NFL Power Rankings Week 18
The last thing you need is another hot take on the Damar Hamlin situation. I’m not trying to ignore the biggest story in football right now. But I’m instead going to choose to stick to the game.
And I have the same advice for every football bettor every year heading into the final week of the regular season: tread lightly.
I have seen more than one gambler flush a season’s worth of profit down the tubes by overreaching in the final week of the campaign. Yes, there is some value in this week’s action. There is also a lot of landmines and all kinds of trouble lurking out there.
Week 18 in the NFL is like betting the final week of the NFL Preseason. There is simply no reliable information about who is going to play, or for how long. Motivation is an essential element of betting on pro football. Most of the teams suiting up this week are out of the playoff hunt. So, it is extremely difficult to predict what, if any, motivation half of the teams in the league will have.
That is to say nothing to the changing dynamics that occur during the course of a game. The Giants, Vikings and Chargers are all teams that are currently qualified for the playoffs but insistent on playing their starters this week. Well, what happens if one of those teams fall behind 17-3? New York and Minnesota have built their seasons on the back of wild comebacks. With nothing tangible to play for, though, what is to keep them from rolling over in the second half of this week’s games and looking ahead to the postseason?
Another thing to remember: beware of “must win” games for teams. Good teams don’t put themselves in “must win” situations. Shaky, shady, ready-to-break-your-heart-and-bust-your-bankroll teams put themselves in “must win” situations.
Consider yourself warned.
Doc’s Sports offers NFL expert picks for every game on our NFL predictions page.
Here is Doc’s Sports NFL Power Rankings:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) – Mark my words: if the Chiefs lose in the postseason, the game will likely feature some kind of special teams meltdown. Kansas City has not been good in the third phase all season long, and I think it could cost them in January. Also, and this seems odd to say, but Patrick Mahomes needs to be a lot better than he was last week, missing throws left and right. The Chiefs have some things to tighten up.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) – The biggest issue facing this team right now isn’t the health of Jalen Hurts. It’s the fact that their confidence bubble burst. I still think that Philadelphia can beat anyone. But all the reports out of this locker room is of a team that is suddenly defeated. They are suddenly desperate to lock up home field advantage for no other reason than to get a week off to regroup and get their confidence back.
3. Buffalo Bills (12-3) – All we can do is join the litany of people sending thoughts and prayers to Hamlin this week. Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation, which supports a toy drive for his community, has raised over $4.6 million in less than 24 hours. If you would like to donate, here is the link.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) – The Hamlin situation immediately reminded me of what happened to Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen in Euro 2020 (which was played in 2021). He also suffered cardiac arrest on the field and had to be resuscitated. It seems morbid now to think about the fact that Euro officials made the two teams, Denmark and Finland, finish that game. I feel like the NFL players got it right by calling the game Sunday night. However, in my opinion, the fairest result for Monday’s game is to give Cincinnati the win (or at least call it a tie).
5. San Francisco 49ers (12-4) – Everyone is guffawing over Brock Purdy. However, I saw at least three instances where he missed wide open receivers for touchdowns because he got stuck on his first or second read. Purdy is outperforming expectations, for sure. A lot of that is the result of having superior talents like Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle to give the ball to.
6. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – My takeaway from their Thursday night win over Tennessee is that this Cowboys team is never going to win anything. They are losers. The fact that they struggled to put away a Titans team that is decimated tells me all I need to know about this group. Turnovers, special teams miscues and blown assignments; that sloppy effort was all very on-brand for this group of Cowboys.
7. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) – The stakes of this week’s game at Cincinnati will be determined by the league office. Baltimore is just 1-7 ATS in its last seven games against AFC opponents and 1-6 ATS in divisional games. The Ravens are 35-15 ATS on the road against teams that are above .500, and the road team is 6-2 ATS in the Cincinnati series.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (10-6) – This is a team that I absolutely think should rest its starters in Week 18. I don’t think their seeding matters, although clinching the No. 5 seed would have them facing the weak AFC South winner. When you’ve had as many injury issues as the Chargers, though, I don’t know that I would tempt fate.
9. Detroit Lions (8-8) – Rookie end James Houston has been a revelation for the Lions. Week 12 was the first time he was activated. Since then, he has racked up eight sacks in six games. Throw in Aidan Hutchinson’s 7.5 sacks, and the Lions have the first pair of rookies with at least seven sacks in a season. The Lions are 8-1 ATS in their last nine games and 12-2 ATS in their last 14 divisional games.
10. Green Bay Packers (8-8) – The biggest change in this team over the last month is the health of its skill players. The Packers still have a terrible group of receivers. But they are at least all healthy now, giving Aaron Rodgers some options. The Packers scored only nine points in their first meeting with the Lions, and their second-leading receiver in that game was someone named Josiah Deguara.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) – I am still not 100 percent sure that Kenny Pickett’s game-winning touchdown pass to Najee Harris with one minute to play last Sunday was intended for Harris (or that it should’ve been)! The Steelers are now 6-2 SU and ATS down the stretch, with a two-point loss to the playoff-bound Ravens and a seven-point loss to the playoff-bound Bengals their only blemishes. The Steelers have not been swept in the regular season by the Browns since 1988.
12. Minnesota Vikings (12-4) – That’s the thing about riding The Magic Wave of Momentum and Late Game Luck: eventually the wave breaks and rolls back. The Vikings are still in play for the No. 2 seed, so they shouldn’t rest their starters this week. Minnesota is 46-22 ATS after a loss but on an 0-4 overall ATS slide, and they are 8-21 ATS in their last 29 conference games.
13. Miami Dolphins (8-8) – On the one hand, Miami’s five losses during this crippling losing streak have all come against likely playoff teams, and four of the five losses have come on the road. Further, the last four losses have all come by six points or less. Mix in the bad luck with quarterback injuries, and this all looks more like fluke, tough luck than a choke or a collapse.
14. Seattle Seahawks (8-8) – The Seahawks are definitely getting screwed by the schedule-makers this week. If Seattle beats the Rams, then the Lions will officially be eliminated from contention before they play at Lambeau Field. Seattle also needs Green Bay to lose to Detroit. Therefore, if the Lions are deflated, that is a major edge for the Packers. The Seahawks are just 7-16 ATS after a win and 1-6 ATS in their last seven games.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) – The Jaguars have confidence, momentum, home field advantage and they are facing a team that has lost six straight games (both straight up and ATS) and is starting its backup quarterback. Situations don’t get any better than that. The Jags ran for only 60 yards in their 36-22 win at Tennessee on Dec. 11. So, I expect this game to be played on Trevor Lawrence’s shoulders again this week.
16. Tennessee Titans (7-9) – On the one hand, I’ve seen enough of the Titans and Mike Vrabel not to doubt this team’s ability to scum out wins. On the other hand, this roster is a train wreck. It looks like the Titans are going to join the Raiders, Steelers, Rams and Cardinals as teams that made the playoffs last season and missed them this year.
17. New York Giants (9-6-1) – Brain Daboll doesn’t strike me as the type of guy that is keen on resting his starters. So, that 14-point spread in Philadelphia seems a little thick, even with the Eagles having home field advantage on the line. The Giants have covered the spread in three straight since getting wrecked by the Eagles on Dec. and New York is 5-1 ATS in its last six games overall.
18. Washington Commanders (7-8-1) – I honestly don’t believe that the Commanders will be better off firing Ron Rivera. This clown show of an organization – including Major Tuddy! – doesn’t need more chaos. That said, either Rivera thinking that Carson Wentz was his best option at quarter or the fact that Rivera didn’t know he could be eliminated from the postseason with a loss are offenses that would warrant a pink slip.
19. New England Patriots (8-8) – The Patriots have scored seven defensive touchdowns this year. Mac Jones has thrown for 11 touchdowns this year. The Patriots are also going to be facing a Buffalo team that is in a very odd head space this week, and there is no telling how the Bills are going to respond to a chance to keep their hated rivals out of the postseason.
20. Las Vegas Raiders (6-10) – I am definitely in the camp that thinks Derek Carr got screwed. That said, I loved the moxie I saw from Jarrett Stidham. He’s going to need another big outing this week against the Chiefs, though, if he wants to even be considered for a starting job next season. The books apparently know that, because Las Vegas’ total this week (52.5) is their highest of the season. The ‘under’ is 6-2 in Raider games with a total of 48.0 or higher this year.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) – This team has been outscored by 32 points on the season and is 0-5 against teams from the AFC. I don’t even think the playoff mystique of Tom Brady will be able to keep a playoff spread below 7.0 for this team. Todd Bowles has said that he won’t rest his starters this week against Atlanta, but the Falcons being four-point favorites suggests otherwise.
22. New Orleans Saints (7-9) – This is the best roster that will not make the playoffs. Every trend in the Carolina series is pointing against the Saints this week. The home team is 14-29 ATS in the last 43 meetings, the favorite is 4-13 ATS in the last 17 meetings, the Saints are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 against Carolina, and the Panthers are 4-1 ATS in their last five in New Orleans.
23. New York Jets (7-9) – Anyone that has read this space knows that over the last few weeks I said that when Mike White returned, he wasn’t going to be very good. That type of rib injury takes at least a month to recover from. And just because White is better than bratty Zach Wilson that doesn’t mean that he is a savior for an offense that has scored 38 points over the last four games.
24. Cleveland Browns (7-9) – It’s kind of laughable to me that people are praising DeShaun Watson’s performance last week. The guy went 3-for-8 for 23 yards in the first half against the Commanders. Watson has looked like trash for most of his return, and I don’t think I’d be feeling very rosy about the future with him after the results of this past month.
25. Carolina Panthers (6-10) – Sam Darnold should be a backup quarterback. That’s his ceiling. Because the guy is a proven turnover machine and a loser. His fourth quarter fumble came because of his high school-level pocket awareness and, for me, erased all the good he had done up until that point. If Carolina decides to go with him as the starter next year, they are condemning themselves to another six-win season.
26. Atlanta Falcons (6-10) – Desmond Ridder has not thrown a touchdown pass or an interception in three games as a starter. I don’t even know how that is possible. He is averaging just 160 passing yards per game. And maybe more damning is the fact that he doesn’t add anything to the running game, posting just 55 yards on 14 attempts (and no touchdowns).
27. Indianapolis Colts (4-11-1) – Yeah, it’s going to be a hard pass on Jeff Saturday as the Colts coach. It’s not his fault that this roster is made of Swiss cheese. But four losses by a combined 83 points and the biggest collapse in NFL history don’t make for a great resume.
28. Chicago Bears (3-13) – The Bears are in the midst of the biggest losing streak in franchise history. They’ve dumped nine straight games and are just 2-7 ATS in those contests. I still can’t help but feel like this has been a wildly successful season for the franchise moving forward. Much like the leap we are seeing with the Lions, don’t be surprised if the Bears are a factor in the NFC next season.
29. Los Angeles Rams (5-11) – The Rams have owned the Seahawks and have had Pete Carrol’s number. Los Angeles is 7-3 straight up in their last 10 against Seattle and 7-1 ATS in the last eight meetings. There is enough hatred in this rivalry to stimulate at least half of an effort from the Rams this weekend.
30. Arizona Cardinals (4-12) – It looks obvious that Kliff Kingsbury is going to get fired, take a studio job next year for either college or the NFL, and then be one of the first coaches snapped up by next year’s college football coaching carousel. I could see Texas A&M, Miami or West Virginia biting on the Myth of Kliff.
31. Denver Broncos (4-12) – That was pass interference on Courtland Sutton. It was a good call. Less talked about is the fact that Rusty Wilson – who did play well Sunday, giving Broncos fans a sliver of hope for him next year – never should’ve lobbed that pass up into double coverage. That’s the same type of pass that got Carson Wentz dragged across the Interweb on Sunday.
32. Houston Texans (2-13-1) – This team was definitely better and more competitive last year under David Culley. Houston is now 10-38-1 over the past three years, and I don’t see any way that they won’t enter next season with the worst roster in the NFL. Houston is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games against divisional opponents. The road team is 13-5 ATS in the Indianapolis series.
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