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Week 18 NFL matchups, game times, and picks

Playoff spots, playoff seeds, and the draft order will start to be set in stone with this weekend’s games

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

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Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) at Las Vegas Raiders (6-10), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN/ABC

If last week was any indication, the Raiders made the right decision to sit Derek Carr for the remainder of the year to see what they had in Jarrett Stidham. Against the NFL’s best defense, Stidham put up three touchdowns and over 360 yards in the air. Davante Adams looked a lot like his old self, and the Raiders pushed the NFC favorites to their limits. The Chiefs have been quietly handling their business. They have the best record in the AFC, and Patrick Mahomes is likely the league MVP again after putting up 5,000 yards of passing offense with still one game to go.

The Chiefs are playing for home field advantage in the playoffs, but you’d have to think they also want to protect their players after the league has made their decision on how the playoff seeding will actually work this year. The Raiders beat the spread and upset the MVP favorite at home.

Tennessee Titans (7-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN/ABC

The AFC South title is on the line, and if there were ever a time for Derrick Henry to prove his dominance, this is the game to do it. In this primetime matchup, the winner takes all — and even though no one expects either of these two teams to be good enough to win prom king, they both want to be invited to the dance. Last year, the Titans were the top seed in the conference, but injuries and a tough schedule has them fighting to sneak in on the last week of the year. Jacksonville is one of the teams that you would think had a better record than 8-8 coming into this game. But I expect them to prove to be the better team out of the two.

Jacksonville wins the division and sneaks into the playoffs, but the Titans keep it close and beat the spread.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) at Atlanta Falcons (6-10), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, FOX

Tampa Bay has their last chance to learn how to play as a team before the playoffs start. All year, we have been wondering “What the heck is wrong with them?” But lately they have put some wins together that will hopefully carry over into the playoffs for them. The Falcons are looking to the future. To be honest, I’m not sure why the Falcons are favored here.

The Buccaneers get the upset on the road.

New England Patriots (8-8) at Buffalo Bills (12-3), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS

It’s really tough to talk about anything outside of Damar Hamlin when thinking about the Bills. In this sense, I’ll say his positive signs of recovery have energized the team, and I believe they are motivated to win this game and every game until mid-February to give the city of Buffalo a win after the adversity and tragedy experienced since May 14. The New England Patriots have motivation here, as well. They can get into the playoffs with a win, or with some help around the league. But they’d rather do it themselves. Bill Belichick normally has his team prepared in these moments, so this game should be fun.

I’m taking the team of destiny. Bills by a billion. They’ll cover the spread easily, and put a smile on Damar’s face.

Minnesota Vikings (12-4) at Chicago Bears (3-13), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, FOX

Chicago has something to prove in the last game of the season — or at least they want to go into the offseason with a win to have something to feel good about. Justin Fields is their franchise quarterback. They will need a strong offseason to put key weapons and protection around him, as well as strengthen the defense. Meanwhile, Minnesota was embarrassed last week against Green Bay, and would probably like a win going into the playoffs. But with their spot locked up, I find it hard to believe they will play their key players the whole game.

The Bears will upset Minnesota, which actually won’t be much of an upset at all when we see who gets the bulk of the snaps.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS

The Bengals feel slighted over the league’s decision on the structure of the playoffs and the seedings after the Bills-Bengals game was canceled. And with no Lamar Jackson yet again, the Ravens will be the victims of a 513 beat down.

The Bengals will win and cover the spread.

Houston Texans (2-13-1) at Indianapolis Colts (4-11-1), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS

Something really makes me believe that the Texans should have more wins. They play very hard, and give teams a hard time. They took the Chiefs to overtime, and made it very difficult for Dallas. But for some reason, they just couldn’t seem to string a bunch of wins together this year. They have a good foundation to build upon next season. The Colts will be looking for a new head coach, and had their season fall apart early. We can’t blame it on injuries, and I for one think Frank Reich is a good coach. We’ll see if Jeff Saturday has what it takes to win the job permanently going forward.

The Texans end the season with momentum and take out their division rival in the Snooze Bowl of the year. Texans will get the upset.

New York Jets (7-9) at Miami Dolphins (8-8), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, FOX

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Five weeks ago, the Dolphins were the NFL’s darling, getting high praise from every major network and being touted as the best team in the AFC East. Now, after losing five games in a row they are fighting for the last Wild Card spot. But with Tua Tagovailoa being injured now with his second, possibly third concussion of the year, it will be tough to generate any offense to put points on the board. The Jets have one of the best defenses in football, but will also be starting a third-string quarterback option due to injury. Sauce Gardner is my Defensive Rookie of the Year, and I still think the Jets are building in the right direction.

The Jets will win on the road, knock the Dolphins out of the playoffs, and put them out of their misery. See you next year.

Carolina Panthers (6-10) at New Orleans Saints (7-9), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, FOX

This has been the worst division in football, and we are going to end the season with a divisional matchup that leaves a lot to be desired. I think the Saints went wrong this year by starting Andy Dalton at quarterback when Jameis Winston was healthy enough to return. That, and other injuries, kept them from being as competitive as they could have been. The Panthers have spent a good part of the season figuring out who they wanted to get rid of, and what the plan should be at quarterback. They ended up releasing Baker Mayfield and settling in on Sam Darnold after gifting San Francisco the best running back in the league.

Both teams will be playing for momentum headed into the offseason. But the Saints are the better of the two teams here. They’ll lean on their running game and beat the Panthers while covering the spread.

Cleveland Browns (7-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS

Pittsburgh sure plays hard for Mike Tomlin. One of the longest-tenured coaches in the league, and he has also never had a losing season. He’s such a great motivator that he always has his team ready even if there isn’t much else to be motivated by. But this year, I think his luck has run out. The Browns have been using the last few weeks since Deshaun Watson has returned as a preseason for him in some way. They’re looking forward to the future and trying to continue to build around him. Last week, he and Amari Cooper found their rhythm and the Browns played their best offensive game since the suspension ended.

The Browns take this one, and hand Coach Tomlin the first losing season of his career.

New York Giants (9-6-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-3), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST, CBS

This one is for bragging rights. Brian Daboll and the Giants have impressed this year when most didn’t give them a chance at making the playoffs. Now, they have an opportunity to knock the Eagles out of the top seed and head into the playoffs with all the momentum on their side. The Eagles get Jalen Hurts back this weekend after missing him for the last two weeks. When Hurts is healthy, the Eagles are difficult to beat. They’re dynamic in every phase of the game, but missed his explosiveness last week when Gardner Minshew took over.

I think the Eagles win and lock down that No. 1 seed — but they don’t cover the spread. Daboll is too good at scoring points to lose this game by 14.

Dallas Cowboys (12-4) at Washington Commanders (7-8-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST, FOX

This is the time of year when we get to see if the Cowboys are legit, or if they’re the same old Cowboys. Dak Prescott has turned the ball over more than you’d like if you’re a Dallas fan. But he has also led the most explosive offense in the league since coming back from injury. The Commanders are going back to Taylor Heinicke instead of Carson Wentz, but that’s a little bit too late.

Cowboys win and cover the spread.

Los Angeles Chargers (10-6) at Denver Broncos (4-12), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST, CBS

The Chargers can and probably will rest a good number of their starters, because they are already in the playoffs. So this very easily could be a game that the Broncos should win. But I just can’t see it. Russell Wilson has been very disappointing this year. The Broncos were expected to be just a quarterback away, and thought they struck gold when the trade was made with Seattle. Was it coaching? We will see what $165 million guaranteed looks like next year.

Even with this game not meaning much, the Chargers will win and cover the spread. The Broncos can start looking for their next coach and trying to right all the wrongs of the 2022 season.

Los Angeles Rams (5-11) at Seattle Seahawks (8-8), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST, FOX

Baker Mayfield definitely succeeded in putting good film together for his next audition tape. Prior to coming to Los Angeles, mostly everyone thought Mayfield was done, and he shouldn’t be a starting quarterback in the NFL. But he’s been energized and made plays from the moment he stepped off the plane. Where will he end up? Washington? Or the Colts? Either way, he’s earned another chance at playing meaningful football. The Seahawks can still make the playoffs with a win and a Green Bay loss. Geno Smith is my pick for Comeback Player of The Year. Let’s see if he can close it out with a bang.

I’m picking the Seahawks to win and cover the spread, hoping Green Bay will lose to the Lions.

Arizona Cardinals (4-12) at San Francisco 49ers (12-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST, FOX

This one won’t be tough to pick at all. The 49ers are the best team in the NFC, and the Cardinals will be without their best offensive weapons in both DeAndre Hopkins and James Conner. If I am honest, the only reason I’ll be watching this game is because it’s the last time we will see J.J. Watt in a football uniform. But this game won’t be close, and it won’t be competitive.

The 49ers will win this game easily, just not by a full two touchdowns. I do think the Cardinals will be able to beat the 14-point spread.

Detroit Lions (8-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-8), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. EST, NBC

What a turnaround. Both the Lions and the Packers were left for dead just before Thanksgiving. The Lions come into this game winning seven of their last nine games, and the Packers are equally impressive, winning the last five of seven to set up a chance for both teams to potentially make the playoffs. The Lions could be eliminated by game time if the Seahawks beat the Rams. But as things stand now, this is an exciting matchup and a perfect way for the NFL to end the regular season. For Green Bay, it’s a lot more simple. Win and they’re in.

At this point of the season, all the momentum appears to be on Green Bay’s side. They shut down Justin Jefferson and the Vikings last week in a blowout effort, and I’m expecting more of the same. Aaron Rodgers will add to the amazing storylines for the playoffs, and Green Bay will win and cover the spread, securing the final Wild Card spot to setup the Old School vs. New School matchup in the playoffs.