So much changes from week to week around the NFL, and we're here to make sure you're on top of it all heading into Week 18, the final week of the 2022 regular season.
All season long, the weekly fantasy football cheat sheet has provided you with a rundown of the best tips from all the fantasy football content ESPN has posted over the past seven days in the form of answers to the biggest start/sit questions of the week and other pertinent matchup advice 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 all of NFL Nation. It's all the best advice in one handy article.
However, Week 18 is it's own unique case, as many fantasy football leagues have already held their championship game. Additionally, with a lot of the NFL's playoff seeding locked into place, 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 a reason to go all out on Sunday and which teams fantasy managers need to avoid banking on.
Around the AFC
First and foremost, the continued improvement of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is far more important than any discussion of fantasy football lineup decisions.
Having said that, and as optimism abounds for his recovery, the business of football does move forward, with the league declaring that Monday's game will not be completed: "The outcome would have no bearing on which teams qualified for the postseason; playing the game would have altered the playoff schedule for the remaining teams; and not playing the game would allow all clubs to know the postseason possibilities before the start of Week 18."
And so, with that information now in hand, let's examine those postseason possibilities and how they might impact which teams may decide to only give their usual starters some token snaps.
The final spot in the playoffs will go to either the New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins or the Pittsburgh Steelers. All three teams are playing in the early (1 p.m. ET) window and so, we should expect all three teams to go all out for the win. For New England, it is "win and in." Miami needs New England to lose to get in, while the Steelers only advance with a win and losses from both the Patriots and Dolphins. Miami will be starting Skylar Thompson at quarterback.
The Baltimore Ravens have a chance to move up to the No. 5 seed with a win against the Cincinnati Bengals and a Los Angeles Chargers loss to the Denver Broncos. Because the Ravens are in the early window, one could 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 banged up, leading to the possibility that Anthony Brown will be pressed into quarterback duties. J.K. Dobbins, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, is not going to play, so apart from a lot of short passes to Mark Andrews, this might be an offense to avoid.
Meanwhile, if the Ravens do manage to win, then the Chargers (who play in the late window) will need to win in order to stay at No. 5 and face the winner of the Jacksonville Jaguars/Tennessee Titans. As Mike Clay puts it, "The message here is pretty clear: have a backup plan. If the Bengals beat the Ravens, plan on replacing the likes of Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Gerald Everett in your lineup. If the Ravens pull off the upset, the Chargers will go all out for a win and can be valued as you normally would."
Looking for the latest injury news leading up to kickoff? Check out all of the Week 18 inactives here.
NFC news and nuggets
The only early game with NFC playoff implications involves the Minnesota Vikings, who can move up to the No. 2 seed with a win and a San Francisco 49ers loss. While the Vikings will start their regulars, they play the Chicago Bears, who will be without Justin Fields. Even though the Vikings know very well that huge comebacks are possible, If they get out to a big lead, they may well 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 be starting offensive players like Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, Rachaad White and Cade Otton, the amount of time they will actually see is unknown. What we do know is that on the defensive side of things, Carlton Davis and Carl Nassib are not going to play, which could help lead to 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 in place by kickoff.
The 49ers can move to the No. 1 seed if they win and the Philadelphia Eagles lose. That should be more than enough incentive for them to go forward at full-strength, but whether or not that includes Deebo Samuel won't likely be known until just before kickoff.
The Eagles likely have to win in order to be the No. 1 seed, so they have some motivation here. Jalen Hurts is trending towards being able to play, but that doesn't mean he'll be able to (or if the team will allow him to) play a full 60 minutes. On the flip side, the New York Giants are locked into the No. 5 seed and have nothing to play for. They will most likely rest Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.
The Dallas Cowboys can jump all the way up to the No. 1 seed with a win and a loss from both the Eagles and 49ers. They go up against a Washington Commanders team that will be without both Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson due to injury. Jonathan Williams should be their lead back, with Sam Howell starting at quarterback. This is another case where we might see a big lead early, ultimately resulting in late-game relaxation from Cowboys starters.
The Seattle Seahawks, also playing in the 4:25 p.m. ET window, need to win in order to have a chance to make the playoffs. It will definitely be "all hands on deck" for them.
All of this brings us to the Sunday night finale at 8:20 p.m. ET between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. If Seattle loses their game, then the winner of this contest gets the last playoff berth. If Seattle wins, then the Lions are eliminated. While they could conceivably "throw in the towel" if that were the case, the chance to eliminate the Packers is likely enough for them to definitely go full-throttle in this one. Green Bay can only make the playoffs with a win, and you know Aaron Rodgers isn't going to sit this one out, regardless.