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Which NFL Teams Will Rest Starters? How the Playoff Picture Could Impact Fantasy Football

Dec 18, 2018 12:58 PM EST
Credit:

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Sean McVay, Todd Gurley

  • It's championship week in a lot of fantasy football leagues. Here's how the playoff picture could impact player production.
  • NFL teams in position for a top seed or already eliminated could rest starters, while those in the hunt could play theirs aggressively.

Week 15 was a friendly reminder that no matter how much you think you know about the NFL, you’re always 60 minutes away from feeling like an idiot.

We shouldn’t assume the Week 16 slate will be any less screwy, as the NFL’s ever-evolving playoff picture can turn a contender into a pretender in a heart beat. It’s impossible to tank with on-field play in a physical sport like football, but front offices and coaching staffs can still “rest” key players to help their chances of securing a better draft pick and entering the offseason healthy.

Let’s breakdown which NFL teams are still in the thick of the playoff hunt, as well as which are eliminated and warrant caution for betting and fantasy football purposes.

NFL Teams Fighting for No. 1 Seeds

Seven teams are still vying to represent the AFC and NFC as No. 1 seeds:

  • Philip Rivers and the Chargers have made things interesting in the AFC West, although Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are still the heavy favorites to get the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Both teams aren’t letting their foot off the gas, though, as Melvin Gordon (knee) is tentatively expected to return this week against the Ravens while Spencer Ware (hamstring) is considered day-to-day.
  • The Texans could be without Lamar Miller (knee), which would likely result in second-year back D’Onta Foreman making his season-debut in a committee alongside likely-starter Alfred Blue. The Texans are still working to get a much-needed first-round bye and will accordingly try their hardest to knock off the Eagles in Week 16.
  • The Patriots still have a decent chance at earning a first-round bye despite their recent skid. They opened as 13-point home favorites against the Bills (see live odds here).
  • The Saints can clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a win or a Rams loss. New Orleans is expected to be all systems go for Sunday’s matchup against Pittsburgh.
  • The Rams have a slim chance at grabbing the No. 1 seed, but they’re nearly locked into a first-round bye. Todd Gurley (knee inflammation) is considered day-to-day, and head coach Sean McVay has notoriously been aggressive with resting his starters. Rookie John Kelly is currently Gurley’s backup.
  • Be sure to monitor our Injury Report for every fantasy-relevant player’s daily practice participation along with their estimated and official game statuses.
  • The Bears have already clinched the NFC North, and their outside shot at securing a first-round bye should result in all of their starters suiting up against the 49ers. Still, the Saints and Rams are undoubtedly ecstatic that they likely won’t have to deal with January weather in Chicago.

In the Hunt

The following teams have no chance of earning a No. 1 seed, but they all have at least a decent chance at still competing into January:

  • The Cowboys and Seahawks are near locks for the playoffs, but they’ll still be forced to trot out all the starters against the Buccaneers and Chiefs, respectively.
  • The Vikings and Eagles are each fighting for their playoff lives. For Philly, that means Nick Foles has been named the starter again for Week 16’s matchup against the Texans. For Minnesota, that could mean more of the same run-heavy attack that earned the Vikings a victory last week.
  • The Steelers (8-5-1) have a leg up on the Ravens (8-6) to win the AFC North. It’s neither surprising that the Steelers are working hard to get James Conner (ankle) back into the lineup, nor that the Ravens are keeping Joe Flacco as far away from the field as possible.
  • The Colts and Titans are on a collision course for a potentially massive Week 17 matchup in Tennessee. They’re each heavily favored in their respective home battles against the Giants (+9.5) and Redskins (+10) this week.

On the Outside Looking In

The following teams need minor miracles to make the playoffs:

  • The Panthers have lost six straight games, but still have a chance to make the playoffs. Head coach Ron Rivera is considering playing Cam Newton (shoulder) this week because of this “slim glimmer of hope”  … Rivera also needs to do everything in his power to save his job. Newton has been limited in practice for the better part of the past two months and was replaced by Taylor Heinicke to throw a Hail Mary in Week 13. The injury has clearly compromised Newton’s ability and/or willingness to test defenses downfield.
  • The Browns have won four of their last five games and are still technically alive! It’d be surprising if Gregg Williams rested any non-injured starters the rest of the season anyways considering their youth and momentum.
  • Josh Johnson and the Redskins managed to beat the Jaguars in Week 15 and stay in playoff contention, but they have their work cut out for them on the road against the Titans in Week 16. Washington has scored 23 or fewer points in 11 consecutive games.
  • The Dolphins are also holding on by a thread. Frank Gore (foot) isn’t expected to suit up for the rest of the season, although we shouldn’t expect Kenyan Drake to suddenly inherit a featured role. Drake out-snapped Kalen Ballage 28 to 26 this past Sunday, but Ballage out-touched Drake 13 to 4. Drake’s strong finish to last season was fueled by both Jay Ajayi getting traded and then-backup Damien Williams getting injured.

Already Eliminated

These teams don’t even have a puncher’s chance at playing into January:

AFC: Broncos, Bengals, Bills, Jaguars, Jets, Raiders
NFC: Packers, Falcons, Buccaneers, Giants, Lions, 49ers, Cardinals

  • The Broncos haven’t had consecutive losing seasons since 1971 and 1972. They’ll need to win both of their remaining games against the Raiders and Chargers to avoid that distinction for 2017 and 2018. Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles, IR) is done for the season, and Case Keenum hasn’t exactly played well enough to warrant end-of-season rest. The only potential fantasy casualty could be Phillip Lindsay, who hasn’t exactly dominated the backfield all season and likely won’t suddenly be run into the ground without much to play for.

  • The Bengals technically weren’t eliminated from the playoffs prior to Week 15, which means there’s a chance we won’t continue to see Joe Mixon rack up 25-plus touches a game in Weeks 16-17, as Giovani Bernard is plenty competent to share some of the workload. This also means the team probably won’t rush Tyler Boyd (knee) back to the field.
  • The Bills, Jets and Raiders have been eliminated for awhile and they’ve continued to surround their respective quarterbacks with their full suite of healthy “weapons.” This has led to enhanced roles recently for Jets running back Elijah McGuire and wide receiver Robby Anderson, but the Raiders and Bills are locked into committee situations at both receiver and running back.
  • The Jaguars have gone back and forth on their explanation of why Leonard Fournette only received 14 touches and played just 27-of-52 (52%) snaps in their Week 15 loss to the Redskins. First, Fournette explained that “the game plan coming in” was to get rookie David Williams more snaps at running back, but head coach Doug Marrone told reporters on Monday that Fournette would be limited in practice this week with a foot injury. Even in a potential smash spot against the Dolphins, it’s tough to get behind Fournette with his uncertain injury situation. The Jaguars have also scored just 28 total points over their past 12 quarters with Cody Kessler.
  • Chris Raybon and I discussed the chances of the Packers shutting down Aaron Rodgers this past Sunday night on The Action Network NFL Podcast. The line has since dropped from Packers -3.5 to a PK, although interim head coach Joe Philbin seemed to hint that Rodgers would suit up as long as he’s physically good to go. There’s even less reason for optimism around Aaron Jones (knee), as the Packers claimed Kapri Bibbs off waivers on Monday. Jamaal Williams has 19, 15, 25, 25 and 22 touches in his last five games with Jones sidelined.
  • Both the Falcons and Buccaneers were eliminated last week. This probably means Tevin Coleman won’t inherit a full-fledged three-down role in wake of Ito Smith’s (knee, IR) season-ending injury. Julio Jones (ribs) could be approached with enhanced caution, too. The same holds true for DeSean Jackson (thumb), although the Buccaneers are still attempting to evaluate Jameis Winston’s potential for a contract extension and will thus likely keep him surrounded by starters. Matt Ryan has started every game since 2009.
  • The Giants, 49ers and Cardinals already confirmed Eli Manning, Nick Mullens and Josh Rosen would start in Week 16. This is accordingly leading to efforts to get Odell Beckham Jr. (quad) back onto the field, while notoriously-injured Matt Breida played 73% of the offense’s snaps despite entering last week’s game at less than 100%. The most-impacted situation could be in the Cardinals backfield, as David Johnson out-snapped Chase Edmonds only 34 to 25 in the team’s first game after being eliminated. This also certainly was impacted by the Cardinals’ blowout loss to the Falcons, but it’d still make sense for Johnson to not receive a massive workload against the Rams.
  • The Lions have listed Matthew Stafford (back) as questionable for the last two weeks, and he’s thrown fewer than 30 passes in each contest. Somehow, the Lions weren’t eliminated until this past Sunday, so it wouldn’t be shocking if they’re extra cautious with Stafford and Kerryon Johnson (knee) ahead of their matchup against the Vikings.
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