tie is beneficial to one or both of these teams, it would certainly feel better to have points in your pocket.
Best Bet: Raiders + 3 (pool play: Raiders 60/40 in ATS contests — higher at 3.5, lower at 2.5 — and I’ll also go 55/45 in SU pools).
One last time, please check my daily “Tuley’s Takes Today” column and the NFL Best Bets file later in the week at VSiN.com in case we have any updates as these Week 18 lines are especially volatile.