The 2022 regular season will wrap up this weekend with a full Week 18 slate that stretches from Saturday to Sunday. Even with just one week remaining, there's still plenty to be determined, including the No. 1 seeds in both the AFC and NFC.
Here, we'll look to call our shot and make a handful of bold predictions for how we see this final week of the regular season unfolding. We'll see a surprising team boost up to the No. 1 overall pick at this coming NFL Draft, a Cowboys player make history and, of course, see plenty of shakeups as it relates to the playoff picture.
Browns upset Steelers, dash playoff hopes
The Pittsburgh Steelers remain alive in the playoff conversation entering Week 18. After a last-minute win on the road over the Ravens on Sunday, Mike Tomlin's team needs a win coupled with a Patriots and Dolphins loss to reach the postseason. Seeing as New England and Miami are both underdogs in their Week 18 matchups, this is a realistic scenario for Pittsburgh. While those pieces to the puzzle may fall into place for them, it'll be the Browns that play spoiler by upsetting them at Acrisure Stadium.
While Cleveland has been eliminated from playoff contention for a while, they've still been playing hard down the stretch as they continue to lay the foundation for 2023 with Deshaun Watson, who missed the bulk of the season due to suspension. In the second of last week's win over Washington, the lightbulb may have turned on. Watson threw three touchdowns over the final two quarters of that win, which were more than his first four starts with the Browns combined. If he is starting to look like the QB we remember from his days with the Texans and Cleveland's defense -- allowing 14 points per game in the last six games (second-best in the NFL) -- continues to play at a high level, they'll put Pittsburgh on upset alert.
Bears secure No. 1 pick in 2023 NFL Draft
Once the regular season ends, the Chicago Bears will officially be on the clock as we predict they'll clinch the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. If the Houston Texans defeat the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago falls to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Bears will jump up to the top pick in the draft this spring.
The Bears have already ruled out quarterback Justin Fields for this matchup against the Vikings due to a hip injury and it'll be Nathan Peterman who'll wrap up the season under center. In his career, Peterman is 1-3 as a starter and has 13 interceptions to just three touchdowns, so Chicago isn't expected to get elite play at quarterback in Week 18, which should help its chances of moving up the draft board. Meanwhile, Minnesota still has a chance to move to the No. 2 seed in the NFC, so it could play most of its starters and the oddsmakers are making the Vikings a 7.5-point favorite on the road, which suggests a sizable win.
As for the other piece of the equation, the Colts are less than a field-goal favorite at home against the Texans, so this should be looked at as a legitimate coin flip between these AFC South rivals. While the Colts may have the better record, there's a statistical case to be made that they are the worse team. The Colts are last in the NFL in turnovers and scoring differential, while Houston ranks 31st in the league in both those categories. The Texans rank 31st in points per game, while the Colts are just above them at 30th in the NFL.
Also, the Texans are 2-2-1 in division games this season (0-11 in all other games), so they have played the AFC South well. The Colts are currently 1-6 under Jeff Saturday and have particularly struggled in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 91-3 in this current six-game losing streak.
To make it short: It's certainly possible that Houston straight-up beats the Colts to end the season, which opens the door for Chicago to snatch the No.1 overall pick.
CeeDee Lamb breaks Cowboys receptions record
Week 18 means a lot to the Dallas Cowboys. If the dominos fall correctly, they could not only find themselves NFC East champions but could rise to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. With that in mind, Mike McCarthy and Co. will likely be giving this Week 18 matchup a full go, which includes CeeDee Lamb. On top of trying to help his team climb the NFC standings, the Cowboys wideout does have an opportunity to make history on Sunday in Washington.
Lamb is 10 catches shy of breaking the Cowboys sing-season reception record. That is currently held by Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, who hauled in 111 balls in 1995. While piling up double-digit catches in a single game is a tall task, it is something Lamb has not only done before but has done so multiple times this season. Lamb has three games in 2022 with at least 10 receptions, and that includes doing so in two straight coming into Week 18. Not only that, but Lamb has seen double-digit targets in eight games this season, so he does see the necessary volume to have a realistic shot at the record.
With this number within his sights and Dallas motivated to play its starters to move up the playoff ladder, it's a recipe for Lamb to make history.
Packers punch ticket to postseason
This is admittedly not the "boldest" prediction of the bunch here, but if the Packers do take down the Lions to secure a playoff berth as we predict, it'll be one of the more improbable runs to a postseason that we've seen. According to SportsLine's simulations, Green Bay had just a 1.1% chance of making the playoffs after its 4-8 start to the year. Now, the Packers just need a win to punch their ticket.
Jared Goff has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL as of late, owning a 113.0 passer rating and a 12-0 TD-INT ratio since Week 13. However, he'll square off against an equally hot Packers secondary that has nine interceptions over that same stretch, which is tied for the most in the NFL.
The elements also should play in Green Bay's favor as it is expected to be 21 degrees (and feel like 14 degrees) at kickoff. Goff has three games played in freezing temperatures in his career (including playoffs). In that setting, his teams are 1-2, and the quarterback has thrown more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (3) and has a 52 completion percentage to go along with a 62.6 passer rating. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers has thrived in freezing temperatures, owning a 24-9 record with a 103.6 passer rating.
At Lambeau Field, the Packers should take down their division rival and secure their spot in the postseason.
Titans and Jaguars both make the playoffs
Saturday night's matchup between the Titans and Jaguars may determine the winner of the AFC South, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the loser is ousted from postseason consideration. In fact, there is a wild scenario where BOTH of these teams make it to the playoffs, which is what we predict will occur in Week 18.
First, Tennessee will pull off the upset and beat the Jaguars on Saturday to secure the AFC South crown. Mike Vrabel announced that Josh Dobbs will get the start at quarterback for the Titans, which actually gives the offense a boost as the veteran gave the passing attack a much higher ceiling than what rookie Malik Willis brought to the table in his starts. While Derrick Henry will certainly be the focal point of the Tennessee offense, Dobbs' ability to throw down the field that we saw against Dallas (four completions of 20-plus yards) could be the difference against a Jaguars defense that ranks 29th in the NFL in DVOA against the pass.
With Tennessee upsetting Jacksonville on Saturday, Trevor Lawrence and the rest of the Jaguars' fate will rest with the results of Week 18 where they'd need the Patriots, Dolphins and Steelers to all lose to secure the No. 7 seed. And the football gods will be kind to them as this scenario will play out just as they need it, which will squeak them into the postseason. Both New England and Miami are underdogs in their respective matchups in Week 18, and we explained above how it's conceivable Cleveland upsets Pittsburgh, so the Jaguars will have a fighting chance even if they fall on Saturday.