The final week of the NFL season is arguably the most difficult to judge for bettors, as teams who are out of contention rest players while stars who might otherwise have fought through injury decide to end their season early.
And, with the added complication of players being ruled out due to their placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list, it can be difficult to find teams worthy of trust as the regular season comes to a close.
Yet there are games that will have meaning on the schedule as well as some remaining opportunities to put your faith in an underdog for the final time in the regular season.
Before the NFL switches focus to the high-stakes drama of the playoffs, where point spreads are likely to be much more marginal, we have identified three underdogs in whom bettors can afford to believe on the final 16-game slate of the 2021 campaign.
*Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Cincinnati Bengals (+6) at Cleveland Browns
The Bengals won't have Joe Burrow as he rests up for the postseason and the Browns will be without Baker Mayfield after he called an early end to his season due to his well-documented shoulder issues that severely impacted his performance in 2021.
The Browns are 2-6 against the spread as a favorite this season. Yes, the Bengals will be without one of the season's premier quarterbacks, but the absence of Burrow is not enough to justify a Browns team that has failed to live up to its billing all year being favored by nearly a touchdown with Keenum under center.
Regardless of who else the Bengals rest, backing a team that is 5-3 against the spread as an underdog is a smart play here.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+5) at Baltimore Ravens
Neither the oddsmakers nor the bettors appear to have much faith in him doing so based on the Ravens' status as clear favorites. Yet there is plenty of reason to believe the Steelers can make the line for this game look distinctly off base.
Roethlisberger will be missing his top receiver after Diontae Johnson was placed on the COVID list, but recent history suggests a Ravens team decimated by injuries will struggle to take advantage of the Pittsburgh quarterback's obvious deficiencies in these apparent final days of his career.
Baltimore is 3-7 against the spread as a favorite in 2021 and, with Lamar Jackson still not practicing with an ankle injury, it is likely Tyler Huntley will end the year at quarterback. At this point, Huntley arguably has the edge over Roethlisberger but, going against T.J. Watt and the Steelers defense, that advantage is not worth five points.
New York Jets (+16) at Buffalo Bills
The Bills need this game to clinch the AFC East and, in all likelihood, they will claim it without too much difficulty.
Yet a near three-score line is an overly high one given the Jets' recent roll in terms of covering the spread.
The Jets have covered in each of their last three games, twice as double-digit underdogs, and would have prevailed against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week if not for a botched quarterback sneak on fourth down.
Buffalo's status as a team worthy of being favored by two touchdowns is not in doubt. The Bills are substantially more talented than the Jets, but the strong finish by Robert Saleh's team makes them deserving of some belief from bettors at the end of another largely disappointing campaign.
Photo: Getty Images