We finally made it to the last week of the regular season – and a first for the NFL. This season marks the inaugural year for a 17-game schedule. It’s been quite a ride, but there are still several pending playoff implications this weekend.
So who do we like to cover in these must-win games? Here are our best bets ATS:
Raiders +3 over Chargers
This is my favorite pick of the week – I love the Raiders to not only cover but win outright. The last time these two teams met, the Chargers took an early lead and never looked backed, ultimately winning 28-14 in Los Angeles. The competitive play and trash-talking continued after the game when Chargers DE Joey Bosa knocked Raiders QB Derek Carr, claiming it was easy to rattle the play-caller early. Carr took issue with that statement and was irritated by it. Expect Carr to use Bosa’s words against him and step up in this contest.
The Raiders also have the benefit of playing at home this time around. You can bet their fans will be at their loudest, only needing a win to secure a Wild Card berth. In addition, the Raiders should get TE Darren Waller back from injury, which will be a massive boost to the offense.
Yes, the Chargers possess an explosive offense behind QB Justin Herbert, RB Austin Ekeler, and WR Keenan Allen. Still, we have seen this team fall flat in big contests throughout the season, including against the Patriots, Ravens, and most recently, Chiefs.
While I’m picking the Raiders to pull off the upset, if you don’t feel as confident as me, then take the points. This game has all the makings to come down to the last possession of the game, and in that case, a field goal should be the decider.
Niners +4 over Rams
Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s status for this game is still up in the air, but it sounds like he should be ready to go come Sunday. After a slow start, rookie backup QB Trey Lance performed adequately enough for San Francisco this past weekend against the Texans. However, Lance was fortunate to get away with multiple drops by the Texans’ defenders that could have easily added to his interception total.
For this weekend, the Rams’ defense is incomparable to the Texans. Los Angeles boasts one of the top defensive units in the league. Should Garoppolo be unable to play, Lance won’t stand a chance against Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and company.
Still, I’m basing my pick on the prenotion that Jimmy G will play. In that case, his game management skills should keep the game close throughout regulation, especially with key targets in WR Deebo Samuel and TE George Kittle.
On the other hand, despite their record, the Rams offense has struggled in recent weeks. Matt Stafford still does not look 100 percent, and he has been interception-prone, which has proven costly. The Niners secondary should capitalize on this, especially if they take away No. 1 target Cooper Kupp.
Again, this pick is dependent on whether Garoppolo will play, which I think he will. In that case, the Niners should continue their dominance over the Rams over the past few seasons. Take the points if this game comes down to the wire, but don’t be surprised if the Niners pull off the upset and secure their spot in the playoffs.
Falcons +4.5 over Saints
Unfortunately for New Orleans, this team does not control its destiny. The Saints must defeat the division-rival Falcons and rely on the Rams to overpower the Niners to sneak into the playoffs.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Saints. Following Drew Brees’ retirement, the Saints rallied behind QB Jameis Winston until he went down earlier in the season. Since then, Sean Payton has relied on backup QBs Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill, and Ian Book to start behind center. Hill has been the most effective of the trio, but the Saints have still struggled to put points on the board. Star RB Alvin Kamara has missed several key games, and New Orleans lost top WR Michael Thomas to injury before the season began.
The Falcons have nothing to play for other than spoil their rivals’ playoff chances. Given that veteran QB Matt Ryan still anchors the offense; you can bet Atlanta will still show up at home and give their season an uplifting sendoff. This should be a low-scoring affair that could boil down to whoever wins the turnover battle. In that case, I will take the home team to cover.
Titans -10.5 over Texans
I usually hate laying double-digit points in division matchups, but it is entirely warranted in this scenario. The Texans have nothing to play for following a predictable disappointing season, while the Titans need only to win to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. With top RB Derrick Henry making his way back from an injury that sidelined him most of the season, you can bet the Titans have their eyes set on that bye.
The spread may be high, but I don’t think it is high enough in this case. Tennessee should take advantage early in the contest and drive up the score. Texans rookie QB Davis Mills has performed admirably in several games this season but has struggled against stellar defenses, which the Titans possess.
If the scoring gets out of hand, Titans coach Mike Vrabel may pull his starters, leaving the door open for a backdoor cover. However, the game may be so far out of hand that both teams will just be looking to run out the clock by that point. It’s a handful of points to lay, but we just witnessed the Texans muster only 7 points against a Niners squad that was playing with their rookie backup QB as well. Titans win big.
Jaguars +16 over Colts
The Colts find themselves in a must-win game after losing their chance to clinch a playoff berth this past Sunday against the Raiders. While most fans may think this matchup against the lowly Jaguars is a lock, bettors may not be too sure. We have seen the Colts falter in pivotal moments throughout the season. While his numbers may say otherwise, Carson Wentz has struggled at times in his first season in Indy, especially in the turnover department. Expect the Colts to rely on MVP-candidate Jonathan Taylor to anchor the offense and keep the ball out of the air.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, are concluding their tumultuous season looking to play spoiler. While I agree that the Colts should emerge victoriously, I think it will be much closer than people think. Leaning heavily on the ground game behind Taylor, look for Indy to play conservatively and do what the team needs to do to secure the win. That being said, Jacksonville should be able to keep the contest within reach in this low-scoring affair. When I looked at this line, my first thought was to pounce on Indy, but on second thought, I don’t see the Colts blowing anyone out even in a must-win situation like this. Take the points.