As we enter the final week of the NFL regular season, there's still plenty on the line. Five teams are still alive for two playoff spots in the AFC while three teams are fighting for the final spot in the NFC. The No. 1 seed in both conferences is yet to be decided and there's still plenty to be worked out seeding wise. Today, we're taking a look at three pairs of games on the Week 18 NFL schedule and deciding which side we'd rather be on if we were forced to make a choice.
The Miami Dolphins were 8-3 a little over a month ago. Fast forward to now and they are 8-8 and they need a win and some help just to get into the playoffs. On top of all of that, they'll be relying on third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson to beat Joe Flacco and the New York Jets on Sunday to keep their season alive. The Dolphins are 3.5-point home favorites. The Pittsburgh Steelers also need a win and even more help to get into the playoffs. Pittsburgh has had everything go right for it, including winning five of its last six games. The Steelers are 2.5-point favorites at home against the Cleveland Browns. Which team fighting for their playoff lives would you rather back?
Greg: I’m not blown away by Pittsburgh’s late-season rally that’s seen them edge out Indianapolis, Atlanta, Carolina, Vegas and a Lamar-less Baltimore. The Steelers are undeniably building into a decent team, though. It’s possible Kenny Pickett ends up establishing himself as a top-15 quarterback. He’s just not there, yet, as the Steelers offense struggles to scrounge up points on a weekly basis. I’d still rather take them than the Browns, who have nothing to play for and will be running uphill versus a Pittsburgh defense that ranks sixth in rushing success rate. The current vibes in Cleveland are as off as Deshaun Watson’s passing attempts. Najee Harris has a big day on the ground against a Browns defense that’s giving up 162 rushing yards per game over its last three outings and the Steelers win an ugly one.
Joe Flacco versus Skylar Thompson is must-see TV, and by that I mean the only way I’m watching it is if a court mandates it. The Jets allow the third-fewest points per drive, but their offense put up a combined nine points against Jacksonville and Seattle over the last two weeks. Flacco isn’t turning this ship around, so I love the under here. Give me the Steelers.
Pete: Someway, somehow, Mike Tomlin has a chance to keep his streak of never having a losing season alive. The Steelers have played a lot of close, ugly, low-scoring games in recent weeks. I expect that to continue in this one. Pittsburgh shuts down Nick Chubb, Deshaun Watson continues to struggle and the Pittsburgh offense makes just enough plays to eke out a close victory.
I can't lay over a field goal with Skylar Thompson. The Jets have fallen apart at the worst time, but I still think they'll be somewhat motivated to play spoiler against a divisional rival. I agree with Greg that offense will be at a premium in this one and I can see either team pulling out an ugly 14-13 type of win here. I'm more confident in Mike Tomlin in a must-win game, so give me the Steelers as well.
The situation for both Jacksonville and Green Bay is simple: Win and you're in. However, the fly in the ointment is that both teams might face teams in the exact same spot. The Jaguars can win the AFC South with a victory, but the same applies for their opponent, the Tennessee Titans. Jacksonville is a 6.5-point favorite. If the Los Angeles Rams can beat the Seattle Seahawks, then Sunday night's game between the Packers and the Detroit Lions will be a win-and-in situation for both teams, with the loser being eliminated. The Packers are 4.5-point home favorites at Lambeau Field. Which win-and-in home team would you rather back?
Greg: Jacksonville really got the short end of the stick in this game. Not only will the Titans have three extra days’ rest, but all the starters they sat in Week 17 have an extra week’s rest on top of that. At least the Jags will be facing Josh Dobbs instead of Ryan Tannehill. Expect Derrick Henry to get a boatload of carries against a Jacksonville defense that’s 25th in rushing success rate. He’s run for 120+ yards and at least one score in each of his last three contests versus the Jaguars. The return of defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry is huge for a Tennessee pass rush facing the NFL’s second-worst pass-blocking unit. Mike Vrabel teams don’t typically lose these games and when they do, it’s not by much.
Never in my life did I think I’d be betting on Jared Goff on the road (at Lambeau, no less), yet here we are. The Lions are going to play with maximum effort and intensity, regardless of the playoff fate they’re dealt in the Seahawks game. Jameson Williams and D.J. Chark were perfect additions to Detroit’s passing attack, alongside “Bud Light Cooper Kupp” Amon-Ra St. Brown. They’ll be winning this game on the ground, though, as D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams run through a Green Bay defense that’s 32nd in rushing EPA. I’ll take the Jaguars and hope that Trevor Lawrence stays hot.
Pete: A lot of sharp people seem to like the Titans this week, but I think that's more a play on the reputation of Mike Vrabel than the current version of the Titans we've seen over the last two months. They've lost six straight games, including a home loss to the Jaguars a few weeks ago. Some of those games even came with Ryan Tannehill, and he's not available this week. Trevor Lawrence continues his ascension and torches the Titans' secondary while Josh Dobbs can't come close to keeping up.
I'm going to echo a thought that our Frank Schwab had in his picks. Even if Detroit it eliminated by kickoff, they aren't rolling over and quitting. In fact, if Detroit is eliminated, this spread likely moves in favor of Green Bay and then I would double down. This team has a hard-nosed coach and they would love nothing more than to bring the Packers down with them. Green Bay might win, but the Lions will keep it close. So I'm also taking the Jags here.
Seattle Seahawks or Dallas Cowboys?
The Seattle Seahawks need a win and a Green Bay loss in order to qualify for the playoffs. Their game is during the day, so their performance won't be impacted by what happens in the other game. Seattle is a 6-point home favorite against the Los Angeles Rams. Elsewhere, the Dallas Cowboys need a win and a Philadelphia loss to win the NFC East. The Cowboys play at the same time as Philadelphia, so at least at the start of the game, they will be playing things straight up as well. The Cowboys are 7-point favorites over the Washington Commanders. Which favorite would you rather back?
Greg: The John Wolford Rams were seconds away from beating Seattle in Week 13. I won’t be shocked if the Baker Mayfield Rams pull it off this week. Los Angeles doesn’t own its first-round draft pick, so it has no incentive to tank. Cam Akers has regained the rookie-year form that had everyone so excited, averaging 5.7 yards per carry in his last three games. Only the Bears and Texans have allowed more rushing yards than the Seahawks. I don’t have a ton of faith in the Rams’ secondary keeping Geno Smith in check, but I believe Los Angeles can at least keep this game close.
I’ve bet against a brand-new QB enough times to know that you shouldn’t bet against a brand-new QB. We have no idea what we’re going to see from Sam Howell, while the Cowboys have shown over the last month that they can’t be trusted. It’s very likely that Dallas will be locked into the No. 3 seed by halftime due to the concurrent Eagles and Niners games. I’m taking the points in this one. Give me the Seahawks.
Pete: One last chance to bet Baker Mayfield this season and you best believe I'm going to take it. Mayfield has been a middle-of-the-road quarterback according to EPA/play since joining the Rams, a huge improvement from his abysmal performance in Carolina. Cam Akers looks reborn, Baker is playing decent football and I think the Rams can score some points here against a weak Seattle defense and keep it close.
I wasn't big on Sam Howell coming out of college. He relied a lot on his athleticism at UNC and he doesn't profile as a good enough athlete for that to work in the NFL. However, the handicap is more against Washington than Howell here. This team had a great chance to make the playoffs a month ago and completely blew it. This team played much harder with Taylor Heinicke under center and then for some reason, Ron Rivera went to Carson Wentz last week and that very well might have cost Washington a playoff spot. These situations are scary as this is a spot where a team like Washington might just absolutely no-show. They have nothing to play for after having everything to play for the last month. It's only human nature for them to completely release the gas pedal and that's what gets teams blown out in the NFL. I'll lay the points with Dallas.