BOSTON (CBS) — Week 18 figures to be a weird one in the NFL. Only three total playoff spots remain unclaimed, the top seed in the NFC is clinched, and the top seed in the AFC is as close to being clinched as can be. In terms of final weekend drama, this year may be short on it.
That means coaches have decisions to make regarding whether to play their starters or to rest them ahead of the Wild Card round of the playoffs. While seeding (and home games) can be important, the opportunity to take a quasi-bye just before the games really begin to matter will be appealing to some teams.READ MORE: Bill Belichick Named NFL Executive Of The Year By PFWA
The latter scenario will be the case for the Cincinnati Bengals, who won the AFC North last weekend and will now rest Joe Burrow on Sunday vs. the Browns.
That’s a decision with a ripple effect throughout the AFC playoff picture, particularly from a Patriots perspective. If the Patriots, Bills and Bengals all win this weekend, then the Patriots will play the Bills in the first round of the playoffs. But if the Patriots and Bills both win while the Bengals lose, it’ll set up for a 4-5 matchup between Cincinnati and New England.READ MORE: Brady Celebrates Roethlisberger Upon Steelers QB's Retirement: 'Ben Defied The TB12 Method'
Burrow is a fringe MVP candidate this year, throwing for 4,611 yards with 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His backup, Brandon Allen, is 2-6 as a starter, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions in his three-year career. The drop-off is quite significant. (Burrow did suffer an injury late in Sunday’s win, just before the game-winning kick, but it’s not considered to be severe. Still, a situation like that likely factored in to the decision.)
At the same time, resting Joe Burrow doesn’t necessarily mean the Bengals are punting on the game completely. And with Baker Mayfield out for Cleveland, the backup Bengals may still be able to beat a dead-in-the-water Browns team led by Case Keenum.
That much remains impossible to forecast, as do a number of potential results around the league that could affect seeding.MORE NEWS: Patriots Celebrate 22nd Anniversary Of Hiring Bill Belichick, 20th Anniversary Of Winning AFC Championship In Pittsburgh
Yet with eyes darting all over the scoreboards on Sunday afternoon, Burrow’s absence does add to the probability that the Patriots and Bengals end up meeting in the postseason.