Breakdowns

What’s At Stake in The Most Consequential Games of Week 18

What's At Stake in The Most Consequential Games of Week 18

As the 2021 regular season comes to a close, there are still playoff spots up in the air. In fact, the only teams that are set in their current seeds are the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. In Week 17, the Packers were able to secure the top seed in the NFC after cruising to a victory against the Minnesota Vikings while the Cowboys suffered a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, essentially locking them into the fourth seed in the NFC barring both the Rams and the Buccaneers losing in Week 18. For the first time in NFL history, there is a Week 18, which happens to include a plethora of important games. Here are the ones to monitor closely this weekend:

AFC:

Indianapolis Colts (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

What’s at stake:

While the Jaguars are wrapping up a turbulent season, they still have a chance to play spoiler in this one, especially after the Colts dropped a crucial game to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 17. The Colts have not won a game in Jacksonville since the 2014 season, and anything is possible on any given Sunday.

The Colts clinch a playoff berth with a win or tie against the Jaguars, or a Chargers loss to the Raiders plus a Steelers-Ravens tie, or a Chargers loss plus a Patriots loss to the Dolphins plus a Steelers loss to the Ravens.

The Colts can rise to as high as a five seed if they are able to defeat the Jaguars and see the Patriots lose to the Dolphins. 

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

What’s at stake:

Even though both of these teams need a lot of luck to go their way in order to make the playoffs, they both still hold some playoff hopes if chaos reigns supreme in Week 18. The Steelers’ path is a little easier than the Ravens as they just need to defeat the Ravens and see a Colts loss, plus the Chargers vs. Raiders game not ending in a tie.

The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Steelers, plus a Chargers loss to the Raiders, plus a Colts loss to the Jaguars, plus a Dolphins loss or tie against the Patriots.

Neither team can place as higher than a seven seed if they were to sneak into the playoffs. 

New England Patriots (10-6) at Miami Dolphins (8-8)

What’s at stake:

The Patriots have not been great in recent years when traveling down to Miami, as they have only won two games there since 2013. While the Dolphins have been eliminated from playoff contention, they can still play spoiler to any hopes the Patriots have of clinching home field advantage through at least the first round. The Patriots have already clinched a playoff berth, but they can rise to as high as the one seed if they a lot of things go their way.

New England needs a win over the Dolphins plus a Bills loss or tie against the Jets, plus a Chiefs loss to the Broncos, plus a Titans loss to the Texans. New England can clinch the AFC East title with a win plus a Bills loss or tie, or a tie plus a Bills loss.

New England is still very much in play for falling to the six or seven seed if they lose and the Colts and Raiders both win. 

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Cleveland Browns (7-9)

What’s at stake:

The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2021 NFL Season, as star QB Joe Burrow and OROY candidate Ja’Marr Chase have put the rest of the league on notice along with a defense that has improved tremendously thanks to the addition of players like Trey Hendrickson and Chidobe Awuzie.

The Bengals have clinched a playoff spot for the first time since the 2015 season, and they have the chance to rise as high as the one seed if they defeat the Browns on top of a Chiefs loss to the Broncos, plus a Titans loss to the Texans, plus a Patriots loss or tie against the Dolphins, or with a win plus a Chiefs loss, plus a Titans loss, plus a Bills win over the Jets.

Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)

What’s at stake:

These two teams have already met once this year, and the Chargers cruised to a 28-14 win over the Raiders back in Week 4. Since starting 4-1, the Chargers have gone 5-6, which has left them in this situation. Meanwhile, the Raiders have found themselves in this situation by virtue of going 5-5 after starting the year at 4-2.

Both teams need a win in order to at least secure the seven seed in the AFC, and things are a little more complicated for the Raiders.

Even if Las Vegas loses or ties in this matchup, they can still make the playoffs with a Colts loss, plus a Steelers loss or tie against the Ravens.

NFC:

San Francisco 49ers (9-7) at Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

What’s at stake:

After going on a 5-1 tear, the Niners find themselves in a tough situation due to a critical loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 16. Because of this loss, the Niners need to defeat the Los Angeles Rams, or else they will only be able to make it in with a Saints’ loss or tie at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. The good news for San Francisco is that they have already beaten the Rams this season by a score of 31-10.

As for the Rams, they can clinch the NFC West and the two seed in the NFC with a win or a Cardinals lose or tie against the Seattle Seahawks. 

New Orleans Saints (8-8) at Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

What’s at stake:

With the Atlanta Falcons already out of playoff contention, they will be in the position of playing spoiler against a Saints team that is trying to make a last ditch effort to make the playoffs despite the questions the Saints have had under center all year long. They have had four different starting QBs this year, yet they find themselves in a position where they can make the playoffs if they win and the Niners lose to the Rams; however, the seven seed in the NFC is the highest New Orleans can rise since the Eagles have the tiebreaker over the Saints. 

Dallas Cowboys (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

What’s at stake:

The Dallas Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East, and due to the loss at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, the Cowboys cannot move up in the NFC, unless both the Rams and the Buccaneers lose, as they also don’t hold the tiebreaker against the Buccaneers who defeated Dallas on opening night; however, the Eagles still have a lot to play for in this one despite already clinching a playoff berth. Philadelphia can rise to as high as the sixth seed if the Niners lose to the Rams. Jalen Hurts and company have gone 8-3 since starting the year 1-4, and they have the chance to get revenge on the Cowboys for a 41-21 loss earlier this year.