With the playoffs nearly set, many teams have nothing to play for in the final week of the regular season. Here's a game-by-game breakdown of every team's motivation. I'll give each game a grade if you're looking for a short answer. A more detailed description can be found below.
Chiefs at Broncos — High
The Chiefs are holding out hope for a first-round bye despite their Week 18 loss to the Bengals. With a win here and an unlikely Tennessee loss, they’ll get to rest in the Wild Card round. Multiple teams below Kansas City also hold tiebreakers over them so a loss to Denver could send them tumbling down in seeding. They’ll play at full strength until the Broncos are ground to dust.
Denver has been eliminated from playoff contention.
Cowboys at Eagles — Low
The Eagles can jump from the No. 7 seed to the No. 6 seed with a win but both scenarios see them facing the Bucs a majority of the time. With the team now enduring a COVID outbreak, don’t expect a full four quarters from the starters. NBC Philly's John Clark doesn't expect Hurts to play much in this game while ESPN's Adam Schefter was uncertain if Hurts would play at all. Hurts should stay out of fantasy lineups and DFS rosters.
The Cowboys are in a similar spot. They can earn the second seed in the NFC but a myriad of tiebreaker scenarios could land them as low as the No. 4 seed. With the NFC East crown in hand, that’s as low as they can go. Mike McCarthy has said his team will “play to win” but they are already entering this game down Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, two of their elite defenseman. Tony Pollard is also out. Dallas projects to put up more of an effort in this game than Philly but only by a quarter, give or take.
Packers at Lions — None
The Packers have the No. 1 seed locked up and the Lions are in a tight race with the Jaguars for the top pick in the draft. Despite this, Matt LaFleur has said his starters will go, including Aaron Rodgers. I’m not buying this as anything more than a few practice drives to keep the team in shape for the playoffs. It makes no sense to give the back-to-back MVP a full slate of snaps in a meaningless game.
Colts at Jaguars — High
The aforementioned Jags have nothing but a second consecutive top draft pick to play for. Only them and the Lions can take the podium first in the draft. The Colts, who just need a win to make the playoffs, will be more than willing to deliver the first pick to Jacksonville.
Washington at Giants — None
Both teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. Washington coach Ron Rivera has talked about using this game to get younger players reps.
Bears at Vikings — None
Both teams have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Panthers at Bucs — Low
The Bucs are banged up and can only slightly shuffle their seeding. Bruce Arians has said they will play their starters and even noted the value of earning the No. 2 seed. Brady should be able to dispatch the Panthers in three quarters and get a few minutes off before the scoreboard hits zero.
The Panthers are out of playoff contention.
Patriots at Dolphins — Medium
With a win over Miami and an unlikely Buffalo loss, New England will secure another AFC East title. They could fall as low as the No. 7 seed with a loss. They’ll be playing their starters but will also have one eye on the Jumbotron in this game.
Miami has been eliminated from playoff contention.
Saints at Falcons — High
The Saints need a win here and a San Francisco loss to the Rams to make the playoffs. The 49ers play in the 4 PM window, so New Orleans will give it everything they have in this game.
The Falcons have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Titans at Texans — High
The Titans can secure a first-round bye with a win over the Texans. A number of other teams can chase them down if they lose so expect Tennessee to give all of their starters the usual run unless the game turns into a blowout.
The Texans have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Steelers at Ravens — High
Neither team is likely to make the playoffs but they’ll be playing as if they are. The Steelers need a win plus an Indianapolis loss. The Ravens are in the same boat but they also need the Browns to lose versus the Bengals. Even if either scenario happens, a tie in the Chargers/Raiders game at the end of the day would comically eliminate both of these teams.
Jets at Bills — High
The Bills can secure the AFC East with a win or a New England loss. They’ll play their starters in this game but will also be doing their fair share of scoreboard watching as the Patriots play at the same time. A loss coupled with a New England win would likely drop them to the No. 7 seed so Josh Allen and co. should route the Jets before hitting the pines.
The Jets have been eliminated from playoff contention (duh).
Bengals at Browns — None
With Joe Burrow nursing a knee injury, the Bengals look to be taking Week 18 off. Burrow has been ruled out while Joe Mixon will also sit while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Zac Taylor was non-committal on Ja'Marr Chase's status as well.
The Browns have been eliminated from playoff contention.
49ers at Rams — High
A win or Saints loss gets the 49ers in the playoffs. An LA win earns them the NFC West title and the No. 2 seed plus the home-field advantage that comes along with it. With Arizona right behind them in the West, expect the Rams to equal the 49ers in active starters.
Seahawks at Cardinals — High
The Cardinals can steal back the NFC West title by beating Seattle paired with a San Francisco win. Both games take place in the 4 PM window so the Cardinals will be pulling out all of the stops to secure this win. If the Rams take a dominant lead over the 49ers, it’s possible that Arizona’s starters get a few minutes off near the end of the game.
The Seahawks have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Chargers at Raiders — Max
This is a play-in game. A win from either team secures them a wild card bid. The corresponding loss eliminates the other team. In the very remote scenario that LA and Vegas play to a standstill, the Chargers would make the playoffs with the Raiders needing the Colts to have lost earlier in the day to get in.