Week 17 is more about information than matchups or talent. We need to understand which teams will be going all-out to win, which ones will be resting starters from the opening whistle and which ones will ease off their stars later in the game. We also need to be aware of non-playoff teams who might want to get a look at some younger players in real-game situations.
Of course, all this won’t be entirely clear as NFL coaches are notoriously tight-lipped. Our job is to assemble as much information as possible and then make decisions. Here is the playoff picture from a Week 17 DFS standpoint.
1. Chiefs (11-4)SITUATION: Must win to clinch AFC’s No. 1 seed
OUTLOOK: Andy Reid and the Chiefs annually rest players when they have no Week 17 incentive. That is not the case this year. The Chiefs will either have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs or they’ll be a wild-card team. So we safely can project them to play all first-stringers in a home game against a Raiders team coming off its Super Bowl on Monday night. Don’t expect any limitations on Patrick Mahomes, Damien Williams, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, etc.
2. Patriots (10-5)SITUATION: Must win to clinch AFC’s No. 2 seed
OUTLOOK: The Patriots need losses by both the Chiefs and Chargers to have a path to the No. 1 seed. But they still have plenty to play for as a home win against the Jets would mean a first-round bye and home game in the Divisional Round. This is a big part of the Patriots’ decade-long dynasty — beat up on the pathetic AFC East, earn playoff byes/home games and go from there. Expect Bill Belichick to unleash all his players Week 17.
3. Texans (10-5)SITUATION: Must win to clinch first-round home game
OUTLOOK: The Texans still have a shot at the AFC’s No. 2 seed, but they’d need the Patriots to lose at home to the Jets. The more likely motivation is the Texans need a win in Week 17 to clinch the AFC South and get a home game in Wild Card weekend as the No. 3 seed. A loss at home to the Jags would mean the winner of Sunday night’s Colts at Titans game would win the division. Most importantly, it would mean the Texans fall all the way to the AFC’s No. 6 seed — aka a road Wild Card game. So this is another team that will be all-out to win.
4. Ravens (9-6)SITUATION: Must win to make playoffs
OUTLOOK: The Ravens have won five of their past six games and now control their own playoff fate. If they beat the Browns at home Sunday, they win the AFC North and also have a tiny shot at the No. 2 seed. If they lose to the Browns and the Steelers win, they’re out of the playoffs. That creates an interesting situation as the surging Browns have said they’ll treat this as their playoff game. Lamar Jackson and company should be ready for a hard-fought and full game.
5. Chargers (11-4)SITUATION: Must win and have Chiefs lose to earn AFC’s No. 1 seed
OUTLOOK: In theory, the Chargers should be all-out to win at Denver Sunday. However, the only way they’ll move out of the AFC’s No. 5 seed is if they win AND the Chiefs lose at home to the Raiders. The Chiefs are 13.5-point favorites, as of writing. Los Angeles coach Anthony Lynn says he won’t be backing off his first-stringers, and he’s likely telling the truth. But if the Chiefs are up 28-3 at halftime, it’s going to be tough to not scale back on his guys. They’ll have a road playoff game one week later.
6. Colts (9-6) and 7. Titans (9-6)SITUATION: Must win to make playoffs
OUTLOOK: The winner of Sunday night’s Colts at Titans game will clinch a playoff berth. They’d either be the No. 3 seed (if the Texans lose Sunday) or the No. 6 seed (if the Texans win). Obviously all Colts and Titans will be going all-out on the week’s only non main-slate game.
8. Steelers (8-6-1)SITUATION: Must win and have Ravens lose to make playoffs
OUTLOOK: The Steelers have lost four of their past five games and now find themselves on the outside looking in. The good news is the Browns are playing at a playoff-caliber level right now, so the Ravens are no lock Sunday. The Steelers will be going all-out against a Bengals defense ranked 31st in yards per play allowed.
- All other AFC teams have been eliminated from playoff contention.
1. Saints (13-2)SITUATION: Locked into NFC’s No. 1 seed
OUTLOOK: The Saints will have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs regardless of Sunday’s results. We have a decent sample of how Sean Payton has handled these spots in the past. In 2009 Payton sat his starters when they had the No. 1 seed locked up, and in 2006 he did the same with the No. 2 seed locked up. In 2010, Payton decided to play his starters even though the Saints only had a slim chance at altering their seeding — and he lost a few starters to injury. As noted in this story, Payton talked about the regrets. So we can expect a ton of Teddy Bridgewater, Dwayne Washington, Keith Kirkwood, Tommylee Lewis and Austin Carr on Sunday.
2. Rams (12-3)SITUATION: Must win to clinch NFC’s No. 2 seed
OUTLOOK: A Rams loss combined with a Bears win Sunday means Sean McVay’s group will be playing on Wild Card Weekend as the No. 3 seed. They certainly don’t want that. So we can expect all their healthy guys to play a full game against a 49ers team they hung 39 points on in Week 7. It remains to be seen if their healthy guys will include Todd Gurley (knee), who remains questionable. C.J. Anderson held a 66 percent share of RB carries and added three targets in Week 16.
3. Bears (11-4)SITUATION: Must win and have Rams lose to earn NFC’s No. 2 seed
OUTLOOK: This one is a bit tricky as the Bears can’t fall lower than the No. 3 seed. And the only way they move up is if the Rams lose at home to the 49ers. So there’s a smidge of risk with the Bears, and it’s reflected in the line as they opened 6.5-point underdogs at Minnesota. The Vikings are also highly motivated (see below), so the Bears aren’t getting any pushover. If the game starts to get away from them or the Rams are blowing out the Niners, there’s a chance Matt Nagy could pull back on the reins.
4. Cowboys (9-6)SITUATION: Locked into NFC’s No. 4 seed
OUTLOOK: In the aftermath of last week’s NFC East-clinching win, Jerry Jones claimed the Cowboys would not rest starters at all in Week 17. Even though they will be the NFC’s No. 4 seed regardless of Sunday’s results. “We’re all-out. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got some work to do out here, I think we’ll all agree. We don’t want to, if we can, go into the playoffs with dangling participles – loose ends.” In 2016, the Cowboys clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed in Week 16. They claimed they’d play starters in Week 17, but Dak Prescott played two series, Ezekiel Elliott didn’t play at all and Dez Bryant logged just 18 snaps. We can’t trust Jerry Jones in this situation no matter what he says — don’t count on full games form the Cowboys’ front-line players.
5. Seahawks (9-6)SITUATION: Will either be NFC’s No. 5 or 6 seed
OUTLOOK: If the Seahawks win they’ll be the No. 5 seed. If they lose AND the Vikings win, they’ll be the No. 6 seed. This is the difference between playing at Dallas in the Wild Card round or at (most likely) Chicago. I’m not sure if the Seahawks really care who they play — I personally think going to Dallas is slightly easier. But if Pete Carroll doesn’t care, it’s certainly possible he takes it easy on some key players who are nicked. Doug Baldwin and Rashaad Penny are a couple of guys who have been on the injury report of late.
6. Vikings (8-6-1)SITUATION: Must win to clinch playoff berth
The Vikings are in with a win, either as the NFC’s No. 5 or 6 seed. They still can get in with a loss, but they’d also need the Eagles to lose against the Redskins. Obviously the Vikings can’t count on that, so they’ll be all-out to win against the Bears. These Bears are motivated, but not to the extent of some other teams on the slate (see above).
7. Eagles (8-7)SITUATION: Must win and have Vikings lose to make playoffs
The Eagles need to beat the Redskins and get help from the Bears. Nick Foles and the rest of the starters will be going all-out against a defense that has looked solid the past two weeks but has faced the pathetic offenses of the Jags and Titans. Foles is up to $5,900 after breaking the slate at $4,700 last week.
- All other NFC teams have been eliminated from playoff contention.
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