Press conferences: They're either the most important thing in the world or something to be entirely ignored, depending on if they validate how you already felt or not. Nonetheless, they are an important window into an NFL organization. Much as the eye in the sky don't lie about players, coaches can't cover up every emotion or lean they have when they're asked questions. In omission, or in tone, even someone as tight-lipped as Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio can give something away. And that's what this column scans for.
Let's look at some of the trickiest situations for Week 18 lineups.
The Vikings abruptly come out and say it
Speaking on Friday, Kevin O'Connell came out with the biggest news of the day when he noted that the Vikings "have a plan" to play their reserves against the Bears.
O'Connell also talked about how the Vikings were trying to play to the best interests of their organization and hinted at setting a matchup later in the press conference, almost off-the-cuff in an answer that started with talking about players managing injuries.
Minnesota's playoff ambitions are limited to whether they are the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. The Giants are locked into the No. 6 spot, so Minnesota could tank their way to a matchup against a low-talent outfit they beat in December. Meanwhile, the No. 7 seed could go to the Packers -- who whipped Minnesota last week -- the Lions, or the Seahawks.
The major problem Minnesota has is that this game is likely untankable -- you can't expect to lose a game that Nathan Peterman starts against you. Regardless, if you were relying on the main Minnesota players like Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, and so on, you probably should break ties against them if not outright bench them. Week 18 is the time of year to get wild with your lineups, one where David Blough might give you more than Cousins. But given that we don't know what the plan is and that the Bears defense looks just awful, I would understand starting a Minnesota starter even though it may not work out for you. Just be aware that this could happen.
James Conner gets sat down; who will be the main back against the 49ers?
Despite a brief practice appearance on Thursday, Kliff Kingsbury ruled out James Conner against the 49ers, ending his season. Kingsbury said that the team would elevate Ty'Son Williams from the practice squad, but primarily use a mix of Corey Clement and Keaontay Ingram.
Clement was mentioned first, has "picked up the system quick," but Ingram ... all we could get was "continued to progress."
Now let's rationalize this out. You're the Arizona Cardinals trying to finish out a season, you've already ruled out DeAndre Hopkins, you're in the backup quarterback dregs with David Blough. Winning doesn't matter much.
Keaontay Ingram was a) drafted this past season and b) on the roster much longer than Clement. He's the closest thing to a running back of the future that you have behind an aging and brittle James Conner. Clement, on the other hand, got the vast majority of the work in Week 17 spelling Conner. I don't understand why you'd play Clement over Ingram in this situation, but I think if you're in a desperate enough spot to consider using players in this game, the recent Clement usage would tend to suggest that he is the back you'd run with. Ingram doesn't have much experience in the passing game, and the Cardinals figure to pass a lot.
I actually would rather the Cardinals play Ingram, I feel like he has more upside as a hot hand and it's also possible that the Cardinals out-and-out realize that they should just see what they have here. But that is an assumption of rational coaching, and I think the most correct answer is probably that Kingsbury trusts Clement more. I'd rather play Ingram if I were them, but, well, this is something we from the outside aren't allowed to understand.
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The Zamir White/Josh Jacobs situation
While Josh Jacobs has played off the questionable tag for most of the season, this Saturday could be different. For one thing, Jacobs missed two practices with "personal issues," rather than just being rested. For another, the Raiders have no motivation to win this week, and with Jacobs being a pending free agent, the last thing he needs is a Week 18 ACL tear or something of that ilk.
Now, it's possible that Jacobs plays or is active. But when I see this kind of column drop from one of the most respected beats the Raiders have, it is a pretty eye-opening shift of expectations. I don't think there's a lot of reason for a report like this to exist if White wasn't actually going to play major snaps. And, honestly, it aligns perfectly with the incentives for each party.
If you were relying on Jacobs in Week 18 for some reason, it's probably time to rectify that. A hell of a season for Jacobs should get him paid, but there's no reason for him to risk anything in this one. White is the obvious pivot and probably has been dropped or ignored in most reasonably-sized leagues. Go pick him up if you're dealing with Jacobs or another confounding situation at RB in Week 18.