Following the weekend’s action, ten teams have booked their ticket to the playoffs. The Ravens, Patriots, Chiefs, Texans, Bills, 49ers, Saints, Packers, Vikings & Seahawks will all play at least one game in January. Then you have the Titans and Steelers duelling for the sixth seed in the AFC. The Raiders also hold an outside chance. Then you have the Cowboys needing to win and hope Giants beat the Eagles in week 17.
The NFC playoffs are fairly clear cut. If the Eagles win, they’re in. Then you have the Packers, Vikings and Saints all looking to win to maintain or improve their seed. Meanwhile the 49ers and Seahawks face off for the NFC West and a great chance of at least a bye. That said, the Seahawks need a Saints or Packers loss to avoid playing in Wildcard weekend.
In the AFC, there are a few more fun and games that might come into play. The Titans just need a win to get in. The problem is you have several teams with little or nothing to play for and the opportunity to rest players. The Ravens and Bills are locked into their seed and the Chiefs and Texans will struggle to improve their seed, needing upsets to improve their seed.
That means that neither the Titans or Steelers are likely to be facing full strength teams. On the one hand, at least both have this advantage, rather than it significantly benefitting one. However, it really hurts the Raiders hopes. While they do have a list of games they need to go their way, none are unrealistic, assuming everyone is full strength.
Is There A Genuine Solution?
Ultimately, it’s an argument to play better throughout the season to avoid needing help on the final day. However, I know if I was a Steelers or Raiders fan, I would be frustrated that it may cost you a chance of the playoffs.
It’s a problem that is more prevalent in the NBA, as it happens throughout the regular season. It’s particularly affects the image of the game as star players won’t travel, with fans around the country buying tickets to see specific players who end up being rested instead.
The NFL could send a note out to relevant teams requesting them to play full strength teams. That is unlikely to be effective. What’s more, if official rules are passed to avoid it, you’ll only see things like Lamar Jackson being benched for ‘tactical reasons’. Or maybe there would be a convenient reoccurrence of his quadricep injury.
There have been cases in the Premier League of managers not fielding their strongest 11. Ian Holloway’s Blackpool received a fine in 2011 for fielding a weakened side because of fixture congestion. Teams will happily pay a fine if they think rest will improve their chances of winning a Super Bowl. There is the argument of rest v rust, but that is largely spin by players to the media.
In reality, there is very little that the NFL can do without creating unintended circumstances. Ultimately, it means that games earlier in the season mean more than the value they are sometimes given.
With multiple teams getting the opportunity to rest stars and get healthy in week 17, hopefully we are in for a cracking month of playoff football. Whether that will cheer fans up in Pittsburgh or Oakland is another matter.
Image: USA Today Ravenswire