Another exciting NFL week is here, bringing with it a lot of games with tremendous importance for playoff positioning to end the regular season.
Our VSiN experts -- Adam Burke, Dave Tuley, Will Hill and Matt Youmans, along with Ben Brown of Pro Football Focus -- combine to give their opinions on every Saturday and Sunday game in Week 18.
Note: Lines are from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Thursday night.
Here are our Week 18 best bets:
Sunday, Jan. 9
Green Bay Packers (-3.5, 45) at Detroit Lions
Burke: Aaron Rodgers says that he plans to play in Week 18 and that means he’ll be out there for the Packers. The number of series that the likely MVP plays is still up for some debate, but with the bye week, Rodgers cited a desire to stay sharp and end the season on a high note.
Jared Goff is hoping to do the same, as the Lions QB is trying his best to play. That would send Tim Boyle to the bench, which is an upgrade for Detroit. Focus and effort could be a concern for the Packers defense. The presence of Rodgers on offense should be enough to keep that unit humming, but I’d be concerned that the defense, which has had a lot of injuries and COVID issues throughout the season, will be flying around.
For Week 18, I would definitely consider first-half bets. The second half could be anybody’s guess in some of these games. In this game, we’ll see Rodgers for a while and should see Goff. The total has ticked down to 44.5 in a lot of places. Unfortunately, with the QB uncertainty, we aren’t seeing first-half totals across most of the market. I’ll update this write-up when we do get the first-half totals, but I am looking to play the first-half over.
My thought process here is that Rodgers wants to get into rhythm and stay sharp, so Matt LaFleur will allow him to do that by throwing the ball around a bit early. Goff and the Lions might as well play aggressively as well with nothing to lose in the finale. The full-game over is a smaller play for me, but I’m waiting on a first-half line.
Pick: Over 45; Over 23 1H
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-5.5, 44)
Burke: It seems like a fitting end to the Bears’ season that Justin Fields can’t get one more start under his belt because he tested positive for COVID-19. That means it will be Andy Dalton in the season finale for Chicago and what could very well be the final game of the Matt Nagy era.
The Vikings are reportedly playing all of their starters, as Mike Zimmer tries to prove that he deserves another season as the head coach in Minnesota. This could very well be a game in which both head coaches are fired on Monday.
Player props are a market that you really want to look at here in Week 18. Justin Jefferson’s stands out to me. Jefferson needs 124 yards to surpass Randy Moss’s single-season record of 1,632 yards. That mark has stood since 2003 and Jefferson has the chance to rewrite the record books. His player prop isn’t out yet, but I’ll be looking to bet the over. Kirk Cousins is going to force-feed the ball to Jefferson. He’s going to have a ton of targets in this game while trying to set the record. At least it will be some kind of special moment for the Vikings in what has been a difficult season.
When the line comes out, I’ll edit the document, but I can’t really envision a number crazy enough for me not to bet it.
Pick: Justin Jefferson Receiving Yards Over 94.5
Indianapolis Colts (-15.5, 44) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Tuley: 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 stink, 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.
Now, all of the above is directed more at who is going to win straight-up, but I’m not predicting an outright upset. In our sports-betting world, we just need the Jaguars to stay within two touchdowns to cover this overinflated spread. And don’t forget that the Colts only beat the Jaguars 23-17 as 10.5-point home favorites in Week 10, so we look for a similar spread-covering result here.
Pick: Jaguars + 15.5
Tennessee Titans (-10, 42.5) at Houston Texans
Tuley: 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 against this team. Again, I’m not calling for an outright upset, but I definitely believe the Texans can stay within single digits at home.
Pick: Texans + 10
Washington Football Team (-7, 37.5) at New York Giants
Burke: Washington had higher aspirations for this season, especially coming off of an NFC East Division title, but the Football Team lost Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1 and had execution problems early in the season. After a 2-6 start, Washington reeled off four in a row to have a big game in Week 14 against Dallas, but lost 27-20 and has not won since.
Those four games, however, came against the Cowboys and the Eagles, two teams that have now clinched playoff spots. The Giants are not a playoff team and have never looked like one. Jake Fromm will start the meaningless season finale and there should be plenty of questions about New York’s motivation. The market seems to believe so, given that Washington is favored by a full seven points.
Only one of Washington’s six wins has come by enough points to cover this number, but this should be a situation in which one team is invested and the other isn’t. Taylor Heinicke has incentive to play well to hold onto this starting gig or find another one. This is one last chance to win before the rebrand of the franchise takes place on Feb. 2. Also, Ron Rivera seems way likelier to get his team energized and engaged than Joe Judge. Judge has also badmouthed the D.C. area and refused to talk with Washington media this week.
Maybe that isn’t quite bulletin board material, but Rivera runs a tighter ship than Judge and his players should respond. Washington has a huge edge at the QB position and takes a big step down in class here. It’s a big number and the 6.5 earlier in the week was better than 7 now, but it’s still good enough for a play on Washington.
Pick: Washington -7
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-4, 41.5)
Burke: The path to the playoffs is a lot more visible for the Steelers than the Ravens in Week 18, yet Baltimore is the clear favorite in this game. Ben Roethlisberger looked like a player that is at the end of his career last week. No, I’m not talking about the giant send-off, I’m talking about throwing the ball 46 times for 123 yards. He’s a bad quarterback leading a bad team.
Pittsburgh is 8-7-1, but the Steelers have that record despite being outscored by nearly four points per game and with a negative yards per play differential of -0.6. This is a team averaging fewer than five yards per play. A team that has a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 6.5-9.5 but has somehow, some way remained in the playoff race.
Baltimore needs a multitude of things to go right in this game, including a win. Not only do I believe that the Ravens get that, but I also think they cover the spread. Whether Tyler Huntley plays or Lamar Jackson gets the nod, the Ravens will have the better QB. Baltimore’s biggest issues on defense have been in the secondary, but the Steelers are ill-equipped to take advantage. As bad as the secondary has been, Baltimore is one of five teams to hold opponents to under four yards per carry.
Last week’s big celebration of Ben’s career and contributions has to create an emotional letdown for everybody. John Harbaugh is a top-five head coach in the NFL. His team will be ready, even if the playoffs are a long shot.
Baltimore closed -4 in Pittsburgh a little over a month ago. Now the Ravens are only 5.5-point favorites at home?
Pick: Ravens -5.5
Tuley: 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.
I was willing to take the Steelers + 5 when Point Spread Weekly came out earlier this week, and now with the line up to 6 – and even 6.5 at some books on Thursday afternoon – I like them even more. We saw the pride come through for the
Steelers in 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.
Pick: Steelers + 4
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (-6, 38)
Burke: There is a billboard on I-71 between Cleveland and Cincinnati that reads HELL IS REAL. Hell just might be sitting through this game at FirstEnergy Stadium. It will be a battle of backup quarterbacks (Brandon Allen and Case Keenum) and several key contributors on both sides of the football will be sidelined for the two teams. The weather forecast in Cleveland is also not great, with winds up in the 20 mph range and some rain in the forecast.
How the Browns could be favored by six points over any team after Monday night’s performance is beyond me. Cleveland didn’t have any playoff hopes, but had the chance to ruin Roethlisberger’s big night and a quarterback that went 23-of-46 for 123 yards was actually the better of the two signal-callers. The Browns do turn to Keenum here and maybe that rallies the team and sparks some interest, but I believe the team has checked out.
All of the talk is about who isn’t playing for the Bengals, but the Browns have zero incentive to play banged-up guys like Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, among others. As the week goes along, those guys will probably be announced out as well and this line will swing back towards Cincinnati.
Cleveland has serious issues in the locker room, as players openly criticized Kevin Stefanski’s playcalling on social media and it seems as though Baker Mayfield barely consulted with the team about surgery on the injury he was allowed to play through all season long. Things are not well at the team facility in Berea, which, frankly, is an annual thing in the offseason.
Zac Taylor seems to be creating a culture in Cincinnati, while Stefanski is just creating the same dysfunction Browns fans know all too well. The Bengals have some incentive to take care of their affairs and go into the playoffs on a high note, even if the backups are the ones doing the job. The Browns could very well not show up at all. Even if they do, six points is a lot with a low total, bad weather and bad personnel.
Pick: Bengals + 6
New England Patriots (-6, 39.5) at Miami Dolphins
Youmans: What a strange trip this season has been for the Dolphins, who upset the Patriots 17-16 in Week 1 and then lost seven straight games. Miami bounced back by putting together a seven-game winning streak that was just stopped cold in a 34-3 loss at Tennessee. The Dolphins have defeated a bunch of lightweights and only one team that has clinched a playoff spot — New England. It’s payback time for the Patriots, so look for coach Bill Belichick’s defense to pressure Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa into mistakes. Tagovailoa threw an interception, lost a fumble and was sacked four times by the Titans. The Dolphins might mail it in after getting eliminated from playoff contention. This is only a small bet because I rarely play road favorites and the line is inflated.
Pick: Patriots -6.5
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-16, 41.5)
Burke: The total for the Jets vs. Bills game has been dropping steadily throughout the week. Sustained winds in the 20-25 mph range and gusts in the 30s are likely to have a big impact on Sunday’s game. What has not moved much is the spread, as the Bills are still a three-score favorite.
Buffalo doesn’t really have incentive to win by a huge margin. The Bills just need to win to secure the AFC East and that’s about it. Making a statement against the Jets isn’t exactly going to do much to further this team’s postseason chances or perception. Win and get out healthy.
With the windy conditions, the dropping total and a huge spread, I have no choice but to bet the Jets here. It is scary saying “I have no choice but to bet the Jets” given the long history of futility that the Jets have, but this is a huge number. As long as the Jets can get to double digits, I think they have an excellent chance of covering in this game.
Given the sloppy conditions and what’s at stake in future weeks, it seems pretty reasonable that Josh Allen only plays as long as he needs to in this game. At that point, I would anticipate the Bills to do whatever they can to keep the clock running and start preparing for the Wild Card Round. The Jets should be able to stay within 16 points here.
Pick: Jets + 16
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8, 41.5)
Burke: The Buccaneers can’t really move up and it would take a lot for Tampa Bay to move down with this weekend’s set of games. The Bucs lost to the Rams and beat the Cowboys, so finishing third seems like a foregone conclusion. Bruce Arians may decide to play some of his key guys for a little bit to keep them sharp, but that may even be a bit of a stretch.
That being said, Carolina’s offense is offensive. The Panthers were in what I thought was a decent spot last week against the Saints, but managed only 10 points and didn’t look any better with Sam Darnold running the offense. I don’t really see how Carolina has success scoring points or moving the football against Tampa Bay’s A-team, B-team, C-team or even a group of season ticket holders yanked out of the crowd to line up in Cover-4.
This game has all the makings of an under. The Panthers defense is still a formidable unit and should be again here. I don’t think we see a no-show from Carolina. We’ve just seen a lot of no-shows from the offense because it is bad, not because Matt Rhule is a bad coach or anything like that.
This one definitely looks like a low-scoring, “get in and get out” sort of game.
Pick: Under 41.5
New Orleans Saints (-3.5, 39.5) at Atlanta Falcons
Tuley: 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 I was 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 I expect another close game and actually like the Falcons to pull the upset again.
Pick: Falcons + 3.5
Brown: Taysom Hill failed to go over his rushing yardage prop in his previous two starts, yet now sits at his highest prop number of the 2021 season. Most of this is matchup dependent, as the Atlanta Falcons defense sits 29th in PFF’s opponent-adjusted grades. Atlanta's defense ranks poorly in every facet, but is actually better in run defense than coverage and pass rush, meaning it is most susceptible to getting beat through the air, outside of the coverage of A.J. Terrell. The New Orleans Saints’ may not need to showcase a passing attack in this game to emerge victorious, but on the brink of the playoffs, any future success will go hand in hand with their ability to pass. Atlanta looks like the perfect get-right spot to build off of.
If the Saints’ are successful early on offense, we should see a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in the second half. New Orleans knows it can’t risk another injury to Hill, which would result in another Ian Book start at quarterback. In what could turn into a laugher quickly, expect Hill to be successful enough through the air to not come close to eclipsing his rushing yardage prop again on Sunday.
Pick: Hill under 50.5 Rushing Yards (-115)
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-7, 48)
Burke: A lot of bettors were ready to throw away Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals. Some of them even did last week with the huge line move in Dallas’s favor for what could be a preview of the Wild Card Weekend. This week, the market is back on Arizona against a Seattle team that is going to have a really interesting offseason. The Seahawks have some major questions with Russell Wilson and a defense that lacks any sort of defining feature.
Most books are at 6.5 on this game, while DraftKings has the lone 7 in the marketplace. Arizona will probably be scoreboard watching a little bit here, as the NFC West is still up for grabs. To me, I look at Arizona as a team that has righted the ship. They’ve figured out how to navigate some choppy waters and this is a matchup that they can easily handle.
The Cardinals defense has been a really strong unit over the course of the season, but has been overshadowed by Kyler Murray and some of the big names on offense. This looks like a game where Murray and the offense may not set the world on fire, but the defense should limit most of Seattle’s opportunities, thus leading to a cover.
Pick: Cardinals -6.5
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-4.5, 44.5)
Youmans: It’s risky betting on rookie quarterback Trey Lance, who appears likely to start for the 49ers, but this is really a play on a dog with more motivation. San Francisco needs to win to clinch a playoff spot, yet still could lose and sneak into the field with a New Orleans loss. The Rams clinch the NFC West with a win or an Arizona loss to Seattle. The 49ers won the season’s first meeting 31-10, giving coach Kyle Shanahan five straight wins against Sean McVay and the Rams. Aside from that coaching trend, there’s a quarterback trend working against the Rams as Matthew Stafford has seven turnovers in the past three games. Lance might be more reliable than Stafford at this point.
Pick: 49ers + 4.5
Tuley: 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.
Pick: 49ers + 4.5
Brown: Elijah Mitchell’s return from injury was a rousing success from a box score standpoint, as he eclipsed his rushing yardage prop by 44 yards in Week 17. Things won’t be as easy in Week 18, as Houston ranks second to last in PFF’s opponent-adjusted run defense grade while the Rams are second in the NFL in the same metric. Aaron Donald’s presence is one of the most unwelcome sights to an opposing team’s rushing unit. A limited Garoppolo also doesn’t open up the run game like a healthy Lance is capable of doing, as it allows the defense to closely key on the running back in the backfield.
Mitchell’s usage also wasn’t as noteworthy as his box score stats. He only played 56.3 percent of the offensive snaps and handled 58.3 percent of the team rush attempts last week. He would need to see a significant uptick in both areas in order to come close to this rushing yardage total again given the matchup considerations. If the 49ers fall behind early and are forced to throw themselves back into the game, then Mitchell’s production will come through the air, leaving his rushing yardage total at a painfully low number. Everything is pointing in one direction in this matchup, as this under is one of the best prop values on the board.
Pick: Mitchell Under 65.5 Rushing Yards (-118)
Los Angeles Chargers (-3, 49.5) at Las Vegas Raiders
Youmans: The expected return of tight end Darren Waller should be a big boost to quarterback Derek Carr and a Raiders offense that has been out of rhythm. Since a Thanksgiving Day win at Dallas, the Raiders have scored an average of 16 points in five games without Waller. The Chargers beat the Raiders 28-14 on Oct. 4, when Carr played a clumsy first half. I’m betting on Carr to be much better, with Waller’s help, in the rematch. I bet the Raiders + 3, which I considered the best number on the dog early in the week while expecting the line to close at less than a field goal. On an electric night in Las Vegas with a playoff spot up for grabs, this game should live up to the hype and go down to the wire.
Pick: Raiders + 3
Tuley: 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 they won the earlier meeting 28-14 back in Week 4. However, throughout the ups and downs of the entire season, both teams are on even footing at 9-7 and this finale is pretty much a coin-flip.
As for that earlier meeting, it was a tale of two halves as the Chargers jumped out to a 21-0 lead by halftime but the Raiders pulled within 21-14 in the third quarter and had the ball in L.A. territory with a chance to tie before having to settle for a Dan Carlson 52-yard FG attempt that failed. The Chargers put the game away with an Austin Ekeler TD run, but the final margin is misleading and the Raiders are capable of turning the tables.
In fact, as great as Herbert has looked at times in his first two seasons, I actually trust 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 endgame (hey, and if it ends up that a tie is beneficial to one or both these teams to make the playoffs, it would certainly feel better to have points in your pocket).
Pick: Raiders + 3
Brown: Ekeler’s usage dropped off lately, as nagging injuries and COVID have led to a dip in offensive snaps over the past four weeks, in addition to missing one game. He is coming off a game where he saw the second-lowest number of targets compared to routes run this season. After consistently recording over a 20 percent target rate per route run, he has dipped below that threshold in his past four games.
Las Vegas has a league-average coverage unit, which is the weak point of a defense that ranks 14th in PFF’s opponent-adjusted grades. The issue from Ekeler's perspective is that the Raiders are sound in stopping pass-catching running backs. They have an incredibly high pressure rate, especially for a team that blitzes at the league's lowest rate. This allows them to drop more players into coverage and key off of running backs coming out of the backfield. Their coverage grade moves from 16th to eighth when focused solely on targets to running backs.
With their defense keying on slowing Ekeler, better opportunities should exist for the Chargers' wide receiver unit. Herbert’s ability to take advantage of this situation will be the key to their success on Sunday night. For this reason, Ekeler will be an afterthought in the passing game and should fall short of his receiving yardage prop.
Pick: Ekeler Under 31.5 Receiving Yards (-115)