Derry’s Week 18 NFL Picks: Can Saints finish on high note? How do Bills respond vs. Patriots?

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FILE - A person holds a Buffalo Bills candle during a a candlelight vigil for Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Buffalo Bills have been a reliable bright spot for a city that has been shaken by a racist mass shooting and back-to-back snowstorms in recent months. So when Bills safety Damar Hamlin was critically hurt in a game Monday, the city quickly looked for ways to support the team. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex, File)

As we head into the final week of the 2022 NFL season, it is about this time I normally begin to reflect on all the prior weeks and the key games that either turned my personal campaign into an overall winner or loser.

This week, I didn’t think about that at all. In fact, the tragedy that struck Damar Hamlin and the Buffalo Bills reminded me that except for professional bettors (few, if any, of whom read this column on a weekly basis), my picks are worth little more than a few minutes of entertainment each week and maybe a few bucks here or there over the course of 4 or 5 months to my regular readers.

Yeah, I usually win more than I lose, and that has been the case once again, especially with my best bets. But winning $30 bucks on a teaser or losing a six-team parlay by one leg really means squat when you compare it to a 24-year-old kid fighting for his life.

I know it’s days later. I realize I don’t know him and probably never will meet him, unless it is somewhere inside the Caesars Superdome someday. I realize he lives 1,200 miles away, and his injury shouldn’t affect my soul all that much. But it does, and it hit me way harder than anyone could have explained to me before the event occurred.

Damar Hamlin is someone’s child. His family is going through what many other families go through at any given point of the day in Anywhere, America. Maybe that’s why it hit me so hard. One day, it could be my child, because it most definitely is not because Hamlin is a football player. It is about mortality.

I have heard many people say it’s time to move on, and to some degree they’re right. That being said, I have a hard time moving on. I can only imagine what his Buffalo Bills brothers are thinking about now.

We will certainly move on with our picks, and we fully expect to finish strong with a plethora of winners in our final week of best bets. But just remember, this column is meant to briefly take you from your world of reality. When you head back, keep focus on things that matter.

With that, we hope you all are having a great start to your new year and that we’ll see you back here next week as we march on into the playoffs.

Any comments, questions, gratitude or hate mail is welcome at [email protected]

NOTES: All spreads, money lines and over/under totals (as of Thursday morning) are provided by FanDuel Sportsbook. We started the season with a mythical bankroll of $1,000. Our totals for the past week and the season are at the bottom of this column.

THE WEEK 18 BEST BETS

HOME TEAM in CAPS

1 / ML parlay (+104), BUFFALO over New England, PHILADELPHIA over NY Giants and SEATTLE over LA Rams

WHEN: All three games on Sunday. Patriots at Bills at 1 p.m.; Giants at Eagles and Rams at Seahawks at 4:25 p.m.

When it comes to the 2023 postseason, these three teams need to win this week against lesser competition to make things easier on themselves. While I think only one of the three will have an easy day (Philadelphia), the other two will at least find a way.

With their brother still lying in an intensive care unit in Cincinnati, it’s so tough to predict where the Bills’ heads will be Sunday, especially with the fact the Chiefs might have the No. 1 seed locked away by the time this one kicks off. (This is assuming the Week 17 game will not be resumed.) But it would be pretty shocking not to see them give max effort – even if only to forget about life for a while, especially in front of their home fans.

And the news Thursday morning of Hamlin’s significant improvement can only help Buffalo.

SCORE PREDICTION: Bills (-7) 30, Patriots 13. (Over 42.5.)

Jalen Hurts is expected back, but will he play like himself? Will he take chances running through the middle of the field? Will Nick Sirianni run that third-and-1 play with Hurts plowing up the middle into the land of the Giants (literally) to get a first down – or a touchdown from the 1? Will Hurts still be in there in the second half if they get a two-score lead?

I think “no” is the answer to all the above questions, which is why I cannot lay 14 and the hook against a Giants team that – while locked into the 6 seed and having nothing to play for – will not simply lie down against their most heated and hated rival.

(But the Eagles still will win.)

SCORE PREDICTION: Eagles 24, Giants (+14) 14. (Under 42.5.)

This is the toughest one of the bunch. I don’t love the Seahawks’ run defense against a suddenly resurgent Cam Akers. I don’t like this was a tight game just a month ago when the Rams were playing simply awful at the time. I don’t like the fact the Rams have won four of the past six in Seattle, all of which came when Seattle was good.

That being said, Pete Carroll is kind of a doofus, but he’s a doofus who knows how to squeeze the most out of whatever he has. And he can squeeze enough out of these Seahawks in the land of the 12th Man to at least give them a chance heading into Sunday night.

SCORE PREDICTION: Seahawks 26, Rams (+6.5) 20. (Over 41.5.)

2 / 7-pt teaser, Kansas City -2.5 over LAS VEGAS and MIAMI +8 over NY Jets

Teaser explanation: At most books, a bettor can parlay two teams in a “teaser” and get 6 points of cushion for each bet. However, it costs -120 to play and – like a parlay – both legs must hit to cash the ticket. A 7-point teaser like this one costs -140 to play.

WHEN: Chiefs at Raiders on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and Jets at Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Doesn’t this just seem like a year in which some weird things happen in the playoffs? All the talking heads keep saying is there are like four or five teams with a realistic chance to win the Super Bowl, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if a 6 or 7 seed gets hot and makes a run.

That being said, we’re not in the playoffs yet, and the Kansas City Chiefs are entrenched as one of the best three teams in the AFC and most likely will be the top seed.

If they are to gain that bye and home field throughout January (assuming the NFL doesn’t come up with some weird AFC top-seed rules this postseason), they must win here, and I think they’ll be looking to make a statement against a team that had yet another emotional letdown – in a season full of letdowns – in the finale. It wouldn’t be a shocker if the Raiders snuck in the back door for a cover here, but it would be a surprise if they’re within a field goal coming down the stretch.

SCORE PREDICTION: Chiefs (-9.5) 34, Raiders 20. (Over 52.5.)

Skylar Thompson likely will start at quarterback for the reeling Dolphins, who still have close to a 50-50 shot at making the playoffs. The Jets have Mike White back at quarterback and are looking to finish the season on a strong note.

Here are my big questions: Why do people keep pouring love on White, and why has this spread moved a couple of points in the Jets’ direction despite the fact both teams are on a five-game losing streak?

With the wrong team being favored and this game being played in potential 80-degree heat in Miami, it feels like getting seven points in a teaser is closer to getting 10.

After a roller-coaster season for the Fins, it sure feels like they’re going to sneak into the postseason and could present a problem for the Bills or Bengals in the opening round. I know it would be fun to watch.

SCORE PREDICTION: Dolphins (+1) 27, Jets 23. (Over 38.5.)

3 / Minnesota -7.5 (-104) over CHICAGO

WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m.

Here’s as concise a handicap as you’ll ever get from me: Justin Fields isn’t playing for the Bears, who have a massive incentive to lose to potentially get the No. 1 pick. The Vikings swear they’re playing their starters throughout. Although they’re almost certainly locked into the 3 seed, the Vikings are pissed off and don’t want to limp into the playoffs after getting shellacked last week in Green Bay. The weather should have almost no factor.

In other words, this could get super ugly. (But I am still going to buy the hook.)

SCORE PREDICTION: Vikings 33, Bears 7. (Under 43.5.)

4 / Tennessee ML (+225) over JACKSONVILLE

WHEN: Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

I was all set to go into this column and take the damn Jaguars here. Haven’t I been wrong on them like 15 or 16 weeks this season? In fact, I almost predicted them to lose during their bye week before the coffee kicked in.

Meanwhile, all the faith I had in the Titans has faded as they continued to lose week after week, not having enjoyed the taste of victory since before Thanksgiving.

But that’s just it: This seems way way way too easy for the Jaguars, doesn’t it? When it comes down to it, I have to remind myself that Mike Vrabel still has his team playing for an AFC South championship game against a team that hasn’t competed for anything meaningful other than one fluky season (2017) in about a decade and a half. (Yeah, I understand Josh Dobbs is playing quarterback.)

Oh, and Tennessee has basically had two weeks to rest after playing a meaningless game against Dallas a week ago Thursday, while the Jaguars played all their starters in a convincing win against Houston last Sunday and now will play on a short week.

I know taking the money line here carries a bit of danger, and I should be content to take the -6, but it also carries nice value. I looked through past Titans-Jags scores in Jacksonville, and it has been almost all Tennessee since Vrabel took over, including a 37-16 win in that aforementioned season of ’17.

SCORE PREDICTION: Titans (+6) 24, Jaguars 20. (Over 39.5.)

5 / Arizona at SAN FRANCISCO under 40.5 points

WHEN: Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

This is one of the few games that not only could have nasty conditions this weekend, but it is one of the falsely meaningful games, as well.

On the surface, yes, San Francisco has a chance to win the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Realistically, that’s hogwash, and they know it. By halftime, when Philly is two touchdowns ahead of the Giants, the 49ers very well could begin to remove their starters.

As it is, Deebo Samuel is out and Christian McCaffrey is dealing with an ankle injury, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he didn’t suit up. There also are a few other players who could sit either from the start or shortly into the game for San Francisco, which changes a whole lot.

This is the finale in the career of defensive end JJ Watt, and the Cardinals have been giving max effort despite losing their past six games. Both these offenses could struggle, and this could be as ugly as the predicted rain in the bay area.

SCORE PREDICTION: 49ers 19, Cardinals (+14) 10.

OTHER PICKS

(No bets for the following)

Sunday at 1 p.m.

Carolina (+3.5) 20, NEW ORLEANS 17: A chance to finish an abysmal season with a happy ending and a four-game win streak against a team that had its hopes and dreams crushed at home last week, where it looked for all the world like they were going to upset Tampa Bay and ride into New Orleans with a chance to win the NFC South?

Gotta pick the Saints, right? They’re going to do what seemed impossible just a month ago and hit the over 7.5 wins and pay off all the Who Dats who put a week’s paycheck on what seemed like the easiest bet in the history of football! C’mon, you know this team is incapable of a happy ending. I truly am not just being “Derry Downer,” but karma has a way of knocking people down after they scrape themselves up off the artificial turf to see the big, bright light when it previously appeared as if the last person already had left the stadium and turned the power off.

The Panthers simply are the better team, even with the abominable Sam Darnold at quarterback. They, too, are playing to hit their over 6.5 wins and to head into the offseason on a high note. They run the ball better than the Saints, and their defensive front isn’t fantastic but it is good enough to beat up on a battered opposing offensive line. Losing last week removes all the pressure they would have on them otherwise. Eddy Piñeiro is 6-of-6 on field-goal attempts against the Saints. Karma says he goes 3-of-3, including the game-winner as time expires. How else is this wretched season supposed to end? (Under 41.5)

ATLANTA (-4.5) 27, Tampa Bay 19: I get that the Bucs won’t play the majority of their starters for more than a quarter or so and that in every sense this will be almost identical to a preseason game played in late August. Still, this line took me by surprise.

Somebody knows something, and if they want to send me a message, who am I to disregard such gifts? (Over 40.5.)

INDIANAPOLIS (-2.5) 17, Houston 14: Thank you for your service, Jeff Saturday. Here’s your parting gift. (Under 38.5.)

CINCINNATI 22, Baltimore (+7) 17: Some think the Ravens’ victory over the Bengals a couple of months ago gives Cincinnati a revenge factor. I think Baltimore has played nothing but low-scoring games the past five weeks, and seven points is way too much in a division rivalry game – especially this division.

Besides, assuming the NFL doesn’t restart the Bills-Bengals game, which is a pretty safe assumption, this game is nearly meaningless. (Under 41.5.)

Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

Dallas (-7) 28, WASHINGTON 17: Who in the NFC has had a deeper fall from significance than the Commanders over the past month or so? Remember when Taylor Heinicke was an enigma that was going to lead … wait a minute … No rational, knowledgeable NFL fan realistically thought Heinicke would do anything but come back to Earth.

And Carson Wentz? Well, we’ve known he sucks for a long time now.

Yep, we get Dallas isn’t playing for anything (assuming the Eagles aren’t involved in one of the upsets of the year), but they’ll be at their best. And Cowboys first half – whatever the spread – probably should have been one of my best bets. (Over 40.5.)

DENVER (-2.5) 16, LA Chargers 13: When this line drastically changed from the Chargers being favored, it immediately told me the Bolts will be playing this one like preseason. That being the case, only one word comes to mind: Booooooo-rinnnnng. (Under 39.5.)

Sunday at 8:20 p.m.

GREEN BAY 34, Detroit (+4.5) 31: Even if Seattle wins at 3:25 as I predict, don’t think for a second the Lions aren’t going to come out and play with everything they have. And, in fact, other than successfully finishing off their improbable playoff run, they would love nothing more than to ruin the Packers’ season.

This could be one of the top-five most entertaining games of the season, hence why the league put this one in the final primetime slot.

In the end, it’s tough to think Aaron Rodgers will blow what might be his final shot at a postseason run, but Green Bay has had its issues with Detroit – even when they were great and the Lions stunk. It would be a surprise if this is an easy victory for either team. (Over 49.5.)

_____________________

HOW WE DOIN’?

Note: TIES ARE NOT COUNTED IN MY RECORD, which could result in a different total of games in the “straight up” and “against the spread” categories, as well as with totals.

AGAINST THE SPREAD

Week 17 best bets: 3-2. Season best bets: 49-35 (.583). Week 17 all picks against the spread: 6-7. Season all picks ATS: 123-120 (.506)

STRAIGHT UP (no spread)

Week 17: 10-3. Season: 146-102 (.589).

OVER/UNDER TOTALS

Week 17: 5-8. Season: 137-113 (.548).

PREVIOUS COLUMNS

(click on week to view)

Week 17: 3-2 best bets (+66); 6-7 ATS; 10-3 ATS; 5-8 over/unders

Week 16: 3-2 best bets (+39); 6-9 ATS; 10-5 straight up; 10-5 over/unders.

Week 15: 3-2 best bets (+$37); 3-11 ATS; 7-8 straight up; 11-5 over/unders.

Week 14: 1-4 best bets (-$74); 5-8 ATS; 8-5 straight up; 8-5 over/unders.

Week 13: 1-4 best bets (-$70); 9-6 ATS; 7-7 straight up; 6-9 over/unders.

Week 12: 3-2 best bets (+37); 11-4 ATS; 12-3 straight up; 8-7 over/unders.

Week 11: 1-3 best bets (-$81); 5-7 ATS; 9-5 straight up; 7-7 over/unders.

Week 10: 2-3 best bets (+$16); 7-7 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.

Week 9: 4-1 best bets (+52.40); 9-2 ATS; 9-4 straight up; 5-8 over/unders.

Week 8: 4-1 best bets (+$69); 9-6 ATS; 13-2 straight up; 6-9 over/unders.

Week 7: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-9 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 9-5 over/unders.

Week 6: 4-1 best bets (+$62.60); 9-5 ATS; 8-6 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.

Week 5: 3-2 best bets (+$2); 10-5 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders

Week 4: 4-1 best bets (+$37); 9-6 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders

Week 3: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-11 ATS; 8-8 straight up; 8-7 over/unders

Week 2: 4-1 best bets (+$57); 7-9 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 12-4 over/unders

Week 1: 3-2 best bets (-$15); 8-8 ATS; 6-9 straight up; 10-6 over/unders

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER

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