What to know for NFL Week 18: Score picks, bold predictions, playoff implications, key stats and more

The Week 18 NFL schedule for the 2021 season is stacked with great matchups, and we got you covered with what you need to know heading into the weekend. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys to every game, a bold prediction for each matchup and, of course, final score picks.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know, playoff picture and/or draft position implications and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for a loaded weekend of NFL football.

Let’s get into the full Week 18 slate, including two Saturday games on ESPN/ABC, an AFC North showdown between two teams trying to stay alive in the playoff hunt, a matchup between the playoff-seeking 49ers and the division title-seeking Rams, and a win-and-in AFC West meeting between the Chargers and Raiders on Sunday night. (Game times are Sunday unless otherwise noted.)

Chiefs (11-5) at Broncos (7-9)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET | ESPN/ABC
Matchup rating:
72.1 | Spread: KC -11.5 (45)

What to watch for: How much do these Broncos have left to give? The Chiefs’ current win streak against Denver stands at 12, the Broncos have been eliminated from the postseason for the sixth consecutive year, the Chiefs need a win to keep their playoff bye hopes alive and significant change is coming to the Broncos’ roster in the coming weeks. Denver’s character will be tested, and it could really use a big offensive day. — Jeff Legwold

Bold prediction: Broncos quarterback Drew Lock will not exceed his career QBR of 24.7 against the Chiefs. He has not played well in his three career games against Kansas City, with two touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion percentage of 52.8%. That won’t improve significantly against a Chiefs pass defense determined to play better than it did last week against Joe Burrow and the Bengals. — Adam Teicher

Stat to know: Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill has 59 combined receiving yards over his past two games, his second fewest in a two-game span over the past five seasons. But Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce has three touchdown catches over that span. His career high for a three-game span is four.

Playoff and draft implications: The Chiefs have already won the AFC West, and the Broncos have already been eliminated from the playoffs. But Kansas City can secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win on Saturday and a Titans loss on Sunday. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Chiefs | Broncos

Betting nugget: Kansas City has covered six of its past seven games, and it is is 9-2 against the spread (ATS) against Denver since 2016. Read more.

Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 27, Broncos 13
Legwold’s pick: Chiefs 28, Broncos 16
FPI prediction: KC, 64.8% (by an average of 5.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Chiefs motivated to rebound from loss with No. 1 seed still possible … What are the Broncos’ quarterback options this offseason? … How much of the Broncos’ top-10 defense will GM Paton keep together?

Cowboys (11-5) at Eagles (9-7)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN/ABC
Matchup rating:
75.3 | Spread: DAL -4.5 (43.5)

What to watch for: Both teams have secured playoff spots, and neither is guaranteed to improve its seeding with a win. So how will they handle this matchup? Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said the plan is to play his starters, though several key players are on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including linebacker Micah Parsons and left tackle Tyron Smith. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni has been noncommittal about his approach, but with a host of starters on the reserve/COVID-19 list, quarterback Jalen Hurts still dealing with a high ankle sprain and several veterans in need of rest, Philadelphia might lean conservative here. — Tim McManus

Bold prediction: Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will reach 1,000 rushing yards for the season. He needs 85 to get there, but he has gone 11 games without rushing for at least 69 yards. Zeke will not have Smith blocking for him at tackle, but it’s worth pointing out that he had 95 yards rushing against the Eagles in the first meeting of the year. In his career, Elliott has 884 rushing yards against Philadelphia. — Todd Archer

Stat to know: Dallas has 33 takeaways this season — tied with the Colts for the most in the NFL — but hasn’t finished with more than 33 since 1987 (43). Cornerback Trevon Diggs is a big part of the turnover success this season with a league-leading 11 interceptions. He would be the first Cowboys player to lead the NFL in picks since Everson Walls did it in 1985, and no NFL player has had at least 12 interceptions in a season since Lester Hayes had 13 in 1980.

Playoff and draft implications: Both teams are in playoff spots, and the Cowboys already won the NFC East. And neither can earn the conference’s No. 1 seed. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Cowboys | Eagles

Betting nugget: Philadelphia is 1-5 ATS against teams with winning records this season (0-6 outright). Read more.

Archer’s pick: Cowboys 20, Eagles 17
McManus’ pick: Cowboys 28, Eagles 20
FPI prediction: DAL, 56.5% (by an average of 2.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Parsons’ status iffy as Cowboys star on COVID list … Goedert, Cox among 12 Eagles on COVID list … Loss to Cardinals raises questions on whether Cowboys can handle playoff atmosphere … With Eagles playoff-bound, here’s what you need to know, including Week 18 strategy


Bengals (10-6) at Browns (7-9)

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
40.2 | Spread: CLE -6 (38)

What to watch for: How much will either team care about this game? The Bengals have already clinched the AFC North and could look to rest key players for the playoffs, while the Browns seem past ready for this nightmare season to be over. Neither starting quarterback — Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield — will be under center. — Jake Trotter

Bold prediction: Bengals running back Samaje Perine will rush for 100 yards. The Bengals backup should see plenty of carries in Joe Mixon’s absence, and Perine has been effective in longer spells during his time in Cincinnati. — Ben Baby

Stat to know: Cincinnati receiver Ja’Marr Chase has 1,429 receiving yards this season, and he needs 12 more yards to break the Bengals’ single-season record and 44 more yards to break the all-time rookie record.

Playoff and draft implications: The Browns are eliminated from the playoffs, and the Bengals already secured the AFC North, their first division title since 2015. But Cincinnati can also win the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win and either (A) losses by Tennessee, New England and Kansas City, or (B) losses by Tennessee and Kansas City and a Buffalo win. ESPN’s FPI gives the Bengals a 4% chance. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Bengals | Browns

Betting nugget: Five of Cleveland’s past six games have gone under the total. Read more.

Baby’s pick: Bengals 20, Browns 13
Trotter’s pick: Bengals 27, Browns 10
FPI prediction: CLE, 54.3% (by an average of 1.5 points)

Matchup must-reads: Bengals’ Mixon tests positive for COVID-19, won’t play in NFL regular-season finale, sources say … Mayfield to have shoulder surgery Jan. 19, won’t play Sunday … Burrow living up to ‘winner’ reputation as Bengals secure AFC North crown

Packers (13-3) at Lions (2-13-1)

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
48.0 | Spread: GB -3.5 (44.5)

What to watch for: It has been a tough season in the Motor City, but receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a bright spot. With 803 receiving yards, he needs just 15 more to pass Roy Williams (817) for the most by a Lions rookie. It’s unclear whether Jared Goff or Tim Boyle will be the starting QB for the Lions, but they’d both be targeting him early and often. St. Brown has five straight games with at least eight receptions, which is the longest streak for a rookie receiver in the Super Bowl era. He is also one of four rookies with at least 70 receptions this season, joining Miami’s Jaylen Waddle, Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase and Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris, making it the first season that four or more rookies have reached that mark. — Eric Woodyard

Bold prediction: Packers backup quarterback Jordan Love will relieve Aaron Rodgers at some point and lead multiple scoring drives, giving the Packers more hope for his future than they had after his first start (earlier this season against Kansas City). The Packers have won five consecutive games against the Lions, but quarterbacks not named Aaron Rodgers are 1-3 against them since 2008. — Rob Demovsky

Stat to know: Green Bay receiver Davante Adams has eight games with 100-plus receiving yards this season, the most by a Packer since Robert Brooks in 1995 (nine). And at 1,498 receiving yards this season, he is 22 shy of breaking Jordy Nelson’s franchise record for the most in a single season (1,519 in 2014).

Playoff and draft implications: The Packers clinched everything they could, securing a playoff spot, the NFC North and the NFC’s No. seed. The Lions, meanwhile, have a chance to reclaim the No. 1 draft spot. They need a loss and a Jaguars win, which ESPN’s FPI is giving a 17% chance of occurring. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Packers | Lions

Betting nugget: Green Bay is 12-4 ATS this season, tied with Dallas for the best mark in the NFL. Read more.

Demovsky’s pick: Packers 27, Lions 16
Woodyard’s pick: Packers 24, Lions 20
FPI prediction: GB, 79.6% (by an average of 11.0 points)

Matchup must-reads: Rodgers sounds off after reporter calls him ‘the biggest jerk in the league’ … Meet ‘Gridiron’ Spight, the voice behind every Lions touchdown at Ford Field … Could the Lions still get the top draft pick?

Steelers (8-7-1) at Ravens (8-8)

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
44.5 | Spread: BAL -6 (41.5)

What to watch for: Will Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt set the NFL sack record? Watt has 21.5 sacks this season, putting him 1.5 away from breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season mark. Ravens right tackle Patrick Mekari has allowed 11 sacks this season, tied for the sixth most in the NFL. And five weeks ago, Watt had a monster game against the Ravens, recording 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and one forced fumble in addition to disrupting Baltimore’s potential game-winning 2-point conversion. — Jamison Hensley

Bold prediction: Steelers running back Najee Harris will have at least 100 rushing yards for the fourth time this season. The Ravens have the league’s best run defense, but Harris is only getting stronger as the season goes on. He had 71 rushing yards against the Ravens three weeks ago, and he’s coming off 188 rushing yards against the Browns. The offensive line looked better with J.C. Hassenauer at center and Chris Morgan in charge of the room, and the Steelers will build on last week’s performance with another big one to send quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out with a final win. — Brooke Pryor

Stat to know: This is the 31st career meeting between John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin (including playoffs), which is the second most between head coaches in NFL history (George Halas and Curly Lambeau had 49).

Playoff and draft implications: Neither team secures a playoff berth with a win, but both need one to have a chance of getting in. The Ravens also need losses by the Colts, Chargers and Dolphins, while the Steelers would also need a Colts loss and for the Chargers-Raiders game to not end in a tie. Per ESPN’s FPI, Pittsburgh has an 8% chance of getting into the playoffs, while Baltimore is at 3% — after sitting at 95% through six weeks of the season. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Steelers | Ravens

Betting nugget: Week 18 would be Roethlisberger’s 29th career start (30th career game) against the Ravens, including the playoffs. Despite his 18-10 record against them, the Ravens have actually outscored the Steelers by just 3 points in Roethlisberger’s starts. No QB has won more against an opponent in the Super Bowl era with that bad of a point differential. Read more.

Pryor’s pick: Steelers 21, Ravens 14
Hensley’s pick: Steelers 24, Ravens 16
FPI prediction: BAL, 58.5% (by an average of 2.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Roethlisberger prepares for Baltimore after ‘surreal’ Heinz Field finale … Jackson misses third straight game with ankle injury … Steelers place WR Johnson, C Green on reserve/COVID-19 list

Bears (6-10) at Vikings (7-9)

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
39.3 | Spread: MIN -5.5 (44.5)

What to watch for: Will Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Bears coach Matt Nagy and their respective staffs be employed come Monday? Both head coaches are on the hot seat and probably can’t save themselves in this final game. Zimmer, however, is one win away from being able to boast 9.1 wins per season in his eight years as a head coach and use it as a selling point with potential future employers. Minnesota is expected to return quarterback Kirk Cousins from COVID-19, but Chicago is expected to be without QB Justin Fields after the rookie was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list. — Courtney Cronin

Bold prediction: Bears edge rusher Robert Quinn will have at least one sack and become the first player in league history to accumulate 19 or more sacks in a single season with two different teams. Quinn already earned 19 sacks with the Rams in 2013, and though Minnesota doesn’t give up many, the 31-year-old can singularly focus on rushing the quarterback in a meaningless game. And with a sack on Sunday, it’ll be his ninth straight game with at least one, tied for the fourth-longest streak of any player since 1982. — Jesse Rogers

Stat to know: Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson is five receptions shy of tying Michael Thomas for the most by a player in his first two seasons. He already surpassed Odell Beckham Jr. for the most yards by a player in his first two years.

Playoff and draft implications: Both teams are eliminated, and the Bears don’t have a first-round draft pick. Minnesota is projected to pick 12th at the moment with a 21% chance to move into the top 10, per ESPN’s FPI. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Bears | Vikings

Betting nugget: Chicago is 3-9 ATS as an underdog this season. Read more.

Rogers’ pick: Vikings 20, Bears 17
Cronin’s pick: Vikings 24, Bears 20
FPI prediction: MIN, 67.5% (by an average of 6.0 points)

Matchup must-reads: Bears put QB Fields on reserve/COVID-19 list … Vikings QB Cousins will start in finale after being activated from COVID-19 list

Colts (9-7) at Jaguars (2-14)

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
32.7 | Spread: IND -15.5 (44)

What to watch for: The Jaguars have won six in a row at home over the visiting Colts (which includes a game in London) and nearly beat them in Indianapolis earlier in the season. Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 116 yards and a touchdown in that game, and the Jaguars are giving up 127.1 yards per game on the ground this season — and they have allowed 454 rushing yards combined in the past two weeks. Expect a heavy dose of Taylor, especially if the Colts have a 10-plus-point lead in the second half. — Mike DiRocco

Bold prediction: Taylor will rush for at least 266 yards to become the ninth running back in NFL history to top 2,000 rushing yards in a season. Yes, 266 is a lot for a single game, but remember, we’re talking about the woeful Jaguars, who are giving up the ninth-most yards per game on the ground this season. Taylor rushed for 253 yards against them in the season finale in 2020, too. So what’s an additional 13 yards for Taylor on Sunday if he can join the likes Derrick Henry and Adrian Peterson in the 2,000-yard club? — Mike Wells

Stat to know: Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence has not had more passing TDs than turnovers in any game this season. No QB has started every game in a season and had zero games with more passing touchdowns than turnovers since at least 1978. And Lawrence’s 15 starts with one or fewer passing TDs (all consecutively) are tied for the most in a season (1995 Trent Dilfer, 1993 Rick Mirer and 1991 Ken O’Brien).

Playoff and draft implications: The Colts have an 81% chance of making the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI. If they win, they are in. If they lose, they also need a Steelers loss, a Chargers loss and a Dolphins win. On the other side of the aisle, the Jaguars are looking to secure the No. 1 draft pick for April. They can do it with a loss or a Lions loss/tie. ESPN’s FPI has it at 83% for Jacksonville. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Colts | Jaguars

Betting nugget: Indianapolis is 6-1 ATS on the road this season, and Jacksonville is 4-12 ATS this season, worst in the NFL. But Jacksonville is 11-1-1 ATS against Indianapolis since 2015. Read more.

Wells’ pick: Colts 31, Jaguars 10
DiRocco’s pick: Colts 34, Jaguars 11
FPI prediction: IND, 79.0% (by an average of 10.7 points)

Matchup must-reads: Colts’ playoff hopes ride on snapping road losing streak to Jaguars … Lawrence reacts to Jaguars fans clowning owner Khan with #Khlownout … Lawrence fighting opponents and his own organization every week … Will the Jaguars clinch the top pick — and whom could they draft?

Titans (11-5) at Texans (4-12)

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
27.1 | Spread: TEN -10.5 (43)

What to watch for: Even though the Titans aren’t expecting running back Derrick Henry to return until the playoffs, Tennessee could still run all over the Texans. Houston ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (143.3) and has allowed 150 or more nine times this season, which is three more times than any other team and tied for the most by any team over the past 10 seasons. Henry remains the Titans’ leading rusher by 440 yards despite playing in just eight games this season. — Sarah Barshop

Bold prediction: Titans running back D’Onta Foreman will have his fourth 100-yard rushing performance over the past six games, this time coming against his former team. He had only 25 rushing yards the last time these two teams played, but the Texans have the worst run defense in the league, and Foreman just rushed for a career-high 132 yards last week. He’ll top that number in the season finale, helping the Titans clinch the top seed in the AFC. — Turron Davenport

Stat to know: Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs 53 passing yards to reach 3,500 for a second consecutive season. The only player in Titans/Oilers history with at least that many in consecutive seasons is Warren Moon (three straight from 1989 to 1991).

Playoff and draft implications: The Titans are the AFC South champions, but they have yet to lock up the conference’s top seed and a playoff bye. They can do it with (A) a win, (B) losses from the Chiefs, Bengals and Patriots, or (C) losses by the Chiefs and Bengals, and a Bills win. ESPN’s FPI gives it a 79% chance. And the Texans are currently projected to pick at No. 3 in the draft, but they are eliminated from the No. 1 pick race. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Titans | Texans

Betting nugget: Tennessee games have gone under the total in four straight games. Read more.

Davenport’s pick: Titans 28, Texans 7
Barshop’s pick: Titans 35, Texans 10
FPI prediction: TEN, 74.3% (by an average of 8.6 points)

Matchup must-reads: Titans RB Henry practices Wednesday … RB Foreman doing his part as Titans on brink of clinching AFC’s top seed

Washington (6-10) at Giants (4-12)

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
12.5 | Spread: WSH -7 (37.5)

What to watch for: Can the Giants muster any offense and make this competitive to potentially save coach Joe Judge’s job? It has been that ugly. Quarterback Jake Fromm is starting for the second time in his career and had 25 yards before being pulled two weeks ago. And the Giants — with Mike Glennon starting — did worse last week in Chicago with minus-10 yards passing. They better produce something against a Washington defense allowing 265.6 yards per game through the air, third worst in the NFL. — Jordan Raanan

Bold prediction: Washington receiver Terry McLaurin will surpass 100 yards and catch a touchdown pass. New York has done a decent job against opposing wideouts, and McLaurin has not been tearing it up, mainly due to quarterback play and inconsistent weapons around him. In fact, in Weeks 8 through 17, he was targeted just 54 times and had 33 catches. He surpassed 61 yards once during that stretch. But he caught 11 passes for 107 yards against the Giants in Week 2, and in four games against them, he has caught a combined 32 passes for 382 yards — with two 100-yard games. He will finish strong. — John Keim

Stat to know: The Giants’ minus-10 team passing yards last week against Chicago were the worst by a team since the 1998 Chargers. And they have gone eight straight games with fewer than 200 passing yards, the team’s longest streak since 2004-05 (12 straight).

Playoff and draft implications: Both teams are eliminated from the playoffs. The Giants are projected to pick at Nos. 5 and 8 in the draft, while Washington is projected to have the 10th pick (ESPN’s FPI). See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Washington | Giants

Betting nugget: New York is 0-5 ATS since starting quarterback Daniel Jones got hurt. Read more.

Keim’s pick: Washington 21, Giants 10
Raanan’s pick: Washington 18, Giants 13
FPI prediction: WSH, 57.5% (by an average of 2.5 points)

Matchup must-reads: Depleted Washington eliminated from NFL playoffs by latest tough loss but sees bright future … Giants’ Judge won’t ‘hide’ from critics amid slump

49ers (9-7) at Rams (12-4)

4:25 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
76.9 | Spread: LAR -4.5 (44.5)

What to watch for: The stakes don’t get much higher in a regular-season finale than what the Rams and 49ers are facing Sunday. A victory for the Rams would earn them a third division title in five seasons under coach Sean McVay and the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The 49ers, meanwhile, can clinch a playoff berth with a win, providing extra incentive to beat their division rival for a sixth straight time. Also keep an eye on Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, who is on track to earn the NFL’s triple crown, leading the league in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. — Lindsey Thiry

Bold prediction: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — injured thumb and all — not only starts but also plays well enough to lead the Niners back to the playoffs with a win. He is 5-0 in his career against the Rams and had his highest Total QBR of the season in the first meeting between these teams. Garoppolo and the Niners have played better when their backs are against the wall this season, and it gets no more important than a game with your season on the line. — Nick Wagoner

Stat to know: Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has 98 career sacks and is seeking to become the sixth-youngest player to reach 100. Only Jared Allen, Reggie White, DeMarcus Ware, Bruce Smith and Von Miller reached the milestone at a younger age.

Playoff and draft implications: The Rams have a playoff berth all locked up, but they need to win or have the Cardinals lose to win the NFC West. ESPN’s FPI says they have a 77% chance. And the 49ers need to either win or have the Saints lose to secure a spot in the playoffs (60% chance). See current playoff picture.

Injuries: 49ers | Rams

Betting nugget: Niners coach Kyle Shanahan is 24-17 ATS as an underdog, including 11-4 ATS as an underdog since 2019. Read more.

Wagoner’s pick: 49ers 24, Rams 20
Thiry’s pick: Rams 28, 49ers 21
FPI prediction: LAR, 64.4% (by an average of 4.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: How Lance has honed his game behind the scenes … Rams’ Akers given green light to return vs. 49ers … Garoppolo (thumb) returns to practice … Stafford, Rams overcome turnovers and mistakes but must play cleaner

Seahawks (6-10) at Cardinals (11-5)

4:25 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
71.7 | Spread: ARI -6.5 (48)

What to watch for: The Cardinals need to show that they can win at home after losing their past four there. The Seahawks won’t be a rollover despite their disappointing season, and this game will set a tone for the Cardinals heading into the playoffs. There’s more on the line for Arizona than a potential NFC West crown. — Josh Weinfuss

Bold prediction: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson will toss three touchdown passes with no turnovers in what might be his last game as a Seahawk — and last chance to show prospective suitors that he’s over the accuracy issues that marred his midseason return from finger surgery. He was in his second game back when he put up a clunker of a performance in the Seahawks’ loss to Arizona in Week 11. He also didn’t have help from the running game that Seattle now has, which is thanks to Rashaad Penny’s recent surge. — Brady Henderson

Stat to know: Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray is one of five players in NFL history with 3,500 passing yards in each of his first three seasons (Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning). And with 12 rushing yards, he could also become the fifth QB to have 400 rushing yards in each of his first three seasons (Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton).

Playoff and draft implications: The Cardinals have a playoff spot, but they can also win the NFC West with a win and Rams loss. ESPN’s FPI gives them a 23% chance. And Seattle is eliminated from the playoffs and without a first-round draft pick. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Seahawks | Cardinals

Betting nugget: Seattle’s games are 9-2-1 to the under in its past 12 contests, and its road games are 6-1-1 to the under this season. Read more.

Henderson’s pick: Cardinals 27, Seahawks 26
Weinfuss’ pick: Cardinals 24, Seahawks 21
FPI prediction: ARI, 64.8% (by an average of 5.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Penny might be running into Seahawks’ 2022 plans … Murray among the 360 current players wearing custom thigh pads … Wagner: ‘Lot of optimism’ I’ll stay with Seahawks

Patriots (10-6) at Dolphins (8-8)

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
68.5 | Spread: NE -6.5 (40)

What to watch for: Miami and New England are the top two defenses in the NFL over the past two months in terms of expected points added, yards allowed per game, points allowed per game and third-down percentage. The one area where Miami has its opponent this week beaten by a wide margin is sacks per dropback, though. The Dolphins (11.2%) rank first, while the Patriots (6.4%) rank 13th. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Bold prediction: Patriots rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore is finally going to do something he always wanted to in college at Alabama but never could: sack Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, his former college teammate. The Patriots second-round pick has been creating disruption as an interior pass-rusher and has grown considerably from the season opener against Miami when he played 26 snaps and registered just one assisted tackle. Barmore’s interior pressure will be critical in the Patriots’ potential push in the playoffs. — Mike Reiss

Stat to know: New England quarterback Mac Jones has completed 67.6% of his passes this season, which is the second-highest rate in Patriots history (min. 200 attempts), trailing only 2007 Tom Brady (68.9%). He also could pass Dak Prescott (67.8% in 2016) for the best completion percentage by a rookie in NFL history.

Playoff and draft implications: The Dolphins were eliminated from the playoffs last week, and their only first-round pick is the Niners’ selection, which projects to be in the second half of Round 1. The Patriots are in the playoffs, but they can still win the AFC East. They need a win and a Bills loss, which ESPN’s FPI is giving a 5% chance. And despite currently sitting in the AFC’s fifth seed, they could still get to No. 1. First they need to win the division with a win and Bills loss, and then they need losses by the Titans and Chiefs — which ESPN’s FPI is giving only a 1% chance. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Patriots | Dolphins

Betting nugget: Miami has won five straight home games, going 4-1 ATS. Read more.

Reiss’ pick: Patriots 23, Dolphins 16
Louis-Jacques’ pick: Patriots 24, Dolphins 13
FPI prediction: NE, 66.5% (by an average of 5.7 points)

Matchup must-reads: Patriots rookie running back Stevenson hits stride at perfect time … Deflating loss shines light on Tagovailoa, state of Dolphins’ offense

Panthers (5-11) at Buccaneers (12-4)

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
55.2 | Spread: TB -8.5 (41.5)

What to watch for: The Buccaneers have to clean up their run defense after a lackluster performance last week and tune out the noise of the Antonio Brown saga, which now has lawyers involved and allegations of mistreatment. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said Thursday, “Our team is great. Our team knows the truth. They know what happened. Our guys are fine. They’re ready for Carolina.” — Jenna Laine

Bold prediction: The Panthers, who didn’t sack Bucs quarterback Tom Brady at all two weeks ago in a 32-6 loss, will sack him five times. And three of those will come from edge rusher Brian Burns, who will pass Haason Reddick for the team lead and win the decked-out golf cart the two wagered on the most sacks this season. — David Newton

Stat to know: Brady needs 120 passing yards to break the Buccaneers’ record (5,109, set in 2019 by Jameis Winston) and 246 passing yards to set his career high (5,235 in 2011). He also needs one more passing TD to break the Bucs’ single-season record (40, set by Brady last season).

Playoff and draft implications: The Buccaneers already won the NFC South and can’t earn the No. 1 seed. And the Panthers are eliminated and are currently looking at the No. 6 draft pick, per ESPN’s FPI projections. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Panthers | Buccaneers

Betting nugget: Tampa Bay is 5-1 ATS in its past six home games, and Carolina is 1-5 ATS against teams with winning records this year. Read more.

Newton’s pick: Buccaneers 17, Panthers 10
Laine’s pick: Buccaneers 32, Panthers 17
FPI prediction: TB, 85.0% (by an average of 13.7 points)

Matchup must-reads: O-line making it tough for Panthers to evaluate Darnold, QB position … Without Brown, whom do Brady and the Buccaneers turn to next? … Brown releases lengthy statement, tells his side of story days after leaving Buccaneers game

Jets (4-12) at Bills (10-6)

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
49.9 | Spread: BUF -16 (41)

What to watch for: How will Jets quarterback Zach Wilson’s first exposure to the Bills’ defense go? The rookie was injured when these two teams met earlier this season, and he’ll face a tough challenge in the league’s top overall defense and No. 1 pass defense. The Bills have allowed just 11 passing touchdowns and forced 19 interceptions. Wilson hasn’t thrown a passing touchdown in more than half of his starts this year. It is set up to be a long day for the Jets’ offense, especially with the AFC East on the line for Buffalo. — Alaina Getzenberg

Bold prediction: The Jets will rush for at least 150 yards. Their running game has perked up (423 yards in the past two games), and the Bills are having problems in this area. Since Week 11, Buffalo is 30th in rush defense, having yielded 152 yards per game. It’s something that could bite the Bills in the postseason. — Rich Cimini

Stat to know: Bills quarterback Josh Allen needs two rushing touchdowns to tie Cam Newton for the most by a QB in his first four seasons. He has five career games with multiple rushing TDs, including last week against the Falcons.

Playoff and draft implications: The Bills are in the playoffs, but they need a win or a Patriots loss to clinch the AFC East. ESPN’s FPI think it’s probable (95%). Buffalo can’t reach the AFC’s top seed, though. The Jets are currently projected to pick at Nos. 4 and 7 in the draft. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Jets | Bills

Betting nugget: New York is 0-11 outright in division games over the past two seasons, going 3-8 ATS. Read more.

Cimini’s pick: Bills 31, Jets 20
Getzenberg’s pick: Bills 34, Jets 13
FPI prediction: BUF, 92.3% (by an average of 18.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Jets’ Saleh takes blame for 4th-down call mix-up … How the Bills expect to reach playoffs, vie for AFC dominance for years to come … Wilson needs more weapons, with Mims’ future up in air … Bills prove they don’t have to always rely on Allen’s arm to win

Saints (8-8) at Falcons (7-9)

4:25 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
33.1 | Spread: NO -4.5 (39.5)

What to watch for: Atlanta can sweep its biggest rival and go into the offseason with momentum in coach Arthur Smith’s first year. But New Orleans needs a win to have a chance to go to the playoffs. The availability of Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (hamstring), who is 58 yards shy of tying Mike Ditka’s 60-year-old mark for rookie tight end receiving yards, could be the key. — Michael Rothstein

Bold prediction: Saints defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport will each sack Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan twice. Jordan has 7.5 sacks over the past three weeks and has sacked Ryan 22 times in their careers (the most of any one player against any one QB in NFL history). New Orleans’ defense will continue to set the tone as it has throughout most of this season. — Mike Triplett

Stat to know: Saints running back Alvin Kamara has 255 touches this season, 20 shy of matching his career high — despite missing four games. But he needs 156 scrimmage yards to avoid posting a career low in that department.

Playoff and draft implications: New Orleans needs a win and a 49ers loss to get into the playoffs, which ESPN’s FPI is giving a 40% chance of happening. Atlanta is eliminated from the playoffs and is projected to have the No. 9 pick in the draft. It holds a 67% chance to stay in the top 10. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Saints | Falcons

Betting nugget: Saints quarterback Taysom Hill is 6-2 ATS in his career as a starter, with the under going 7-1 in those eight starts. Read more.

Triplett’s pick: Saints 22, Falcons 16
Rothstein’s pick: Falcons 20, Saints 17
FPI prediction: NO, 62.2% (by an average of 4.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: ‘Pissed off’ Saints defense extends postseason hopes again … Despite missing the playoffs, the Falcons and Coach Smith have something to build on … Why 8-8 ranks among top achievements for Payton, Saints coaches

Chargers (9-7) at Raiders (9-7)

8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
48.6 | Spread: LAC -3 (49.5)

What to watch for: Keep an eye on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr vs. Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa. The last time the Raiders and Chargers hooked up, way back in Week 4, Bosa came away with some pointed comments about Carr, essentially challenging the quarterback’s courage. He said Carr got “shook” in the pocket. Carr, facing the biggest game of his eight-year career, took the high road this week. “I think the part we missed, he said I was a great player and a great dude, [so] I think we should talk about that stuff instead of the negative stuff because I think the world of him,” Carr said with a laugh. “I wish him the best always — except this week, that’s for sure.” — Paul Gutierrez

Bold prediction: Chargers running back Austin Ekeler will score at least two touchdowns to get the Chargers to the postseason. And if he also adds 41 scrimmage yards, he’d join LaDainian Tomlinson (2005 and 2006) as the only Chargers with 1,500 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns in a season. Los Angeles has all of its starters back on both sides of the ball and is driven to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. — Shelley Smith

Stat to know: Carr needs 72 passing yards to break the Raiders’ single-season franchise record (Rich Gannon had 4,689 in 2002), and Justin Herbert needs 172 passing yards to break Dan Fouts’ single-season franchise record for the Chargers (4,802 yards in 1981).

Playoff and draft implications: The Raiders can clinch with (A) a win, (B) a tie and a Colts loss, or (C) losses by both the Colts and Steelers. The Chargers can clinch with simply a win or a tie. ESPN’s FPI is giving the Chargers a 59% chance to make the playoffs and the Raiders a 49% chance. See current playoff picture.

Injuries: Chargers | Raiders

Betting nugget: Since 2015, the home team in the final prime-time game of the season has gone 0-5 outright and 1-4 ATS. Read more.

Smith’s pick: Chargers 34, Raiders 21
Gutierrez’s pick: Raiders 23, Chargers 21
FPI prediction: LAC, 58.2% (by an average of 2.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Chargers’ Herbert ready for first playoff-type moment of young career … Raiders expect Hobbs to play Sunday despite arrest … Raiders’ historic run of last-play wins has them in playoff hunt

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