When trying to decipher who to play in Week 17 of the NFL season, we first need to look at motivation, then health and then whatever scenarios you can build in your head that will likely end up being incorrect. Below I take a look at each team’s motivation to win in Week 17.
Teams already in the playoffs with no motivation to play starters:
The Ravens will rest their starters according to John Harbaugh. They have the No. 1 seed clinched. There is a chance a player like Justice Hill could see good run and has some value, but no matter what we hear, we cannot trust any Ravens player to play all game.
The Texans have a slim chance to move from the No. 4 to No. 3 seed but that can only happen if the Chiefs lose to the Chargers at home in the early game. Kansas City still has something to play for, as they want to keep the No. 3 seed and they could take the No. 2 seed if they win and the Patriots lose to the Dolphins, so they will go all out and should dispatch with Phillip Rivers and company.
Bill O’Brien says they will play to win, but his backups can “play to win” just the same as the starters. DeShaun Watson was hobbling much of last week and I doubt he plays unless he is 100 percent and the Chargers pull an upset in Kansas City.
The Bills are locked in to the fifth seed with no reason to risk injuries in Week 17 against the Jets. They may end up playing starters like a preseason game or sitting them completely.
The loss on Monday night to the Packers locks theVikings into the No. 6 seed. They may end up playing some of their starters after an awful offensive performance against the Packers but we can’t rely on them playing the whole game. UPDATE: The Vikings do plan on resting their starters according to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin.
Team in must-win scenario:
The Titans play the Texans who will probably sit some key players. The Titans will play all out, as a win means they get into the playoffs as a sixth seed and a loss means they are likely out. They rested Derrick Henry last week so he would have a better chance at being healthy in this must-win game and they’ve played great offensively of late and could see a disinterested Texans defense.
Teams who will play to win but could rest key players late
The Saints hold the No. 3 seed after the Packers beat the Vikings on Monday Night Football. The Packers win hurt their chances at a playoff bye but they still can get the No. 1 seed if the Lions can beat the Packers, Seattle can beat the 49ers and they beat the Panthers. They can still get the No. 2 seed and a bye if the Packers win, which seems likely, and the 49ers lose, which is more likely than the Packers losing. In that scenario, the Saints outcome against the Panthers doesn’t matter, so we could see them rest players if they see that Green Bay is up big on the Lions at or after halftime.
The Cowboys will need the Giants to beat the Eagles but they won’t know the outcome of that game, as they play at the same time. They will play all out at home against Washington, in what should be a good game to mine for fantasy upside. The Cowboys offense can still be strong, especially at home against Washington, who just gave up five touchdown passes to Daniel Jones.
If the Eagles get up big on the Giants, there is a chance Dallas rests Dak Prescott, especially since his shoulder is hurting. If they were to rest Prescott with little hope of making the playoffs, they could easily do the same with their other starters. It’s something to watch out for but there’s also a pretty good chance that the Giants can make a game of it at home against the Eagles to keep the Cowboys playing all out.
If the Eagles beat the Giants in Week 17, they’re in the playoffs. They can get in with a loss by Dallas as well, but the Cowboys are favored to win at home over Washington and will play at the same time as the Eagles. Carson Wentz and company will play all out and in a good matchup for fantasy and DFS. Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum combined to put up 291 yards and three touchdowns on the Giants last week, so there should be DFS and run of the mill fantasy points to be had on both sides.
Much like the Cowboys, if the Eagles see that they will win the NFC East due to the Cowboys getting swamped by Washington, they could start resting starters. Dallas is favored by two scores and should at least keep the game close, so I don’t see that happening, but the chance is there.
The Steelers need to beat the resting Ravens and have the possibly resting Texans beat the Titans. That isn’t likely, but they will play to win with that chance to make the playoffs on the line. Their defense is probably the only fantasy play you can feel good about this week though, as Devlin Hodges has looked awful and James Conner could miss due to an injury.
If the Titans were to get out to a big lead against the possibly resting Texans, the Steelers matchup becomes moot. They likely won’t rest starters, as they are playing mostly backups as it is, but they could lose some verve in their motivation.
The Raiders will play with minimal playoff hopes on the line, as they need to beat the Broncos and get wins by the Ravens, Texans and Colts and another win from one of the Bears, Lions, Chiefs or Patriots. All of that is to say they will play to win but will also likely miss the playoffs.
There are numerous scenarios that will knock the Raiders out of playoff contention going on at the same time they play the Broncos, but I doubt Jon Gruden changes much of anything if those scenarios look set in stone while they are playing.
Teams with playoff seeding at stake:
The 49ers currently own the No. 1 seed but they face the Seahawks this week and have already lost to them earlier in the season. That means, if they lose again, they will drop from the No. 1 seed and its precious bye week and home field advantage all the way down to the 5th or 6th seed and a road game in the wild card round. That is a precipitous fall and one they will try their hardest to avoid.
The Seahawks face much of the same trouble as the 49ers. If they lose to them, they stay in the wild card round but if they win, they’ll win the NFC West and move up to the No. 2 seed and get a bye week. The 49ers aren’t a cupcake defense but they’ve been giving up big points of late and this game could end up being a boon of fantasy points.
Green Bay Packers
With a win over the Vikings, the Packers set themselves up for the No. 2 seed if they can beat the Lions in Week 17. They will also have a chance to take the No. 1 seed if the Saints lose to the Panthers. If they lose to the Lions, they would likely also lose their bye week and drop to the No. 3 seed. There’s no-doubt they will play to win and in a good matchup with a weak Lions defense.
New England Patriots
The Patriots, like any team in their position, want a bye week instead of needing to play in the wild card round. They can get that done with a win over the Dolphins in Foxboro. The Dolphins aren’t good and they will likely be beaten by the Patriots but they have played well enough offensively to possibly make it a game. Either way, the Patriots get a good matchup for their offense and they should give us some fantasy points in the process.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs need to win to keep from possibly falling from the third seed to the fourth seed and to possibly move up to the No. 2 seed. The latter scenario is one worth making sure you take care of business, as the No. 2 seed is accompanied by a bye and a home game. They would need the Patriots to lose to the Dolphins at home but this Patriots team is more vulnerable than other Patriots teams of the past. Patrick Mahomes and company should have decent upside at home against a defeated Chargers team.
Teams eliminated from the playoffs
Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Washington.
All of these teams have players on them who will be useful for fantasy this week, but we can expect any player with an injury, disclosed or undisclosed, to sit for a backup in a meaningless game.
A player like Christian McCaffrey needs 67 yards receiving to joint the 1,000/1,000 club, so we can feel good about him playing. Joe Mixon needs 25 yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards while Phillip Lindsay needs 42, and Saquon Barkley needs 89 to hit that arbitrary number. Aaron Jones needs just a handful of rushing yards to reach the century mark and one touchdown to hit 20 on the season.
Tyler Boyd, D.J. Chark, George Kittle, Mike Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Austin Ekeler, and A.J. Brown all need under 100 receiving yards to top the 1,000 yard mark. As long as these players are healthy, their team should let them reach for those milestones.
We also may get more information as the week goes on of bonus incentives that players are reaching for in 2019. It’s hard to duplicate the drive for an extra 100k in the stocking.