Motivation in the NFL is a hard thing to pin down.
Whoever plays for the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night will have their own motivation to play well. Even if it's to put something good on tape for 31 other teams, that is motivation. Simply betting against the team with "nothing to play for" no matter the spread is a bad strategy. Yet, we all know by now what the Titans' situation is this week.
Tennessee, in terms of the playoff race, has nothing to play for. If the Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 18, they're the AFC South champs. If they lose in Week 18, their season is over. Nothing that happens on Thursday night changes that.
That's why the Dallas Cowboys are 12.5-point favorites over the Titans at BetMGM for Thursday night's game. It was 11 on Wednesday but keeps rising. That's a lot of points in the NFL. It's rare to see any NFL team laying double digits on the road for a prime-time game.
But the Cowboys still benefit from a win, because they haven't yet been eliminated from the NFC East race yet. The Titans are playing for pride, momentum or whatever other intangible reason you can come up with. Their injury list lets you know what kind of lineup they'll have.
The other factor in the point spread is the Titans haven't played well in weeks. The reason the Jaguars and Titans will be playing for the division title in Week 18 is because Tennessee has lost five in a row. The Titans let the Jaguars back in the race. Rookie quarterback Malik Willis is filling in for injured starter Ryan Tannehill, and Willis clearly isn't ready. Willis has started three games and has yet to crack 100 yards passing.
It's hard to take the Titans and that's why the point spread is what it is. Maybe it's best to sit this one out, like most of the Titans stars will be doing.
Here's the first look at the sports betting slate for Thursday:
A trio of bowl games
There are three more college football bowl games on Thursday. Syracuse takes on Minnesota (-10.5) in the Pinstripe Bowl, Oklahoma faces Florida State (-10) in the Cheez-It Bowl and Texas (-3) plays Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Sam Cooper and Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sportsbook shared their picks on the three games.
Quiet day in hoops
There are six NBA games but just one college basketball game featuring a top-25 team, and that's Florida A&M at Purdue.
The best NBA matchup is the Los Angeles Clippers at the Boston Celtics. The Celtics seem to be coming out of their mini-slump and are 6.5-point favorites, but the Clippers have been very good when most of their players aren't on the injury report. The Clippers beat the Celtics, 113-93, in Los Angeles on Dec. 12, which shows how good the Clippers can be.
NHL has 11 games
The NHL has most of the league on the ice Thursday. Two of the top games will be the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning (-130) and the Los Angeles Kings at the Colorado Avalanche (-155). The Avalanche has struggled a bit during their Stanley Cup defense, and they're just 19-12-2 on the season.
What's the best bet?
I'll pick the Cowboys for my weekly picks in which I select every game, but it's a very tough game to figure out. I do have a stronger lean to the Kings in the NHL. They've been pretty good to bettors this season. I'm going to go with the Clippers as my best bet though, assuming Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play. It's a possible NBA Finals preview.