The first season in NFL history with a 17-game regular season certainly doesn’t lack for drama heading into the final weekend.
Will the Tennessee Titans hold onto the No. 1 seed in the AFC? Will the Buffalo Bills or New England Patriots emerge as the AFC East champions?
Will it be the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens who will claim postseason berths in the AFC. And will the San Francisco 49ers or New Orleans Saints do the same in the NFC?
It is going to be a little nerve-wracking for fans of those teams as well as those who bet online.
The Indianapolis Colts (+850 to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl) and Los Angeles Chargers (+2000) have the best odds to secure the final two AFC playoff spots while the San Francisco 49ers (+1800 to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl) is favored over the New Orleans Saints (+8000) to take the final NFC bid.
Here are the top games of Week 18.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Odds: Cowboys -7
What to know: The Cowboys have covered against the NFL betting lines in 10 of their last 11 games when facing NFC East opponents.
One of three Week 18 matchups between teams with winning records, this is only showdown in the final week of the regular season featuring two teams already in the playoffs.
The road to the postseason couldn’t be more different for the NFC East rivals. The Cowboys were rolling right along after opening the season 6-1, but three losses to AFC West teams and a 1-3 record in games decided by three points or less denied Dallas a chance to secure the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
It is still an important game for seeding purposes for Dallas, even though it has already wrapped up the NFC East title.
When the Eagles lost to Las Vegas to fall to 2-5, a playoff spot seemed, to be kind, rather unlikely.
However, with other NFC teams stumbling and the Eagles winning six of their last seven games, Philadelphia is playoff-bound.
There’s a chance for second-year Cowboys defensive back Trevon Diggs to join some select company. No NFL player has had at least 12 interceptions in a season since Lester Hayes of the Oakland Raiders picked off 13 passes during the 1980 campaign. Diggs currently has 11.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
Odds: Colts -15½
What to know: Indianapolis has covered against the NFL picks against the spread in its last six road games, but is 0-5 against the spread in its last five games at Jacksonville.
How often do the Jacksonville Jaguars make an appearance in any NFL Game of the Week write-up? Well, Jacksonville’s spot in this week’s top games has little to do with the Jaguars and everything to do with the visiting Colts.
Indianapolis was 1-4 after an overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was around that time that the Colts decided to change things up a bit. Although it was tempting to put the offense in the hands of offseason acquisition Carson Wentz, the Colts gave second-year running back Jonathan Taylor a larger role.
Taylor had one 100-yard rushing game at that point of the season. That happened to come in the team’s only win to that point.
Taylor ran for more than 100 yards in eight of the next 10 games, with the Colts winning each of those games to play their way into playoff contention. Now, the only thing standing between the Colts and one of the seven AFC playoff spots is a win over the lowly Jaguars, who happen to be the only AFC team that is yet to win at home this season.
There is something at stake for the Jaguars: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. A loss by Jacksonville would secure the No. 1 pick for the second straight season. Since 1942, the only other franchises to earn that distinction are the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bat Buccaneers, who did it twice. A Detroit loss would also give the Jaguars the top pick regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams
Odds: Rams -4
What to know: The total has gone under in 12 of the Los Angeles Rams’ last 15 home games. The total is 44 for this game.
There’s plenty of motivation for both teams.
San Francisco will need to approach the game as a win and make the playoffs scenario. A loss by New Orleans would put the 49ers into the postseason, but with both games kicking off at 4:25 p.m. ET, San Francisco can’t be concerned with the result of the New Orleans-Atlanta game.
The Rams currently hold down the No. 2 spot in the NFC playoffs. That, ironically, could result in a postseason game against San Francisco. A win would lock up that No. 2 spot since the Rams own a win over Tampa Bay, the only other NFC team currently with a 12-4 record.
There is still a chance that Arizona could claim the NFC West, but the Rams will clinch the division with a victory on Sunday.
Los Angeles receiver Cooper Kupp enters the game with 138 catches and 1,829 receiving yards.
Kupp has a chance to break the single-season NFL record of 1,964 yards set by Calvin Johnson in 2012.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Odds: Ravens – 5½
What to know: Pittsburgh has won seven of its last 10 games against the rival Baltimore Ravens.
Since 2000, when the Ravens won the first of the franchise’s two Super Bowls in just their fifth season, the only time that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh missed the playoffs in the same season came in 2013.
Baltimore has low five in a row, sunk by a string of close losses as well as a series of injuries at the running back, quarterback and cornerback positions. Pittsburgh kept its playoff hopes alive with a win over Cleveland on Monday night and would need a victory to have any chance of punching a ticket to the postseason.
The game has added meaning for another reason. Although he hasn’t officially announced his retirement, this is expected to be the final regular-season game for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He is fifth in NFL history with 63,721 passing yards. It is the most by a player who spent his entire career with one team.
Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt had four sacks in Monday night’s win over Cleveland, giving him 21½ and leaving him one shy of the official single-season record set by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in 2001. It should be noted that before sacks were an official NFL statistic, Al Baker of the Detroit Lions had 23 during the 1978 season.
T.J. Watt now trails Michael Strahan’s all-time single season sack record by just 1. pic.twitter.com/n2CJFIgFM9
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 4, 2022
If he gets the record, there will be chatter about whether having the extra game minimizes the accomplishment, but it should be noted that Watt missed two games this season.
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Odds: Chargers -3
What to know: The total set by the Las Vegas odds has gone over in the Chargers’ last five games, but gone under in the four of the Raiders’ last five contests. Considering how chaotic the 2021 season has been, these contrasting trends are a fitting regular-season finale.
The final game of the regular season will ultimately be for a playoff spot in the AFC.
Both the Chargers and Raiders are 9-7 and the winner will be in the postseason. With the Colts also at 9-7 and the Steelers at 8-7-1 (how much does that tie with a two-win Detroit sting right now?), the loser of the game could be left on the outside looking in. A tie would be the best possible outcome for both teams but that is extremely unlikely.
Fans who love seeing the ball flying through the air should tune into this Sunday night affair since Justin Herbert of the Chargers and Derek Carr of the Raiders rank third and fourth in the NFL in passing yards.
The Raiders making the playoffs would be quite the accomplishment, considering that head coach Jon Gruden resigned after emails emerged with inappropriate comments made about NFL officials. Receiver Henry Ruggs, a recent first-round draft pick, was cut after he was involved in an accident resulting in the death of a woman.