Welcome to the clusterfuck that is betting on week 18. The final week of the season always presents a unique challenge in figuring out which teams are going to give a shit and which teams aren't.
Let's be clear on who might not be giving a shit:
- Teams that are locked into their playoff seeding: These teams have secured a playoff berth and cannot improve or worsen their seed in week 18.
Teams that have clinched a playoff berth but cannot significantly improve their seeding: For example, a team may not care if they can improve from the 4th seed to the 3rd seed.
- Certain injured veterans may choose not to push it if there teams have already been eliminated (i.e., Keenan Allen).
- Of course, there could be exceptions.
Let's also be clear on which teams will be giving a shit:
- Literally everybody else
I cannot emphasize this point enough. Numerous sites will publish articles this week discussing teams with no "motivation" and therefore won't be trying to win. It's nonsense. Remember, these are the most competitive individuals on planet Earth, playing for their livelihoods—some directly via contract incentives and others indirectly through future contracts. If they can play, they almost certainly will, and they don't need playoff hopes to be "motivated." If that were the case, the Patriots, Commanders, Cardinals, and Panthers would have been resting starters for several weeks now. Yet, Arizona, apparently "motivated to lose," just beat the Philadelphia Eagles.
Without further ado, let's review the teams that won't be giving a shit:
1) Baltimore Ravens - they have clinched the 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They are unlikely to play starters.
2) Kansas City Chiefs - they Chiefs are locked into the 3 seed. Andy Reid has a history of resting starters.
3) Cleveland Browns - Cleveland is locked into the 5 seed. They are reportedly planning on resting starters.
4) San Francisco 49ers - San Fran has clinched the 1 seed and homefield throughout the playoffs and are apparently resting starters.
5) LA Rams - they have clinched a playoff berth, and are locked into either the 6 or 7 seed. They haven't said one way or the other if they're going to rest starters, but I'm expecting them to do so based on Sean McVay's history. One possible exception is Puka Nacua, who is 29 yards shy of the rookie receiving record. The Rams are playing the 49ers.
Here are a few teams that might not be giving a shit, but probably will give a shit:
1) Dallas Cowboys - they clinched a playoff berth. They can secure the NFC East title with a win or Philly loss and are playing a bad Commanders team. I expect them to play their starters, but they could be quick to sit starters in the event of a blowout.
2) Philadelphia Eagles - see above. They need Dallas to lose to a bad Commanders team to take the NFC East. I wouldn't be surprised if they scoreboard watch. They have a similarly soft matchup against the Giants.
3) Detroit Lions - they are effectively locked into the 3 seed. They can technically make it to the 2 seed with a win and losses by the Eagles and Cowboys, but those teams are playing the Giants and Commanders. However, noted hardo Dan Campbell likely isn't resting starters, previously saying "Yeah, when we’re done with the season, they’re going to rest. I promise you that. They’re going to get plenty of time off.”
Here's the current playoff picture as well as a brief description where each team is at:
1) Baltimore - clinched the 1 seed.
2) Miami - Clinched a playoff berth. They play Buffalo, which will decide the AFC East title.
3) Kansas City - clinched the division and the 3 seed.
4) Jacksonville - Win and in. They technically get in with a loss and help.
5) Cleveland - clinched the 5 seed.
6) Buffalo - They can technically make the playoffs even if they lose. They are playing Miami for the AFC East title.
7) Indianapolis - Win and in, eliminated if they lose.
In the hunt:
- Houston - win and in, eliminated if they lose.
- Pittsburgh - they need to beat the unmotivated Ravens and need help to get in (either the Jags or Bills losing). They can technically get in with a loss.
1) San Francisco - clinched the 1 seed.
2) Dallas - clinched a playoff berth. They can secure the NFC East title with a win or Philly loss. They're playing a bad Commanders team.
3) Detroit (clinched division) - effectively stuck. They can technically make it to the 2 seed with a win and losses by the Eagles and Cowboys, but those teams are playing the Giants and Commanders.
4) Tampa Bay - Win the NFC South with a win over Carolina, eliminated if they lose.
5) Philadelphia - clinched a playoff berth. They can get to the 2 seed by beating the Giants and a Cowboys loss.
6) LA Rams - clinched a playoff berth. They are playing an unmotivated 49ers team and could end up as either the 6 or 7 seed.
7) Green Bay - Win and in
In the hunt:
- Seattle - they need a win and help in the form of Chicago beating Green Bay.
- New Orleans - they can win the NFC South title by beating the Falcons and a Bucs loss. They could make the postseason with a loss and some help.
- Minnesota - they need a lot of help and need to beat Detroit
- Atlanta - they can win the NFC South title by beating the Saints and with a Bucs loss.