So many changes from week to week around the NFL, and we’re here to make sure you’re up to speed on everything ahead of Week 18, the final week of the 2022 regular season.
Throughout the season, the weekly fantasy football cheat sheet has provided you with a look at the top tips from all the fantasy football content ESPN has released over the past seven days in the form of answers to the biggest starting/sitting questions of the week and other relevant match tips from our team including Field Yates, Mike Clay, Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Matt Bowen, Seth Walder, Kyle Soppe, Eric Moody, Liz Loza , Daniel Dopp and ESPN Insiders Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano, plus the entire NFL nation. It’s all the best advice in one handy article.
However, week 18 is a unique case, as many fantasy football leagues have already held their championship game. Plus, with much of the NFL playoffs locked down, several teams may choose to rest their regulars in what, for them at least, is a meaningless contest. And so, for our cheat sheet this week, we take a look at which NFL teams still have reason to go all out on Sunday and which teams fantasy managers should avoid betting on.
Around the AFC
Above all else, the continued improvement of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is far more important than any discussion of fantasy football roster decisions.
That said, and while optimism abounds for his recovery, football’s business moves forward, with the league saying Monday’s game will not be completed: “The result will not affect which teams qualify for the playoffs; playing the game would have altered the playoff schedule for the remaining teams; and not playing the game would let all clubs know post-season possibilities before the start of Week 18.”
And so, with that information now in hand, let’s take a look at those postseason possibilities and how they might impact teams that might decide to give only token shots to their regular starters.
The final playoff spot will go to either the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, or Pittsburgh Steelers. All three teams play in the first window (1 p.m. ET) so we should expect all three teams to fight for the win. For New England, it’s “win and in”. Miami needs New England to lose to get in, while the Steelers only advance with a win and losses to the Patriots and Dolphins. Miami will start Skylar Thompson at quarterback.
The Baltimore Ravens have a chance to move up to the No. 5 seed with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals and a Los Angeles Chargers loss to the Denver Broncos. Because the Ravens are in the first window, you would expect them to start most of their regulars. However, Lamar Jackson (knee) is unlikely to be ready to play and Tyler Huntley (shoulder/wrist) is also bumped, suggesting Anthony Brown will be forced into quarterback duties. JK Dobbins, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefterisn’t going to play, so other than a lot of short passes to Mark Andrews, this might be an offense to avoid.
Meanwhile, if the Ravens manage to win, the Chargers (who play in the late window) will need to win to stay at No. 5 and face the winner Jacksonville Jaguars/Tennessee Titans. As Mike Clay says, “The message here is pretty clear: have a backup plan. If the Bengals beat the Ravens, plan to replace Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Gerald Everett in your roster. If the Ravens pull off the upset, the Chargers will go all out to win and can be rated as you normally would.”
Looking for the latest injury news before kick-off? Check out all of the Week 18 inactives here.
NFC news and nuggets
The only game start with NFC playoff implications involves the Minnesota Vikings, who can move to the No. 2 seed with a win and loss to the San Francisco 49ers. As the Vikings start their regulars, they will face the Chicago Bears, who will be without Justin Fields. Even though the Vikings know full well that huge comebacks are possible, if they take a big lead, they just might give their stars a rest at some point.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are locked into the No. 4 seed regardless of the outcome of their game with the Atlanta Falcons. While coach Todd Bowles has said he will start offensive players like Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, Rachaad White and Cade Otton, the timing they will actually see is unknown. What we do know is that on the defensive side of things, Carlton Davis and Carl Nassib won’t play, which could help create some decent fantasy value for Falcons like Tyler Allgeier and Drake London.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the late slate contests where the stakes are still likely to be up at kickoff.
The 49ers can move to the No. 1 seed if they win and the Philadelphia Eagles lose. That should be more than enough to spur them on going full force, but whether or not that includes Deebo Samuel probably won’t be known until kick-off.
The Eagles probably need to win to be the No. 1 seed, so they have some motivation here. Jalen Hurts tends to be able to play, but that doesn’t mean he will be able (or if the team will allow him) to play a full 60 minutes. On the other hand, the New York Giants are locked in the No. 5 seed and have nothing to play for. They will most likely be based on Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.
The Dallas Cowboys can climb to the No. 1 seed with a win and loss to the Eagles and 49ers. They face a Washington Commanders team that will be without Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson due to injury. Jonathan Williams is expected to be their first fullback, with Sam Howell at quarterback. This is another case where we could see a big early lead, eventually leading to a late game relaxation from the Cowboys starters.
The Seattle Seahawks, also playing in the 4:25 p.m. ET window, must win to have a chance of making the playoffs. It will certainly be “everyone on deck” for them.
All of that brings us to Sunday night’s final at 8:20 p.m. ET between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. If Seattle loses their game, the winner of that contest gets the final playoff spot. If Seattle wins, the Lions are eliminated. While they could possibly “throw in the towel” if that were the case, the chance of knocking out the Packers is probably enough that they’ll definitely go full throttle in this one. Green Bay can only make the playoffs with a win, and you know Aaron Rodgers won’t pass up this one no matter what.