NFL Week 18 Preview and Bettor’s Guide: Leatherhead’s Bonus Week
LOS ANGELES, January 6, 2022 — Seventeen weeks of the 2021 NFL regular season are now permanently in the history books. Normally this would mean it is time for the playoffs, but not this year. Not yet. This is the first season where there are 18 weeks instead of 17. Each team plays 17 games instead of 16. This is the week everything is on the line.
For leatherheads, this week is the biggest week of the year to date.
Between Covid and the typical injuries, this year even more than usual has been a war of attrition. As Joe Gibbs used to say, it’s not necessarily the best team that wins it all. The best healthiest team does. The weather is brutally cold and nasty in many cities.
To quote Mike Singletary and John Randle, “This is when the big dogs come out!”
The NFC is pretty simple, while the AFC has far too many scenarios for armchair quarterbacks to contemplate.
In the AFC, five teams have a shot at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
After these final 16 regular-season games, the NFL coaching carousel will start to spin. Black Monday coach firings are almost upon us.
With an extra regular-season game, various NFL records this year and in coming years will fall. Purists will argue that the new records will have asterisks. The purists this time will be wrong. While people remember that O.J. Simpson needed only 14 games to reach 2,003 yards, Eric Dickerson’s 2,157 yards in 16 games is still the record.
For the best teams in the league, the Super Bowl is only one month away.
For the best players of all time, the newest enshrines to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be announced one day before the Super Bowl. For the first time in decades, the congratulatory phone calls and door knocks will not be delivered by David Baker, the former President of the Football Hall of Fame.
In only seven months, those new players are officially enshrined.
For the worst teams in the league, the 2022 NFL Draft is less than four months away.
The Jacksonville Jaguars might be on the clock for the second straight year, but the Detroit Lions have a chance of getting the top pick if the Jaguars stumble by winning. The 2022 NFL schedule is only three months away. For the truest of the die-hards, the 2022 regular season kickoff is only eight months away.
Yet for those who live in the moment and cherish the here and now, the action is here and the time is now.
This is the last week of the 2021 – 22 NFL season where all 32 teams play football.
Next week, 18 of those teams will be sitting at home.
Leatherheads must also cherish the beginning of the end of an era.
This might be the golden age of quarterbacks. Peyton Manning has been retired for five years. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame only five months ago. Drew Brees retired only 10 months ago and will be joining Manning in Canton, Ohio in four years.
Ben Roethlisberger will most likely play his final game this Sunday and then enter Canton in five years. Tom Brady is chasing his eighth Super Bowl victory. His seven NFL championships have him tied with Otto Graham.
Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson still want to play, and may have messy football divorces in the offseason just as Brady did two years ago.
Yet the next generation of signal-callers has some gems as well.
Derek Carr is one win away from playing in his first playoff game. Patrick Mahomes is gunning for his fourth straight AFC Title Game and third straight Super Bowl appearance. Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson have two very different styles. Yet they offer a bright future for those who love exciting quarterbacks.
Taysom Hill is a multi-purpose weapon not seen since Kordell Stewart.
On the coaching front, experience seems to be trumping youth.
Pete Carroll is the oldest coach in the league, yet has the energy of a teenager. Bill Belichick is as stoic as ever as he hopes to win it all without Brady. To be fair, Belichick won two Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator to Bill Parcells while Brady was a child.
Walrus Andy Reid is still a play-calling maestro. Reid wins with modern wrinkles while Belichick proudly wins by returning the game to the stone age. Mike Tomlin has not had a losing season in 15 years at the helm. Bruce Arians has over 40 years of coaching experience. Two years after Reid finally won it all.
Last year Arians finally did the same. Mike McCarthy has the chance to become the first NFL head coach ever to win the Super Bowl with two different franchises. Don Shula left the Colts after the 1969 season. The Colts won it all in 1970.
Shula, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, John Fox, Mike Holmgren and Dick Vermeil all got two teams to the Super Bowl, but none of them won with both teams.
Reeves and Fox never won it all. Reeves threw a halfback option pass for a touchdown in the Ice Bowl. Carroll and Jimmy Johnson won a Super Bowl and a college football national championship.
Despite never getting to the big game, Dennis Green and Buddy Ryan are scheming against each other in heaven.
From Bert Bell to Pete Rozelle to Paul Tagliabue to Roger Goodell, the game seems to be in good hands.
The game we love is as exciting as ever. The legacy that Vince Lombardi, George Halas, Paul Brown, Tom Landry, and Sid Gillman brought us lives on. The great John Madden is gone, but his video game alone has created two new generations of football devotees. (John Madden, April 10, 1936 – December 28, 2021, is Football)
That is before even counting his contributions of the Madden cruiser bus, Turducken, the Gatorade bucket analysis, and everything else he did with his telestrator. He and Pat Summerall will be with us forever. For those old enough to remember, he was also the coach who presided over the Holy Roller, Sea of Hands, Ghost to the Post, and Immaculate Reception games.
Al Davis no longer lights the torch. (NFL 2021 Week 6 Preview & Bettors Guide: Al Davis and a better Raiders)
Lamar Hunt no longer presides over Chiefs Kingdom. Ralph Wilson no longer heads up the Bills Mafia. Yet they and the rest of the eight crazy owners who started the AFL would love what the NFL is now. The offenses are every bit as crazy as the the old AFL was.
So bring on the future right now. Let’s enjoy 16 more games in Week 18 of a 17 game season.
With that, here is the NFL 2021 Week 18 Preview and Bettor’ Guide, with point spreads provided by SportingNews.com and all times Eastern.
Saturday, January 8, 2022, 4:30 p.m.
Kansas City Chiefs (-10) at Denver Broncos —
The 11-5 Chiefs clinched the AFC West, but lost last week at Cincinnati to end their eight game win streak and blow their inside track to home field throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs are now the two seed and need to win and hope Tennessee loses. The Broncos are out and Vic Fangio may be fired after the game. The Broncos have a defense, but it was torched by the Chargers last week. The players like Fangio and will play hard for him, but the Chiefs have too many weapons and too much at stake. Chiefs win but fail to cover.
Dallas Cowboys (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles —
The 11-5 Cowboys blew their outside shot at home field with a home loss to Arizona last week. Nevertheless, the Cowboys won the NFC East and the 9-7 Eagles locked up the Wildcard. Neither team really has much to play for and both teams might rest their starters. With backups playing backups, go with the home field. Upset special, Eagles win outright.
Sunday, January 9, 1:00 p.m.
Green Bay Packers (-1) at Detroit Lions —
The 13-3 Packers have locked up the NFC North and home field throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye. The Lions have won only two games. With a loss and a Jacksonville win, the Lions would have the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Yet the Lions are not tanking. They fight hard for Dan Campbell. The Packers will be benching everyone including Aaron Rodgers to stay healthy for the playoffs. The Lions are bad, but their starters can beat Green Bay’s backups. Upset special, Lions win outright.
Indianapolis Colts (-15.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars —
The 9-7 Colts lost last week at home to the Raiders, making this game vital to their survival. The Colts control their own destiny. If they win, they get a Wildcard spot. If they lose, they will need help to make the playoffs. The 2-13 Jaguars are a dumpster fire. The Jaguars lost 50-10 last week against New England. Yes, the Jaguars have beaten the Colts six straight times in Jacksonville. Nobody cares. Trevor Lawrence might get a garbage touchdown, but forget this game being competitive. Carson Wentz has a lot to prove, and will rise to the occasion. Colts win but fail to cover.
Washington I-95 Pileup (-6.5) at New York Giants —
Both teams are eliminated from the playoffs but at least the No-Names are competing. The Giants looked lifeless against a weak Chicago team in a 29-3 loss. Joe Judge may be fired after the season, while Ron Rivera is expected to turn things around. Taylor Heinicke is better than Mike Glennon. At home, give the Giants a chance to make this rivalry game close. I-95 Pileup win but fail to cover.
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-3) —
Both Matt Nagy and Mike Zimmer are expected to be Black Monday coaching casualties. Last week the Bears showed some pride at home. This week the Vikings will win for Zim. Kirk Cousins is back from Covid, and Justin Fields will be out injured again. The Vikings are the better team. Vikings cover.
Tennessee Titans (-10.5) at Houston Texans —
The 11-5 Titans have already won the AFC South. With a win here they clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye. They will not let a bad Houston team stand in their way. The Texans shocked the Chargers two weeks ago and gave San Francisco a tough game before losing late. The Texans are slowly improving, but the Titans are the more physical team. A Davis Mills garbage touchdown is realistic. Titans win but fail to cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-4.5) —
The 8-7 Steelers and 8-8 Ravens are on life support. They both need to win and get help to make the playoffs. The loser is automatically out. The Steelers won an emotional home game against Cleveland in what was most likely Ben Roethlisberger’s final home game. Now they have to play at their most bitter rival on a short week.
The Ravens have lost five straight, mainly due to Lamar Jackson being injured. Home field never seems to matter in this rivalry, which is usually a street fight that ends up three points or closer. The Steelers won at home over Baltimore by one point. Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh both play hard-nosed football.
Jackson’s backup Tyler Huntley is mobile. The Steelers might be too emotionally exhausted. The Big Crabcake will be out for blood. The Ravens will survive. Ravens win but fail to cover.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (-3) —
The 10-6 Bengals have clinched the AFC North while the Browns are out. If Kansas City wins on Saturday, the Bengals will have nothing to play for on Sunday and may rest some starters. The point spread is based on this assumption. Yet if Kansas City and Tennessee both lose, the Bengals have a shot at home field throughout the playoffs and everything to play for.
Either way, the Browns have shut Baker Mayfield down for the year so he can get shoulder surgery. The Bengals will not risk Joe Burrow’s knee if this becomes a meaningless game, but with the Browns playing a backup quarterback, go with the better team. Upset special, Bengals win outright.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-5.5) —
The 9-7 49ers struggled at home last week against lowly Houston but won. The 49ers with a win are in the playoffs, but with a loss and a New Orleans win would be eliminated. They have beaten the Rams five straight times, including earlier this year in San Francisco. Yet this Rams team is different now. They are 12-4, have won five straight, and have seen Von Miller and O’Dell Beckham have been key new additions.
The Rams are in Super Bowl mode. Their rolling offense will not be stopped. The 49ers may start rookie Trey Lance over injured Jimmy Garoppolo. Aaron Donald is licking his chops. The Rams want revenge and will get it. They need to win to clinch the NFC West. If they lose and Arizona wins, the Rams lose the tie-breaker. Sean McVay will have them focused. The spread is high for these hated rivals, but the Rams have too many weapons. Rams cover.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8) —
Between injuries and the Antonio Brown fiasco, the Buccaneers are not as healthy as they were last year. The 12-4 Buccaneers have clinched the NFC South and can lock up the two seed with a win. The spread is high given all of the problems at One But Place, but the Panthers have gone 2-11 since their 3-0 start. Matt Rhule may be gone after this game. Tom Brady is still playing like a demon-possessed, and the Buccaneers defense is still solid.
This could be over by halftime. Buccaneers cover.
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-6.5) —
The 11-5 Cardinals are in the playoffs after a big road win at Dallas. If the Cardinals win and the Rams lose, the Cardinals win the NFC West. Kliff Kingsbury will pull out all the stops. Last week the Seahawks blasted Detroit to pieces in scoring 51 points in what may have been the final home game for Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson in the Pacific Northwest.
With nothing to lose, Carroll himself might offer a few defensive wrinkles and trick plays. This is one of those games where the cliche of throwing out the records applies. The Seahawks will go down fighting, and the Cardinals did lose three straight before last week. Cardinals win but fail to cover.
New England Patriots (-6) at Miami Dolphins —
In the season opener, the Dolphins went into New England and shocked the Patriots 17-16 when the Patriots literally fumbled the game away late. The Dolphins went on to lose seven straight, then win seven straight, and finally get blasted last week at Tennessee to be 8-8 and out of the playoffs. The Patriots are 10-6 and tied for the AFC East lead.
However, they do not have a tie-breaker. The Patriots have clinched a playoff spot but could be in almost every position. They could be one of the lowest seeds. If several teams lose, the Patriots could even be the top seed with home field throughout the playoffs. The Patriots need to win and have Buffalo lose to win the AFC East. The Patriots have everything to play for, but for some reason they almost always seem to lose at Miami late in the year.
The best Patriots teams have had some of their worst games at bad Miami teams. This New England team is not that special. They win with tough running and defense. This Miami team is not as bad as past teams. Brian Flores would love to sweep his former boss. Upset special, Dolphins win outright.
New Orleans Saints (-4.5) at Atlanta Falcons —
The 8-8 Saints are still alive but need to win and hope San Francisco loses to snag the final Wildcard spot. The Falcons are done for the year. These teams often play close games and road wins are common in this series. Taysom Hill is back and Alvin Kamara is playing well. This could be Matt Ryan’s final game in Atlanta due to salary cap issues.
The Saints have more talent, and Ryan is not what he was five years ago. Sean Payton has tons of experience while Arthur Hill is a rookie head coach. Go with the experience and the team that has everything to play for. Saints win but fail to cover.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-16.5) —
The 11-5 Bills with a win clinch the AFC East. If they lose and New England wins, the Bills drop to a wildcard. Josh Allen is playing well, as is Sean McDermott’s defense. The Jets gave Tampa all they could handle but then blew a 14 point lead late. That was at home. At Buffalo, this could be a blowout. Yet if the Buffalo weather is awful as it was last week, it might make it tough to rack up tons of points. A Zach Wilson garbage touchdown is possible. Bills win but fail to cover.
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) at Las Vegas Raiders —
Both teams are 9-7. For the Chargers, this game is do-or-die. If they win, they are in the playoffs. If they lose, they are out.
There is a slim chance the Raiders could lose this game and still make the playoffs. That would require losses by both Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Both of those games will be finished before this game kicks off. In that scenario, the Raiders may rest their starters and the Chargers win easily.
Realistically, nobody expects Indianapolis to lose against lowly Jacksonville. So barring that shocking upset, the Raiders will be in the same situation as the Chargers. Win, get in, lose, get out. In an even more bizarre scenario, both the Raiders and Chargers make the playoffs if this game ends in a tie.
Cynics are saying both teams can take a knee on every play and end the game 0-0.
That is not going to happen. Commissioner Roger Goodell would sanction them both for attacking the integrity of the game. The Chargers on paper appear to be the better team, and they beat the Raiders soundly earlier in the year. The Raiders do not have much of a home-field advantage.
Yet the Raiders have won three straight and Derek Carr is a miracle worker.
In a close game in the final two minutes, trust Carr and kicker Daniel Carlson. Darren Waller is expected to return, and not a moment too soon. The Allegiant Stadium Death Star will be a sea of silver and black. This game could go either way. Gus Bradley’s defense has improved.
In the biggest Raiders game in five years, they will find a way. Upset special, Raiders win outright.
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