Maybe you have a fantasy league that goes into Week 17, or don’t know which teams to pick in a weird week, or just (gasp!) like football for football’s sake and want to know who is playing and who isn’t this week.
Every team has a different approach to the situation. We’ve seen teams regret sitting starters too soon, and other teams might regret playing it out in Week 17 (probably the most famous example is the Patriots seeing receiver Wes Welker tear his ACL in Houston in the 2009 finale). Teams out of the playoff hunt have to weigh whether to rest veterans to get young players some experience. This is an unusual Week 17, considering there’s only one game (Falcons-Panthers) in which both teams have a playoff spot or seeding in the line.
The most popular question of the week is which teams will play it out and which will rest key players, so let’s update what information we have from the 32 teams:
Packers at Lions: We could say the Packers were the first team to start looking ahead to 2018 when they put Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve before Week 16. Injuries to Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams probably mean they’ll sit, though coach Mike McCarthy didn’t rule them out. McCarthy said it’s important to win, so don’t expect wholesale changes (there’s no indication Joe Callahan will eat into Brett Hundley’s time at quarterback, for instance). While there has been a lot of chatter in Detroit to play Jake Rudock and give Matthew Stafford a break, it doesn’t seem that will happen. Stafford wants to play and said “to think otherwise is not real smart.” There’s no indication the Lions will sit starters.
Texans at Colts: Texans coach Bill O’Brien talked about wanting to win and not finish in last place in the AFC South, which Houston would do with a loss. Quarterback T.J. Yates was checked for a concussion but it seems he’s fine. Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who is on the hot seat, said he told his team it’s their “last rodeo” together and “What better way than to go out with a win?” Aside from putting cornerback Rashaan Melvin on IR, it seems all the Colts will play.
Bears at Vikings: There’s no reason to believe the Bears will sit any starters (“It’s still a game, everybody has to play it and you approach it that way,” coach John Fox said), though they have a few injury questions. If the Vikings lose, the Saints lose and the Panthers win, the Vikings would fall out of the No. 2 seed and not get a bye. They’ll play it out. There’s not even a chance they see other games going their way and lift starters accordingly, because the Vikings play early and the Saints and Panthers both play late.
Jets at Patriots: The main question with the Jets is if 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg will finally play. “We’ll see,” coach Todd Bowles said. Bryce Petty will start and it didn’t sound like Bowles was excited to get Hackenberg into a game. The Patriots are still fighting for the No. 1 bye so they’ll play as usual, but if they blow out the Jets as expected perhaps they’ll sit starters early.
Redskins at Giants: Washington seems set to play as they normally would. The Giants are an interesting case. Rookie quarterback Davis Webb will be the No. 2 quarterback, the team announced, and it would be odd to promote him if he wasn’t going to get any snaps in Week 17. Eli Manning will start, however, and coach Steve Spagnuolo wouldn’t say if Webb will play. New York will also be shorthanded. Safety Landon Collins was put on IR. Eli Apple was suspended for Week 17. Three receivers (Tavarres King, Roger Lewis, Sterling Shepard) are on the injured list, as are tight end Evan Engram and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and you have to assume the Giants will be careful with them. Also worth keeping in mind: The Giants clinch the second pick of the draft with a loss, and if they win the Colts could move ahead of them to get the No. 2 overall pick. It’s in the Giants’ best interests as a franchise to lose.
Cowboys at Eagles: While coach Jason Garrett talked about finishing the season strong, owner Jerry Jones acknowledged that starters will play but younger players will see more time than usual. “We should just see how the game goes, but we’ve got younger guys … we have a need for them. We need to better understand their skills. But we’ll just see how it goes,” Jones said, according to the Dallas Morning News. The Eagles have the No. 1 seed clinched, but teams with byes locked up often play their starters at least some in Week 17. Sitting them in the regular-season finale means a long time between games. Coach Doug Pederson said he hasn’t decided if starters will play, but to read between the lines we can expect them to play but not the whole game. Pederson said about Nick Foles, “I got to play and get him as many reps as he can [get], and then be smart about it,” then said about backup Nate Sudfeld, “You’d love to hopefully get him some time in there.” Pederson might want to get Foles some extra time after he and the offense struggled on Monday.
Browns at Steelers: The Browns are trying to avoid 0-16; there’s no need to play backups now. The Steelers are in an interesting spot. They still could get the No. 1 seed, but would need the Jets to pull off a massive upset against the Patriots. If the Steelers sit players and lose while the Jets shock the Patriots, they’d have serious regrets. But that might be the smart move. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he was considering which players might sit. “I’m undecided as I stand here right now,” Tomlin said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s obvious those discussions are in play. We’ll do what’s best for us short term and long, and we won’t look back.”
Panthers at Falcons: The Panthers can win the NFC South with a win and a Saints loss, and the Falcons need to win to get a wild-card spot. No starters are resting for this one (if the Saints open up a huge lead it’s at least possible the Panthers pull some starters, though in a similar situation two seasons ago Ron Rivera said he wouldn’t be scoreboard watching).
Bengals at Ravens: There are no signs the Bengals will rest anyone, though running back Joe Mixon has an ankle injury and you have to figure the Bengals won’t rush him back. This is reportedly Marvin Lewis’ final game as Bengals coach and you’d think he wants to win it. The Ravens need to win to clinch a playoff spot.
Bills at Dolphins: The Bills are still alive for a playoff spot, so there’s no reason to rest anyone. The Dolphins don’t seem inclined to sit anyone either.
Saints at Buccaneers: The Saints clinch the NFC South with a win, and it goes without saying they want to get that and a home playoff game in the Superdome. The Buccaneers played hard last week at Carolina and probably won’t rest anyone this week. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been playing with what has been reported as a partially torn bicep, and according to Jenna Laine of ESPN he was asked why he is playing so-called meaningless games with the injury: “That’s a loser’s mindset, man. That’s a terrible mindset to have. … What do you mean I ain’t got nothing to play for?” Of course, coach Dirk Koetter has admitted he’s distracted about stories about his future and there was a reported screaming match in the locker room last week, so the Buccaneers’ mindset might not be perfect for this finale.
Jaguars at Titans: The Jaguars might be the most curious situation of all for Week 17. They’re locked into the No. 3 seed. If they lose, they play the Titans on wild-card weekend and if they win they’ll likely play the Chargers, and no team would voluntarily choose to play the Chargers over the Titans. Yet, coach Doug Marrone insists his starters will play. “This is the right thing to do for this team,” he said. It’s such a weird decision, everyone has wondered if he’s just saying that and will actually rest his players on Sunday, as he should. But, as of now, we have to assume the Jaguars will play everyone. The Titans will obviously play everyone who is available, needing a win to clinch a wild-card spot.
Chiefs at Broncos: The Chiefs played their hand Wednesday when they announced rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes will start his first game. The Chiefs are locked into the No. 4 seed. However, coach Andy Reid didn’t say if other starters like Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill would play. One would assume if they do play, it won’t be for long. The Broncos are also experimenting, as they will start Paxton Lynch at quarterback. Outside of quarterback, the rest of the lineup should be the same. But starting Lynch would indicate that other young players might see more time than usual. “If you see it happen on Sunday, that means they can do it. So I think it’s a huge part of our evaluation moving forward,” coach Vance Joseph said when asked how much he can learn from seeing a young player playing just one game at the end of a season.
Raiders at Chargers: There are no indications the Raiders will play younger players, and with coach Jack Del Rio’s future up in the air, it would seem like he’ll put his best lineup on the field. The Chargers are still alive for a playoff berth, and need to win.
49ers at Rams: The 49ers are ending this season on a roll, and there’s no reason to bench anyone. The Rams could be the third or fourth seed, and there’s a difference there. The third seed will play the Falcons or Seahawks. The fourth seed will play the Panthers or Saints. Most people would rather avoid the NFC South runner-up. But Rams coach Sean McVay will probably rest starters because getting them rest is more important than the difference in the seed. On Wednesday McVay made it official: quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan are among those who won’t play, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. “You don’t ever take anything for granted, but knowing that you do have a home playoff game regardless of how things play out, this might provide an opportunity for us to get some guys healthy,” McVay said on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. “So, that’s a luxury that we want to try to take advantage of.”
Cardinals at Seahawks: Cardinals defensive lineman Frostee Rucker offered some insight into Arizona’s mindset for Sunday’s game: “They’re still fighting to get in,” Rucker said, according to the Arizona Republic. “There’s our playoff game.” The Cardinals might also find motivation in finishing 8-8, and playing hard if this is coach Bruce Arians’ last game. They seem motivated to win. The Seahawks need to win and get a Falcons loss to get a wild-card berth.
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