By Bill Foley
As we enter the final week of the NFL regular season, that same, tired question has come up like it does this time every year.
Should playoff teams with nothing to gain or lose rest some of their key players?
The first time I remember this being an issue was in 1991 when Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills rested most of his starters in a home loss to Detroit in the final week of the season. That Laydown by the Lake handed the NFC Central title to the Lions, and coach Wayne Fontes lit a victory cigar live on TV the next night when the 49ers were beating the heck out of the Bears.
Since that Monday night was one of the worst nights of my life, I have never forgiven Levy. So, I didn’t shed a tear when I watched the 30 for 30 “Four Falls of Buffalo.”
This week, several teams could theoretically rest their players. So far, none have said they will. Jerry Jones, the Botox owner and de facto head coach of the Cowboys, said his team is going all out against the Giants, even though South America’s team is locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The NFL “flexed” other games to start at 2:25 p.m. (Mountain Time) so that other coaches might not be tempted to. That means outcomes from the early games will not make afternoon games meaningless.
That is a good move by a league not known for making good moves.
Resting your starters in the final week is a bad move, no matter what. For one thing, each team only has 53 players on the roster, and just 45 are on the “active roster” each game. So, you can’t rest all 22 of your starters. How do you tell one starter he isn’t valuable enough to rest while you rest the others?
Also, taking an extra day off risks killing your momentum. Now, more than ever, it is the hot team that wins the Super Bowl. The best teams make the playoffs, but the hottest team hoists the Lombardi Trophy.
How else can you explain the 2007 Giants (10-6), 2010 Packers (10-6) and 2011 Giants (9-7) winning it all? You can’t just, as they say, flip a switch on and off in the NFL, where you can never take a win for granted.
You have to play to win every week. As former Jets and Chiefs coach Herman Edwards, Bob Green’s brother from another, famously said, “You play to win the game.”
Whenever you take the field, you owe it to yourself and the people who paid to watch you play to give it an honest effort.
When asked why he hustled on plays that had little effect on a game’s outcome or on his team’s standing, the great Joe DiMaggio said, “Because there’s always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.”
You better believe there will be a kid at every NFL game this week whose parents just dropped a lot of money so he (or she) can watch an NFL hero play for the first, and perhaps only, time. Both teams owe that young fan — and every other fan — their best.
They also owe their best to the other teams in the league. The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles have no chance to make the playoffs if the Bears send out their scrubs against the Vikings.
Likewise, the Steelers are pinning their playoff hopes on the Browns.
So, as we head into what can be a great NFL Sunday, hopefully all 32 teams follow the words of Herman Edwards and play to win the game.
Speaking of winning, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Last week’s 12-4 record straight up brings me to 151-89 on the season. Not bad at all, if I do say so myself.
A 10-6 mark against the spread brought me to .500 against the spread for the first time. I am 119-119-2 on the season. I finally get to break free of those cement galoshes.
Following are my Week 17 picks. The lines are from ESPN, a network that really misses Herman Edwards.
Miami (plus 3.5) at Buffalo
Much to the chagrin of my friend Jessica Cash, the 2018 Dolphins are officially a dumpster fire. Mercifully, the flames will burn out on another lost season on Sunday.
Williams by 10
Detroit (plus 8) at Green Bay
Did someone mention a dumpster fire? That is a polite way to describe the hot garbage that is the 2018 Lions.
Making matters worse for Motown, Aaron Rodgers is playing like the games matters. If only he would have done that for Mike McCarthy.
Packers by 24
New York Jets (plus 13.5) at New England
Rookie quarterbacks are 0-25 at New England in the Belichick-Brady Era.
Sam Darnold, though, will make a legitimate run to make that 1-25.
Patriots by just 3
Carolina (plus 9) at New Orleans
Here is one case in which the Saints can rest everybody, and then some.
Saints by 16
Dallas (no line) at New York Giants
Jerry Jones says they are not resting starters, but he has a really good poker face. Botox will do that for a guy.
Giants by 2
Atlanta (plus 1) at Tampa Bay
Is it weird that I have more faith in ladies man Jameis Winston than I do Matty Ice right now?
Bucs by 3
Jacksonville (plus 6.5) at Houston
The Texans have something to play for. The Jaguars haven’t been in that position since September.
Texans by 10
Los Angeles Chargers (minus 6.5) at Denver
Don’t worry, Broncos fans. Your favorite day of the year is coming. Black Monday.
Chargers by 14
Oakland (plus 13.5) at Kansas City
Is it me, or is that new-car smell wearing off Wonder Boy quarterback Patrick Mahomes? Just a little bit? Maybe?
Chefs by just 7
San Francisco (plus 10) at Los Angeles Rams
Thank you San Francisco. I hope.
49ers by 2
Chicago (plus 4.5) at Minnesota
You’re welcome Philadelphia.
Bears by 6
Cincinnati (plus 14.5) at Pittsburgh
Even with an eye on the scoreboard in Baltimore, the Steelers roll.
Steelers by 20
Arizona (no line) at Seattle
The last time the Cardinals won, it got the opposing coach fired. Pete Carroll is very safe this Sunday, to say the least.
Seahawks by 19
Philadelphia (minus 7) at Washington
Washington is not the ideal destination for an NFC East team looking to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Eagles by just 1
Cleveland (plus 6) at Baltimore
If karma had any say, the upstart Browns would knock those traitors who bailed on Cleveland out of the playoffs.
As they showed by winning two Super Bowl titles with a double murder at linebacker (allegedly), however, the Ravens are immune to karma.
Ravens by 3
Indianapolis (minus 3.5) at Tennessee
The winner is in and the loser goes home. This is when it pays to have a healthy Andrew Luck instead of an injured Marcus Mariota.
Colts by 7