NFL betting contest: Steelers have a lot on the line in Week 18

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) in action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Najee Harris and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been rolling lately. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

I’m in an NFL contest submitting five ATS picks each week. The lines are set spreads released each Wednesday and selections are submitted by Friday night. Since it’s the final week of the regular season, I’m hoping to close out the contest strong. Here are my five contest picks for Week 18.

Carolina Panthers +3.5 at New Orleans Saints

I’m not a big believer in teams having nothing to play for. These are professionals looking to get a salary bump, hit incentives, boost their résumé for another team or extend contracts. Neither the Panthers nor Saints will be seeing the postseason, so each will be looking to finish strong with no outlook for next week. Carolina’s rushing offense has been stellar lately, averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game, while quarterback Sam Darnold leads the league in yards per pass attempt. The Saints' defense, although improved, gave up 231 rushing yards in a three-point win over the Falcons in Week 15 and another 217 rushing yards to the Steelers in Week 10. I expect this to be competitive.

Detroit Lions +6 at Green Bay Packers

The Lions can make playoffs with a win and a Seahawks loss. Regardless, you can always count on head coach Dan Campbell to have his squad ready to fight to the end. That’s perhaps one reason why Detroit has covered in eight of the last nine games. You can look at Jared Goff’s splits and see that he has only six passing touchdowns on the road. However, it’s Detroit's rushing unit that does the damage on offense. The Packers' defense is 31st in rushing DVOA. The Lions are 4-0 against teams that are bottom five in that metric. Even if Seattle gets a win, I can see the Lions fighting to play spoiler to keep Aaron Rodgers and Co. out of the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars -6 vs. Tennessee Titans

The winner claims the AFC South, plus a home playoff game next weekend. The Jaguars can still get into the postseason with a loss but would need the Steelers, Patriots and Dolphins to lose. I love the evolution of Trevor Lawrence with this Jags offense, which has scored at least 31 points in three of the last four games. In those games, Lawrence has completed 72% of his passes with seven passing touchdowns, while sitting top 10 in the league in passing yards.

The Titans rested everyone in Week 17 but that could backfire, potentially starting out rusty and out of rhythm. The Titans' defense is vulnerable against the pass, ranking 32nd in passing yards allowed, and gave up 36 points and 368 passing yards to the Jags in Week 14. Jacksonville has only improved since.

San Francisco 49ers -14 vs. Arizona Cardinals

This is a big spread for the final week of the regular season, but the 49ers have to stay in rhythm with Brock Purdy entering the postseason with only five starts. When playing at home with Purdy behind center, San Fran has averaged 35 points per game, while limiting opponents to 15 points per game. This could be a scenario where the 49ers dominate early and sit players late.

Pittsburgh Steelers -2.5 vs. Cleveland Browns

The Browns are eliminated, while the Steelers can reach the playoffs with a win, plus a Patriots and Dolphins loss. Pittsburgh has shown huge improvements in the run game this season. Najee Harris has rushed for at least 86 yards in five of the last eight games, including 111 yards last week against the Ravens. The Browns' defense has been solid against the pass but is bottom eight against the run. Just two weeks ago, the Browns allowed 152 rushing yards in a 17-10 loss to the Saints. Besides, Pittsburgh is sitting at 8-8 on the season. You better believe Mike Tomlin wants to keep intact his record streak of 15 straight seasons without a losing record.