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Jax Jags


Jacksonville Jaguars players take the field during introductions before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla.

The surest way to lock in a lot of bad positions on the NFL’s Week 18 schedule is to bet solely based on motivation.

Yes, the final game of the regular season means everything to some teams and nothing to others but that’s priced into the betting market. Some years, wagering only on teams in must-win spots may turn a profit, but historically, that hasn’t been the case.

A few recent seasons have in fact swung the other way — where the eliminated teams emerge as profitable overall. Week 18 is always an enigma, with season-long futures also influencing decision-making and clouding judgment of bettors next to all the inherent team-based confusion.  

The best way to proceed is therefore to take a step back, figure out the availability of key players and assess whether the lines are fully accounting for the quirks.

There might be a few more puzzle pieces, but it’s not all that different from the rest of the year. And the rest of the year has gone exceedingly well in the pick’em with plays now hitting at above a 60% clip after a 5-1 record in Week 17.  

The overall record picking every game against the spread sits at 131-120-5, which I hope to balloon starting now through the playoffs.

Read below to find my picks on every Week 17 contest. Games are labeled in three separate confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses — with individual records attached. Lines are the best available in Las Vegas on the chosen side at publication time.

Plays (46-30-3)

Carolina Panthers +6 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Here’s a spot where the “must-win” narrative far over-inflates a line. A month ago, Tampa Bay closed only a 3.5-point favorite against Carolina at home — and the Panthers covered in a 21-18 loss. Carolina looked pathetic in a 26-0 loss to Jacksonville as 4-point underdogs last week, but it’s rare a team has two performances that poor back-to-back.     

New York Jets +2.5 at New England Patriots New England should get some credit for its 4-0 against the spread, 2-2 straight-up run down the stretch of the season, but the betting market has taken it too far. The Jets have more impact players and would have been the small favorite in this matchup before the Patriots’ unforeseen recent competitiveness.   

Baltimore Ravens +3.5 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers A hidden benefit of being one of the most banged-up teams going back the last several seasons: Baltimore has developed an enviable amount of depth, all the way down to its practice squad. The Ravens nearly beat the Joe Burrow-led Bengals in the playoffs at this time last year with mostly backups. There’s no reason a Tyler Huntley-led squad can’t hang with the Steelers.   

Jacksonville Jaguars -5 at Tennessee Titans On the flip side, this is a situation where I don’t mind the “must-win” narrative, but that’s largely because the Jaguars have the talent to back it up. Jacksonville needs to win to clinch the AFC South, and its personnel should be more than enough to handle Tennessee.

Denver Broncos +3 at Las Vegas Raiders Las Vegas has the splashier recent wins, but over the second half of the season, these two teams have been even from an efficiency standpoint. That means the number should be less than a field goal. And, if anything, the spot favors Denver with coach Sean Payton and quarterback Jarrett Stidham having points to prove while Las Vegas was freshly eliminated from playoff contention last week.   

Green Bay Packers -3 vs. Chicago Bears Sell high on the Bears, which have admittedly come through for the column repeatedly in recent weeks during a 5-2 straight-up, 6-1-1 against the spread uptick. But the surge is almost all because of defense — the offense is getting an undue amount of credit — and that’s harder to maintain on a week-to-week basis. That’s especially true going up against Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who’s consistently schemed his way to success on the Bears and needs a victory for a playoff berth.   

Leans (42-38-1)

Philadelphia Eagles -4.5 at New York Giants The Eagles closed a 14-point favorite against the Giants on Christmas Day ahead of their 33-25 victory. It wasn’t a clean performance and Philadelphia had to fend off a late drive to secure the win, but a 10-point shift away from it on the line is too much. Philadelphia may look lost currently but it’s still multitudes ahead of New York overall.

Detroit Lions -3 vs. Minnesota Vikings Lions coach Dan Campbell was the first coach to announce he had no intentions of resting his starters despite being likely locked into the NFC playoff’s No. 3 seed. And yet, this line moved against Detroit, which also has an extra day-and-a-half to rest and prepare and the healthier roster. The motivation of an all-but-eliminated Minnesota side should be questioned just as much, if not more than, that of a dangerous Detroit team.  

New Orleans Saints -3 vs. Atlanta Falcons New Orleans’ injury situation is dire with a particularly troublesome cluster along the offensive line, but its overall ceiling is so much higher than Atlanta’s that it shouldn’t matter. The opening price of New Orleans -4 felt fairer than the move to a field goal.

Miami Dolphins +3 vs. Buffalo Bills The line swung big time after sitting at Miami -1.5 a week ago, but it’s probably justified given the injury bug that’s infected virtually every position of the home team’s roster. But this is one of those week 18 situations where I can’t separate myself from all my season-long positions. With a mass of future bets on Buffalo — including most notably in this game to win the AFC East – it feels wise to lay off some exposure and go for a middle for the underdog Dolphins, which are worth buying to +3.5 at sports books that offer -130 (i.e. risking $130 to win $100) odds on such bets.

Seattle Seahawks -2.5 at Arizona Cardinals Seattle coach Pete Carroll and his staff seem to have the number of Arizona under quarterback Kyler Murray, as the former has repeatedly stifled the latter. The Seahawks have covered four straight, and five of six, against the Cardinals.  This game might be bigger for Seattle — which needs a victory and a Green Bay defeat to reach the postseason — than all the previous matchups so there’s no reason to bank on the trend stopping now.

Guesses (43-52-1)

Kansas City Chiefs +3 at Los Angeles Chargers Are Blaine Gabbert and a bunch of Chiefs’ reserves really at all that much of a disadvantage against Easton Stick and a beaten-up Chargers’ roster? This game could go a lot of ways, so taking points feels like the best course of action — especially when it’s with the better overall team.

Indianapolis Colts +1.5 vs. Houston Texans Houston moved to the favorite in this game after smashing Tennessee 26-3 as 5.5-point favorites in quarterback C.J. Stroud’s return last week, but that might be an overreaction considering how listless the Titans looked. These two teams are so close — Houston is No. 14 in EPA per play while Indianapolis is No. 15 — that the home team should be the small favorite either way.  

Cincinnati Bengals -6 vs. Cleveland Browns Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski is currently a runaway favorite to win Coach of the Year largely because of what he’s managed with a roster ruined by injury. And now that roster is going to be cut even deeper into with the Browns sitting starters in preparation for their first-round playoff game. The Bengals should have a talent gap in their favor.

Washington Commanders +13 vs. Dallas Cowboys The Commanders somewhat held their own and had a shot at a late cover as 14-point underdogs in a 27-10 loss to the 49ers last week. This game may not be any different. The Cowboys clinch the NFC East with a victory but the stakes have added a tax of around a field goal to the point spread.

Los Angeles Rams +4 at San Francisco 49ers With both teams nestled in their respective playoff spots — the 49ers are officially the NFC’s No. 1 seed while the Rams are highly likely to be No. 6 but could slip to No. 7 — there’s a lot of conflicting information and quotes about how they will proceed in this all but meaningless game. The best way to approach a game with so many unknowns is not to bet it. The second-best way to approach it is to just take the points.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

Article written by #LasVegasSun