The 2023 NFL regular season comes to an exciting conclusion this weekend, with Week 18 set to finalize the playoff bracket. Several critical games will determine division titles, wild card spots, and draft position.
AFC East Title on the Line as Bills Visit Dolphins
In one of the week’s premier matchups, the 11-5 Buffalo Bills travel to South Florida to face the 8-8 Miami Dolphins with the AFC East crown at stake. The Bills clinched a playoff spot last week, while the Dolphins need a win and some help to qualify.
Buffalo is favored by 3 points on the road, seeking to avenge a September loss in Miami that was defined by stifling heat and humidity. But the weather forecast calls for a comfortable 75 degrees this time.
The Bills boast a top 5 scoring offense led by MVP candidate Josh Allen. But the Dolphins have found new life with rookie Skylar Thompson at quarterback. Miami is 7-2 in the last 9 games Thompson has started or seen significant action.
Key Stats and Trends
Record | 11-5 | 8-8
Points Per Game | 28.8 | 21.4
Points Allowed Per Game | 20.2 | 24.1
Last 5 Games | 4-1 | 4-1
Josh Allen Passing TDs | 35 | n/a
Skylar Thompson Passing TDs | 7 | 7
Early bets have come in strong on the Dolphins, likely due to the “win and in” stakes. But respected analysts see Buffalo solving Miami this time around to take the division.
Jaguars and Titans Vie for AFC South
Elsewhere in the AFC, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans face off with the division title at stake. Both teams are assured a playoff spot, but the winner will host a first-round game as the #4 seed while the loser falls to #6.
The Titans have taken four straight to surge into contention despite trading away star receiver A.J. Brown last offseason. Former MVP Derrick Henry powers the Tennessee ground game.
But Jacksonville has the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 17.5 points per game. Trevor Lawrence has avoided sophomore slump with 4,100+ yards passing and 25 touchdowns.
Betting lines see this as a pick ’em matchup. But the Jaguars played last Saturday, a schedule quirk that gives them extra rest and preparation time entering Week 18.
Surging Browns Take On Steelers
Despite sitting at 7-9, the Pittsburgh Steelers remarkably still have a path to the postseason. But they’ll need lots of help starting with an upset of the Cleveland Browns this Sunday.
Coming off their biggest win in years, a 24-10 victory over the playoff-bound Washington Commanders, the Browns are 7-2 over their last nine games since switching to quarterback Deshaun Watson. Nick Chubb leads the NFL with 1,448 rushing yards.
The Steelers managed their first back-to-back wins of 2023 after upending the Ravens last week. But at just 30th in scoring offense (16.9 PPG), Pittsburgh must win and get lots of help to extend Mike Tomlin’s incredible streak of never posting a losing season.
NFC Features Tight Races for Final Playoff Spots
While AFC playoff teams appear mostly set, chaos reigns in the NFC heading into the final weekend. Only the Eagles have clinched their division, while both wild card spots remain up for grabs.
The Packers control their destiny after last week’s comeback win over Minnesota. If Green Bay wins Sunday night at home against Detroit, they’ll nail down the #7 seed. But a loss opens the door for the 8-8 Seahawks to sneak in by beating the Rams.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (8-8) must win at Atlanta and get help to keep Brady’s playoff appearance streak intact in his possible final NFL season. Gritty performances from unheralded players like rookie running back Rachaad White offer Tampa Bay a glimmer of hope.
Draft Order Implications
For non-contenders like Chicago, Denver, Arizona and others, Week 18 carries importance for determining 2023 draft position. With elite quarterback prospects like Will Levis and Anthony Richardson headlining the class, bottom-dwellers have incentive to lock up premium picks.
The 3-13 Texans own the inside track for the #1 overall selection. But Houston faces a motivated Colts team still clinging to remote playoff hopes. A Houston win could cede the top draft slot to Chicago or Denver if either can secure one more loss.
As the 2023 campaign draws to a close, Week 18 delivers high stakes. Buffalo and Miami battle for playoff seeding and AFC East supremacy. Tennessee and Jacksonville play for the AFC South crown. And the NFC bracket remains entirely unsettled entering the last weekend. Strap in for a tension-filled final chapter to the NFL’s 103rd season.
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