Wacky Week 18: Who's Motivated?
With so many injuries and teams resting players for the real NFL playoffs, Week 18 is not ideal for fantasy football, which is why most leagues hold their Championship Game in Week 17. But we realize some of you are still battling, and this is the most important week of the season for those who are.
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This weekend, some teams will be highly motivated to produce, while others are already playing golf in their minds. Four teams compete on Saturday, with the remaining 26 playing Sunday afternoon at either 1:00 PM or 4:25 PM ET, plus one Sunday night game between the Bills and the Dolphins.
What we already know (AFC): Two of the four division titles have been decided, with Baltimore and Kansas City coming out on top. Depending on the remaining outcomes, the Dolphins or Bills will win the AFC East on Sunday night, while the Jaguars hold the top spot in the AFC South and own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Texans and Colts for the division lead. The No. 1 seed and first-round bye goes to the Ravens, with the Wild Card spots going to the Browns and Miami (if they don’t win the AFC East) and some combination of the Bills, Colts, Texans, or Steelers.
What we already know (NFC): Two NFC divisions have been decided, with the 49ers and Lions sitting as title winners. The Cowboys are currently the No. 2 seed, but the NFC East is still TBD, as it will be either Dallas with a win over the Commanders in Week 18 or the Eagles who can win it with a win and a Cowboys loss, but both earned playoff berths regardless of division winner. Tampa Bay leads the NFC South and can clinch with a win over the Panthers this week. The Rams also have clinched a Wild Card spot with the Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Vikings, and Falcons all hoping to punch one ticket.
So, who’s motivated?
Buffalo Bills (1/7 - 8:20 PM ET @ Dolphins)
Motivation is incredibly high for Buffalo as they can win the AFC East for the fourth consecutive season with a win in Miami. The Bills can also punch their ticket if the Steelers or Jaguars lose or tie, or the Houston/Indy contest ends in a tie.
This tilt is the last one on the Week 18 slate so Buffalo will know if they already earned a spot or not, but winning the division has to be a priority for the home-field advantage that would come with that No. 2 seed.
Miami Dolphins (1/7 - 8:20 ET vs. Bills)
The Dolphins are heading to the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since the 2001-2002 season. The AFC East title can be theirs following a 15-year drought with a home victory over the Bills on Sunday night. Miami is dealing with some injuries in fantasy-relevant positions so be sure to keep an eye on their status ahead of Sunday night.
Dallas Cowboys (1/7 - 4:25 PM ET @ Commanders)
Courtesy of a late-season collapse by Philly, the Cowboys control the NFC East and win it with a victory over Washington. They will also be tops in the division if the Eagles lose to the Giants or both games end in a tie. That other battle will be going on simultaneously so chances are fantasy-relevant players will at least start this one but if Washington can’t hang, Mike McCarthy could pull some starters by the end.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1/7 - 1:00 PM ET @ Panthers)
The Bucs are the current fourth seed in the NFC and can win their division with a win or tie against Carolina combined with a Saints loss or tie. Their playoff hopes are kept alive by a victory on Sunday, or a tie along with a Seahawks loss and a Packers loss or tie.
Both Green Bay and Seattle play after their contest is over, so the Bucs should be giving it their all with one eye on the Saints game happening simultaneously.
New Orleans Saints (1/7 - 1:00 PM ET vs. Falcons)
Also part of the unsettled NFC South, the Saints can win the division with a victory and a TB loss or tie, or a tie with a Bucs loss. However, they can also punch their postseason ticket if they beat the Falcons and both Seattle and Green Bay lose or tie, or if they themselves tie and both the Packers and Seahawks lose.
It’s a lot of scenarios to unpack but basically, they need to put everything on the table and win so they will be putting their best players on the field.
Philadelphia Eagles (1/7 - 4:25 PM ET @ Giants)
Currently the No. 5 seed in the NFC, the Eagles can win the division with a victory this week and a Dallas loss or tie, or a tie against the Giants combined with a Cowboys loss.
Green Bay Packers (1/7 - 4:25 PM ET vs. Bears)
The Packers have a laundry list of scenarios where they make the playoffs with the simplest one being a win over the Bears. For our purposes, the rest don’t matter because Green Bay will be highly motivated to control their destiny and should have all available starters on the field. However, here is what they are looking at if they don’t beat the Bears.
- GB tie + SEA loss or tie + NO loss or tie OR
- GB tie + SEA loss + TB loss OR
- GB tie + SEA tie + TB loss or tie OR
- MIN loss or tie + SEA loss + TB loss OR
- MIN loss or tie + SEA loss + NO loss
Jacksonville Jaguars (1/7 - 1:00 PM ET @ Titans)
The Jags hold the No. 4 seed in the AFC for now and can win their division with a win or tie and a tie between the Colts and Texans. They can also keep fighting past this week if they tie and the Steelers lose or tie, or if Pittsburgh loses and Denver loses or ties and the Houston/Indy game does not end in a tie.
Atlanta Falcons (1/7 - 1:00 PM ET @ Saints)
With a 7-9 record through 17 weeks, the Falcons playoff hopes are pretty cut and dry. They need to beat the Saints and have the Buccaneers lose to Carolina to win the NFC South and a trip to the postseason. I’d say all systems go for Atlanta fantasy players, but it is Arthur Smith we’re dealing with.
Indianapolis Colts (1/6 - 8:15 PM ET vs. Texans)
If Indy wins on Saturday night they earn a playoff berth. They need the Jaguars to lose or tie with Tennessee to clinch their division, but if they tie the Texans, they can still win the AFC South with a Jacksonville loss. The Colts will still play past Week 18 if they tie and the Steelers go down or tie.
Houston Texans (1/6 - 8:15 PM ET @ Colts)
Houston is in with a win over the Colts and has a shot at the AFC South with a victory and a Jaguars loss or tie. They can also keep playing if they tie the Colts and both Jacksonville and Pittsburgh lose or the Steelers tie. C.J. Stroud is back and will look to keep this team moving forward.
Minnesota Vikings (1/7 - 1:00 PM @ Lions)
The Vikings need some help in the playoff berth department but must beat the NFC North-winning Lions to get there at all. The Packers and Seahawks must lose in both scenarios and either Tampa Bay or New Orleans must fall short for Minnesota to keep playing past this week. This game takes place before both Green Bay and Seattle take the field so expect all the Vikings on your rosters to suit up.
Seattle Seahawks (1/7 - 4:25 PM ET @ Cardinals)
Currently on the bubble as the eighth seed, Seattle needs to win or tie for any chance at postseason glory. They are in with a victory over Arizona and a Packer loss or tie, or if Seattle ties with the Cardinals they need Green Bay to lose in conjunction with either the Saints or Bucs loss or tie.
Pittsburgh Steelers (1/6 - 4:30 PM ET @ Ravens)
As the last team on the bubble in the AFC, the Steelers have a slew of scenarios that could earn them a spot in the postseason. They play in the first game of the Week 18 slate so winning should be a top priority with everything on the line. It appears they are rolling with Mason Rudolph under center, but the Ravens have already secured that sweet No. 1 seed so will likely be resting some key payers.
Here’s a look at their various paths to a playoff berth.
- PIT win + BUF loss OR
- PIT win + JAX loss or tie OR
- PIT win + HOU-IND tie OR
- PIT tie + JAX loss + HOU-IND doesn't end in a tie OR
- JAX loss + DEN win + HOU-IND doesn't end in a tie
Detroit Lions (1/7 - 1:00 PM ET vs Vikings)
The Lions can move up to the No. 2 seed and it doesn’t seem like HC Dan Campbell will sit back after such a brutal loss to the Cowboys in Week 17. Expect his starters to play for a decent chunk in this one.
Los Angeles Rams (1/7 - 4:25 PM ET @ 49ers)
LA can slide from the sixth seed down to the seventh so Sean McVay may decide to utilize his starters, or he may not. Do they want to play in Dallas or Detroit? I assume he’ll get asked about it many times throughout the week so keep an eye on the situation before setting any lineups. Update (1/3): McVay announced that Matthew Stafford, Kyren Williams, and Cooper Kupp will sit out Week 18, so clearly the Rams aren't too worried about their playoff seeding.
Not Motivated and Probably Resting
Baltimore Ravens (1/6 - 4:30 PM ET vs. Steelers)
Despite this being a heated rivalry between two division franchises, it would seem that John Harbaugh would rest his starters for what’s to come in the postseason following a No. 1 seeding and the bye and home-field advantages that come with it. In his presser following last week’s win, the Ravens HC said he would not keep the status of his players a secret so keep an eye out for any updates from the Baltimore camp.
San Francisco 49ers (1/7 - 4:25 PM ET vs. Rams)
Kyle Shanahan isn’t usually fond of resting players but Christian McCaffrey has already been ruled out and the same may be the case for other players nursing injuries. The 49ers boast the NFC’s No. 1 spot and will be playing for their chance at a title at home.
Kansas City Chiefs (1/7 - 4:25 PM ET @ Chargers)
The Chiefs probably should play everyone since they’ve sputtered on both sides of the ball down the stretch, but Andy Reid historically rests key players in meaningless contests. I’d assume to be without any important Chiefs for most of Sunday's matchup.
Cleveland Browns (1/7 - 1:00 PM ET @ Bengals)
On Monday HC Kevin Stefanski told reporters via video conference, “We want to finish strong, so we’ll have a plan moving forward, but I’ll update you guys as we get going through the week.” It would make sense to rest Amari Cooper but beyond that, it’s tough to tell for now. The Browns are already locked in as the fifth seed in the AFC.
Eliminated From Playoffs:
AFC: Patriots, LA Chargers, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Las Vegas Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos
NFC: Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Commanders, New York Giants, Chicago Bears
Note: The Bears, Panthers, Cardinals, Commanders, and Giants can all play spoiler to a division rival to some extent, so they may play at full strength.