NFL Playoff Picture: Playoff scenarios and betting angles to exploit for Week 18

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) celebrates with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) after scoring a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in the first quarter at Lambeau Field
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Andrew Ortenberg

NFL· 2 weeks ago

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I'm an editor here at Pickswise who was raised in a household full of sports fanatics. Since I unfortunately never had LeBron James' jumping ability I wasn't able to make it to the NBA, and chose writing about sports as the next best thing. An avid sports bettor myself, I'm excited to get to write about the industry as it gets set to take off across the country. Buckle up.

The 2021 NFL regular season is winding down. That’s sad news, but it’s also exciting because it means the playoffs are right around the corner. We also still have one week left to go, and understanding the remaining playoff scenarios will be crucial for handicapping Week 18. Quite simply, there’s a lot more on the line for some teams this week than others.

More so than ever, you’ll need to do plenty of reading and research this week to determine who is playing for what and how it will impact the games. Let’s break down some of the angles at play this weekend, and how they can inform your Week 18 wagering.

How much will Packers starters play?

The Packers dominated the Vikings on Sunday Night Football, clinching the top seed in the NFC in the process. That means they are getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and that it doesn’t really matter whether they win or lose their Week 18 date with the Lions. As such, there’s been a lot of speculation that Aaron Rodgers and other key starters won’t play a full game. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has insisted his starters will play like normal, and that he doesn’t want the team to have too much of a layoff before their first playoff game.

But the market doesn’t really seem to believe him. The Packers are currently -3 road favorites over Detroit. Obviously, if this game was being played last week, Green Bay would be favored by a lot more than 3 points. Still, the Lions were -1 favorites on this line earlier, so clearly oddsmakers have adjusted in the wake of LaFleur’s comments. If you believe that Rodgers will play the full game and won’t take it easy, you’re going to want to bet the Pack at a reduced price. But it wouldn’t surprise me if we end up seeing a lot of Jordan Love on Sunday.

Will Tom Brady rest?

We have a similar story here for Panthers/Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has clinched the NFC South and is now only playing for seeding. That isn’t as important as it used to be since only one team gets a bye under the current format. You can tell oddsmakers aren’t expecting all-out effort from the Bucs, because they were much bigger favorites when this matchup was played just a couple of weeks ago in Carolina. As of right now, the Bucs are only -8 faves at FanDuel. Tom Brady is the ultimate competitor, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he wants to finish the regular season on a high note. But at the same time, the Bucs just barely managed to beat the Jets when they were going all out for a win. Therefore I would be wary of laying more than a touchdown with them in this spot.

Titans extra motivated?

Since the Chiefs lost to the Bengals in Week 17, the Titans can now clinch the top seed in the AFC simply by beating the Texans. Oddsmakers seem to think that added motivation is worth something. Tennessee is a road favorite of 10.5 points over Houston. This is about the same spread as when these teams played in Tennessee six weeks ago. The Texans won that game outright, and obviously the home-field advantage here has flipped. Even in Tennessee’s big win over Miami last week, Ryan Tannehill only had 120 yards. This Titans offense is just too anemic for me to lay double-digits. I think there’s some value getting +10.5 with the Texans.

Equally high stakes for Chargers @ Raiders

The game with the clearest stakes is this AFC West showdown between the Chargers and Raiders. Assuming the Colts beat the lowly Jaguars, then this will be ‘win or go home’ for both sides. It’s why this matchup has been flexed to Sunday Night Football — the finale of the 2021 NFL regular season. You don’t have to question either team’s motivation here. If you think Jacksonville is going to shock Indy, then you might want to bet on Los Angeles now. Because if the Jags somehow win, then the Raiders will likely have clinched their playoff spot by the time SNF kicks off. In that case, the line will probably move significantly toward the Chargers.

Bengals have No. 1 seed hopes alive, for now

This is an angle that I haven’t seen talked about much. The Bengals are also still alive for the No. 1 seed in the AFC; they can get the first-round bye if they win and the Titans and Chiefs both lose. As such, it would be assumed that Joe Burrow and all the starters will play a full game as long as they have a chance. But here’s the thing: Kansas City plays on Saturday. The Chiefs are double-digit favorites over the Broncos, so the Bengals will likely be out of the No. 1 seed hunt by the time their game against the Browns kicks off. Burrow dinged his knee on the final play of the game in their Week 17 win, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the team is cautious with him and lets Brandon Allen play some if Kansas City wins. With their motivation potentially being reduced prior to their game starting, I’m looking to take a nibble on the Browns early in the week. You don’t have to worry about Cleveland’s effort with this being its last home game.

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