Who Should Get the #1 Seed? Week 18 Matchups and NFL Betting Preview
Why the Vikings are closer to being a .500 team than a contender
As Saturday nears, our thoughts remain with Damar Hamlin as he continues his recovery. Doctors say he has “substantial improvement in his condition” and that he is able to manipulate his hands and interact.
AFC #1 seeding scenarios remain murky. The Bengals vs. Bills game was ruled as not having been played. Why can’t the team with the best record—Kansas City, after they beat the Raiders on Sunday—get the #1 seed? No matter what happens, one of the three teams in the running is going to be disadvantaged.
Adam Schefter expresses his speculation:
For my part, I feel the focus on who deserves the #1 seed somewhat of a distraction. Both teams that made last year’s Super Bowl played two rounds, and the Bengals went on the road.
Mitch’s Week 18 Data
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I have added target odds and spread to my picks. Instead of power rank, I used adjusted point differential as the primary determinative factor. My adjusted point differential awards 0 points for overtime wins or losses and 20 points for wins of 20 points or greater in order to decrease the impact of luck and outliers.
The data shows the Eagles’ average adjusted point differential in a game is 7.6 points better than the Giants’. But did the Eagles play an easier schedule? Accounting for the average adjusted PD of each of their opponents, I recalculated how big each team won or lost by versus the average team facing the same opponent. A team that was perfectly average in every game would have scored 0.0. The Eagles beat their opponents on average by a margin of 7.1 points more than would have been expected, while the Giants had an average adjusted margin of -0.5, which is -0.9 points worse than an average team facing their schedule.
Adjusted winning percentage is a measure that awards points for wins by margin. If the average NFL team playing an average opponent is leading by three or fewer in the fourth quarter, all things being equal, they should have a slightly greater than 50% chance of winning. So if a team like the Vikings wins five games by three points or less, often in shocking and unsustainable fashion, that does not represent the same level of excellence as the 49ers winning ten games by eight points or more.
The Vikings are by far the team that benefited most from getting lucky and/or “clutch” towards the end of games. In Week 17, it looked like it wouldn’t hold up, and you should bet it won’t hold up throughout the playoffs.
If you sign up now as a paid subscriber, you can get the full spreadsheets of my Adjusted Win % and Week 18 picks!
Mitch’s Week 18 Best Picks
There are a couple of games featuring teams that have nothing to play for that I would avoid betting altogether. In Eagles vs Giants, the Giants are possibly resting their starters. Given the unknown seeding implications of any Buffalo and Cincinnati game and possible factors on the mentality of the players, I did not assess a target spread for those games.
There are four games where the difference between my target spread and the market spread are large enough and where I feel confident enough in the intangible factors that I like.
Saints vs Panthers
Target Spread: CAR +0.5
Market Spread: CAR +3.5
The Saints are only a slightly better team than the Panthers. Both have negative adjusted point differentials and both lose by larger margins than would be expected. The Panthers have been playing better under interim coach Steve Wilks and Sam Darnold is looking alright in that offense. They have 3.5 points to play with.
Falcons vs Buccaneers
Target Spread: TB -2
Market Spread: TB +4
The Buccaneers, who have won two straight, are dogs against a Falcons team that just beat the Cardinals by one after losing four straight. Tom Brady is always gung-ho about playing. He said: “I haven’t missed a game other than my ACL (injury), and then in 2016, I missed the first four games. Other than that, I’ve played them all.”
Coach Todd Bowles confirmed he wouldn’t rest starters: “We can get better at a lot of things that we need to work on, and we don't need our foot off the gas."
That makes sense, given how poorly the team has executed this year. A Bucs team with Brady at QB that wants to win and is facing a Falcons team with a non-Brock Purdy rookie, a team that is playing two points worse against the average opponent than is Tampa, this Bucs team will keep the score within four and probably win.
Commanders vs Cowboys
Target Spread: DAL -9.5
Market Spread: DAL -7
After seeing Wentz throw three picks and lose to the Browns, Coach Ron Rivera is giving the rookie Sam Howell his first start.
Broncos vs Chargers
Target Spread: LAC -0.5
Market Spread: LAC +2.5
The Chargers could be playing for the #5 seed, or they could rest some of their starters if the Bengals beat the Ravens.
Full Week 18 Data Sheets
Paid subscribers can download my Week 18 Matchups and Adjusted Win % data as Excel spreadsheets.
This content is my own opinion and analysis. I don’t know for sure who will win. That’s why we play the game. No results are guaranteed. No financial gain is guaranteed. All betting carries risk.