The NFL playoffs practically start Sunday night. Well, probably.
As long as the Indianapolis Colts beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, we get a winner-take-all game in prime time. If the Colts win and clinch a wild-card spot, the Los Angeles Chargers will face the Las Vegas Raiders with the winner going to the postseason and the loser going home. Either way, the winner is guaranteed a wild-card spot.
The Chargers are 3-point favorites at BetMGM. The line makes sense. The Chargers are the better team. They beat the Raiders soundly once, winning 28-14 back on Oct. 4. But it doesn’t feel that easy for the Chargers this time.
The Raiders might be living a charmed life to still be in the playoff race, catching some teams lately that were affected by COVID-19 or injuries. But give them credit. They looked done a while ago, collapsing under the weight of a season filled with negative off-field drama. But they have stayed in it by winning three in a row to get to 9-7. They have done a remarkable job to stay in the fight.
On the other side, it might not be fair to use the Chargers’ past failures against them, but this is a team that for many years has not been able to get out of its own way. Blowing two fourth-quarter leads and losing to the Chiefs or dropping a game as a huge favorite at Houston were recent reminders. It’s hard to trust the Chargers, especially in a game this big.
That said, I’ll take the Chargers, though with some trepidation. They’re better. The Raiders are -68 in point differential. Las Vegas doesn’t do anything at an elite level. But it also shouldn’t be too surprising if the numbers are lying. The Raiders have beaten the odds already. And the Chargers are capable of screwing it up.
Here are the Week 18 picks, with point spreads from BetMGM:
Broncos (+10) over Chiefs
Beware when you hear teams having nothing to play for. Every season, some underdogs that are eliminated from the playoff race rise up and play well. Some teams gave up long ago (yes Giants, we’re talking about you) but most haven’t. The Broncos want to finish strong and they played the Chiefs pretty well in the first meeting. The line is inflated.
Cowboys (-7) over Eagles
Mike McCarthy is saying the starters will play. That’s likely because Jerry Jones said the starters will play. Whether we agree or disagree with that approach, let’s take McCarthy at his word. If that’s the case, the Eagles could sit players. It’s a hard game to bet but Dallas coming off a loss seems like the better option.
Bengals (+6) over Browns
If you listened to the weekly betting breakdown podcast with Scott Pianowski, I already took the Bengals -3 figuring they’d play starters with a chance to move up to the No. 2 seed. Whoops. Joe Burrow is going to sit, Joe Mixon will be out due to COVID-19 and the line moved 9 points. The shift is a little too much and I’ll take Cincinnati.
Lions (+4) over Packers
The Packers don’t seem to be ready to sit starters, but they might not play for long. The Lions were bad last week but mostly have been good against the spread.
Bears (+3.5) over Vikings
Justin Fields will start and it appears Kirk Cousins will too. I don’t know what to make of this game and good luck if you bet it.
Washington (-7) over Giants
The Giants are in full meltdown mode. Joe Judge’s comments about WFT and clown show organizations, which he said weren’t directed at WFT though that’s hard to believe, is just another log on the fire. The Giants are a prime example of a team that just wants the season to end and have been for weeks.
Jaguars (+15.5) over Colts
Don’t love taking the Jags. But 15.5 for the Colts on the road is just too much.
Steelers (+5.5) over Ravens
Not sure why we’re trusting the Ravens in this spot all of a sudden. I don’t buy that the Steelers are spent after an emotional home finale. They are still alive in the playoff race and can keep it close.
Texans (+10.5) over Titans
The Titans are going for the No. 1 seed, but Houston has been more competitive the past few weeks. They’re limited but I think they’ll give Tennessee a challenge.
Falcons (+4.5) over Saints
If you just lean on who needs it more, the Saints are the pick. The Saints need to win to stay alive in the playoff hunt and the Falcons are eliminated. I think Atlanta wants to beat its rival and knock the Saints out of the playoffs. This is their Super Bowl. That’s motivation enough to take the points.
Jets (+16.5) over Bills
The Bills need to win to take the AFC East, and they do pretty well as big favorites, but this is a huge line.
Dolphins (+6.5) over Patriots
I worry a little about taking the Dolphins. They had playoff dreams after a seven-game winning streak, and a loss last week finished that. When the goal you’ve been chasing isn’t attainable anymore, it’s hard to get up the next game. But they have been competitive and beating the Patriots to end the season, giving Miami a winning record, is not too bad of a consolation prize. I think Brian Flores will have the Dolphins ready.
Buccaneers (-7.5) over Panthers
Tampa Bay says it will play starters. I think the Bucs would be better off resting and not risking any of their remaining offensive weapons to injuries, but let’s assume Bruce Arians is not lying. The Panthers are an absolute nightmare lately.
49ers (+4.5) over Rams
As you’ve probably heard, Kyle Shanahan has had a lot of recent success against Sean McVay. The 49ers need to win, or they could miss the playoffs. This is one of the best games of the week and I think it will be close.
Cardinals (-6.5) over Seahawks
Arizona has life in the NFC West race. The Seahawks have had a couple nice games lately against the Texans and Lions, but what does that really mean? Arizona should post a decisive win.
Last week: 9-7
Season to date: 142-113-1