Thursday, Sep 8th
Monday, Sep 12th

Process Points. 18.21.

Lesson of the Week: A True “One Week Season”

This week, instead of my normal article looking back, I have done some research and takeaways on the unique Week 18 slate and situation with playoff scenarios and what it means for each team. I figured this would be more useful for you than my normal article since these things make this slate such a one-of-a-kind thing. There are a ton of moving parts and games that will affect the approach of other teams entering their games and potentially cause teams to pull the plug early to rest players in the longest season in NFL history. Enjoy!!

AFC

  • Titans
    • Lock up 1-seed with a win at Houston OR if KC and CIN both lose
  • Chiefs
    • Will be no lower than 2-seed if they win (would depend on if TEN beats HOU)
    • Likely 3 or 4-seed if they lose (lose tiebreaker to all of CIN, BUF, and NE)
  • Bengals
    • Current 3-seed. Can only move up with losses from KC or TEN
    • If they lose, they drop to 4-seed, assuming one of BUF or NE wins.
  • Bills
    • Clinched playoffs
    • Win division with a win against the Jets
    • Can be as high as 2-seed if KC and/or CIN lose (will know both results)
    • Can be as low as 7-seed if they lose, and NE and IND both win.
  • Patriots
    • Clinched playoffs
    • Win division with a win and BUF loss to NYJ
    • 5-seed if win and BUF win
    • 6-seed if lose and IND win
  • Colts
    • Beat JAX, and they are in
    • If win:
      • 5-seed if BUF or NE loses
      • 6-seed if BUF & NE both win, and Chargers win Sunday night
      • 7-seed if BUF & NE both win, and Raiders win Sunday night 
    • If they lose, they can still make the playoffs if LAC, NE, and PIT all lose.
  • Chargers/Raiders
    • The winner of this game is in the playoffs.
    • Raiders can have a playoff spot locked up before they play if both of the following things happen:
      • Jaguars beat Colts
      • Ravens beat Steelers
  • Steelers/Ravens
    • Both teams must win to stay alive. 
    • Either team would need the Colts to lose to the Jaguars in order to have a chance. The Colts play at the same time as PIT/BAL.
    • Divisional rivalry, proud coaches, outside chances at playoffs – both teams will be giving it everything they have.

Some Assumptions – It is the NFL, so you never want to completely write teams off, but usually, when we get these surprising late-season wins from dead teams, it is a good team who has underachieved that knocks off a team who may have overachieved…..it is rarely a doormat type of team that knocks off a very good team with a lot on the line. There are three games in the AFC that fit the latter description, and if we make some assumptions based on those games, things get a little clearer:

  • We will know the Chiefs result on Saturday, which will have a ripple effect. If we assume they beat a lame-duck Broncos team with Drew Lock, then they are the 2-seed at worst. 
  • Tennessee is playing a very bad Houston team with the 1-seed on the line, so again a relatively safe assumption of them winning/controlling that game can be made. 
  • Buffalo plays at home against the Jets with a division title on the line. It would be easy to say the Jets are a real threat after they almost (should have) beat the Bucs in Week 17. However, the Bucs were a warm-weather team playing on the road, in the cold, riddled with injuries and turmoil. They even had flight issues with two of their starting defensive backs who were returning off the COVID list that caused them to arrive at the stadium right before kickoff. The Bills are healthy, at home, and playing for a division title. This is not the same as last week.

TAKEAWAYS – If those assumptions play out as expected (which seems reasonable), that would mean the following:

  • Cincinnati will know before their game starts if the Chiefs won, and they will know while they are playing if Tennessee is in control of the Texans, as expected. This increases the risk of the Bengals pulling some of their more important players very early or in the middle of the game. Head coach Zac Taylor is currently saying they will approach this week the same as normal, but the oddsmakers don’t appear to believe him. Taylor has to have that approach right now because if the Chiefs were to lose on Saturday, they need to be ready to play – it is better to be prepared for an unlikely scenario and then decide not to play your key players once you have the information than to scramble at the last minute if the Chiefs lose. There isn’t much difference between the 3-seed and 4-seed, so it would make sense for the Bengals to be conservative here. This would change if the Chiefs lose on Saturday, in which case Cincinnati would be full throttle on Sunday trying to secure two rounds of home playoff games.
    • NOTE:: It sounds like Baker Mayfield is not going to play this week, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Browns sit some other key players as well. They looked like a team who had cashed it in on Monday night. This game could quickly turn into a preseason type of game.
  • Buffalo and New England will know before their games start what the results were for the three teams above them. Obviously, both teams want to win and take the division. However, if the Bills dominate the Jets as expected, the Patriots will know that means they will be the 5-seed or 6-seed (which there really isn’t much of a difference between). If Jacksonville upsets Indy, that would mean the Patriots are locked into the 5-seed if the Bills win. Again, the Patriots will likely prepare for the game like normal, but there is some real concern for them changing course early or in the middle of the game to protect some important players if/when their positioning becomes clear.
    • Miami does not own their 1st round pick and has a chance to finish the year with a winning record with a win. Head coach Brian Flores is a Patriots disciple, so this game will mean something extra to him as well, so we should expect a full effort from Miami (who beat New England in Week 1). The Dolphins are eliminated from the playoffs because of tiebreakers, but this game will still mean something to them. If the Patriots don’t see a difference between the 5-seed and 6-seed, this game may actually mean more to the Dolphins than it does to the Patriots. Bill Belichick has lost key players in meaningless games before. I wouldn’t be surprised with him treating this as a glorified preseason game.
  • The Ravens and Steelers play each other at the same time the Colts play. If the Colts lose, the winner of this game would have a chance to make the playoffs. Even if it becomes clear that the Colts are going to win, this is a huge divisional rivalry with tough, competitive coaches and possibly Ben Roethlisberger’s last career game. I would not expect either team to pull off the gas, regardless of the status of other games.
  • Also, there is only one AFC team who can truly play “spoiler” this week and knock a team out of the playoffs despite already being eliminated themselves – the Jaguars. Three division champions are already crowned, and six of the seven playoff spots are decided (Chargers/Raiders is late and a “win and in” situation). It is hard to sell the “spoiler” narrative for knocking a team down a seed or two. 

NFC

  • Packers
    • Locked into 1-seed 
  • Rams
    • Clinched playoffs
    • A win gives them the division championship and 2-seed
    • If they lose, they could drop to the 5-seed with ARI win
  • Bucs
    • Clinched Division
    • Win and Rams loss = 2-seed
    • Bucs lose OR Rams win = 3 or 4-seed
  • Cowboys
    • Clinched Division, current 4-seed
    • Need Rams AND Cardinals to lose in order to move to 3-seed (need Bucs to lose as well for 2-seed)
    • Play Saturday, won’t know anything
  • Cardinals
    • Need win and LAR loss to win the division
      • If that happens AND TB loses, could be 2-seed
  • Eagles
    • Locked into playoff spot, 6-seed or 7-seed depending on results
  • 49ers
    • Need win or Saints loss to make the playoffs (as 6 or 7-seed)
  • Saints
    • Must win AND SF lose to get in

Some Assumptions – We may get clarity on the approach that some teams will have over the course of the week, but here are some things we can consider:

  • GB/DET
    • Jordan Love will start for the Packers, who should treat this like a preseason game.
    • The Lions will have the #2 draft pick at worst. Winning doesn’t hurt their draft position. They could get the #1 pick if JAX beats IND, but IND will be doing all they can to win, so that seems unlikely. This means the Lions will definitely be trying to win against the Packers back-ups (so it will be a pretty fair fight).
  • DAL/PHI
    • The Cowboys play on Saturday. Even if they win, they would need all of TB, LAR, and ARI to lose to improve their seed – which seems like a lot to ask. Mike McCarthy has had a lot of playoff coaching experience and knows the importance of being healthy going into the playoffs, and with the season being a game longer this year, getting his guys some rest would make sense, especially considering the chances of the Bucs, Rams, and Cardinals all losing is so low.
    • The Eagles had to place a number of players on the COVID list Monday. Those players may be cleared, but with no practice on a short week, they may err on the side of caution with their playoff spot secure and no huge difference between the 6-seed and 7-seed.

TAKEAWAYS – Based on current playoff positioning, game times, and what we know right now, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • The Seahawks are a solid team who had a bad year. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have a lot of pride. A win can keep the Cardinals from winning the division. We should expect Seattle to treat this as their own playoff game. Seattle also does not own their own 1st round pick in the draft, so they have zero incentive to lose.
  • Arizona obviously has a lot to play for, and the only thing that would change that would be if the Rams get out to a huge lead on the 49ers, which would make the game meaningless for Arizona. Given the playoff implications for the 49ers and the fact that they beat the Rams convincingly last time, it seems unlikely for that to happen. Arizona players could have some risk of getting pulled early, however, if the Rams are dominant.
  • The Rams and 49ers both need to win and can’t afford to take anything for granted as a loss for either team could significantly alter their playoff situation.
  • The Bucs play in the late afternoon wave on Sunday and won’t know the results of the NFC West matchups. The Bucs will have a shot at being as high as the 2-seed if the Rams lose (against a team they’ve already lost to). This would lock in multiple home games in the playoffs, so they will care about it. As mentioned before, the SF/LAR game is likely to be competitive throughout, so the Bucs should be playing this one out. However, if they can dominate Carolina as they did two weeks ago, they will have the luxury of getting Gronk and Evans to their bonus numbers and getting them out of the game early.
    • Carolina may be looking for a franchise quarterback in the draft and currently would have the 6th pick in the draft. Depending on other results, if they win, they could fall as far as the 9th pick, and if they lose, they could move up as far as the 3rd pick. The Panthers are an analytically driven team and are likely very aware of this situation.
  • New Orleans has to win to have a chance to get in (they need a 49ers loss). This is a huge game for the Rams, and it is unlikely the 49ers will dominate to the point where the Saints would feel like they have no chance to make it. Expect a normal, full effort from the Saints.
    • The Falcons have had a disappointing season and are eliminated from the playoffs. They would currently get the 10th pick in the draft. A win would do nothing for them this season and move them back in the draft order, while a loss could move them up as high as the 7th pick. Matt Ryan turns 37 in May, and the Falcons may target a quarterback, so a potential change in draft position could be big for them. We should pay close attention to the mood and sentiments coming out of Atlanta this week.

DEAD GAMES:: These games have no playoff implications for either team. 

  • WFT/NYG
    • Washington still put up a fight against the Eagles last week, while the Giants got embarrassed by the Bears. Joe Judge says the team is fighting and will be ready to play, but this game should be ugly all around. The Giants defense has still been playing alright. They just give up points because the offense gives opponents such short fields. From Judge’s post-game comments, we should expect another run-heavy split from the Giants offense.
    • Assuming the Texans and Jets lose to the high-caliber teams they play, the Giants can’t improve their draft position with a loss and would only drop one spot at most if they win.
  • CHI/MIN
    • You can bet your bottom dollar that Matt Nagy is giving this one everything he’s got. Everyone who is capable of playing will be suited up for the Bears (except Justin Fields), and Nagy will try to win this one and convince ownership to give him another year due to the “momentum” he has to end the year (winning three straight games against dead teams). Given what we’ve seen out of Chicago ownership, it just might work. The Bears also do not own their 1st round pick, so there should be no pressure internally for any benefits to losing.
    • Things are a bit ugly in Minnesota as everyone is mad at Kirk Cousins for missing their must-win game in Green Bay in Week 17. Head coach Mike Zimmer said that rookie Kellen Mond would not play, so it’s either Kirk Cousins or Sean Mannion for the Vikings. Given that Cousins is fully guaranteed $35 million next season (with another $10 million from his signing bonus counting against the Salary Cap), it seems that sitting him would be wise.
    • No one knows what Dalvin Cook’s legal situation will lead to in the off-season, so that could have some effect on their approach here. 
      • I don’t know exactly how the contracts work, but it seems to me that the Vikings may not want to risk Dalvin getting a serious injury that would have implications if they try to cut him in the off-season. 
      • On the other hand, if they can cut him without paying him if the legal issues prove to be bad, then it would make sense to just ride him and conserve Alexander Mattison (who would become their lead back if Cook is gone).
    • It will be interesting to see/hear what comes out of Minnesota throughout the week, but it’s definitely a situation to keep an eye on and read the tea leaves.