Each Week, Head of Content Michael Schottey makes his picks for the upcoming slate of NFL action. For more on the best picks of the week, check out Pickwatch Pro for only $30 per year and get access to in-depth insights on proven winners.
Picks are straight up. Odds are provided for informational purposes and courtesy of our friends at BetMGM.
Kansas City Chiefs (-10) @ Denver Broncos
At 11-5, the Chiefs are in the playoffs, but they can be seeded anywhere from first through fourth based on the action in Week 18. Since they’re the first game on the docket, there’s a lot more to play for in this game. The question is, though, as a sure-fire playoff contender, how much are they going to battle for top seeding.
For instance, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is injured but may end up returning for this one. Do they run him through a wall, or do they put him on a pitch count? Do they play him at all if he’s not feeling 100 percent at game time? These are questions the Chiefs aren’t going to answer before kickoff, and failing them pulling the plug entirely, they’re the pick here. Pick: Chiefs
Dallas Cowboys (-7) @ Philadelphia Eagles
I’ve been thumping the table for the Eagles for weeks, but the argument has often been that they’re just not as bad as many of us thought they’d end up being. Their defense started the year as complete trash. Now, it’s the 16th-ranked defense according to DVOA. The offense started the year completely inept, then it improved to a Top 10 offensive DVOA team before a slight jog down in recent weeks to No. 12…average.
The Cowboys are anything but average. They’re arguably the best overall team in football with a great offense, an elite defense and a great special teams unit. Owner Jerry Jones says the starters will play and “play to win” here, and they’re just that much better than Philly. Pick: Cowboys
Cincinnati Bengals (-3) @ Cleveland Browns
News recently broke that Bengals QB Joe Burrow is not playing in this one, and pass rusher Trey Hendrickson along with two starting offensive linemen were added to the COVID list as of Wednesday morning. The Bengals are already second worst in the NFL with sacks on 8.8 percent of all their dropbacks—making life tough for backup QB Brandon Allen. Sure, Browns QB Baker Mayfield was just shut down for the season, but that actually feels more like a positive at this point. A healthy Case Keenum and the Browns rushing attack is going to get it done. Pick: Browns
Green Bay Packers (-2.5) @ Detroit Lions
All six of our Pickwatch Pro Insights say Packers, and it has the potential to be a pretty big victory, but it’s interesting that the Lions actually opened as favorites in this game. The reason is that the Packers don’t have anything to play for here, and it’s really likely that many of the Packers starters sit this one out.
The Lions, meanwhile, have some reasons to try to show they’re headed into the offseason on a high note and coaches and players are still all playing for continued jobs at the start of this rebuild. I’ll reserve the right to change this pick as we get closer to kickoff and the participation news breaks, but for now I’m taking the far better team. Pick: Packers
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings (-2.5)
This is a tough game to pick. Our Pickwatch Pro insights lean 4-2 for the Bears, but the most relevant pro insight (points scored) leans Vikings. Personally, I think the Vikings are a far better team when both are at full strength, but with neither team playing for anything, what is full strength going to look like in this one? At this moment, with it looking like both QB Kirk Cousins and RB Dalvin Cook playing, I gotta go with the home team. Pick: Vikings
Washington Football Team (-6.5) @ New York Giants
Football Team has been remarkably average this season, but is eliminated from the playoffs thanks to four straight losses coming into this one.
The Giants have been even worse and were never really in the hunt. They’ve also lost five straight and have the second-worst scoring offense in football. Now, they’re going to start third-string QB Jake Fromm and may even turn to fourth-stringer Brian Lewerke. If you’re not sure whether I made that last name up, I don’t blame you. Pick: WFT
Indianapolis Colts (-15.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts are just infinitely better than the Jaguars in every facet of the game. Yet, you know, the Colts are almost always better than the Jaguars in every facet of the game and have not beaten the Jaguars in Jacksonville (or London) since 2014.
Pause. Read that again.
It’s insane to pick the Jaguars here. It’s also kind of insane to pick the Colts. The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in football by every conceivable metric, are completely exposed from a coaching/scheme standpoint and are without their most viable offensive weapon—running back James Robinson. The trend breaks here. Pick: Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)
Lamar Jackson could play this week, but…will it matter either way? Pittsburgh is bringing to bear T.J. Watt who is only a sack away from the all-time single season sack record. Baltimore is bringing an offense that is sacked on 8.5 percent of all of their drop backs (5th worst in NFL). The Steelers do a lot of things wrong, but they can take care of this game by simply doing one thing right—getting after the QB.
Yet, our Pickwatch Pro insights lean 5-1 for Ravens. As below-expectations as the Ravens have been, there is a reason they’re in every game this season. They’re just about average. The offense has been solid. The defense is a giant albatross around their neck, but the special teams have been among the best in the NFL. I’m going with the home team here for one big reason, the Ravens achilles heel is something Big Ben and the Steelers can’t do…throw the ball deep. Pick: Ravens
Tennessee Titans (-10.5) @ Houston Texans
Here’s what I want with every fiber of my being: The Titans need to be down like 17-3 at halftime and then, when hope seems all but lost— running back Derrick Henry runs out of the tunnel like Willis Reed. He rumbles for just a ridiculous amount of yards in the second half and manages to finishSchottey’s First-Look NFL Week 18 Picks in the Top 5 for rushing yards in the season…even though he hasn’t played since Halloween.
Is that exactly how it’s going to play out? Almost certainly not, but a guy can dream. The biggest reason it can’t happen, is because the Titans defense isn’t going to let this team get down by that much in the first place. Pick: Titans
New Orleans Saints (-4.5) @ Atlanta Falcons
Our Pickwatch Pro insights lean heavily toward the Saints (5-1), but it’s notable that the most relevant pro insight (passing yards) leans toward the Falcons. That tracks with what we know about these two teams—mostly that the Saints are far better overall, but can’t really throw the ball against any defense worth its salt. The Falcons are giving up a hearty 5.6 yards per play (tied for ninth-worst in the league), which tells me the Saints should be able to move the ball in this one.
Can the Falcons win? Sure, but it would take a Herculean effort from quarterback Matt Ryan, and the Falcons aren’t playing for anything. Pick: Saints
New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills (-16.5)
Literally all of our Pickwatch pro insights tell us the Bills are crushing this one. In fact, our spider chart of the two teams looks like a tiny little Jets clown hat inside a Bills’ shape that takes up most of the graph.
Can the Jets play spoiler? Sure. They have some pretty inexplicable wins against both Cincinnati and Tennessee this season, and the Bills have been just as inexplicable in their struggles at home in colder weather—beating Atlanta last week, but starting slow and looking awfully uncomfortable. I do not think the Jets have this one in them, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it a lot closer than 16.5 points. Pick: Bills
New England Patriots (-6.5) @ Miami Dolphins
The Patriots have “messed around” as the kids say and are ending up with a Top 10 scoring offense (ranked 8th at 27.4 points per game) and the top scoring defense (16.9 PPG). If you followed my writing in the preseason, I continually tried to sound the alarm that the “Pats are back” but even I didn’t expect this.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have had all of the wind taken out of their sails. Other than playing a little potential spoiler, the Dolphins aren’t really doing anything other than going through the motions here. Pick: Patriots
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7.5)
The Buccaneers are such a weird team right now (and that’s not even talking about Antonio Brown). Every single one of their season-long metrics are *chef’s kiss.* This has been a good team. For much of the season, one of the (if not the) best team(s) in football. They also just barely beat the Jets and were shutout a few weeks ago in a loss to the Saints. Injuries, drama and COVID have taken this team down about 27 pegs in the last three weeks.
Still, they should be getting a load of players back for the playoffs—including a few of their best defenders like linebacker Lavonte David. So, while things are looking down, they’re also looking up. The Panthers are just a mess, though, and their offense has actually gotten markedly worse since firing Joe Brady. Pick: Buccaneers
San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams (-4.5)
Cooper Kupp comfortably leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,829), and while him getting to 2,000 yards on the season would take and incredibly 171 yards in his final game, he’s gotten close to that mark a few times before and even eclipsed it with a 200+ yard game in 2019. He’s also only 11 catches and 135 yards from both of those single-season record.
This isn’t going to be a cakewalk for the Rams, though. Our Pickwatch Pro insights have this game split 3-3. The Niners are playing coy with who their quarterback will be this week, and it’s possible we see Jimmy Garoppolo get the start as well as a heavy dose of Trey Lance. Still, expect the Rams to be firing on all cylinders, chasing a Division Crown. Pick: Rams
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals (-6.5)
All season long, I’ve been waiting for Seattle to “get right.” It’s a flawed team, for sure, but there’s still a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. The team exploded offensively against the Detroit Lions, but you know, it’s the Detroit Lions. WR D.K. Metcalf finally started to truly look like himself against a banged up secondary and RB Rashaad Penny ran amok through a porous front.
The Cardinals are not either of those things. It’s important to remember, as good as the Cardinals looked last week against a very good Dallas Cowboys team, they also looked pretty bad the weeks prior. I’ve got them winning this one at home, but it might not be the automatic game the spread makes it seem. Pick: Cardinals
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) @ Las Vegas Raiders
If you had this as the game of Week 18 six weeks ago, I would call you a liar. At various points this season, neither of these teams looked like they would be playing meaningful football in January and at other points it looked like the Chargers would be about 10 points favorites in this one. Yet, here we are.
Our Pickwatch Pro insights are split 3-3 with the top three most relevant (points scored, passing yards, rushing yards) leaning toward Chargers. The Raiders, though…oh those Raiders. They’re winners of two straight and won a surprising upset over the Indianapolis Colts last week. I’m going with the better quarterback and the better team, but Raider Nation cannot be counted out in this one. Pick: Chargers