Week 18 of the NFL season is always fraught with obstacles for those playing DFS and season-long fantasy football. Well, “Week 18” isn’t really a thing, as it has never happened in the history of mankind and the NFL, but you get the point.
Some teams will be locked into a playoff position and a win or loss will be meaningless to their next step in the playoffs. Some players won’t be 100 percent and could rest because they have nothing to play for. Some younger players might see more playing time to help evaluate where they are in live action. And some players might be going for bonus incentives tied to a statistic like yardage accumulated.
But, there are teams that very much need to win their Week 18 game for a chance to make the playoffs or improve their seeding. We’ll start with those, as teams that must win will play their starters and go all out.
Must win teams and matchups
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders (Sun., 8:20 pm)
Game-day update: Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs reportedly will play in this game despite questionable tags.
There are some crazy scenarios around this game, but it mostly comes down to win and in, which is why it was flexed to the Sunday night game. If the Chargers win, they’re in the playoffs. If the Raiders win, they are in the playoffs. They will play all out with their starters.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Sun. 4:25 pm)
If the 49ers win, they’re in the playoffs. They can still get in with a loss, but they’d rather not leave it up to the Falcons winning a game. The Rams need a win to secure the NFC West championship and the No. 2 seeding behind the Packers. Both teams will go with their starters this week.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (Sun., 1 pm)
The Colts loss to the Raiders last week hurt, but they still get in the playoffs with a win over the lowly Jaguars. They could still get in with a loss and help, but they will do everything they can to win this week.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Sun., 1 pm)
Game-day update: Looks like a rainy one in Baltimore. The Ravens will also be without Lamar Jackson, as Tyler Huntley gets the start in the season finale.
Monday update: The Steelers defeated the Browns on MNF, meaning they will have a reason to play all out against the Ravens for a slim chance of making the playoffs.
Neither of these teams has a good shot at making the playoffs, and if the Steelers lose to the Browns on MNF tonight, they are eliminated from any contention for the playoffs. But, if they win, they will still have a slim chance and will play to win.
The Ravens will have a chance with a win and a lot of help, so will play to win.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (Sun., 4:25 pm)
The Saints still have a shot at the playoffs with a win and a 49ers loss to the Rams. They will play their starters.
Clinched playoff spot, but chance for No. 1 seed
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (Sun., 1 pm)
Saturday update: The Chiefs beat the Broncos, assuring that the Titans will play all out to keep ahold of the No. 1 seed on Sunday.
The Titans win this game and they take the No. 1 seed in the AFC. A Kansas City win on Saturday ups the stakes for them to win, but even if the Chiefs were to lose, the Bengals would then have a shot to overtake the Titans for the No. 1 seed. Tennessee will play to win.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (Sat., 4:30 pm)
Saturday update: The Chiefs defeated the Broncos and have secured the No. 2 seed. The Titans will have to go all out to keep the No. 1 seed.
Saturday update: The Chiefs beat the Broncos and secured the No. 2 seeding in the AFC playoffs. They still have a slim chance to move up to the No. 1 seed, but would need the Jaguars to pull off a huge upset over the Titans.
If the Chiefs win this game, they still have a shot at the No. 1 seed, but the Titans would need to lose to a bad Texans team on Sunday. The Chiefs have already clinched the AFC West, but a loss could drop them below the Bengals and Bills in the seeding. They should play to win.
Clinched playoff spot, but need win for playoff position
Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets (Sun., 4:25 pm)
The Bills need to win to keep their lead in the AFC East. The Patriots play at the same time, so they won’t know the outcome. The Bills should play all out in a good matchup.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (Sun., 4:25 pm)
The Patriots still have a shot at the AFC East title and even the No. 1 seed if multiple upsets happen. They’ll play to win.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (Sat., 8:15 pm)
Saturday update: The Cowboys beat the Eagles.
Game day update: Adam Schefter reported on NFL Countdown that Jalen Hurts is expected to play “few if any snaps” in the team’s Week 18 matchup with the Cowboys. Additionally, numerous players will remain on the reserve/COVID-19 list:
#Eagles players out tonight because they stayed on the COVID-19 list:— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 8, 2022
DT Fletcher Cox
TE Dallas Goedert
RB Jordan Howard
RB Boston Scott
CB Avonte Maddox
S Rodney McLeod
LB Alex Singleton
S Marcus Epps
G Nate Herbig
LB Gemara Avery
TE Jack Stoll
Update: The Cowboys have ruled out Tony Pollard despite him likely being able to play, and with the Eagles likely resting starters, there’s a chance the Cowboys do some resting theirselves.
The Cowboys have a shot to move from their No. 4 seeding to No. 2 if the Buccaneers and Rams lose. The possibility of two home games in the playoffs should give them enough incentive to play to win Saturday night.
The Eagles likely won’t have as much incentive, as a win won’t move them around much in the seeding and they could possibly end up playing a team they’d rather not play in the first round. Resting starters and getting as healthy as possible for whoever they end up playing makes sense, but nothing is written in stone here.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sun., 4:25 pm)
The Cardinals can still win the NFC West if the Rams lose to the 49ers, giving them the No. 2 or No. 3 seed depending on other matchups. They are locked into no worse than the No. 5 seed, but there is plenty of reason to go all out to try to win this game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers Sun., (4:25 pm)
The Buccaneers can’t go lower than the No. 4 seed, but a win with a Rams loss could move them up to the No. 2 seed if they win. A chance to play at least two home games in the playoffs should be enough incentive to play their starters.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (Sun., 1 pm)
Game-day update: Ja’Marr Chase looks like the only Bengals starting receiver to get playing time this week and probably only long enough to break the Bengals receiving record. Tee Higgins is inactive and Tyler Boyd saw no pregame work despite being active.
Update: Joe Burrow says he is unlikely to play, so there is a good chance other BEngals players will see limited work, if any at all in this game.
This game could be meaningless for the Bengals if the Chiefs win on Saturday, but if they lose, Cincinnati would still have a chance to take the No. 1 seed in the AFC if the Titans were to lose to the Texans.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (Sun., 1 pm)
Game-day update: Aaron Jones is inactive. There really is no telling how much the starters will play in this one. Avoid it if possible.
Update: Rodgers could play more than a few snaps, but it will still be surprising to see him and the starters play more than a half.
Aaron Rodgers says he is playing, but if that’s true, it would be just for a series or two, as Matt LeFleur isn’t going to risk the likely MVP in a meaningless game right before the playoffs. The Packers clinched the No. 1 seed, home field advantage throughout and a bye week with their win over the Vikings in Week 17. It will be tough to count on any of the regular starters in this matchup.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sat., 8:15 pm)
We talked about this game above for the Cowboys, but to focus on the Eagles for a second, there is a very good chance they rest starters, making them one of only three teams likely to do so this season.