Below are my confidence level straight up picks for Week 18. The picks with a confidence level of 1-5 (a set of selections that have gone 71-34-1 since Week 8) will be available to all NFL Pickwatch readers.
The selections with a 6+ confidence level, a group of games that have netted a 203-78-2 record since 2020 (including 46-18 since Week 4), will be available exclusively to Pickwatch Pro subscribers. Pickwatch Pro is a great service that allows subscribers to download the best expert data in the industry, see team-by-team winners for every expert, and provides access to Upset Watch, which has been the ultimate cheat code to beat the sportsbooks over the last six years. Combine those elements with the top level of my weekly picks and it makes for a must-subscribe service for anyone serious about betting.
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Tampa Bay heads into this matchup locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC and thus doesn’t have much to play for from that perspective, but before throwing in the towel entirely on the Buccaneers, do note that Tampa Bay has a five-game win streak over its NFC South division rival and would like to see that trend continue.
Atlanta made the move to Desmond Ridder at quarterback a few weeks ago when it was clear the Falcons weren’t going to qualify for the playoffs. That transition started to pay some dividends last week when Atlanta scored 20+ points and posted 20+ first downs in a single game for the first time since Week 8.
There is a strong chance that trend continues against a Buccaneers defense that allowed 725 net offensive yards over the past two weeks in games where they weren’t resting starters. The Falcons offense should be able to keep things moving against this platoon and since Todd Bowles suggested that Kyle Trask may get some playing time in this contest, Atlanta is the preferred option.
KC’s pick: Atlanta
Confidence level: 4
Minnesota at Chicago
Minnesota technically has something to play for in this matchup, as the Vikings can still win the No. 2 seed in the NFC if they win this contest and the 49ers loss, but with San Francisco being a two-touchdown favorite against Arizona, it’s all but certain Minnesota will enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in this conference.
That could justify the Vikings sitting their starters, but the inconsistency this club has shown of late is one reason Kevin O’Connell said earlier this week that Minnesota will not rest its starters for this matchup. It may be a matter of playing starters early and then sitting them later on, so we’ll meet this in the middle and go with that as the assumption.
That should be more than enough to deliver a win for the Vikings versus a Chicago team that has one of the worst defenses in the league and will be starting Nathan Peterman at quarterback.
KC’s pick: Minnesota
Confidence level: 5
Baltimore at Cincinnati
The cancellation of the Buffalo-Cincinnati game changed the dynamic of this contest since it delivered an AFC North division title to the Bengals, but the NFL decided to add some meaning back into this game by giving the Ravens a chance to host a wild card round matchup. All that has to happen is Baltimore winning this game (which would give the Ravens a sweep over the Bengals this year) and the Chargers losing their matchup against Denver. If that combination happens, it would be a Cincinnati-Baltimore battle in the wild card round and the league would flip a coin to see which team will host that contest.
This move adds value to this showdown and that showdown will be decided by who wins the battle of styles. The Ravens are all about operating a low scoring game, as over the past five contests neither Baltimore nor its opponents have scored more than 17 points in a single game
By contrast, the Bengals haven’t scored fewer than 20 points in a full game since Week 8 and have allowed 18 or fewer points in three of their last five full contests. Cincinnati comes into this game with nearly all of its stars on both sides of the ball, while the Ravens will almost certainly be without Lamar Jackson, so the Bengals get this one.
KC’s pick: Cincinnati
Confidence level: 5
Houston at Indianapolis
This is one of the least compelling matchups on the board in Week 18, as the Texans have won two games all season long, while the Colts have lost six straight contests and have tallied only a single victory since Week 6.
The main element here may be the direction these teams have been trending. Houston lost 31-3 last week against an ascending Jacksonville club that desperately wanted to end its nine-game losing streak to the Texans, but in the three games prior to that matchup Houston nearly upset Dallas and Kansas City and notched a win against Tennessee. These were just the latest examples of Lovie Smith’s players fighting hard to win this year.
The Colts track record in that area is nowhere near as good, as Indianapolis gave up the highest single-quarter point differential in league history against Dallas, allowed the biggest comeback in NFL history against the Vikings, then were outscored 58-13 against the Chargers and Giants. That shows the Colts have their proverbial cars already warmed up and ready to head to the offseason, so the Texans are the choice here.
KC’s pick: Houston
Confidence level: 5
New York Jets at Miami
It wasn’t long ago that it looked like the Jets and Dolphins might both land a spot in the AFC playoffs, but that day is long gone, as New York has already been eliminated. Miami still has a more than solid chance of earning the No. 7 seed, as a win by the Dolphins combined with a loss by the Patriots against the Bills would send Miami to the wild card round.
A major problem for both clubs is quarterback play, as the Jets saw Zach Wilson fail miserably at multiple times this year, while Miami may be down to Skylar Thompson if Teddy Bridgewater misses this game as expected.
New York also has the issue of looking very out of sorts as the season fell apart and that mindset may carry over here. Since Miami won’t have that looking forward to the offseason problem, as the Patriots-Bills game will take place at the same time as this one, the Dolphins are the pick.
KC’s pick: Miami
Confidence level: 3
Carolina at New Orleans
A recent report from The Athletic indicates that the Carolina team owner has been speaking to Jim Harbaugh about taking over as the Panthers coach next year. This indicates that Steve Wilks is likely out the door as the Carolina head coach, which would be a damn shame given that he took over a lethargic and overmatched club and got them to play hard every week.
That was enough to keep this team in playoff contention until last week’s game against Tampa Bay, and it is a key for this contest, as the Panthers players like and respect Wilks. They will want him to keep this job in 2023 and the only thing they can do to help in that effort is to win this game. New Orleans has no such motivation, so the Panthers land this one.
KC’s pick: Carolina
Confidence level: 5
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Both teams have a lot to play for in this matchup. A win by the Steelers, combined with losses by the Patriots and Dolphins, would vault Pittsburgh into the No. 7 seed in the AFC. That victory would also give the Steelers a 9-8 mark, assuring that head coach Mike Tomlin keeps up his streak of never having a losing season as Pittsburgh’s head coach. Cleveland wants to prevent its bitter AFC North rival from making it to the postseason, give Tomlin a losing season, and win for the fourth time in six games in this series for the first time since 1990.
If the Browns are to do this, it will take another strong performance from their ground game, as Cleveland has posted 413 rushing yards over the past three games. That may be possible against a Pittsburgh defense that has allowed 110+ rushing yards in four of the past six games.
Pittsburgh is just as capable of grinding out a ground game, as the Steelers have posted 460 rushing yards in their last three games. The issue for Cleveland is that its rush defense has been abysmal of late, having given up 622 rushing yards over the past four games. Since the Steelers rush defense has been solid at times recently (79 yards allowed versus Carolina and the Raiders in Weeks 16-17) and the game is in Pittsburgh and for a potential playoff spot, the Steelers earn this selection.
KC’s pick: Pittsburgh
Confidence level: 4
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver
This AFC West matchup has been a marquee battle in past seasons, but this is not one of those as the Chargers only have marginal AFC playoff seeding to play for, while the Broncos are playing out the string in what has been a terrible campaign.
The top variable here is how much will Los Angeles rest its starters. Head coach Brandon Staley has plenty of reasons to keep his main players out of the lineup, as the Chargers have dealt with injuries all year and haven’t had down time since the Week 8 bye.
Denver’s players will want to put their best foot forward to impress the new coaching staff. Combine that with this game being at Mile High and the Broncos are the pick.
KC’s pick: Denver
Confidence level: 1
Detroit at Green Bay
This game was moved to the Sunday Night Football slot because it is a win-and-in scenario for the Packers and a get into the playoffs option for the Lions with a victory here and a Seattle loss to the Rams.
Both teams here have proven that they can score points in droves, as Detroit has posted 245 points over the past eight games, while Green Bay has notched 151 points over its previous six matchups.
The deciding factor here will be big plays from the defense and special teams. This has been a specialty for the Packers of late, as over the past three games Green Bay has tallied nine sacks, seven interceptions, two returns, and two fumble recoveries from those two platoons. Detroit has seen its share of big defensive plays, having posted seven sacks last week against Chicago, but it hasn’t been quite as effective across the board in this area, so Green Bay is the preferred choice.
KC’s pick: Green Bay
Confidence level: 4
KC’s 6+ confidence level picks, a group of selections that have gone 203-78-2 since 2020 (including 46-18 since Week 4), are available exclusively to Pickwatch Pro subscribers.