The final week of the regular season in the NFL kicks off with a Sunday double header, with two high leverage games. First off, the Steelers look to keep their playoff hopes alive, as they take on the #1 seed in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens. Then, two AFC South rivals square off in a win-and-in game, as the Texans head to Indy to take on the Colts. The playoffs are starting early, let’s get into it!
Below, we will dissect the matchup, previewing how we think things will play out, and give out our NFL Best Bet. Make sure you are following Before You Bet, as we will have dedicated NFL betting tips for all primetime NFL games this season, as well as a preview of the main NFL slate on Mondays. All for free!
NFL 2023-24: Week 18 Sunday Preview & Betting Tips
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday 7th January, 8:30am (AEDT)
The Ravens clinched the one seed, and home field throughout the AFC playoffs last week, as they destroyed the Miami Dolphins 56-19. Adding to the #1 seed, the performance also wrapped up Lamar Jackson as the MVP, his second MVP award after winning in 2019. Jackson threw for 321 yards and 5 touchdowns, as the Ravens backed up their huge win over the 49ers in week 16, and now look a clear favourite to win the AFC and reach the Super Bowl.
As for the Steelers, they won their second straight, and are 2-0 with Mason Rudolph under centre, with a 30-23 win over the Seahawks. The Steelers’ offense was terrific, rushing for 202 yards, whilst Rudolph managed 274 yards through the air at 10.6 yards per play, which is elite. The two-headed running back room was the catalyst though, as Najee Harris ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns, whilst Jaylen Warren managed 75 yards and a touchdown.
Full disclosure, the Ravens are resting several key players this week, meaning the spread in this game is not what would normally be expected. With Lamar Jackson, Odell Beckham Jr, Marlon Humphrey, and Kevin Zeitler already listed as out, the Steelers have a great chance against a bunch of backups.
This is one of the biggest rivalries in the NFL, with the Steelers winning at home earlier in the season 17-10. These teams have a propensity to play hard, physical games that result in a tight scoreline, and despite the Ravens resting players, I see this as being no different. Low scoring, high intensity, and overtime is a huge chance any time these teams play.
The Steelers opened as 3.5-point favourites and have been bet up slightly to now sit as 4-point favourites. For reference as to how big a move this has been from if the Ravens were full strength, if this was both teams at full strength, I’d make the Ravens a 10.5-point favourite. That’s a massive delta between the numbers, which makes the Ravens a consideration.
As for the total, it opened 38 and has been bet down heavily to 35. Whilst the under is the obvious play given how these teams generally match up with one another, the way both offenses have looked the past fortnight concerns me with such a low total. No play on the total here.
Given the number of players missing for the Ravens, and the huge disparity in motivation levels between these teams, this can’t be a big play. I believe the 14.5-point move through several key numbers is too much though, so will play the Ravens with a 4-point start here.
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Lucas Oil Stadium, Sunday 7th January, 12:15pm (AEDT)
The Colts needed a win last week, and they got it with a 23-20 home win over the Raiders. The Colts were the better team early, and the final score flattered the Raiders, who struggled to get going offensively, with a very late touchdown pulling them within 3. The Colts weren’t brilliant at anything, with Minshew throwing for 224 yards and a touchdown, and Jonathon Taylor managing 96 yards on the ground, playing mistake free football, which turned out to be enough.
As for the Texans, they welcomed back rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who missed a fortnight with a concussion. Stroud made the Texans look much better, as they easily accounted for the Titans 26-3 at home. Stroud threw for 213 yards and a touchdown, whilst Devin Singletary managed 80 yards at 5 yards per carry. The run defence was once again exceptional, as they limited the Titans to 53 yards rushing at 2.5 yards per carry. If they can shut JT down like they did Derrick Henry, the Texans will have a great chance to sneak into the playoffs.
The Texans wide receiver corps and their offensive line is in tatters, with Noah Brown joining the list of players missing this week. They’ve managed to get away with it for most of the season, and if Devin Singletary can help Stroud out, the Texans offense should be able to score enough points here. As for the Colts, they look relatively healthy, however there are several offensive linemen that are questionable.
The Colts won the earlier matchup in week 2, closing out 31-20 winners on the road in Houston. The Colts led 28-10 at halftime, despite losing Anthony Richardson early. The Colts played well from the front, rushing for 126 yards at 5.5 yards per carry, and their defence was solid enough to slow the Texans down. You must take something from this, however given it was week 2, I believe the Texans have evolved quite a lot since then for the better, and this should be a great game.
The Colts opened as short 1-point favourites, with Texans money slowly coming through to where the visitors are now listed as 1-point favourites. I make this game around a pick em’, so in terms of pure numbers I don’t see much value here.
As for the total, it opened 47 and has been bet up slightly to 47.5. With 51 points scored earlier in the season, and the Indianapolis Colts being a massive overs team, I can easily get to this number. However, given the stakes for this matchup, there’s a case for the under, with more conservative play calling certainly a possibility. Given this, I’m not going to touch the total.
So, it’s essentially pick the winner here, and I’m going to take the Texans. In this sort of matchup, I’ll take the better quarterback almost every time, and Stroud is well above Minshew’s level. The Texans’ run defence has been stout, and without JT carrying this offense, I don’t think Minshew can get it done. Texans to win and make the playoffs. If you can’t get the ML price at Betfair, this is good out to Texans -1.5.
Houston Texans to Win
$1.90 (2 Units)