NFL Week 18: Overcoming The Odds – 3 games to watch

Richard Graves

Richard Graves

Presenter, Writer and Broadcaster

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts (Texans +1)

There are 2 games on Saturday night but with no disrespect intended to the AFC North, it’s the AFC South clash that looks the most appetising. We start week 18 with 3 teams all tied with a 9-7 record in the AFC South and while victory for the Jaguars on Sunday will mean they win the division; any slip up will hand that title to the winners of this matchup.

Let’s be honest did anyone think the Texans, or the Colts would be in this position when the season began? Especially once Indianapolis lost QB Anthony Richardson for the season! Yet here we are. Rookie QB CJ Stroud is healthy again and led Houston to an impressive 26-3 win over the Titans last weekend. While Minshew mania is alive and well in Indianapolis. Now, after last weekend’s win over the Raiders, they have homefield advantage for a game which will likely have a playoff type atmosphere.

History is against Houston. They’ve beaten the Colts just once in their last 7 meetings but as we’ve seen throughout the year CJ Stroud is a difference maker. It says a lot about expectations for this team this year that they haven’t played in a single prime time game all season. Albeit on a Saturday night, they get that opportunity here. The question is, can this relatively inexperienced team handle the spotlight?

Well, Indy haven’t lost at home since October and they’re 6-2 in that period, while Houston are 6-3 but they do put points on the board, scoring 22 or more in 6 of those games. In fact, the New York Jets defense is the only unit to baffle them in this run – limiting them to just 6 points. They look after the ball better than anyone else this season – giving the ball away only 14 times. Something the Colts will need to change if they are to win this game.

Indianapolis have the number 24 ranked defense – 27th ranked scoring defense, giving up 24.5 points per game. Run defense is an issue as well. They are a lowly 27th in stopping the run. If they can’t get turnovers, this Texans team will score points and their defense will pin it’s ears back, going after Minshew. That’s the key battle here. No stage has looked too big for CJ Stroud yet and I don’t expect this one too either.

PICK: Houston Texans +1

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers (Total Points – under 37.5)

Three teams are still in contention for the NFC South title, but the bottom line is, if Tampa can take care of Carolina, it doesn’t matter what happens between New Orleans and Atlanta, it’ll be the Bucs who play in the post season. Should Tampa slip up though, then whoever wins in New Orleans will claim the playoff spot – and that could be the Falcons with an 8-8 record!

However, Baker Mayfield has been impressive at QB this year and will pass the 4000 passing yard mark for the season in this game. He’s thrown 28 TD passes and just 10 interceptions – and that has been a big reason for their success. The Bucs simply don’t give the ball away. Align that with the number 9 ranked scoring defense which gives up just 20 points per game and you have a winning formula. Of course, it helps when the offense has a potential future Hall of Fame receiver in its line-up. Mike Evans has been red hot over the past month and as good as Carolina have been in defending the pass (5th), this will be a different challenge. That being said, this is still a divisional rivalry, and it was a surprisingly close 21-18 win for the Buccaneers when they met in Tampa last month. It’s likely to be another hard fought battle but last weekend highlighted the problems a young rookie QB can have in a team which is struggling. Bryce Young spent most of the game running for his life against the Jaguars and Carolina were kept off the scoreboard in a 26-0 defeat on the road. The Bucs’ defense will look to emulate what the Jaguars did, and another uncomfortable day can be expected for Bryce Young. If that’s the case, a Tampa team which only averages 21 points per game itself – as in their last meeting – may find that to be enough to win another low scoring affair.

PICK: Total Points – under 37.5

 

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins (Bills -3)

The biggest game of the final week in the regular season is saved for the final game of the regular season. To be a contender in the post season it helps if you play your best football in December and January – and the Bills have certainly been doing that. They were a perfect 4-0 through December, taking down the Chiefs and Cowboys along the way and now know a victory in Miami will send them to the playoffs as AFC East champions and the no. 2 seed.

It’s a banged up Dolphins team which awaits them, holding their fate in their own hands. RB Raheem Mostert missed the game in Baltimore while, even more painful than the 56-19 defeat to the Ravens was the loss of pass rusher Bradley Chubb for the season through injury. But, as the saying goes, big time players make big time plays in big time games. It doesn’t get much bigger than this!

Despite beating the Cowboys, there are still doubts surrounding the Dolphins when it comes to playing opponents with winning records. The perception is they bully bad teams but struggle against good ones. That can all change with a win here. Miami’s run defense is the 7th best in the league and it’ll need to stand up against James Cook and Josh Allen on Sunday night. So too, will this number 1 ranked offense. A unit which has only scored 22 and 19 points respectively in the last 2 outings must be more productive against a Bills team which has been held to fewer than 20 points only once since October 15th.

Form at this time of the year matters and the bottom line is Buffalo are rd hot right now while Miami has gone off the boil. Their record through December was 2-2 – defeats to Tennessee and Baltimore while they’re barely scraped past Dallas. Star wide receiver, Tyreek Hill has been anonymous by his high standards. He hasn’t had a 100 yard receiving game or caught a touchdown pass in a month!

If Miami are to win, he will need to have a monster game and the Dolphins offense will have to overcome a Bills defense which gives up an average of just 18.6 points per game (4th best in the NFL). There’s a reason they are underdogs at home going into this game and I see no reason to believe any different.

PICK: Buffalo Bills -3

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