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N.F.L. Week 18 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

Five teams — the Colts, Chargers, Ravens, Steelers and Raiders — are still mathematically alive for two remaining A.F.C. playoff spots, while only the 49ers and the Saints are competing for the N.F.C.’s final berth. With only divisional games on the schedule, though, long-eliminated teams can play spoiler to their rivals, adding a bit of drama beyond the start-them-or-rest-them debate over star players on top-seeded teams.

The Eagles could kick sand on the Cowboys’ dreams of earning a No. 2 seed by winning Saturday night, and the 49ers’ road to the playoffs goes right through the Rams on Sunday. There will be a desperate attempt to slip into the postseason for the Steelers and the Ravens before the Raiders’ and Chargers’ winner-take-all matchup in prime time.

Here’s a look at N.F.L. Week 18, with all picks made against the spread.

All times are Eastern.

Last Week’s record: 8-8

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Saturday’s Games
  • Sunday’s Best Games
  • Sunday’s Other Games
  • How Betting Lines Work

Saturday’s Games

Kansas City at Denver Broncos, 4:30 p.m., CBS

Line: Kansas City -10 | Total: 44

Kansas City (11-5) dropped the A.F.C.’s top seed by losing to the Bengals in Week 17, and it now has only a 22 percent chance of reclaiming it, according to The Times’s Playoff Predictor. Its shot depends on beating the Broncos (7-9) and the Texans upsetting the Titans (an unlikely prospect: see below). Kansas City, having already blown out Denver earlier in the season, can do its part, especially with the Broncos’ quarterback position uncertain.

Drew Lock injured his shoulder in last week’s loss to the Chargers, and it’s unclear if he or Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) will be cleared to start. Pick: Kansas City -10

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:15 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys -3 | Total: 41.5

The Eagles (9-7) could make this game close, depending on the availability of the 12 players, including tight end Dallas Goedert and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who tested positive for the coronavirus this week. Philadelphia clinched an N.F.C. wild-card spot by winning six of its last eight games, after shifting toward a run-first offense that now has the team leading the league in rushing yards per game (160.8).

That could frustrate Dallas’s defense, which is more effective at generating pass-rush pressure and creating turnovers. The Cowboys (11-5) have been inconsistent on offense, a problem that won’t soon be remedied since Michael Gallup, the team’s third receiving option, tore an anterior cruciate ligament. Dallas is the better team, but if the Eagles limit mistakes and get a few key players cleared, they can cover. Pick: Eagles +3

Sunday’s Best Games

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was sacked four times in Las Vegas’s Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.Credit…Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Chargers -2.5 | Total: 49.5

Other teams’ playoff scenarios are complicated. The equation is simple for the Chargers (9-7) and the Raiders (9-7): Win and get in.

2021 N.F.L. Season News and Analysis

  • The N.F.L. Playoff Picture Heading Into Week 18: Either the Chargers or Raiders will earn a postseason berth, while other matchups will sort playoff seeding.
  • The Season That Ran Too Long: With only one true elimination game, Week 18’s bloat should feel anticlimactic.
  • Washington Team Will Unveil New Name on Feb. 2: The team announced the end of its long-awaited rebrand just as another calamity arose.
  • Playoff Simulator: Explore every team’s path to the postseason, updated live.

The Raiders crept into this position on a three-game winning streak during which they eked out one-score victories and Derek Carr completed 74 percent of his passes. Of course, those wins came against the coronavirus-depleted Browns, the painfully average Broncos, and the Colts led by a rusty Carson Wentz.

Justin Herbert should feast on Las Vegas’s defense as he did in their Week 4 meeting, when he threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Las Vegas has allowed over 240 passing yards five times and tends to crumble in key moments. Pick: Chargers -2.5

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Rams -4| Total: 44

It’d be tempting to think Los Angeles might rest its starters, but Cooper Kupp needs just 12 catches for 136 yards to break the single-season receiving records in both categories, and the Rams (12-4) need a victory to win the N.F.C. West and have a shot at the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The team also hasn’t beaten the 49ers (9-7) since 2018 — five consecutive games — giving this a whiff of a grudge match.

San Francisco has had the upper hand for reasons that persist. Its run game and quick throws negate Aaron Donald and the Rams’ potent pass rush, and Coach Kyle Shanahan has shown that he can consistently out-scheme Sean McVay. It’s unclear whether Trey Lance will start again in place of Jimmy Garoppolo (finger), but the running game is so effective and Deebo Samuel and George Kittle carry such loads that either quarterback just needs to avoid unnecessary risk. The 49ers should clinch the N.F.C.’s final playoff spot. Pick: 49ers +4

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Ravens -4 | Total: 42.5

The Ravens (8-8), losers of five straight, are somehow still alive in part because of the ineffectiveness of the rest of the A.F.C. North. Baltimore can make the postseason by beating the division-rival Steelers (8-7-1) and getting help in the form of losses from the Colts, Chargers and Dolphins.

But Pittsburgh, with a marginally better postseason chance, will be a tough matchup. The Steelers barely outlasted the Ravens in Week 13 when Baltimore failed to convert a 2-point attempt at the end of regulation. The Ravens still don’t know if Lamar Jackson (ankle) will play, and Pittsburgh’s defense has played well enough in two of the last three games — forcing six turnovers and 13 sacks against the Titans and Browns — that the Steelers could cover, or win outright. In the case of the latter, and with a Colts loss, Ben Roethlisberger’s final season could be extended into the playoffs. Pick: Steelers +4

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -4.5 | Total: 40

The Saints (8-8) can clinch a postseason spot if they beat the Falcons (7-9) and the 49ers lose, both reasonable outcomes. But given New Orleans’s unpredictability and the enmity between the two rivals, Atlanta could definitely play spoiler. A.J. Terrell has emerged as one of the league’s best cornerbacks, and the rookie tight end Kyle Pitts was named to the Pro Bowl. Atlanta beat the Saints in Week 9 and has the players to keep the score close at home. Pick: Atlanta +4.5

Sunday’s Other Games

Jonathan Taylor, left, and Carson Wentz can lead the Indianapolis Colts to the postseason, and close the door on a handful of other teams, with a win against Jacksonville Sunday.Credit…Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -15.5 | Total: 44

This is the linchpin game for the rest of the A.F.C. The Jaguars (2-14) are one game away from a merciful ending to a disastrous season. The Colts (9-7), though, need to win not only for their playoff berth but also because a loss would create mathematical chaos for other wild-card hopefuls.

Carson Wentz looked wobbly in his fast-track return from the Covid-19 list last week, throwing for only 148 yards and completing less than 50 percent of his passes in a loss to the Raiders. Jacksonville’s defense, which allowed the Patriots to throw for 290 yards and three scores last week, should allow him to rebound easily. Having Jonathan Taylor, the league’s rushing leader, in the backfield to help run out the clock helps, too. Pick: Colts -15.5

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Vikings -3 | Total: 44.5

Both the Bears (6-10) and the Vikings (7-9) have been eliminated and both teams are expected to look for new head coaches. Kirk Cousins, who contracted the coronavirus last week, is expected to play, and his return should lift Minnesota after its dismal showing against Green Bay last week. Though the Bears have won their last two games, it’s tough to imagine them covering on the road. Pick: Vikings -3

Washington Footballers at Giants, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Footballers -6.5 | Total: 38.5

Washington (6-10) showed life in the middle of the season, winning four straight games, but a loss to the Cowboys in Week 14 and a coronavirus outbreak that caused a game to be rescheduled killed all its momentum. The Giants (4-12), though, have played horridly all year, and the profanity-laced rant by Coach Joe Judge after their drumming in Chicago last week epitomized the organization’s frustration. Expect Washington to win easily and then enter the off-season focused on fixing its roster, name, mascot and, hopefully, its stadium. Pick: Washington +6.5

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Titans -10.5 | Total: 43

The team officially designated Derrick Henry for return this week from surgery to repair a foot injury that has kept him out since the end of October. Tennessee’s offense has regrouped now that receiver A.J. Brown is healthy, and D’Onta Foreman, who rushed for 132 yards last week, is also capable of providing starting-caliber production.

The Texans (4-12) shockingly upset the Chargers last week, but it’s unlikely that Houston will pull off a win against the Titans (11-5), who will want to bury this one early with the A.F.C.’s No. 1 seed — and a bye week — on the line. Pick: Titans -10.5

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bengals -2 | Total: 42.5

Joe Burrow told reporters Wednesday that he will not play Sunday to rest ahead of the playoffs, and its unclear whether many other Bengals (10-6) starters will, too. Baker Mayfield will be out for a shoulder surgery while the Browns (7-9) continue their limp toward the exit.

The spread acknowledges the potential lineup holes, but Cleveland has been clobbered in its last two games and it’s hard to bet on a team that’s already so checked out. Cincinnati’s backups should win. Pick: Bengals -2

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -2.5 | Total: 42.5

The Packers (13-3), having already secured the N.F.C.’s top seed and a first-round playoff bye, will rest their starters, resulting in the low spread against the otherwise outmatched Lions (2-13-1). Coach Matt LaFleur said Green Bay will approach the season finale “like any other game,” regardless of the risk for injuries in a meaningless game. Approach that statement with skepticism but bet the Packers with your eyes closed. Pick: Packers -2.5

Jets at Buffalo Bills, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Line: Bills -16.5 | Total: 43

The Jets (4-12) narrowly lost to Tampa Bay, the defending Super Bowl champions, last week and have shown that they have building blocks to develop the franchise. None of that matters to the Bills (10-6), though, who need to win to clinch the A.F.C. East and secure a home playoff game. They are capable of blowing out the Jets, but that depends on Josh Allen protecting the ball (he threw two interceptions in the first half against Atlanta last week). If he does, Buffalo fans should have their folding tables ready. Pick: Bills -16.5

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Line: Patriots -6.5 | Total: 40

Miami was eliminated from playoff contention last week with a blunt end to its seven-game win streak, and could go out with a whimper against the Patriots (10-6). Since 2016, though, the late-season matchups between these two have been trap games: The Dolphins are 4-7 against the Patriots over that period, with all four of those wins coming in the second meeting.

Mac Jones has matured into an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate for New England, Damien Harris has improved his ball security over the season and the defense now allows the third-fewest yards per game (311.6). New England is building steam ahead of the playoffs and a win here clinches the division (if the Bills also lose). It should sidestep the trap. Pick: Patriots -6.5

The Seahawks have a chance to spoil the Cardinals’ divisional title shot in what could be Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson’s last game together. Credit…Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Cardinals -6.5 | Total: 48

The Cardinals (11-5) can rebound and reclaim the N.F.C. West by defeating the Seahawks (6-10), if the Rams also lose to the 49ers. Seattle should be energized, as this could be Russell Wilson and Coach Pete Carroll’s last game together, but Arizona has more to play for. Pick: Cardinals -6.5

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m. Fox

Line: Buccaneers -8 | Total: 41.5

Coach Bruce Arians said Antonio Brown would no longer play for the Buccaneers (12-4) after his odd episode on the sideline last week when he refused to enter the game. Though Brown remains on the roster, his potential absence from play will drastically affect Tampa Bay’s offense, which was already short-handed without receiver Chris Godwin (A.C.L. tear) and running back Leonard Fournette, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.

Tom Brady and the rest of the Buccaneers should still suffice against the Panthers (5-11), who have not scored more than 20 points in any of their last three games no matter if Cam Newton or Sam Darnold was starting. Whether or not Brady can depend on second-string receivers in the playoffs remains to be seen, but Tampa Bay can surely outpace Carolina. Pick: Buccaneers -8

How Betting Lines Work

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Raiders -5.5, for example, means that Las Vegas must beat Chicago by at least 6 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

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