The final regular season game of the 2017 season was absolutely bonkers, as the league crammed all 16 games into a seven-hour time window to close out the campaign.
In the end, the playoffs weren’t set until the final play of the final game, which was a pretty stunning result. The Buffalo Bills are headed to the playoffs for the first time since Bill Clinton was in office, while teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers got left out in the cold.
These were the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 17.
Winner: Have a day, JuJu!
We didn’t have a lot of big expectations for JuJu Smith-Schuster, or any offensive players on the Pittsburgh Steelers, if we’re being honest. Mike Tomlin rested his top starters, meaning Landry Jones started under center. Traditionally, Jones has struggled to do anything positive, but he did a fantastic job getting the ball to Smith-Schuster in Sunday’s game against Cleveland.
The rookie out of USC caught nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. He also returned two kickoffs, one of which he took 96 yards to the house. Thanks to his monster game, Smith-Schuster ended up tallying north of 1,000 all-purpose yards this season, becoming the youngest player in league history to hit that mark.
Loser: Browns cannot stop Brownsing
Going up against Pittsburgh’s backups, Sunday’s final regular-season game was one the Cleveland Browns absolutely should have won. And they had a real chance to do it, too. But as we’ve seen all year long, this team couldn’t get out of its own way.
DeShone Kizer had a huge game passing the ball. He finished with 314 yards and two touchdowns. He also added to his league-high turnover total, throwing an interception and losing a fumble. Duke Johnson lost a fumble as well on a promising drive. Then at the end of the game when the Browns still had a chance to win Corey Coleman let a perfectly thrown ball go right through his hands, hit him in the facemask and go out of bounds. On fourth-and-2.
After the game, the Browns’ press conference was something out of the Twilight Zone. Things were said that make absolutely no sense, like the men who led the charge this past year — a winless campaign — had no recollection of what actually transpired.
Winner: Bills break longest postseason drought in North American sports
The Buffalo Bills haven’t reached the postseason since 1999. Their postseason drought is legendary, but thanks to a tremendous game Sunday, and some help from the Baltimore Ravens (more on that soon), Buffalo’s drought is officially over.
It was a defensive struggle in Miami that propelled the Bills into the playoffs. The team struggled to run the ball early and finished with 312 total yards in the game. However, the team’s defense stepped up huge to keep the win intact.
The only real downer is that this huge win came with a cost. During the third quarter, LeSean McCoy was carted off the field with an ankle injury. Thankfully, it was reported that X-rays were negative, and he ended up suffering a sprained ankle. If he’s unavailable next weekend, Buffalo will struggle to win a playoff game. But just breaking this awful streak was a huge win for the Bills and their faithful fans.
Loser: Ravens come up short, miss playoffs
It’s pretty ironic. Most of the year, it’s been Baltimore’s defense that has kept the Ravens in the playoff hunt. Then when they needed a win the most Sunday, the Ravens got a total stinker of a performance from their defense while the offense wasn’t half bad.
Playing at home against the hapless Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore let Andy Dalton of all people carve them up to the tune of 222 yards with three touchdowns and (surprisingly) no interceptions. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined to rush for 148 yards on 28 carries, and the Bengals totaled 359 yards of offense to out-gain their AFC North rival en route to a huge upset win.
Joe Flacco and Co. actually appeared to be in great shape to win after scoring the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the defense choked, allowing Dalton to win the game with a touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd.
This marks the third season in a row that the Ravens have failed to make it into the playoffs, prompting serious questions about the direction of the franchise going forward.
Winner: Vikings dominate, Adam Thielen earns $1 million
The final score read 23-10, but besides giving up a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown there wasn’t any aspect of the game Minnesota didn’t dominate against Chicago.
Case Keenum remained razor sharp, missing on just eight of his 29 attempts. Latavius Murray ran all over Chicago’s defense, going for 111 yards and two scores. Minnesota’s defense held the Bears to just 201 yards and 12 first downs, including allowing just one third-down conversion all game long.
In the process, Minnesota secured a first-round bye. All that is amazing, especially considering the injuries this team has endured in 2017.
However, perhaps the coolest thing that happened Sunday was that Adam Thielen caught six passes for 61 yards, meaning he finished the season with 91 receptions. This is important because it means he gets to tack on an extra $1 million to his salary next season. That’s pretty sweet.
Loser: Seahawks limp into offseason with more questions than answers
The Seattle Seahawks needed a win and some help to sneak into the playoffs. They got neither.
What they did have is a ton of issues in all three phases of the game, including at the critical kicker position as Blair Walsh once again missed a potential game-winner at the end. Thanks to the brilliance of Russell Wilson the Seahawks had a shot to even win the game, but early on he was completely incapable of doing anything as Seattle’s offensive line got bullied into submission.
Defensively, Seattle did pretty well at home, but this team is going to look a lot different next year. We could be looking at a complete rebuild. Then there’s the rumor that Pete Carroll is actually pondering retirement, which would be such a Pete Carroll thing to do. He has a penchant for leaving when things start going sour, and make no mistake about it, things are going sour in Seattle and have been the past couple of seasons.
Winner: Frank Gore hits another incredible milestone
Frank “The Inconvenient Truth” Gore has been somewhat of a regular as a winner on this list in 2017. He has steadily moved up the ranks on the NFL’s all-time rushing list and on Sunday became just the fifth running back in NFL history to eclipse 14,000 total yards in his career. What he has accomplished in this first-ballot Hall of Fame career is nothing short of amazing.
What he’s done this year, playing for a losing team, is just as incredible. At the age of 34, he came just 39 yards short of rushing for 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,206 total yards and four touchdowns.
Loser: Blake Bortles stays cold
The Jacksonville Jaguars are limping into the playoffs with two straight losses. On Sunday, Blake Bortles was the same guy we’ve seen most of his career, meaning he was more of a liability than an asset for the Jags.
Just like last weekend, Bortles was ice cold. He actually was worse this weekend, completing less than half his passes. He finished with just 158 yards on 15-of-34 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions. As a team, Jacksonville had four turnovers and managed just 229 total yards.
This is the reason we’ve been preaching caution this month. Bortles had been red hot the first three games in December, but it looked more like a mirage than something Jaguars fans could bank on. Now, he heads into the playoffs on a cold streak, which could certainly be the team’s undoing.
Winner: Orleans Darkwa sparks big win for Big Blue
The New York Giants won just their third game of the season Sunday at home against the Washington Redskins. It was an emotional win for the players who have maintained their focus throughout what’s been a miserable campaign. And it wouldn’t have happened without the stellar play of running back Orleans Darkwa.
The Tulane product got the Giants on the board early with a 75 yard dash to the end zone. He ended up with 154 yards rushing on just 20 carries, marking the biggest single game he’s had in his four-year NFL career. It also helped the Giants rack up 260 yards on the ground, which helped them grind out the clock in a game that saw Eli Manning complete just over a third of his passes.
Loser: Bryce Petty struggled with even the simplest things
At this point, we don’t need to see anything more from Bryce Petty to conclude he’s not the long-term (or even the short-term) answer at the quarterback position for the New York Jets. For the third straight game, Petty was frighteningly inaccurate on some of his misses, completing 19-of-32 passes for just 232 yards, much of which was tallied in garbage time.
A common theme among NFL writers on Twitter went something like this, “If Petty is this bad, how bad does Christian Hackenberg have to be that he’s not getting a sniff?”
Petty also turned himself into a meme when he tried to put his helmet on early in the game. He couldn’t figure out why the darn thing wouldn’t fit on his head. Then he realized he was still wearing his beanie, but by that time the damage was already done. Cameras caught the entire sequence, which was downright hilarious unless you’re a Jets fan and you were curled up in a ball sobbing in the corner.
Winner: Niners keep the good vibes going
The San Francisco 49ers still haven’t lost since Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the starter. They finished the season with another eyebrow-raising performance to improve to 6-10. Granted, the Niners winning wasn’t a shock since the Los Angeles Rams sat a lot of their starters, having already secured the NFC West.
Still, what this team has done since Garoppolo became the starter is nothing short of incredible. He did throw two really bad interceptions he’d love to have back Sunday. However, Garoppolo still managed to throw two touchdowns and led an offense that continues to score points in bunches.
The 49ers’ 34-13 blowout win sends this franchise into the offseason with nothing but positive vibes. Free agents are going to want to be a part of what this team is building, and the 49ers still have tremendous draft assets in its back pocket for use in April.
Loser: Dak Prescott’s sophomore slump ends with a whimper
Sure, the Dallas Cowboys eked out a 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. But there was nothing impressive about the performance of Dak Prescott and his offense.
The sophomore quarterback has struggled throughout the second half of the season. Sunday was no different. He led six drives that ended in three-and-out while Dallas went 5-of-15 on third downs and managed just 16 total first downs in the game, just nine coming on passing plays.
Prescott finished with just 179 yards on 17-of-30 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions. The touchdown was sweet. It’s a positive that Prescott didn’t turn the ball over. But this was a game the Cowboys should have run away with given the fact Philly’s first-string offense was out after one quarter, and Prescott’s mediocre play had a lot to do with the snoozefest it became.
Winner: Tennessee scraps its way into playoffs
It wasn’t pretty. But when the Titans needed a gritty win they got it to lock up a playoff spot, at home against the suddenly vulnerable Jaguars.
Tennessee only managed 232 yards, 11 first downs and 15 points. But that was enough to win and finish 9-7 on the season, good for the No. 5 seed in the AFC. The big key was the four turnovers forced by the team’s defense, which was stifling all game long.
Derrick Henry also had a big game, going for 117 yards and scoring the only offensive touchdown of the game. If not for a failed exchange that led to a Jacksonville defensive score in the fourth quarter, the Titans would have blown out their AFC rivals. Now they’ll have a week to prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs, at Arrowhead in the wild-card round.
Loser: Chicago’s offense was putrid
Someone send a search party, because Chicago’s offense didn’t show up for Sunday’s game against Minnesota. Granted, we didn’t expect Mitch Trubisky and Co. to actually beat the Vikings, who were fighting for a first-round bye. Still, it’s impossible to ignore how badly the Bears were dominated.
Trubisky did manage to make some plays late but still finished with just 178 yards passing on 20-of-36 attempts. He was wildly inaccurate in the red zone, too, and the Bears scored just three points on offense in the game. The big failure, however, was that Chicago couldn’t run the ball. They finished with 30 total yards on the ground on 15 carries, which is terrible. Take away a 10-yard dash by Tarik Cohen and it looks even worse.
Head coach John Fox is reportedly on his way out, which should usher in an offensive-minded replacement. For Trubisky’s sake, we sure hope that happens. Because he needs help.
Winner: Winner: Alvin Kamara continues to amaze
The New Orleans Saints lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in dramatic style, but they hung on to win the NFC South.
Also, they’re still heading into the playoffs with the hottest offensive duo in the league. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram became the first running back duo in NFL history to total at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage (each). On Sunday, Kamara was once again electric and nearly did enough to help the Saints win.
The rookie running back rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown, caught six passes for 84 yards and took a kickoff return 106 yards to the house (watch here). As long as Kamara is healthy, the Saints will have a shot to win every game provided their defense continues to play well.
Loser: Kirk Cousins ends season with game he’d rather forget
If this was the last game Kirk Cousins plays for the Washington Redskins, that would be a shame. Because it’ll be one he desperately tries to expunge from his memory banks.
Cousins, going up against a very beatable New York Giants defense, couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a handful of rice for much of the game. He finished with just 158 yards on 20-of-37 passing (4.3 yards per attempt) with no touchdowns and three awful interceptions.
In a game which saw Eli Manning complete just 10 passes for 132 yards, and which saw the Giants win by just eight points, these mistakes were the biggest reason Washington ended its season on the sourest of notes.
Winner: Atlanta defense shuts down Panthers to get into playoffs
Cam Newton was utterly confounded throughout Sunday’s game in Atlanta. The Falcons confused him all game long, applying pressure up front and disguising coverage on the back end. The final result was that Newton had just 180 yards on 14-of-34 passing with one touchdown and three interceptions. Atlanta’s defense allowed just 10 points in the game to secure a huge win that sends the team into the playoffs on a high note.
All told, the Panthers, who were without Jonathan Stewart, gained just 248 total yards, 15 first downs and went 5-of-15 on third downs. If the Falcons are going to make some noise in the playoffs this January, they’ll need to see some more huge performances like this one
Loser: Loser: Brett Hundley’s stock takes another nosedive
It’s been a frustrating season for Brett Hundley and the Green Bay Packers, who have struggled mightily ever since Aaron Rodgers had his collarbone snapped against the Minnesota Vikings in mid October. Though the UCLA product had a couple of really nice games, for the most part he’s shown himself to be extremely turnover prone.
This is the version of Hundley that showed up on Sunday in Detroit. Hundley has a really bad game, going 14-of-24 for 172 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble. He was ultimately replaced by Joe Callahan late in the game after the Lions had put the game away.
While it’s too early to say Hundley needs to be permanently replaced, it’s safe to say he’s not going to land Green Bay a nice draft pick in a trade. His value is at an all-time low, and the Packers really need to consider upgrading their backup situation heading into the 2018 season.
Winner: Dion Lewis caps off big season with monster game
Dion Lewis entered Week 17 already having a career season with 977 total yards and seven touchdowns. He’s been the best back on New England’s roster all year. So it’s not all that surprising he dominated Sunday as the New England Patriots clinched the top seed in the AFC with a blowout win over the New York Jets.
As the best healthy back for the Pats Sunday, Lewis shouldered the load. He carried the ball 26 times for 93 yards and one score on the ground. Lewis also caught six passes for 40 yards and one of the two touchdowns thrown by Tom Brady. This bumps his seasonal total up to 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns. That’s pretty remarkable considering Lewis’ career was in doubt at one point.
A couple other rather amusing notes from this game. Rob Gronkowski failed to catch a single pass. Meaning, he finished the season stuck at 69, which I’m sure he’s all broken up about. Also, Johnson Bademosi pulled off the flop of the season on the sideline. Robby Anderson spiked the ball in frustration, which clipped Bademosi in the helmet. After a delay, he threw himself to the ground hoping to draw a flag (watch here). Alas, it was not to be.
Loser: Nick Foles trending the wrong way heading into playoffs
Nick Foles only played four series for the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at home against Dallas before being replaced by Nate Sudfield. During that short time, the veteran struggled mightily, gaining just 39 yards on 4-of-11 passing with no touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 9.3.
It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but combined with last weekend’s performance against Oakland, there’s legitimate cause for concern. Looking back to the past five quarters, Foles has completed just 23-of-49 passes for 202 yards with just one touchdown and two interceptions. Even worse, Philly managed just 19 points in those five quarters against two teams that don’t have great defenses and aren’t playoff contenders.
That’s exactly what you don’t want to see. The Eagles are going to need Foles to be much sharper than this in the playoffs. If he continues to struggle, the team will undoubtedly face an early exit.