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Statistical benchmarks make for good player prop bets in Week 18

NFL players have contract incentives to reach and records to break this weekend

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Week 18 still feels weird to say and it probably has to be a little strange for the players as well. In the past, this would be the Wild Card Weekend and players from non-playoff teams would be on a beach somewhere. Instead, it’s a work week for all 32 teams.

It goes without saying that this week matters a lot more to certain teams than it does for others. Similarly, there are going to be some players that are much more focused and engaged than others. That’s why the notion of “tanking” or “quitting” is overblown to me. Organizations make decisions to tank. Some are subtle and some are not as subtle, but the decision makers are the ones that do what they can to get a higher draft pick or a more advantageous schedule.

Players play, because they’re seeking playing time next season or a contract in free agency. There is no incentive for an individual to tank or quit, as somebody is always watching and always evaluating. Not to mention, there are a lot of instances this week in which backups and young players are getting a chance to play and make an impression for the future. Those guys won’t be as polished as the starters, which refers back to the point about organizations subtly doing what they can to impact the future, but they’re going to be excited to be out there.

Some players will be far more excited to be out there than others — guys with contract incentives or a chance to set records. There is a lot of hesitance to bet sides and totals this week for a variety of reasons, but player props may be the way to go if you want to make a few bucks in Week 18.

Pick: Justin Jefferson (MIN) Over 94.5 Receiving Yards

Let’s start with Jefferson, who doesn’t have any extra money on the line, but can set the Vikings single-season record for receiving yards, currently held by Randy Moss in 2003. Jefferson needs 124 yards and is one the league’s best route runners, so he’ll find a way to get open and should get a lot of targets with Adam Thielen out and Kirk Cousins in the lineup.

Jefferson’s prop line is set at 94.5 yards at DraftKings Sportsbook, which is right on his season average. I think that’s a mistake, as he has a chance at setting a franchise record and my guess is that only an injury will stop him.

Pick: Matthew Stafford (LAR) Over 279.5 Passing Yards

Cooper Kupp has a lot at stake on Sunday. The 49ers do as well, so they’ll pay extra special attention to the potential Offensive Player of the Year, but teams have done that week in and week out and it seems like nobody can slow down Kupp. He needs 12 catches to set a new single-season record, which would top Michael Thomas’s 149 catches in 2019.

Kupp’s receptions prop sits at 9.5, which is about a full reception higher than his average for the season. Note that Jefferson’s prop line is the same, while Kupp’s is inflated, simply because of how newsworthy Kupp’s accomplishment would be. Jefferson’s only matters locally, while Kupp’s is on a league-wide scale.

With that in mind, let me throw an alternative bet at you: Stafford passing yards. The Rams QB has the chance to join some pretty elite company, as he needs 352 yards to hit 5,000 for the season. He did it back in 2011 and fell just 23 yards short in 2012. The only player to do it multiple times to this point is Drew Brees, although Tom Brady is only 10 yards away this week.

Stafford’s passing yards prop sits at 279.5 against the 49ers, which is actually below his season average of 290.5. He may not get to 5,000, but with incentive to feed Kupp, and other receivers likely open as the 49ers throw everything they can at LA’s WR1, why wouldn’t Stafford make a push for this accolade?

Pick: DK Metcalf (SEA) Over 56.5 Receiving Yards

Metcalf is already the single-season leader in receiving yards for the Seahawks after setting the record last year with 1,303 yards, passing Hall of Famer Steve Largent. Largent is one of six Seahawks receivers with multiple 1,000-yard seasons, along with Brian Blades, Darrell Jackson, Doug Baldwin, Joey Galloway and Tyler Lockett.

Metcalf can join that illustrious group this week with 91 yards, and his prop is only set at 56.5. There hasn’t been much to celebrate in Seattle this season and the winds of change are blowing pretty strong, including the possibility that this is Russell Wilson’s last game with the Seahawks.

Metcalf had 76 targets over his first 11 games, but has 42 targets in his last five. Round numbers are benchmarks that players strive for, not only because of how they look, but also what they could mean in upcoming contract negotiations. His contract ends after next season, but there have been talks about an extension in Seattle. Being part of franchise history sure would help his case for more money.