During the NFL season, Stadium sports betting analyst Nate Jacobson will break down every single point spread using lines as of Friday morning. Here are his thoughts on the Week 18 slate.
Note: Nate will discuss all of his college football and NFL bets on the Sharp Lessons podcast that drops every Wednesday and Friday. Subscribe on Spotify and Apple for episodes and follow Stadium Bets on Twitter for more sports betting content.
Games That Matter for Both Teams
Cowboys (-5) at Eagles: It might be misleading to place this game in this section because it only matters for seeding. The Cowboys clinched the NFC East in Week 16 and their loss to the Cardinals in Week 17 dropped them to the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff picture. The Eagles clinched a playoff spot on Sunday, and they’ll either be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed.
The line for this game moved from Cowboys -2.5 to -7 on Monday because of a round of positive COVID tests for the Eagles. Philadelphia took come money on Thursday and it’s down to Dallas -5. Because this game is being played on Saturday, the Cowboys can put pressure on the Rams and Buccaneers, who both play on Sunday, in terms of seeding. I would expect the Eagles to rest players because there isn’t much of a difference between the 6- and 7-seed. I’m staying away with uncertainty about this game.
Steelers at Ravens (-5): Both teams are on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture and need a win in this spot — as well as a lot of help to make the postseason. Since there is no love lost between these teams, I would expect maximum motivation from these rivals.
My look in this game is toward the Ravens. The Steelers are coming off an emotional victory against the Browns on Monday night in what was likely Ben Roethlisberger’s last home game before he retires. There has been a lot of praise for Roethlisberger’s legacy, but he just had 123 passing yards on 46 attempts and is not playing at a high level at this point in his career.
I’m waiting to see who starts at quarterback for the Ravens before placing a bet. I would rather bet on Tyler Huntley at a shorter number than Lamar Jackson returning from injury at a bigger number. Because of my interest in betting on Huntley, I’m willing to wait until closer to the game and take the lowest point spread possible.
49ers at Rams (-4.5): This is one of two games this week where both teams will be motivated and the playoff scenario is very cut and dry. The Rams would win the NFC West and lock in the No. 2 seed with a win. The 49ers are in the playoffs with a win, and would miss out if they lost and the Saints beat the Falcons in a game being played at the same time.
Kyle Shanahan’s team has gotten the better of Sean McVay the last five meetings, including a 31-10 win in the middle of November, which was a game that sparked San Francisco’s second-half resurgence. The big question in this game is if Jimmy Garoppolo will start with an injured thumb or if rookie Trey Lance will get his second-straight start with the season on the line. It’s another game where I’m willing to wait on the quarterback news before firing.
Chargers (-3) at Raiders: The other high-leverage game in Week 18 is the last game of the regular season on Sunday night. The winner gets in the playoffs, and the loser is out.
I will definitely have a bet on the Chargers in this game. That’s because a lot has gone right for the Raiders in their recent wins. They were a lifeless 6-7 team a few weeks ago and benefitted from opponents having COVID outbreaks and/or facing backup quarterbacks over the last three games. Just two weeks ago, they closed as a home underdog to a Broncos team starting Drew Lock. The Chargers are a better team than the Broncos (largely because of QB Justin Herbert), and I believe this is a cheap opportunity to bet against a team that has caught a lot of breaks this winter.
Games That Matter for One Team
Chiefs (-11) at Broncos: The Chiefs could have won the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but they lost to the Bengals and now need to win this week and have the Texans upset the Titans if they want the bye. Because this matchup is a stand-alone game on Saturday, I would expect the Chiefs to be motivated to win and at worst lock up the No. 2 seed. But because this line is inflated, I won’t have a bet on it.
Colts (-15) at Jaguars: The Colts lost to the Raiders in Week 17 to make this game a must-win situation for Indianapolis. They control their own fate, so they still are in a good position as over-two-touchdown favorites. The Jaguars would lock up the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft for the second-straight season with a loss. This game is a stay away.
Titans (-10) at Texans: The Titans are trending upward after their crucial win against the Dolphins in Week 17. Since they were helped by the Bengals defeating the Chiefs, the Titans just need to win to secure the No. 1 seed.
The Texans have shown some life down the stretch, recording back-to-back victories and then staying within the number for most of the game against the 49ers in Week 17. I think this is an opportunity to bet against the team with something to play for because the number is inflated due to the must-win situation for Tennessee. Remember that “must win” doesn’t mean “must cover”, so I’ll be looking to back Houston.
Bengals at Browns (-6): The Bengals’ win in Week 17 clinched the division for Cincinnati and the Browns were officially eliminated from the postseason before they played on Monday night. The Bengals could improve their seeding (they have a slim chance at the No. 1 seed), but a Chiefs win on Saturday would end those hopes before kickoff.
Cleveland opened as a favorite in this game, but it has been all over the place since. The Bengals became a favorite on Tuesday when it was announced Baker Mayfield would miss this game as he gets ready for end-of-season surgery. Then the Browns became a favorite again with the news that QB Joe Burrow wasn’t planning to play. I’m not sure what to make of the current number, so I will stay away.
Patriots (-6.5) at Dolphins: The Patriots are locked into a playoff spot and would need to win AND have the Bills lose as huge favorites to the Jets in order to win the division. The Dolphins had their seven-game win streak snapped last week and were eliminated from postseason contention.
The line for this game has unsurprisingly adjusted from a look-ahead of Patriots -2.5. My strategy for this one is to live bet on the Dolphins if the Bills are in control against the Jets. I can see the Patriots resting starters as the game goes on if they know they won’t win the AFC East. The Dolphins might be a deflated team, but they don’t have their first-round pick for 2022, so there’s no reason for them to lose for better draft capital.
Jets at Bills (-16): The Bills clinch the AFC East with a win, and it’s a pretty easy ask of Buffalo in this favorite role against the Jets.
The Jets have shown some life the last few games, so maybe they’ve improved enough to stay within the number. I just wonder if suffering a tough loss against the Buccaneers last week coupled with players looking forward to the season being over presents a chance for the Bills to roll to a division title.
Panthers at Buccaneers (-8): The Buccaneers are just playing for seeding at this point. They are sitting as the No. 3 seed and would move up to No. 2 with a win and a Rams loss.
This line feels like the Buccaneers will either rest starters or give their backups some solid playing time. Tampa Bay was as high as a 16.5-point favorite on the look-ahead line, so the betting market doesn’t believe Bruce Arians when he says that the starters will play.
Saints (-4) at Falcons: The Saints would nab a playoff spot with a win and 49ers loss, while the Falcons quietly stayed in playoff contention up until last week when they lost to the Bills.
I’m going to stick with my season-long Saints strategy of betting against them as favorites. With an inflated number due to New Orleans’ must-win situation, I expect the Falcons want to play spoiler against a division rival.
Seahawks at Cardinals (-6.5): The Cardinals got back on track for one week with an upset win at the Cowboys in Week 17 to snap a three-game losing streak. They still have a chance of winning the division, but would need a win and a Rams loss.
I see a lot of variance in this game. The Cardinals have thrived on the road this season, especially as underdogs, but have struggled at home. The Seahawks had an inspired effort last week in what could’ve been the last home game of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson partnership. Do they have another big performance in them?
This game could provide another live betting opportunity if the Rams are up big and the Cardinals start resting starters throughout the game. But I expect the 49ers to keep their game close against the Rams, so that might not come to fruition.
Games That Don’t Impact the Playoffs
Packers (-3.5) at Lions: The Packers are headed to the playoffs, but this game doesn’t matter because they clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The look-ahead line was Packers -11 when it was thought that Green Bay would be fighting for seeding. As for the Lions, they’ll either have the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. The only way they would earn the top pick is with a loss and Jaguars win, and because of the unlikeliness of a Jacksonville victory, I would expect Detroit to give a full effort in this game like they have all season under first-year coach Dan Campbell.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about how the Packers will handle this game and if/when they’ll pull starters. I would be somewhat surprised if Aaron Rodgers played a snap in this game, which would basically give him three weeks to rest his injured toe. The Lions are a team I circled to make a live bet on, especially if the Packers get out to a lead and begin to rest players as the game goes on.
Bears at Vikings (-5.5): Two NFC North teams with nothing to play for. Even though the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs last week, it appears they are playing their starters this game and going to give a decent effort. Because of that, the line has jumped up from Vikings -2.5. Let’s see where the line goes from here, but I would stay away from Minnesota because better numbers were available earlier in the week.
Washington (-7) at Giants: Washington plans to play younger players in this game to see what they have for next season, but I would never bet on this version of the Giants after their pathetic showing last week that led to a puzzling rant from Joe Judge. I will not be betting on this game.