In recent days, you’ve likely seen or heard someone explain why all fantasy football titles should be decided in Week 16. You don’t need that reminder, but I’ll give it to you anyway. Week 17 is chaos. It’s the wild west. It’s unpredictable. With that said, there are still many leagues wrapping up in the final week of the NFL’s regular season. To help you dissect just which teams will actually be motivated to win, and therefore should be relying on their top players, let’s go game-by-game to see what’s at stake.
With no games on Thursday, Saturday or Monday in the season’s final week, all games will play out on Sunday and the league has done its best to adjust the schedule and heighten the intrigue.
Miami at Buffalo
The Dolphins can earn a playoff berth with a win over the Bills, who have already clinched the AFC East. Buffalo is currently slotted as the second seed in the AFC, though since that no longer comes with a bye, the motivation to maintain their advantage over Pittsburgh may not be present. The Bills haven’t made any announcements, but we should not be surprised if QB Josh Allen, WR Stefon Diggs and others sit for much of the game, especially since the team lost WR Cole Beasley to an injury last week.
Miami is obviously highly motivated and should be playing their best lineup, though there is a question if that includes rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa or veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Even if Miami loses, there are other paths to make the playoffs, including a loss by either Baltimore, Cleveland or Indianapolis.
Baltimore at Cincinnati
The Ravens cannot win their division, but they can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Bengals, who have won two games in a row after winning only two through the first 14 weeks of the season. Needing a win and with QB Lamar Jackson finally heating up, that Bengals winning streak is in great jeopardy. Even with a surprise loss to Cincy, Baltimore would make the playoffs with a loss by the Browns or Colts. Expect both teams to go all out to win this game, as the Bengals would love to play spoiler to their AFC North foe.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
The Steelers have already clinched their division, limping to the season’s finish line. The team also made it clear most of their key players will not be in action this week. Backup QB Mason Rudolph will get the start as QB Ben Roethlisberger rests. This is just what the Browns wanted to hear as they need a win or a Colts loss to make the playoffs. We can count on the Browns to stick with QB Baker Mayfield and RB Nick Chubb, among others, as they try to earn the rare playoff berth for this team. Cleveland is continuing to deal with COVID-19 issues after losing multiple players for last week’s game. The Browns placed three more on the list yesterday, including rookie TE Harrison Bryant.
Minnesota at Detroit
One of the few games of the week with no playoff implications. Both the Lions and Vikings have been eliminated from contention this year, but the Lions have clearly given up on the season, as evidenced by last week’s thrashing at the hands of QB Tom Brady and the Bucs. Trust the Minnesota skill players to have a field day in their final game of the year.
New York Jets at New England
Another game matching a pair of non-contenders is the Jets and Patriots matchup. The Jets have somehow won two straight, though Patriots HC Bill Belichick would never want to lose to his former team.
Dallas at New York Giants
Despite combining for 11 wins on the season, both the Cowboys and Giants are each still have a path to the playoffs, but they need help. Each team would need a win in this game along with a loss by Washington in the Sunday night game. Obviously, both the Giants and Cowboys should be playing to win.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
The Falcons are long eliminated from the playoffs and while the Buccaneers have locked up a spot, they want to maintain their current hold on the fifth seed. This would ensure the Buccaneers face the winner of the NFC East. Be careful trusting what HC Bruce Arians says leading up to Sunday.
New Orleans at Carolina
The Saints have clinched the NFC South and are currently the second seed. The Packers sit atop the NFC standings and must win to clinch the top spot. That means the door is open for the Saints. Expect both teams in this game to be at full strength, or at least be scoreboard watching with the Pack also playing the late afternoon slate.
Green Bay at Chicago
One of the league’s most heated rivalries will also feature two of the teams that are the most motivated to win their game. The Packers will be trying to lock down the top overall seed, the NFC’s only bye and the MVP Award for QB Aaron Rodgers. The Bears will need a win but could also back into the playoffs with a loss by the Cardinals. Obviously both the Packers and Bears will stick with their best lineups in this game.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
After falling apart and losing a huge lead to the Steelers last week, the Colts are currently on the outside looking in to the AFC playoffs. The Colts need a win and a Tennessee loss to the Texans. This is obviously a tough spot for the Colts, but they should stick with the best lineup throughout. With the Jaguars locked into the top overall draft pick, they can play to win, hoping for a spoiler role.
Tennessee at Houston
The possibilities are deep for the Titans. Tennessee can win the AFC South with a win over Houston or a Colts loss. With both teams playing at the same time, we should see the Titans playing at full strength. Tennessee can also clinch a playoff spot with a loss by the Ravens or Dolphins, both playing earlier in the day.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City
The fate of each of these teams has already been decided. The Chiefs have locked up the top overall seed and the bye that comes with it, while the Chargers will miss the playoffs this season. It would be a surprise if the key members of the Chiefs Offense play in this game.
Las Vegas at Denver
This is another game in which both teams will be concluding their season and not advancing to the playoffs. The Raiders and Broncos should be at full strength in this AFC West matchup.
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams
This matchup between two NFC West teams is for a playoff spot. The Rams are currently slotted into the sixth seed of the NFC playoffs but can clinch a spot with a win over the Cardinals. The injury to QB Jared Goff means backup QB John Wolford is expected to start. Arizona may also have to rely on their backup as QB Kyler Murray is dealing with an injury. Even with a loss to the Cardinals, the Rams could make the playoff with a Bears loss.
Seattle at San Francisco
While the 49ers have been eliminated from playoff contention, the Seahawks have work left to do. Seattle has already clinched the NFC West but could potentially improve their seeding with losses by the Saints and/or Packers. This means we should see at least a half of QB Russell Wilson and the crew as the team checks the scoreboard.
Washington at Philadelphia
The Eagles have been eliminated from the NFC East race after last week’s loss to Dallas, but they have a chance to play spoiler in the week’s final game. The winner of the earlier Giants/Cowboys game will be watching closely and cheering on the Eagles. For the Washington Football Team, it’s win and in. With the recent release of QB Dwayne Haskins, it is unclear who will be suiting up for Washington at the quarterback position.