The NFL playoff picture is starting to take shape! The new playoff format with seven teams, and only one Wild Card bye, gives teams more incentive to play through Week 18. Here’s how the divisions are looking after most of Week 17:
AFC South: Titans, Clinched
AFC West: Chiefs, Clinched
AFC North: Bengals, Clinched
AFC East: Bills, 94% division winner (according to ESPN FPI) - Clinched playoffs
WC: Patriots, Clinched
NFC South: Buccaneers, Clinched
NFC West: Rams, 75% division winner - Clinched playoffs
NFC North: Packers, Clinched (earned first seed as well)
NFC East: Cowboys, Clinched
WC: Cardinals, Eagles, Clinched
The Cardinals still have a shot at the AFC West. Sean McVay’s teams have lost his last five games against his buddy Kyle Shanahan, and that’s his matchup in an important Week 18 game. The Rams won in Week 18, but haven’t been playing great football. The Cardinals host the Seahawks.
One of the strangest things happened in week 17 with the mercurial wide receiver Antonio Brown. The once star receiver stripped his equipment and shirt off, threw his shirt in the stands, and danced his way into the locker room. After the game, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians stated that Brown was no longer a member of the team. It is uncertain what exactly happened, but it was confounding, nonetheless. Here are the winners and losers of the week.
The Tennessee Titans
The Bengals upsetting the Chiefs helped Tennessee earn the right to control its destiny. If the Titans defeat the Texans next week, they earn the lone AFC Wild Card bye, and the playoffs would run through Titans’ country. The Titans did their part as well; they shut down the RPO quick hitting offense of Tua Tagovailoa, and defeated the Dolphins, 34-3.
Miami was one of the hottest teams in the league. They were on a eight game winning streak with playoff hopes that are now looking bleak. Star running back Derrick Henry hurt his foot earlier in the season, and is progressing well - he could be available for the playoffs. The identity of the Titans has not changed since Henry’s departure; D’Onta Foreman carried the football 26 times for 132 yards and a touchdown against a Miami defense that didn’t allow an opposing running back to score since Week 7.
The Titans seem like an unlikely selection for the AFC team with a first round bye, but they control their fate. Head coach Mike Vrabel has kept this team together through adversity, and has to be in consideration for coach of the year.
There could be several Bengals listed in this winners column. Most importantly, the Bengals secured the AFC North for the first time since 2015. There is a personality and bravado in the jungle after the last two weeks where the Bengals defeated the Baltimore Ravens and now the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ja’Marr Chase had one of the best receiving days in the history of the NFL.
Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase already today: 11 catches, 266 yards, 3 TD.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 2, 2022
That's the MOST receiving yards in a single game by a rookie in NFL History!
He was unstoppable, and winning in a variety of ways. The rapport that quarterback Joe Burrow and Chase developed in college, and now carry into the NFL is prosperous. The weapons on this Bengals team make this squad very dangerous. Last week it was Tee Higgins Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon, this week it was Chase. They’re young, but the future is bright in Cincinnati.
The Bengals still have a shot at a first-round bye, albeit an unlikely one. The Titans (11-5) hold the rights to the first-round bye, and, if they win next week, the playoffs run through Tennessee. The Chiefs (11-5) also have to lose in order for the Bengals (10-6). The Titans defeated the Chiefs 27-3 in Week 7. Week 18 should be very interesting with the new playoff structure.
No team has had more of a tumultuous season than the Las Vegas Raiders. Yet, here they are, heading into Week 18 with a shot at the playoffs. The Raiders went into Indianapolis and defeated the Colts 23-20; the same Colts team that was on a three-game winning streak, with the last two wins against the Patriots and the Cardinals.
Las Vegas didn’t win in a pretty manner, but a late Hunter Renfrow touchdown and a walk-off Daniel Carlson 33-yard field goal secured this victory over the Colts. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 255-yards and a touchdown, to go along with two interceptions. Receiver Zay Jones came through for head coach Rich Bisaccia by securing 8 of his 10 targets for 120-yards.
The 9-7 Raiders host the 9-7 Chargers in week 18. The winner of this game will more than l likely make the playoffs. It is a huge game for the Raiders.
The Cardinals defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 25-22. A huge win for the Cardinals who were on a three game losing streak. One of the more interesting plays in the game was a fake punt call by Kliff Kingsbury that led to a David Tyree-esq catch from Cardinals’ backup running back Jonathan Ward.
FAKE PUNT INTO A DAVID TYREE CATCH FOR JONATHAN WARD pic.twitter.com/76vtLDecy6— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) January 2, 2022
I don’t know how Ward pulled this off, but he pins the ball to the defenders helmet and then rolls it up the defender’s shoulder into his own wrist while being face-guarded and, arguably, interfered with. It’s a cool play from the former Chippewas.
The Denver Broncos were in a position to tie the Chargers and extend their playoff hopes into Week 18, but they fell short. Quarterback Drew Lock was dinged up in the game, but returned, and the Broncos offense only scored 13 points as they fell to the Chargers 34-13. Thirteen points is the least amount of points the Chargers allowed this season; in the last 10 weeks, the Chargers defense allowed 41, 34, 21, 22, 28, 37, 27, 24, 27, and 34 points. The defense has issues; they struggle to stop the run, yet the Broncos - who are built on running the football - rushed for a total of 83-yards. It’s late in the season, and playoff hopes are extinguished every week. The Broncos’ hopes were terminated by Justin Herbert and the Chargers.
I detail the Colts loss above in the Raiders winners section. Indianapolis failed to have quarterback Carson Wentz at practice all week due to a positive COVID-19 test. He passed through the protocols, but the offense wasn’t the same. The Colts are currently in the sixth seed at 9-7 with a game against the Jaguars in Florida next week. If they win, they’re in; if they lose, it could be complicated. Luckily for the Colts, the Raiders and Chargers play each other next week. The Chargers are the seventh seed behind Indianapolis, with the Raiders just out of the playoffs at the eight seed. The Colts dropped a seed, which is never good, and they kept a potential threat in the playoff conversation.
Look, it’s best that the Jets lost. I, for one, was very disappointed that they blew the game after leading the entire affair; a Jets’ win would have been wonderful for the Giants draft position. However, the Jets have a particular disdain for one Tom Brady. They would have loved to upset his cause for playoff seeding, and they were very close to earning the big upset victory.
But, I have to say, that was such a New York Jets loss. A terrible quarterback sneak attempt on fourth down that would have secured a victory gets stuffed by the best run defense in the league. Brady receives the football, down by four, with just over two-minutes on the clock. Brady dinks and dunks and then finds Tyler Johnson for 27 yards to set up the Cyril Grayson touchdown catch for 33-yards. You could hear a pin drop at MetLife Stadium. The come from behind victory by the Buccaneers is better for the Jets in terms of their draft pick, so are they really losers?