The Patriots aren't going to be playing for anything from a playoff vantage, but the players certainly have a lot riding on the outcome due to the structure of their contracts.
When Julian Edelman was declared out against the Jets, his chances of making an extra $500,000 dropped. Why? Because he has incentives in his contract to beat last year's output (all contract details from patscap.com).
Edelman needs one of the following to happen to secure that bonus:
1,057 receiving yards - He's at 972 yards and needs 85 more to meet this goal.
70 receptions plus seven touchdowns - He's at 4 TDs and needs 3 more.
80 receptions plus 13 wins - The Patriots need to win tomorrow, which involves trying for the full 60 minutes.
80 receptions plus Super Bowl appearance - That's so far away.
It's gotten harder for him to meet these requirements, but you have to expect him to want to play as much as possible to meet those incentives, right?
Vince Wilfork, on the other hand, has met every single one of his incentives already. He can kick up his feet and rest since he had two primary limits to meet:
Playtime incentive: If he plays 70 percent of the defensive snaps and the team makes the divisional round of the playoffs, he makes $2.5 million
Defensive incentive: If Wilfork plays 70 percent of the defensive snaps and the team is top 10 in points allowed, he earns $500,000
Wilfork is currently at 73.8% of the team's snaps (780 of 1,057) and the Patriots are locked into the divisional round. He could sit out the next 57 snaps and still meet his goal for playtime incentives. And the defense is currently ranked 8th in points allowed- so that's pretty close, too.
There are other players with time-based incentives baked into their contracts- Sebastian Vollmer, Michael Hoomanawanui, Brandon Browner, and Rob NInkovich are just some of them. The Patriots restructured Vollmer's deal this November to help him attain his goals (reduced his maximum bonus from 90% of snaps to 80%), so it's clearly on the front of everyone's minds.
Approaching Week 17 isn't as simple as just sitting players to keep them healthy, when the players want to be on the field. Just be happy that Rob Gronkowski and Darrelle Revis have met their goals.