NFL predictions, Week 18: Chiefs-Chargers have preseason feel in Week 18

Week 18 of the NFL slate is officially here, and we're here every week of the season to bring you picks for the Chiefs along with the rest of the NFL!

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs / David Eulitt/GettyImages

Well, it's finally here: the final week of the 2023 NFL regular season. This season has had an odd feel to it for multiple reasons. First, we've spent about 14 out of the previous 16 weeks wondering where the v offense was and when they may show up. The standard we've become used to in the Mahomes era—the offensive juggernaut Chiefs—shifted in 2023, with the team lending itself more to a defensively led charge. Which is fine, but leads to many questions heading into the postseason.

One thing that is not in question heading into Super Wild Card Weekend is the Chiefs' playoff positioning. Kansas City will be locked into the AFC's No. 3 seed. Depending on how some of this weekend's matchups turn out, the Chiefs could be staring down Wild Card matchups with the Dolphins, Bills, Steelers, Texans, or Colts.

That's quite the range of emotions if you ask me. You either have the nervous excitement that comes with a Patrick Mahomes vs Josh Allen matchup or Chiefs vs. Tyreek for all the marbles. Or you might get the calm confidence of a guy like Mason Rudolph or Gardner Minshew coming into Arrowhead, or the unknown of a young gunner like C.J. Stroud getting his first crack at NFL playoff football against the defending Super Bowl champs.

Storylines galore across the league, indeed, including here in Chiefs Kingdom, and they've all been beaten to a pulp at this point in the week. The bottom line is this: Week 18 feels like a preseason game here in Chiefs Kingdom with Mahomes and other impactful starters for Kansas City expected to sit. Many more will have extremely limited pitch counts, too. When you're locked into a seed, that will happen, but that is not the case for many, many more teams in the NFL this week.

With a 159-87 record on the year, I'm just hoping for a repeat (or close) performance of last week's 13-3 picks magnum opus that I lucked into in the season's penultimate week. Will I get it? Probably not. But we'll ease into this week's slate with one of the preseason-esque games (Chiefs and Chargers) and get to the gritty games as we go.

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers

The Blaine Gabbert era officially begins on Sunday for the Chiefs. Well, maybe we won't go that far, but Gabbert will suit up and try to guide a Chiefs offense that has been choppy at times throughout the 2023 campaign. But for as many questions as the Chiefs have heading into the final week of the 2023 season, their exam looks more like a pop quiz compared to the fully comprehensive final exam the Chargers face in the offseason.

Who do they keep, who do they cut? Do they gut the roster and start over fresh with whomever they hire as their next head coach? Is Jim Harbaugh on the way after Monday's CFP National Championship game? All questions will be answered in due time, but one thing is for certain - the Chargers will almost certainly be overvalued by the national media heading into the 2024 season.

There are only a few things to watch for in this game. Travis Kelce is 16 yards away from his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season. I believe he will get there. Rashee Rice has been ruled out, so he will not. But Isiah Pacheco will likely cross the 1,000 yards rushing plateau being just 65 yards away with not much of a passing game expected to be in attendance for Kansas City on Sunday. With Kelce and Pop over 1,000 yards, the offense may go dormant after that. But if Harrison Butker is as dialed in as he was against Cincinnati, he may be the only offensive weapon the Chiefs need to beat Easton Stick and the Chargers. Chiefs 15, Chargers 13

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

Well, we go from bust to boom pretty quickly as far as the impactfulness of games goes. The Steelers have to win and have either the Jags or Bills lose. Those are the least complicated scenarios anyway. Mike Tomlin has somehow found a way to get the Steelers to yet another non-losing season and Lamar Jackson is sitting for Baltimore with the top seed already clinched. That doesn't mean that the Ravens wouldn't love to end their heated rival's season in its final week. I like Rudolph to guide Tomlin's sleigh one step closer to the playoffs in this one. Steelers 23, Ravens 20

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Another impactful game on Saturday night, the winner of this one is in the playoffs and could be hosting a Wild Card game if the Jags find a way to lose to the Titans—certainly not an impossible occurrence. This is a brain vs heart pick for me, my brain wants to go with the talent and excitement of Stroud, but my heart likes the storyline that is Minshew leading these scrappy Colts to a playoff berth. The only caveat? Part of me wants no part of that team in a potential wildcard matchup for the Chiefs. Fortune favors the bold, and if there is one thing that Minshew embodies it's boldness. Colts 27, Texans 24

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland is locked into the 5 seed and Cincinnati is just playing for pride. This means nothing considering the Bengals were playing for their playoff lives last week after talking a bunch of smack on the Chiefs and still got run down from behind by a kicker. Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 17

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions

Maybe the biggest "what could have been?' game of the weekend. What if Kirk Cousins didn't tear his Achilles? This would likely be for all the NFC North marbles. Instead, the Vikings have fought valiantly but will spend the cold Minnesota off-season surely somewhere other than the Twin Cities. Lions 20, Vikings 13

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans

Listen, the Jags are a better team than the Titans. On paper, everything is pointing towards the Jaguars winning this and winning the AFC South. But Mike Vrabel has a way with his teams, and his comments in a press conference earlier this week have me leaning towards and upset and the Jags trending towards the contender that never was. The only thing worse than being the Jags after this one is being the guy named "Gentry" in the linked video clip. Titans 17, Jaguars 14

New York Jets at New England Patriots

Not too long ago this matchup would have had the feel that Chiefs vs. Chargers has this week. Now it's just a Bum Bowl to see which dumpster fire shines the brightest. Patriots 6, Jets 3

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

This is the Helpless Bowl. Both of these teams still have a shot at the NFC South, but if Tampa wins it doesn't matter. Tampa is playing the 2-14 Carolina Panthers at the same time this game kicks off. The stadium scoreboard showcasing scores from across the league has the potential to be the most electric part of this matchup. Saints 23, Falcons 20

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers

The Bucs need this for a playoff berth and Baker Mayfield needs a playoff berth for a $2 million roster bonus. All that's standing in the way of these two things occurring is a football team that still thinks it's Halloween, because they're still in costume in January. The Pirate Ship hosts another playoff game in early 2024. Buccaneers 24, Panthers 13

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

Justin Fields has had a lot to say about Green Bay this week, and that might not be the smartest thing in the world. Sure, the Bears fans are behind Fields and the front office gave head coach Matt Eberflus the vote of confidence heading into the offseason just last week, but Green Bay still has a shot at the playoffs and they're a dangerous team. I think the Bears' hot streak ends and the questions they had midseason emerge once more, I'm also here for more hilarious Jaire Alexander press clips. Packers 27, Bears 21

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders

Five weeks from now we will all be gearing up for Super Bowl 58. You know who will not be, once again? The Broncos and the Raiders. The Sadness Bowl, as I'm dubbing it, will feature two teams with familiar storylines heading into the offseason: the Raiders with an exciting finish and a head coach (presumably) who can guide them to great heights but with no QB, and the Broncos with internal drama and a ceiling that appears to be where they're at now with complicated salary cap situations to maneuver. Raiders 20, Broncos 16

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

Philly has to have this for many reasons, and they will get it. There is not much sense in spending much more time on this subject. Eagles 33, Giants 18

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

I would have thought this was a foregone conclusion with my previous ornithological prediction model, but when the Cardinals knocked down the mighty (and anatomically superior) Eagles last week it let doubt creep into my previously unbeaten model when it came to bird matchups. The Seahawks have to have this game to have a chance at a playoff berth and I'm not certain the Cardinals will be thinking about football more than they will the tee times they have on Monday in Scottsdale. Seahawks 25, Cardinals 19

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers

No CMC for the 49ers and I get the sense that they're going to be resting some guys early here. I like the Rams to win what will be a very dumbed-down version of this matchup. Rams 23, 49ers 20

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders

I would love for Eric Bieniemy and Washington's offense to spoil an end of season "gimme" for the Cowboys, but I don't see it happening. Micah Parsons might be a part of Sam Howell's body by the end of this one. Cowboys 28, Commanders 20

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The créme de la créme of the week. You have the red-hot Bills coming into Miami to take on a beaten-up Dolphins team. It seems like everyone and their mother is giving this game to the Bills from the get-go, but I'm not so sure. First of all, even if it's only in the mid-70's it's still going to be muggy in Miami. That's a rule. The Bills have been living below 40 degrees since October. Second, I am not a Josh Allen believer. I don't think he's one of the QBs in this league who has the killer instinct and the extra gear to rip an opponent's heart out. I like the Dolphins to knock the Bills down a peg and potentially out of the playoffs altogether in the season's final showdown. Dolphins 28, Bills 26