BETONLINE PRO PICKS BY BARRY WILNER: NFL WEEK 18
Other than Week 1, when we have no idea how ready most teams will be for kicking off the season, the finale is the toughest time to figure out just about anything.
For one, too many teams have nothing much left to play for. Sure, coaches and players will pay lip service to finishing strong – in some cases, particularly for younger squads, that has some validity – and showing pride in performance. But tell us just what such also-rans such as the Colts, Panthers, Saints, Broncos, Cardinals and Rams have riding on this weekend.
Then there are the injury issues that have depleted so many lineups it’s difficult to know who will be on the field. That even goes for some contenders (Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, whomever at quarterback in Miami, everywhere on the Tennessee roster) as well as the tailenders.
Next, consider the dilemma for some organizations headed to the postseason: Do we rest people? Todd Bowles says he will play Tampa Bay’s regulars, though how long Tom Brady and company will actually play is very uncertain. The Giants have zero incentive to put Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, among others, in harm’s way even though they could damage the Eagles’ playoff standing. Or hurt the Cowboys’ placement by going with the reserves.
Don’t get us wrong: Some of the weaker clubs do have a reason to go all out. Who believes Cleveland would ever lay down against Pittsburgh when a Steelers victory Sunday might just get them into the playoffs? Washington surely would enjoy damaging Dallas’ postseason standing. The Raiders against Kansas City, maybe the most heated rivalry in the NFL? You bet Las Vegas will be up for that one.
So yes, we are making excuses if our choices in Week 18 turn out all wrong.
Vikings at Bears (+7 1/2)
Minnesota needs to right the Vikings ship before the playoffs. This is the perfect situation to do so.
BEST BET: VIKINGS, 30-13
Chargers at Broncos (-2)
The Chargers don’t have a lot to play for, but just enough to deserve to be favored here.
UPSET SPECIAL: CHARGERS, 20-15
Titans at Jaguars (-6)
Our other choice for Best Bet would have been Jacksonville, though this is the biggest stage most of the Jags have been on in the pros.
Patriots at Bills (- 6 1/2)
It is unfathomable what the Bills have gone through this week and yet are playing. They are – by far – the better team. But circumstances indicate this will be close.
Ravens at Bengals (-7)
Cincinnati also has been through a traumatic wringer, so its preparation also has been impacted.
Lions at Packers (-4 ½)
Lambeau Field at night with a spot in the postseason on the line? We’ll take that every year.
Rams at Seahawks (-6)
Seattle will take care of business and then hope Detroit does the same in Green Bay.
Chiefs at Raiders (+9)
Just like Minnesota, Kansas City needs some remedies before the postseason.
Jets at Dolphins (+1)
This could be a scoreless draw. You know, nil-nil.
Browns at Steelers (-2 ½)
Even if Pittsburgh falls short of the postseason, Mike Tomlin has done his usual spectacular coaching job.
Giants at Eagles (-14)
New York has nothing to play for and could (should?) rest key people. Even so, this spread is too high, particularly if Jalen Hurts isn’t 100 percent.
Cardinals at 49ers (-14)
We’re trying to find a reason the Cardinals will be competitive. Still trying.
Cowboys at Commanders (+7)
Washington completes its late-season collapse while looking at rookie QB Sam Howell. Dallas benefits.
Buccaneers at Falcons (-4)
Well see how long TB12 and his mates actually are on the field.
Panthers at Saints (-3 ½)
Both teams fell out of the NFC South race (crawl?) last weekend.
Texans at Colts (-2 ½)
Houston can actually blow the top overall draft choice with a win. And beating Indy is not a tough chore.
____________________________________________________________Wilner’s 2022 RECORD
Last Week – Straight up: 11-3. Against the spread: 7-7.
Season – Straight up: 156-81-2. Against the spread: 122-109-8.
Best Bet – Straight up: 12-5. Against the spread: 8-9.
Upset Special – Straight up: 8-9. Against the spread: 9-8.