Count me among the many who would love to see the NFL move to an 18-game schedule. I can’t get enough of the weekly gridiron fix that gets us through the fall months and into the winter, and it’s sad that we’ve only got 3 weeks left in the 2018 regular season.

As short as the season may feel for us fans, however, it can be a long one for the players. The pounding that they take for 4 months takes its toll both physically and emotionally, and it’s only natural for players whose teams aren’t in playoff contention to be looking forward to the end of the campaign. And now that we’re into Week 15, the finish line is in sight for a lot of these teams, making me nervous about seeing much intensity from teams like the Raiders (more on them later), Jaguars, Redskins, Falcons and Lions.

The benefit of this for us sports bettors is that we can take advantage. Although oddsmakers will take motivation into account down the stretch, they can’t always fully appreciate just how disinterested a non-contending team may be, especially when that team is facing an opponent fighting for their playoff lives. Meanwhile, the elite teams who have already solidified their playoff positioning can also be guilty of taking their foot off the gas pedal, whether it’s just to give themselves a mental breather or to keep some gas in the tank for a playoff run.

With that in mind, I’m going with 3 situational plays for this edition of my weekly NFL predictions. By the time we get to the third pick, I’m sure you’ll see what angle I’m looking to back — or, more accurately, fade as we try to build on last week’s 3-1 performance against the spread.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from at 4 p.m. eastern on December 14, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

1. Green Bay Packers +6 (-115) at Chicago Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)

I’m not foolish enough to believe that a coaching change will cure all that ails the Green Bay Packers. This is still a squad that lacks wide receiver talent (or at least guys that can consistently get open downfield), a running game that opponents need to respect and a defense that can stop anyone consistently.

But as long as you’ve got Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, you’ve got a chance if everyone else picks up their socks a bit. And Green Bay sure looked a lot better last week in its first game under interim coach Joe Philbin (even if Philbin himself wasn’t that impressive, burning both of his coach’s challenges before the game was 2 minutes old), pushing around a disinterested Falcons team in a 34-20 romp at Lambeau Field. Green Bay’s defense came up with big plays, forcing 2 turnovers and returning 1 of them for a touchdown to give the Pack a 10-point lead in the 2nd quarter. The Packers also churned out 138 yards on the ground, lessening the burden on Rodgers — who threw for just 196 yards, although his 2 touchdowns and 0 picks improved his TD-to-interception ratio to an insane 22:1 this season.

When a longtime coach like Mike McCarthy gets fired, teams can either implode or galvanize, and it looks like Green Bay is doing the latter. It’s not too late for the Packers to salvage their campaign, either, considering that their competition ahead of them for the last wild card spot in the NFC are the 6-6-1 Vikings and 6-7 Panthers, Eagles and Redskins. You could easily argue that the Packers are playing the best football of that bunch right now, and if the Pack can pull off a win over the Bears this week, the schedule sets up nicely with remaining games at the Jets and home to the Lions.

Betting Prediction

I know Chicago’s defense looked incredible last week, harassing Jared Goff into 4 interceptions in a 15-6 beatdown of the Rams. But let’s not get carried away here. Mitchell Trubisky threw 3 interceptions of his own and the Bears’ points came on a 2-yard touchdown pass, a safety and a pair of field goals. And while LA was a warm-weather team playing a night game in the cold weather of Chicago, Green Bay thrives in cold temperatures — not to mention playing in Chicago. The Packers are 16-5 ATS in their last 21 trips to the Windy City, many of them as favorites, and they already beat the Bears once this season. Catching nearly a touchdown in a must-win game against an opponent coming off a very satisfying win on national TV is a great spot for any team, especially one with Rodgers running things.Don’t shovel dirt on the Packers quite yet. I’m taking them on the spread and will sprinkle a bit on the +215 moneyline as well.

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2. Minnesota Vikings -7.5 (-110) versus Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)

Speaking of teams coming off a satisfying win, enter the Miami Dolphins. The Fish killed many a teaser and moneyline parlay last Sunday afternoon when they scored a wild 69-yard touchdown on the game’s final play, stunning a Patriots team that has tormented them for the past 2 decades in the AFC East.

But even though Miami needs a win in this game to keep pace with the 7-6 Ravens, Titans and Colts for the final wild card spot in the AFC, this game has letdown spot written all over it. The Dolphins have been awful on the road all season — their only win away from home came in Week 2 against the Jets — and now they head north to take on a non-conference opponent they’re not at all familiar with. Not only that, their opponent this week is not in a good mood at all after getting trounced 21-7 Monday night in Seattle.

It didn’t take long for the Vikings’ brass to show displeasure with that showing, canning offensive co-ordinator John DeFilippo the following day. Critics have also been all over prized free agent QB acquisition Kirk Cousins, whose record against winning teams is now a dreadful 4-24. Suffice to say, the Vikings have plenty of motivation to turn things around this week, especially with several teams breathing down their necks in the NFC wild card hunt.

Betting Prediction

While the Vikes’ offense is getting ridiculed, people aren’t paying attention to how well their defense is playing. This is a stop unit that has allowed more than 25 points just once in its last 9 games, and that game came against the powerful Saints. In its other 3 games at home during that span, Minny has given up 17, 17 and 9. I don’t see how the Dolphins do much on offense here, meaning the Vikings attack doesn’t need to do much to cover this number. Minnesota is 27-10 ATS in its last 37 games following a loss, while Miami is just 2-9 ATS in its last 11 on the road. Look for both of these trends to continue this week as the Vikings earn a much-needed victory in convincing fashion, covering the 7.5 points in the process (although I do advise you to shop around for the best line, since -7 may be available at several different sites before kickoff.)

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3. Cincinnati Bengals -3 (-115) versus Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)

Have you figured out the trend that I’m going with on these three plays yet? This is the third time in as many picks that I’m fading a team that is coming off a huge emotional victory last week. This time, it’s the Raiders who I’m happy to go against, with Oakland coming off a stunning 27-24 win over the Steelers last Sunday — an outcome that sent Raiders coach Jon Gruden into delirium.

But what’s Oakland going to do for an encore? In a season that’s been headed nowhere since September, I don’t see the Raiders getting all that excited for a visit to dreary Cincinnati in December (a game that will start at 10 a.m. on the west-coast Raiders’ body clocks). And Oakland could be forgiven for letting down a bit emotionally. In the previous 3 weeks, the Raiders have taken on 3 likely playoff teams in the Ravens, Chiefs and Steelers. This has to feel like a game they can let down their guard a bit, especially with a lookahead to hated AFC West rival Denver on deck next week.

The Bengals’ season is over as well, but Cincinnati showed me something last week by fighting hard in a narrow loss at the powerful Chargers — easily covering the 16.5-point spread in a 26-21 defeat. Jeff Driskel was a competent 18-of-27 through the air with a touchdown and zero interceptions, Joe Mixon ran for 111 yards and the much-maligned Cincy defense held Philip Rivers and company to just 17 first downs and 288 total yards.

Betting Prediction

It’s almost as if the Bengals are playing for Marvin Lewis’ job, hoping that a strong finish will save their veteran coach. It’s something we’ve seen before from Cincy, which closed last season with wins over playoff hopefuls Detroit and Baltimore. In fact, the Bengals are 19-8 ATS in their last 27 December games, a proven history of finishing seasons stronger than the oddsmakers anticipate. I’ll gladly take them at this short price with a chance to fade the Raiders coming off a win (Oakland has failed to cover the spread in its last 8 games following a victory) in this letdown spot for Oakland.

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