And so we reach the end. The final week of the longest regular season, 17 games (per team) over 18 weeks. Since this was the first time the NFL has played 17 games, let’s take a look at what difference the extra game made on the playoff picture.
Remember, the extra game was an inter-conference game with all NFC teams being on the road. How would the playoff picture look if these games didn’t happen and each team played 16 games (obvious caveat: these games were sprinkled throughout the season, so all things aren’t necessarily equal, and many alternate timelines could have played out)? The answer is not all that different.
In the NFC, almost nothing would change. Green Bay would have clinched home-field after their Christmas Night win over Cleveland. New Orleans would be in a three-way tie for the final two Wild Card spots with Philadelphia and San Francisco. Philly wouldn’t have clinched a playoff spot but would be in a win-and-in situation at home against Dallas, a team that would really have nothing to play for in this game. Outside of Philly having to actually play to win this week, literally, nothing else would change.
As for the AFC, there would be some differences, but again, nothing massive. New England would be leading the AFC East, and there would be a four-way tie among the division leaders at 10-5. I’m not going to try and figure the tie-breaker scenarios there, but since New England currently has a chance to get home field and Buffalo does not, again, not much really changes. Buffalo would be in a four-way tie with the Colts, Chargers, and Raiders for the three wild card spots. Baltimore would be a game back and have a (very) outside chance of getting in, just like they do now. Pittsburgh would be eliminated from playoff contention, not that they have much of a chance as it is.
So what’s our takeaway from this? The extra game affected the season in no tangible way other than putting more money in the owners’ wallets. Shocking, I know <end sarcasm mode>.
Since the playoff picture wouldn’t be significantly altered without the extra game, can we glean anything about the teams that will be advancing? Among the 18 teams still alive for the playoffs, 12 played their extra game against another playoff contender, and six played a team eliminated from contention.
Of the latter six, only the Chargers and Raiders, ostensibly playing each other this week for the right to advance, lost their extra game. Cincinnati lost to San Francisco, who may not get in. In the six games pitting playoff contenders against each other, NFC teams went 4 – 2 vs. the AFC. The two AFC wins were Kansas City (over Green Bay, without Aaron Rodgers) and Tennessee (over New Orleans, who will need help to get in). The NFC is currently -115 to win the Super Bowl if you’re into futures. With the look of the superior conference, that might be a decent value.
(Standard disclaimer – Week 18 NFL Betting Lines – All opinions are my own and may or may not reflect those of this website. “Analytic Lines” are ELO point spreads from fivethirtyeight.com, and “Vegas Lines” are courtesy of thelines.com, current as of the writing of this article. Predicted Line (“PL”) is my early week estimate of where the Vegas line would be set. Chosen games are those with a multiple point variance between the Vegas and Analytic Lines for the Week 18 NFL Betting Lines.)
Non-Standard Disclaimer – I always say, “Don’t bet games between bad teams.” A corollary to that mantra is “Don’t bet games where neither team has a vested interest in winning.” So this week, we’re only going to pick the games that involve at least one team that needs to win (or tie) to get into the playoffs.
Week 17 Accountability
With seasons on the line, we picked all the games last week and finished… .500. Cue up single-party horn sound effects. I’ll give ELO credit for going 8 – 7 – 1 since it matched the Vegas line on the Arizona/Dallas game. Pretty underwhelming, and now my dream of a 55% regular season is dashed. But fear not, we have the playoffs to look forward to!
Game of the Week – New York Giants at Chicago – This was a layup. The Giants are pathetic. I’m pretty sure that game was the closing credits of the Mike Glennon, Professional Backup Quarterback show.
Atlanta at Buffalo – Denied by the hook! I said I wasn’t comfortable laying 14 and a half. Even more painful that Atlanta covered because of a safety. Just brutal.
Kansas City at Cincinnati – OK, Cincinnati’s beaten a team in playoff position now. So I’ll rescind my “they’re an early playoff bet against” comment from last week, at least until they go on the road.
Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis – Carson Wentz did clear protocol in time. However, the Raiders still covered and won.
Jacksonville at New England – Another layup. I didn’t even consider the Bill Belichick vs. rookie QB angle. Didn’t even need to.
Tampa Bay at New York Jets – Robert Saleh has to be thanking his lucky stars that the Antonio Brown drama has taken all the national attention off the fact that he went for it on fourth down, up by four, passing up a chip shot field goal that would have put them up ny seven with two minutes left. The Jets should have won this game. If you took my advice and layed pizza money on the Jets money line last week, you have every right to be furious. I’ll have to settle for the cover.
Bonus bet: Lay the wood on Tampa this week. Arians will want to wash the taste of “the AB game” out of his mouth, and Carolina gave up weeks ago.
Miami at Tennessee – I bought into the narrative and thought Miami could run the table and get in the playoffs. I was very wrong, maybe if this game had been in Miami, instead of the cold and rain of Nashville, as the Fish looked like they had no interest in being there.
Philadelphia at Washington – Closer than I thought it would be, but a cover is a cover.
Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore – The Rams looked the part of the tired road team, as expected.
Houston at San Francisco – I thought Trey Lance would struggle enough for Houston to keep it close enough to cover. But he actually played pretty well.
Denver at Los Angeles Chargers – I take mental health very seriously, and I very much dislike flippantly using terms that describe mental health-related afflictions. Still, the Chargers are schizophrenic (colloquial). There’s just no other way to describe them.
Arizona at Dallas – I don’t see this game as Arizona getting things going, more as the inevitable unnecessary late-season Mike McCarthy loss. As a Packer fan, I’ve seen way too many of them.
Carolina at New Orleans – Analytic Line: NO (-8), Vegas Line: NO (-6.5), PL: NO (-7.5)
Detroit at Seattle – I wonder if this was a lookahead game for Detroit, thinking they would be able to knock Green Bay out of the one seed next week? Then Dallas (and Kirk Cousins’ COVID test) went and ruined it all for them.
Minnesota at Green Bay – The one loss I’ll blame on COVID this week. Although with Cousins flaunting his anti-vax stance, it was probably inevitable, and I should have seen that coming.
Upset of the Week – Cleveland at Pittsburgh – No way the Steelers were losing Ben’s last home game. Also, no way Baker Mayfield can throw a forward pass.
Last week: My picks, 8 – 8; Analytics, 8 – 7 -1
Season: My picks, 67 – 70 – 1; Analytics, 66 – 70 – 2
Week 18 NFL Betting
Game of the Week
San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams – Analytic Line: LAR (-4.5), Vegas Line: LAR (-4.5), PL: LAR (-4.5)
This is probably the most crucial game of Week 18. The Rams need a win to clinch the NFC West and a first-round home game. The Niners are win-and-in. San Fran won the previous meeting 31 – 10 in OBJ’s Rams debut.
This is a tough matchup for the Rams, as Kyle Shanahan’s wide zone run scheme can neutralize Aaron Donald at the line of scrimmage, and they can scheme Deebo Samuel and George Kittle away from Jalen Ramsey. The Rams have failed to cover their last two games while Matthew Stafford has scuffled. The 4.5 point line leaves enough room for the Niners to cover in a close tilt.
Make It A Parlay
New Orleans at Atlanta – Analytic Line: ATL (+2.5), Vegas Line: ATL (+3.5), PL: ATL (+3.5)
The Saints D is playing lights out right now, allowing 32 points in their last four games (seven of Miami’s points came off a pick-six). Excluding Tampa, it’s come against inferior competition, but it’s not like Atlanta is lighting anyone up themselves. Taysom Hill had last week to knock the COVID rust off. I like the Saints big and think they get the final NFC playoff spot.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville – Analytic Line: JAX (+13), Vegas Line: JAX (+15), PL: JAX (+11.5)
The hinge game in the AFC, as a Colts win, eliminates both Pittsburgh and Baltimore and forces the Chargers and Raiders to actually play each other. I know it will never happen, but the prospect of Indy losing and the Chargers and Raiders making a deal to tie so they both get in the playoffs is just too delicious.
You might say that would be an unwatchable game on Sunday Night, but think of the sheer tension, wondering if either would backstab the other. You’d spend the entire game on the edge of your seat! The look on Roger Goodell’s face alone would be worth it.
Alas, I don’t think there’s any way Jacksonville wins here, but they do always play Indy tough. They’re a middle-of-the-road run defense, so Jonathan Taylor shouldn’t be able to run wild on them, which means Carson Wentz will have to make some throws to win, which means Carson Wentz will make some brutal decisions. The 15 is too much to lay here.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore – Analytic Line: Pick ‘Em, Vegas Line: BAL (-5), PL: BAL (-4.5)
The Just-In-Case Bowl! Pittsburgh left everything on the field last week, and once TJ Watt gets the sack record, they’ll be done. No one gets a team up for a meaningless game like John Harbaugh.
Upset of the Week
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas – Analytic Line: LV (+0.5), Vegas Line: LV (+3), PL: LV (+2.5)
The final regular-season game of the year. The Raiders always give the former San Diegans a tough go. Division road game for the Chargers. Home dog in a prime time game. Give me the points. At least if they do play for the tie, I’ll be covered!
It’s been a fun regular season, everybody. It went by too fast, but now the playoffs are upon us. Let’s GO!!!
If you are looking for more Week 18 NFL Betting, check out Chris Molina’s Top 5 Player Props every Friday!