Previewing Week 18's Biggest Games
Colts @ Jaguars
Superman has his kryptonite and the Colts have theirs. For some odd reason, the Colts have not beaten the Jaguars in Jacksonville since 2015 despite the Colts finishing with a better record than the Jaguars in five of those six seasons. The Colts players should be mad; they had a playoff birth on their fingertips last week against the Raiders, but lost at the last second. With their playoff lives on the line and Jonathan Taylor on the brink of a historical season, I anticipate the Colts taking all of their anger out on the Jaguars. Trevor Lawrence has thrown just two touchdowns in the past nine games and has had one of the most disappointing rookie seasons by a first overall pick in NFL history. With Deforest Buckner being ruled active and Parris Campbell coming off of the injured reserve, the Colts look destined for a playoff spot. The Jaguars will most likely have the number one pick in the 2022 draft. It is fair to assume that a lot of their players' minds are focused on where they'll be vacationing in the offseason. I am taking an angry Colts team over a team that will most likely be picking first overall any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I'd love to see Frank Reich feed Jonathan Taylor more on early downs so the Colts don't have as many third and long situations. Most of the time, teams should try and throw the ball on early downs, but the Colts have the Tasmanian devil in the backfield. Jonathan Taylor is a special player and he needs the ball at least 25 times a game. The player on the Colts who will cause Trevor Lawrence the most problems is Darius Leonard. Leonard is the takeaway and is quietly putting up defensive player-of-the-year caliber numbers. While he most likely won't win the award due to TJ Watt's historic season, Leonard always plays with a chip on his shoulder. I expect the Maniac to be on the loose in Week 18 and help the Colts clinch a playoff spot for the 2021 season.
What to Watch For: Will Parris Campbell make a splash in his return to the field?
Player of the Game: Darius Leonard LB Colts
Final Score: Colts 33 Jaguars 9
Steelers @ Ravens
There are division rivalries and there are hated rivalries; this game is a hated rivalry. Steelers players don't like Ravens players and Ravens players don't like Steelers players. There is bad blood between these two teams and with Terrell Suggs in the house; I anticipate the Ravens playing their hearts out in this game. While I'm sure the Ravens fanbase has a ton of respect for Ben Roethlisberger; there is nothing they'd rather see than Big Ben going out with a loss in Baltimore. As for the Steelers, the writing is on the wall. This is looking like Big Ben's final game as a Steelers and his teammates are going to do everything in their power to make sure Roethlisberger finishes his career with a win. Unfortunately for the Steelers, they have to go against one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Tyler Huntley is a bad, bad man and deserves to be a starting quarterback somewhere in the league. This game is almost like an audition to the other 31 teams to show that he belongs in the league as a starter. His trade value has already sky-rocketed because of the past few games, but if he knocks Big Ben off in the final game of his career I can see a team giving up a first-round pick for him. As for the Steelers' defense, I anticipate TJ Watt breaking Michael Strahan's sack record. While haters will say, "it doesn't count he did it in 17 games while Strahan did in 16", Watt has missed two games this season so he will have broken the record in 15 games. TJ Watt is a monster coming off the edge and I expect him to put an exclamation mark on the defensive player of the year award. With that being said, I anticipate Tyler Huntley causing the Steelers' defense problems. Huntley is going to pull the Ravens together and ruin Big Ben's going away party.
What to Watch For: Does TJ Watt break Michael Strahan's record?
Player of the Game: Tyler Huntley QB Ravens
Final Score: Steelers 23 @ Ravens 24
Saints @ Falcons
The Saints are in a strange position where they don't necessarily hold the keys to their future, but still, have good odds to make the playoffs. With that being said, they need to take care of the Falcons first and foremost. Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson are the two players they need to beware of on Atlanta's offense. Pitts has had arguably the best season by a rookie tight end in NFL history. He needs just 59 yards to break Mike Ditka's record for most receiving yards by a rookie tight end in NFL history. Pitts is on an unbelievable career trajectory, but the Saints have one of the best defenses in the NFL. However, I anticipate Arthur Smith feeding his young star and making sure Pitts puts up record-breaking numbers. As for Cordarrelle Patterson, the Saints have the formula to contain him. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a rare defensive player that doesn't shy away from any smoke. Gardner-Johnson is an old-school player that talks the talk and walks the walk. I expect the Saints to win this game in a defensive effort. This may be Matt Ryan's final game in an Atlanta Falcons uniform and I expect the Saints to devastate his farewell.
What to Watch For: Can Kyle Pitts break Mike Ditka's record?
Player of the Game: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson DB Saints
Final Score: Saints 26 Falcons 23
Seahawks @ Cardinals
Whether it's week 17 or week 18, the final week of the season is always filled with uncertainty. Arguably the biggest question mark in week 18 is if this will be Pete Carrol or Russell Wilson's final game as a Seahawk. I'm not sure if anybody really knows, not even Carrol or Wilson. The key for those two is to leave this season without a bad taste in owner, Jody Allen's, mouth. It seems like every year the Seahawks end the season in an extremely disappointing way and it is fair to assume that Allen is fed up with disappointing finishes. I know Wilson is going to play his heart out in this game, but I'm not sure if it will be enough to upset a hungry Cardinals team. The Cardinals are coming off of their biggest win of the season and finally found their footing without Deandre Hopkins in the lineup. The loss of Hopkins has been weighing this team down and it is obvious that Kyler Murray has been missing him. While the Cardinals are hungry, the Seahawks are h-angry. Russell Wilson is a fighter and I believe he'll deliver a knockout blow to the Cardinals right before the post-season starts.
What to Watch For: Can Russell Wilson and Pete Carrol end the season on a plus?
Player of the Game: Russell Wilson QB Seahawks
Final Score: Seahawks 30 Cardinals 27
49ers @ Rams
While everything is on the line for the 49ers in this game, it is also a huge game for the Rams. Since this game is going on at the same time as the Cardinals game, Sean McVay won't be able to rest Matthew Stafford if the Cardinals lose. It's also important that the Rams keep their momentum heading into the playoffs. Stafford is 0-3 in his career in the playoffs, the last thing they would ever want is a cold and banged-up Rams team that has to play every game on the road. With that being said, the 49ers know what is at stake in this game. I could see Kyle Shanahan attacking the Rams in a similar way that he attacked the Raiders in the pre-season. He let Jimmy Garoppolo start but would bring Trey Lance in for a few plays here and there. Shanahan is going to have to get creative to pull off this upset. With the Saints most likely defeating the Falcons, the 49ers will need to win this ball game. I believe this game is a win-or-go-home scenario for San Francisco. While this game is still big for the Rams, they still have the security that they've already made the playoffs in the back of their heads. Whether it's Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance in at quarterback, I believe the key for the 49ers in this game will be running the ball with Elijah Mitchell. Mitchell is quietly having one of the best rookie running back seasons in the NFL this year. He is a difference-maker in this offense and I believe he'll cause Raheem Morris problems.
What to Watch For: The return of Cam Akers and how the 49ers handle Jimmy Garoppolo's injury
Player of the Game: Elijah Mitchell RB 49ers
Final Score: 49ers 30 Rams 24
Chargers @ Raiders
Certain games are destined to be great ones; this is a perfect example of one of those. Both Chargers and Raiders games tend to come down to the very last second and finish heartbreakingly. Both teams have endured a lot this season, but no team has endured quite as much as the Raiders. From losing their 2018 first-round pick after being involved in a tragic car accident to their head coach due to an awful email scandal. The Raiders have scratched and clawed their way to a position where if they win this game, they are in the playoffs. Derek Carr has had his best season as a pro and while he receives a ton of criticism, he has managed to rally his team to a win-and-in scenario. Rich Bisaccia has done a phenomenal job bringing this team together; I anticipate Mike Mayock bringing him back for next season. With that being said, the Raiders defense has to find a way to slow down the young sniper, Justin Herbert. What Paul Guenther has to do is find ways to generate pressure with only four-man rushes. Through stunts and simulated blitzes, the Raiders need to make Herbert uncomfortable without leaving one-on-one matchups with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. While no team has been able to slow down Maxx Crosby this year, the Chargers have one of the best young offensive tackles and blocking running backs. Joe Lombardi should be able to use Austin Ekeler to help Rashawn Slater chip Crosby which would give Herbert time to find one of his star receivers downfield. The Raiders don't have a corner who can stop Mike Williams; his size and strength will be too much for the Raiders' secondary. This game should be a close one, but I think it will finish with Justin Herbert finding Williams in the end zone.
What to Watch For: Rashawn Slater vs Maxx Crosby
Player of the Game: Mike Williams WR Chargers
Final Score: Chargers 31 Raiders 27