Welcome to the final week of the regular season, aka the most chaotic week in the NFL for us degenerates. I find myself every Tuesday making calls on which injured players I think are going to play, but this week we get the added fun of figuring out which healthy players will play. Teams that are locked into a seed might rest their starters, and we need to figure out who that will be and make the appropriate adjustments. For this reason, models tend to perform worse in week 17 than any other week. This article is intended to examine teams that might not play at full strength, as well as some key injuries that have popped up.
Before I do that, though, I want to make a quick note on motivation: players do not tank. Repeat that over and over again. Tell it to socially distanced strangers on the streets. You will see a slew of articles this week talking about teams that have zero playoff motivation and will question if the players on those teams will give it their all. It’s maybe the biggest bullshit narrative that exists in the NFL, and that’s saying something. These men are some of the most competitive people on the planet, they’ve trained their entire lives for this game, and there’s a fuck ton of money on the line — either indirectly through future contracts or directly through contract incentives. Have you seen them in the preseason? Why do you think the Jets keep winning? Further, do you think they give a rats ass if their team selects 10th vs 12th, or whatever the minimal difference a single loss would be? They likely won’t even be on their current team in a few years. Ok, rant over. Let’s get into it. These are the teams to watch out for this week:
Kansas City Chiefs — the Chiefs are locked into the 1 seed in the AFC. Andy Reid has a history of resting starters in this spot — you may recall in 2017 when they rested Alex Smith for some backup named Patrick Mahomes. They’re currently 3.5 point dogs to the Chargers at Arrowhead. That should tell you all you need to know.
Pittsburgh Steelers — The Steelers could technically move up to the 2 seed with a win and a Bills loss, but they decided they don’t care about that (remember, only the 1 seed gets a bye in the new playoff format). They’ve officially announced that Ben Roethlisberger will not play, and I’d expect more coming. They’re currently 10 point dogs to the Browns.
Buffalo Bills — the Bills are the toughest one. They’re in position to be the two seed, but if they lose to Miami and Pittsburgh wins, they’ll end up the 3 seed. Since Pittsburgh is resting Ben and are 10 point dogs, that isn’t very likely. The feeling seems to be that they’ll play their starters, and Josh Allen may have tipped that with this quote.
However, several books are listing them as a pick em against Miami. We’ll see how the model prices it, but my feeling is Buffalo would be a much larger favorite if they were playing their starters and would be a dog if they were resting. We’ll simply have to wait and see.
Los Angeles Rams – The Rams have all the motivation in the world — they need to win to guarantee a playoff spot. However, they’ll be without Jared Goff after he injured his thumb last week. That means John Wolford will get the nod. Wolford hasn’t played a snap in the NFL yet, his last snap coming in the AAF in 2019. Wolford played well in the AAF, completing 63.1% of his passes, gaining 7.8 yards per attempt, 14 TDs, 7 picks, and a 79.3 PFF grade. Also, Cooper Kupp was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday (12/29). It’s unclear if he tested positive or if he’s a close contact. If it’s the former, he’s out for week 17. If it’s the latter, he’ll play as long as he tests negative.
Similarly, the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals had injuries to their QBs. Deshaun Watson injured his elbow, but said he’ll play despite the Texans being eliminated from the playoffs. Kyler Murray hurt his leg, but should be ok to play the Rams in a game that they must win to get in.
Every other team should play as if it’s a normal week. We’ll probably hear a few things about teams getting a look at a few different guys, but nothing major that will impact the spread. Scoreboard watching isn’t even an easy thing to do this week because of the way the NFL designed the schedule. For example, The Cowboys are playing the Giants, and the winner could win the NFC East if Washington loses. For that reason, Washington was flexed to Sunday Night, so both teams have no choice but to go for it.
Enjoy the chaos, my friends.