Well guys, we made it. After watching 17 weeks of football, we’re now heading into the final week of the regular season, and I have to say, it’s been a great year: We’ve laughed together (at the officiating), we’ve cried together (at the officiating), and now, we might watch Gardner Minshew get to the playoffs together, which is a miracle that none of us deserve.
Three years ago, I got LAUGHED off the “Pick Six Podcast” for suggesting that Minshew was one of the best backups in the league and that I would trade a third-round pick for him in an instant.
I WAS SERIOUS AND GUESS WHO’S GETTING THE LAST LAUGH NOW, WILSON?
Now, do I think that Minshew can actually lead the Colts to a win over the Texans? I can’t you tell you that until we get to the picks, which we should probably do right now. However, before we get to the fun stuff, here’s your weekly reminder that you can check out the picks from every CBSSports.com NFL Expert by clicking here.
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Alright that’s enough stalling, let’s get to the picks. Oh, and just to warn you, if I miss every pick this week, it’s because the final week of the season is always the most difficult week to predict and that’s mostly because I have no clue who will be playing for either team. I have no idea which teams will be benching their starters, I have no idea if bad teams have mentally checked out and I have no idea why they’re even playing some of these games, like Patriots-Jets. Just give both teams a loss and move on (That game is one of only three being played in Week 18 that will have zero playoff implications).
NFL Week 18 picks
Pittsburgh (9-7) at Baltimore (13-3)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)
The Ravens have already clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, which makes this a meaningless game for them, and that might actually be bad news for the Steelers, because there is no team in NFL history better at winning meaningless games than the Baltimore Ravens. I mean, there is nothing more meaningless than a preseason game and the Ravens once ran off 24-straight preseason wins in a row and that’s mostly because John Harbaugh hates to lose. If Harbaugh were to play a 10-year-old in one-on-one basketball, he’d definitely win 21-0 and he’d probably also record a triple-double.
The one thing I don’t know about this game is whether Harbaugh will rest his starters. Although that might seem like the safe thing to do, it’s not an easy decision because if the Ravens rest their starters, that means they’ll go nearly three weeks without playing a game (They’d go from Jan. 1 until their divisional playoff game on Jan. 20 or 21 without taking a single snap). I don’t think Harbaugh is going to want keep his players sidelined for that long, so I won’t be surprised if the Ravens play a good chunk of their starters for part of the game.
On the Steelers’ end, Mason Rudolph will be getting his third straight start. Although Rudolph has looked awesome in his first two starts, there seems to be a pattern this year with backup quarterbacks who come out of nowhere: They look good for one or two starts before crashing back to earth.
If the Steelers win this game, they’ll make the playoff as long as either the Jaguars or the Bills lose. Basically, this game means everything to the Steelers and nothing to the Ravens, so the obvious pick here should be Pittsburgh, but nothing obvious ever happens in Week 18.
This pick really comes down to whether I think the Steelers starters can beat a Ravens team that will likely play a mix of starters and backups and I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but I’m taking the Ravens.
The pick: Ravens 23-20 over Steelers
If you want a more analytical approach to your NFL picks, then I highly suggest that you check out the SportsLine Projection Model, which has been on fire this year. Check it out if you want to know which side to bet for every game in Week 18.
Houston (9-7) at Indianapolis (9-7)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)
If you’ve been reading my picks regularly all season, then you know there is no team I’m worse at picking than the Houston Texans. If the Texans are playing, there’s a 99% chance my pick is going to be wrong. My Texans picks are so bad that people literally wait for my pick to come out, just so they can pick the opposite of what I pick. These are smart people.
I’m so bad at picking Texans games that I don’t want even want to pick this week’s game. I just want to enjoy it without dealing with the embarrassment of knowing that I’m going to get my pick wrong.
To add even more spice to my pick that will probably be wrong, this is one of the biggest games of Week 18 and that’s because the winner will be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. On the other hand, the loser will see their season end.
This might be my favorite QB battle ever in a game with a playoff spot on the line. If you would have told me before the season that Gardner Minshew and C.J. Stroud would be facing each other in Week 18 with a playoff spot up for grabs, I would have called the police on you. That’s how crazy you would have sounded.
It feels like this game is going to come down to how well Gardner Minshew plays. He’ll be going up against a Texans defense that’s surrendered the seventh-most pass yards in the NFL this year. Minshew took advantage of that in Week 3 in a Colts win over the Texans where he completed 82.6% of his passes. That was actually the game where Anthony Richardson went down, which set the stage for Minshew to become the starter for the rest of the season. The Colts are 6-0 this season when Minshew doesn’t throw an interception, so if he can dice up the Texans’ secondary while playing smart football, then you have to like Indy’s chances.
As the new president of the Gardner Minshew fan club, I’m taking the Colts here, but this is a game involving the Texans, so there’s only a 4% chance that this pick will actually be right.
The pick: Colts 27-24 over Texans
Jacksonville (9-7) at Tennessee (5-11)
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Titans might become the most popular team in the NFL on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET and that’s because a lot of people are going to be rooting for them to pull off the upset in his game. If the Jaguars lose, that means the winner of the Texans-Colts game will win the AFC South. Also, if the Jaguars lose, that means the Steelers will punch their ticket to the postseason (assuming they beat the Ravens on Saturday).
Basically, this game could have a major impact on playoff seeding in the AFC. If the Jaguars win, they’ll clinch the No. 4 seed in the AFC and a date with the Browns in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The problem for the Titans here is that if you want to beat the Jaguars, you really need to be able to throw the ball. The Jags rank near the bottom of the NFL when it comes to stopping the pass, but the Titans aren’t exactly built to take advantage of that. The Titans are averaging just 182.2 passing yards per game, which ranks 28th in the league.
Of course, this is Week 18 and crazy things always seem to happen in Week 18. Every year, there always seems to be one crazy upset that no one saw coming. However, I don’t think we’re going to see that upset in this game.
The pick: Jaguars 23-16 over Titans
Tampa Bay (8-8) at Carolina (2-14)
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
First, let me start off here by saying that if you’re attending this game on Sunday and you’re sitting in front of David Tepper’s box, please be sure to wear a poncho.
If Bryce Young threw like that, the Panthers would be undefeated. Zing.
OK, now that I’ve got that public service announcement out of the way, let’s get to my pick.
The Panthers are easily the worst team in the NFL, so I’m not going to waste too much time here because I think we all know who I’m going to pick to win this game. The Buccaneers will clinch the NFC South title with a win and when you have a chance to clinch a division title, the Panthers are definitely the team you want to be playing.
That being said, if the Buccaneers somehow end up choking this game away, that means the winner of the Saints-Falcons game will win the NFC South, but unfortunately for those two teams, I don’t think Tampa Bay will be choking this game away.
The pick: Buccaneers 27-17 over Panthers
L.A. Rams (9-7) at San Francisco (12-4)
4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
No game has me more confused in Week 18 than this one.
The 49ers have already clinched the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which means they literally have nothing to play for in this game. I know that, you know that, and Kyle Shanahan knows that, which is why I could see them resting their starters. On the other hand, Shanahan is facing the same dilemma as John Harbaugh: If he rests his starters here, then they’ll go three weeks without playing and I can’t imagine that he likes that idea.
As for the Rams, they’ve already clinched a playoff spot, so this game only matters for seeding purposes. If they win, they’ll lock up the sixth seed, but if they lose, they could end up as the seventh seed, although there’s a chance that they could get the sixth seed anyway with a loss.
The Rams are one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL when they’re fully healthy and I think Sean McVay is going to want a fully healthy team heading into the playoffs, so I won’t be surprised if he sits some of his key starters against the 49ers.
As you can see, picking games in Week 18 is like playing drunken craps at 4 a.m. in Las Vegas: You think you know what you’re doing, but you don’t. I have no idea if the 49ers will be resting their starters and I have no idea if the Rams will be resting their starters, which means I have no idea who’s going to win.
I’m going to say the Rams mail this one in and the 49ers will coast to an easy win, even though they won’t have Christian McCaffrey on the field.
The pick: 49ers 24-17 over Rams
Chicago (7-9) at Green Bay (8-8)
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
For the second year in a row, all the Packers have to do to get into the playoffs is win their final game of the season, and let’s just say, everyone in Green Bay will be hoping that this year’s game goes much better than last year’s game.
Sorry I made you relive that memory, Packers fans, you didn’t deserve that.
That loss marked Aaron Rodgers’ final game in Green Bay, and now, his replacement (Jordan Love) will be trying to do what Rodgers couldn’t do last year: Get the Packers to the playoffs.
For the most part, whenever I see that Green Bay is playing Chicago, I just blindly pick the Packers, because the Bears always seem to fall flat on their face whenever they face their division rival. For instance, back in Week 1, the Bears turned the ball over twice, including a pick-six by Justin Fields and the Packers rolled to a 38-20 win.
The good news for Fields, though, is that he might not have to throw a single pass in this game. The Bears are one of the hottest teams in the NFL and they’ll be going into Green Bay with a rushing attack that averages 145.3 yards per game, which is the second-best in the NFL. And they’ll be going up against a Packers defense that has been horrible at stopping the run this season. The Packers are 0-4 this year when they surrender more than 155 rushing yards in a game and that’s a number that Bears can certainly hit.
The Packers have won nine straight games against the Bears and picking against Green Bay in this situation seems crazy, but you know what else seemed crazy, making a movie about a ninja from Beverly Hills and that one worked out just fine for everyone.
The pick: Bears 30-27 over Packers
Dallas (11-5) at Washington (4-12)
4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
After watching the Commanders play for the past eight weeks, I’ve noticed a few troubling things about them: They can’t win on the road, they can’t win at home, they can’t beat good teams, they can’t beat bad teams and everyone can score on them. They also have questionable coaching and a quarterback who’s been playing so badly that he got benched, but then got to start anyway because the quarterback he got benched for got injured in practice.
This will likely be Ron Rivera’s final game as the head coach in Washington and although I could see that becoming a motivating factor for his team this week, the more likely scenario is that the Commanders continue to struggle.
The Cowboys have the better offense, the better defense and they’ll clinch the NFC title with a win. I’ll take Dallas in a blowout.
The pick: Cowboys 38-20
Buffalo (10-6) at Miami (11-5)
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
The NFL is saving its best for last. The final regular-season game of the 2023 season will feature the Bills playing the Dolphins with the AFC East title on the line. There could also be some extra drama in this game if both the Jaguars and Steelers win in Week 18: If that happens, then the Bills will be in a situation where a win gives them the division title, but a loss LEAVES them OUT of the playoffs altogether.
I repeat: The Bills could be in a spot where a win gives them the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but a loss would drop them COMPLETELY out of the playoffs. On the Dolphins’ end, they don’t have to worry about getting left out, because they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. Going into this game, the Dolphins know they’ll get the two seed with a win or the sixth seed with a loss.
The thing about the Dolphins is that if they could have hand-picked their opponent for this game, I’m pretty sure the Bills would have been their last choice. The Dolphins are 1-10 in their past 11 games against the Bills and that’s mostly because they can’t figure how to slow down Josh Allen.
The Bills quarterback has thrown at least TWO touchdown passes in his past 12 games against the Dolphins, which is the longest streak by any QB against one team in NFL history. Back in Week 4, Allen threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-20 win over the Dolphins and I won’t be surprised if he doubles those numbers on Sunday night.
The Dolphins could go all-in to try and stop the pass, but that could actually make things worse considering the Bills are averaging 130.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks seventh in the NFL. The Dolphins have played three teams this season against teams that rank in the top-seven in rushing yards and not only have they gone 0-3 in those games, but they’ve been outscored by an average score of 45 to 18.6.
The Bills are one of the hottest teams in football, they haven’t lost in more than a month and there’s no team Josh Allen loves beating more than Miami. The Dolphins are banged up right now and they just lost Bradley Chubb to a torn ACL and I think what I’m trying to say here is that I don’t feel good about Miami’s chances this week.
The pick: Bills 34-24 over Dolphins
NFL Week 18 picks: All the rest
Bengals 20-17 over Browns
Lions 24-16 over Vikings
Patriots 16-13 over Jets
Saints 24-17 over Falcons
Raiders 24-16 over Broncos
Eagles 27-20 over Giants
Seahawks 29-22 over Cardinals
Chiefs 20-13 over Chargers
Best pick: Last week, I predicted that the Cowboys would pick up a dramatic win over the Lions and guess what happened? The Cowboys won a dramatic game over the Lions. Now, did I know that the officiating crew was going to cost the Lions the game? Of course I did. If you’ve been a fan of the Lions for more than five minutes, then you already know that every controversial call in every game they play in always goes against them. I would list all the bad calls that have ever gone against the Lions, but that would take 14 hours for me to write and nine hours for you to read and I’m just not sure that we have that kind of time to work with.
Worst pick: Going into Week 16, the Chiefs were 9-1 in their past 10 December home games and for some reason, I decided to pick against them. Not only did I decide to pick against them, but I thought someone named Jake Browning was going to be able to outduel Patrick Mahomes. That definitely did not happen. My New Year’s resolution for 2024 is to never pick against the Chiefs when they’re playing at home in December.
Finally, if you guys have ever wondered which teams I’m actually good at picking, here’s a quick look at my best and worst teams when it comes to picks this year.
Teams I’ve been the best at picking this year (Straight up): Panthers (14-2), Bills (13-3), Jets (13-3), Rams (13-3)
Longest active winning streak: Rams (Nine straight wins)
Teams I’ve been the worst at picking this year (Straight up): Texans (4-12), Titans (6-10), Steelers (7-9), Patriots (7-9)
Longest active losing streak: Buccaneers (Four straight losses)
Every other team is somewhere in the middle.
Straight up in Week 17: 11-5
SU overall: 155-101
Against the spread in Week 17: 7-9
ATS overall: 130-116-10
You can find John Breech on Facebook or Twitter and if he’s not doing one of those things, he’s probably watching Beverly Hills Ninja.