The frenzy that erupted late Sunday afternoon and evening in NFL Week 18 stretched from the playing fields of Los Angeles and Las Vegas to the final position here in the Post’s Bettor’s Guide.
I went into the weekend with a lead of five games in the overall standings, but as I approached 19, it looked as if the best I could do would be a draw in first place. Then the Buccaneers pulled away from the Panthers, the Bills got a late-coverage touchdown against the Jets and the 49ers completed a huge comeback to allow me to win the title by four games closer than it looks, over Brian Costello.
There was even more drama in the Best Bet race. Howie Kussoy needed a Chargers cover as a three-point favorite with the Raiders. But when Daniel Carlson drilled the overtime field goal for Las Vegas, it handed the title to Steve Serby, who finished the season with a highly profitable 61.1 winning percentage.
On to the playoffs!
Philadelphia Eagles (+8.5) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS; Over 45.5
First, I would like to publicly thank Nick Sirianni for my favorite cover of the 2021 season. On Oct. 14 in Philadelphia, the Eagles’ 6.5-point underdog to the Bucs was down 28-14 midway through the fourth quarter. Jalen Hurts scored on a 2-yard run and made it 28-20, and when every other coach in history would have kicked the PAT, Sirianni went after two and got them … and the cover!
This post is a bit easier than I had hoped, but I expect this to be something of a street fight. Before resting many players in Week 18, the Eagles had won four games in a row and had a streak of allowing 13, 18, 17, 10 and 16 points. In addition, a strong inner defensive line is usually the best defense against Tom Brady.
San Francisco 49ers (+3) over DALLAS COWBOYS; Under 50.5
For a team that went 13-4 ATS, the Cowboys have an unusually high number of red flags at home this season. They have lost in Jerry World to the Broncos, Raiders and Cardinals, and their overall team statistics have been inflated by victories of 56-14 against the decimated WFT and 51-26 against the resting Eagles.
The comeback last week, from a 17-0 deficit against the Rams, told us everything we need to know about the 49ers, who are 8-3 SU and ATS in their last 11 games. Their attacks can score in many different ways – with Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and others – and Kyle Shanahan knows how to use them all. In terms of total, I think the 49ers will do enough of their ground damage to roll the clock and that Mike McCarthy will mismanage his timeouts and short-circuit a scoring opportunity.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+12.5) over KANSAS CITY CHIEFS; Over 46.5
I’m fully aware that I’m on a pretty bad team, and one that lost to this opponent at this stadium with a 36-10 score three weeks ago. I know Ben Roethlisberger is right when he says: “I would assume that you as a group understand that we should probably not be here. We are probably not a very good football team. Out of 14 teams, I think Is with, we are probably number 14. ” But that’s the part I like: “We’re double-digit underdogs in the playoffs. So let’s just play, have fun and see what happens.”
In fact, the Steelers play with house money and catch a lot of points from a Chiefs team known for winning and not covering. They actually covered five in a row as favorites late this season, but returned in Week 18. This is also the biggest spread Kansas City has been asked to cover all season. Finally, there’s the faithful Mike Tomlin underdog angle – 46-23-2 ATS after my unofficial run count.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-4) over Arizona Cardinals; Under 49.5
Here’s a matchup of a first-time playoff quarterback, Kyler Murray, against someone who is 0-3 in his career after the season, Matthew Stafford. Of course, Stafford now has Rams around him instead of the Lions. Stafford has been shocking lately, but he has the most unstoppable weapon in this game in the Cooper Cup, and he has also made great use of Tyler Higbee.
Each team won directly on the other team’s field in the regular season, and the Cardinals are actually 8-1 SU away in 2021. But one loss was a bad one, an inexplicable 30-12 round by the Lions, and recent losses against the Colts and The Seahawks were ugly, too.
Lock of the week: 49ers (lock 10-7 in 2021).
Last week: 8-8 overall, 1-2 best bets.