Week 18 NFL picks, best bets for Sunday: Colts, Chargers stamp playoff tickets

Justin Herbert has led the Chargers to some big wins this season. Can he do it again Sunday night? AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Every Friday during the season, betting analysts Doug Kezirian (17-28-2, 1-2 last week), Tyler Fulghum (25-31, 0-4), Joe Fortenbaugh (52-43-1, 5-1), Anita Marks (293-261, 15-20) and Erin Dolan (4-5, 1-1), fantasy and sports betting analyst Eric Moody (138-131, 6-5), ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder (60-54, 0-0) and Mackenzie Kraemer (8-15, 1-1), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (30-30-1, 1-2) and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz (56-45, 2-3) will provide their top plays across the NFL landscape. (Records through Week 17.)

Here are their best bets for Sunday's Week 18 games.

Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook as of Thursday (unless otherwise indicated).

Jump to: Bears-Vikings | Bengals-Browns | Packers-Lions | Washington-Giants | Colts-Jaguars | Steelers-Ravens | Titans-Texans | Saints-Falcons-Vikings | Jets-Bills | 49ers-Rams | Patriots-Dolphins | Seahawks-Cardinals | Panthers-Buccaneers | Chargers-Raiders

8:20 p.m. ET game

Los Angeles Chargers (-3, 49.5) at Las Vegas Raiders

Fortenbaugh: Credit to the vastly underappreciated Derek Carr and the rest of the Las Vegas roster for putting themselves in a position to qualify for just their second postseason since 2002. That being said, I'm laying the field goal with the Chargers. The Raiders may be 9-7, but they're a soft 9-7 with a -68 point differential and a 6-2 record in one-score games. For the uninitiated, those are two big red flags that indicate regression is on the horizon. Justin Herbert and company have notched victories on the road several times this season, with wins at Kansas City, at Philadelphia and at Cincinnati. Chargers get it done.

Pick: Chargers -3

Marks: Josh Jacobs over 59.5 rushing yards (-115), Justin Herbert over 274.5 passing yards (-115) and over 1.5 TDs (-190)

4 p.m. ET games

New Orleans Saints (-4.5, 40) at Atlanta Falcons

Fortenbaugh: Do you really want to lay 4.5 points on the road in a divisional matchup with an offense that is averaging a paltry 13.8 points per game over its last six outings? Because that's what you need to do if you want to back the Saints in this spot. This number is just too big, in my opinion. I like the 'dog to show up and make it competitive.

Pick: Falcons +4.5

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-16, 41)

Schatz: The Bills have been a fantastic team this year, No. 1 in ESPN's FPI. But the Jets have -- dare I say it -- been making progress since Zach Wilson returned from a midseason injury. Since Week 12, the Jets have ranked 15th in offensive DVOA with a perfectly average offense. Their defense has also played better over the last few weeks. Twenty-ninth in the NFL doesn't sound good because it's not, but it's better than what the Jets were doing earlier in the year. The Jets' chances of a win here are minute, especially considering the motivation the Bills have to win the AFC East. But we're not asking for a win; we're just asking to cover a spread that's over two touchdowns.

Pick: Jets +16

Fulghum: The Bills have to win in Week 18 to secure the AFC East division crown. Luckily for them, the hapless Jets are visiting Orchard Park. New York has one of the most accommodating defenses in the NFL and Josh Allen is, well, Josh Allen. The Bills offense should have no trouble putting points on the board on their way to the win.

Pick: Bills team total over 28.5 (-110), Bills over 3.5 TDs (+120)

Marks: Again, incentives are everything. Stefon Diggs has an opportunity to add $1.5 million to his 2022 and 2023 salary with six more receptions on Sunday. Both Allen and Diggs should connect for a monster day against a Jets passing defense that is one of the worst in the league.

Pick: Allen over 36,5 rushing yards (-115), Allen under 30.5 passing attempts (-110)

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-4.5, 44.5)

Fortenbaugh: What would this point spread be if the Rams had lost in Minnesota two weeks ago and Baltimore last week? Because that's what should have happened after quarterback Matthew Stafford turned the ball over six times in two extremely fortunate victories. On the other side of the field stand the 49ers, who find themselves in a win-and-in situation, which is excellent news considering Kyle Shanahan is 4-1 against the spread in his last five games against Sean McVay. The Niners have everything to play for, while Los Angeles has already clinched a spot in the playoffs. Edge to San Francisco.

Pick: 49ers +4.5

Schatz: It's hard to make picks against the spread in Week 18 when so much depends upon a team's motivation instead of the quality suggested by prior performance. So I feel most comfortable wagering on a game where we know both teams are trying their hardest. The Rams are trying to win the division, and the 49ers are just trying to get into the playoffs. The underlying play-by-play difference between these teams doesn't really match the three-win difference in actual wins. The Rams are fifth in overall DVOA this year, and the 49ers are seventh.

While the Rams excel on deep passes, a weakness of the 49ers on defense, they also stall out on drives more than you expect. They're only 17th in DVOA on third and fourth downs. When these two teams met in November, the Rams were 3-for-10 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down. Meanwhile, the 49ers should be able to move the ball consistently against the Rams defense because they favor passes in the middle of the field more than almost any other team. The Rams are 27th in defensive DVOA against passes in the middle of the field, including 31st against passes to the short middle. I do think the Rams are the better team here, but the line gives us good odds for the 49ers to either cover or win outright.

Pick: 49ers +4.5

Walder: George Kittle's line here is a little high given his expected receiving yards per game this season (based on air yards, expected completion probability and expected YAC from NFL Next Gen Stats) has been just 51.3. So I'd lean under here, even without the possibility that Trey Lance starts in Jimmy Garoppolo's (thumb) stead -- but that possibility does exist, even with Garoppolo returning to practice.

Pick: Kittle under 61.5 receiving yards (-115)

Marks: Odell Beckham Jr. anytime TD (+150)

New England Patriots (-6.5, 40) at Miami Dolphins

Schatz: I'm not buying into the idea that Miami has some sort of magic voodoo that makes the Patriots play worse when they travel to Florida late in the season. I would rather look at the two teams on the field, and the Patriots are a much better team now than they were when they lost narrowly to Miami back in Week 1. In fact, the Patriots are now back to No. 1 in weighted DVOA, which gives more weight to recent games to get a better picture of how well teams are playing now. Is it true that the Patriots tend to blow out bad opponents but have struggled against tougher opponents like the Colts and Bills? Yes, but which of those two categories do the Dolphins (24th in weighted DVOA) fall into? And do you want to consider Week 18 motivation in picking games this week? The Patriots have all the motivation, since they're still playing for playoff seeding while the Dolphins are just playing out the string. Miami has a chance to win, of course, but this line should really be at double-digits.

Pick: Patriots -6.5

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-6.5, 48)

Kezirian: I think I have picked every Arizona game incorrectly this season, so proceed with caution. However, Seattle looked like it went all in last weekend in the home finale. I don't expect much of an effort. Meanwhile, Arizona snapped its skid and has a chance to improve its playoff seeding with a win.

Pick: Arizona -.5 in 6-point teaser with Washington -1

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8, 41.5)

Moody: Bruce Arians said publicly that the Buccaneers will play their starters. In the last month, the Panthers have been awful on both sides of the ball. The Buccaneers' defensive front, which ranks 11th in pass rush win rate and 19th in run-stop win rate, shouldn't have any trouble against a Carolina offensive line that struggles in run blocking and pass blocking.

Pick: Buccaneers -8

Marks: Rob Gronkowski has an opportunity to make a $1 million bonus if he reaches reception and receiving yard incentives in Week 18. I expect Brady to help him achieve those marks, especially with Antonio Brown out of the picture.

Picks: Gronkowski over 65.5 receiving yards (-130) and over 5.5 receptions (-115)

1 p.m. ET games

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-5.5, 44)

Note: Justin Fields was put on the COVID list Thursday.

Moody: This is a challenging game to bet on. In this division matchup and season finale, Bears and Vikings quarterbacks Justin Fields and Kirk Cousins are back. Among Minnesota's offensive playmakers are Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook. Even though the Bears played well last week, it was against a terrible Giants team. When the Vikings are favored by 3.5 points or more, they have covered the spread two of five times this season. The Vikings are 8-8 against the spread this season. I expect Minnesota to win. In 12 of 16 games this season, the Vikings and their opponents have exceeded 44.5 points.

Picks: Vikings -5.5, over 44.5