All good things come to an end. As the NFL regular season approaches the finish line, our opportunities to cash in on moneyline underdogs slowly become more difficult to identify. It's a week filled with a wide variance of line movement based on a combination of COVID, injuries, and motivation. For 17 straight weeks, underdogs at moneyline prices brought tremendous value, so there is no reason we can't find two more winners in Week 18.
Underdogs won outright in 91 of 128 games in which they covered the spread this season. Taking the points may feel like a safe approach, but you are paying a steep price for a point spread that was only relevant 29% of the time. For example, if you bet one unit on each of the games featured below at -110 odds with the points — your payout would be 1.8 units assuming both win. The payout amount increases to 2.9 units at moneyline odds. That's a 61% increase in payout.
This week I targeted two underdogs in two situations that could not be more different. A battle of motivation with two teams headed for change and divisional rivals clashing with massive playoff implications. I bet a small stake on a moneyline parlay that pays out at +424 for a little extra value if both bets cash.
Chicago Bears (+120) at Minnesota Vikings
Ugly dogs need love too. In an NFC North battle of lame-duck coaches, getting plus money with the Bears sounds like a solid wager to me. Only three weeks ago, these two teams played a 17-9 snoozer in front of a national audience. And that was when Minnesota was motivated to win. Mike Zimmer has slowly come off the rails every week since. There is no reason to believe the Vikings stop spiraling now. After having to play a must-win game in Green Bay without their franchise quarterback, the Vikings sound like a team eager to get to the offseason.
Surely, there will be big changes in Chicago, but the Bears are a team determined to have their coach go out a winner. After scoring 25 or more points only once in their first 12 games, they have hit the mark in three of their last four. The Vikings' defense is dreadful against the run, ranking 30th in EPA allowed on rushing plays. That should help Chicago mitigate the Vikings' pass rush, giving the Bears time to make plays. The Bears are 3-1 ATS in the last four weeks and have won their last two games outright. I think there is value in them making it three straight.
San Francisco 49ers (+170) at LA Rams
Kyle Shanahan has a history with Sean McVay. The 49ers' 31-10 thumping of the Rams in Week 10 was the sixth straight victory for Shanahan over the Rams' head coach. Another victory on Sunday will mark the third consecutive season in which the 49ers will have swept their NFC West rivals. If styles make fights, the advantage will continue for San Francisco.
The offenses rank sixth (49ers) and seventh, respectively, in EPA per play this season, but there is a stark contrast in their recent performance in the second half of the year. Since Week 9, the 49ers rank fourth (only trailing GB, KC and IND) while the Rams are 20th, between Washington and Denver — not the company you want your offense to keep. Rams QB Matthew Stafford threw two more interceptions last week, leaving me less than confident he can exploit San Francisco's vulnerable secondary.
Offensively, if Garappolo can't return, I expect Shanahan to open up the playbook even more with Trey Lance under center. Per ESPN's Next Gen Stats, Lance's 205 yards on passes with 10-plus air yards were the most for a 49ers QB in the past three years. If the 49ers can stretch the Rams' defense vertically, their top-seven rushing attack will bring us home the money.
Stats provided by teamrankings.com, Ben Baldwin (based on 10/90 WP).