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BETTING

NFL Week 18 Best Bets: Sorting Through the Backup Quarterbacks

Sam Darnold San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos
Sam Darnold #14 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles during the first half of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos. Loren Elliott/Getty Images/AFP

The NFL’s Week 18 schedule no doubt has some huge games like Texans-Colts and Bills-Dolphins that will decide playoff spots and a division title. But there are also many games where teams are resting starters, including big-name quarterbacks, that could create some interesting and tricky betting situations on this final Sunday of the 2023 regular season.

It was not easy, but we made our best bets for Week 18 below, and you can always find these bets at top-rated sportsbooks.

Picks Summary


Kevin Stefanski Just Showing Off Now with a 5th QB

The Cleveland Browns have already made some history this year by becoming the first playoff team to start 4 quarterbacks in multiple games in a season. Now Kevin Stefanski, a favorite for Coach of the Year, can show off even more if he gets to 12-5 after starting and winning at least 1 game with 5 different quarterbacks.

Jeff Driskel is next in line to start for the Browns, and Stefanski has had incredible success against Zac Taylor and the Bengals in his career with unheralded quarterbacks. Stefanski is 6-1 against the Bengals.

The Bengals are a 7-point home favorite with the Browns locked into the No. 5 seed. The total is 37.5 points, but we are looking at the team total for the Browns (over/under 13.5 points).


Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Sunday, January 07, 2024 – 01:00 PM ET at Paycor Stadium


Remembering Jeff Driskel

In case you forgot, Jeff Driskel went to Florida a decade ago and was a 6th-round pick in 2016. He has 11 games in his NFL career where he threw at least 19 passes, and his teams are unfortunately 1-10 in those games.

But Driskel’s team did score at least 14 points in 7-of-11 games. He has some mobility, he’s only thrown an interception on 2.2% of his 365 career pass attempts, and his 80.5 passer rating is solid enough for a career journeyman backup.

But the best thing Driskel has on his side is Stefanski this week. Not only is Stefanski 6-1 against the Bengals, but he’s usually done it with quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett posting huge numbers. The Browns scored at least 21 points in every win and got to over 30 points in 4 games.

In fact, the only loss by Stefanski to Cincinnati was last year with Deshaun Watson as his quarterback, the only player to not excel under Stefanski at the position. The Browns lost that one 23-10, but the Bengals were playing much better football than now.

Cincinnati’s Bad Defensive Year

The Bengals have had a rough year defensively. Some timely turnovers have been the only saving grace as the Bengals rank 21st in points allowed and 31st in yards given up.

Every team but Seattle has scored at least 14 points against the Bengals this year. That day, the Seahawks were repeatedly in the red zone at the end of the game but could not score the go-ahead touchdown in a 17-13 loss.

When these teams met in Week 1, the Browns piled up 24 points and 350 yards despite turning the ball over twice and finishing 4-of-14 on 3rd down. The Browns have usually killed Cincinnati with the run and play-action passing, and that is where Stefanski should target this vulnerable group again.

Also, Jake Browning has had some interception issues in certain games this year, so you cannot rule out the Browns getting a takeaway to set up a short field for easy points. The Browns are going to rest key defenders like Myles Garrett, but that won’t stop coordinator Jim Schwartz from being aggressive with the players he has on the field this Sunday.

The Pick

The Browns have only been held under 13.5 points in 3-of-16 games this year. The offense has overcome the loss of Nick Chubb, and they were lighting up the Jets last week without Amari Cooper. Asking for 14 points isn’t a lot in this league, and we’ll trust Stefanski’s offense against a bad defense to get there.

NFL Pick: Browns Over 13.5 Points (-125) at Bet365 (check our Bet365 Review)


Detroit Ready to Eat Some Kneecaps Before Playoffs

The Detroit Lions are still fuming over the controversial finish to their 20-19 loss in Dallas last Saturday night. The Lions were penalized on their trick play for a 2-point conversion despite feeling they prepared the referees properly for their plans on an offensive lineman reporting as an eligible receiver.

Detroit still has an outside shot of finishing with the No. 2 seed should the NFC East teams lose, but the Lions are one of the few playoff teams expected to start their top quarterback (Jared Goff) and play their starters.

The Lions are a 3.5-point home favorite with a total of 45.5 points. We look at the spread in this one.


Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions

Sunday, January 07, 2024 – 01:00 PM ET at Ford Field


Week 16 Recap: Lions 30, Vikings 24

These teams just met in Week 16 and that was when Detroit clinched the division title with a big 30-24 win in Minnesota. What was the key to victory? The defense intercepted Nick Mullens 4 times, including a game-clinching pick in the final minute with the Vikings driving.

Mullens passed for 411 yards and hit big plays all day as he aggressively attacked down the field. But picks have been the story of his career, and he is throwing a pick on an absurd 5.8% of his passes with Minnesota this year. That’s why the team benched him last week for rookie Jaren Hall before going back to Mullens after a bad start against Green Bay.

On the other side, Jared Goff had a nice game in Week 16 with 30-of-40 passing for 257 yards, 1 sack, and no turnovers. The running game was also productive with 143 yards. About the only Detroit skill player who didn’t produce was rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who had 3 catches for 18 yards.

But the Vikings are going to have their hands full with Amon-Ra St. Brown again, especially after he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl in the NFC. St. Brown had 12 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in Week 16.

The Vikings have lost tight end T.J. Hockenson to a season-ending injury, so they are down that weapon from 2 weeks ago.

Lions Get Final Tune-up Before Playoffs

The Lions are 5-2 at home this year with every win by at least 5 points. They will host a home playoff game for the first time in Ford Field this year, a stadium that opened in 2002. This is their final chance before then to get ready for the playoffs, and they come in angry after a tough loss in Dallas where they played well and came up short in part because of what they felt (and many felt) was an officiating blunder.

The Lions could take that out on Minnesota, a team that has a very improbable playoff scenario still in grasp, but the Vikings are starting a turnover-prone quarterback again. If the Lions protect the ball, they look unbeatable at home this year. The Vikings had no pressure on Jordan Love last week and played arguably their worst game of the season.

The Pick

Minnesota has played a lot of close games this year, but last week’s 33-10 loss to the Packers was not one of them. The Vikings also just lost 30-24 to this team 2 weeks ago, and the Lions generally are more productive on offense at home in the Goff era.

The Lions may not need to go all out for this game as they could end up stuck as the No. 3 seed, but this feels like a team that is ready to make a statement going into the wild card round, and the Vikings look like an outmatched team ready for winter break in Minnesota.

We will trust the Lions to cover the spread, something they have done 68% of the time under coach Dan Campbell since 2021, the best rate in the league in that time.

NFL Pick: Lions -3.5 (-105) at Caesars Sportsbook (check our Caesars Sportsbook Review)


Sean McVay vs. Kyle Shanahan

The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers are both headed to the playoffs behind coaches Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, who infamously met in the 2021 NFC Championship Game 2 years ago. Shanahan has gotten the best of the rivalry (10-4 record since 2017), but the Rams did win that big one to go on and win a Super Bowl.

But for this season finale, both teams are starting backup quarterbacks as the 49ers have the No. 1 seed locked up and the Rams are seemingly content with being the No. 7 seed if they don’t get the No. 6 seed. But they are guaranteed a playoff berth.

The Rams will start Carson Wentz at quarterback and the 49ers will start Sam Darnold, so these are a couple of the more experienced, high-profile players getting a start in Week 18. They both are in good hands with these coaches even if the teams are not going full tilt with players as you can expect to see Christian McCaffrey on the sideline with a calf injury.

The 49ers are a 4-point home favorite with a total of 41 points. But we are looking at a game prop for both teams to score at least 15 points.


Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers

Sunday, January 07, 2024 – 04:25 PM ET at Levi’s Stadium


Why the 49ers Should Get to 15 Points with Darnold

This one looks fairly simple as the team’s total is 23.5 points in this game, the 49ers have scored at least 17 points in every game this season, and Sam Darnold almost led 2 touchdown drives against the Ravens in Week 16 after coming off the bench.

Sure, Darnold won’t have a full roster of weapons this week with McCaffrey out, but the 49ers can utilize Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason at running back and still produce great results in this famed system.

The 49ers have scored at least 17 points in 13-of-14 games since 2017 in this Shanahan vs. McVay era. The 49ers scored 30 points against the Rams earlier this season, they are home, and they should perform at least well enough to where 15 points is not an issue.

Why the Rams Should Get to 15 Points with Wentz

This side is a little trickier with the Rams having a team total of over/under 18 points. The Rams have scored at least 15 points in 14-of-16 games this year, but one of the times they didn’t was the 20-3 loss to Green Bay, a game where Brett Rypien started instead of Matthew Stafford.

But earlier this season, the Rams were able to score 23 points against the 49ers in a game without Cooper Kupp, and before running back Kyren Williams started dominating on the ground.

Only 3 teams scored more than the 23 points the Rams had against the 49ers this season. Also, the Rams are the only team to lose by fewer than 12 points to the 49ers this year (outside of the 3 teams that beat the 49ers, obviously). These teams know each other well.

Sure, Wentz is not Stafford, but he also has to realize this could be one of his last opportunities to show something as a starting quarterback in this league. He had to wait many months in 2023 for any team to give him a chance after playing for 3 teams in the last 3 years. There are worse quarterbacks starting games this weekend than Wentz, and 9-of-16 opponents have reached 15 points against the 49ers this year, so it is slightly better than a coin flip.

Also, it’s not like the Rams are going to completely mail it in this week. Wide receiver Puka Nacua only needs 4 catches and 29 yards to set some rookie receiving records, so he can be expected to produce something in this game.

The Pick

It’s not going to be an overtime classic like the 27-24 game these teams played in Week 18 just 2 years ago. But with 2 of the best offensive coaches in the game and veteran 1st-round picks starting at quarterback with some talent around them, we’ll take our chances that both teams reach at least 15 points.

NFL Pick: Both Teams to Score 15+ Points (-115) at Bet365

*The line and/or odds referenced in this article might have changed since the content was published. For the latest information on line movements, visit OddsTrader’s free betting odds tool.

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