Youmans: My five best bets for NFL Week 18

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With the AFC’s top seed on the line, and with quarterback Patrick Mahomes poised to make a final push to lock up the MVP award, the Kansas City Chiefs are a popular side with the betting public in Week 18. And why not?

The Chiefs (13-3) have plenty to play for Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas, and the opposite seems true of the Raiders.

 

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It’s not always that simple. Kansas City is 9-1 in its past 10 games, but it’s not a dominant team that is crushing the opposition. It’s not all blowouts and highlights when it comes to Mahomes and the Chiefs, who are 1-6 ATS in their past seven games while failing to cover twice against the last-place Broncos.

The end of the Derek Carr era is the beginning of something dramatically different in Las Vegas, where first-year coach Josh McDaniels is turning the page and planning to move ahead with Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo or another veteran quarterback. For now, the quarterback is Jarrett Stidham, who appears to be an upgrade from Carr.

Stidham was outstanding in his first start, passing for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-34 overtime loss to San Francisco. The Raiders piled up 500 yards against the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense. Carr’s close friend Davante Adams, who had seven receptions for 153 yards and two scores, resurfaced with a big game, praised Stidham and said he wants to stick around next year. The commitment from Adams, arguably the league’s top receiver, is good news.

So it’s not all doom and gloom for the Raiders, a 6-10 team that also happens to feature a dynamic running back. Josh Jacobs is the NFL’s rushing leader with 1,608 yards — he has a 160-yard lead going into the weekend — and can become the franchise’s first rushing champion since Marcus Allen in 1985.

The Kansas City run defense is a weakness that can be exploited, as Jacobs did by carrying the ball 21 times for 154 yards in the teams’ first meeting in October. Las Vegas led that game 17-0 in the second quarter before Mahomes sparked a rally with four touchdown passes and the Chiefs escaped with a 30-29 win.

Mahomes’ heroics in tight games has been a theme. He passed for 328 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 victory over Denver in Week 17 when the Chiefs’ defense had a surprisingly difficult time containing quarterback Russell Wilson.

Kansas City opened as a 7.5-point favorite this week and was a smart teaser play at that number. The total has been bet from 50.5 to 52.5, and the OVER is probably another good play because a leaky Las Vegas defense is not going to stop Mahomes.

For the second week in a row, I’ll take the points with the Raiders, who are out of the playoff picture yet not playing like dead dogs.

Pick: Raiders +9.5

Four more plays for Week 18:

Titans (+6.5) over JAGUARS: Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel used last week’s inconsequential game against Dallas as an opportunity to prepare new starting quarterback Josh Dobbs while resting several starters, including running back Derrick Henry. This is a role reversal for Jacksonville, a longtime losing team that’s suddenly a big favorite to win the AFC South. This is also the best role for Vrabel, who’s 21-9-1 ATS as a dog of three or more points with 19 outright wins. The Titans might come up short, but they will put up a fight in a low-scoring game.

STEELERS (-2.5) over Browns: With five wins in its past six games, Pittsburgh (8-8) is eyeing the playoffs and is motivated to avoid coach Mike Tomlin’s first losing season. The Steelers are 7-2 this season with pass-rushing force T.J. Watt on the field, and Watt will be in the face of struggling quarterback Deshaun Watson. Many of the Cleveland players could be motivated by thoughts of a Cancun vacation. While this line is suspiciously low, it’s tough to make a strong case for Watson and the Browns.

COLTS (-2.5) over Texans: This is not necessarily a play on Indianapolis, which has lost six straight and owns the league’s worst point differential (-137). This is a play against Houston, which has the league’s worst record (2-13-1) and needs to lose to secure the No. 1 draft pick. Texans coach Lovie Smith would be a fool to try to win this game. The Colts have the better defense and a quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, who needs to prove he belongs in the league.

Panthers (+3.5) over SAINTS: When it no longer mattered, New Orleans started winning late in the season. This one matters more for Carolina, which is 3-2 in its past five games. The Panthers are playing hard for Steve Wilks, the interim coach who has one last chance to prove he should be named the full-time coach after this game.

Last week: 2-2 against the spread

Season: 42-37-5