NFL Analysis


11 min read

NFL Week 18: Expert Picks, Predictions For Every Game

Motivation plays a massive role in the regular season finale. Several playoff teams are in a position to rest starters but haven’t announced their intentions. 

Regardless of that uncertainty, we’ll provide picks and predictions for every game on the Week 18 slate.

Saturday Slate

Ravens vs. Steelers

Spread: Steelers -4

Total: 36.5

The Baltimore Ravens clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so they are in a position to rest starters against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tyler Huntley will start over Lamar Jackson in this contest. Sportsbooks expected that which is why the line only moved from Steelers -3.5 to Steelers -4 once this became official.

Pittsburgh needs help to make the playoffs, but the team has won two in a row since Mason Rudolph took over at quarterback. Surprisingly, the Steelers have scored 64 points during Ruldoph’s two starts. 

Expect Pittsburgh to be highly motivated.

Score Prediction: Steelers 17, Ravens 13

Colts vs. Texans

Spread: Colts +1

Total: 47.5

This matchup is a win-and-in game for both AFC South rivals. We’ve been saying all season that Shane Steichen’s Indianapolis Colts are the league’s most overachieving team. The fact that they are even in this position is a remarkable achievement. 

Indianapolis beat the Houston Texans 31-20 in Week 2, but the Texans are a far more dangerous team now.

C.J. Stroud returned to action last week, and he remains the favorite in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. The Colts are giving up the sixth-most points per game this season. Houston doesn’t have a supremely talented roster, but neither does Indianapolis. Stroud is the biggest difference-maker on either team.

Score Prediction: Texans 27, Colts 20

Sunday Slate

Panthers vs. Buccaneers

Spread: Panthers +5.5

Total: 37.5

We’re entering the final week of the regular season, and no one wants to win the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers control their own destiny. They’ll win the division with a victory in Carolina. 

The Carolina Panthers are coming off a 26-0 loss to C.J. Beathard’s Jaguars, which shows literally anyone can beat the Panthers by distance. The Buccaneers have the raw materials to do that, but they aren’t exactly a model of consistency. 

To beat the Buccaneers, you generally have to throw on them. That means a bet on Carolina is either a bet against Baker Mayfield or a bet on Bryce Young.

Score Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Panthers 17

Titans vs. Jaguars

Spread: Titans +5.5

Total: 39.5

The Tennessee Titans’ roster is filled with holes, but they are a well-coached team that’s already pulled off several upsets this season. If the Jacksonville Jaguars win this contest, they’ll win the AFC South. Playing the role of spoiler is the only motivation Tennessee has.

Trevor Lawrence missed last week’s contest, but there is optimism he’ll return against Tennessee. If he plays, the Jaguars have the raw materials to light up Tennessee’s beatable pass defense. The Titans’ pass rush has been reduced by injury, making Lawrence’s life easier.

Score Prediction: Jaguars 24, Titans 16

Lions vs. Vikings

Spread: Lions -3

Total: 45

Dan Campbell said the Detroit Lions will play their starters this week, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll play the whole game. If they do, Detroit could realistically roll the free-falling Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have lost five of their last six games while playing musical chairs at quarterback. The decision to start rookie Jaren Hall in primetime against rival Green Bay last week was questionable at best. 

Nick Mullens returns as the Vikings starting quarterback. Mullens passed for 411 yards against the Lions on Christmas Eve, but he also threw four interceptions.

Score Prediction: Lions 24, Vikings 17

Saints vs. Falcons

Spread: Saints -3.5

Total: 42

You could argue this contest features the two most maddening teams in the NFL. Both have talented rosters, but both have been wildly inconsistent. 

The New Orleans Saints have a more stable quarterback in Derek Carr and one of the league’s best home-field advantages. Alvin Kamara is in danger of missing this contest, which would make New Orleans’ offense less versatile.

The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a 37-17 beatdown in Chicago. They’ve played musical chairs at quarterback all season; Taylor Heinicke is the current starter. Atlanta beat New Orleans 24-15 in Week 12. 

Both teams need help to make the playoffs, although the Saints have more paths with a win against Atlanta.

Score Prediction: Saints 23, Falcons 20

Patriots vs. Jets

Spread: Patriots -2

Total: 30.5

This could be Bill Belichick’s last game as the coach of the New England Patriots. If that is the case, New England hosting the New York Jets is poetic. 

Regardless of Belichick’s future, his Patriots continue to be a high-effort team. New England is 2-2 in its last four, with competitive losses to the Chiefs and Bills. The Patriots’ offense is a bottom-tier unit, but their defense continues to be rock solid. Belichick’s defense could carry this team to victory against New York like the unit did in Week 3.

The Jets’ offense is among the league’s worst, and their defense has had a rough month. New York has given up at least 28 points in each of its last three games. That probably doesn’t happen against New England, but motivation is more of a question for the Jets than the Patriots.

Score Prediction: Patriots 16, Jets 10

Bengals vs. Browns

Spread: Bengals -6

Total: 38.5

The Cleveland Browns have already clinched a wild-card berth, which puts them in position to rest their starters. That’s why sportsbooks have the Cincinnati Bengals as six-point home favorites. 

Joe Flacco has thrown for more than 300 passing yards in four straight games, all of which were Cleveland victories. However, Jeff Driskel will start this week with Flacco resting before the playoffs. Driskel is the Browns’ fifth starter this season. 

Jake Browning has kept the Bengals competitive, going 3-3 in his six starts. But he's a volatile backup quarterback who has underwhelmed in those three losses. It’s hard to count on Browning, but we can expect the Bengals to play hard against their interstate rival.

Score Prediction: Bengals 20, Browns 13

Giants vs. Eagles

Spread: Giants +5.5

Total: 41.5

The New York Giants have one of the league’s thinnest rosters, but they’ve stayed competitive throughout the season’s second half. Tyrod Taylor nearly led New York to an upset win against the Rams last week. And he came on in relief duty against the Eagles on Christmas, which gave the Giants’ offense a spark in that matchup, as well. 

The Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary is a liability. If New York upsets Philadelphia, Taylor likely has a strong game through the air. With that in mind, the Eagles’ pass rush will have a trench advantage against New York.

The Eagles suffered a brutal loss to the Cardinals last week, which pushed Philadelphia out of the NFC East lead. The Eagles now need Dallas to lose to Washington to take back the lead in the division. 

Because Philadelphia and Dallas play in the 4:25 p.m. slot, expect the Eagles to play this game to win. On Christmas, the Eagles ran all over New York, so it would be a surprise if they didn’t start this game more run-centric than normal.

Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Giants 20

Commanders vs. Cowboys

Spread: Commanders +13

Total: 45.5

If the Dallas Cowboys beat the Washington Commanders, they’ll win the NFC East and finish as the NFC’s No. 2 seed. The Cowboys have two major advantages in this contest. 

First, Dak Prescott has massive upside against Washington’s league-worst pass defense. The Cowboys’ pass rush will also have a major advantage against the Commanders’ bottom-tier offensive line. 

Dallas has a clear path to winning this game by distance against a Washington team that has lost seven games in a row.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 30, Commanders 17

Packers vs. Bears

Spread: Packers -3

Total: 44

The Green Bay Packers will make the playoffs with a win against rival Chicago. If that happens, Jordan Love likely carries Green Bay’s offense to victory. Suddenly, Love has a shot to lead the league in passing touchdowns; he’s only two behind Prescott.

Love will face an ascending Chicago Bears’ defense that is giving up the fewest rushing yards in the league.

Chicago has won four of its last five and is two or three plays away from a seven-game winning streak. Love has been more consistent than Justin Fields, but you could argue the Bears are a better team than Green Bay.

Score Prediction: Bears 23, Packers 20

Raiders vs. Broncos

Spread: Raiders -2.5

Total: 38

This is a divisional matchup between two teams with little to play for other than pride. The Las Vegas Raiders’ defense is one of the league’s most overachieving units since Antonio Pierce took over in Week 9. 

The Raiders are 4-4 under Pierce, which is remarkable because Aidan O’Connell has started each of those games. O’Connell will have his hands full against a capable Denver Broncos defense.

Jared Stidham took over for Russell Wilson last week against the Chargers. That pivot was a business decision, which could easily be the difference between a win and a loss this week. 

The Raiders have more talent on offense than Denver, so the Broncos' defense likely drives a win.

Score Prediction: Raiders 20, Broncos 17

49ers vs. Rams

Spread: 49ers -3.5

Total: 42.5

The San Francisco 49ers have clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which means the 49ers could rest their starters. Sam Darnold has been named the starting quarterback, so we can reasonably expect the 49ers to rest or limit several key players.

The Los Angeles Rams are in a similar position, as they’ve already clinched a wild-card spot. However, if they lose this game and the Packers beat Chicago, the Rams would fall from the sixth seed to the seventh. Regardless of that shift, Carson Wentz will start this game while Los Angeles is expected to rest several other key players.

Score Prediction: 49ers 23, Rams 20

Chargers vs. Chiefs

Spread: Chargers -3

Total: 35.5

The Kansas City Chiefs are in a position to rest their starters because they are locked into the No. 3 seed. Blaine Gabbert will replace Patrick Mahomes in this contest.

Still, the Justin Herbert-less Los Angeles Chargers are beatable. Los Angeles has lost all four games Easton Stick has played and has been one of the worst teams in the league.

The biggest advantage for the Chargers is that edge Khalil Mack and safety Derwin James are practicing with no restrictions.

Score Prediction: Chiefs 17, Chargers 13

Cardinals vs. Seahawks

Spread: Cardinals +2.5

Total: 48

The Arizona Cardinals are 3-4 with Kyler Murray starting, and they just upset the Eagles on the road last week. The Cardinals have one of the league’s weaker rosters, but they are playing hard, and Murray makes them dangerous.

The Seattle Seahawks gave up 30 points to Mason Rudolph’s Steelers last week. That loss will cost Seattle the playoffs if the Packers beat the Bears. You could argue Seattle is the most disappointing team this season, but it has the raw materials to win this game with distance.

Score Prediction: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 23

Sunday Night 

Dolphins vs. Bills

Spread: Dolphins +3

Total: 50

The Buffalo Bills have won four in a row and five of their last six, pushing themselves back into the playoff picture. If Buffalo wins this game, it will be AFC’s No. 2 seed. If the Bills lose this game, there are scenarios where they won’t make the playoffs.

Buffalo beat Miami 48-20 in Week 4.

At full strength, the Miami Dolphins are a supremely talented team with great play-callers on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, the Dolphins are managing a litany of injuries that are turning them into a less capable team. 

A few key players on offense are questionable for this game, but Miami’s defense has been hit hard. The Dolphins will be without both of their starting edge rushers and, likely, CB Xavien Howard. LB Jerome Baker is still on injured reserve, meaning Miami could be down four of its best seven defenders.

If the Dolphins win, they finish the year as AFC East champions and the No. 2 seed in the conference. That said, they are three-point home underdogs for a reason. 

Score Prediction: Bills 27, Dolphins 23