18 weeks.  Where did the time go?  This season, like the last one, I have faded down the stretch.  I bring a 136-120 (53.1%) record into the last week which is below the 55% goal I set for myself.  The pick-5 contest has had the same trend, dropping to 47-38 (55%), which is below the 60% goal I set.  The NFL has proven again it’s a tough league to predict on a week-by-week, game-by-game basis.  Week 18 brings in a lot of additional unknowns, as you never know who sits and who plays, who cares and who doesn’t, amongst the contenders.  Let’s see if we can close with a double-digit win total.

STEELERS -3.5 @ Ravens.  Funky line #1.   The 13-3 Ravens just announced that QB Lamar Jackson will sit.  The Ravens have already locked up the #1 seed in the AFC and have nothing to play for.  On the other hand, the 9-7 Steelers have everything to play for.  A win, and they are in the playoffs.  The motivational factor is huge, and no matter which teams are playing, I will take the motivated team 9 times out of 10.

TEXANS -1.5 @ Colts.  Both teams are 9-7, and this game is most likely a win-you-re-in/lose-you-’re-out scenario.  The Texans have been a surprise all year, led by its rookie QB CJ Stroud.  You could also argue the Colts have over-achieved with backup QB extraordinaire Gardner Minshew. This game is a coin flip.  The Colts beat the Texans 31-20 way back in week 2 when Anthony Richardson started at QB and scored twice before being injured in the 2nd quarter.  For me, it boils down to the coaches.  There’s just something about Houston head coach DeMeco Ryans that has his players believe.

PATS -1.5 vs. Jets.  Dog game of the week?  Let’s not waste too much time on it.  The 6-10 Jets have locked up 3rd place in the AFC East, while the Pats have locked up a last-place finish in the division.  Both teams will finish the season playing a different QB than the one who started in Week 1.  The Pats won the last time these teams played in week 3, 15-10.  Who wins, or who cares for that matter, is anyone’s guess.

SAINTS -3.5 vs. Falcons.  These two teams I have yet to figure out and it’s certainly too late now.  I’ve picked against them all year, but now I have to choose one over the other.  Both teams need to win.  The 8-8 Saints have actually won 3 of their last 4. In contrast, Atlanta has lost 3 of its last 4.  I don’t care for QB Derrick Carr, but the Saints are playing better ball and have the better defense AND are playing at home.

TITANS +5.5 vs. Jags.  Well, this pick makes no sense and goes against my motivation factor logic.  The 5-11 Titans are dead in the water and have been for some time.  The 9-7 Jags have lost 4 of 5 yet are tied for first in the crowded AFC South division.  The Jags were expected to run away with this soft division, yet have struggled.  They did beat the Titans handily 34-14 in week 11 at home.  QB Trevor Lawrence is listed as ‘day-to-day’ and has been limited in practice.  Without knowing his status, it’s hard to pick this game, but I think it will be closer than the experts think.

LIONS -3.5 vs Vikings.  There are scenarios where the 11-5 Lions could grab the #2 seed in the NFC.  The 7-9 Vikings are just about out of lifelines and need a bunch of things to go right for them to make the playoffs.  The Lions have been great coming off a loss.  They are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of over 14 points.  The Vikings have QB issues.  I think Nick Mullens gets the start and he’s good for at least two turnovers.

BENGALS -7.5 vs. Browns.  Man, that’s a big spread.  But the Browns have announced they’re resting their starters for the playoffs.  It’s a meaningless game for them.  Jeff Driskel gets the start at QB. When teams do this, I just don’t think they care.  The 8-8 Bengals are already eliminated and also don’t have anything to play for but they’re playing starters.  I’ll take the starters over the second stringers.

BUCS -4.5 @ Panthers.  Whoever scores 10 points could win this game.  The 8-8 Bucs were rolling along, winning four in a row until their inexplicable meltdown last week in a loss to the Saints.  They need the game, and the 2-14 Panthers are focused on next year’s draft.  Tampa won the earlier match-up 21-18, and I think they get back on track.

49ERS -4.5 vs. Rams.  This is basically a meaningless game for both teams. The 9-7 Rams are starting Carson Wentz at QB.   The 49ers haven’t disclosed who is starting at QB but have already announced that MVP candidate Christian McCafferty is sitting.  Others may follow.  Plus, they’ve already locked up the #1 seed in the NFC. This one is definitely a coin flip.

GIANTS +5.5 vs. Eagles.  Just a few weeks ago, the Eagles were sailing along at 10-1 and looking like the sure-fire #1 seed in the NFC.  Since then, they’ve gone 1-4 and haven’t looked good in doing so.  The 5-11 G-Men have lost three in a row but have looked a lot better with QB Tyrod Taylor at the helm.  The Eagles won this game just two weeks ago, 33-25, which was a Giants cover.  The Eagles have clinched a playoff spot and could win the NFC East with a win and some help.  Still, there’s something amiss in Philly, and until they figure it out, I’m not backing them.

SEAHAWKS -2.5 @ Cards.  2 ½ points seems to be a small price to pay for a team that needs a win to have a shot at the playoffs against a lousy 4-12 team.  Seattle won the earlier match-up 20-10, but the Cards played without starting QB Kyler Murray.  I’m taking the motivated team here.

RAIDERS -2.5 vs. Broncos.  The 8-8 Broncos’ season went up in flames after a horrendous loss at home to the lowly Patriots in what may have been QB Russell Wilson’s last game with Denver.  The Broncos are a hot mess.  The 7-9 Raiders aren’t much better, but they do seem to play hard for interim head coach Antonio Pierce.  Maybe getting to .500 will be a motivating factor because, other than that, there is no motivation for either side. The Raiders won the season opener 17-16. The under would seem a good bet here.

CHARGERS -1.5 vs. Chiefs.  Like the Broncos, the Chargers are a mess.  At 5-11, they have to be one of the most disappointing teams in the league.  Even when starter Justin Herbert was playing, they did not look good.  They already got their head coach fired. But the AFC West-winning Chiefs have nothing to play for.  They’re resting starting QB Patrick Mahomes and probably a bunch more.  I’m sure the Chargers will find a way to lose, but I don’t think the Chiefs care at all about this game.

BEARS +3.5 @ Packers.  Can the 7-9 Bears play spoiler to the 8-8 Packers, who desperately need to win to have a shot at the playoffs?  Ask Aaron Rodgers.  The Packers own the Bears.  In week 1, the Pack dominated the game 38-20.  Green Bay has won its last two games, and QB Jordan Love has looked good in doing so.  The Bears, believe it or not, have won 4 of 5 behind a hot Justin Fields at QB.  The Packers certainly have the motivation on their side, but I think the Bears will put up a good fight and keep it close.

COWBOYS -13.5 @ Commanders.  Somewhere way back early in the season, I had enough of Commander coach Ron Rivera and have picked against him ever since.  A huge double-digit underdog at home is normally a really good bet.  But I just can’t do it.  A win gives the 11-5 Cowboys the NFC East title.  I think they want to put it all together and have momentum going into the playoffs.  They blasted Washington 45-10 in the last meeting.  I see more of the same.

BILLS -3.5 @ Fins.  Prior to last week’s 56-19 slaughter and a rash of injuries, the look-ahead line for this game was Fins -3.  As it stands today, the Bills are favored by 3.5 points.  I boil this game down to two points.  1) The incentives are rashly different.  The Fins are already in the playoffs, win or lose.  Barring a lot of help from a bunch of teams, the Bills are out if they lose.  Another motivational factor advantage for this game.  2) The Fins are banged up at key positions on the defensive side.  When Miami does not have either Xavien Howard or Jalen Ramsey on the field, they are an average at best defense just as they were prior to Jalen Ramsey playing his first game.  That ugly defense reared its ugly head as soon as Howard was carted off the field in the first quarter last week.  That is the defense the Bills saw and shredded the last time the two teams played.  Eli Apple cannot cover.  It’s that simple.  I think the Fins struggle in the finale.  Bills 27-17.


BENGALS -5.5 @ Browns

SEAHAWKS -2.5 @ Cards

LIONS -3.5 vs. Vikings

SAINTS -3.5 vs. Falcons

BILLS -2.5 @ Fins