18 weeks. Where did the time go?
Full disclosure: This season, like the last one, I have faded down the stretch. I bring a 136-120 (53.1%) record into the last week which is below the 55% goal I set for myself. The pick five contest has had the same trend dropping my record to 47-38 (55%) which is below the 60% goal I set.
The NFL has proven again it’s a tough league to predict on a week-by-week, game-by-game basis. Week 18 brings in a lot of additional unknowns as you never quite know who sits and who plays (or who cares and who doesn’t for that matter).
Some coaches and teams are more willing than others to disclose their starters, and at times it is unknown until kickoff. Normally, my picks have a contrarian spin to them, and I lean toward the underdog.
However, in the NFL’s last week you can basically throw everything out the window. Let’s try to go out in style with a 5-0 week.
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NFL Week 18 Pick Five -- Best Bets
Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5 vs. Baltimore Ravens
Funky line No. 1. The 13-3 Baltimore Ravens announced that quarterback Lamar Jackson will sit out Week 18's matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens have already locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and have nothing to play for.
On the other hand, the 9-7 Steelers have everything to play for. First, they need to win Saturday’s game, and then they need some help on Sunday to get into the playoffs.
Pittsburgh won the earlier matchup between these teams -- 17-10 -- in Week 5.
The team's offense seems much improved with Mason Rudolph as the starting quarterback. The difference in this game for me is the motivational factor.
The Steelers have the motivation to win, and the Ravens don’t. Given this scenario, no matter which teams are playing, I will take the motivated team 75% of the time.
Detroit Lions -3.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings
There are scenarios where the 11-5 Detroit Lions could grab the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
The 7-9 Minnesota Vikings are just about out of lifelines and need a bunch of things to go right for them to make the playoffs.
The Lions have been great this year coming off a loss.
They are 4-0 after a loss with an average margin of victory of over 14 points. The Vikings have quarterback issues.
Minnesota is going with Nick Mullens under center, and he’s good for at least two turnovers.
Cincinnati Bengals -7 vs. Cleveland Browns
Funky line No. 2.
Man, that’s a big spread.
But the Cleveland Browns have announced they are resting most of their starters for the playoffs. It’s a meaningless game for them.
So meaningless that fourth-string journeyman quarterback Jeff Driskel gets the start.
It sure seems like they are already focusing on next week’s playoff game.
As for the 8-8 Bengals, they have already been eliminated from playoff contention and also don’t have anything to play for, but it appears they are not resting their starters.
The two teams played way back in Week 1 where Cleveland surprisingly dominated the game 24-3. However, I don’t think there’s any correlation from that game to this one 17 weeks later. It looks like a battle between starters and second stringers, and in that case, I will take the unusual line and side with the favored Bengals.
New York Giants +4.5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Funky line No. 3. Just a few weeks ago, the Eagles were sailing along with a 10-1 record and looking like the sure-fire No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Since then, they’ve gone a dreadful 1-4 and haven’t looked good in doing so.
The 5-11 G-Men have lost three in a row but have looked a lot better with quarterback Tyrod Taylor at the helm. The Eagles won this matchup just two weeks ago 33-25 but failed to cover the 11.5-point spread.
The Eagles have already clinched a playoff spot and could win the NFC East with a win and some help. Still, there’s something amiss in Philly and until the team figures it out, I’m not backing it.
Buffalo Bills -3 vs. Miami Dolphins
BILLS -3 @ Dolphins. Funky line No. 4. Prior to last week’s 56-19 slaughter and a rash of injuries, the look ahead line for this game was Miami -3.
As it stands today, the Bills are favored by 3.5 points. The opening line began at -2.5. Overreaction? Perhaps, but I think there are two main reasons for it.
First off, the incentives are rashly different. The Fins are already in the playoffs, win or lose. Barring a lot of help from a bunch of teams, the Bills are out if they lose -- another motivational factor advantage for this game.
Secondly, the Dolphins are banged up at key positions on the defensive side. When Miami does not have either Xavien Howard or Jalen Ramsey on the field, it is an average at best defense, just as it was prior to Jalen Ramsey playing his first game.
That defense reared its ugly head as soon as Howard was carted off the field in the first quarter last week. That is the same defense the Bills saw and shredded the last time the two teams played. Cornerback Eli Apple is still the liability he was with the Bengals and opposing teams know it.
The bottom line? The Bills have won nine times out of the last 10 times these two have played, and this banged up Miami defense is a shell of its former self. I think the Fins struggle in the finale.
Odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.