Bleacher Report's Expert Week 18 NFL Picks

NFL StaffContributor IJanuary 6, 2022

Bleacher Report's Expert Week 18 NFL Picks

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    This is it. The end of the line. The final weekend of the NFL regular season. And the gang here at Bleacher Report has some work to do.

    After peeling off a run of consensus selections against the spread from Bleacher Report national NFL writers Gary DavenportBrad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, B/R Gridiron editors Ian Kenyon and Wes O'Donnell, and B/R Betting host Connor Rogers that was 13 games over .500 from Week 13 to Week 16, the team stumbled a bit last week.

    There's still a chance to finish strong though. One last 16-game slate. The problem is that this may be the hardest week of all to pick games thanks to the added uncertainty of teams that have clinched postseason berths potentially resting players.

    Oh well. Who doesn't love a challenge?


    Lines are from DraftKings as of Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Check DraftKings for the latest odds info. Information on public betting trends courtesy of the Action Network. ATS records courtesy of Sportsline.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Denver Broncos (7-9)

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    Peter Aiken/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Kansas City -10.5

    The Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos are in familiar situations entering the final weekend of the regular season—for better or worse.

    With a victory on the road Saturday afternoon and a loss by the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, the Chiefs can lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a bye in the Wild Card Round. The Broncos, on the other hand, are trying to avoid a third double-digit loss season in the past four years.

    For Gagnon, the double-digit spread and the fact that over 85 percent of the public action is on the Chiefs is tempting—but not tempting enough to take Denver's floundering offense.

    "This game will still matter in the eyes of the Chiefs, who should get left tackle Orlando Brown back from a calf injury for a Denver team that has been held to 13 or fewer points in four of its last five games," Gagnon said. "Fading the public with 10.5 points in Denver's back pocket is tempting in a divisional matchup, but Patrick Mahomes and Co. should be out to make a statement."

    Neither of these teams have fared especially well against the spread—the Chiefs are 8-8 ATS this season, while the Broncos are 7-9. But the Chiefs have scored 31 or more points in four of five games since the bye, while the Broncos have scored more than 13 points just once in the last five weeks.

    That one time Kansas City was held under 31 points? A 22-9 victory over the Broncos at Arrowhead in Week 13.

    Expect a similar outcome here.



    Davenport: Kansas City

    Gagnon: Kansas City

    Kenyon: Kansas City

    O'Donnell: Kansas City

    Rogers: Kansas City

    Sobleski: Denver

    Score Prediction: Chiefs 27, Broncos 13

Dallas Cowboys (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Dallas -7

    Saturday's second game carries more than a few interesting subplots.

    The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles have both secured playoff berths, with the former the NFC East champions and the latter a wild card. With both teams locked into the playoffs, there has been talk of resting starters.

    Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni is considering resting players like nicked-up quarterback Jalen Hurts. However, Dallas team owner Jerry Jones insisted that the Cowboys won't be giving any of their stars the night off—especially with a chance to move up as far the NFC's No. 2 seed on the line.

    "We plan to play. We plan to play to win," Jones said on his weekly radio appearance on 105.3 The Fan.

    However, despite that uncertainty about who will or won't be playing, Kenyon is putting his metaphorical moolah on the Eagles and taking the touchdown with the home 'dog.

    "They've had a cakewalk schedule over the past month, but the Eagles are 6-1 in their last seven games and enter week 18 as one of the NFL's hottest teams," he said. "I'm all-in on the Eagles right now, who have seemed to find their recipe for success with one of the league's most dynamic rushing attacks. The Cowboys looked lost on offense in a 25-22 loss to the Cardinals at home last week. The Cowboys should rebound and still win this game, but give me the Eagles covering a touchdown at home."

    The majority of our experts either expect Philly to keep it close or don't believe Jones, because they are siding with Kenyon in taking Philly.



    Davenport: Philadelphia

    Gagnon: Dallas

    Kenyon: Philadelphia

    O'Donnell: Dallas

    Rogers: Philadelphia

    Sobleski: Philadelphia

    Score Prediction: Cowboys 24, Eagles 20

Indianapolis Colts (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Indianapolis -15

    At first glance, this would appear a relatively easy call. The Jacksonville Jaguars are an absolutely putrid football team that has lost by at least two touchdowns in four of the past five games—including a 50-10 waxing at the hands of the New England Patriots last week.

    The Indianapolis Colts need a win Sunday in Jacksonville to make the playoffs, and head coach Frank Reich admitted to Zak Keefer of The Athletic that for all intents and purposes the playoffs start for Indy on Sunday.

    "The playoffs start for us this week," Reich said. "We're expecting Jacksonville's best. We know we've struggled down there, and this team (the Jags) takes a lot of pride in playing us the way they play us."

    Here's the thing though—Reich has never beaten the Jaguars in Duval County. That pigskin oddity gives O' Donnell some pause—just not enough to take Trevor "What Are Touchdown Passes?" Lawrence and the Jags.

    "The most frightening number in this game isn't the multi-touchdown spread, it's that the Colts have lost in Jacksonville in their last six tries going all the way back to 2015," he said. "Both are vastly different teams now, Indy is fighting for one of the final open playoff spots, and they'll make the most of this opportunity against a hapless Jags squad."

    Gagnon and Kenyon are taking the points, but the rest of the panel sided with O'Donnell in believing that the Colts will stop the streak while the Jaguars will continue to be, well, awful.



    Davenport: Indianapolis

    Gagnon: Jacksonville

    Kenyon: Jacksonville

    O'Donnell: Indianapolis

    Rogers: Indianapolis

    Sobleski: Indianapolis

    Score Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 10

Tennessee Titans (11-5) at Houston Texans (4-12)

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Tennessee -10.5

    It's all coming together for the Tennessee Titans.

    The Titans have already captured the AFC South for the second consecutive season. Now, thanks to Cincinnati's upset of the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17, a win over the Houston Texans on Sunday will lock the Titans into the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

    But wait! There's more.

    Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Titans designated running back Derrick Henry to return from injured reserve, opening the door for the team's bruising star back to re-join the Titans for the postseason push.

    Still, despite all that momentum, Kenyon is among half our panelists who think the Texans will give the Titans a scare Sunday after humiliating Tennessee 22-13 at Nissan Stadium in Week 11.

    "Tennessee has everything to play for in this game with the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line, but the Texans have proven to be a tougher out than people expect," he said. "Despite their 4-12 record, Houston is 7-9 against the spread on the season. I expect the Texans to give Tennessee a fight in Week 18 and cover 10.5."

    However, Davenport isn't so sure.

    "I'll freely admit I was on Houston at first," he wrote. "But the Titans have too many reasons to put the hammer down in this game. There's the No. 1 seed in the AFC and another week for Henry to get right. Payback for the loss at home to the Texans. A backdoor cover late by Houston is a possibility. But so is a message-sending blowout by a Titans team that is getting healthy at the perfect time."



    Davenport: Tennessee

    Gagnon: Houston

    Kenyon: Houston

    O'Donnell: Tennessee

    Rogers: Tennessee

    Sobleski: Houston

    Score Prediction: Titans 27, Texans 17

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Cleveland Browns (7-9)

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Browns -6

    The second iteration of "The Battle of Ohio" features two teams whose fates have been juxtaposed in 2021.

    The Cleveland Browns were a preseason hype darling last summer. A team some believed could make a deep playoff run. But it's the Cincinnati Bengals who will be playing on after Week 18 after last week's stunning win over the Chiefs gave the team the AFC North title.

    The moral of this story is never, ever to believe that good things will happen in Cleveland.

    This game also features a line that swung well over a touchdown on Wednesday alone. That's when it was announced that Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow would sit out the finale, while running back Joe Mixon would miss the game as well after landing on the COVID-19 list.

    Of course, it's not like the Browns are at full strength, either. Quarterback Baker Mayfield's season is over after he elected to have surgery on the torn labrum in his left shoulder that plagued him much of the season.

    Those developments sent the line swinging wildly, from Cincinnati -3 to Cleveland -6.

    That's quite the pivot.

    Davenport was the lone writer on the Browns before everything went wonky, and he's sticking to his guns—albeit reluctantly.

    "Laying 5.5 points with a Case Keenum-led offense for a disappointing team is a very Week 18 thing to do, in that it makes very little sense," he said. "But the Browns played their best game of the season against the Bengals, and it feels like with Burrow resting and Mixon out that we're going to see quite a few Bengals starters either sit out entirely or only play part of the game."

    To say that Gagnon disagrees is an understatement.

    "Are we forgetting that the Browns are a complete mess and are also without their starting quarterback? I'm not laying a handful of points with a team that is toast, and at least the Bengals still have reason to be motivated despite their injuries. I still think they win this outright," he said.

    The rest of the gang is with him.



    Davenport: Cleveland

    Gagnon: Cincinnati

    Kenyon: Cincinnati

    O'Donnell: Cincinnati

    Rogers: Cincinnati

    Sobleski: Cincinnati

    Score Prediction: Browns 24, Bengals 20

Chicago Bears (6-10) at Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Minnesota -3.5

    Sunday's season finale between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears is a meaningless battle between two NFC North foes—and a game between two head coaches in Chicago's Matt Nagy and Minnesota's Mike Zimmer, who could be looking for work come the following day.

    As a matter of fact, according to WFAN's Boomer Esiason, Nagy has already been informed that Sunday's game will be his last as head coach (h/t NBC Sports Chicago). Sobleski believes that his team will send him out the right way.

    OK, he believes that the Bears will at least keep it close. You take what you can get in Chicago this year.

    "The Bears and Vikings are two teams going into Week 18 possibly playing for their respective coach's job," he said. "At least, Chicago is playing better as of late, albeit against inferior competition. Basically, I'm taking the points."

    However, the Bears have had a rough go of it against the spread this year—the Bears are 6-10 ATS overall, 3-5 on the road and 3-9 as an underdog. Add to that the fact that the Vikings took down Chicago 17-9 back in Week 15, and Davenport is begrudgingly laying the points with the Vikings.

    "The Vikings aren't a good football team, and reports indicate that Mike Zimmer will be a goner regardless of how Sunday's game plays out," he said. "But the Vikings have a far superior offense to Chicago's 28th-ranked mess, and since there are no real stakes in this game Kirk Cousins will probably throw for 325 yards and three scores."



    Davenport: Minnesota

    Gagnon: Chicago

    Kenyon: Chicago

    O'Donnell: Minnesota

    Rogers: Minnesota

    Sobleski: Chicago

    Score Prediction: Vikings 23, Bears 20

Washington Football Team (6-10) at New York Giants (4-12)

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Washington -7

    In the local markets where Sunday's game between the Giants and Washington is being televised, tequila should be distributed door to door.

    Something to dull the pain.

    This is a pair of bad football teams. Washington is riding a four-game losing streak of NFC East games that includes a 56-14 annihilation at the hands of Dallas, in which teammates Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne came to blows on the sidelines. The Giants, on the other hand, have lost five straight by double digits, the last being a 29-3 drubbing at the hands of a bad Bears team.

    In each of the last two games, the Giants have failed to amass 200 yards of total offense, and Sunday the G-Men will trot out Jake "Belongs in the XFL" Fromm at quarterback. Laying a full touchdown with a mediocre team that is 6-9-1 ATS this season isn't a play for the squeamish, but for Gagnon it's an easy call.

    "I just figure the WFT will give it their all in their last-ever game without a name," he quipped. "But on a more serious note, this is because the Giants simply aren't a remotely competitive football team right now. They've lost five consecutive games by double-digit margins and are coming off a humiliating loss to a mediocre Bears team."

    He got no argument from the rest of our experts, although any time our group is unanimous in a call, it usually ends badly.

    But still...Jake Fromm.



    Davenport: Washington

    Gagnon: Washington

    Kenyon: Washington

    O'Donnell: Washington

    Rogers: Washington

    Sobleski: Washington

    Score Prediction: Washington 23, Giants 6

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

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    Justin Berl/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Baltimore -5

    Now this should be a football game!

    Any time the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens lock horns, you know it's going to be a hard-fought, physical game. But in Sunday's game, the stakes are that much higher.

    Simply put, the team that wins this game has at least a chance of playing on, although both need help. Both teams need the Jaguars to upset the Colts. The Steelers need the Raiders and Chargers to not tie. The Ravens, on the other hand, need the Patriots to beat the Dolphins and the Raiders to down the Chargers.

    That the Ravens are in this position at all would have seemed unthinkable a month and a half ago—after downing the Browns in Week 12, the Raiders were 8-3 and in the hunt for the AFC's top seed. But with Lamar Jackson sidelined by an ankle injury, the Ravens have since dropped five straight, leaving their postseason hopes dangling by the slimmest of threads.

    There's hope that Jackson will return for this game, which could also be Ben Roethlisberger's last as a Steeler. For his part Davenport isn't especially confident in either team to win outright, but he is confident that the spread is too big for his tastes.

    "Neither of these teams are making the playoffs," he said. "The Colts are going to make sure of that by curb-stomping the Jaguars. But that won't stop this from being a knockdown, drag-out brawl of a game, as so many Ravens-Steelers matchups are. Pittsburgh has won three straight in the rivalry by a combined 10 points, and just one of the last five meetings were decided by double digits. Give me the road team and the points."

    The majority of the panel agrees.



    Davenport: Pittsburgh

    Gagnon: Pittsburgh

    Kenyon: Baltimore

    O'Donnell: Baltimore

    Rogers: Pittsburgh

    Sobleski: Pittsburgh

    Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Steelers 21

Green Bay Packers (13-3) at Detroit Lions (2-13-1)

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Green Bay -3.5

    That that line doesn't have an extra digit is what you call, in technical terms, a sign that something weird is afoot.

    At 13-3, the Green Bay Packers have already locked up the NFC North title and the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs. There is nothing to play for this week—and as a result many expect that Green Bay's second-stringers are going to see a lot of action against the Lions.

    Still, for what it's worth, Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur said he's more worried about keeping his starters sharp than injuries, indicating that Aaron Rodgers and Co. will play at least part of the game.

    "I know that you can look at it a million different ways and there's never a right answer unless it works out," LaFleur said, via the team's website. "If somebody goes in there and gets injured then, 'Well, why'd you play your guys?' But if you go out there in that first playoff game and you lay an egg, 'Well, why'd you rest your guys?' So there's not a right answer."

    As Kenyon pointed out, Rodgers also wants to get some action.

    "This line feels like a trap and must be based on the possibility that Green Bay could rest Aaron Rodgers and the rest of their major starters after locking into the No. 1 seed in the NFC," he said. "Aaron Rodgers stated on The Pat McAfee Show Tuesday that he hopes to play and that it's important for Green Bay to keep their momentum rolling into the postseason. If everyone plays, they should easily cover over a woeful Detroit team who would be better off losing this game to secure a better draft pick anyways."

    Three more voters are with Kenyon that the Packers will get the cover to move to a ridiculous 13-4 against the spread for the year.



    Davenport: Green Bay

    Gagnon: Green Bay

    Kenyon: Green Bay

    O'Donnell: Detroit

    Rogers: Detroit

    Sobleski: Green Bay

    Score Prediction: Packers 26, Lions 23

New York Jets (4-12) at Buffalo Bills (10-6)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Buffalo -16

    The Buffalo Bills are in the postseason again. That much we know. But this week's tilt with the New York Jets still carries weight for Josh Allen and Co.

    With a win, the Bills will claim the AFC East title for the second consecutive year. And with a third game against the rival Patriots potentially looming in the Wild Card Round, ensuring that game is in Buffalo carries more than a little weight.

    The last time the Bills met the Jets, things got ugly in a hurry—Buffalo wrecked New York 45-17 in a game where Josh Allen threw for 366 yards and the Bills defense intercepted Jets quarterback Mike White four times.

    Buffalo is an impressive 8-6-2 against the spread this season, and hasn't failed to cover when the spread was between 15 and 18 points (although there was one push). But with the Jets playing more competitively over the past month or so, and the possibility the Bills could pull starters if staked to a lead, laying over two touchdowns is a bridge too far for O'Donnell.

    "This is simply too many points in a division rivalry game where records don't often matter," he wrote. "The Jets haven't beaten Buffalo since 2019, but they won't roll over and will not have forgotten the 28-point beating they suffered earlier this season. Whether a backdoor cover or a closely contested game all the way through, I'll take the points."

    With the exception of Davenport, the group is with him on the underdog, as is about two-thirds of the public action.



    Davenport: Buffalo

    Gagnon: New York

    Kenyon: New York

    O'Donnell: New York

    Rogers: New York

    Sobleski: New York

    Score Prediction: Bills 27, Jets 14

New England Patriots (10-6) at Miami Dolphins (8-8)

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: New England -6.5

    The New England Patriots are back in the postseason.

    Whether it's as a wild card or as AFC East champions depends as much on what the Bills do against the Jets as New England's performance Sunday, but the Pats will have ample motivation to go all-out when their contest begins against the rival Dolphins.

    For the Dolphins, there's nothing to play for but pride. After following a 1-7 start with a seven-game winning streak, last week's blowout loss to the Titans ended Miami's playoff hopes.

    That loss raised more questions about Tua Tagovailoa's long-term viability at quarterback, but he told reporters last week that he isn't about to let the ongoing chatter get to him.

    "I've heard this the entire time I've been here, so at the end of the day, I can control what I can control and that's to be the best version of myself for this team," Tagovailoa said. "We've got to move on to the next game at this point. We'll look at the mistakes that we've made, make some corrections and move on."

    Unfortunately, that chatter is only to going to get louder if our experts are correct. O'Donnell is one of four panelists who thinks the Patriots will emerge here with a convincing win.

    "The Pats might very well be on the road in Wild Card Weekend and they need all the momentum they can muster," he said. "Miami is eliminated from playoff contention, but it'll give the Pats a playoff-level fight to close the season. New England will treat this like its first playoff game as it might not be back at Foxborough again this year, and it'll cover this spread even if it doesn't happen until late in the game."



    Davenport: New England

    Gagnon: Miami

    Kenyon: New England

    O'Donnell: New England

    Rogers: New England

    Sobleski: Miami

    Score Prediction: Patriots 28, Dolphins 17

Carolina Panthers (5-11) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)

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    Brian Westerholt/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Tampa Bay -8

    There is no chance that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs this year—not that playing on the road seemed to bother them in 2020.

    However, with a win over the reeling Panthers on Sunday and a Rams loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Bucs could leapfrog Los Angeles for the No. 2 spot, And with that possibility on the table, Tampa head coach Bruce Arians made it clear to reporters that despite the injuries that have blasted the offense of late, there won't be any resting players in Week 18.

    "There is no balance, brother, you play to win," Arians said. "You're playing to get that second seed, that's huge. We're not resting anybody. We're playing to win."

    Given that emphatic response and a matchup with a Panthers team that is 2-11 over their last 13 games and 5-11 against the spread for the season, the panel is unanimous in picking the Buccaneers to take care of business Sunday afternoon at home.

    "The Panthers offense simply cannot get anything going with Sam Darnold under center," Rogers said. "It doesn't matter who is out there to catch passes from Tom Brady, the Bucs offense is going to put up points. I have no expectations for this to be a competitive game, despite how rough Tampa Bay looked against the Jets last weekend."

    Carolina is so bad that even the dreaded unanimous pick doesn't have the mojo to mess this up.



    Davenport: Tampa Bay

    Gagnon: Tampa Bay

    Kenyon: Tampa Bay

    O'Donnell: Tampa Bay

    Rogers: Tampa Bay

    Sobleski: Tampa Bay

    Score Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Panthers 10

San Francisco 49ers (9-7) at Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -5

    Of all the games in Week 18, the NFC West showdown between the Rams and 49ers is one of the most fascinating.

    If the Rams win, they will procure the No. 2 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage through at least the divisional round. The stakes are that much higher for the 49ers—earn a sixth-straight win over Los Angeles, and the Niners play on. Lose, and the team's postseason dreams could go up in smoke.

    As if that wasn't nerve-wracking enough, the Niners don't know who their starting quarterback will be this week. Per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area, while Jimmy Garoppolo is back at practice, Kyle Shanahan isn't sure if it will be Garoppolo or Trey Lance under center in this all-important game.

    Still, while the 49ers face quite a bit of uncertainty, as Davenport wrote it's not like the Rams don't have issues of their own.

    "Yes, the Rams have peeled off five wins in a row," he said. "But only one of those wins came against a team that had a winning record, and the Rams barely squeaked past the reeling Ravens last week. There's also the not insignificant matter of the 31-10 piano the Niners dropped on the Rams heads back in Week 10. If I was picking this game straight up, I'd probably go with Los Angeles. But the San Francisco defense is good enough to keep this one close, and San Fran should be able to control the tempo with Elijah Mitchell back at running back. Give me the points in a game that should go down to the wire."

    With one exception, the entire panel is on the Santa Clara Express in Week 18.



    Davenport: San Francisco

    Gagnon: San Francisco

    Kenyon: Los Angeles

    O'Donnell: San Francisco

    Rogers: San Francisco

    Sobleski: San Francisco

    Score Prediction: Rams 24, 49ers 23

Seattle Seahawks (6-10) at Arizona Cardinals (11-5)

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Arizona -7

    It has been quite the season of ups and downs for the Arizona Cardinals.

    There was the 7-0 start. The 9-2 mark that had the team atop the NFC at the bye week. The three-game skid (including a stunning loss to the Detroit Lions) that dropped them from first place in the NFC West. And last week's win over the Cowboys that gives the Redbirds at least a chance to win the division and earn a home game in the postseason.

    That would take both a win over the Seahawks Sunday and a loss by the Rams, but Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said his team will be doing everything it can to avoid winding up the No. 5 seed—a spot that would mean a likely rematch with Dallas in the Wild Card Round.

    "I would rather not (play Dallas again)," he said. "Just excited to be in the playoffs, so whoever it ends up (being), we'll take it. (But) it's tough to beat anybody twice in this league. ..."

    Arizona earned a 10-point win over the Seahawks in Week 11 and the Cardinals are a solid 10-6 against the spread this year, But apparently a full touchdown is too rich for the betting public's tastes, as the majority of the money is on the underdogs.

    Rogers believes those wagers are a poor investment.

    "Arizona looked to be in deep trouble after a disastrous December, but a huge win on the road against Dallas stopped its skid," he said. "Seattle, heading towards an offseason filled with change, is dealing with a bad matchup here. The Seahawks ran all over the Lions (265 yards), but the Cardinals held the Cowboys to 45 yards on the ground. On top of that, Kyler Murray and company have something to play for. They'll keep their foot on the gas and win by at least a touchdown at home."

    The entire group (gulp) agrees with him.



    Davenport: Arizona

    Gagnon: Arizona

    Kenyon: Arizona

    O'Donnell: Arizona

    Rogers: Arizona

    Sobleski: Arizona

    Score Prediction: Cardinals 31, Seahawks 20

New Orleans Saints (8-8) at Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Saints -4.5

    That the Saints are still alive for a playoff spot is nothing short of remarkable. This is a team that saw its Hall of Fame quarterback retire after the 2020 season and has since started Jameis Winston. And Trevor Siemian. And Taysom Hill. And Ian Book.

    OK, the last one was a disaster. But if the Saints can get past the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and the Rams beat the 49ers, New Orleans will hit the road as the NFC's No. 7 seed.

    The first part of that equation is not a given—the Falcons have long been a tough out for the Saints, and Atlanta won the first meeting between the teams 27-25 back in Week 9. But the Falcons are also a bad football team—Atlanta ranks 26th in total offense, 24th in total defense, 27th in scoring offense and 29th in scoring defense.

    The vast majority of our experts, including Sobleski, expect the Saints to hold up their end on the road.

    "This pick is all about the Saints' defense," he wrote. "The unit hasn't allowed two touchdowns in any game since Week 13 against the Dallas Cowboys. On the flip side, the Falcons offense isn't exactly lighting it up in recent weeks. Matt Ryan averaged 209.5 yards passing over the previous four games. He's also tied for fifth as the league's most-sacked quarterback. The Saints will get after Ryan and Co. The hope is the New Orleans offense can provide enough to cover the spread."

    The Saints have had success as a favorite this season, with five wins in eight games.



    Davenport: Atlanta

    Gagnon: New Orleans

    Kenyon: New Orleans

    O'Donnell: New Orleans

    Rogers: New Orleans

    Sobleski: New Orleans

    Score Prediction: Saints 19, Falcons 13

Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    DraftKings Line: Chargers -3

    There's a reason why the AFC West battle between the Chargers and Raiders was "flexed" to Sunday night. The stakes are as simple as they are high: Win and you're in, lose and you go home.

    OK, OK, if the Jaguars beat the Colts and the Raiders and Chargers tie, both teams would make the playoffs. But if frogs had wings, they wouldn't bump their butts when they hop.

    For the Raiders, it's a chance to put an exclamation point on a season that has seen the team overcome distraction after distraction. For Justin Herbert and the Chargers, it's a chance to join teams like the Bengals as up-and-coming contenders led by superstar quarterbacks in the making.

    We've seen this movie before. In Week 4, the Chargers doubled up the Raiders thanks to three passing touchdowns from Justin Herbert and 145 total yards from running back Austin Ekeler. The Raiders have shown capable of flipping that script with wins over the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, but Rogers believes the Chargers will once again get the win in the rematch.

    "Two of the most unpredictable teams in football with potentially everything on the line, this should be a Sunday night thriller," he said. "Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler had little issue against this squad earlier in October, and I think we'll see a repeat of that. The Raiders defense has forced one turnover in their last six games. It's hard to believe that's even possible."

    It should be a fitting finale to a wild regular season.



    Davenport: Los Angeles

    Gagnon: Los Angeles

    Kenyon: Los Angeles

    O'Donnell: Los Angeles

    Rogers: Los Angeles

    Sobleski: Los Angeles

    Score Prediction: Chargers 34, Raiders 30


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