NFL Week 18 Preview ft. Team Incentives

Jan 4th 2023

Hayden Winks

This won't be the normal "Blueprint" column with the normal fantasy football season over, but we have Battle Royale DFS contests, Pick'em, and NFL Playoffs Best Ball in the Underdog Fantasy lobby, so here I am. We know who is good and bad player wise at this point, so I'll be prioritizing playing time incentives here, ordering games by start time.

In order to do this properly, we unfortunately have to discuss the NFL's upcoming decision on the Bills vs. Bengals game. And there is no winner here, and it's extremely complicated beyond the obvious and most critical concern of Damar Hamlin. We all wish he, his family, and all those in attendance at the game (particularly the Bills organization) the best and thank the on-field doctors for potentially saving his life.

The NFL has a few ways to handle this BUF/CIN game, none of them being perfect.

  1. Delay the NFL Playoffs, so Bills vs. Bengals Week 17 game can resume after Week 18 concludes. ... Can the NFL pull off the logistics of this? Probably, but it wouldn't be easy. The benefits are that this is fair to the seedings and Week 18 incentives. It's a good outcome if the Bills and Bengals organizations and players are comfortable with it. That's a requirement in my opinion.

    1. One rumor is to have BUF/CIN play the following weekend along with all of the NFC wild card games, while the rest of the AFC rests. Then the weekend after that, the AFC wild card takes place while the NFC rests. Both teams would play the Divisional Round and Conference Round at the same time, but a week later than normal. There would be no bye week leading into the Super Bowl. That works in my opinion, though their would be extra rest vs. rust debates.

  2. Count the game as a tie or "no contest" without another seeding solution. ... This is the easiest solution, but it's not good (or fair) for the Week 18 slate. With a tie, the Chiefs clinch the bye on Saturday. That'd make the Bills Week 18 game against the Patriots meaningless, and if the Patriots win, they're in the playoffs over the Dolphins and Steelers. Both of those teams would be catching a stray on their playoff odds. Additionally, a tie makes the Bengals AFC South winners, making the Bengals vs. Ravens game fairly meaningless, too. A tie also drops the Bengals' bye week odds to 0%. Does the NFL want to make multiple games less meaningful by awarding a tie or "no contest"? Is it fair to punish the Bills, who had the highest bye week odds entering the week and have also beaten the Chiefs on the road this year, out of contending for the bye? That's up for debate. So while easy, it's not a clean decision in my opinion.

  3. Give the Bengals a win. ... They were winning at the time the game was postponed, so they win and the Bills lose. Everything else falls into place. Is it fair to call a game 11 minutes in? Do they want that to be the precedent? That's up for debate.

  4. Count the game as a "no contest" but create an unprecedented seeding solution. ... This would be controversial but Benjamin Allbright reported that it's an option from inside the NFL building. ... Wait for it. ... If the NFL let's the Week 18 games play out and the seedings aren't settled naturally, then the NFL can "remove" a game from the Chiefs (not from the NFL records but purely for seeding temporarily) so both the Chiefs and Bills have played 16 games for seeding purposes. Here's how: The NFL would take one of the Chiefs 17 games at random (they'll be 14-3 or 13-4 at this point), and remove it. If the game removed is a "win" (~82% chance), then the Bills are the No. 1 seed because both teams would be 13-3 and the Bills have the tiebreaker with their head-to-head win. If the game is a "loss" (~18% chance), then the Chiefs are the No. 1 seed because they'd be "14-2" ahead of the Bills' 13-3 record. The Chiefs' bye week equity would drop from ~40% to ~18%, so that's where this is relatively unfair. To go crazier, you can make the No. 2 seed host the potential AFC Conference game, but we're galaxy-braining the galaxy brain at this point. ... This would also have to happen with the Ravens and Bengals AFC North situation. ... In general, this is a crazy idea but at least avoids the logistical issue.

As you can see, there is no completely fair and easy route. Good luck, Mr. Roger Goodell.

Chiefs at Raiders (Saturday at 4:30pm EST)

  • Chiefs: Have to win for hopes of locking in bye.

  • Raiders: Eliminated and playing Jarrett Stidham. They have the 8th overall pick going into the week.

Titans at Jaguars (Saturday at 8:15pm EST)

  • Arguably, the game of the weekend. Winner is AFC South champion and the AFC's No. 4 seed.

  • Jaguars can still make the playoffs with a loss if: PIT, NE, and MIA lose (18% odds).

  • The Titans decided off-the-street Josh Dobbs is better than Malik Willis at QB.

Ravens at Bengals (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • This game is very complicated.

  • If the BUF/CIN game is a win, a tie, or a no contest without a reschedule, then the Bengals would win the AFC South but would be eliminated from the No. 1 seed. That would give them some incentive to rest, depending on BUF/CIN No. 2 seed tie-breakers. Meanwhile, the Ravens would be only playing for the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in this situation. There is a difference between playing the Jaguars as the No. 5 seed and the Bills/Bengals as the No. 6 seed in my opinion, but is resting Lamar Jackson (PCL) worth that difference no matter what? Lamar Jackson didn't practice on Wednesday.

  • If the BUF/CIN game is a no contest but is rescheduled, then both teams are incentivized to play as usual because 1) the Bengals need to win both games to have a chance for the bye and 2) the Ravens need to win and have the Bengals lose in the BUF/CIN rescheduled game to win the AFC South.

Patriots at Bills (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • The Patriots clinch the AFC's No. 7 seed if they win. They'll be playing at full speed no matter what.

  • The Bills situation is more complicated. If BUF/CIN is a loss, a tie, or a no contest without a reschedule, then the Bills would be No. 1 seed eliminated with a Saturday Chiefs win. At that point, they could rest their starters after an unfathomable emotional week, depending on BUF/CIN No. 2 seed tie-breakers.

  • If the BUF/CIN is rescheduled for after Week 18, then the Bills would need to win for a chance to get the No. 1 seed later on.

  • Even if KC loses on Saturday vs. the Raiders, the Bills would need to win Week 18 and in the rescheduled game to clinch the bye, assuming CIN wins in Week 18 vs. BAL. If Both KC and CIN lose this week, then the Bills would clinch the No. 1 seed with a win over NE. Perhaps this is what the NFL is hoping for but it's very unlikely.

Jets at Dolphins (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • The Dolphins must win and have NE lose vs. BUF (~42% odds). They could be starting Skylar Thompson with both Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) and Teddy Bridgewater (finger) hurt. Bridgewater's status is up in the air.

  • The Jets are eliminated with the 13th overall pick going into the week.

Browns at Steelers (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • The Steelers must win and have NE and MIA lose (~21% odds). They'll be playing at full speed no matter what.

  • The Browns are eliminated without a 1st round pick.

Vikings at Bears (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • The Vikings will be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. To move back up to the No. 2 seed, the Vikings need to win and have SF lose to ARI (unlikely). The Vikings will likely play their starters but don't have to keep them in the entire game if they choose not to.

  • The Bears are eliminated. They have the 2nd overall pick right now, but with a loss and a HOU win, they'll be 1st overall. Perhaps that's why Justin Fields (hip) isn't playing.

Bucs at Falcons (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • The Bucs are in the 4th seed no matter what. They very easily could rest players, though initial reports indicate that they'll start. This is a situation worth monitoring.

  • The Falcons are eliminated with the 7th overall pick going into the final week.

Texans at Colts (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • The Texans are eliminated with the 1st overall pick going into the final week. If they lose, they'll lock that up. If they win and the Justin Fields-less Bears lose, then they drop out of 1st overall. They must lose in my opinion.

  • The Colts are eliminated with the 5th overall pick going into the final week. They're starting Sam Ehlinger, which didn't go well earlier. Matt Ryan will back him up, a sign that this is a tanking team to some degree. Of course, interim coach Jeff Saturday wants to win and save his job.

  • This could be a tank off.

Panthers at Saints (Sunday at 1:00pm EST)

  • The Panthers are eliminated with the 9th overall pick going into the final week.

  • The Saints are eliminated without a 1st round pick.

  • Both coaches and QBs are playing for their jobs to some degree.

Rams at Seahawks (Sunday at 4:25pm EST)

  • The Rams are eliminated without a 1st round pick.

  • The Seahawks need a win and GB to lose vs. DET (22% odds). They'll be playing at full speed.

Chargers at Broncos (Sunday at 4:25pm EST)

  • The Chargers can only be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, and they could learn their fate prior to kickoff. If BAL loses (likely without Lamar Jackson) in the early window, the Chargers are the No. 5 seed. If BAL wins, the Chargers can still be the No. 5 seed with a win. The Broncos were just made 2-point favorites based on the timing and injury news. Lamar Jackson (DNP) and Justin Herbert (limited) are on the injury report. There is resting risk here.

    • Speaking on Wednesday, Chargers coach Brandon Staley said, "Once we find out about that game (CIN/BAL), then we'll make the appropriate decisions moving forward." That screams rest.

  • The Broncos are eliminated without their 1st round pick.

Giants at Eagles (Sunday at 4:25pm EST)

  • The Eagles clinch the No. 1 seed with a win. They'll be playing at full speed, probably with Jalen Hurts (shoulder/chest). They have a 3% chance of holding onto the No. 1 seed with a loss, too (SF, MIN, and DAL all lose).

  • The Giants are the No. 6 seed no matter what. They could rest their players if they'd like. It's a situation worth monitoring, noting that their team total sits at 14.5 points. The market believes they're resting.

Cowboys at Commanders (Sunday at 4:25pm EST)

  • The Cowboys have a 6% chance of winning the division and a 1% chance of being the No. 1 seed going into the week. They'd need to win and have PHI lose to NYG for the division win, which is possible enough and meaningful enough to play their starters as normal. Most likely, however, they will be the No. 5 seed and play in Tampa Bay in Wild Card Weekend.

  • The Commanders are eliminated with the 14th overall pick going into the final week. They're starting Sam Howell after projected starter Taylor Heinicke told coaches that Howell deserved the job. What is going on in Washington????

Cardinals at 49ers (Sunday at 4:25pm EST)

  • The 49ers clinch the No. 1 seed with a win and a PHI loss to NYG (6% odds). On top of that, the 49ers can hold their No. 2 seed over MIN with a win. That's enough to play starters as normal.

  • The Cardinals are eliminated with the 4th overall pick going into the week.

Lions at Packers (Sunday at 8:20pm EST)

  • The Packers clinch the No. 7 seed with a win and would be eliminated with a loss. They'll be playing at full speed.

  • The Lions need SEA to lose vs. LAR earlier in the day and win vs. GB on Sunday Night Football to clinch the No. 7 seed. In theory, the Lions could have nothing to play for before this game starts, but the knee-biting Dan Campbell Lions are alphas and the Packers could have higher odds of trading Aaron Rodgers this offseason if they miss the playoffs entirely. The Lions will play to win no matter what and have said as much.