I wrote last week about how as we get close to the end of the season, teams may not play their starters because they have nothing to play for. This point is naturally enhanced in week 17.
As a quick recap of last weeks article, teams that have no motivation may end up resting players. However, if a player is on the field, the expectation is they will go out. The players don’t need playoff motivation to go all out on the field.
We should also remember that most teams are going to play most of their starters anyway. The main key to watch out for are players that are injured.
These players may be ready to play, but they may be held out as a precaution. We’ll also need to think about teams that may want to get a look at younger players. With that in mind, let’s break it down the playoff picture
The following are teams that are playing to either make the playoffs, or for seeding:
Kansas City Chiefs – currently the top seed in the AFC, the Chiefs would drop to 5 with a loss and a Chargers win. Both teams are playing at 4:25 (Chiefs vs Raiders, Chargers @ Broncos).
New England Patriots – the Patriots need to win to secure a bye in the AFC. If they lose and the Texans win, the Patriots would drop to the 3 seed. Both teams are playing at 1:00pm (Patriots vs Jets, Texans vs Jaguars).
Houston Texans – see above. The Texans are currently the 3 seed, but can move up to 2 if they beat Jacksonville and the Patriots lose to the Jets.
Baltimore Ravens – the Ravens must win to make the playoffs. They are currently the 4 seed.
LA Chargers – see KC blurb. If the Chiefs somehow lose to Oakland, the Chargers would be the top seed in the AFC with a win over the Broncos. They can’t fall lower than the 5 seed, so there is a shot that they rest starters in the 2nd half if the Chiefs are rolling.
Indianapolis Colts/Tennessee Titans – They are playing each other Sunday night. If the Texans lose earlier in the day, they’ll be playing for the division. If the Texans win, they’ll be playing for the 6 seed. Either way, both teams will go all out.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Pittsburgh needs to beat the Bengals and have the Ravens lose to the Browns to make the playoffs. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore are playing at 4:25 (Steelers vs Bengals, Ravens vs Browns).
LA Rams – Currently the 2 seed, the Rams must win to secure the two seed and a bye.
Chicago Bears– Currently the 3 seed, the Bears can move up to the 2 seed with a win and LA loss. Both teams are playing at 4:25 (Rams vs 49ers, Bears @ Vikings). It’s extremely unlikely the Rams lose at home to the 49ers, and the Bears can’t finish worse than the 3 seed. They could decide to be cautious about this.
Seattle Seahawks – Seattle will be either the 5 or 6 seed, depending on if they win. Most likely, they’ll either travel to Dallas or Chicago for the first round. I’m not sure if the Seahawks care one way or the other.
Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings must win to clinch a playoff berth.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles will make the playoffs if they win and Minnesota loses. Both teams are playing at 4:25 (Eagles @ Redskins, Vikings vs Bears).
The Following Teams Made the Playoffs, and their seed is locked
New Orleans – the Saints are locked in as the 1 seed in the NFC. They will likely rest starters for either the entire game, or part of it.
Dallas Cowboys – the Cowboys are locked in as the 4 seed. I’m expecting them to rest starters, no matter what Jerry Jones says.
All other teams have zero motivation. If you’re wondering about tanking for the top pick in the draft, don’t bother: Football Outsiders gives the Cardinals a 91.4% chance at the top pick (they are playing Seattle on the road this week).
That’s really it for now. We’ll know more in the next day or two, but this will get you started.