© Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Heading into the last week of the NFL regular season, there is still much to decide. At stake in week 18 are playoff seedings, divisions, and the draft order. Amidst the uncertainty, week 17 provided results and some clarity on teams with playoff hopes.
The New York Giants were able to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2016 with a resounding 38-10 win over the hapless Indianapolis Colts. The Giants locked into the NFC's number six seed with the win.
The New York Jets were eliminated from playoff contention after a low effort 23-6 loss in Seattle to the Seahawks. After a promising 5-2 start to the season, the Jets head into week 18 losers of five straight games. An offseason of quarterback questions lies ahead for the franchise that was thinking of the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
With a 24-10 home loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Washington Commanders (7-9) saw their playoff hopes crash and burn.
Down 21-10 in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady was able to guide a Buccaneers comeback to win over their NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, 30-24. The pivotal Buccaneers win crowned the Bucs back-to-back NFC South titles to clinch a playoff spot. Tampa will be locked in as the NFC's fourth overall seed, hosting a game on wildcard weekend.
Week 18 features a few compelling matchups that will complete the playoff picture. The Jacksonville Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans for the AFC South title. Detroit fans face a familiar foe in Aaron Rodgers as the Lions travel to Green Bay with a wildcard spot up for grabs. And with a win over the Jets and the Patriots' loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins will earn themselves a spot in the dance.
We want to send our thoughts and prayers along to Damar Hamlin, his family, the Buffalo Bills, and the Bills Mafia. A tragic situation for all involved occurred on Monday night. May the young man recover to lead a full life. You can also send a thought or prayer if you're inclined.
© Corey Perrine/USA TODAY NETWORK
Tennessee Titans (7-9) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
- Spread: Tennessee Titans +6.5, Jacksonville Jaguars -6.5
- Total: Over/Under 40.5
- Money line: Tennessee Titans +240, Jacksonville Jaguars -265
The Jacksonville Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans in the biggest Jaguars game in a long time. A "win and you're in" scenario for the AFC South will make it agonizing for both fanbases that have their eyes set on the playoffs.
This game is the classic case of two teams heading in different directions.
Starting with the bad, the Titans have lost six straight games after beginning with a 7-3 record and control of the AFC South. It looked like coach Mike Vrabel and his Titans would waltz to a third straight AFC South title unscathed. Mired in a three-game tailspin at the time, the Titans lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the season to an ankle injury in a week 15 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Since Tannehill went down, it has been a combination of rookie Malik Willis and Joshua Dobbs behind center. After completing 20/39 passing attempts for 232 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in week 17, 27-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, coach Vrabel has decided to put the ball back in Dobbs's hands.
Without a fully confident passing attack, the Titans are lucky they can hand the ball off to the man they call 'tractorcito.' Derrick Henry will be relied upon heavily in this game, which is nothing new for the player who most would consider the best running back in the NFL. Henry led the NFL in carries in 2019-20 and 2020-21. After an injury-plagued 2021-22 season, Henry is back to remind everyone of the brute force he is.
Entering week 18, Derrick Henry is third in rushing yards behind Josh Jacobs and Nick Chubb and second in rushing attempts only to Josh Jacobs. Missing only two games this year, Henry's durability has been encouraging after missing nine last season. For a Titans offense without a real quarterback option, Derrick Henry should see 20+ carries; Tennessee will need a huge performance from him to keep up with the hot Jacksonville offense.
On the flip side, the Jaguars come into this game on a four-game win streak. The story of the Jaguars season has been the rookie-to-sophomore leap quarterback Trevor Lawrence made. After an abysmal rookie season, Lawrence has started to come into his own. He looks more confident as a passer and decision-maker every time he takes to the field. Although the last two weeks have been quiet, the Jaguars quarterback had massive games in weeks 14 & 15, carving up the Titans and Cowboys secondaries for 300+ yards and seven combined touchdown passes.
The matchup on paper could not be any better for Lawrence as the Titans rank last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Against the run, however, Tennessee is excellent, giving up the second-fewest rushing yards per game, which should force Lawrence to throw even more if the box is stacked.
Based on his track record, you never want to count out coach Vrabel on getting the most out of his team. However, I think the Jaguars are too hot right now, carrying so much momentum. Although not playing world-beater offenses, the Jaguars' defense held the Jets and Titans to three points each. It's a defense catching up to a hot offense at the right time. The Jaguars have playmakers at every offensive skill position and a quarterback that is reminding everyone why he was the number one overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft.
The pick - Jaguars to Win
How Jaguars can still make it as the last wildcard team if they lose to the Titans:
- Bills beat the Patriots
- Jets beat the Dolphins
© Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions (8-8) @ Green Bay Packers (8-8)
- Spread: Detroit Lions +4.5, Green Bay Packers -4.5
- Total: Over/Under 49
- Money line: Detroit Lions +185, Green Bay Packers -215
Buckle up for what could be a wild Sunday Night Football game to decide the NFC's final wildcard spot.
The contrast and history of these two franchises couldn't be any more different, making this game fascinating and reminding everyone how fun and opportunistic sports can be from season to season.
In the last three seasons, the Packers have won 13 regular season games a year. Reaching the conference championship in 2019-20, 2020-21, and losing in the divisional round last season. During the same timeframe, the Detroit Lions have won three, five, and three games over their previous three seasons.
Based on the randomness we see in the NFL, both teams find themselves at 8-8 with a chance to make the playoffs. For the Packers, this is a down season filled with frustration. On Detroit's side, this season has been a massive success for second-year coach Dan Campbell. Pushing aside the Packers' frustrations and Lion's overachievement, they now get to face off in Lambeau field with the NFC's wildcard still undecided.
This game starts with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, Rodgers has spent most of the season not looking like himself. Passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, rating, and interceptions are all not where people expected them to be this season. However, it is not entirely shocking to see Rodgers struggle after the departure of long-time wide receiver and ultra-reliable Davante Adams in the offseason. He has been out of sync with his receivers for most of the season, but having number 12 in the green and gold will always give your team a confident chance to win.
The Packers come into this game winners of four straight, including a 41-3 shellacking of the NFC North-winning Minnesota Vikings in week 17. Needing to run the table since week 13, the only team left in their way is a hungry Detroit Lions team. Green Bay has run the ball effectively throughout their winning streak with their two-headed duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillion. Jones, who has been dealing with minor injuries, really looked like his explosive self last week against the Vikings, carrying the ball 14 times for 111 rushing yards. Dillion, the bigger bruiser of the two, has been able to find the endzone for five straight weeks. Both running backs should be all systems go Sunday night against a Lions run defense that gives up the fourth most rushing yards per game.
Staring at the Packers from the other sidelines, the Lions have a massive opportunity and potential turning point for their franchise. Winning 15-9 against the Pack back in week nine generated hope within the fanbase. Beating them again can put a big red bow on an exciting season.
Quarterback Jared Goff has been a revelation this season, leading the Lions to the fourth-highest-scoring offense. Goff and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown have built amazing chemistry, giving the Lions a QB-WR duo to get excited about for years to come. St. Brown became the youngest Lions receiver to have a 1,000-yard receiving season at 23 years and 61 days old, breaking Calvin Johnson's record of 23 years, 69 days. Goff and Brown face a tough matchup against a Packers defense that gives up the fourth fewest passing yards per game. Additionally, their highly touted first-round pick Jameson Williams has recently begun seeing his first action of the season and should form the other half of one of the most formidable WR tandems in the NFL for years to come.
Like the Packers, Detroit has its own deadly duo at running back. Jamaal Williams, who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 15, gets to go up against his former team. Drafted 134th overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft, Williams spent four seasons in Green Bay before joining Detroit last season. Versatile running back D'Andre Swift should be active in this game. Swift brings balance and unpredictability to the Lions' backfield as he is a threat to run and catch passes.
As much as I like the fun story of the Detroit Lions this season, it's hard to see Rodgers and the Packers losing under the lights at home in this one. A quarterback in Rodgers who has been in big games his whole career, I like my chances for 12 to dictate the pace of the game and find a way to clinch a playoff berth.
The pick - Packers win
Lions/Packers playoff scenarios
- The Lions do need some outside help to get to the playoffs. If they win, they would need the Los Angeles Rams (5-11) to go into Seattle and beat the Seahawks (8-8). Detroit will know before the game Sunday night if they are playing for pride and a strong finish to their season or if the playoffs are a real possibility.
- The Packers get a ticket to the dance with a win. With a 6-5 conference record, they hold the tiebreak over the Seattle Seahawks, who have a 5-6 record against the NFC.
© Danielle Parhizkaran/USA TODAY Sports
New York Jets (7-9) @ Miami Dolphins (8-8)
- Spread: New York Jets +1, Miami Dolphins -1
- Total: Over/Under 38.5
- Money line: New York Jets -105, Miami Dolphins -115
A very fitting matchup between the two teams to end the regular season in what should be a good game.
Unlike the Jaguars vs. Titans game, where one team is on the rise and one on the fall, both teams are on chaotic downward spirals here.
The Dolphins once sat at 8-3 with a ton of momentum. First-year head coach Mike McDaniel had quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins' offense humming. Everything was clicking, and Miami looked like a dark horse Super Bowl team until they hit a rut. With Tua sidelined again last week, backup Teddy Bridgewater took the field and fared well. Completing 12/19 passes for 161 yards, one touchdown pass, and one interception, he was forced out of the game with a finger injury. Bridgewater was diagnosed with a dislocated pinky, and it is unknown what his status for the game is yet. Seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson relieved Bridgewater of his duties, completing 12/21 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown pass in the 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots. Thompson will therefore start this game if Teddy Bridgewater can't participate.
Despite the quarterback situation, Miami still has explosive players on offense that can win them this game. They will need receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle to garner some kind of chemistry with a quarterback not named Tua on the Dolphins roster. Miami traded for Hill and drafted Waddle for exact situations on Sunday. Fighting for a playoff spot, Miami has two players that can generate game-breaking plays at any time.
The running back tandem of Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson will be critical in the game. Both backs will need to find ways to fight for yards on first and second downs to avoid those third and longs, putting their quarterback in tough spots. Miami ranks 24th in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage.
They face a Jets defense that gives up the fourth-fewest points per game (19.1) and second-fewest passing yards per game.
The New York Jets will miss the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season. A season that started with so much hope and promise has faded into disappointment. Questions surrounding the quarterback position will be at the forefront as it looks like Zach Wilson is not the guy the Jets hoped he'd be when they spent the second pick on him in the 2020 NFL draft. Fan favorite Mike White has been fun for stretches but is most likely not the long-term solution at quarterback.
A positive offensive takeaway for the Jets is stud wide receiver Garrett Wilson out of Ohio State, who was selected tenth overall in the 2022 NFL draft. Wilson is the first Jets wide receiver to have a 1,000-yard season since Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both did it back in 2015. He also cruised by Keyshawn Johnson's rookie receiving record of 844 yards set in 1996. Another is rookie running back Breece Hall, who NY took with the 36th overall pick in the second round. Hall suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter of the Jets' week seven win over the Denver Broncos. Before the injury, Hall was on his way to a monster rookie year and was the betting favorite for offensive rookie of the year. The Jets have greatly missed his contributions since he was placed on the IR.
On the defense side, Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, who the Jets took with the fourth pick in the 2022 NFL draft, is a stud. The rookie cornerback will be the defensive rookie of the year and have Jets fans seeing another Darrelle Revis in the green and white. C.J. Mosley, Quinnen Williams, D.J. Reed, and Jordan Whitehead are just a few of the players that deserve recognition for how good the Jets' defense has been this season.
I like the Jets to play spoiler and finish the season strong. They can bring something positive into next season. With better quarterback play in the 2023-24 season, this Jets team should be able to make the playoffs and potentially win a game. Robert Saleh finds a way to motivate his team in the season finale and officially shut the door on the Dolphins' playoff hopes.
The pick - Jets win
Dolphins' playoff scenarios
- Dolphins must beat the Jets and have the Bills beat the Patriots.
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