Our process for selecting picks is well documented and relatively straight forward. If you're new, this blog from Dom goes into great detail here about how the model works.
Once we run the model, we update the site with the model's full output and make our recommendations. Except for a few outliers, our recommendations will be the games where the model spits out a strength of 1.89 or higher. Why 1.89? Dom explains that here. But week 18 is no ordinary week. If we're lucky, we may find a single game in a week that has a strength of 4 or higher. This week, the model found 5 games that had a strength higher than 4. This was somewhat expected -- the last week of the season is always chaos for gamblers, and therefore requires manual intervention. It's impossible to adjust your model to properly account for resting starters, so we opted to just run the model as is and analyze the results. This means that the model's output does NOT account for the possibility of resting starters. I'll take some time to interpret each game and clarify why we recommended what we did.
Before I do that, though, I wanted to clarify a few things on week 18. For starters, players do NOT tank. This notion drives me nuts every year, where we hear about teams with "no motivation" to make the playoffs, and analyst wonder if their players will go all out. That's nonsense. These are human beings who reached their dream of making the NFL, are the most competitive people on Earth, and have very real money that they're playing for -- some directly via contract incentives, some indirectly via future contracts. When we talk about motivation, the key is to figure out who will actually be playing. In the last week of the season, if a team has been eliminated, it's common for teams to be more cautious with injuries than normal weeks -- opting to sit injured players in a game that can't help them so as not to risk further injury. It's also common for teams who have their seed locked in (Green Bay) to rest starters. Given that the season is now a week longer, it's fair to wonder if teams will exercise more caution than normal. When we ran the model, we noticed that the model selected a number of teams who have zero motivation against teams who are highly motivated. We ultimately decided to pass on those games. Here's the full break down:
Green Bay (-2.0) @ Detroit (strength: 10.86)
Let's start with the easy one. A strength of 10.86 means something is broken, it's patently absurd to suggest that the market is off by 10 points. Green Bay has the top seed in the NFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They'll almost certainly be resting starters. We passed.
Carolina @ Tampa Bay (-8.0) (strength 7.39)
With the new playoff format, only the top seed gets a bye. The Bucs clinched the NFC South, but cannot get the 1st overall seed. They're also without Antonio Brown (quit) and Chris Godwin (ACL). Further, Mike Evans's hamstring clearly isn't 100%. We don't know how the Bucs will approach this game, but both their health and motivation is suspect. We passed.
Tennessee @ Houston (10.5) (strength 6.99)
The Titans need to win this game to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans, obviously, are dead. I also have some doubt in the model's ability to pick the Titans -- I could write an entire blog post on how their efficiency metrics do not match their record. However, they've dealt with some serious healthy issues this year and are getting healthier. In the end, we decided to pass.
Washington @ NY Giants (+7.0) (strength 5.18)
Neither team has anything to play for and there isn't any reason to think they both won't go all out. We took this one.
Dallas @ Philadelphia (+7.0) (strength 4.91)
This was a tricky one. Dallas has the NFC East clinched. Philadelphia has a playoff birth clinched. Both teams could easily decide to rest starters. Jerry Jones has insisted that the Cowboys will play all starters, but I trust that geezer about as far as I can throw him. Philadelphia is also mid COVID outbreak. We passed.
Seattle (+6.5) @ Arizona (strength 3.38)
Arizona clinched a playoff birth, but can win the division with a win and a Rams loss. The Seahawks are eliminated, but there isn't any reason to think they won't be going all out. We took this one.
Kansas City @ Denver (+10.0) (strength 3.34)
Kansas City has an outside shot at the #1 seed, though they need the Titans to somehow lose to the Texans. Since they play Saturday, however, they won't be able to scoreboard watch. They'll go all out, while Denver is likely to be without starting QB Teddy Bridgewater (concussion). We passed.
Indianapolis @ Jacksonville (+15.5) (strength 3.24)
The Jaguars are as dead as dead gets -- though a loss guarantees them the #1 overall pick. The Colts need a win and some help to get in, so they'll be going all out. We passed.
NY Giants (+16.5) @ Buffalo (strength 3.20)
The 4-12 Giants are dead. The Bills have a playoff birth clinched, but need a win to take the division. It's worth noting that Buffalo has no chance at getting the 1 seed. If Buffalo wins, they are likely to face New England at home. If they lose, they may need to travel to New England. That should be more than enough motivation. We passed.
Chicago @ Minnesota (-2.5) (strength 2.55)
Both teams are dead, but have no reason to not go all out. We took it.
Pittsburgh (+5.5) @ Baltimore (strength 2.54)
Both teams are technically alive, though they would need a win and a ton of help to get in. Either way, the playoff hopes are enough to assume they'll play their full squads. I do think there's a chance Lamar Jackson sits again. That was more than enough to take the bet.
And that was it. The other 5 games fell below the 1.89 threshold, so we naturally passed on them as well. See you out there.