NFL Week 18 picks against the spread: In the week of backup QBs, ride Derrick Henry’s Titans


Staff member

Hey, we’re coming to you live on a Week 18 Rockin’ Eve, as we celebrate the end of the regular season and a parade of bad NFL backup quarterbacks. We’ll have special appearances by Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold.

(Picks up confetti from the ground and throws it in the air.)

The party started strong Wednesday when Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Matthew Stafford, Brock Purdy and Joe Flacco were all scratched because their playoff teams don’t have anything to play for on Saturday or Sunday.

(Tyler Huntley, Blaine Gabbert, Wentz, Darnold and Jeff Driskel just conga-lined onto the stage to some Miami Sound Machine music.)

That brings the total of starting quarterbacks this season to 67. And no, that’s not a non-strike-year record (there were 68 last season). If four of these new five guys win, that would break the record of 56 set in 1999.

(Shelton just slapped his knee laughing.)

And you want me to risk my winning record and pick these games?

I’d love to. Some of my favorite picks are eliminated teams, like Derrick Henry and the Titans, going against teams with something to play for, like the Jaguars.

Last week: 9-7 against the spread, 2-3 on best bets.

Season record: 135-126-6 ATS, 46-38-1 on best bets.

All odds are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (+3.5) | 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC/ESPN​

Some of you may have been surprised by Flacco this season. (Not me. Old guys rule.) But this whole Mason Rudolph thing is shocking. Rudolph is making some nice throws — especially on out-breaking routes — and has as many 40-yard completions in the last two weeks (four) as Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky had in the first 14 games combined. He is the biggest reason Mike Tomlin somehow reached another winning season. But I told you all to jump off the Tommy DeVito train a while ago, and now I am pulling the cord on Rudolph. The Ravens backups win at home.

The pick: Ravens

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (+1) | 5:15 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC/ESPN​

C.J. Stroud helped us get an easy win last week, and it seems dangerous to pick against him in a must-win game. But the Colts are home, beat the Texans in the first matchup, and defensive tackle Grover Stewart is back from suspension (the defense took a dip when he was out). The biggest reason the Colts will win is because Jonathan Taylor is due for a reminder that he is one of the best running backs in the league. And he owns the Texans. Taylor has averaged 124.6 rush yards per game with six touchdowns in five career games against the Texans.

The pick: Colts

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (+4.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

Baker Mayfield left last week’s loss to the Saints with a rib injury, and you know he will play with a playoff spot on the line. The Buccaneers barely beat the Panthers five weeks ago, when the Panthers were terrible. But Bryce Young has been better since then, their defense is healthier, and they will get pressure on Mayfield. I don’t know if the Panthers can win and then all throw water on their owner to celebrate, but they will cover the spread at home.

The pick: Panthers

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-7) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS​

Flacco was so good coming off his couch and throwing the ball around for the Browns that he earned a week off. Of the 34 quarterbacks who came off the bench this season, Jake Browning is also the cream of the crop. Does that mean I want to lay a touchdown with him? No. Especially when I think the Bengals know their window has closed and are about to lose some key players this offseason, and I could see Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and others calling it a short afternoon rather than risk their health.

The pick: Browns

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-3.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

The Lions are locked into the No. 3 seed and can only improve if both the Eagles and Cowboys lose (to the Giants and Commanders). Jared Goff and the rest of the starters are playing because Dan Campbell said so, but he didn’t say for how long. Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and defensive coordinator Brian Flores have been pulling rabbits out of their hats all season, but last week they ran out and got trounced by the Packers. There are no more rabbits, only Nick “Three Flies Up” Mullens to start again after he was benched.

The pick: Lions

New York Jets at New England Patriots (-1.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

Could this be Bill Belichick’s last game as Patriots coach? Can Bailey Zappe do anything against a tough Jets secondary? Does anybody care? I am going to make a pity pick and go with the Jets. Robert Saleh has had that same painfully blank expression on his face since Aaron Rodgers went down in the opener and now has reporters asking him why he is not more angry. Because he is dead inside. Smile, Saleh, smile.

The pick: Jets

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (-3) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS​

You all scoffed when I picked Derek Carr and the Saints to make a stand and beat the Buccaneers last week. Because I knew that would set up this game, and Carr and the albeit banged-up Saints would come up short when the stakes were really high. The Falcons have been an inconsistent mess all season, but their defense is getting healthier and they will be able to run the ball against the Saints. And the pressure will get to Carr, with the Saints needing a win and some help to make the playoffs.

The pick: Falcons

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (+5.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS​

Trevor Lawrence (shoulder) practiced Wednesday but didn’t throw the ball. So it’s not clear if he or backup C.J. Beathard will be able to exploit a bad Titans secondary. It’s one reason why I like the Titans to upset the Jaguars in Nashville. The Titans had played tough in five consecutive games (they were 2-3 but could have easily been 5-0) before letting go of the rope last week and getting routed by the Texans. Mike Vrabel gave a great “losing sucks” speech, and Henry and Ryan Tannehill both have contracts that are up after Sunday. Henry is second in the NFL in rush yards after contact this season (804) but had only 27 such yards against the Jaguars in Week 11, tied for his season low. He erases that memory.

The pick: Titans

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (+3) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

Take the over in this one. The Seahawks can’t stop the run, and James Conner is running like a man possessed right now. The Cardinals can’t cover anybody, and the Seahawks might have the best trio of receivers in the league. Because the Seahawks are playing for a playoff spot and the Cardinals are supposed to be unmotivated this week, I will take the 3 points and the home underdog.

The pick: Cardinals

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-3) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS​

The Bears have won five of their past seven games (also 5-2 ATS) and are about to talk themselves into keeping Justin Fields and trading the No. 1 pick. They have been eliminated while the Packers are playing for a playoff spot. Every time people say that Jordan Love and the Packers have it figured out, they lay an egg. Unless Aaron Rodgers shows up (and he is just crazy enough to do it), they no longer own the Bears.

The pick: Bears

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS​

Have you ever seen the movie Looper,” where Joseph Gordon-Levitt has to kill an older version of himself in Bruce Willis? That’s Easton Stick and Gabbert in this game. But sadly, there is no Emily Blunt on the screen in this one. Or Taylor Swift. And Stick has to kill Gabbert and the Chiefs by 3.5 points. This really is a science fiction movie, huh, but I will let my imagination run wild.

The pick: Chargers

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (-2.5) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

For the second consecutive season, Jarrett Stidham will be closing the season starting at Allegiant Stadium. But this year, he is going against the Raiders. They know the dirt poor man’s Brett Favre well, but I still see the gunslinger making some plays. The Raiders may need to score 21 points for only the fourth time this season to win, and Josh Jacobs would sure help. Antonio Pierce said Jacobs is fighting to play after missing three games with a quad injury. The Raiders edge the Broncos for a seventh consecutive win in the series.

The pick: Raiders

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (+4.5) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS​

The Eagles could use a confidence-building win, and they could also pull their starters early unless it looks like they have a shot at the NFC East title (they need a win and a Cowboys loss to the Commanders). The Giants covered a much larger spread on the road against the Eagles two weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean I want to trust Tyrod Taylor and only get 4.5 points here. The Eagles should be running the ball more to take some pressure off their passing game and a leaky secondary, and maybe they wise up here. The Giants give up 4.7 yards a pop, tied for second-worst in the NFL.

The pick: Eagles

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers (-4) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

Both teams are resting starters, and if you think I am wasting time breaking down Wentz vs. Darnold in the Ginger QB Battle Royale, then you know me very well. Wentz was once the man in this league — he was going to win MVP in 2017 if he didn’t get hurt — and has been on the shelf for a year. I don’t know if he can just jump in and start hitting Puka Nacua in stride, whereas Darnold has been waiting for his chance to shine in Kyle Shanahan’s system and earn a starting job somewhere next year. (I think I am kidding.)

The pick: 49ers

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders (+13) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

This is another one of those games where we will side with eliminated players who are trying to look good on tape to secure jobs for next season, instead of an an inflated point spread and a team with something to play for — in the Cowboys’ case, the division title. Dak Prescott hasn’t been that great on the road (the Cowboys are 3-5), and the weather could be messy. Plus, Ron Rivera was talking this week about how much better he has made the culture in Washington despite the seven consecutive losses. Covering the 13 point-spread would speak volumes to that, and we will salute Rivera as he packs up his desk.

The pick: Commanders

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (+3) | 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC​

The Ravens essentially called the Dolphins soft last week and then destroyed them. The Dolphins are back home this week, but Tua Tagovailoa, their offensive line and Jaylen Waddle are banged up, and they lost pass rusher Bradley Chubb to a torn ACL. Josh Allen will have plenty of time to make plays with his arm or feet, but the real reason to lay the 3 on the road is the resurgent Bills defense (assuming two guys can cover Tyreek Hill). The Bills rank third in the NFL in explosive play rate allowed over the past three weeks (8.0 percent) and they’ve allowed the second-fewest 20-yard plays leaguewide over that span (six).

The pick: Bills