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Most of NFL star power will be watching from the sidelines the final weekend of the season

Lamar Jackson NFL Baltimore Ravens
Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With their teams already having secured a playoff spot, several of the game’s most visible and essential players will sit out this week, changing each game’s dynamics.

While it’s no surprise that teams will sit their starters the final week of the regular season, their absence always adds an element of unpredictability to the NFL’s last week.

Let’s take a look at the biggest names confirmed to be healthy scratches for Week 18 of the 2023 NFL season..

Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Washington Commanders
Dec 31, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) carries the ball against the Washington Commanders during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

With the 49ers having clinched a playoff berth during Week 14, the team was still playing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC so McCaffrey continued to play. His presence has been a game-changer for San Francisco but he will be on the sidelines as the 49ers battle division rivals the Los Angeles Rams this weekend. Nursing a calf injury made the decision easy for head coach Kyle Shanahan, and the Rams are also locked into the playoffs which leaves this game a big toss up.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens
Dec 31, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws during the during the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens have already secured home-field advantage via the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so their MVP-front runner, Jackson, will also take a break for Week 18. Backup Tyler Huntley will start in the finale against archrival Pittsburgh and his different style of play could change the complexity of this game. Add the fact the Steelers are facing a must-win to keep their playoff chances alive. Mike Tomlin’s crew, led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, might have an unexpected edge heading into this matchup.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

Syndication: The Enquirer
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) roll out of the pocket in the third quarter during a Week 17 NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Chiefs won, 25-17. Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Even though the Chiefs have faced unprecedented offensive challenges this season compared to previous campaigns, having won the AFC West for the eighth-straight season, they will rest Mahomes during the finale. While the Chiefs don’t have much offensive momentum leading into the postseason, Andy Reid decided to start backup Blaine Gabbert against the Los Angeles Chargers, signaling a desire to balance the need for some offensive momentum and the desire to protect his most significant asset in Mahomes.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants
Dec 31, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws the ball as New York Giants linebacker Boogie Basham (45) defends during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Stafford would be in the mix of the MVP conversation if it weren’t for Lamar Jackson’s explosive December. His team has performed above expectations, but Stafford has had a remarkable year. The Rams, focused on playing the spoiler in the NFC playoffs, will sit Stafford against rivals San Francisco, meaning Carson Wentz will start for LA. Start wideout Cooper Kupp, running back Kyren Williams, defensive stud Aaron Donald, and Ernest Jones will also sit this one out for the Rams. With seeding still at play for LA, this game has some high stakes for Sean McVay, and he’ll need his next line of players to step up.

Joe Flacco, QB, Cleveland Browns

NFL: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns
Dec 28, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) and wide receiver Elijah Moore (8) celebrate after a touchdown against the New York Jets during the first half at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you had Joe Flacco sitting out Week 18 would be a big deal on your 2023 NFL bingo card. Having secured a playoff spot, the Browns will rest the former Super Bowl MVP in Flacco — their fourth starting quarterback this season. Coach of the Year candidate Kevin Stefanski rolls with backup Jeff Driskel as the Browns travel to take on in-state rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. Former starter P.J. Walker is the backup. When you’re on your fourth QB and getting ready for the playoffs, it wouldn’t be surprising if Stefanksi wraps Flacco in bubble wrap until next week’s Wild Card matchup.

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