“Are we there yet?” (Asked in the tone of an eight-year-old with a full bladder on a cross-country road trip.) “Almost son.” (Answered in the tone of an increasingly impatient father with an equally full bladder and a hip cramp from the last 600 miles of driving.) The last week of the long and arduous NFL season is finally upon us. Last week we suffered our first losing week since starting this column five weeks. The smart play is to just pack it up until the playoffs and my official (and unprofessional) advice is to stay the hell away from this week. The last week of the season is always wonky and there is very little left to play for this year. However, if you must put some money down this week then you should call 1-800-522-4700…right after perusing these picks for the week of course.
Tier 1: Games that Actually Matter (Season Record 8-7)
Colts -15.5 over Jaguars
Chargers -3 over Raiders
Cardinals -6.5 over Seahawks
49ers +4 over Rams
The Colts, Chargers, Raiders and 49ers are the four teams heading into week 18 needing only to win their own game to guarantee a playoff berth. Indianapolis will keep the foot on the gas pedal while they run over the hopeless Jaguars. Sunday night should be an absolute banger. The question comes down to: do you trust Justin Herbert and Brandon Staley or Derek Carr and Rich Bisaccia? Follow-up question: who knew who Rich Bisaccia was without googling him? Exactly. I’m rolling with the Chargers in this one and think they’d be the more fun team in the playoffs. In the NFC, the West is the only division still up for grabs. The Cardinals clinch with a win and a Rams loss. The Rams need only a win to claim the division crown. Adding intrigue to the NFC West this weekend is the fact that the 49ers can clinch a playoff berth with a win of their own. The 49ers have also won their last five contests against the Rams and Kyle Shanahan seems like he knows how to scheme against the Rams pass rush. I’ve really hated betting on this 49ers team this year, but this seems like the right play.
Tier 2: Games That Technically Matter (Season Record 8-6)
Bills -16.5 over Jets
Patriots -6.5 over Dolphins
Chiefs -10 over Broncos
Texans +10 over Titans
The Bills are going to beat the Jets. The Jets suck (as I remind you weekly) and the Bills need to win this to clinch the division. The Patriots can technically still get the top seed in the AFC with a ton of help (Bills, Chiefs and Titans would all need to lose to non-playoff teams plus a Pats win), but you know Bill Belichick isn’t one to mess around if there’s a chance. Expect the Pats to take care of business against a Dolphins team that’s dead in the water (pun intended). The Chiefs also have an outside shot at the top seed and homefield advantage, but it’s unlikely and some writers have suggested that their best bet from a matchup perspective would be to throw this game and take the four seed. They won’t do that for two reasons. First, they play on Saturday, which means they won’t know or even have an idea of the outcomes of any other games to know if their one seed hopes are still alive or floundering. Second, Andy Reid’s game management skills suggest that he’s not a chess player and won’t be trying to play the seeding long game. He’s going to go for the one seed. Analytics be damned. The Texans have absolutely nothing to play for and are coming off a big loss to the 49ers, but they’ve been pesky over the last half of the season and the Titans are still trying to get fully healthy for the playoffs. The Titans will win this game, but I think Houston can make it a little interesting.
Tier 3: Games That Matter…But Suck (Season Record 8-10)
Steelers +5.5 over Ravens
Saints -4.5 over Falcons
Do the Steelers and Ravens both have playoff aspirations heading into Week 18? Yes. Do both of them need a Colts loss to the Jaguars to have a playoff hope? Also yes. Does anyone want to see either of these teams in the playoffs? Absolutely not. There’s nothing fun about this game. The Steelers want to send Ben out a winner and the Ravens have been ravaged over and over again by injuries. Lamar Jackson may be able to play this week, but why would he? Get healthy and come back next year. Tyler Huntley has been fun (although I’m salty because I’ve been on the wrong side of him from a gambling perspective every week), but neither of these teams belong in the playoffs. Let’s give Big Ben one last win and let these teams start planning for a better year next year. The Saints need a 49ers loss and a win to take the seven seed in the playoffs. As much as we don’t want to see the Saints in the playoffs, I expect them to do their part against a Falcons team who is significantly worse than their record would indicate.
Tier 4: Games That Don’t Matter…But Could Be Fun (Season Record 11-3)
Eagles +7 over Cowboys
Can I interest you in a little Saturday night football between two division rivals? How about a little Saturday night football between two playoff-bound division rivals? Neither the Cowboys nor the Eagles have anything playoff-related on the line Saturday night and there’s a good chance there will be early hooks for pivotal starters. That means this game could get whacky…or it could be incredibly dull. Either way, give this game a chance, bet on it to be close, and then find some other way to spend your Saturday night if it gets dull.
Tier 5: Games That Shouldn’t Be Played (Season Record 9-6)
Packers -3.5 over Lions
Vikings -4 over Bears
WFT -7 over Giants
Bengals +6 over Browns
Bucs -8 over Panthers
Don’t bet on any of these. Seriously. None of them matter. None of them are interesting in any way. For anyone diseased enough to bet any of these games here’s the Gambler’s Anonymous number one more time: 1-800-522-4700. We can have a group therapy session soon.
Season Record 44-31
Player Prop Record 3-4
Cover Photo Courtesy of Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images
A previous version of this column inaccurately stated that the Cardinals needed a win to win the NFC West and the Rams needed a win and a Cardinals loss. Thanks to Brian Hall for pointing out the inaccuracy.