Weekend Preview - Week 18

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Welcome to the Weekend Preview!

This year at SumerSports.com, we are excited to bring you an analytical look at the NFL twice a week. In this preview of another football weekend, we will be laying out which games you should consider watching, what a win or a loss could mean for your team’s playoff chances, and more.

Be sure to check out the SumerSports podcast feed, follow us on Twitter @SumerSports, and sign up for our newsletter for more content like this. Also, take a look at our new customizable data tables that include teams, players, and more!

Playoff Leverage

As we enter the final week of the regular season, there are teams with the highest potential playoff leverage. Last week there were teams like the Packers and Rams that had a big increase in their odds to make the playoffs while teams like the Seahawks had a big decrease.

We have been waiting for win-and-in situations all year long. The Bills, Jaguars, Packers, Buccaneers and either the Colts or Texans can all punch a ticket to the postseason with a win in Week 18.

If the Saints win, they will need the Panthers to upset the Buccaneers to win the division or the Bears to beat the Packers and the Cardinals to beat the Seahawks. If the Packers lose to the Bears, they will still have multiple paths to get into the postseason that start with the Saints losing to the Falcons. The Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Cardinals and a Packers loss.

If the Steelers win, they can make the playoffs with a Bills loss or a Jaguars loss. The Bills can win the AFC East with a win but miss the playoffs if they lose and both the Steelers and Jaguars win their Week 18 games.

Games to Watch

As we look ahead to Week 18, we can use a combination of team strength (using Elo), spread, projected points, and quarterback play to see which games we could be watching during the full slate.

Just a warning: Due to certain teams resting starters and teams having various motivations, the watchability scores probably won’t be accurate as in previous weeks.

Saturday gives us a very intriguing matchup between the Texans and Colts as a win-and-in game between two 1st year head coaches who have exceeded expectations.

On Sunday, we have Vikings-Lions, which may not be full of consequence but still could be an interesting game. All Rams-49ers has on the line is the Rams getting the 6 or 7 seed in the NFC,but if the 49ers play some starters, we could see how they match up.

Sunday Night has one of the biggest games of the year as the AFC East title and 2 seed is up for grabs and we get to see two dynamic offenses face off.

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts

After Week 18 last year, the Houston Texans had the #2 pick and the Indianapolis Colts had the #4 pick in the 2023 NFL draft. In Week 18 of this year, they are playing a win-and-in game in a primetime spot.

For the Texans, the offense has been led by rookie C.J. Stroud ranking 10th in EPA/play while Nico Collins and Tank Dell have had big seasons at receiver. They have the 5th highest explosive rate in the league and that gap shows up between their EPA/play ranking (14th) and their success rate ranking (24th). The Colts played the 4th highest rate of Cover 3 (as charted by FTN Data) in the league and are likely to do so in this game. However, C.J. Stroud has had the best EPA/dropback against Cover 3 of any quarterback this season. While Tank Dell was the main beneficiary of the Cover 3 success, Nico Collins and Dalton Schultz should still be the features of the passing attack.

For the Colts, Shane Steichen has been able to adjust the Colts offense on the fly with Anthony Richardson and Jonathan Taylor out for large portions of the season. Indianapolis’ offense has improved from 31st in EPA/play last year to 15th in EPA/play this year. They have a tough task against a Texans defense that has been very good against the run this year as Jonathan Greenard has the 2nd best tackle for loss rate in the league. Although the Colts have a -2.2% pass rate over expected on the season, we might see them pass more in this game to force the non Derek Stingley corners to cover throughout the game.

Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills

There is not much more you can ask for than two elite offenses facing off against each other in a divisional game for the opportunity to host a playoff game.

The Bills offense has been steadily good the entire season with the 2nd best EPA/play and ranks top 3 in both EPA/pass and EPA/rush. The last time they played the Dolphins, they put up a 99th percentile EPA/play performance. However, both of these teams are a lot different than they were in Week 4. The Dolphins play the 2nd highest rate of Cover 1 in the league (as charted by FTN Data), and Josh Allen ranks 6th in EPA/dropback against Cover 1. Stefon Diggs is usually the go-to target against man coverage but has seen his snap share decline throughout the season from 88% of snaps weeks 1-11 to 76% since. It could be a big Dawson Knox and Khalil Shakir game as Jalen Ramsey will likely be playing outside on Diggs or Davis while the Dolphins can be attacked in the middle of the field. Ramsey is top 10 in both yards allowed per pass snap and CPOE when targeted while the Dolphins don’t have another corner in the top 30 of those metrics. James Cook should also be a factor when the Dolphins get into their light boxes and zone coverage.

In this game, the Dolphins offense has another chance to prove that they can score on a good defense and go toe-to-toe with an elite offense. Miami has the 2nd best EPA/play in the league when facing a non-top 12 defense but that drops to 12th when facing a top defense. What Miami does have going for them in this game is that they lead the league in 21 personnel (often with Mostert or Achane and fullback Alec Ingold) and the Bills rank 27th in EPA/play against 21 personnel and are particularly bad against the pass from that set. We can fully expect the Dolphins to get into that in this game and threaten with the run to open up Tyreek Hill’s lanes. Buffalo also plays a high rate of Cover 2, which is when Raheem Mostert could become involved in the passing game, health permitting.

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