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OWS Fam —
Everyone’s favorite (or not-so-favorite) week of the NFL season: Week 18(!).
You don’t need a lengthy preamble. Some teams have nothing to play for this week because they’re out of the playoff picture. Other teams have nothing to play for this week because they’re locked into their spot in the playoffs. Other teams have their single-most important game of the season. Backup QBs will be under center in spots (nothing new for us this year!), other starters will be getting rest, the field will probably be flocking to fragile chalk, and there will probably be one or two players no one is thinking about who end up breaking the slate. With that, let’s get to what we always get to heading into this week of the season: a rundown of what each team has to play for, and what we might be able to expect.
As always, this will be covered in the NFL Edge (duh), and will be touched on in OWS podcasts and late-week content — with updated information sure to flow our way as the week develops — but this should serve as a starting-point primer with regards to what we can expect in each game on the Main Slate.
The Bucs have everything to play for in this one, as they lock up the NFC South and a home playoff game with a win, and will need quite a bit of help to make the playoffs if they lose. Expect them to treat this as a do-or-die game.
The Panthers, of course, have nothing to play for, but this has been the case for them for a while. Jonathan Mingo has been placed on I.R. (something we could see in a number of places this week where a team’s season is over and a player is banged up), but anyone who remains on the active roster for the Panthers should have their normal role as Carolina tries to finish on a high note and spoil the fun for their divisional rival.
The Browns have already locked up the No. 5 seed in the AFC (they cannot move higher or lower), and have already announced that Jeff Driskel will start for them this week. Keep in mind, of course, that there are 53 players on an active roster, and 45 players have to be active on game day. In a typical game, 44 of those 45 players will have a role of some sort (with the backup QB being the exception) — reminding us that “starters resting” is not as all-encompassing as that statement makes it sound. Said differently: teams that are “resting starters” will still be playing plenty of starters — but in the case of the Browns, I would expect Amari Cooper, Myles Garrett, and anyone else who is key to this team and banged up at this point in the season to be among the team’s inactives. The Browns could also look to give lighter workloads to the starters who have to be active.
As for the Bengals: they have nothing to play for and don’t even get to “potentially spoil things for a division rival.” The one angle at play for Cincy is their 8-8 record. A win equals a winning season (which would be quite a moral victory given Burrow’s calf issue at the start of the year and subsequent absence down the stretch). A loss equals a losing season. Players who are active on game day for the Bengals should have their normal role, though it won’t be surprising if Ja’Marr Chase (who played at less than 100% last week) and Tee Higgins (missed practice on Wednesday) are inactive on Sunday or placed on I.R. before we get to Sunday. Keep an eye out for news around this team, as it won’t be surprising if their skill positions feature different players than normal this week.
The Vikings appear to be out of the playoffs, but they technically still have pathways into the dance with a win and a decent amount of help. Expect them to play this as a do-or-die game, with all able bodies playing their normal roles.
The Lions essentially have nothing to play for (the officiating blunder on Saturday eliminated the possibility of the Lions earning the No. 1 seed, which means that they are locked into the No. 2 or No. 3 seed — and would need a win and a Cowboys loss to the Commanders in order to move up to the 2), but Dan Campbell isn’t the kind of coach who is likely to rest players. In a situation such as this, there is risk that the Lions play their starters but pull some of them as the game moves along — though it also won’t be surprising if Detroit treats this like any other game.
The Jets and Patriots have both been out of contention for a while, though each team continues to play hard and try to win games (contrary to the evidence presented by each team’s offense). Expect more of the same here — with the Jets implied to score only 14.5 points, and with the Patriots implied to score 16.0.
The Falcons almost certainly will not make the playoffs, but the door to the division title is still open if they win and get help from the Panthers. (Good luck.) Expect them to treat this as a do-or-die game, with all able bodies playing their normal roles.
The Saints do not control their own destiny, but they can sneak into the playoffs if they take care of business and get some unlikely help in the late window from the red hot Bears AND the hot-and-cold Cardinals, or if they win and get some help in the early window from the doormats of their division in the Panthers. While the playoffs are a long-shot for this team, they are nevertheless a possibility, and the first thing the Saints need to do is take care of business here. Same as the team on the other side, expect all able bodies to be playing their normal roles.
The Jaguars need a win in order to lock up the AFC South — and while they can still make the playoffs with a loss, they will need help for that to happen (which is obviously a position they won’t want to be in). Expect all able bodies to be playing their normal roles.
The Titans, of course, have nothing to play for, but Mike Vrabel will have his squad prepared to play the role of spoiler, and will almost certainly give the Jags a tough test. This isn’t a team we should expect to be “looking toward the future” with regards to personnel decisions. Instead, the Titans will be looking toward “how they can best win this game.”
The Seahawks have relinquished control over their playoff destiny, and now need a win and a Packers loss in order to sneak into the dance. Of course, the NFL knows what they are doing when it comes to scheduling, and the Seahawks will be playing in the same time slot as the Packers — giving us confidence that all able bodies will be playing their normal roles in a game the Seahawks will be treating as do-or-die.
The Cardinals, of course, have nothing to play for (and they have draft spots they are losing with each win), but as they showed us last week against Philly: they will continue playing hard, and they would love to play the role of spoiler for the second consecutive week. Expect all able bodies to be playing their normal roles.
The Bears have been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, but they have also quietly put together a 2022-Lions-like run to close out the season, with a 5-2 record in their last seven games, a defense that is playing lights-out, and an offense that has been clicking of late. Last year, the Lions entered Week 18 with no shot at making the playoffs, but with a chance to knock the Packers out of the playoffs and enter the offseason on a high note. The Bears are in that same position this week, and will look to do the same thing the Lions did last year. Expect all able bodies to play their normal roles.
The Packers, of course, are in the playoffs with a win, and are almost certainly out of the playoffs with a loss. (By the time this game kicks off, it may already be a true “do or die” — depending on what happens in the early games.) Obviously, expect all able bodies to play their normal roles, with no surprises expected.
The Chiefs will be the Blaine Gabbert show on Sunday, with the No. 3 seed locked up and no room for any shuffling to occur. More news is likely to spill out throughout the week with regards to other players resting, and we should have eight of the Chiefs’ top players among the inactives on Sunday. Among active players, some starters will obviously have to play, though this is likely to look like a different Chiefs team than we are used to seeing.
The Chargers have nothing to play for, and cannot spoil anything for the Chiefs. It seems unlikely that Keenan Allen or Josh Palmer are allowed to risk their health for a meaningless game, and Easton Stick will obviously still be under center as well. We’ll know more about this team’s plans as we move deeper into the week.
The Broncos have nothing to play for and will be starting Jarrett Stidham once again. With this game being meaningless for both teams, and with the Broncos’ roster likely to look different next year as Sean Payton continues to develop his vision for this organization, there isn’t much to be excited about from a “narrative” standpoint. I would expect banged-up players for the Broncos to be placed on I.R. throughout the week, though all players who are active in this one should have their normal roles.
The Raiders also have nothing to play for, though Antonio Pierce is building a resume for a head coaching gig, and the players have bought into his energy/mindset — making them a tough team to play throughout the second half of the season. Expect all able bodies to play their normal roles.
The Eagles technically still have plenty to play for. If they win and the Cowboys lose, they will lock up the NFC East crown and secure a home playoff game for the first round (with a shot at a home game in the second round). There is a chance we get news throughout the week to the contrary, but I would expect the Eagles to treat this like any other game…with the caveat that there is genuine risk of Dallas blowing out the Commanders, and of the Eagles resting starters by the fourth quarter if this is the case. This is a risk/reward spot, with clear opportunity for the Eagles to be a worthwhile DFS target, but also with clear opportunity for the Eagles to not play starters for the entirety of this game.
The Giants, of course, have nothing to play for, but this has been the case for a while. Expect all able bodies to play their normal roles.
Carson Wentz vs Sam Darnold. The Rams have already announced that Matthew Stafford, Kyren Williams, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald will be resting, and there could be more to come. The 49ers have already announced that Brock Purdy will be resting, and given that Christian McCaffrey picked up a calf strain last week and could benefit from multiple weeks of rest and recovery, it’s all but certain he will be out as well.
As noted above: there are only so many starters who can be inactive on game day, and most active players will need to have some sort of role. With this in mind, the Rams’ defense could still be close to full strength, and the 49ers’ star-studded roster could still have plenty of firepower. Of course, there is also risk of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle starting but only playing a quarter or two, and there is risk of the Rams’ offense being dysfunctional with Carson Wentz at the helm. We’ll get more clarity on this spot as we move deeper into the week, but neither team has anything to play for (the Rams almost certainly have the No. 6 seed, and if they fall to the No. 7 seed it’s not a big deal; the 49ers have locked up the No. 1 seed), and each team will be more focused on getting healthy for the playoffs than on trying to win this game.
The Cowboys need to take care of business here in order to lock up the NFC East and the No. 2 seed, and they should therefore be treating this like any other game on the schedule.
The Commanders would obviously love to spoil things for their division rival — so while we could see banged-up players placed on I.R. before the end of the week, all able bodies should be expected to play their normal roles.
That does it for this week’s Angles (and does it for Angles Emails on the season!).
Keep an eye on OWS throughout the week, and keep an eye out for news, as there will be plenty more that develops between now and kickoff — but this gives us a good “starting-point” primer, and helps position us to make sharp decisions on Sunday.
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