Rob’s NFL Confidence Pool: Week 18, 2021 Season

Happy New Year! Come, face the week that should not be!

It is no secret that the slate of games during the final week of the NFL’s regular season is destined to be crap. At its most interesting, the final week of the season contains but a small handful of games with actual stakes attached. Maybe there’s a team or two jockeying for a first round bye, and maybe a team or two has a win-and-in game. If we’re particularly lucky, perhaps there is even a winner-takes-all game for the division, in which the winner gets a division title and home playoff game, while the loser gets jack squat.

We don’t have a winner-takes-all game this season. All but two division titles are decided going into this final week, and in the two undecided divisions, whoever finishes second is already guaranteed a Wild Card. The Packers have already clinched the top seed and sole first round bye in the NFC, and while the Titans (the Titans~!) could still technically miss out on the lone bye available in the AFC, they’re not likely to. There are a small handful of Wild Cards still up for grabs, and there are some lingering seeding questions this week will answer, but the theoretical intrigue of both the remaining Wild Cards and undetermined seeds merely underscores how little actual intrigue Week 18 has to offer.

For proof of this, look no further than the Sunday night game. The final Sunday night game of the season is reserved for the highest stakes contest the final week of the regular season has to offer. This year, that falls to the one and only winner-takes-all game on the schedule, a contest between the Raiders and Chargers to determine who will earn the privilege of getting their clocks cleaned a week later. There’s nothing as remotely prestigious as a division title on the line; just a lone Wild Card spot, and most likely, one that didn’t even exist two short years ago. This is the best and most intriguing game the league can give us this week, and it’s not even close.

And, of course, very few games this week can match even that level of quasi-interest. While most games do have at least some faint whiff of potential seeding consequence about them, almost none of them are individually important, and almost all of them are dull as dishwater on paper. Consider the AFC East contests. The AFC East is one of the two still undecided divisions, but neither Bills vs. Jets nor Patriots vs. Dolphins is remotely interesting in a vacuum. The Bills game is only interesting insofar is it affects the Patriots, and the reverse is true of the Patriots game. Both games are certain to be absolute slogs, and unwatchable for anyone without a rooting interest. This exemplifies Week 18, so much so that I now think Unwatchable For Anyone Without a Rooting Interest should be this week’s official subtitle.

Here is where I should mention that I’m biased. I’m speaking as someone whose miserable team was mercifully eliminated last week, and therefore has no direct rooting interest in any game with playoff implications. Every season, I keep my eyes open for an exciting, non-repugnant contender whose bandwagon I can hop on once the Vikings are toast; this year, there isn’t a single team that checks all three of those boxes. While the chaos of a year without any truly great teams has set the table for a playoff where just about anything could happen, it’s made me hesitant to jump on anybody’s bandwagon, lest they make an early exit. Put another way, I’m excited for the playoffs, but I’m not invested in the playoffs, you know what I’m saying? Even spite-rooting against the Packers seems like a poor use of emotional resources.

That said, it is my excitement for the playoffs that has me the most disgusted with Week 18’s mere existence. There shouldn’t be a Week 18! There shouldn’t be a 17th game! It should be Wild Card Weekend already! We should be getting all kinds of hype for imminent playoffs right now, right this very second, but instead we are being forced to suffer through another week of boring, mostly irrelevant regular season.

Making things worse is the seventh seed’s mere existence; while I stand by my assertion that Week 17 wasn’t always the most exciting, the new seeding rules have sucked even more interest out of the final week of the season. Time was, the second seed in each conference was also super-important, because it also granted its’ possessors a bye. Now that the second seed is functionally meaningless, any jockeying for the second seed is all but impossible to care about; the importance of facing the theoretically weakest Wild Card is nothing compared to importance of an actual, honest-to-Orcus bye week.

That the second bye should be eliminated so that a seventh playoff team be added to each conference is an abomination. Most years, there aren’t even six teams in each conference that deserve a playoff berth in the first place. No one who has been paying any attention to the NFL could possibly view the Eagles or Raiders as anything other than playoff chum; the Steelers and Ravens are somehow less than that. The Chargers may have some chance of advancing a round (or even two), but they are much more likely to be yet another one-and-done. Come the Divisional Round, it’ll be as though the seventh seed never existed. Adding a seventh is as craven a cash grab as, well, adding a 17th regular season game.

Therefore, I am going to do my part to re-create the world I want to live in and watch as little of Week 18 as possible. Yes, I understand that the 17th game is never going away, but any chance that it does, no matter how remote, is worth pursuing. To the extent that any such chance exists, it relies on the 17th regular season game proving unprofitable, and the only way that will happen is if we all unite as a single, football-watching public and refuse to rest your eyeballs upon this surfeit of a slate. Again, I have no illusions that my feeble protest has any real chance of success. However, if you’re like me in that you recognize Week 18 for the abomination that it is, I ask that you join me in rejecting it. It is the only way.

That said, I’ll probably check out the Sunday night game, anyway, because it’s at least sort of interesting. We’re doomed.

Now that I’m done yelling at clouds, it’s time to turn attention to the Week 18 picks, and the Quest for 0.600+. Week 17 was the best week of my season to date, with 13 correctly picked games. As a result, I only need to hit on nine picks this week to finish above 0.600 in picks. Since last week’s only high-value whiff was putting 13 on the Chiefs, and since I was already in better position points-wise going into Week 17, I only need 20 points to clear 0.600 in points. So, all I have to do to successfully complete the quest for 0.600+ is make those nine picks, what with it being mathematically impossible to make nine picks and get fewer than 20 points out of it and all.

However, this is not guaranteed, because like every final regular season week Week 18 has a healthy dollop of trickiness baked into its format. Every game is divisional matchup. Many teams might not be that motivated to play their best, either because they’ve already been eliminated or because they’re locked into a specific seed. Fortunately, the wide dispersal of marginal playoff stakes makes it unlikely that too many teams will rest their starters all game, but some teams might pull their starters early.

I’m not going to get too in the weeds on specific playoff scenarios, but in case you’re in need of a quick and easy reference, Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders tweeted out scenario tables. Here’s the NFC table, here’s the AFC table, here’s the AFC table, and here’s a corrected AFC Wild Card table, since apparently the original table had some of the Colts’ tiebreakers wrong.

Exercise extreme caution with this week’s picks, and best of luck to everyone reading this who still as a shot at a season prize!

Week 17 Correct Picks: 13/16 (0.813)

Season Total Correct Picks: 155/256 (0.605)

Week 17 Points: 112/136 (0.824)

Season Total Points: 1,300/2,064 (0.630)

16 Points: Bills over Jets

15 Points: Chiefs over Broncos

Picking this week feels even more like reading tea leaves than usual; in assigning my high-value picks, I’m trying to find teams that are both motivated to win their games and have the good fortune of playing one of their weaker rivals. While the Chiefs’ remote chances of getting the 1 seed give them more motivation than the Bills, the Broncos are a much tougher out than the Jets, even with Drew Lock starting at QB. Unlike the Bills, the Chiefs are also on the road this week, which isn’t the end of the world for a team of their caliber by any means but also can’t help.

14 Points: Cardinals over Seahawks

13 Points: Titans over Texans

For once, this isn’t reflexive Titans disrespect, rather, consider this a reminder that these very Titans lost at home to these very Texans back in November. Yes, the Titans were much more beat up then than they are now, but still: Don’t go splurging your 16 points on this game like it’s a foregone conclusion, because it’s not.

12 Points: Colts over Jaguars

11 Points: 49ers over Rams

10 Points: Buccaneers over Panthers

I would like very much to give this more points, but a quick check of seeding scenarios indicates that the Bucs are probably going to end up with the 3 seed, even with a win, and therefore don’t have much to play for. That said, I’d almost take Blaine Gabbert and Friends over any Panthers squad at this point.

9 Points: Eagles over Cowboys

The Cowboys are all but locked into the 4 seed and the Eagles’ playoff ticket has already been punched. Neither team has too much reason to try too hard, but I vaguely suspect the Eagles are going to be motivated for morale reasons, if nothing else.

8 Points: Dolphins over Patriots

7 Points: Raiders over Chargers

This is probably a foolish pick, given the Chargers’ long-standing track record of coming up big in big moments.

6 Points: Ravens over Steelers

5 Points: Falcons over Saints

4 Points: Browns over Bengals

I was all set to pick the Bengals and give them decent points, before it was announced that Joe Burrow isn’t playing.

3 Points: Vikings over Bears

2 Points: Football Team over Giants

1 Point: Lions over Packers

The Packers, of course, have no reason to give any starters any snaps at any point during this game. If they do trot out the first team at any point, it’s only a matter of time until they get pulled. Granted, it’s not clear that the Lions can in fact beat even the Packers’ second team but only one measly point is at stake here, and I need to have my own fun sometimes.

That’s all for the regular season, but please join me next Friday, January 14th for the NFL Playoffs MegaColumn! This year’s MegaColumn is going to be even more stuffed to the gills than last year’s, and will feature:

  • Regular Season Wrap-Up, including final Confidence Pool results and a look back at my preseason predictions
  • A Retrospective/Eulogy for Mike Zimmer’s Vikings Tenure, including a similar look at Rick Spielman’s time as General Manager, if applicable
  • Playoff Confidence Pool Rules and Picks
  • Wild Card Weekend Picks Against the Spread

Don’t call your doctor, call the police! It’s gonna be a blowout! See you then!

One thought on “Rob’s NFL Confidence Pool: Week 18, 2021 Season

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