NFL Betting Guide: Week 18

Do you think you know a lot about NFL football? Try regularly picking five games against the spread.

Even with all the information, advanced stats, and people attempting, elite sports bettors are lucky to get about 53% to 54% of -110 (even probability) bets correctly. It's essentially flipping a coin.

That being said, people try. Myself included. There are plenty of contests, media personalities, and other casual games at work or with friends that pick five games against the spread to see how they fare.

Here are my five picks against the spread and a couple of totals I like this week. Play or fade as you please.

Week 17 Recap

Last Week: 2-3
Year-To-Date: 45-39-1 (53.6%)

For the second straight week, a totally meaningless field goal took away a winning effort.

The 49ers pushed the lead to 16 points with seconds left in the game to cover the 13-point spread against Houston, which handed me a fat "L." Denver's COVID-19 woes also got the best of their offense as they were blasted by the Chargers, and the Chiefs' offense stalled in the second half as they lost outright to a Cincinnati team that's surging.

The two wins were the "other selections," which are 4-0 in the past two weeks if you're inclined to tail just those. The Raiders stunned most as 8.5-point dogs winning outright in Indianapolis, and the Bears throttled the hapless Giants.

Spread Picks

Pick #1: 49ers (+4) at Rams

Kyle Shanahan owns Sean McVay.

Since the pair were hired, Shanahan's Niners are 6-3 overall and 7-2 against-the-spread (ATS) when facing their cross-state rival Rams. Now, the 49ers' playoff hopes are on the line, and they'll likely need a win to feel safe considering the Saints' soft matchup with the Falcons.

The biggest improvement for San Fran to turn their record around has been their run defense. Over the past five weeks, the Niners have allowed the third-fewest Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry to opposing ball carriers. That allowed them to lock the Rams down to just 52 yards rushing in their Week 10 matchup, and Matthew Stafford struggled as a result.

That was at the peak of Stafford's powers. In the past three weeks, Stafford has led the NFL with eight turnover-worthy plays. With equal motivation in this game, I love Shanahan getting points in a matchup that he's dominated. The 49ers could cover this line in a close loss, but I believe they win outright in L.A. once more.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: 49ers 23-22

Pick #2: Steelers (+4.5) at Ravens

There's just enough motivation in Baltimore to feel that both the Ravens and Steelers show up to their Week 18 matchup.

FiveThirtyEight has the pair with a combined 8% playoff chance, so it's not overly likely, but this tough-nosed rivalry could see one last close game in the Ben Roethlisberger era. Roethlisberger likely retires after this matchup, but there truly isn't a better possible matchup to go out with a great performance.

Since losing Marlon Humphrey for the season, the Ravens have allowed three straight 300-yard passers and a league-worst 0.50 Passing NEP per drop back. Humphrey played in their first meeting in Pittsburgh where Roethlisberger averaged a sporty 0.29 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 13. The Steelers' 54% early-down first-half pass rate is amongst the highest in the league, and they're less affected by the stout Ravens' run defense than most.

Both teams have averaged 0.00 Offensive NEP per play since Week 10, so flip a coin on the winner, but the points feel like a no-brainer considering Pittsburgh's Defensive NEP per play (0.05) is actually better than Baltimore's (0.12) in that same stretch. A healthy Lamar Jackson still lost outright to the Steelers just five weeks ago, so his possible return in a limited capacity isn't worth this huge correction on the market, personally.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Ravens 20-19

Pick #3: Patriots (-6) at Dolphins

There are four sizable road favorites in must-win scenarios facing a home underdog with absolutely nothing to play for this weekend -- the Chiefs, Colts, Titans, and Patriots. Only one of them is laying less than a touchdown, though.

The Pats have struggled with the Dolphins at times historically -- a narrative that might have oddsmakers afraid to lay more than a touchdown with the Fins. They are just 1-4 ATS in their last five trips to South Beach. However, those Dolphins teams weren't freshly eliminated from the playoffs, and those Patriots teams weren't in a must-win scenario (was Tom Brady ever in the regular season?) for the division title.

This is a great matchup for the Patriots on paper. The Dolphins' offensive line has allowed a league-worst 32% pressure rate this season, and New England has a surprising pass rush this season (32% pressure rate; tied for eighth-best in the NFL). On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins have actually allowed the 10th-most rushing NEP per carry (0.05) the past five weeks, and that is the Pats' offensive strength behind Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.

Miami eeked out a one-point win in Foxboro to open the year, but the situation has dramatically changed since then. Laying less than a touchdown, I believe the Pats are on the favorable side of one of many road blowouts the oddsmakers are expecting this weekend.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Patriots 24-10

Other Selections

Bears (+5.5) at Vikings: Justin Fields will not start for Chicago since he's on the COVID-19 list, but Andy Dalton is a lateral move. The Vikings have allowed the fourth-most Defensive NEP per play (0.13) since Week 10, and they're a fading defense with nothing to play for. Minnesota hasn't won by two scores since Week 3, so it seems like great value to take the team with momentum and the better defense (-0.02 Defensive NEP per play in that same span) getting nearly a touchdown.

Browns (-6) vs. Bengals: The Browns won outright by 25 points in Cincinnati, so it's not like they can't cover six at home. Baker Mayfield to Case Keenum is a drop of just 0.04 Passing NEP per drop back -- almost nothing. Most of the Bengals' key pieces won't play in a game they're punting. Cincy is still allowing a 30% pressure rate and has surrendered 51 sacks this year (second in the NFL). Joe Burrow has done a great job of overcoming that. I don't think Brandon Allen can.

Totals of the Week

Pick #1: Chiefs at Broncos (Under 45.0)

Can the Broncos hold the Chiefs under 32 points?

That's really the question behind taking the under in Denver on Saturday. The reason is because of how atrocious and dysfunctional the Broncos' offense has been with Drew Lock under center this season. Denver hasn't scored more than 13 points in any game in which Lock has taken at least five snaps.

Lock's -0.03 Passing NEP per drop back isn't horrible, but his effect on Denver's running game has been. In the past two weeks, Denver's -0.22 Rushing NEP per carry is the worst mark in the league, and it came inside of two great matchups against Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The Chiefs' run defense has been strong since Week 10 (-0.01 Rushing NEP per carry allowed; 10th-best in the NFL), so the sledding won't get any easier for Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.

With Patrick Mahomes probably on the bench or strictly handing off when the outcome is decided, I'm more than comfortable to assume the Chiefs' high-powered offense downshifts just enough to keep this game under the total.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Chiefs 27-13

Pick #2: Football Team at Giants (Over 38.0)

numberFire's model has a three-star conviction on this side, and with a total so low, it doesn't take a lot of convincing to side with the over despite two wretched offenses.

Thankfully, the worse of the two offenses has the easier matchup at home. The Giants were embarrassed by a good Chicago defense last week, but Washington has the fourth-worst unit in terms of Defensive NEP per play (0.13) since Week 10. That's been equal parts on the ground and through the air, so it helps that Saquon Barkley ran for 4.9 yards per attempt last week with nothing to speak of in aerial support.

As for the G-Men defensively, they're tied for 12th-worst in that same category since Week 10 (0.07), and the Football Team got a spirited effort out of Jaret Patterson on the ground themselves in Week 16. Taylor Heinicke has a passable 0.01 Passing NEP per drop back mark since Week 10, too.

The defense may lighten up a little with nothing on the line as well. Since 2012, final week games where both teams have been eliminated from the playoffs have gone over their projected total 62% of the time by an average of 4.98 points.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Giants 23-21