Week 18 NFL panel picks: Who can you trust in regular season finale?

Buffalo Bills running back Zack Moss (20) is tackled by New York Jets nose tackle Steve McLendon (99) during the second half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Throughout the 2021 season, a panel of Sportsnet’s NFL contributors have previewed each week’s slate of games from a gambling perspective. Staff writer/host Donnovan Bennett, staff writers Emily Sadler and Mike Johnston, plus fantasy writers Andy McNamara and Matt Marchese picked one FAVOURITE, one UNDERDOG, one OVER, one UNDER, including their personal LOCK, as they attempted to beat the odds

Depending on current seeding, teams will have varying degrees of intensity for Week 18 in the NFL. Some spreads are tough to decipher as well with several clubs planning on resting starters based on already clinching a post-season berth. Why risk an injury to a key starter when the result doesn’t necessarily matter?

For a handful of teams, though, everything comes down to this weekend. Five teams from the AFC remain alive and vying for the final three spots, while the 49ers hope to stave off the Saints for the final spot in the NFC.

The Steelers-Ravens game has significant AFC implications and the regular season schedule is capped off by a potential winner-gets-in game between the Chargers and Raiders Sunday night.

Just like the Green Bay Packers in the NFC, Andy has locked up first place on the Sportsnet.ca panel this season after his second perfect week in the past month. Second place overall remains up for grabs heading into the final week of the regular season.

Here are the Week 18 picks.

Donnovan Bennett, staff writer/host
2021 record: 36-32-0
Last week: 2-2-0
Locks: 10-7-0

🏈 Chargers (-3) at Raiders
🏈 Jets (+16.5) at Bills
🏈 Titans at Texans OVER 43
🔒 Bengals at Browns UNDER 41

Neither starting QB is playing in this battle of Ohio and neither team has much to play for this week. Expect conservative play calling and bad execution which coupled together means low points.

Emily Sadler, staff writer
2021 record: 35-31-2
Last week: 2-1-1
Locks: 7-10-0

🏈 Saints at Falcons OVER 40
🏈 Steelers at Ravens UNDER 41.5
🏈 Steelers (+5.5) at Ravens
🔒 Titans (-10.5) at Texans

With Derrick Henry preparing for his anticipated return, clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed (and the accompanying bye week) is a need, not a want, for the Titans. And, while Tennessee has suffered some head-scratching losses this season, I can’t see this season finale against the Texans with King Henry’s health on the line being even close.

Mike Johnston, staff writer
2021 record: 34-34-0
Last week: 3-1-0
Locks: 9-8-0

🏈 Cowboys at Eagles OVER 42.5
🏈 Bears at Vikings UNDER 44.5
🏈 Falcons (+4) vs. Saints
🔒 Patriots (-6.5) at Dolphins

The Patriots often struggle against the Dolphins when they have to travel to Miami but the Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention last week and Bill Belichick will ensure the Pats are sharp heading into the post-season. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a double-digit victory, especially since they’ve still got an outside shot at a division title.

Andy McNamara, analyst/fantasy sports writer
2021 record: 43-25-0
Last week: 4-0-0
Locks: 8-9-0

🏈 Cowboys at Eagles OVER 42.5
🏈 Chargers at Raiders UNDER 49.5
🏈 Patriots (-6.5) at Dolphins
🔒 Jets (+16.5) at Bills

With the AFC East title up for grabs I fully expect the Bills to win and do so in controlling fashion. However, grabbing a “W” by more than 16 points, even against the lowly Jets, is a big ask. It’ll be a cold afternoon in Buffalo, and the Jets have actually been playing better as of late. In their past two defeats “Gang Green” has lost by a touchdown or less, and overall look like a generally more competent football team. LOCK it in that the Jets lose, but cover the spread.

Matt Marchese, radio host/producer/fantasy football writer
2021 record: 27-41-0
Last week: 1-3-0
Locks: 7-10-0

🏈 Chargers at Raiders OVER 49.5
🏈 Packers at Lions UNDER 42.5
🏈 Chiefs (-10) at Broncos
🔒 Colts at Jaguars (+15.5) LOCK

There are some weird things that happen in divisional games, even late in the season, and weird trends happen across the board but none more strange than the Colts’ lack of success against the spread versus Jacksonville. These games are always close and Indy favoured by more than two touchdowns makes no sense to me as the Jags are 10-1-2 against the spread versus Indianapolis in their last 13. Give me the points all day!

BONUS STAT: Kansas City still has a chance at top spot in the AFC and Denver has struggled offensively of late, couple those things with the Chiefs’ 9-2-1 record ATS versus the Broncos and a 6-0-1 record ATS in Denver over their last seven.

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