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4 NFL WEEK 18 BETS - You can keep your motivation narratives

A lot of the commentary and analysis going into week 18 swirls around who needs to win to get into the playoffs, which teams will be "motivated", and which teams will rest players.

To hell with [most of] that. There are a few spots I'll avoid because of these considerations, but in my opinion, overplaying these angles opens up value. (There's at least some data behind it too. This week Rob Pizzola shared that in the last 20 years teams that had to win to make the playoffs are winning at a 37% clip. That doesn't prove much, but it should make you question how much stock you put in these factors.)

Enough with the preamble, here are four bets I've placed this week.

San Francisco 49ers -4 (-110) FanDuel

1.1 Units

It's Sam Darnold time! And that actually has a lot to do with this bet. I don't want to overdo the impact of teams resting players, but sometimes the edges this creates are too glaring to avoid.

Sam Darnold will start in place of Brock Purdy. A downgrade, certainly, but not devastating.

Carson Wentz will start in place of Matt Stafford. A massive downgrade.

Many of the starters from both teams will sit for this one, but it will impact the Rams more. This is a team that runs off of Matt Stafford, Kyren Williams, Puka Nacua, and Cooper Kupp. None of them are playing.

Yes, the Niners' great skill players will sit too, but they have some serviceable backups--Darnold can work with that enough to get a touchdown win in this one.

Tennessee Titans +4 (-110) BetRivers


The Jaguars need to win to win the division!! Indeed they do, and I have some futures bets that make me hope it happens, but I don't think this game will be a blowout.

Trevor Lawrence sounds like he's on track to play, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. He's tried to play through injuries in the second half of the season and it hasn't gone well. He's playing behind a poor offensive line with both Christian Kirk and Zay Jones missing for much of the season. If he's not 100%, or at least 80%, I think they'd be better off having him sit. But they won't.

The Titans will take the approach of their coach and won't throw in the towel here. At least, I'd be surprised if they did. My biggest concern would be if they decided to throw Malik Willis in at QB.

Regardless, getting 4 points is more than enough here.

Washington Commanders +13 (-108) DraftKings


The Commanders' season is over. True.

The Cowboys need to win this game to secure the division. Also true.

Neither of those facts means the Cowboys will win in a blowout. Overall, they have been much worse away from home this season (though they did kick the Giants' ass in week 1, another ass-whooping here would be a nice bookend for them). In addition, since their 33-13 blowout of the Eagles, they have lost three in a row. (Okay, I know, I know, they *technically won last week.) The point is, they're not playing great and they haven't played great away from home.

This is also a decent spot for a backdoor cover. The Cowboys just need to win. If it's a three-score game into the fourth quarter they may not worry about keeping the Commanders out of the end zone, as long as they can keep the clock running.

Chicago Bears +3.5 (-110) BetRivers


My greatest joy in week 18 would be a Packers loss combined with a Seahawks win to keep the stinky cheese team out of the playoffs.

Beleaguered Vikings fan bias aside, at this point in the season the Bears are the better team and we're getting more than a field goal. The Bears' defense has gotten healthy and added Montez Sweat. They haven't allowed more than 17 points in the past five weeks.

The Packers shredded a Vikings' defense that had been solid last week. All credit to them. But (here comes the Vikings fan) the Vikings almost always find ways to get wrecked in big games--not the least of which is having their coach decide to trot out an unproven 5th-round rookie who looked completely overwhelmed. Yeah, yeah, I'm moving on.

And therein lies the reason I like the Bears. The Packers defense has been dreadful. They have several injuries on that side of the ball. Even if their guys can play, they may not be at 100%. Justin Fields may not be a great NFL QB, but against this defense, you don't have to be.

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