Find NFL Week 18 best bets and expert picks for the Sunday slate here, featuring predictions for Jaguars vs. Titans, Buccaneers vs. Panthers, Eagles vs. Giants, Vikings vs. Lions, Bears vs. Packers, Jets vs. Patriots, and Seahawks vs. Cardinals.
NFL Week 18 Best Bets
We’re onto Week 18 of the NFL season, and this week’s slate is loaded with exciting matchups. In this article, you can find best bet breakdowns for some of the best games on Sunday. In the final week of the regular season, motivation is a crucial part of any handicap. However, don’t just blindly back the teams that are in “must win” situations, as history has proven that to be an unprofitable strategy.
Since 1990, eliminated teams playing teams that need to win over the final two weeks of the regular season have gone 100-64-4 ATS (61%). Teams with a winning percentage between 40-60% in Week 16 or later facing teams with a win percentage between 8-25% have gone just 29-72-5 ATS (29%).
In other words, sportsbooks often over inflate the lines in favor of the teams that need the win more for playoff positioning as they know public money will always come in on those sides. Teams fitting the mold this week include the Bears, Cardinals, Titans, and Panthers.
There will be wacky upsets on Sunday. There will be teams “choking” in must-win situations as they fail to capitalize on opportunities for playoff berths. This is the NFL. You didn’t think it would be easy, did you? Our staff broke down every Week 18 game in depth on our Lineups YouTube page so be sure to check that out. Let’s get to work.
Jacob Wayne’s Record: 27-20-1 (+6.0 units)
Kody Malstrom’s Record: 21-11 (+9.0 units)
Will Schwartz’s Record: 17-23-1 (-7.4 units)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Last week on our YouTube show, I said I’d be shocked if Trevor Lawrence missed a game even if he took an arrow through the heart. Well, he missed last week’s game, and as of Saturday, the report from Ian Rappoport as of Saturday night is that he’s “pushing to play” on Sunday. I expect him to give it a go in this crucial game for the Jaguars’ playoff chances, but it’s difficult to imagine his shoulder, finger, and ankle injuries not limiting his production.
Since suffering his first injury in Week 13, Lawrence is 25th out of 41 qualified quarterbacks in EPA+CPOE composite and 32nd in PFF passing grades. He’s also been putting the ball in harm’s way more often, ranking third in turnover-worthy play rate at 6.8%. The Titans’ pass defense is a real weakness – they rank 24th in DVOA – but I don’t trust Lawrence to hurt them in his current state.
The Jaguars may need to lean on the run more this week, which would be a bad idea in this matchup. The strength of the Titans’ defense is against the run, where they rank 10th in DVOA. The Jaguars rank 27th in ESPN’s win block win rate and are dead last in rushing success rate since Week 13. If they go run heavy on early downs, you’ll have a compromised Lawrence behind a bad O-line in dangerous third-and-long situations.
Ultimately, I see this line as being overinflated. The Titans aren’t all that far away from being in the mix in this messy AFC South. Seven of their 11 losses have come by one possession against teams in the playoff mix. They’ve also been much better at home this season, going 4-3 with all three losses coming by a field goal against the Texans, Colts, and Seahawks. Two of those were in overtime.
Mike Vrabel still has his team fighting and made no bones about his desire to win this game on Sunday. After the Jaguars beat the Titans in the final week of the regular season last year to keep them out of the postseason, let’s bet on Vrabel’s team returning the favor. For what it’s worth, Vrabel has been an underdog king as a head coach, going 24-14-2 ATS (63%) as an underdog of 3+ points.
The #Titans are 5-11, but there's no chance Mike Vrabel is mailing it in.
Fiery answer here. pic.twitter.com/54Pya1owQl
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) January 2, 2024
Best Bet: Titans +5.5 (play to +3.5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers also fit the mold of an eliminated team playing a team in a “must win” situation, and I love this spot for Carolina. When the Panthers played at the Buccaneers earlier in December, they closed as 3.5-point underdogs and covered. In this game, they’re catching 4.5 at home. Even if you don’t account for home field advantage at all, what changed that made the gap between these teams increase?
Last week, I wrote about looming regression for a Buccaneers’ offense that had been brutal on early downs and skating by on unsustainable third down success. Unsurprisingly, the Saints held them to 13 points in large part thanks to a 2/8 third down conversion rate. For the season, the Bucs now rank a ghastly 31st in early down success rate.
Tampa Bay’s early down struggles are in large part due to a horrendous rushing attack. The Bucs are 29th in rushing offense DVOA and 32nd in success rate behind the worst run-blocking offensive line in the NFL per ESPN. That’s welcome news for the Panthers who rank 32nd in run defense DVOA this season.
Meanwhile, Baker Mayfield is working through a ribs injury that left him worse for wear last week. Several metrics suggest he’s still due for regression, and that started last week with two interceptions. He has 23 turnover-worthy plays this year, tied for the third-most in the NFL, but that has translated to just ten interceptions.
Bryce Young had a rough game last week, but he’s been better lately in a system more suited for his strengths than what Frank Reich was previously running. He’s led the Panthers to three straight home covers, and he could have real success against a Buccaneers defense ranked 21st against the pass by EPA since Week 10.
I’ll always look to fade Baker Mayfield and Todd Bowles as a favorite, especially on the road, and especially in divisional play. According to Bet Labs, Baker Mayfield is 13-26-1 ATS (33%) as a favorite in his career. As a favorite against divisional opponents, that drops to 3-12 ATS (20%) with 10 straight losses in that spot. Let’s bet on an 11th.
Best Bet: Panthers +4.5 (play to +3.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
The Eagles might be broken. A little over a month ago, I put out an article on our site about how Philadelphia was lucky to have a 10-1 start and how regression was looming for the defending NFC Champions. Since then, the Eagles have gone 1-5 straight up and 0-5 ATS, with the latest hit being an outright home loss to the Cardinals who entered with a 3-12 record. Yikes.
After being in pole position to win the NFC East for a second straight year, the Eagles now no longer control their own destiny and need a win here plus a Cowboys loss to the Commanders as near two-touchdown favorites. With injury concerns across the roster, the Eagles might take it easy here, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pull starters during the game if the Cowboys build an early lead in a game happening at the same time as this one.
Frankly, if I’m the Eagles, I’m absolutely sitting all of my starters on Sunday. MetLife’s turf is known for being prone to injuries and the forecast is calling for snow. The odds the Cowboys lose to this awful Commanders team are so low that any risk of a potential injury isn’t remotely worth it.
Regardless, the Giants will be motivated to hand their divisional rival a loss in this game, especially with the opportunity to end their current five-game losing streak in the series. The Giants will be rocking with Tyrod Taylor here, and that’s an enormous upgrade under center over Tommy DeVito. The DeVito story was fun, but Taylor is averaging nearly a full yard more per attempt this season.
Taylor has quietly been an excellent deep ball passer this season with an league-leading 8.9% big-time throw rate. He also ranks 8th in PFF passing grade on deep passes this year. The Eagles’ defense has hit rock bottom, and turning to Matt Patricia as their play caller on that end is a laughable excuse for a solution.
When the Eagles have the ball, there’s a real disconnect on offense as well. Defenses seem to have figured out how to slow down Jalen Hurts after his near MVP campaign last year. In particular, this offense has no idea how to beat the blitz, which is particularly problematic against the Giants who rank second in blitz rate this season under Wink Martindale.
For what it’s worth, Tyrod Taylor is now 21-12-2 ATS (64%) as an underdog in his career, while Brian Daboll is 7-3-1 ATS (70%) as a home underdog early in his coaching career. Even if the Eagles opt to play their starters for the full game on Sunday, I’ll keep selling this Philly team that’s in a complete tailspin.
Best Bet: Giants +5 (play to +3.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Much like college football’s bowl season, the last week of the NFL needs extra attention as some teams opt into the idea of resting their starters ahead of the playoffs. Other teams, like the Detroit Lions, have announced that they will play their starters but on a limited snap count. This normally results in a drive or two before being pulled for the backups.
That bodes well for the Minnesota Vikings, getting the opportunity to completely shut down the Lions offense and set a scoring pace too fast for them to keep up with. Their offense found success in their earlier matchup when Nick Mullens was not throwing to the wrong team, finishing with 411 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s hard to fathom that Mullens will throw another four interceptions against this weak Lions secondary, meaning that the Vikings should find more consistent success this time around. Especially with Jordan Addison healthy for a majority of the contest, giving him singular coverage should the Lions routinely double Justin Jefferson again.
Speaking of the Lions secondary, they remain to be one of the worst units in the league by ranking well below average in Def Pass EPA and Def Pass Success Rate. They consistently give opposing pass catchers ample room to create separation, gaining chunks at a time through the air.
Not only does the regression in turnovers help their own offense, but it also avoids flipping the field in favor of the Lions. That gives the Vikings defense a better shot at limiting the Lions offense, forcing Detroit to move the ball the length of the field with a higher chance of stalling out a drive.
The Vikings defense is still one of the more formidable units in the league, ranking top-10 in both Def Pass DVOA and Def Rush DVOA. They call the highest rate of the blitz as well as cover 8, disguising both and giving opposing quarterbacks fits throughout the contest.
Should the Vikings avoid giving the Lions a comfortable lead early on, then they should have no issue with keeping this close. Their offense will have another opportunity to find downfield success against one of the worst secondaries in the league while their defense potentially defends against the Lions backups in the second half. Take this at no lower than +3, as well as using them in Wong Teasers.
Best Bet: Vikings +3.5
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Keeping the theme of my best bets in the NFC North, the Chicago Bears hitting the road to face the Green Bay Packers brings intrigue as they fit the mold for a very profitable trend. While I absolutely loathe most trends, this is one of the rare exceptions as it gets the benefit of getting boosted by the general public like a “snowver”.
Since 1990, teams who have already been eliminated from playoff contention and who are facing a team in a must win situation have gone 100-64-4 ATS. That is a 61% hit rate, more than enough for me to tail. The betting public rarely knows this as they blindly bet teams in must win spots which normally over inflates the number.
This spread has already seen that type of action as bettors have bet the Packers from +2 to +3 as of writing. Not only does this bet fit the previously mentioned trend, but it also now features the Bears at a key football number. By sitting at a key number, the Bears now have some added security should they lose by a field goal.
As for the product on the field, the Bears offense are in a position to succeed once again as the Packers defense have mightily regressed throughout the season. They currently rank near dead last in Def DVOA, being unable to consistently stop opposing production through the air and one the ground.
Focusing more on their front seven, the Packers run defense metrics clock in at 20th or worst in Def Rush DVOA, EPA, Success Rate, and Adjusted Line Yards. That spells doom against a Bears offense who excels at generating rush success, ranking top-3 in Rush DVOA, EPA, and Success Rate. Their offensive line opens up rushing lanes at a routine rate as well, ranking eighth in Adjusted Line Yards.
The Bears pass metrics underwhelm in comparison to their rush metrics, yet Justin Fields and company should find more success this time around as the Packers back end may stack the box to sell out and stop the run. This opens up higher quality passing lanes outside the numbers, allowing Fields to find his favorite target DJ Moore for large chunks at a time down the sideline.
On the other end, the Bears front four will play a massive part towards their overall success as they have been a dominant run stopping unit. Should they find success right away against an average run blocking offensive line and limit their rush success in the trenches, then they can drop their linebackers back to help mask their poor coverage metrics.
Take the Bears at no lower than +3 as they get the benefit of the key number as well as fitting the mold of one of the more profitable NFL betting trends. They are also in Wong Teaser territory, yet this slate currently features an underwhelming amount of options for them to be paired with.
Best Bet: Bears +3
New York Jets at New England Patriots
The New England Patriots do not lose to the New York Jets, period. Seriously, it’s been nearly a decade since it last happened, back in 2015. That’s a span of 15 games, only about half of which featured Tom Brady. To make matters worse, the Jets haven’t beaten the Pats in New England since the 2010-11 playoffs, which is also the last time they beat them in regulation. Their last regular season win in Foxborough was all the way back in 2008, the year Tom Brady missed with a torn ACL.
All of that is to say that over the years, while the franchises have waxed and waned, the Patriots have beaten the brakes off of the Jets, especially at home. Of course, the past doesn’t affect the future, but at a certain point, when you play a team twice every year and lose each time, there’s a mental edge that begins to develop. To the Jets and their fans, winning in Massachusetts is seen as essentially impossible, and those prophecies have a way of becoming self-fulfilling ones.
There’s another intangible that’s on the Patriots’ side- this could be the very last game in Bill Belichick’s storied and unprecedented New England tenure. Amidst the worst season yet in a string of mediocrity after Tom Brady’s departure, there have been rumblings about the legendary coach being forced out of Foxborough. If there’s any truth to these rumors, Belichick has probably already been made aware of the situation, and knows that this is the end. After his time with the Patriots began all those years ago by resigning from the Jets’ head coach position after just one day on the job, do you think he’s going to let things end with a home loss to that very same team? Absolutely not- the Pats will come out firing, and whatever Belichick has left up his sleeve is coming out.
But, enough soft trends- let’s talk about some of the reasons the Patriots have the football edge against the Jets, starting with what we already saw in a Pats win in East Rutherford back in September. That game was one of New England’s best performances of the year, despite a mediocre final scoreline of 15-10. They outgained the Jets 358 to 171, and Mac Jones played turnover-free football against the Jets’ vaunted air defense.
Since then, after a relatively promising start even without Aaron Rodgers, the Jets have completely imploded, at least offensively. They’re dead last in both EPA and DVOA for each of the pass and run, as well as passing success rate. It really is unfortunate, as they’ve wasted a defense that ranks top three overall by DVOA and EPA, driven by that fantastic pass defense.
Squared up with a Patriots defense that is phenomenal against the run and fine against the pass, the Jets won’t be moving the ball. They’d have to do it more or less solely through the air, with Trevor Siemian at the helm, possibly in 32 degree rain and snow. The New England offense will struggle as well, but they’ve had some promising performances in recent weeks under Bailey Zappe, most recently against the Steelers and Bills; they should be able to do enough to outpace that anemic Jets attack.
Best Bet: Patriots -1.5
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
From buying high and selling low to motivational edges, this play has it all. After winning their fourth game of the season, a shock upset of the Eagles, the Cardinals are in danger of seriously compromising their draft position in what should be a loaded class. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are fighting for playoff positioning; they can get in if they win, and the already-eliminated Bears beat the Packers at Lambeau Field.
It’s an eerily similar situation for Seattle, who needed the Packers to lose at home to the eliminated Lions in week 18 last season- and they got it. This game and the Bears-Packers clash are in the same time slot, so the Seahawks won’t know how that game turns out until this one’s over. What they do know is that anything is possible in the NFC North, so they will push as hard as possible to do their own part and get a win.
Just as the Cardinals are coming off of a surprising win, possibly inflating their value by taking down a deeply flawed Eagles team that has lost four of its past five games, the Seahawks just dropped a tough game. Losing at home to the Steelers probably hurt their value a bit, but this Cardinals team is a far cry from that one.
In addition to the buy-low/sell-high component, this matchup is a real problem for the Cardinals. Their secondary ranks in the bottom-five or worse by just about every metric, and will have no real chance of slowing down DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jaxon Smith-Njigba or the other Seattle pass catchers.
The Cardinals could have some offensive success, against a Seattle defense that has had issues of its own, but the pass-catching talent around Kyler Murray- outside of Trey McBride- just isn’t consistent enough to wage a second shootout in as many weeks with this Seahawks offense.
Betting road favorites isn’t a great habit to get into, but it’s worth it here with the hook on our side for the key number of three. All we need the Seahawks to do is to win by a field goal against a 4-12 team, and give themselves a shot at the postseason. With one of this generation’s greatest coaches at the helm, Pete Carroll, Seattle should be able to do that and more against Arizona.
Best Bet: Seahawks -2.5