Wed. Jul 24th, 2024


Understanding which teams are motivated and likely to play their starters is a prerequisite for winning in Week 18. For the fastest look at motivation I’ve ranked each team from 1-10. With 1 being the least motivation and 10 being the most.

Ravens: 1
Dolphins: 9
Chiefs: 1
Jaguars: 10
Browns: 1
Bills: 10
Colts: 10
Texans: 10
Steelers: 10

49ers: 1
Cowboys: 9 (as long as the game is close and/or PHI is winning)
Lions: 5
Bucs: 10
Eagles: 9 (as long as DAL game is close or DAL is losing)
Rams: 4
Packers: 10
Seahawks: 10
Saints: 10

Vikings: 10
Falcons: 10 (as long as TB game is close or TB is losing)


Here is more context and quotes on the Week 18 motivation:




1. Ravens (13-3)
SITUATION: Baltimore is locked into the top seed in the AFC after throttling Miami in Week 17.
OUTLOOK: The Ravens have nothing to play for given that they can’t move down in the standings. Especially with a bunch of recent injuries to key players, we would expect them to rest some starters and take the double-bye.

*Update* Tyler Huntley will start in place of Lamar Jackson. We would anticipate some other starters sitting as well.


2. Dolphins (11-5)
SITUATION: Miami plays Buffalo on Sunday night for the division. If they lose, they will be the No. 6 seed.
OUTLOOK: The Dolphins can’t fall out of the playoffs, but a drop from No. 2 to No. 6 would be fairly significant. It would mean going on the road to Kansas City in the first round.


3. Chiefs (10-6)
SITUATION: The Chiefs are locked into the No. 3 seed regardless of Sunday’s game.
OUTLOOK: Kansas City holds the tiebreaker over whoever wins the AFC South, and they lost to Buffalo head-to-head, so they cannot escape the No. 3 seed. Andy Reid has typically opted to rest his players in these situations in the past, so that is the expectation here.

*Update* Andy Reid said Chris Jones (groin), Isiah Pacheco (quad), Rashee Rice (hamstring), and L’Jarius Sneed (calf) will not practice (and presumably not play) this week. Blaine Gabbert will start at QB for Patrick Mahomes.


4. Jaguars (9-7)
SITUATION: Jacksonville needs a win to lock up the AFC South. They will be out with a loss.
OUTLOOK: This is a win-or-go-home game, so the Jaguars will be playing all-out.


5. Browns (11-5)
SITUATION: Cleveland is locked into the No. 5 seed.
OUTLOOK: The Browns have more wins than Buffalo and are guaranteed a better conference record than the Dolphins. Kevin Stefanski has not been a head coach before in this situation, but given the lengthy injury report for Cleveland, we would expect them to rest. Ian Rapoport reported as much over the weekend.

*Update* Stefanski announced they will rest “some starters”, with one of them being QB Joe Flacco.


6. Bills (10-6)
SITUATION: Buffalo can win the division and secure the No. 2 seed with a win against Miami. They can fall out of the playoffs with a loss.
OUTLOOK: The Dolphins-Bills contest will be the last game of the season, so all of the relevant games for their future will be decided. If the Jaguars and Steelers both win, the Bills are out with a loss against the Dolphins. They will be the No. 6 seed with a loss if both of those teams lose, and the No. 7 seed with a loss if only one of those teams wins. We believe Buffalo will value the division highly regardless of what happens before them, but there will be some added motivation if it is win-or-go-home for them.


7. Colts (9-7) and 8. Texans (9-7)
SITUATION: This is a win-or-go-home matchup.
OUTLOOK: This is the Saturday night game, and it is likely to be one of the most competitive of the weekend. The winner is in and the loser is out. The winner will win the AFC South and secure the No. 4 seed if the Jaguars lose on Sunday. Otherwise, they will be one of the final two wildcards pending the outcome of Dolphins-Bills.


9. Steelers (9-7)
SITUATION: Pittsburgh needs a win to have a shot at a playoff berth.
OUTLOOK: The Steelers play the first game of the weekend, so there is no chance they don’t go all-out against (likely) Ravens backups in order to position themselves for a playoff berth.


* Broncos, Bengals, Raiders

* Jets, Titans, Chargers, Patriots




1. 49ers (12-4)
SITUATION: San Francisco is locked into the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
OUTLOOK: The Niners have nothing to play for, so they can afford to rest starters at any point against the Rams. It sounds like they probably will to some extent.

“I’m not sure,” Shanahan said. “I really didn’t think about it. We were just focused on this (game). We’ll definitely try to rest some guys, but you can’t rest everybody. It’s too hard. You don’t have enough players, so we’ve gotta field a team without a doubt, but we’re gonna have a big week of practice, I still think there’s lots of things we gotta obviously get a lot better at and the only way you do that is playing football and practicing football. So, we’ll have a big Wednesday-Thursday-Friday, figure out our roster as the week goes, and decide what we’ll do for Sunday.”

*Update* Sam Darnold will start Sunday in place of Brock Purdy. We would anticipate the other main stars for SF to also rest.


2. Cowboys (11-5)
SITUATION: Dallas will win the NFC East and secure the No. 2 seed with a win on Sunday.
OUTLOOK: The Cowboys and Eagles play at the same time on Sunday, so expect Dallas to go all-out in order to secure the division. If the Cowboys have a big lead late (or the Eagles are getting blown out), they could pull some starters to prepare for the playoffs. It is worth noting that they are 13-point favorites against the Commanders.


3. Lions (11-5)
SITUATION: Detroit will most likely be the No. 3 seed.
OUTLOOK: The Lions can only move up to the No. 2 seed if they win and both Dallas and Philly lose — a low probability. Those games are after Detroit plays, but the Lions may opt for rest over a small chance at moving up. This game will matter for the Vikings, so it is also possible Dan Campbell chooses to not just lay down for a divisional opponent.

*Update* Dan Campbell has indicated he plans to play his starters Week 18. As a real “football guy” we are tempted to believe him. A 4% chance at the No. 2 seed is still a chance.
“Yeah, that’s the plan right now, is play our guys.”


4. Bucs (8-8)
SITUATION: Tampa Bay needs to win in order to make the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: The Bucs’ only options are winning the NFC South (and securing the No. 4 seed) with a win, or be eliminated from the playoffs. They will be going all-out against Carolina.


5. Eagles (11-5)
SITUATION: The Eagles will need a win and a Dallas loss to go from the No. 5 to No. 2 seed.
OUTLOOK: Philly and the Cowboys play at the same time, so we can expect the Eagles to go all-out as long as the games are close. If Dallas has a big lead late, Philly could pull some starters.


6. Rams (9-7)
SITUATION: The Rams will be either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed.
OUTLOOK: L.A. is locked into the playoffs, and can only be jumped by the Packers with a loss and a Green Bay win (simultaneous games). This is a potential rest spot. Note that Sean McVay annually rests his starters in preseason games, and there is likely some carryover here. We do expect some starters to play at least a little though — Puka Nacua needs just 4 catches and 29 yards to set the rookie records. Expect him to get those.

*Update* Per Sean McVay: The Rams will rest Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Kyren Williams, Aaron Donald and Ernest Jones, while Tyler Higbee (shoulder) and Joe Noteboom (foot) will be out due to injuries.


7. Packers (8-8)
SITUATION: The Packers need a win to ensure a playoff berth.
OUTLOOK: Green Bay controls their own destiny, so they will be going all-out in this contest. There are scenarios where they could get in with a loss, but it would require things to break the right way in the earlier games, plus a Seattle loss, with their game kicking off at the same time. There is no way they aren’t fully motivated for this spot.


8. Seahawks (8-8)
SITUATION: The Seahawks will need to win to have a shot at a playoff berth.
OUTLOOK: The only way Seattle gets in is if they win and the Packers lose. These are simultaneous games. Expect the Seahawks to go all-out to win against Arizona.


9. Saints (8-8) and 12. Falcons (7-9)
SITUATION: The loser of this contest is out of the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: This is a similar situation to the AFC South, except the winner is not guaranteed to make the playoffs. The winner gets in with a Bucs loss, and the Saints can get in with a win and losses by both Green Bay and Seattle. This is an early-slate game, so expect both teams to go all-out to win.


10. Vikings (7-9)
SITUATION: The Vikings need a win to have a chance at making the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: Minnesota plays in the early set of games and is not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. They should be going all-out to give themselves the best chance to make the playoffs.


* Bears

* Giants, Commanders, Cardinals, Panthers

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