NFL Picks: Playoff spots and seeding on the line and appreciation for Mike Tomlin’s greatness

Around the AFC

Chiefs reign. Another Week 18, another week of Patrick Mahomes donning shades instead of a helmet and watching his team. Kansas City is locked into the AFC’s No. 3 seed and, thus, isn’t playing Mahomes and likely a few others. It’s an opportunity wasted for the other teams in the division. This was the most vulnerable Kansas City team maybe of Mahomes’ career. They went 5-4 at home and are 3-2 in the division entering the final week. And yet, no sweat toward another division title. If nobody got them this year, when’s it going to happen?

15.5. A year ago, the Broncos averaged 15.5 points per game in the 15 games coached by Nathaniel Hackett. That number jumped all the way to 16.9 for the season when Denver scored 55 over the final two games of the year. The 2023 New York Jets, with Hackett as the offensive coordinator, enter the final week of the season averaging… 15.7 points per game. If they score 12 points against New England on Sunday, they’ll finish at 15.5 per game. The Jets would have to rip off 36 against the Pats to get to 16.9.

Tomlin the Great. A tip of the cap to Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin. Despite an offense that struggled most of the year and, like many others, started multiple quarterbacks, the Steelers entered their game against Baltimore Saturday night guaranteed of a winning season. That makes Tomlin 17 of 17 in that department. It’s one of the most remarkable numbers in football, given the length of time and the parity in the game. Given the ups and downs with Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph this season, maybe he’ll be in the market for a veteran quarterback playing at the league minimum in 2024 when he tries to make it 18 straight.

Around the NFC

Win and in. For all of Green Bay’s early season struggles, they enter Sunday with a simple reality: Beat Chicago for the 10th straight time and they’re in the playoffs. The Packers lost in the same scenario last year Week 18 against Detroit and like the 2022 Lions, this year’s Chicago team has played well down the stretch. Even still, it’s a golden opportunity for the Packers under first-year quarterback Jordan Love. He enters with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year and has played the past seven games to a 109.9 quarterback rating.

Rest of the hopefuls. If the Packers lose, Seattle can get in with a win over Arizona. If the Packers and Seahawks both lose, then New Orleans can get in with a win over Atlanta. The Saints also get in with a win and an unlikely Panthers victory over Tampa. The Falcons and Minnesota have even longer and more convoluted odds of getting in, but crazy things do happen. Technically any of Tampa (56%), New Orleans (26%) or Atlanta (17%) can still win the NFC South.

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