Given the fore-knowledge that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would come back to defeat New York in Week 17, a percentage of Buccaneer fans might have said “good riddance” as they watched Antonio Brown walk off the gridiron and quit.
Now that we know the story is more complicated than it initially appeared, the viral image of Brown’s shirtless strut into the dressing room is a case-lesson in how gamblers must looking past the glimmering visuals of NFL pigskin, and dig into the real narrative quickly.
For instance, the Buccaneers aren’t getting nearly as much Super Bowl betting action as the Green Bay Packers in Las Vegas. That’s not because of the ongoing Antonio Brown saga vis-a-vis the WR’s talents on the field. Championship teams aren’t built around superstar wide receivers, or at least they ought not to be. But part of the reason is that Sunday’s most telling image wasn’t Brown’s epic “peace out” sign, it was the look on Tom Brady’s face after throwing approximately his 12,346th game-winner.
Brady, having thrown the winning TD pass to complete another phenomenal last-second winning drive, looked as glum as though a maskless reporter had sneezed in his bran flakes. Perhaps it was because the QB already knew more than he should have. Stereotyped as another “diva” receiver throwing a tantrum, Brown is now being reported to have aggravated an injury in the contest, and to have disagreed with Buccaneer coaches about his readiness to play. Rumors of peer pressure having been used on an injured NFL athlete could cast Sunday’s incident in a light more favorable to Brown, and more critical of the Buccaneers. Bruce Arians has denied the accusation that himself, Brady, or anyone from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff put pressure on Brown to take the field injured. Still, the idea that a premier player was unable, unwilling, or unsafe when asked to do what Bucs coaches demanded they do is a bad look for Arians’ staff going into January.
Tampa’s not on WagerBop’s selected ledger of best NFL bets this weekend. But we can tell you the Buccaneers aren’t a great ATS pick over Carolina at (-8). 2020 and 2021 have taught NFL speculators that there’s no point denying the effect of still-gathering storm clouds over a pro football team. (The Bucs may not be 100% focused again until the Divisional playoff round.) But on the flip side, a longer-than-ever NFL season gives controversy-plagued franchises a chance to relax, regroup, and forge a late redoubt as Super Bowl bids.
Those who’ve overcome what Tampa’s about to go through include the Las Vegas Raiders, a potential “miracle” 2022 postseason team previewed at bottom of Week 18’s scroll.
Week 18 NFL Odds, Point Spreads, and Best Bets
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (Saturday, January 8)
This game’s odds present the rare case in which an NFL team boasts shorter betting lines after experiencing a loss, not a win, on the weekend prior. Kansas City is a (-10) point spread favorite to defeat the rival Denver Broncos at Mile High. That’s a wide number for a rivalry game to start with, and Saturday’s point spread would surely be thinner if the Chiefs had beaten the Bengals.
Week 17’s stat sheet suggests Andy Reid took his foot off the gas pedal in Cincinnati, with a division title assured no matter what the Chiefs did in the contest. Reid utilized close to 15 eligible receivers and an entire 2nd string of athletes on defense in the loss, as a veteran head coach recognizes danger in trying to win all late-season games at the cost injuring key players in January.
The KC Chiefs can’t afford another defeat in Week 18, lest the defending AFC champs lose out on a potential #1 conference seed or at least a possible Wild Card Round bye.
QB Pat Mahomes‘ ideal supporting cast may actually take the field for more snaps on Saturday. Combined with Drew Lock’s improving numbers for the Broncos and a fierce rivalry between visiting contender and spoiler candidate, pregame angles point to FanDuel’s (44) point O/U line, not the points spread, as an inaccurate number. Denver’s weather forecast predicts mild conditions on Saturday, a bad sign for point total picks on the low-side.
Recommended bet: Over (44)
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday, January 8)
The point spread for Saturday’s Cowboys-Eagles matchup is also set quite wide, given the scenario of a troubled favorite against a rival spoiler. Philadelphia is a (+7) underdog to the visiting Dallas Cowboys in spite of threatening for a Wild Card bid by winning 3 games in a row.
Dallas could struggle to score TDs even if icy weekend precipitation holds off in the Northeast. Dak Prescott’s lost fumble in the 4th quarter of last Sunday’s 25-22 loss to Arizona is among the most costly turnovers committed by the star QB during his tenure in Texas. Club owner Jerry Jones is even answering questions about whether the Cowboys intend to go all-out with a starting 22 on Saturday, a dubious angle since Saturday’s thin slate won’t answer any NFC playoff-seeding questions prior to Dallas taking the field. Saturday’s early kickoff is in the AFC and there’s no TNF match-up before it.
Philadelphia against the spread is a good idea, but it’s a good idea because of on-field tactics and not Jerry Jones quotes. QB Jalen Hurts not only rushed for 6.1 YPC in the Iggles’ 3rd-straight win, but his coaches also captured game footage of Kyler Murray tearing up the Cowboys with option plays in Week 17.
Dallas would need to shut-out Philadelphia’s offense in the 1st half to demoralize the Eagles’ ball-control attack and pave the way for an ailing offensive backfield. Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t look like himself, and Silver Star fortunes may rest on his ability to heal while active.
Recommended bet: Eagles (+7)
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (Sunday, January 9)
Some of the most profound Las Vegas line-movement of the 2021-22 NFL season has taken place prior to Green Bay’s upcoming visit to Ford Field. Advance betting markets for Week 18 included the Packers as double-digit favorites over host Detroit, seeking only its 3rd victory of a cellar campaign. When the Arizona Cardinals upset the Dallas Cowboys to help Green Bay secure a playoff bye without additional Ws, anticipation swelled that HC Matt LaFleur would rest Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ other stars in Week 18, making Detroit a temporary favorite in Sin City.
The bizarre “minus odds” on Detroit did not last long. LaFleur was quick to tell the media that he “plans to play the best players” and that the starters “should be prepared to play the entire game, no matter how long a guy is going to be in there.”
As a result of the skipper’s remarks, Green Bay is again a favorite – albeit slight – to secure the victory.
Gamblers would be foolish to take LaFleur seriously, as head coaches always say things like that prior to such preparation-focused games. Rodgers will be wearing a baseball cap and chewing sunflower seeds by the end of what should be a preseason-style contest in Motor City, with the only caveat being the Lions’ motivation to play their starters and salve the season’s pain with a victory.
Recommended bet: Lions (+2.5)
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (Sunday, January 9)
Detroit and Green Bay produced the winter’s fastest moving NFL odds. Sunday’s kickoff in Buffalo may have the season’s most exaggerated point spread.
The Buffalo Bills are (-16.5) point favorites over the woeful New York Jets, a result of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen’s clutch play-making throughout the Bills’ late-season revival. Bookmakers are sensing that Buffalo’s urgency to win and desire to improve on a 10-6 record is diminishing, as the team hopes to avoid nail biting 4th-quarter stress over potentially losing their playoff spot.
The Bills have not beaten an opponent by more than 17 points since November, when a pair of blow-out wins over New York and New Orleans were paired with troubling losses to the Jaguars and Colts. Furthermore, Buffalo doesn’t have an elite-enough defense to be absolutely sure of shutting the Jets down, given that New York has improved enough to nearly upset the Dolphins and Buccaneers over the last 3 outings. Gang Green’s competent running game is a nice bonus when picking the Jets to cover 2 TDs and a field goal.
Icy cold, snow, and wind are expected in Buffalo this weekend. That’s a terrible omen for a visiting spoiler bid on the moneyline, but another factor which could help a 4-12 team hang close during a defensive scrum played in miserable footing.
Recommended bet: Jets (+16.5) and Under (43.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Sunday, January 9)
NFC playoff fortunes will be determined in a SoCal grudge match with tight betting lines. Los Angeles is currently the (-4) point spread favorite over a San Francisco team that could be getting a lot healthier at just the right time.
The 49ers have had a tough road to get to 9-7. The Mountain Goats had trials of their own last weekend, nearly losing to the Baltimore Ravens as the Lamar Jackson-less hosts made a final stand for Big Truss. Tyler Huntley has been superb for Baltimore, and Justin Tucker’s leg is as sure-fire a weapon as has ever existed in the NFL. Undaunted by an excruciating first 45:00 and a 16-7 deficit, the L.A. defense rose to the occasion to help manufacture an impressive 12-4 record by forcing its own turnovers.
Reports are coming in about several key players, including starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo, possibly returning to the 49er lineup right away. So long as the Los Angeles moneyline remains as thin as (-198) or similar odds, Sunday’s host-favorites are a poor idea for a wager at such chintzy prices straight-up or ATS.
Yes, the Rams are an infinitely better Super Bowl prospect than the visiting 49ers, but that’s less important in a 1-off scenario for high stakes, especially since San Fran needs a victory worst of all. The 49ers steamrolled the Rams earlier this season.
Recommended bet: 49ers (+4) or (+166)
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders (Sunday Night Football)
Having “unique rivalry” games to begin and end the season is a signature of NFL scheduling, but it’s anyone’s guess as to why the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers serve as The Shield’s primary west-coast grudge match on the ledger for Week 18. There is a massive fan base for the Silver & Black in L.A., but it’s not fundamentally different than the Dallas Cowboys fans in Houston or the Arizona Cardinals fans from St. Louis. The Raiders’ real heritage is in Oakland, after all, and the Week 18 “rivalry” felt by a care-worn roster in Sin City is with a group of fellow AFC West hopefuls vying for the same playoff opportunity.
Oh, well. There’s still a Sunday Night Football game to predict, and the Raiders-Chargers kickoff will certainly draw a ton of betting action as the regular season’s final contest. Bookmakers appear to like the visiting Bolts (-3.5) to win a potential play-in game with a O/U line of (49.5) total points.
Los Angeles beat Las Vegas by 14 points in early autumn, but there’s little relationship between the pre-controversy 2021-22 Raiders and the resilient, tough team that’s won 3 games in a row. Justin Herbert’s superior mobility is behind the favorites’ odds on the visiting Chargers, but there’s also something to be said for Derek Carr’s veteran moxie, especially when facing a youngster who is brand new to the scenario of a do-or-die NFL contest.
Recommended bet: Raiders (+3.5)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.