Week 18 is always one of the wildest weeks of the season with half the league already looking forward to next year while the other half fights for the postseason.
Navigating the final full slate of the season is always tricky – so, in this article, we’ll go game-by-game and break down which matchups are going to be played with both teams motivated for playoff seeding and which games may be tankfests.
I also spent a good amount of time scouring Google and Twitter to find contract-based incentives that players need to hit in the final week, and I will include all of that information at the bottom of the page.
Cap tip to my guys Tom Brolley and Joe Dolan for the help researching. This article will be updated all week.
Good luck grinding!
Week 18 Cheat Sheet
Chiefs at Raiders (Saturday)
The Chiefs are playing for the #1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye.
Meanwhile, HC Josh McDaniels is trying to prove that he is still the right coach for the Raiders future and he made a pretty good opening argument last week, nearly beating the 49ers with Jarrett Stidham under center. I expect the Raiders to play their starters.
Titans at Jaguars (Saturday)
This is the biggest game in Jacksonville since they beat Buffalo at home 10-3 in the Wild Card round in 2017.
The Jaguars can still get in the playoffs as the #7 Wild Card seed with a win and a lot of help (they’d need the Dolphins, Patriots, and Steelers to all lose) while the Titans can only make the postseason by winning the AFC South.
Jets at Dolphins
The Dolphins haven’t won since November, losers of five-straight to the 49ers, Chargers, Bills, Packers, and Patriots. All of those teams have already clinched the playoffs or are postseason hopefuls. Despite the losing streak, the Dolphins need to beat the Jets and then have the Patriots lose to the Bills to get in as the #7 seed.
The Jets were eliminated from playoff contention last week, and it remains to be seen in what capacity that HC Robert Saleh will play his starters. I am sure they’d love to spoil the Dolphins playoff hopes, though. It’ll be Joe Flacco under center on Sunday.
Browns at Steelers
The Steelers are in as the #7 seed with a win and then they’d need the Dolphins and Patriots to lose to get in. Pittsburgh, Miami, and New England all play in the early (1pm) window – setting up the drama.
The Browns are dead to the playoffs, but do they want to play spoilers? HC Kevin Stefanksi will likely want to try and build as much as they can with Deshaun Watson going into the offseason.
Texans at Colts
Houston has roughly an 80% chance for the #1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but a Week 18 win and a Bears loss would give Chicago #1 overall.
The Colts have tanked the last two weeks with Nick Foles in hopes of securing a top-5 pick and a chance at their QB of the future. Indianapolis currently has the rights to the 5th pick and can get to #3 overall if the Cardinals and Broncos both win (which is extremely unlikely).
Buccaneers at Falcons
The Buccaneers won the NFC South last week thanks in large part to Tom Brady and Mike Evans finally showing the chemistry we’ve known for three years. They’re locked into the #4 seed and will rest many starters on both sides of the ball, treating this week as a mini-bye.
The Falcons are 4-point favorites (as of Tuesday evening) as a result.
HC Arthur Smith wants to try and keep winning to keep his job – and he shouldn’t care that a loss would help Atlanta massively in the draft. They have no chance to get to #5 overall now after last week's win, and they could potentially slide out of the top-8 overall in the draft all together with another victory.
Panthers at Saints
Both teams are drawing dead for the playoffs.
Carolina currently has the #9 pick heading into the final week while New Orleans doesn't have a first-round pick. The Eagles own the Saints #10 overall pick from a pre-draft trade last April.
The Panthers are rumored to be in talks with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, and I’m sure owner Dave Tepper would love to have as early of a pick as possible to lure Harbaugh back to the NFL ranks. The Panthers can pick as early as #7 overall with an 11th loss.
Patriots at Bills
The Patriots can get in as the AFC #7 seed two ways – 1) beat the Bills or 2) both the Dolphins and Steelers lose.
Ravens at Bengals
The Ravens are currently the #6 seed, but they can’t fall any further down to the #7 seed. There is no need for them to rush Lamar Jackson (knee) back for the final week – so my guess is we see Lamar coming off of five weeks of rest in the Wild Card round.
Meanwhile, the Bengals can win the AFC North by defeating Baltimore. A victory could also mean that any potential “Week 19” make-up scenario of the Bengals-Bills Week 17 game could be meaningless for Cincinnati with the division already in hand. Unless Kansas City falls to Las Vegas on Sunday, another Chiefs win would eliminate any chance that the Bengals had for the #1 seed.
Vikings at Bears
After an embarrassing loss last week in Green Bay, the Vikings will want to try and wash that awful taste out of their mouths. The thing is, they don’t have a ton of motivation for the playoffs here. Minnesota is pretty much locked into #3 seed, and their only avenue to the #2 seed is with a win and 49ers loss to the Cardinals (San Francisco is favored by 14 points).
For what it’s worth, the markets are leaning towards the Vikings going all-out to win here. Minnesota opened as 2-point favorites, but have ballooned to -6 as of Tuesday evening.
If the Vikings do go all-out, this is the nuts matchup. Since Chicago traded DE Robert Quinn and LB Roquan Smith, the Bears have allowed a TD on 37% of their opponents’ possessions – which is by far the highest rate since Week 8. In this span, the Bears are dead last in EPA allowed per pass (0.31) and EPA allowed per run (0.09).
Chicago really needs another loss. They are currently picking #2 overall, but can get to #1 with a loss and a Texans win. If the Bears win, they could slide to #3 or #4 overall if the Broncos (Seahawks pick) and/or Cardinals lose.
Benching Justin Fields and starting Nathan Peterman in the final game will help the Bears tanking cause. This line moved from MIN -4 to -7.5 on the news.
Rams at Seahawks
As bittersweet as I’m sure it was to watch Stafford and the Rams run last year, Lions fans are pulling hard for the Rams to lose this weekend. Detroit currently owns the #6 pick, and they can still get to #5 with an LA loss.
Seattle’s path is clear. They are in as the #7 seed in the NFC with a win and a Packers loss on Sunday Night Football.
Giants at Eagles
The Giants are locked-in as the #6 seed, and they are most likely set to face the Vikings in Minneapolis on Wild Card weekend. This is what HC Brian Daboll said on Monday about potentially resting starters:
“Q: I’ll get right to it: What’s your plan for this week as far as playing starters?
Daboll: I’d say we’ll talk about it and do what’s best for the team. So, it’s early Monday. We’ll go out there and try to have a good week of practice, prepare like we normally do and decide what we want to do relative to who’s playing, who’s not playing. Whatever we think is best for our team, that’s what we’ll end up doing.”
If the Giants do rest some key starters – which seems likely based on the 14-point spread – it’s extremely lucky for the Eagles. Even after losing the last two weeks, the Eagles still control their own destiny. With a win, they are the #1 seed.
Cardinals at 49ers
The Cardinals have lost six-straight, and a 13th and final loss could “earn” them the #3 overall pick if the Broncos beat the Chargers.
The 49ers can get to the #1 seed with a win and Eagles loss to the Giants, which is unlikely – the Eagles are 14-point favorites – but still possible.
Regardless, I’d imagine HC Kyle Shanahan will want to keep the offense rolling with Brock Purdy needing as much experience as he can get heading into the postseason.
Shanahan made it clear that the team can still get the #1 seed on Monday…
“Q: How much, if at all, is the possibility of the one-seed discussed or is it something that is mentioned and then you kind of move forward from as you prepare and gameplan for Arizona?
Shanahan: I mentioned it after the game when I talked to the team in the locker room and I just told them that Minnesota lost and right now we control our own destiny with the two-seed and because Philly lost we have an opportunity for the one-seed and I say that because if you have neither of those, then I think there's more of discussion on this week, but with both of those up, that's why I said it first thing to the guys in the locker room, so they know what the deal is this week.”
Deebo Samuel (hamstring) practiced in full on Wednesday and might get 15-20 snaps to get back up to speed. Elijah Mitchell (knee) is getting healthier, too.
Chargers at Broncos
Winners of four-straight and 5 of their last 6, the Chargers are the #5 seed but can slide to #6 with a loss and Ravens win. HC Brandon Staley sure seemed like he wants to be the #5 seed and the Chargers will play starters, but be they will be smart about resting injured players:
Staley: “Our approach is definitely going to get shot to win this ballgame and play as well as we can play heading into the playoffs. I think that there’s certainly an advantage to be in the No. 5-seed [for re-seeding], from where I stand, so we’re going to try and get there. Then, the case-by-case nature of the players, I think that that is the approach that we’re going to take, in terms of whether or not to sit them. If there’s something that we feel like that would be a good decision, we’ll take that case-by-case. I think that going into the playoffs, you have to be playing football to get to where you want to go, so we’re going to try and maximize our group heading into the playoffs, for sure.”
In theory, the Chargers are motivated to win and grab the fifth seed since they’d get the AFC South winner in the Wild Card round.
However, the markets aren’t buying that the Chargers are full-go. This spread opened LA -3 but has flipped to DEN -3. I don’t expect to see Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, and many Charger starters on Sunday.
Cowboys at Commanders
The Cowboys can still win the NFC East and the #1 seed with an Eagles loss and a 49ers loss. I’m sure Cowboys czar Jerry Jones doesn’t care that both Philadelphia and San Francisco are both two TD favorites. Dak Prescott played in the fourth quarter last week despite the Cowboys being up two scores against the Titans.
Washington was eliminated from the playoffs with a loss last week, making it three-straight since their Week 14 bye. The Commanders got jobbed by the refs in Week 15 vs. the Giants, but blew their two chances to stay in the hunt with 14- and 17-point losses to the 49ers and Browns.
HC Ron Rivera is likely going to be fired, but maybe could earn another year by upsetting Dallas at home?
Washington is taking a look at Sam Howell regardless of any incoming coaching changes – Howell will start in Week 18. The spread moved in favor of Dallas on the announcement, the Cowboys were 5-point favorites on Tuesday but are favored by a TD as of Thursday morning.
Lions at Packers
This game decides the #7 seed. The Packers control their own destiny, which is insane to write after they were sitting at 4-8 just five weeks ago.
The Lions need to beat the Packers and ALSO need the Rams to upset the Seahawks to get in as the #7 seed. Seattle would move to 9-8 and own the tiebreaker over Detroit as the #7 seed by nature of their 48-43 Week 3 win.
Player performance-based records, milestones, and contract notes
Justin Fields needs 64 more rushing yards to break Lamar Jackson’s single-season record (1,206).
D’Onta Foreman (846), Ezekiel Elliott (866), Austin Ekeler (881), Tyler Allgeier (900), Ken Walker (936), Najee Harris (954), Rhamondre Stevenson (986), Tony Pollard (988), and Jamaal Williams (994) are all within distance of 1,000 rushing yards.
AJ Brown (1,401) and Davante Adams (1,443) are within 1,500 yards. Adams broke the Raiders all-time single-season yardage record last week.
Mike Williams (863), DJ Moore (878), Michael Pittman (895), JuJu Smith-Schuster (898), TJ Hockenson (898), Brandon Aiyuk (956), Ja’Marr Chase (960), Chris Godwin (968), Tyler Lockett (979), and Chris Olave (982) are all within distance of 1,000 receiving yards.
Adams (95), Pitttman (96), and Godwin (98) are all within range of 100 receptions.
Amari Cooper, George Kittle, and Ken Walker all need one more TD for double-digit scores on the season.
(Shoutout to Albert Breer for many of these.)
Zay Jones needs 2 receptions (for 80 total) and 98 yards (for 900 total) to unlock $750k in incentives.
Christian Kirk needs 2 receptions (for 80 total) to earn $500k in incentives.
JuJu Smith-Schuster needs 2 yards (for 900 total) to earn $500k.
Jamaal Williams needs 6 more rushing yards (for 1,000 total) to unlock $250k in incentives.
Gerald Everett needs 5 more receptions (for 60 total) to make an extra $250k.
Tyler Higbee needs 13 more yards (for 600 total) to make an extra $500k.
Isaiah McKenzie needs 46 more yards (for 450 total) to make an extra $100k.
Long shot – Deebo Samuel needs 152 more rushing yards to make an extra $500k.