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Kiel Leggere/Philadelphia Eagles

2022 NFL Game Picks: Week 18

Last week: 13-2

Season: 164-89-2


KC (13-3) @ LV (6-10)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:30 PM ET | ESPN/ABC


Depending on what happens with Bills-Bengals, the Chiefs might be playing for the No. 1 seed in the AFC to begin Week 18—and Las Vegas would obviously like nothing more than to play spoiler. But for as good as Jarrett Stidham looked last week in his first career start, Patrick Mahomes has gone 8-1 with a 26:3 touchdown-interception ratio against the Raiders in his career, and Kansas City is averaging a whopping 36.6 points per game over that span. With Travis Kelce scoring four times in the first matchup this season and Mecole Hardman (abdomen) set to return alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and the emerging Kadarius Toney, it’s impossible to say Mahomes lacks weapons. The Raiders might completely empty to playbook to see if they can pull off the upset, but Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams would likely need to go off for there to be a chance.


Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


TEN (7-9) @ JAX (8-8)

Saturday, January 7 | 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ABC


The AFC South championship game between Tennessee and Jacksonville not being on Sunday Night Football is a bit surprising, but the league might not have a ton of confidence in Joshua Dobbs as the Titans take on a team that dominated the first matchup when Ryan Tannehill was healthy. I wouldn’t count out Mike Vrabel’s squad, though, and Derrick Henry being rested following a week off could lead to a “takeover” game from the monster runner—especially versus a Jaguars defense that he’s demolished with 150 carries for 991 rushing yards (6.6 YPC) and 13 rushing touchdowns over the past seven matchups. To slow down King Henry, the Jags need Josh Allen and Travon Walker to set the edge and have their second-level defenders clog up any running lanes; just one missed assignment or tackle can be enough to break the game open. I don’t feel great about the selection here with Vrabel being a top-tier coach and him saying Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry are the healthiest they’ve been in months, but Jacksonville has the momentum, and college football fans know that Trevor Lawrence is comfortable playing on Saturday nights.


Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars


TB (8-8) @ ATL (6-10)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Buccaneers are one of a few teams that could rest their starters this week, and Atlanta being favored would seem to suggest that will be the case—but I get the feeling it might be treated as a preseason game where Tom Brady and others get some work in to stay sharp. Either way, it would make sense for 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask to see the field as Tampa Bay prepares for the potential departure of Brady, and the weapons in place should make it a quarterback-friendly destination when the offensive line gets healthy. The Falcons are also evaluating for the future with rookie Desmond Ridder making a closing argument this weekend, and Atlanta adding another skill-position player (perhaps Texas running back Bijan Robinson) in Round 1 could be the game plan to build a young core around the quarterback that eventually takes over if it’s not Ridder. Assuming the starters at least play a couple of series for the Bucs, I’m going with them this week.


Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


NE (8-8) @ BUF (12-3)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


My prayers continue to be with Damar Hamlin, and he thankfully has made significant progress as of Thursday that we can only hope will continue. In terms of the football ramifications of the suspended game from Week 17, reports seem to suggest Bills-Bengals is unlikely to resume—but I don’t see why the NFL wouldn’t push back the playoffs a week, add a standalone Week 19, and eliminate the bye week before the Super Bowl. Instead, every solution seems to hand Kansas City the No. 1 seed in the AFC (assuming they win), which leaves Buffalo battling for the No. 2 seed versus a desperate New England team that’s trying to simply get into the playoffs with a victory. The success Damien Harris has had versus Sean McDermott’s defense would be my biggest concern regarding an upset (100+ rushing yards and a score in all three career meetings), but it’s important that the Bills show they can play well with their teammate on their minds before playoff football begins.


Winner: Buffalo Bills


MIN (12-4) @ CHI (3-13)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Bears head coach Matt Eberflus backtracking about the status of Justin Fields (hip) after saying he’d play in the season finale was a telltale sign that a “tank” might have been put in the works by general manager Ryan Poles—and I’ve seen quite a few Chicago fans upset about it. Personally, I’d try to win every game possible, but the Eagles showed a couple of years ago that such a move will quickly be forgotten by most, and the Bears would be in an excellent spot by getting a haul for either Fields (worth considering because a rookie would have two extra “cheap” years on his contract) or the No. 1 overall pick (more lucrative assuming the league views Alabama quarterback Bryce Young as highly as they should). So, the Vikings will be facing Nathan Peterman on Sunday, and it’s shocking to me that the line is in the single digits considering how important Fields’ running was for the Chicago offense. Just as shocking would be Justin Jefferson not going off after being limited to one reception last week and having caught 12 passes for 154 yards against the Bears in Week 5.


Winner: Minnesota Vikings


BAL (10-6) @ CIN (11-4)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Again, the winds seem to be pointing towards Bills-Bengals not being played, and with a decision expected by Saturday, there is a chance Cincinnati has the AFC North locked up before kickoff. If not, I’d still expect Joe Burrow and his guys to be better than they were in the first matchup versus Baltimore (a 19-17 loss), and the uncertainty surrounding Lamar Jackson (knee) sounds increasingly likely to linger into the postseason—which could light the fuse towards a full-blown separation with the former NFL MVP wanting a fully-guaranteed contract and Baltimore no longer feeling they can count on him. Hopefully it won’t come to that, and Jackson not playing this week could even be an eventual advantage for the Ravens if the Wild Card Round is a rematch versus the Bengals.


Winner: Cincinnati Bengals


HOU (2-13-1) @ IND (4-11-1)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Texans-Colts is one of the most important games of the entire NFL season, as Houston winning would knock them out of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but Indianapolis winning would assure their division rival of the top pick—thus eliminating any dream of team owner Jim Irsay trading into the draft slot he had in 1998 (Peyton Manning) and 2012 (Andrew Luck). I do expect both sides to play hard with Texans head coach Lovie Smith and Colts interim head coach Jeff Saturday being far from locks to return next season, so it’d be fun to get a down-to-the-wire finish. Overall, Indy should keep the ball on the ground with Zack Moss versus the NFL’s worst run defense, and an inordinate amount of throwing would be reason to believe the fix is in.


Winner: Indianapolis Colts


NYJ (7-9) @ MIA (8-8)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


I called the Jets a “house of cards” earlier this year when they were 6-3 and just beat the Bills, and they’ve since gone 1-6 to extend their league-worst playoff drought to 12 seasons. To compound the collapse, it’s difficult to imagine Zach Wilson having success in New York due to a variety of factors, and I doubt the potential trade compensation for him would be significant no matter how many reports are put out about the franchise not giving up on the former No. 2 overall pick. For this week, the Jets will at least get a chance to finish the season strong by spoiling Miami’s playoff hopes, and they could again see rookie Skylar Thompson at quarterback—after dominating the first matchup against him, 40-17—if Teddy Bridgewater (finger) is unable to go. Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite Sauce Gardner has shown some vulnerability over the past couple of games, but I think he and the New York defense will be ready to slow down Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on Sunday.


Winner: New York Jets


CAR (6-10) @ NO (7-9)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Bucs finally catching fire offensively ended the NFC South hopes for Carolina and New Orleans in Week 17, but this matchup should still be a hard-fought battle between two teams that have played better in recent weeks. It’s not a coincidence that Taysom Hill seeing a combined 17 carries, receptions, and pass attempts came in a win over the first-place Eagles, and I wonder how different the season might have been for the Saints if they unleashed him every week. The Panthers might also be in a different spot right now if Sam Darnold didn’t injure his ankle in the preseason—as he’s been very solid under center, and taking care of the ball with just one interception in five starts provides definite optimism about his future. Week 18 will be a great final test for Darnold as he hits a tough road environment, but the Saints get the edge for me.


Winner: New Orleans Saints


CLE (7-9) @ PIT (8-8)

Sunday, January 8 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The first matchup between Cleveland and Pittsburgh was a strange Thursday Night Football game back in September that the Browns won, 29-17, and the weirdness was the disconnect between former starter Mitchell Trubisky and the young tandem of Diontae Johnson and George Pickens; basically, I thought Trubisky played extremely well, and it was the pass-catchers for the Steelers—despite showing visible frustration all night as if they weren’t at fault—that let the team down with a few drops. Of course, Pittsburgh eventually turned to first-rounder Kenny Pickett, and the 24-year-old leading back-to-back game-winning drives in primetime over the past two weeks has put the team in tremendous position to make the playoffs with a win and a little help. On the other side of the ball, maybe we’ll see more loaded boxes from the Steelers after Mike Tomlin conceded that Nick Chubb controlled the game for Cleveland in Round 1… and although I have somewhat of a bad feeling about it, I’m not going against Tomlin after talking him up in these game picks all season.


Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


NYG (9-6-1) @ PHI (13-3)

Sunday, January 8 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


Even if the Giants rest key players like Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, the Eagles can’t take anything for granted with the NFC East and No. 1 seed not yet clinched—so Jalen Hurts (shoulder) is expected to return against a defense he stung for almost 300 total yards and three total touchdowns in a 48-22 victory last month. I’m sure the worry Philadelphia is working through is how aggressive New York can be defensively, but Hurts being unable to negotiate his way onto the field would be a major surprise, and going 14-1 as the starter would bolster his NFL MVP case with the Eagles dropping both games when he was out of the lineup. The defense for Philly is also getting healthier with C.J. Gardner-Johnson (kidney) returning to practice, and this weekend will be a test run of the homefield advantage at Lincoln Financial Field throughout January.


Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


DAL (12-4) @ WAS (7-8-1)

Sunday, January 8 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


The Cowboys having a shot at the No. 1 seed heading into the season finale despite losing Dak Prescott for five games speaks to not only the coaching job done by Mike McCarthy and his staff, but also the talent up and down the roster for Dallas. Based on how the future looks in the NFC East, the Commanders need to draft well to keep up, and their next quarterback—whether acquired via the draft, free agency, or trade—needs to be a hit to avoid staying at the bottom of the division (as shown in Carolina with team owner David Tepper, it doesn’t matter who runs the team if you don’t have a franchise signal-caller). Fifth-round pick Sam Howell is someone I liked coming out of North Carolina, but this could be an eruption spot for the Cowboys, and it’s asking a lot of Howell to put up 30+ points in his first career start.


Winner: Dallas Cowboys


LAC (10-6) @ DEN (4-12)

Sunday, January 8 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


It’s been awesome to see Mike Williams finally getting recognized as an elite NFL player this year, and both head coach Brandon Staley and quarterback Justin Herbert sang his praises this week:




This pick might be changed if the Chargers are set to rest their starters based on the early results on Sunday, but the arrow is pointing up for them heading into the playoffs.


Winner: Los Angeles Chargers


LAR (5-11) @ SEA (8-8)

Sunday, January 8 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


Seattle doesn’t control their fate this weekend, but all they can do is try to beat the Rams and hope Detroit knocks out Green Bay on Sunday night. However, this will not at all be an easy game after the first matchup was a narrow victory by the Seahawks thanks to a DK Metcalf touchdown in the final minute, and linebacker Bobby Wagner has extra motivation to keep his former team out of the postseason—and that’s in addition to the added juice shown by Los Angeles over the past month. Furthermore, the Seahawks are dealing with a bunch of players being at less than 100% on offense, and the Rams might be able to key on Metcalf in the rematch with Tyler Lockett (shin) not himself. Maybe it’s simply me wanting the final game of the season to be a winner-take-all showdown, but I think LA can play spoiler on the road with Sean McVay wanting to end a season that he recently called a “professional failure” on a high note.


Winner: Los Angeles Rams


ARI (4-12) @ SF (12-4)

Sunday, January 8 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


The 49ers being in position for the No. 2 seed in the NFC only bolsters the chances of the conference running through San Francisco (if Philadelphia were to slip up either this weekend or in the Divisional Round)—and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the league. There is no doubt that we’ll see a better defensive effort this week from the Niners after the Raiders put up 34 points on them, and they’ll need to have their full focus with a confident David Blough coming to town. However, unless J.J. Watt completely turns back the clock in his final NFL game, Arizona doesn’t seem to be the team that can finally stop Brock Purdy, and Deebo Samuel (ankle/knee) getting in a full practice to begin the week should lead to him returning to further elevate the offense.


Winner: San Francisco 49ers


DET (8-8) @ GB (8-8)

Sunday, January 8 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


I love the message Dan Campbell has had this week knowing there’s a chance Detroit is eliminated from playoff contention before kickoff—saying their mentality is “it’s us or nobody” on Sunday night. At the same time, the prospects of facing a red-hot Green Bay team with Aaron Rodgers always seeming to dominate on SNF will be tough, so the Lions will need to lean on Jared Goff’s big-game experience from his time in Los Angeles; don’t be surprised if they get more aggressive by giving downfield opportunities to D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams with the Packers sometimes struggling to defend deep balls (particularly opposite Jaire Alexander). Still, I keep coming back to the comments made by Rodgers on Christmas about two dome teams needing to visit Lambeau Field to close out the season, and I think we’ll get huge nights from Aaron Jones and Christian Watson as the Packers win their fifth game in a row to sneak into the playoffs as the final seed like they did in 2010.


Winner: Green Bay Packers