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Levitan: Motivation for the Week 17 playoffs

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We normally don’t write this article until week 18. And we will too. However, there are a few places worth thinking about for Week 17 this year.

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AFC
1. Invoices (12-3)
SITUATION: Must win to retain No. 1 seed.
Outlook: The Round 1 bye is incredibly valuable. The Bills hold the tie breaker on the counts.

2. Leaders (12-3)
SITUATION: Still very much alive for No. 1 seed.
Outlook: The Bills have a very tough game against the Bengals in Week 17, giving the Chiefs a chance to catch them for the bye.

3. Bengals (11-4)
SITUATION: Win and get the No. 2 seeds. Also still alive for No. 1 seed.
Outlook: The Bengals can’t let go of the accelerator now, it’s too much to play.

4. Jaguar (7-8)
SITUATION: The Week 18 game against the Titans will determine the AFC South winner.
Outlook: It is complicated. Yes, the Jaguars can still get a Wild Card even if they lose to the Titans in Week 18. But they could use a ton of help – the NY Times playoff scenario simulator only gives them 6% chance of getting this help.

So the question is, do the Jaguars think a 6% chance is enough for them to play to win in Week 17. If I was the coach, I’d rest my key guys. Not only do you avoid the risk of injury, but the data is very clear on which teams rest better. But we don’t yet know what the Jaguars will do.

5. Ravens (10-5)
SITUATION: Have clinched a playoff berth.
Outlook: The Ravens can still win the AFC North and win playoff games at home by winning. That would include a win over the Bengals in Week 18.

6. Chargers (9-6)
SITUATION: Have clinched a playoff berth.
Outlook: Not a ton to play here. The chargers will be either the No. 5, 6 or 7 seeds. That said, it would be very rare for teams in this location to rest.

7. Dolphins (8-7)
SITUATION: I haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet.
Outlook: Can clinch a playoff berth by winning. He could also clinch in Week 17 with a win at the Patriots and a loss to the Jets at Seattle.

THE REST
* Browns, Colts, Texans, Broncos are mathematically eliminated.
* Titans, Patriots, Jets, Raiders, Steelers are mathematically alive

IMPORTANT
* The Titans have almost no chance of winning a Wild Card spot. All that matters to them is the Week 18 game against the Jaguars. If I was coaching the Titans, I would be resting key players (including Derrick Henry) against the Cowboys in Week 17. Note that the Titans have done this before, there is precedent.

NFC
1. Eagles (13-2)
SITUATION: Needed one more win to clinch the No. 1 seed.
Outlook: Bye is important for the Eagles, who are dealing with injuries to key players such as Jalen Hurts (shoulder) and Lane Johnson (abs).

2. Vikings (12-3)
SITUATION: Still alive for the No. 1 seed.
Outlook: The Eagles must lose and the Vikings win to earn the coveted Round 1 bye.

3. 49ers (11-4)
SITUATION: Have already clinched the NFC West title.
Outlook: The Niners don’t have a ton to play. The have a very thin hit at No. 1 seed and cannot fall lower than No. 3 seed. That said, winning the No. 2 seed will guarantee them two playoff games at home.

4. Bucks (7-8)
SITUATION: I haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet.
Outlook: Can clinch the NFC South title with a win over the Panthers on Sunday.

5. Cowboys (11-4)
SITUATION: Earned a playoff berth.
Outlook: The Cowboys can’t go any further than the No. 5 seed. They still have an outside chance to win the NFC East – they have to win and make the Eagles lose.

6. Giants (8-6-1)
SITUATION: I haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet.
Outlook: The Giants will be in the playoffs if they beat the Colts on Sunday.

7. Commanders (7-7-1)
SITUATION: Did not earn a playoff berth.
Outlook: Commanders probably have to win to get into the playoffs.

THE REST
* Bears, falcons, rams, cardinals are mathematically eliminated.
* Lions, Packers, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks are mathematically alive.

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