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2023 NFL Game Picks: Week 18

Last week: 13-3

Overall: 164-92


PIT (9-7) @ BAL (13-3)

Saturday, January 6 | 4:30 PM ET | ESPN/ABC


The Ravens won’t be playing Lamar Jackson this week and are likely to rest a bunch of key starters with the No. 1 seed locked up, but that doesn’t mean Saturday will be a cakewalk for Pittsburgh. Even if superstar linebacker Roquan Smith is one of the guys sitting, his mentality—“not [being] a Raven” until they beat the Steelers—should carry over to the rest of the team, and Tyler Huntley has started three games versus Pittsburgh, all of which were very close slugfests (1-2 record). Also, Baltimore gets to play at home, and this isn’t like the preseason where the roster will include a bunch of players towards the bottom of a 90-man roster. That said, the Steelers are playing confident football under Mason Rudolph, including definite sparks regarding the energy level of George Pickens and Diontae Johnson as they routinely pick up chunk yardage. Look for those two and Najee Harris to lead the way on offense while T.J. Watt (13.0 sacks over his past nine games versus Baltimore) makes a game-changing play if needed late.


Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


HOU (9-7) @ IND (9-7)

Saturday, January 6 | 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ABC


A primetime matchup where the winner will make the postseason and the loser is eliminated makes Texans-Colts a de facto playoff game, and no matter what the result, both first-year head coaches in DeMeco Ryans and Shane Steichen deserve a ton of credit for the jobs they have done for their respective teams. The first matchup came back in Week 2 with Indy winning, 31-20, and Gardner Minshew came off the bench to complete 19-of-23 passes for 171 yards and a score. On the other side of the ball, C.J. Stroud was sacked six times, but he did throw for 384 yards and two touchdowns, so we’ll see what adjustments are made by both coaching staffs. In terms of the offensive firepower, the Colts will now have Jonathan Taylor after he was out to begin the season, and Houston won’t have rookie Tank Dell (leg)—who caught seven passes for 72 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. In general, I could see the Texans stacking the box like they’ve done versus Derrick Henry to make Minshew beat them, which would put the pressure on the wideouts to make plays in one-on-one coverage; but keep an eye on the tight ends for the Colts potentially being the difference at home.


Winner: Indianapolis Colts


TB (8-8) @ CAR (2-14)

Saturday, January 7 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Tampa Bay losing last week to the Saints opens the door for them to be upset by a Carolina team that might empty the playbook to play spoiler, and the first matchup notably came down to the final minutes with Antoine Winfield Jr.—an obvious Pro Bowl snub—intercepting Bryce Young to win, 21-18. Chuba Hubbard rushing for 104 yards and two touchdowns was a big reason the Panthers were in the game, though, and the Bucs have since re-established themselves as a top run defense with 3.3 yards per carry allowed over the past four weeks, so the unit needs to make Carolina win by airing it out. For the Tampa Bay offense, Rachaad White needs to be played through after he had just 11 carries last week, and Baker Mayfield starting faster than he did versus the Saints is crucial. Overall, the talent level is clearly in favor of the Bucs, and they should try to frustrate Young early on to play from ahead.


Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


CLE (11-5) @ CIN (8-8)

Saturday, January 7 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Cleveland is locked into the No. 5 seed and will be resting key players this week, but similar to the Ravens, the mentality of the team should have them battling to not only end the regular season with a win, but also send Cincinnati out with a below-.500 record. Interestingly, heavy NFL Coach of the Year favorite Kevin Stefanski is going with the recently-signed Jeff Driskel (1-9 career record) under center instead of PJ Walker (5-4 career record), but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Browns want to test out Driskel as a change-of-pace quarterback like rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (hip) was before his season was ended last month—and it at least puts something in the mind of their playoff opponent next week. Plus, Driskel has shown he can move the offense with his arm when given a shot over the past handful of seasons, and I’m excited to see first-year wideout Cedric Tillman possibly featured. Still, the Bengals are a very proud team, and the group is determined to finish with a home win as Jake Browning tries to further cement himself as the No. 2 quarterback for 2024.


Winner: Cincinnati Bengals


MIN (7-9) @ DET (11-5)

Saturday, January 7 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


It might be a long shot, but the Vikings are at least alive for the No. 7 seed in the NFC if they can win, have the Bucs or Saints lose, have Arizona upset Seattle, and see the Packers finally fall to the Bears for the first time in over five years—though their biggest challenge might be facing a furious Detroit squad that probably lost out on the No. 2 seed following the controversial defeat to Dallas last Saturday night. The Lions have shown they can put up a crooked number (especially at home), and I would love to see them express their anger by feeding David Montgomery, who often seems to get the offense back on the tracks with a few energizing runs if they hit a bit of a lull. Of course, Jahmyr Gibbs should also be a major factor after ripping Minnesota for 100 total yards and a couple of scores in Week 16, but the offense seems to be at their best finishing drives when Montgomery is given the ball, and the Vikings might have been put away in the previous meeting if the veteran was used more in the second half. With standout safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (pectoral) set to return for a secondary that intercepted Nick Mullens four times on Christmas Eve, I like the Lions to take care of business.


Winner: Detroit Lions


NYJ (6-10) @ NE (4-12)

Saturday, January 7 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


If this weekend is the final game for all-time great head coach Bill Belichick in New England, it’s fitting that it might come in snowy conditions versus a Jets team that he has dominated over the past 24 years (38-11 record), and you can be sure that his players will be focused on sending Belichick off—if it’s indeed the end—with a victory. Perhaps the opportunity to embrace the “villain” role will allow New York to match the intensity of the Patriots, but the more likely scenario might be them having another poor showing after a shutout loss to Miami, near collapse versus the Commanders, and a season-worst defensive performance last Thursday night against Cleveland. Basically, if Bailey Zappe doesn’t get reckless and turn the ball over (which the snow might actually help with by slowing everything down), New England should end the season and potentially the Belichick era with a win.


Winner: New England Patriots


ATL (7-9) @ NO (8-8)

Saturday, January 7 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The Saints had a season-saving victory last week over Tampa Bay, and Atlanta—despite collapsing down the stretch—is also still competing for the NFC South crown, but both fanbases will be scoreboard-watching with the Bucs needing to lose for the division to still be up for grabs. The Falcons won the first matchup at the end of November with New Orleans settling for five field goals, but Arthur Smith has been unable to get all three of Bijan Robinson, Drake London, and Kyle Pitts going simultaneously, and that again being the case in the season finale might be the final nail in the coffin with rumors swirling about his status. For Pitts in particular, I have to imagine he’s not been himself with just one game of more than 78% of the snaps played this year, but having six touchdowns in 43 career games has to fall on the coaching staff, as he’s a six-foot-six weapon that had 12 scores (on 43 receptions) in his final season at Florida. The Saints have been frustratingly inconsistent as well, but the Superdome crowd will be a definite advantage this weekend, and I still think they can make some noise this month if able to sneak their way into the playoffs.


Winner: New Orleans Saints


JAX (9-7) @ TEN (5-11)

Saturday, January 7 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The Jaguars are in a very similar spot to last season with a matchup versus Tennessee in Week 18 to win the AFC South, but the difference is that Mike Vrabel’s team has been out of contention rather than fighting for the division crown themselves. However, Vrabel is as competitive as it gets and hates losing, so there is no doubt that the Titans will play hard with a chance to ruin Jacksonville’s season. The problem is an overall lack of talent for Tennessee, and it’s a big reason—along with the lack of a top-flight quarterback—they have gone 5-18 since Thanksgiving of 2022. Pass protection is another issue, and Josh Allen taking over last week with 3.0 sacks in the win over Carolina could carry over into another game-breaking performance like we saw last year in the finale with a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and touchdown to claim the division with a 20-16 win.


Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars


SEA (8-8) @ ARI (4-12)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


The future is still very bright for Seattle with a ton of talent among their first- and second-year players, but a disappointing home loss to Pittsburgh in Week 17 now has them needing a win and a Green Bay loss to make the playoffs again—and Arizona won’t be an easy opponent with a 3-4 record since Kyler Murray’s return. Offensively, the Seahawks are perhaps the destination for any potential rookie to step into with Geno Smith there as a mentor and plenty of young building blocks in place to grow together, and the NFC West could be an absolute juggernaut of a division if Seattle hits on another draft class and Arizona does the same with Murray apparently entrenched as the franchise quarterback for them (thus, allowing them to take an elite playmaker or trade back to add more draft capital). As stated all year, the Cardinals have been very impressive under Jonathan Gannon, and they should come in ready to pull off another upset as a stepping stone for next season; I’m just not sure they have the bodies on the backend to stop DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba right now.


Winner: Seattle Seahawks


CHI (7-9) @ GB (8-8)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


This feels like a very dangerous spot for the Packers with Justin Fields playing with high confidence and the Chicago defense continuing to cause havoc, but it’s tough to overlook the one-sidedness of the “rivalry”—with Green Bay winning 14 of the past 15 meetings, including a nine-game winning streak that continued with a 38-20 victory in the 2023 opener. Earlier this week, it was funny to hear Aaron Rodgers refer to the Packers as “us” when discussing the upcoming matchup, and regarding his successor, Jordan Love has smoothly kept his foot on the accelerator after a minor speed bump last month to continue turning the corner as a hopeful franchise quarterback; and the offense should be boosted by the return of Christian Watson (hamstring) on Sunday. For the defense, Jaire Alexander and the secondary was able to hold DJ Moore to 25 yards in Week 1, but will they slow him down this week with a chip on his shoulder after not making the Pro Bowl?


Winner: Green Bay Packers


KC (10-6) @ LAC (5-11)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


The Chiefs will be resting Patrick Mahomes and other key players this weekend, but I like the idea of featuring Kadarius Toney, Mecole Hardman Jr., and Justyn Ross at wide receiver—as all three possess plenty of talent, and not having much pressure could allow them to shine and carry the momentum into the postseason. Sunday is also a great opportunity for Blaine Gabbert to show he can step up like Chad Henne did when called upon in big spots, and while I would prefer teams to play their starters in almost every situation, it makes sense for Mahomes to end his regular season on a high note by knocking out the rival Bengals. This time next year, the expectation for the Chargers will be that they are the ones possibly resting with a new head coach to pair with Justin Herbert, and Week 18 will be the final opportunity to evaluate the roster—in real game action—before next fall, so I’d love to see Isaiah Spiller featured at running back and rookie Quentin Johnston fed targets/touches at wide receiver.


Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


DEN (8-8) @ LV (7-9)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


Rumors have been connecting Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Chargers job, but the Raiders have come up recently—and the thinking makes sense with Las Vegas being the new “destination” in the sports world, not to mention top-tier facilities and an iconic history for the franchise. If that were to happen, there is a real chance the AFC West could have Bill Belichick (if he goes to LA), Andy Reid, Sean Payton, and Harbaugh as the four head coaches, which is almost difficult to fathom. Frankly, the prospects of losing out on Harbaugh to a division rival could be enough to prompt Raiders owner Mark Davis to make the move himself despite support for Antonio Pierce in the locker room, but getting the right quarterback is arguably more important than who the head coach is. Denver will also be seeking an answer under center (assuming Russell Wilson doesn’t somehow find his way back there next season), but both sides want to finish with a win rather than improve their draft slot, and I’ll go with the Broncos to split the season series.


Winner: Denver Broncos


PHI (11-5) @ NYG (5-11)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


There has been no information on the status of second-year linebacker Nakobe Dean (foot) since being placed on injured reserve for the second time this season, but a potential clue about his chances of a return might have been on head coach Nick Sirianni’s hat a few weeks ago when he had No. 17 (for Dean) and No. 29 (for Avonte Maddox) on it—with the latter returning last week. As stated before, I have hope that Dean would tie everything together for the defense, and them completely falling off without him is reason to believe that’s the case, especially considering all the issues that have surfaced at linebacker. Philadelphia also needs Jalen Carter to step up, though, and the edge rushers would benefit from the rookie generating more of a consistent pass rush on the interior. If they don’t win up front, New York can make enough plays with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback to pull off the upset, but maybe A.J. Brown speaking to the media will result in everything coming together just in time for the real games to begin for the Eagles.


Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


LAR (9-7) @ SF (12-4)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX



Carson Wentz versus Sam Darnold? Wentz should be determined, but I’m giving the edge to Darnold.


Winner: San Francisco 49ers


DAL (11-5) @ WAS (4-12)

Saturday, January 7 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


Dallas didn’t have much to play for last season in their season finale loss to Sam Howell and the Commanders—but they certainly do this time around with a chance to lock up the NFC East and No. 2 seed in the conference with a win. On Thanksgiving, the Cowboys ended up destroying Washington by 35 points, and Howell has since been benched twice while the team has lost four more games to extend their losing streak to seven. And it would be nice for Ron Rivera to go out with a win in what will almost certainly be his final career game, but he correctly pointed out that the current regime has been unable to find a quarterback (just a few weeks after suggesting they had their guy in Howell), and the franchise is now expected to be in the exact same spot it was when Rivera took over by owning the No. 2 overall pick. For now, the optimism about brighter days under new team owner Josh Harris will have to wait, and true fans should be rooting for a stunning upset over Dallas… even knowing what it might cost in terms of draft position.


Winner: Dallas Cowboys


BUF (10-6) @ MIA (11-5)

Saturday, January 7 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


The Bills and Dolphins have seemed to be on a collision course for the season’s final regular season game for the past month or so, and the stakes are extremely high with the AFC East and No. 2 seed on the line. Unfortunately for Miami, injuries have hit them hard down the stretch, and pass rusher Bradley Chubb (knee) is the latest star to go down—which should make Josh Allen way more comfortable in the pocket versus a team that he typically torches (34:7 touchdown-interception ratio and 10-2 career record, including playoffs). Furthermore, Stefon Diggs has shown that he can beat Jalen Ramsey for anyone confidently saying Miami’s top cornerback will be the difference compared to the first matchup (when Allen had 320 passing yards and five total touchdowns), and Gabe Davis has also had plenty of success versus the Dolphins with a touchdown in five-of-eight career matchups (including playoffs). The potential X-factor that I would love to see get a shot at cornerback with Xavien Howard (foot) likely out is second-round rookie Cam Smith, but Vic Fangio clearly doesn’t trust him enough to put out there yet, so Miami may need monster games from Tyreek Hill and De’Von Achane to finally knock off Buffalo.


Winner: Buffalo Bills