We’re onto Week 18 of the NFL season, and I have you covered with my best bets on this week’s slate. With the playoffs right around the corner, be sure to check out the entire Lineups site for all of your betting needs. Let’s get to work.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
After starting the year with a surprisingly poor defense, the Browns have turned a corner in recent weeks. Over the last six weeks, they rank sixth in defensive DVOA, and specifically third against the pass. Their run defense has still struggled, and they’ve been poor against the run all season, but the improved pass defense is a big deal.
Meanwhile, the Steelers defense has also been on the rise. Pittsburgh ranks third in defensive DVOA since Week 10, when T.J. Watt made his return to the lineup, and they’re the first-ranked run defense by DVOA over that span. The Browns, a very run-heavy team, will likely find difficulty moving the ball consistently.
The Browns have averaged just 16.8 points per game with Deshaun Watson, and four of the five games in which he’s started have had 40 or fewer points. Meanwhile, the Steelers have been involved in games with 40 or fewer points in five straight games. 40 is a key number for totals in the NFL, so I’d try to catch it there, but let’s keep it simple and start the day with an under.
Best Bet: Under 40.5 (play to 40)
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
A little over a month ago, the AFC East was hot and heavy with both the Jets and Dolphins giving the Bills a real run for their money atop the division. Feels like forever ago, doesn’t it? Both of these teams are now riding five-game losing streaks. The Jets have been eliminated from the playoffs while the Dolphins need a win and a Patriots loss to get in.
Making matters worse for Miami is the fact that both Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater are sidelined by injury. That means it’s Skylar Thompson time for Miami, and we don’t know much about the seventh-round pick. In limited time for the Dolphins this year, Thompson has completed just 54.1% of his passes and thrown three picks to one touchdown.
What we do know about this game is that the Jets defense is excellent, and mostly healthy. New York ranks top seven in DVOA, EPA, and success rate on defense while allowing the second-fewest yards per play. Most importantly, they have arguably the best cornerback pair in the league in Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed to match up with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
Thompson played most of the game against the Jets earlier this season, and it was a bloodbath as he completed just 57.6% of his passes and averaged just 5 yards per attempt. He has a bit more experience under his belt now as that was his first real NFL action, but that won’t change the fact that he’s at a major disadvantage.
That’s especially true behind a banged up offensive line that ranks 24th in pressure allowed and will likely be without both of its starting tackles. The Jets rank ninth in pressure rate while blitzing at the lowest rate in the NFL, so they will get consistent pressure on Thompson while maintaining integrity in the secondary.
The Jets are also dealing with some offensive line injuries with tackles Duane Brown and George Fant hitting IR, but Joe Flacco is starting and the veteran has plenty of experience under pressure. Miami also ranks just 18th in pressure rate despite blitzing at the fifth-highest rate, and their banged up secondary will be vulnerable against the YAC machine Garrett Wilson.
Playing spoiler is a great feeling in the NFL, and I’m backing the Jets to play spoiler against the Dolphins here. Robert Saleh’s comments this week lead me to believe the Jets will be putting their all into this game, and the number is out of whack because money flooded in over fears of Zach Wilson being on the field. However, Flacco is good enough to get the job done, and I’ll bet on the Jets defense as the best unit on the field.
Best Bet: Jets +3.5 (play to +3)
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
The Rams have suffered perhaps the worst injury luck in the NFL this season, and it’s taken its toll in several ways. However, this is still a deep roster with players fighting for future career opportunities. This game offers one last chance for them to put film together for teams to look at over the offseason.
The Seahawks, of course, have a lot more to play for with a playoff spot on the line. However, we often see the teams in Week 18 with those stakes play tighter and take fewer chances, leading to a worse overall level of production. That bears out in the numbers as far as ATS trends go.
Seattle’s fight for the playoffs got significantly more difficult with their recent injuries. Leading tackler Jordyn Brooks hit the IR with a torn ACL, and that puts this defense in a tough spot. The Seahawks rank 29th in run defense DVOA since Week 12, and with Cam Akers’ recent resurgence, we should expect the Rams to have success on the ground.
Meanwhile, Tyler Lockett is listed as questionable as he works through a shin injury. Add in an offensive line that has crashed back down to earth, and Geno Smith might have less success against this Rams secondary than you expect. The Rams rank 27th in EPA per dropback allowed since Week 12.
There’s also the added factor of the weather forecast in Seattle. As I’m writing this on Saturday night, there’s an 80% chance of rain tomorrow. While it looks likely to taper off later in the day, the wet field conditions would make it more difficult for Geno Smith to truly expose the vulnerable Los Angeles secondary.
Six is a key number in betting spreads, so you’d love to grab this at +6 or better, but the Rams could win this game outright, and the Lions will certainly be hoping they do exactly that. I’d love to have more confidence in the state of the organization with the puzzling Sean McVay reports coming out on Saturday night, but he’s a consummate pro and I’ll take the chance that it won’t affect the team on Sunday.
Best Bet: Rams +6.5 (play to +6)
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders
Sam Howell will make his NFL debut on Sunday, and it’s an exciting moment for this team. Howell was once presumed a top five draft pick before a disappointing 2021 season, and there’s a chance the Commanders found a great value in him. They will let him air out the ball repeatedly, and he’ll have no problem doing so after ranking seventh in aDOT in his preseason passing.
The Cowboys have struggled to defend the pass lately with debilitating injuries in the secondary. They rank 30th in success rate per dropback and 25th in explosive pass rate allowed since Week 14. With dynamic receivers like Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson on the perimeter, Howell has an opportunity to make some splash plays through the air.
The Commanders still have an excellent defense that ranks first in success rate this season. The loss of defensive tackle Jonathan Allen hurts, but Chase Young is back and healthy. He and Montez Sweat are an excellent pass-rushing tandem that can take advantage of a Dallas offensive line ranked just 18th in pressures allowed.
However, the biggest reason to take the Commanders here is the nature of the Week 18 schedule. The Eagles are playing the Giants in the same 4:25 PM EST window, and we’re expecting Daniel Jones to sit this one out along with a handful of New York players. That means a fired up Eagles team against Davis Webb and company, and it’s why you’ve seen the line balloon past the 14-point mark.
The only motivation the Cowboys would have for this game is related to their ability to overtake the Eagles atop the NFC East in the event of a Philly loss and a Dallas win. However, that goes out the window if the Eagles are racing to a blowout win like the sportsbooks are projecting. The Cowboys will be well aware of the score in that game, and if the Eagles are out to a big lead, they could pull their starters.
That would afford the Commanders, who will be playing their starters throughout, an opportunity to get a win over a Dallas team without anything left to play for. With those factors in mind, the value is strong with Washington catching a touchdown or more at home.
Best Bet: Commanders +7.5 (play to +7)
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
The Lions and Packers combined to score 24 points when they played in November. Some of that was misleading as the Packers went an absurd 0-4 in the red zone and Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions in that area. That won’t be happening again. However, the projected total here is more than twice that result, and I think that’s too much.
The Packers run an incredibly methodical offense as they play at the fourth-slowest pace in neutral situations. Meanwhile, the Lions play at a league average pace of play when the game has been within six points. They are a top-ten team in pace when they are leading or trailing by 7+ points, but they’re much slower when the score is close.
The Lions offense has also been much worse on the road. They average 33.1 points per game at home, the most in the NFL, and just 19.7 points per game on the road, which is below-average. Of course, some of that was due to the timing of the season and which skill position players were available for those road games, but still.
Jared Goff’s struggles on the road are noted, particularly as he has struggled in cold weather conditions. The weather forecast in Green Bay calls for frigid temperatures that will be in the 20s at kickoff, and while there isn’t much wind or rain, the cold weather will likely make the Lions slightly more run-heavy.
Both of these teams pass the ball at a below-average rate this season, and both run defenses are bottom five in DVOA and success rate against the run as well as yards per carry allowed. There will be yards gained on the ground here, which helps keep the clock moving and reduces the chance of chunk plays through the air.
The Lions will be awaiting the result of the Seahawks-Rams game to see if they will be playing for a spot in the playoffs, but either way, they will be motivated to keep their divisional rival out of the postseason. With both teams playing at a relatively slow pace and keeping the ball on the ground, I don’t anticipate a shootout here.
Best Bet: Under 49 (play to (47.5)