Last Updated: December 27th at 6:40pm ET
Week 17 is annually one of my favorite slates because there are a lot of soft skills needed. Not only do we need to do our usual work on injury fallouts and depth chart changes, but we also need to be aware of motivation. Some teams are locked into their playoff seed, others may not care what seed they get, some are still fighting for the playoffs, some were just eliminated from playoff contention and others are in evaluation mode.
The purpose of this article is to identify where teams are at for Week 17 and highlight some specific personnel situations. I will update it as more news comes out later in the week.
NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
1. 49ERS (12-3)
Situation: If the 49ers win Sunday, they are the NFC’s No. 1 seed. If they lose, the NFC West will go to the Seahawks and the 49ers will be a Wild Card team. Maximum motivation for 49ers.
Usage note: RB snaps in last week’s narrow win over the Rams: Raheem Mostert 31, Tevin Coleman 24, Matt Breida 0
2. PACKERS (12-3)
Situation: Packers can finish as high as the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a win in the afternoon and a 49ers loss at night. They can also clinch a minimum of the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win. Maximum motivation for Packers.
Usage note: With Jamaal Williams (shoulder) getting banged up, Aaron Jones’ 67.5% snap rate in Week 16 was his highest mark since Week 4.
3. SAINTS (12-3)
Situation: Saints can still get a first-round bye via a win plus a loss by either the 49ers or Packers. But it’s a bit tricky – if the Packers beat the Lions (they’re 12.5-point favorites), it actually won’t matter how the Saints fare. Even if they lose, they’d still be the No. 2 seed via a 49ers loss. Sean Payton said he will be playing his starters and I think he will as the as the Packers and Saints both play at 1pm ET. But there’s some small risk here. Solid but not spectacular motivation for Saints.
Usage note: Michael Thomas has already set the single-season record for receptions. He’s 276 yards away from Calvin Johnson’s single-season record for receiving yardage.
4. EAGLES (8-7)
Situation: Eagles must win to clinch the NFC East and a playoff berth. If they lose and the Cowboys win, Dallas would win the division and be in the playoffs. Both teams play at 4:25pm ET. Maximum motivation for Eagles.
Usage note: Zach Ertz (ribs) is out. Over the last two weeks Dallas Goedert has played on 87% of the snaps and seen 18 targets for a strong 21.6% share, even with Ertz playing.
5. SEAHAWKS (11-4)
Situation: Seahawks can win the NFC West with a win. When the dust settles Sunday, they will either be the No. 1, 2, 3 or 5 seed. Maximum motivation for Seahawks.
Usage note: With both Chris Carson (hip) and CJ Prosise (arm) done, the Seahawks are scraping at RB. Travis Homer and newly unretired Marshawn Lynch are the only RBs on the roster as of Tuesday.
6. VIKINGS (10-5)
Situation: Vikings are locked into the NFC’s No. 6 seed no matter what happens Sunday. Zero motivation for Vikings.
Usage note: Mike Boone was benched Monday night due to ineffectiveness and a trailing game flow. Boone finished with just 18 snaps compared to 32 for Ameer Abdullah. Expect the Vikings to rest all their starters, including Kirk Cousins. They’ll treat this game like a bye week to get ready for Wild Card Weekend. SUNDAY UPDATE: Sean Mannion will start at quarterback, as expected.
7. COWBOYS (7-8)
Situation: Cowboys can still win NFC East and make playoffs with a win plus an Eagles loss. It’s that simple. Maximum motivation for Cowboys.
Usage note: The Cowboys oddly rotated Amari Cooper out late in Week 16, claiming they wanted to get Tavon Austin matched up on the Eagles’ corners. Amari ran 35 routes compared to 42 for Michael Gallup/Randall Cobb and 14 for Austin.
NFC DEAD TEAMS
8. RAMS (8-7)
Situation: The Rams’ Week 16 loss officially ended their season.
Usage note: Sean McVay has been very aggressive throughout his career with resting players in meaningless games. I’d expect him to rule out some front-line players as we get closer. Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Gerald Everett, Brandin Cooks and others are some candidates to sit or be limited. Update: As of Friday, the Rams still say they’ll be playing their starters. We’ll hopefully find out more Sunday morning. SUNDAY UPDATE: The Rams still say they are playing their starters. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get full games from Jared Goff, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee.
9. BUCS (7-8)
Situation: Bucs have been dead for a few weeks now.
Usage note: WR/TE routes run with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller all sidelined in Week 16: Breshad Perriman 53, Justin Watson 51, OJ Howard 38, Ish Hyman 34, Cam Brate 24. Note that Hyman was waived Tuesday and WR Jaydon Mickens was promoted from the practice squad.
10. BEARS (7-8)
Situation: Bears have been dead for a few weeks now.
Usage note: Bears catch a Vikings team which has nothing to play for in Week 17. I’m currently expecting Bears starters against Vikings backups.
11. FALCONS (6-9)
Situation: Falcons been dead ever since a 1-7 start, but have played extremely well of late. They’re 5-2 in their last seven, averaging 26.8 ppg during that span.
Usage note: In two games without Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones has seen 35 targets for a 41% share. Has turned that insane usage into a 23-300-2 line.
12. CARDINALS (5-9-1)
Situation: Cardinals been dead for weeks.
Usage note: Kyler Murray tweaked his hamstring in Week 16 and is questionable. Whether Kyler or Brett Hundley starts Sunday, there’s a good chance they’re facing some Rams backups.
13. PANTHERS (5-10)
Situation: Panthers been dead for weeks.
Usage note: The Panthers didn’t ease off Christian McCaffrey in Week 16, playing him on 63-of-70 snaps despite another blowout loss. But note that in Week 17 of last season, the Panthers finally did pull back on CMC and only played him 10 snaps. This year, he needs 67 receiving yards to go 1,000/1,000 rushing/receiving for the year. He’s 215 scrimmage yards away from Chris Johnson’s single-season record. UPDATE: The Panthers coaches stated Thursday that their goal is to get CMC records. As of now, I am taking that to mean that he’ll play the entire game and the focus will be on getting him maximum touches. In addition to the records I already mentioned, McCaffrey is 93 yards behind Nick Chubb for the rushing title and 155 rush yards behind DeAngelo Williams for the single-season franchise rushing record.
14. GIANTS (4-11)
Situation: Giants been dead for weeks.
Usage note: Daniel Jones continues to flash a massive ceiling going all the way back to the preseason. He now has four games of 30+ DraftKings points in 12 rookie starts.
15. LIONS (3-11-1)
Situation: Lions been dead for months.
Usage note: Kerryon Johnson returned last week to play on 33-of-65 snaps and handled 50% of the RB touches.
16. REDSKINS (3-12)
Situation: Redskins been dead for months.
Usage note: Dwayne Haskins (ankle) is out, meaning Case Keenum will start against a motivated Cowboys team. He may not have stud WR Terry McLaurin (concussion protocol).
AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
1. RAVENS (13-2)
Situation: Ravens have clinched the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Zero motivation for Ravens.
Usage note: Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Marshal Yanda, Earl Thomas and Brandon Williams have already been ruled out. I’d be shocked to see much or any of Mark Andrews or Marquise Brown.
2. PATRIOTS (12-3)
Situation: Patriots can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win over the Dolphins Sunday. If the Pats lose and the Chiefs win, they’ll drop down to the No. 3 seed. Very strong motivation for Patriots.
Usage note: Julian Edelman’s health remains a question mark. He’s only played on 62% and 71% of the snaps in each of the last two weeks.
3. CHIEFS (10-5)
Situation: Chiefs can still get a first-round bye, but they’d need the Dolphins to beat the Patriots at home. More realistically, the Chiefs need to win because if they don’t, they will drop to the No. 4 seed via a Texans win. How much do they care about the No. 3 vs. 4 seed as both come with first-round home games? Not sure. But at the very least, the Chiefs need to play it all-out to start just in case the Dolphins can spring an upset. Solid motivation for Chiefs, unless Reid concedes that the Dolphins can’t win in Foxboro. A bit of risk here.
Usage note: Spencer Ware joined Darrell Williams on IR this week. That leaves Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson and LeSean McCoy at running back.
4. TEXANS (10-5)
Situation: Texans will either be the AFC’s No. 3 or 4 seed. The only way the Texans can be the No. 3 seed is if the Chiefs lose to the Chargers and the Texans beat the Titans. Oddly, the Chiefs play at 1pm ET and the Texans play at 4:25pm ET. So if the Chiefs win, the Texans will have absolutely nothing to play for. Very questionable motivation for Texans.
Usage note: Bill O’Brien claims he’ll be playing his starters even if the Chiefs win at 1pm ET, but it’s hard to believe him. We’ll hopefully get more clarity later in the week. UPDATE: Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills are all listed questionable. Will Fuller has been ruled out. It’s looking increasingly likely that the Texans will field their JV team. SUNDAY UPDATE: The Texans will start AJ McCarron at QB. Expect mostly Texans backups Sunday.
5. BILLS (10-5)
Situation: The Bills will be the AFC’s No. 5 seed no matter what happens Sunday. Zero motivation for Bills.
Usage note: The Bills claim that most of their starters will play Sunday. It’s extremely difficult to believe them. If Josh Allen, Devin Singletary and John Brown do end up starting, they are risks to be pulled early. UPDATE: The Bills plan to start Josh Allen and their younger first-stringers. But they will not finish the game. It’s unclear when Matt Barkley and the backups will enter, but I’d expect sometime in the second quarter.
6. TITANS (8-7)
Situation: If the Titans beat the Texans Sunday, they will be the AFC’s No. 6 seed. If they lose, the door is open for either the Steelers or Raiders to sneak in. Maximum motivation for Titans.
Usage note: Derrick Henry (hamstring) likely would have played last week if the game meant anything to the Titans. Expect him to be back this week and carry a full workload.
7. STEELERS (8-7)
Situation: The Steelers can still make the playoffs with a win plus a Titans loss. Both teams play at 4:25pm ET. Maximum motivation for Steelers.
Usage note: Mason Rudolph (shoulder) is out and James Conner (thigh) is in major doubt. The good news for the Steelers is the Ravens are likely to roll out all backups Sunday.
8. RAIDERS (7-8)
Situation: It’s complicated, but the Raiders are actually reasonably live to get in. ESPN’s simulations give it a 13.2% chance and Football Outsiders is at 7.6%. Maximum motivation for Raiders.
Usage note: Josh Jacobs is a major question mark due to a shoulder injury and an infection. DeAndre Washington is at $5200 with averages of 18.5 carries and 5.0 targets in the two that Jacobs has missed this season.
AFC DEAD TEAMS
9. COLTS (7-8)
Situation: Colts were officially eliminated from the playoffs in Week 15.
Usage note: Colts played it straight in Week 16 (other than a banged-up TY Hilton) as guys like Jack Doyle and Marlon Mack sustained their normal usage. In Week 17, there’s perhaps a smidge more risk that the Colts go more into evaluation mode.
10. BROWNS (6-9)
Situation: Browns were officially eliminated from the playoffs in Week 16.
Usage note: The first game after a mathematical elimination always scares me. Will the coaches use Week 17 to look at more fringe, younger players? I don’t think so, but it’s possible. Note Nick Chubb is ahead of Christian McCaffrey by 92 yards for the rushing title right now. Odell Beckham is 46 yards away from 1,000.
11. BRONCOS (6-9)
Situation: Broncos been dead for a few weeks now.
Usage note: Perhaps in an effort to give Drew Lock the best chance at success, Broncos have continued to go full-blast with all their starters despite being eliminated.
12. JETS (6-9)
Situation: Jets been dead for a few weeks now.
Usage note: The Jets are actually 5-2 in their last seven games. They face a Bills team with zero to play for Sunday.
13. CHARGERS (5-10)
Situation: Chargers been dead for a few weeks now.
Usage note: The Chargers have continued to try to get wins in December, rolling out all their talented skill players in normal roles. I wouldn’t expect that to change in Week 17, especially given it could be Philip Rivers’ last game as as Charger.
14. JAGUARS (5-10)
Situation: Jaguars been dead for a few weeks now.
Usage note: Arguably the NFL’s worst team over the last month, the Jags haven’t scored more than 20 points in a game since Week 8.
15. DOLPHINS (4-11)
Situation: Dolphins been dead since they traded away most of their good players early in the season.
Usage note: The Dolphins have had the pleasure of facing the Eagles, Jets, Giants and Bengals in their last four games. On Sunday, they get a motivated Patriots team in Foxboro.
16. BENGALS (1-14)
Situation: The Bengals have clinched the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft.
Usage note: John Ross returned to his normal role in Week 15, playing on 71-of-90 snaps and seeing a 23% target share.