NFL Week 18 Picks: One Final Push at a Winning Record! Oh, and About These Unprecedented AFC Playoffs…

Can Joe Flacco, in what could be his final NFL start, lead the Jets to a road win over Miami and knock the Dolphins out of the playoff hunt?

What a wild Week 17 that nearly ended in tragedy. Starting with the obvious, the improvement of Damar Hamlin’s health is wonderful news, and although he still has a ways to go, I think we are all breathing a little bit of a sigh of relief. After Monday night’s highly-anticipated showdown was canceled, however, a giant football-related mess was left for the league to cleanup.

Today, a decision was made to modify the playoffs in case of a possible Bills-Chiefs or Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game. All solutions were basically bad, but given that the game could not be made up, my vote would be to let everything play out as is, no neutral sites, just one potential big asterisk if the Chiefs hosted — and won — the AFC title game.

Anyway, on to some picks. I am clinging to hope that I can finish over .500 despite a 3-5 week, needing at least a breakeven mark in Week 18 to achieve that goal. Without further ado, here are my selections for the final regular-season week of football:

Last week: 3-5

Season: 31-30-3 (50.8%)

Carolina at New Orleans (buying to -3 at -125)

The Saints have held five straight opponents under 20 points, and shouldn’t have any issues with Sam Darnold and Co. New Orleans should end its year on a four-game winning streak against a Panthers team that let a possible division title slip through its grasp last week. Pick: Saints.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-2.5)

And so it’s happening: the 2022 Steelers are the 2021 Raiders, rallying around the death of an icon to win their final three games in nailbiting fashion to earn an improbable postseason berth. Though Pittsburgh still needs help, I trust Mike Tomlin will get his winning season and Pittsburgh will earn a trip to Buffalo, where it lost 38-3 back in Week 5. Pick: Steelers.

Houston (buying to +3 at -130) at Indianapolis

The Texans just might blow the No. 1 pick, but the Colts are just that bad and shouldn’t be any more competent with Sam Ehlinger than the Texans looked last week in a blowout loss to Jacksonville. Give me the Texans to squeak out a win, giving them three on the year — all divisional road wins. Pick: Texans.

New York Jets at Miami (-3)

Joe Flacco vs. Skylar Thompson? (Face-palm). Here we go, with a playoff berth on the line for Miami. The Jets won the first meeting, 40-17, and both teams are in a total free-fall right now. So which team do I trust more to end its losing streak? Honestly, I’ll take the veteran Flacco here. Pick: Jets.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-4)

Meaningless game for Tampa Bay? Don’t be so sure. Something tells me Tom Brady doesn’t want a losing season on his ledger any more than Mike Tomlin does. And the Falcons barely squeaked by the Cardinals last week, so even a Bucs squad resting its players should still get a season-closing road win. Pick: Bucs.

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle (-6)

No one is rooting harder for the Rams than the Detroit Lions. Can LA (although not old friend Matthew Stafford) be their savior? I believe they can keep this close, because they almost won the first meeting with John Wolford under center. Baker Mayfield should play well enough to make Seattle sweat it out. Pick: Rams.

Detroit at Green Bay (-4.5)

Will this game mean anything for Detroit? The Lions have been white-hot since a 1-6 start, but so too have the Packers after falling to 4-8. The first meeting was 15-9, but this one should be higher-scoring with both Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers playing as well as they have all year. My hunch is that even if the Lions are eliminated, they will give the Packers a tussle the whole night as Green Bay tries to squeak into the postseason. Pick: Lions.

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