Week 18 is always tons of fun. And by tons of fun I mean an utter shit show, if you're into that sort of thing. We normally have to shift through all sorts of different playoff scenarios to determine if teams are likely to sit starters. The model, as good as it is, doesn't have any clue what the current standings are and doesn't factor in motivation at all. We also had some early-week unknowns with respect to injuries at the QB position (Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts).
If you want to read up on what teams are motivated, I highly suggest this article from Establish the Run. It's the best format for what we're looking for as bettors (or fantasy players).
The model, as one might expect, picked teams that have very little motivation. Let's review some of the games that the model selected, but we're passing on.
NY Giants (+14.0) @ Philadelphia
Pick: NYG +14.0
To start, 6.31 is an absurd strength -- the market simply doesn't leave that much value for bettors. The NY Giants are locked into the 6 seed and have nothing to play for, where as the Eagles need to win in order to grab the 1 seed. Even with Jalen Hurts (shoulder) out since week 15, we felt it was more likely he comes back for this game while there was early speculation that the Giants may rest their starters.
Baltimore (+7.0) @ Cincinnati
Model's pick: BAL +7.0
This line had a few things going on. With the Bengals, this were naturally complicated with the Damar Hamlin situation, and when we ran the model only a few books were even offering a line on the game. We've always tried to suggest lines that were accessible at multiple books, which then gives you the option to shop around for the best price. We aren't line shopping ourselves and posting spreads that nobody has access to.
Now that we somewhat know how things stand, both teams will be highly motivated. If the Ravens win, they'll host a round one game, provided that they win a coin toss (yes, fucking seriously). Meanwhile, the Bengals can move up to the 2 seed with a win. We passed on this one due to the injury to Lamar Jackson, as he appears unlikely to play. The line has shifted away from the model to 9.0, so this appears like a good decision.
Tampa Bay (+4.0) @ Atlanta
Model's pick: TB +4.0
The Bucs have nothing to play for. They are locked into the 4 seed regardless of what happens this week. They also have a QB who happens to be 45 years old -- perhaps you've heard of him -- and a team that has dealt with the injury bug this season. Head Coach Todd Bowles had stated that he plans to play starters, but this line is clearly calling bullshit. The Bucs are a better team then the Falcons, and in no realistic world should they be giving up 4 points. You don't need a model for this one: if you believe Bowles, bet the Bucs. If you're suspicious (as we are), then pass. We've elected to pass.
Houston (+2.5) @ Indianapolis
Model's pick: HOU +2.5
The model is really scrapping the bottom of the barrel here, taking the 2-13 Texans to cover against the 4-11-1 Colts. Both teams are so eliminated it's possible they've also been eliminated for the 2024 playoffs as well. Per Football Outsiders, the Texans have a 72.5% chance at grabbing the #1 overall pick, with Chicago being the only team that could also end up with the 1st overall selection. Naturally, the easiest way for them to ensure that they have the first pick is to lose this game.
I am firmly on team "player's don't tank." I will gladly die on any hill fighting on this. Player's are as motivated as it gets when it comes to playing football -- if they're on the field, they are going all out. I am, however, always suspicious of ownership doing something funky with resting starters. We therefore elected to pass.