Who needs it most?
NFL bettors will target a bulk of their money around six teams fighting for their lives in the last regular-season week.
All these clubs can reach the postseason in one form or another with a simple moneyline victory.
Here’s a look at NFL betting trends for Week 18 across the top sports betting apps.
High Profile Teams
1 and 2. Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts
They are linked by their Saturday night meeting. Houston is not only -1.5 (Best Live Odds: ) on the road but has 88% of the early DraftKings handle, tops at the entire book.
The victor will also gain the AFC South title if the Jacksonville Jaguars lose to the Tennessee Titans, but for now, their theme is: win and you’re in.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Must simply win on the road in Tennessee to take the division title.
4. Green Bay Packers
They host the Chicago Bears at home as a slight favorite. A win provides a Wild Card playoff berth.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will seize the NFC South by beating the Carolina Panthers. Will go home if they lose.
6. Buffalo Bills
A win over the host Miami Dolphins on Sunday night completes a difficult run to the playoffs and the AFC East title. A loss could send the Bills packing, depending on earlier developments.
That sets up our link between the first and last games of the week.
Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5 (Best Live Odds: ) at Baltimore Ravens
Yes, you read that right.
The Ravens have home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs and no incentive to win this Week 18 curtain-raiser. That’s why they are a dog here.
The Steelers can squirm into the playoffs with a road victory and a Miami Dolphins triumph over the Buffalo Bills.
“Normally, we would have had this game somewhere around Baltimore -6, but I don’t think Lamar Jackson is going to play and many of the Baltimore regulars will be rested,” Johhny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told Gaming Today.
“We opened at Baltimore -1.5 and the bettors took it all the way to Pittsburgh -4 before settling back at 3.5,” he added on what’s a 10-point betting swing from Baltimore’s perceived strength if the game mattered.
“This week is one of the most difficult weeks for bookmakers,” Avello said. “You don’t really know how to set lines on a team when you don’t know who is playing and how long they are playing.
“What you have to do is put up the line eliminating all the players you think who will not be playing and then see where the bettors take it.”
Mason Rudolph has surprisingly guided the Steelers to victories in the last two weeks. He will start ahead of a healthy Kenny Pickett, whom the Steelers drafted two years ago on the belief that Rudolph couldn’t lead them.
Well, he will now.
Prop players will eye the rejuvenated Najee Harris, who tallied twice and rushed for 122 yards last week. They will also jump on George Pickens, who has begun to realize his wide-receiver, big-threat potential. He amassed 131 receiving yards last week.
The Rudolph-Harris-Pickens triumvirate is suddenly hot.
They face a deep Ravens team that will be giving second-string players a chance to shine.
Buffalo Bills -3 (Best Live Odds: ) at Miami Dolphins
The Bills gain the division and No. 2 seed with a victory or miss the postseason entirely with a loss and a Pittsburgh win over Baltimore.
Buffalo has major threats in the rushing of quarterback Josh Allen, along with the receiving threats of Gabe Davis and Stefon Diggs. They were quiet last week, as Allen turnovers and a sluggish offense eked out a 27-21 non-cover win over the New England Patriots at -10.5.
The Dolphins, crushed by the Baltimore Ravens 56-19 last week, will also try to avenge a 48-20 loss in Buffalo earlier this year.
Miami already clinched a postseason berth, but a win here is the difference between starting the playoffs on the road or getting two potential home dates.
Tua Tagovailoa is expected to play despite suffering a shoulder injury late in the loss to Baltimore. Should that news change, so will the line, towards Buffalo.
Green Bay Packers -3 (Best Live Odds: ) vs Chicago Bears
On paper, it looks easy to some. The Packers need the game to get into the playoffs. They defeated the Bears in Week 1 and they are playing at home after notching two straight victories.
Not when you consider the recent play of Chicago quarterback Justin Fields. Since returning from a thumb injury in mid-November, Fields has rewarded Chicago bettors immensely.
Da Bears have gone 5-0-2 against the spread, including a cover and outright moneyline victory against the division champion Detroit Lions.
Chicago is eliminated from the postseason, but this game looms large for Fields.
He has suddenly looked like the quarterback the team drafted in 2021. Now, he needs to make a case for Chicago keeping him rather than taking USC quarterback Caleb Williams or another QB with the top pick in the 2024 Draft.
Fields wants to be paid handsomely and has been a mini-bust up until now. Williams would be a lot cheaper.
If Chicago keeps Fields, it can obtain a good haul by trading away the No. 1 pick.
This game may determine his fate with Chicago.
“If he can’t play for the Bears, he wants to impress one of the other teams,” Avello noted. “This is a big opportunity for him.”
All indications are that he will start.
Bunching the Games That Matter in NFL Week 18
Avello complimented the league for keeping the suspense level high in playoff scenarios.
Bettors will agree.
In the NFC South, the deciding games involving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons at the New Orleans Saints both start at 1 p.m. ET.
Tampa Bay wins the division with a triumph. Bettors expect them to do that and cover -5.5 (Best Live Odds: ) at FanDuel, which reports 90% of the handle on Tampa Bay.
Should the Bucs stumble, the Falcons-Saints winner gains the division.
The Philadelphia Eagles visit the New York Giants, while the Dallas Cowboys invade the Washington Commanders, both at 4:25 p.m. ET. Dallas takes the NFC East with a victory. Philly would steal it with a victory and an improbable Dallas loss.
The schedule ensures that the ‘Boys and Eagles will field full teams.
In the three-team AFC South race, the Texans or Colts will become spectators after their Saturday game.
The winner would then claim the division if the Jaguars lose to the Titans on Sunday. A Jags win locks up the division.