Week 18 Staff Picks: Baker Mayfield vs. Seahawks
NFL Week 18 - Compiled by Vincent Verhei
Sometimes, gambling advice is objective—like in the NFL picks you get with FO+, for instance. But sometimes gambling advice is subjective. We're trying something new this week, with staff picks from the FO writers. We'll do this every week if it gets a good response: picks against the spread, straight-up upsets, and player prop bets the FO staff likes in Week 18.
Lines are taken from the consensus at Vegas Insider.
Favorite Pick Against the Spread
Cale Clinton: Tennessee Titans (+6.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars. The Titans and Jaguars took two different approaches to their Week 17 games, with Tennessee taking the "rest over rust" path. The Titans also have the advantage of a long week on top of that, gaining some additional rest for a banged-up roster and giving new quarterback Joshua Dobbs more time to get comfortable in a new offense. Considering Dobbs posted the team's best offensive passing DVOA since Week 12 on eight days' notice, I like Tennessee to at least keep it close.
Bryan Knowles: Los Angeles Chargers (+3) at Denver Broncos. This game isn't fully meaningless to the Chargers, though it may well be before it actually kicks off in the afternoon. That likely means we'll see their starters at least for a bit—they'll be warmed up and ready to go, after all, so you may as well have them play a quarter. And that should be more than enough to cover a field goal spread over the Broncos, even without Nathaniel Hackett putting his thumb on the scales.
Jackson Roberts: New Orleans Saints (-3.5) over Carolina Panthers. The Saints are sneakily better than their record would indicate. Our estimated wins metric has New Orleans at 7.9, 14th in the NFL, while Carolina is at just 6.3. New Orleans has also won all three of their games since the Monday night Tampa Bay debacle and has the ninth-ranked defense per DVOA. I see one team fighting hard to finish the season and the other showing up to a road game deflated after blowing their shot at a division title last week.
Aaron Schatz: Detroit Lions (+4.5) at Green Bay Packers. The Lions offense on the road worries me a little, but weighted DVOA does have the Lions ahead of the Packers at this point so 4.5 seems like a bigger cushion than the Packers deserve. I can definitely see a close game here, no matter which team comes away with the win (or the playoff spot).
Tom Strachan: Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) at Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders have thrown in the towel, and whilst Jarrett Stidham performed above expectations against the 49ers, it might not pay to expect that two weeks in a row. The Chiefs need a win here, and Patrick Mahomes can surpass Drew Brees' single-season record with 430 more passing yards. That would be quite a big achievement, and I'm not sure the Raiders can keep up.
Vincent Verhei: Houston Texans (+2.5) at Indianapolis Colts. A lot of weird-looking lines this week as everyone's trying to guess just how hard some teams will be trying to win. The Texans are a fine example: they can clinch the top overall draft pick with a loss, but a win would probably give that pick to the Bears instead. But since a lot of these Texans players and coaches probably won't be here next year anyway, I'm guessing they give it their all, and they have been the better team as of late, with a weighted DVOA of -25.5% compared to the Colts' mark of -33.3%, worst in the NFL.
Upset of the Week
Limited to teams that are underdogs by three points or more.
Cale Clinton: Los Angeles Rams (+6) at Seattle Seahawks. I feel like Los Angeles' shell of a roster still has a surprising amount to play for. Led by Baker Mayfield and Cam Akers, a good handful of Rams players are getting one last shot to put tape out before the end of the season. Seattle's fight for a playoff spot got harder after losing leading tackler Jordyn Brooks to an ACL tear. I like Los Angeles to play spoiler on Sunday.
Bryan Knowles: Chicago Bears (+7.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings.
There once was a team that chanted "Skol!"
They had dreams of the Super Bowl.
But with every ridiculous game they won
their DVOA fell low.
Soon may the Peterman come
to throw 13 interceptions.
And yet when the counting is done,
he'll take his win and go.
Jackson Roberts: Los Angeles Rams (+6) at Seattle Seahawks. I don't feel great about his pick, but the upset board is pretty grisly as a whole this week—should I instead put my hopes in Nathan Peterman or the entire Cowboys' second unit? It seems like every year, a team with a decent chance to clinch the playoffs in Week 18 falls flat on its face against a non-contender (think last year's final Colts-Jags game). If I'm identifying a contender for that this season, this feels like a reasonable option.
Tom Strachan: New York Jets (+3) at Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have to win this weekend to have a chance at making the playoffs, but the Jets likely won't lay down and allow them to win. The Jets defense has been fantastic all season and should give a tough time to whichever quarterback the Dolphins utilize.
Vincent Verhei: Los Angeles Rams (+6) at Seattle Seahawks. Since acquiring Baker Mayfield, the Rams rank 19th in total DVOA, including eighth in pass offense; in that same time, the Seahawks rank 17th and 20th. Yes, L.A.'s numbers are skewed by the Christmas massacre of the Denver Broncos, but Pete Carroll's Seahawks have always struggled against the Rams, going 12-14 with losses to Sam Bradford, Austin Davis, Nick Foles, Jared Goff, Case Keenum, Matthew Stafford, and John Wolford. No reason Mayfield can't join that list.
Do You Have a Particular Player You Like to Put Up Really Strong Fantasy Points or Go Over His Betting Props This Week?
Cale Clinton: Trevor Lawrence, QB, JAX. Travis Etienne and JaMycal Hasty have dominated most of the offensive output from the Jaguars the past two weeks, something that will be harder to keep up against the second-best rushing defense in the league by DVOA. Lawrence and the Jaguars posted a 94.7% offensive passing DVOA the last time they played Tennessee, and I expect them to lean similarly on their passing attack with the division title on the line.
Jackson Roberts: Tyler Higbee, TE, LAR. Because if the Rams are going to beat the Seahawks, somebody will need to put up yards and touchdowns. The Seahawks are 28th in DVOA against tight ends, and despite a dud last week, Higbee still has three scores in his last three weeks with Baker Mayfield under center.
Aaron Schatz: Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, TEN. The Jaguars rank 31st in DVOA against tight ends and 27th in yards allowed per game (adjusted for opponents). The over/under on Okonkwo is just 23.5 yards, and he should be a good security blanket for an inexperienced Joshua Dobbs. Okonkwo has only 34 yards total the past two weeks, but he went over this total in seven straight games before that, including Week 14 against Jacksonville (45 yards and a touchdown).
Tom Strachan: Justin Jefferson, WR, MIN. Jefferson is within distance of setting the single-season record for receiving yards. Jefferson needs 194 yards to break the record and faces a woeful Chicago defense that ranks 32nd against WR1s. Jefferson might struggle to get quite that high, but I'd expect the Vikings to force-feed him early. Jefferson's over/under line is set at 94.5 on several platforms.
Vincent Verhei: Trevor Lawrence, QB, JAX. I have been riding "running back facing the Houston Texans" for most of the year, but no way I'm betting on the Colts' backs without Jonathan Taylor. Instead I'll take Trevor Lawrence, who's in a win-and-in situation against a Tennessee Titans defense that ranks second against the run but 28th against the pass. The Jaguars should be passing early, often, and successfully on Saturday night.
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