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NFL Week 18 Primer: Playoff Seeding, Playing Time, Incentives

Jan 5th 2023

Sosa Kremenjas

The final week of the 2022 NFL regular season has arrived. This week presents some challenges in terms of deciphering which teams are playing to win, which teams are incentivized to lose, and which teams are planning to rest players.

This article compiles all the information needed for Week 18, including each team's motivation to win or lose this week, their playoff seeding, their draft pick ranking, any tidbits of information related to resting players, incentives, and notable upcoming offensive free agents.

Only offensive incentives and free agents are listed. Let's dive into it.

All resources used: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Over The Cap, NFL Playoff Scenarios, NFL, Tankathon, CBS Sports

NOTE: This article will be updated throughout the remainder of the week with any additional info from coaches and teams pertaining to playing time plans

Update: The NFL has decided to cancel the Bills and Bengals Week 17 contest, leaving both teams a game shy as we head into the final week of the regular season. They've broken down the scenarios that could come as a result of this situation, clarifying seeding, and maybe more specifically, location as it pertains to certain matchups:

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Record: 12-4

Seeding: 5th

  • Can clinch the NFC East with a win + Eagles loss

  • Can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win + Eagles loss + 49ers loss

  • The Cowboys will likely play their starters for the majority or the entirety of Week 18. The Cowboys, Eagles, and 49ers all play in the same window at 4:25 PM ET

  • Owner Jerry Jones said there was no consideration of resting players in Week 18, as expected. Jones wants the No. 1 seed, unsurprisingly

  • Head Coach Mike McCarthy is ready to do everything necessary to win this game

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Dalton Schultz, WR T.Y. Hilton, WR Noah Brown, RB Tony Pollard

New York Giants

Record: 9-6-1

Seeding: 6th

  • The Giants cannot improve or worsen their seeding in the playoffs, regardless of the outcome of their Week 18 game

  • New York is likely to rest their players for either the entirety of the game or at least some of the game. There is no reason to risk injury. According to Brian Daboll, the team will do what is best for the team. Meanwhile, Dan Duggan of The Athletic suggests several starters — including Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley — won't be seen much or at all

  • Coach Daboll is already hinting at resting certain players, though we likely won't know until Friday

  • Thursday's practice suggests certain players will be rested, though it isn't known which players Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News is referring to

Incentives:

Richie James

- $100,000 for 40 receptions and 10 yards per punt return

Current stats: 57 receptions, 7.3 yards per punt return

Notable upcoming free agents: RB Saquon Barkley, QB Daniel Jones, WR Sterling Shepard, RB Matt Breida, WR Richie James, WR Marcus Johnson, WR Darius Slayton

Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 13-3

Seeding: 1st

  • Clinch the NFC East with a win or Cowboys loss

  • Can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win or Cowboys + 49ers loss

  • The Eagles are expected to have their starters out there this week as an outright win secures the No. 1 seed in the NFC and ensures the team has a bye week and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: WR Zach Pascal, RB Miles Sanders, QB Gardner Minshew

Washington Commanders

Record: 7-8-1

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Commanders cannot make the playoffs and are presumably ready to pack it in this season as suggested by their move at quarterback with fifth-round rookie Sam Howell slated to start

  • Washington could look to lose and improve their draft stock — they currently hold the No. 14 overall pick

  • Head Coach Ron Rivera suggested they'll look at the situation (in terms of resting players) though they still want to win and then didn't definitively say if the starters would play the full game

  • The team was going to start Taylor Heinicke at quarterback and subsequently insert Sam Howell in his place to play the majority of the game, though they changed their mind to starting Howell start instead. If the team planned to play Heinicke for just a short amount of time, perhaps they might be planning to do the same at other positions

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: WR Cam Sims, QB Taylor Heinicke, RB Jonathan Williams

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Record: 3-13

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Bears obviously can't make the playoffs and currently hold the No. 2 draft pick. In the event that the Bears lose and Texans win, the Bears could jump up to the No. 1 pick. Chicago is fully incentivized to lose this game and are trending down that path with quarterback Justin Fields already ruled out

  • Head Coach Matt Eberflus mentioned meeting with General Manager Ryan Poles to decide if anyone won't play in the finale. That statement suggests the team is probably interested in deploying said strategy

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: WR Byron Pringle, WR N'Keal Harry, QB Nathan Peterman, WR Dante Pettis, RB David Montgomery, WR Equanimeous St. Brown

Detroit Lions

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 8th

  • The Lions can clinch a playoff berth with a win + a Seahawks loss

  • Detroit is fully incentivized to win this game and are effectively going to treat it as a playoff game

Incentives:

Kalif Raymond

- $250,000 each for 50 receptions, 600 receiving yards, and five touchdowns

- $150,000 for 300 punt return yards and $25,000 for every punt return touchdown

Current stats: 43 receptions, 550 receiving yards, zero touchdowns, 264 punt return yards, and one punt return touchdown

Jamaal Williams

- $250,000 for 1,000 rushing yards

Current stats: 994 rushing yards

Notable upcoming free agents: WR D.J. Chark, RB Jamaal Williams, RB Justin Jackson

Green Bay Packers

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 9th

  • Like the Lions, the Packers are fully incentivized to win this game because a Packers win clinches them a playoff berth

  • For what it's worth — the Packers and Lions are playing each other. This could be considered both teams' Super Bowl

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Marcedes Lewis, WR Allen Lazard, TE Robert Tonyan, WR Randall Cobb

Minnesota Vikings

Record: 12-4

Seeding: 3rd

  • Head Coach Kevin O'Connell suggested the Vikings will start their regular starters though the team could look to get some snaps for backup players this week. It appears likely that many star players will get pulled in case of injury prevention

  • The Vikings are in an interesting spot because they can technically climb up to the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win + 49ers loss, though they cannot overtake the Eagles for the No. 1 seed. A loss doesn't really change anything at all for them

  • In fact, the Vikings might need to consider who they want to play in the Wild Card round before deciding how they want to approach this game. A win could match them up against one of the Seahawks, Lions, or Packers. While a loss guarantees them a matchup against the Giants. But, the No. 2 seed of course gives the Vikings a better chance to host a playoff game in the later rounds than the No. 3 seed does

Incentives:

Kirk Cousins

- $1M for playing 75% or more of the offensive snaps and if the Vikings win the Super Bowl

- $1M for Super Bowl MVP award

Current stats: 99% of offensive snaps

Justin Jefferson

- Jefferson is 194 receiving yards away from setting the NFL's single-season receiving yardage record. Calvin Johnson currently holds the record with 1,964 receiving yards. It remains to be seen if this is important enough to the Vikings to allow Jefferson to play the entire game or to be force-fed. It doesn't seem likely as coach O'Connell has already hinted that they may look to adjust how long certain players play this week

Current stats: 1,771 receiving yards

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Irv Smith Jr., RB Alexander Mattison

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Record: 6-10

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Falcons have no reason to win their final game as they've been eliminated from the playoffs and currently hold the No. 7 overall draft pick. A win could knock them down to the 13th pick pending the Week 18 results, though a loss would secure them at least the seventh overall pick and perhaps the sixth overall pick

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: WR Olamide Zaccheaus, WR Damiere Byrd, WR KhaDarel Hodge, TE Anthony Firkser, TE MyCole Pruitt

Carolina Panthers

Record: 6-10

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Panthers are nearly in an identical spot to the Falcons. They currently hold the No. 9 overall pick though they could land anywhere in the six-to-14 range pending this week's results. Carolina should look to lose this game and therefore improve their draft pick, though interim Head Coach Steve Wilks could be coaching for a shot at the job and will be highly incentivized to win

  • Not much was shared by Wilks but he did brush off the idea of playing more younger players, suggesting they could be interested in playing to win

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Sam Darnold, WR Andre Roberts, WR Rashard Higgins

New Orleans Saints

Record: 7-9

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Saints are eliminated from playoff contention and don't even have their first-round pick as they traded it away to the Eagles. This team likely doesn't have any reason to win or lose and could be hard to predict. The Saints could treat this as any regular week

Incentives:

Andy Dalton

- $500,000 for 50% of the team's snaps, $500,000 for 60% of the team's snaps

Current stats: 68% of the team's snaps (pre-Week 17)

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Andy Dalton, WR Jarvis Landry, RB Mark Ingram, TE Nick Vannett, RB David Johnson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 4th

  • The Bucs have no reason to play any starters this week though Head Coach Todd Bowles continues to insist they'll get at least some playing time. They're locked into the NFC's No. 4 seed and cannot move in either direction. Look for them to maybe treat this similar to a preseason game where some key starters get some snaps but don't play too long

  • Scott Smith, Greg Auman, and Joey Knight all seem to suggest something similar in terms of limited playing time. Bowles also mentioned the possibility of the Bucs rotating at quarterback between Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, and Kyle Trask, further suggesting something similar

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Tom Brady, WR Julio Jones, QB Blaine Gabbert, TE Kyle Rudolph, RB Gio Bernard, WR Breshad Perriman, WR Scotty Miller

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Record: 4-12

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Cardinals have boarded the tank train. They're once again starting David Blough at quarterback and won't have DeAndre Hopkins this week. They currently hold the No. 4 overall pick and should look to cement that, though they could also improve to the No. 3 pick in the event that they lose and the Broncos win

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: WR A.J. Green, TE Stephen Anderson, TE Maxx Williams, WR Pharoh Cooper, RB Corey Clement, QB Trace McSorley

Los Angeles Rams

Record: 5-11

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Rams have nothing left to play for and are currently slotted at the No. 6 overall draft pick. A loss guarantees them that slotting but their first-round pick is in the hands of the Lions. Still, they'll likely land somewhere in the range of the No. 3 through No. 9 pick

  • Los Angeles will likely trot out the same depleted team they've fielded for the past few weeks, headlined by quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Cam Akers

Incentives:

Tyler Higbee

- $500,000 for 600 receiving yards

Current stats: 587 receiving yards

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Brandon Powell, RB Malcolm Brown

San Francisco 49ers

Record: 12-4

Seeding: 2nd

  • The 49ers have something to play for as they currently hold the No. 2 seed in the NFC. They can actually clinch the No. 1 seed with a win + an Eagles loss. Of course, both teams play at the same time and therefore won't have the luxury of knowing the results prior to kickoff. A loss + a Vikings win could also knock the 49ers down to the No. 3 seed

Incentives:

Deebo Samuel

- $500,000 for 380 rushing yards

Current stats: 228 rushing yards

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Tyler Kroft, QB Josh Johnson, TE Ross Dwelley

Seattle Seahawks

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 7th

  • The Seahawks currently hold the No. 7 seed in the NFC and need to win this game + have the Packers lose to clinch a playoff berth. They're fully incentivized to treat this as a playoff game, nevermind a regular season game

Incentives:

Geno Smith

- $2M for Seahawks making the playoffs

Current stats: No. 7 seed

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Geno Smith, QB Drew Lock, WR Marquise Goodwin, WR Laquon Treadwell, RB Travis Homer

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Record: 12-3

Seeding: 2nd

  • The Bills can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win + Chiefs loss

  • If Buffalo wins and the Chiefs win, then Buffalo would lock in as the No. 2 seed but would get to play against the Chiefs in a neutral location in the event that both teams make it to the AFC Championship game

Incentives:

Isaiah McKenzie

- $100,000 at each 30, 40, 50, and 60 receptions

- $50,000 for 250 regular-season receiving yards, then $100,000 for each 350, 450, 550, and 600 yards

Current stats: 40 receptions, 404 receiving yards

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Case Keenum, WR Jamison Crowder, RB Taiwan Jones, RB Devin Singletary

Miami Dolphins

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 8th

  • The Dolphins' season is on the line after a rough five-game losing streak. They can clinch a playoff berth and the No. 7 seed with a win + a Patriots loss. Luckily for Miami, the Patriots are slated to play against the Bills this week

Incentives:

Raheem Mostert

- $1M for 900-plus scrimmage yards and if the Dolphins are top-25 in points scored

Current stats: 1,032 scrimmage yards, sixth in points scored

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Mike Gesicki, QB Teddy Bridgewater, TE Adam Shaheen, RB Raheem Mostert, WR Trent Sherfield, RB Jeff Wilson Jr., WR River Cracraft

New England Patriots

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 7th

  • Like the Dolphins, the Patriots have everything on the line this week. They can clinch a playoff berth and the No. 7 seed in the AFC with a win or a Dolphins loss + Steelers loss + Jaguars win. Of course, one of those paths is a lot simpler than the other

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: WR Nelson Agholor, WR Jakobi Meyers, RB Damien Harris

New York Jets

Record: 7-9

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Jets have no reason to win this game as the team has been eliminated from a potential playoff berth and currently holds the No. 13 pick in the draft. They could improve that mark with a loss, though Head Coach Robert Saleh could look to build some momentum and culture as they head into the offseason

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Joe Flacco, QB Mike White, RB Ty Johnson, RB James Robinson

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Record: 10-6

Seeding: 6th

  • The Ravens are most likely to land in the AFC's No. 5 or 6 seed, which would likely result in either a game vs. the Bengals or the Jaguars in the Wild Card round. Of course, the Ravens should be incentivized to secure the 5th seed and secure a game against either the Jaguars (or Titans) rather than finishing as the sixth seed and playing the Bengals twice in two weeks

  • The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec suggests Head Coach John Harbaugh could elect to start his usual starters in hopes of clinching the 5th seed

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: QB Lamar Jackson, WR Sammy Watkins, WR DeSean Jackson, RB Kenyan Drake, WR Demarcus Robinson, RB Justice Hill

Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 11-4

Seeding: 3rd

  • If the Bengals win + get a Bills loss, Cincinnati would move up to the No. 2 seed in the AFC

  • If the Bills win, the Bengals would be locked into the No. 3 seed regardless of their result

  • Cincinnati will be motivated to win the final game although their most likely result is the No. 3 seed. This could be a weird spot for the Bengals and the Ravens as both teams are slated to play in Week 18 and have a good chance to once again play each other in the Wild Card round, pending finishes as the No. 3 and 6 seeds

Incentives:

Hayden Hurst

- $125,000 for 50 receptions or $250,000 for 60 receptions

- $125,000 for 500 receiving yards or $250,000 for 600 receiving yards

- $125,000 for five touchdowns

Current stats: 48 receptions, 400 receiving yards, two touchdowns

Samaje Perine

- $100,000 for 500 rushing yards

Current stats: 376 rushing yards

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Hayden Hurst, RB Samaje Perine, WR Trent Taylor

Cleveland Browns

Record: 7-9

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Browns cannot make the playoffs and don't have the rights to their first-round pick. As it stands, they're slated to pick 12th in the draft, though a loss could vault them somewhere between the No. 7 and the No. 13 pick. Of course, that'd make more sense than to try to win, though the Browns would probably also like to play spoiler to the Steelers' season

  • According to some reports, the team won't shut anyone down but could look to get some extra playing time for younger players while still trying to win

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: RB Kareem Hunt, QB Jacoby Brissett, RB D'Ernest Johnson, TE Pharaoh Brown

Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 9th

  • The Steelers have to win this game to have a shot at the playoffs. They'll need a win + a Dolphins loss and a Patriots loss to get in. Pittsburgh has to be all in on this contest

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: RB Benny Snell

AFC South

Houston Texans

Record: 2-13-1

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Texans currently hold the first pick in the draft and could squander it with a victory + a Bears loss. In other words, no team should be incentivized to lose a game this week more than the Texans

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: RB Rex Burkhead, WR Chris Moore, WR Phillip Dorsett, TE Jordan Akins, QB Jeff Driskel, RB Royce Freeman

Indianapolis Colts

Record: 4-11-1

Seeding: Eliminated

  • A loss would guarantee the Colts either the third, fourth, or fifth pick in the draft. This team should absolutely look to lose this game and already are halfway there with Sam Ehlinger next up at quarterback

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: WR Ashton Dulin, WR Parris Campbell

Jacksonville Jaguars

Record: 8-8

Seeding: 4th

  • The Jaguars could make the playoffs either as the fourth or seventh seed, pending their result this week. A win or tie would outright win them the AFC South and the No. 4 seed, while a loss + a Dolphins loss + Patriots loss + Steelers loss would lock them into the 7th seed. In other words, win and you're in

Incentives:

Zay Jones

- $500,000 for 70 receptions and $250,000 for each 80 and 90 receptions

- $500,000 for 900 receiving yards and another $250,000 for each 1,000 and 1,100 yards

Current stats: 78 receptions, 802 receiving yards

Christian Kirk

- $500,000 for each 80, 90, and 100 receptions

- $500,000 for each 1,000 receiving yards, 1,100 yards, and 1,200 yards

Current stats: 78 receptions, 1,009 receiving yards

Evan Engram

- $600,000 for 700 receiving yards

- $800,000 for 80 receptions or 800 receiving yards

Current stats: 69 receptions, 739 receiving yards

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Evan Engram, WR Marvis Jones, TE Dan Arnold

Tennessee Titans

Record: 7-9

Seeding: 11th

  • The Titans don't have as much breathing room as the Jaguars do. A win secures them the 4th seed in the AFC and a playoff berth, while a loss ends their season

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: TE Austin Hooper, RB Dontrell Hilliard, WR Chris Conley, QB Josh Dobbs

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Record: 4-12

Seeding: Eliminated

  • Right now, the Broncos hold the third overall draft pick though it belongs to the Seahawks (RE: Russell Wilson trade). Surely, the Broncos will want to win and lower it just to save face and feel less embarrassment... right? It remains to be seen, but either way, the Broncos — er Seahawks — will be picking inside the top six picks

  • Interim Head Coach Jerry Rosburg will likely try to "win" this week

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: RB Latavius Murray

Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 13-3

Seeding: 1st

  • The Chiefs are the AFC's No. 1 seed right now and they can lock that spot up with a win in Week 18. That would ensure Kansas City has a bye week of course and home-field advantage in every game — including the AFC Championship Game — as long as the Bills lose this week. If the Bills win and make it to the AFC Championship Game alongside the Chiefs, the two would play at a neutral location

Incentives:

JuJu Smith-Schuster

- $500,000 at 40-49 receptions or $1M at 50-59 receptions or $1.5M for over 60 receptions

- $500,000 at 500 receiving yards or $1M at 650 yards or $1.5M for over 900 yards

Current stats: 76 receptions, 898 receiving yards

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

- $500,000 for each 60, 70, 80, and 100 receptions

Current stats: 39 receptions

Patrick Mahomes

- $1.25M for the MVP award

- $1.25M for Chiefs winning AFC Championship and playing either 50% or more snaps in that game or in the regular season

- Mahomes is 430 passing yards away from setting the new single-season passing yardage record. Peyton Manning currently holds it with 5,477 passing yards

Current stats: 5,048 passing yards

Notable upcoming free agents: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, RB Ronald Jones, TE Blake Bell, WR Mecole Hardman, RB Jerick McKinnon, WR Justin Watson

Las Vegas Raiders

Record: 6-10

Seeding: Eliminated

  • The Raiders cannot make the playoffs and currently hold the eighth overall pick. The team is effectively "tanking" by starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham though they nearly beat the 49ers in Week 17, so maybe that statement is incorrect. As it stands, the Raiders don't appear to be tanking in the traditional sense by resting star players and therefore look like they'll "compete" this week. For what it's worth — they could improve their draft pick as high as the sixth pick with a loss and pending some results this week

Incentives:

N/A

Notable upcoming free agents: RB Josh Jacobs, WR Mack Hollins, RB Ameer Abdullah, WR Keelan Cole, QB Jarrett Stidham, TE Foster Moreau

Los Angeles Chargers

Record: 10-6

Seeding: 5th

  • The Chargers will be in a battle with the Ravens to most likely decide the eventual fifth and sixth seeds in the AFC. As it stands, the Chargers are fifth and would probably prefer to remain there as that would result in a matchup against either the Jaguars or Titans, as opposed to a game against the Bengals. The one positive for the Chargers is that they'll know their fate before kickoff as the Ravens are scheduled to play in the 1 PM ET window and the Chargers kick off at 4:25 PM ET. The Chargers would remain in the 5th seed if both teams lose by way of conference record

Incentives:

DeAndre Carter

- $100,00 at each 25, 35, and 45 receptions

- $100,00 at each 350, 450, and 550 receiving yards

- $100,00 at each five and seven touchdowns

Current stats: 43 receptions, 495 receiving yards, three touchdowns

Gerald Everett

- $250,000 at each 50, 60, and 70 receptions

Current stats: 55 receptions

Notable upcoming free agents: WR DeAndre Carter