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The contest I’ve been writing about this season ended in Week 17, so we’re on to a new format in Week 18. Instead of picking games against the spread, we’re going to dive into a pick ‘em pool. There’s a free contest with $15,000 up for grabs, with a cool $1,000 available for first place.
To win the big prize, you’re going to have to get most of your picks correct. With that in mind, let’s take a look at my picks for each of Sunday’s contests, with an in-depth look at four underdogs I think could be undervalued.
The Pick: Jets
This contest is a classic “motivation” spot for the general public. The Jets have nothing left to play for after getting eliminated from playoff contention last week, while the Dolphins need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The public loves backing teams with something to play for in the final week in the regular season, and those teams are often overvalued. They’ve struggled mightily at covering the spread in those situations, but they’ve also struggled to win games outright. Think back to last year when the Colts simply needed to win as two-touchdown favorites against the Jaguars and couldn’t get the job done. Those types of results happen all the time; teams like the Dolphins have plenty of pressure on them, while teams like the Jets can simply try to play spoiler.
Additionally, the QB battle is definitely in the Jets’ favor in this matchup. The Jets will be starting Joe Flacco, while the Dolphins will turn to Skylar Thompson. Thompson has played the majority of the team’s snaps in one contest this season, which ironically was also against the Jets. He was dreadful, completing just 19 of 33 passes for 166 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception. The Jets ultimately won that contest by a score of 40-17, although the game was more competitive than the final score suggests.
Flacco hasn’t been a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard to imagine him being worse than Thompson. Thompson will have to navigate the Jets’ elite pass defense, while Flacco’s matchup vs. the Dolphins is much more favorable. I like the Jets to grab a win and send the Dolphins to the golf course.
The Pick: Buccaneers
The Falcons are listed as four-point favorites in this spot, while the Bucs have nothing to play for. They clinched the NFC South with their win over the Panthers last week, so they can theoretically rest their key players in the final week of the year. With a 45-year-old quarterback, that doesn’t sound like the worst idea.
However, the Bucs have not given any indication that they plan on resting Tom Brady or anyone else. That’s not the worst idea either. The team has struggled for most of the year, but they finally broke out last week vs. the Panthers. Brady had his best game of the season, finishing with 423 yards and four total touchdowns, so they could look to keep the momentum rolling into the playoffs. The Falcons are a matchup where the Buccaneers should be able to feast, ranking 30th in Football Outsiders defensive DVOA.
Even if Brady only plays a half, that could be enough to lead the Bucs to victory. The Falcons are an awful football team, and they struggled to beat David Blough and the Cardinals last week. They were outgained by 41 yards, but they managed to escape with a one-point victory. Ultimately, Blaine Gabbert could be enough to get the job done.
The Pick: Rams
The Seahawks are another excellent fade this week. They’re another team that fits the “need to win” narrative, and I like the Rams to cover the current spread. If they can cover the spread, there’s no reason they can’t win the game outright.
The Rams have been up and down since Baker Mayfield took over at quarterback. They’ve had two extreme highs – a 98-yard game-winning drive against the Raiders and a 37-point shellacking of the Broncos – while the lows have been pretty low. They managed just 22 total points against the Chargers and Packers, and they were outgained by nearly 200 yards in both contests.
While the Seahawks are still fighting for a playoff spot, they’re far from an elite team. They’re an awful team defensively, and their offense has not looked nearly as impressive in recent weeks. Geno Smith played like a Pro Bowler to start the year, but he’s averaged just 6.07 adjusted yards per attempt over his past four weeks.
I think the Rams should be able to put enough points on the board to keep this game competitive, and they could certainly pull off the upset.
The Pick: Lions
The last game of the week has big-time playoff implications. The Packers control their own destiny: beat the Lions and they’re in, lose to the Lions and they’re out. The Lions can also get into the postseason, but they would need Seattle to lose to the Rams.
Even though I like the Rams to cover and possibly win, there’s certainly a good chance that the Seahawks take care of business. In that scenario, the Lions would then have nothing to play for.
That would create a situation where the Lions are undervalued. I don’t think they would play any less hard in that game – that’s simply not in Dan Campbell’s DNA – but the public perception of the team’s effort would likely diminish. I view this game as a coin flip, so I’m happy to grab the Lions if a disproportionate number of people are targeting Green Bay.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is mlamarca) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups. I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.