Heading into the final week of the season, there are plenty of teams with nothing left to play for. Some have been eliminated from the playoffs while others are already locked in. Here’s a rundown of who is at risk of getting some rest in Week 18.
Eliminated from playoff contention: HOU, CLE, ARI, ATL, CHI, DEN, IND, LAR, NO, NYJ, CAR, WAS, and LV
Everyone in this group is a candidate to sit some starters. Justin Fields, for example, played through an injury last week and the Bears could earn the No. 1 overall pick with a loss and a Texans win. I’ll keep track of any starters from these teams sitting as the week goes on.
In contention: DET, GB, PIT, TEN, SEA, NE, MIA, and JAX
The Jags and Titans play for the AFC South title and a playoff berth on Saturday.
The Steelers, Patriots, and Dolphins are all vying for the final wild card spot in the AFC. New England gets in with a win while the other two teams need varying levels of help. Although some light scoreboard watching could take place depending on how things shake out, there are no real concerns with starters here.
Much like in the AFC, three NFC squads are looking for a final playoff spot. The Packers control their own density. Detroit needs a win and a Seattle loss. The Seahawks need a win and a Detroit win. The Lions could be eliminated by the time their Sunday night matchup with Green Bay kicks off, but they will at least spend all week preparing their starter to play. I don’t see Dan Campbell pulling his guys at the last minute, even if they are out of the running.
Clinched with incentives: BAL, SF, MIN, DAL, CIN, KC, BUF, and PHI
The Eagles secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win. Jalen Hurts is expected to be available and will likely play if healthy after seeing Gardner Minshew’s Week 17 meltdown.
The 49ers and Cowboys can both steal the No. 1 seed through a Philly loss and other happenings. Some scoreboard-watching could take place, but I expect to see starters from these squads as well.
The Vikings can only move between the two and three seeds. The distinction could make a difference for home-field advantage late in the playoffs. It could also give the Vikings an easier opponent in the Wild Card Round. Per Kevin O’Connell, we should see the starters. Although, there is still some risk of players getting pulled if things get out of hand.
With the Cincinnati/Buffalo game still in limbo, it is hard to say what we will see from both teams in Week 18. If the game is not finished, the Chiefs just need a win on Saturday to secure the No. 1 seed. That would lock in Buffalo to the No. 2 seed, giving them no motivation to play their starters. As things stand right now, the Bengals still need a win on Sunday to earn the AFC North crown.
Clinched without incentives: LAC, TB, and NYG
The Giants and the Bucs are locked into the No. 6 and no. 4 seeds respectively. Bucs coach Todd Bowles said the starters would play, but it is fair to wonder how long they will stay in.
I don’t see Brady and company playing last halftime.
Giants coach Brian Daboll was the offensive coordinator in Buffalo when the team had no incentive to play their starters at the end of the 2019 season. Some starters rested and Josh Allen left two short drives. Daboll was non-committal early in the week, but it looks highly unlikely we will get a full game from anyone who matters.
The Chargers can shuffle between the fifth and sixth seeds, but the difference is not wildly impactful for their postseason outlook.
However, Brandon Staley disagrees, saying we’ll get the starters this week. I still see this game as extremely risky.