Expert NFL Picks for Week 18 Including Cowboys-Eagles, Patriots-Dolphins and Chargers-Raiders
Kevin Rogers of VegasInsider, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Kevin Rogers, a veteran handicapper for VegasInsider.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 18 games, many of which will be affected by the neverending stream of positive COVID-19 tests and players being rested ahead of the playoffs.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Dallas Cowboys (-4.5, O/U 42.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
A compelling matchup because … the Eagles have quietly won four games in a row and have already locked up a playoff spot, as have the higher-seeded Cowboys. With a win and losses by some other NFC foes, Dallas has a shot to move up in playoff seeding. Philadelphia will be going on the road to face a top seed no matter what happens on Sunday and may be better off waving the white flag in the second half. The first time they played, Dallas won by 20.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Dallas listed as a 3.5-point road favorite. The line shot up to Cowboys -7 early in the week but has since fallen back down to 4.5. Why? Dallas has COVID-9 issues and could be without Micah Parson, Tyron Smith and others. The Eagles have value as a divisional dog. I’ll back the Eagles in a teaser (+4.5 to +10.5).
Gable’s Guess: This line really moved. The Cowboys had 10 penalties for 88 yards against Arizona and seemed to blame the officials after the game for their loss. I think an elite team would have found a way to win that game. They had all the momentum and Arizona was fading fast. I still don’t believe the Eagles are a good team. They’re sitting at 9-7 after a 2-5 start to the season. But when you look at who they have beaten, it’s the Lions, Broncos, Jets, Washington twice, Giants and Saints with Trevor Siemian starting. They had the easiest schedule in the league in the second half of the season. They certainly are able to run the ball, which they were not doing at the very beginning of the season. Still, the jury is still out on how good this Eagles team is. I think it makes sense for the Eagles to rest their starters in this one. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott says he is playing and comments from Jerry Jones suggest the same. It’s a big number. I’ll lay the 4.5 here, but if it gets to 7, I’d stay away.
Rogers’s Recommendation: Dallas has the NFC East title wrapped up and the Cowboys are playing for seeding at Philadelphia. The Eagles have ripped through a soft stretch recently. This line has dropped from the opener of Dallas as a touchdown favorite with star rookie linebacker Parsons in the COVID-19 protocol. Philadelphia has struggled at home as an underdog against better competition by going 0-4 SU and 1-3 ATS in this role. Best Bet: Dallas -4.5.
Our Pick: The Cowboys need a get-right game after last week vs. Arizona. Lay the points with Dallas.
San Francisco 49ers (+4.5, O/U 44.5) at LA Rams
A compelling matchup because … the Rams got embarrassed by the 49ers the first time these teams met in San Fran. Now, LA has a chance to get revenge and potentially knock their divisional foe out of the playoffs at home. That may be easier said than done, as the 49ers have been tough to beat during the second half of the season, though they are just 1-4 in the division overall. Uncertainty about Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance starting at QB for the Niners complicates matters, although it’s possible both players could see the field.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This is a huge game for both NFC West teams, as the 49ers are currently the No. 6 seed while the Rams are the No. 2 seed. This line opened with Los Angeles listed as a 6.5-point home favorite. We’ve seen this line fall to 4.5, which indicates respected money grabbing the points with the 49ers. San Francisco has value as a road divisional dog with a line move in their favor. These teams met back in Week 10 and the 49ers dominated and won 31-10. As long as Jimmy G plays, I’ll take the points with San Francisco.
Gable’s Guess: The Rams are currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Saints are their most likely opponent if New Orleans can beat Atlanta and LA wins. But Los Angeles can finish anywhere from the second seed to the fifth seed in the NFC. San Fran can clinch a playoff spot with a win here or a Saints’ loss. I think it’s more likely it will be Lance who plays here. Lance is confident. He seemed to grow as the game went on against the Texans. I still expect the Niners to try and run the ball against the Rams. I just don’t trust the Rams or Matthew Stafford at this point. He’s just thrown far too many interceptions. I’m going to take the points here with the Niners on the road.
Rogers’s Recommendation: The 49ers have stepped up since a slow start to the season, but Garoppolo is a question mark with a thumb injury that kept him out of last week’s victory over Houston. The Rams have won five straight games since a three-game skid, but Los Angeles has dropped four consecutive matchups with San Francisco, including a Monday night blowout at Levi’s Stadium earlier this season. This is a game where LA bounces back and wraps up the NFC West. Best Bet: Los Angeles -4.5.
Our Pick: Don’t really have a good feeling about a winner or loser here, but there should be points. We’ll go over.
New England Patriots (-6.5, O/U 40) at Miami Dolphins
A compelling matchup because … the Dolphins have nothing to play for except beating their longtime rivals, something they often do when the Patriots head to Miami late in the season. At the same time, New England is a longshot to move up in playoff seeding unless Buffalo loses to the pathetic Jets, so the Patriots may not play it to the wire depending on what the out-of-town scoreboard says. Miami won a tight one over the Pats in Week 1.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The lookahead line on this game was Patriots -2.5 on the road. We’ve seen it balloon all the way to New England -6.5 tied to the Dolphins being eliminated from the playoffs. Miami has value as a divisional dog and dog with a low total. The Patriots always seem to have trouble going to Miami late in the year. I’ll grab the points with Miami +6.5.
Gable’s Guess: There is still a farfetched way scenario that exists for the Patriots to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but it’s going to take a win here and losses for quite a few other teams. It’s not going to happen. The Dolphins faded against the Titans last week and so did their playoff hopes. Tua had no touchdowns, one interception and three fumbles, one of which was lost. When the Dolphins’ defense has to face legitimate NFL starters, the cracks start to show. It’s not going to get any easier here. Traditionally New England has thrown in Miami in December and January. But they’re only 2-7 when they have to go down to Miami at the end of the season. It’s not the easiest place to play, especially when you’re used to the New England weather. I’m going to take the under.
Rogers’s Recommendation: New England has already clinched a playoff berth, but still has a shot to win the AFC East. The Patriots face the Dolphins for the first time since the season opener, a one-point home defeat. Miami was eliminated from postseason contention in an ugly defeat at Tennessee last week to snap a seven-game winning streak. The Dolphins have not been a home underdog of three or more points since shocking Baltimore in early November. This is a big spot for Miami to finish with a winning record and get the season sweep of New England. Best Bet: Miami +6.5.
Our Pick: Both defenses are good but both could also score off a turnover. This under is very low. We’ll go over.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+6, O/U 41.5) at Baltimore Ravens
A compelling matchup because … the Steelers need some help and a win in order to make the playoffs in what is almost certainly going to be Ben Roethlisberger’s final season in Pittsburgh. The Ravens, after being in control of their division and the AFC for a large chunk of the season, are amazingly in the same boat but need even more help, and could be without star QB Lamar Jackson again. The Ravens have played tough in recent weeks without Jackson, but injures combined with a lack of playmakers on offense have been tough to overcome. Baltimore’s five-game losing streak started with a one-point loss to the Steelers.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Baltimore listed as a 6.5-point home favorite. The line fell to 5.5 before rising back to 6. The Ravens are decimated with injuries and Pittsburgh will get up for Big Ben’s last game. Pittsburgh has value as a divisional dog. I’ll take the Steelers and the points.
Gable’s Guess: Baltimore backup quarterback Tyler Huntley gave the Ravens a chance to upset the Rams but he just couldn’t seem to finish off drives. They had to settle for field goals, which ultimately cost them the game. Still, Huntley’s filled in pretty admirably for Jackson. Baltimore seemed to be a lock to make the playoffs a couple of weeks ago and now their chances are almost nothing. They just haven’t been able to win close games. The secondary for Baltimore is still the biggest Achilles’ heel for them. The defense did get three turnovers against the Rams. More than likely, it’ll be Roethlisberger’s last game for Pittsburgh. I would expect the team to rise to the occasion for him. I’m going to take Pittsburgh with the points in this one.
Rogers’s Recommendation: Pittsburgh still has an outside chance of making the playoffs with a win and an Indianapolis loss. The Steelers sent Roethlisberger off with a victory in his final home game last Monday night against the Browns and are now trying to pull off a sweep of the rival Ravens. Baltimore has fallen apart since an 8-3 start by losing five consecutive games, but the Ravens hope to get Jackson back under center to avoid a losing season. Best Bet: Baltimore -6.
Our Pick: Been wrong on Pittsburgh all year. Why not back ’em one more time? Steelers and the points.
LA Chargers (-3, O/U 49.5) at Las Vegas Raiders
A compelling matchup because … the winner of this one gets into the playoffs, clean and simple. The loser can still make it, technically, but that would require the Colts losing to the double-digit underdog Jaguars. These have been two of the most maddening teams this season due to their inconsistency, so it’s only fitting that they’ll match up in what will be the final Sunday Night Football broadcast of the regular season.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This AFC West matchup was flexed to Sunday night as both teams are on the bubble and fighting for their playoff lives. The Chargers opened as a 2.5-point road favorite and heavy public betting on Justin Herbert and Co. has pushed the line up. The Raiders have value as a divisional dog and primetime dog. The Raiders might get star tight end Darren Waller back from injury too. I’ll go Raiders and the points.
Gable’s Guess: This is now the big game on the slate with the playoffs on the line. Herbert wasn’t spectacular against that depleted Broncos on Sunday but it was enough to get the job done. He set the Chargers’ single-season passing TD record with his 35th of the season. The Chargers are going to be at full strength for this game. The Raiders have had one of the most improbable seasons with so much happening both on and off the field. Pulling off that huge upset against Indy was certainly unexpected. Can you trust Derek Carr in this huge of a spot? I have my doubts. Yes, he led them to a comeback victory in the fourth quarter yesterday, but they had to come back because of two interceptions he threw. LA’s rushing defense is still a glaring weakness for them, but I trust Herbert over Carr and I’m going to lay the points.
Rogers’s Recommendation: A playoff spot is on the line in Las Vegas as the Chargers try to pull off the season sweep of the Raiders. Las Vegas has stepped up down the stretch with three straight wins to put themselves in a position to grab a Wild Card spot. The Chargers blew out the Broncos last week to remain alive, and now LA tries for consecutive wins for only the second time since mid-October. The Raiders have cleaned up of late against backup quarterbacks by beating Nick Mullens and Drew Lock prior to facing Carson Wentz last week fresh off the COVID-19 list. Best Bet: L.A. Chargers -3.
Our Pick: Both teams are shaky, but the Chargers are better — we think. Laying the points with LA in Vegas.
Last Week: 2-3; Season: 35-46-2 … (We blame COVID-19!)
Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors such as COVID-19. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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