Week 18 is here, and the big question on everyone's mind is, who cares? As fans, we care, and the players participating care, but teams have different motivations and a clear picture of what can be achieved in Week 18. We go game by game to see who has things to play for, either from a team perspective or based on statistical milestones.
A note: "Motivation" is entirely made up and subjective. The players playing will give their all, but teams will make selective choices on who plays and who sits out.
First, an overview of the Week 18 slate.
Games With Both Teams Motivated
- Buffalo at Miami
- Atlanta at New Orleans
- Minnesota at Detroit
- Houston at Indianapolis
Games With One Team Motivated
- Pittsburgh at Baltimore
- Jacksonville at Tennessee
- Tampa Bay at Carolina
- Seattle at Arizona
- Dallas at Washington
- Philadelphia at NY Giants
- Chicago at Green Bay
Games With Neither Team Motivated
- NY Jets at New England
- Cleveland at Cincinnati
- Kansas City at LA Chargers
- LA Rams at San Francisco
- Denver at Las Vegas
Now, here's a game-by-game look at Week 18 motivation.
Saturday, January 6 - 4:30 pm Eastern
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
- Early Line: Steelers -3.5
Pittsburgh Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Draft Position: 18th Overall (Range: 7th seed in AFC playoffs to 18th pick)
Baltimore Motivation 0/10
- Playoff Position: 1st in AFC
The Steelers need to win and a Buffalo or Jacksonville loss. Their opponent's win percentage locks them into the 18th pick if they miss the playoffs.
Baltimore has clinched the top seed in the AFC and should rest their key players. Their primary motivation would be playing spoiler for the Steelers.
Saturday, January 6 - 8:15 pm Eastern
Houston at Indianapolis
- Early Line: Colts -1
Houston Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Position: Eliminated - 15th Pick - traded to Arizona (Range: AFC South champion and fourth seed to 14th pick)
Indianapolis Motivation 10/10
- Projected Playoff Position: 7th Seed (Range: AFC South champion and fourth seed to 15th pick)
Scenario A: The Jaguars lose to the Titans- The winner of Houston vs. Indianapolis wins the AFC South and the fourth seed.
Scenario B: The Jaguars win - the winner claims the seventh seed.
Caveat: If the Bills lose, the winner of this game would get the sixth seed.
Sunday, January 7 - 1:00 pm Eastern
NY Jets at New England
- Early Line: Patriots -2.5
New York Jets Motivation: 0/10
- Projected Draft Position: 7th Overall (Range: fifth pick to 11th pick)
New England Motivation 3/10
- Projected Draft Position: 4th Overall (Range: second pick to fifth pick)
Both teams are eliminated from the playoffs. The Jets face a wide draft range, with the ability to climb as high as fifth or drop as low as 11. The Patriots face a wide value range, and securing the second pick assures them of one of the top two quarterbacks should they choose to move in that direction, while dropping to the fifth pick would force them to move up.
Speculation has this game as Bill Belichick's last as Patriots coach. He has a long history with the Jets, and if it truly is his final game, expect it to mean something.
Cleveland at Cincinnati
- Early Line: Bengals -4.5
Cleveland Motivation: 0/10
- Playoff Position: 5th in AFC
Cincinnati Motivation 0/10
- Projected Draft Position: 17th Overall (Range: 13th pick to 18th pick)
The Browns are locked into the fifth seed, win or lose. Expect all of their key players to sit. The Bengals' draft position is the only intrigue.
Jacksonville at Tennessee
- Early Line: Jaguars -5
Jacksonville Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Position: 4th Seed (Range: AFC South champion and fourth seed to 17th pick)
Tennessee Motivation 0/10
- Projected Draft Position: 6th Overall (Range:5th overall to 8th overall)
Jacksonville's primary path is easy. Beat the Titans, and they win the AFC South.
Lose, and their position gets complicated. They would need the Steelers and Broncos to both lose. The Broncos are the most bizarre team in the mix. Tiebreakers have eliminated them from the playoffs. But a win and a Jaguars and Steelers loss puts the three into the tiebreaker pool and allows Pittsburgh to advance. A loss leaves them out of the pool, and the tiebreaker is settled on the Jaguars' victory over Pittsburgh.
The Titans and Chargers will end up very close on the Strength of Schedule tiebreaker if they finish with the same record. A win drops them to 8th with a Jets loss, while a loss, the Chargers' tiebreaker shifting, and an Arizona win can get them to 5th. They have little to play for outside of spoiler, though Mike Vrabel is the type of coach to relish that opportunity.
Minnesota at Detroit
- Early Line: Detroit -6.5
Detroit Motivation: 7/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: 3rd in NFC (Range: second or third seed)
Minnesota Motivation 10/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: Eliminated, 11th pick (Range: seventh seed to eliminated, Draft Range: Ninth pick to 14th pick)
Detroit could go either direction here. Dallas and Philadelphia kick later, and the Lions will not know if the two-seed is in play until after their game. They can press and keep up the stakes for those games. Alternatively, we have seen teams in a similar position opt to take the lower seed and use the week to rest key players. The team mentality around Dan Campbell suggests they will give it their best shot, but Campbell is forward-thinking and could choose the latter.
The Vikings will not know their playoff fate until later, but they need a win to stay alive. The Vikings must win, and they need the Seahawks to lose to the Cardinals, the Packers to lose to the Bears, and the Saints to lose to the Falcons. They have one of the broadest range of outcomes of any team; they could make the playoffs or climb to the 9th pick.
Atlanta at New Orleans
- Early Line: New Orleans -3.5
Atlanta Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Draft Position: 9th Overall (Range: NFC South Champion 4th seed to eighth pick in the draft)
New Orleans Motivation 10/10
- Projected Draft Position: 14th Overall (Range: NFC South Champion 4th seed to ninth pick in the draft)
Earlier, I said Minnesota has the widest range of outcomes. Atlanta's is wider. The Falcons would win the NFC South with a win and a Tampa Bay loss to Carolina. For the Falcons, it is division or bust; the Packers would still claim the seventh seed, beating the Falcons in the tiebreaker. A loss and the Jets beating the Patriots would move the Falcons to the eighth pick.
The Saints need a win and a Bucs loss to win the NFC South. Their other path is a win, Seattle's loss to Arizona, and Green Bay's loss to Chicago to claim the seventh seed. The highest they can climb in the draft is pick nine, though they need much help.
Tampa Bay at Carolina
- Early Line: Tampa Bay -5.5
Tampa Bay Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Position: NFC 4th Seed (Range: NFC South Champion 4th seed to eleventh pick in the draft)
Carolina Motivation 5/10
- Draft Position: 1st Overall - Traded to Chicago
Tampa Bay faces a similarly wide range of outcomes that New Orleans and Atlanta see but control their destiny, needing to beat Carolina, the worst team in the league. While the Saints have a path to the seventh seed, the Buccaneers do not; if they lose, they are out even with the Packers and Seahawks losing.
Carolina is locked into giving Chicago the first pick in the draft. As such, their motivation should be reasonably high, with the only thing left to play for is playing spoiler and ending the season on a high note.
Sunday, January 7 - 4:25 pm Eastern
Denver at Las Vegas
- Early Line: Raiders -2.5
Broncos Motivation: 0/10
- Projected Draft Position: 12th Overall (Range:10th overall to 17th)
Raiders Motivation 0/10
- Projected Draft Position: 13th Overall (Range: 8th overall to14th overall)
Neither team has much to play for, as the Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 17. The Broncos can insert themselves into the AFC Wildcard tiebreaker with a win, potentially altering who claims the 7th seed, but no scenario gets them in.
Kansas City at LA Chargers
- Early Line: Chargers -3
Chiefs Motivation: 0/10
- Playoff Position: 3rd Seed
Chargers Motivation 0/10
- Projected Draft Position: 8th Overall (Range: 4th overall to 8th overall)
The Chiefs have clinched the 3rd seed in the AFC. They should rest their key players. The Chargers are playing for pride but have given spirited performances for interim coach Giff Smith
Seattle at Arizona
- Early Line: Seattle -3
Seattle Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: Eliminated, 16th pick (Range: NFC 7th seed to 12th pick)
Arizona Motivation 1/10
- Projected Draft Position: 3rd Overall (Range: 2nd pick to 7th pick)
It's pretty simple: Seattle needs a win, and they need the Packers to lose.
Arizona still has the second pick in play, but their win over Philadelphia in Week 17 suggests they are more interested in playing spoiler.
Chicago at Green Bay
- Early Line: Green Bay -3
Green Bay Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: 7th in NFC (Range: sixth seed to eliminated)
Chicago Motivation 1/10
- Projected Draft Position: 10th Overall (Range: eighth pick to 13th pick)
The Packers control their destiny; a win gives them the seventh seed unless the Rams lose to the 49ers, moving them to the sixth seed.
The Packers can make the playoffs with a loss, but they would need the Saints to lose to the Falcons, the Vikings to lose to the Lions, and the Seahawks to lose to the Cardinals.
The Bears currently sit in the tenth pick, but the Jets are favored to beat the Patriots, moving them to the ninth pick. A Falcons win would force them to the eighth pick. The lowest the Bears could realistically move is the 13th pick.
Philadelphia at NY Giants
- Early Line: Philadelphia -6.0
Philadelphia Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: 5th in NFC (Range: second seed to fifth seed)
New York Giants Motivation 1/10
- Projected Draft Position: 5th Overall (Range: second pick to eighth pick)
The Eagles can still hope Dallas is upset and the door is opened for them. Or if Dallas pulls away, they could opt to sit critical players. The Eagles have much to figure out coming off a loss to Arizona and need a win to enter the playoffs on solid footing.
The Giants' most likely draft slot is fifth. They could move up to second with a series of upsets. If the Giants won, the lowest they could likely fall is seventh (falling to eight would require the Jets losing to the Patriots).
LA Rams at San Francisco
- Early Line: San Francisco -3.5
LA Rams Motivation: 3/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: 6th in NFC (Range: NFC 6th or 7th seed)
San Francisco Motivation 0/10
- Playoff Position: NFC Top Seed
Neither the Rams nor the 49ers carry significant motivation. The 49ers have locked up the number-one seed in the conference. They should sit their key players. The Rams sit in the sixth seed and stay there with a win and a loss. They could drop to the seventh seed but have locked up their playoff spot. The Packers are the only team that could jump them for the six-seed. The difference between the two seeds is slight; the Rams are playing in one of Detroit, Dallas, or Philadelphia in round one. Detroit carries significant narrative intrigue with Matthew Stafford.
Dallas at Washington
- Early Line: Dallas -13.5
Dallas Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: 2nd in NFC (Range: second seed to fifth seed)
Washington Motivation 0/10
- Projected Draft Position: 2nd Overall (Range: second pick to fifth pick)
Dallas finishes as the number two seed in the NFC with a win. Washington ends with the second pick in the draft with a loss.
Dallas's path as the number two seed would ensure they host their first two games at least and hold off playing San Francisco until the NFC Championship game. It would also force Philadelphia onto the road in round one and likely line up an Eagles - 49ers second-round matchup.
Sunday, January 7 - 8:20 pm Eastern
Buffalo at Miami
- Early Line: Buffalo -3
Buffalo Motivation: 10/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: 2nd in AFC (Range: second seed to eliminated and 18th pick in the draft)
Miami Motivation 10/10
- Projected Playoff Seed: 6th in AFC (Range: second seed to sixth seed)
The winner of this game takes the AFC East and the second seed in the conference.
If Buffalo loses, they would be eliminated unless Jacksonville lost to Tennessee, Pittsburgh lost to Baltimore, or Houston and Indianapolis tied.
A Miami loss would put them into the sixth seed, traveling to Kansas City in round one.
Projected Playoff Field
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Buffalo Bills
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Cleveland Browns
6. Miami Dolphins
7. Indianapolis Colts
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. Detroit Lions
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Philadelphia Eagles
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Los Angeles Rams
Projected Draft Order
1. Chicago Bears (from Carolina Panthers)
2. Washington Commanders
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. New England Patriots
5. New York Giants
6. Tennesseee Titans
7. New York Jets
8. Los Angeles Chargers
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Chicago Bears
11. Minnesota Vikings
12. Denver Broncos
13. Las Vegas Raiders
14. New Orleans Saints
15. Arizona Cardinals (from Houston Texans)
16. Seattle Seahawks
17. Cincinnati Bengals
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
The remainder of the first round will be determined by how teams advance in the playoffs.