So much more than just playoff results
Everything was on the line for multiple teams around the NFL as the league closed up its regular season on Sunday. After ousting Cincinnati in a close game, the Pittsburgh Steelers remained on the field to see if Cleveland could hand Baltimore a loss.
Unfortunately, it didn’t come to fruition. Instead, the Steelers will not be playing meaningful January football while Baltimore will host the Chargers next weekend.
Over in the NFC, all the Minnesota Vikings had to do was win at home against the Chicago Bears. Instead, Kirk Cousins and Co. laid a complete egg. It opened the door for the defending champion Eagles to earn a wildcard spot.
These are among the top takeaways from NFL Week 17.
Lamar Jackson comes up huge
The math was easy for Baltimore heading into Week 17. A win and this team would earn the AFC North title and a home game next weekend. Taking on a pesky and improved Browns team, Jackson came up absolutely huge to close out his first regular season in the NFL.
The rookie first-round pick completed 14-of-24 passes for 179 yards while compiling 90 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the 26-24 win. Overall, Baltimore put up 296 yards on the ground in another dominating performance. The team finished its regular season winning six of Jackson’s seven starts. Yeah, a new era is upon us in Maryland.
Patriots with get-right game
New England needed a win Sunday to secure a first-round playoff bye. Given that all eight of their Super Bowl appearances under Bill Belichick have come with the team skipping Wildcard Weekend, this is no small thing. Having struggled a great deal recently, Tom Brady needed a big performance heading into January. That’s exactly what the last-place New York Jets provided him.
Brady threw three first half touchdowns, completing 16-of-25 passes for 165 yards in the process. From there, New England rolled over the Jets by the score of 38-3. While this team isn’t nearly as dominant as previous versions, it’s still a top-end title contender. Sunday’s win over a hapless Jets team proved this.
Eagles will be playing postseason football
For a while there, it looked like the defending champs would miss out on the postseason altogether. But the stars seemed to align as the season progressed. In need of a win over Washington and Vikings loss to Chicago, everything worked out in Philadelphia’s favor here.
Nick Foles continued to play tremendous football before suffering a chest injury late in the game. The Eagles’ defense dominated a decimated Washington offense en route to a 24-0 shutout win. While there’s certainly concern over Foles’ injury, the improbability of these Eagles earning a playoff spot has come to fruition. Next up, Soldier Field and the Chicago Bears.
Texans wrap up AFC South
Houston would sure have loved to see the Jets take out New England on Sunday — earning a first-round bye in the process. While that didn’t come to fruition, Deshuan Watson and Co. did earn the AFC South title with a blowout win over the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.
Watson completed 25-of-35 passes for 234 yards. He also went for 66 yards and a score on the ground. Meanwhile, Houston held the Jaguars to 119 total yards in the 20-3 win. Having finished the season with an 11-5 record, Houston enters the playoffs as legit contenders. It will now host a wildcard game against the division-rival Colts/Titans next week.
Packers humiliate themselves
We know that Green Bay didn’t have anything to play for Sunday at home against the Detroit Lions. That doesn’t mean Aaron Rodgers and Co. shouldn’t have shown some sense of pride. Obviously, this didn’t come to fruition during an humiliating effort at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Green Bay saw itself down 21-0 at the half and being out-gained by nearly 200 yards in the process. Rodgers himself was knocked from the game with a head injury. In the end, Green Bay fell by the score of 31-0. It goes without saying that people were not happy about the Packers’ performance. It’s also now pretty clear that big changes will be in store for this organization during the offseason.
Andrew Luck makes Colts a scary team
Luck’s return from a shoulder injury that cost him all of last season has now culminated in his first playoff appearance since all the way back in 2014. That was made possible with a 33-17 win over the Tennessee Titans in a do-or-die game for both teams. Despite throwing one absolutely brutal interception, Luck played otherwise mistake-free football in leading Indy to the victory. He completed 24-of-35 passes for 285 yards with three touchdowns and that one interception.
Now set to take on the division champion Houston Texans on the road next Saturday, Luck has his Colts as one dangerous team. They have now won nine of 10 since a 1-5 start to the season. Watch out Deshaun Watson and Co., this wildcard game is going to be no walk in the park.
Saquon Barkley caps off historic rookie season
The New York Giants may still be getting grief for selecting Barkley over the likes of Sam Darnold and other quarterbacks No. 2 overall this past April. While an argument can be made that drafting a running back over a quarterback makes little sense, Barkley has more than proved his worth to the Giants.
That came out in droves during Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. A 68-yard run put Barkley over 2,000 total yards on the season — joining Hall of Fame company in that group. Later in the game, Barkley went full Michael Jordan on this three-yard touchdown run. When all was said and done, the former Penn State star tallied 142 total yards on 21 touches. He finishes the season with 2,028 total yards and 15 touchdowns. Talk about proving naysayers wrong.
Vikings come up small with everything on the line
Minnesota handed Kirk Cousins $84 million in guaranteed cash in hopes that he’d take the team to the next level. Instead, regression was the name of the game in Minneapolis this season. That came out in droves during a disastrous win or go home game against Chicago on Sunday. In the midst of watching Philadelphia take out Washington in D.C., the Eagles laid a complete egg at home.
It included the Vikings being out-gained 204-49 en route to falling down 13-3 at the half. It didn’t get a whole lot better in the second half with Chicago coming out on top by the score of 24-10. Cousins completed 20-of-33 passes with just 101 net passing yards in the loss. In the end, the Vikings proved themselves to be frauds, finishing the season with an 8-7-1 record after winning 13 games in 2017. Ouch!
Bay Area football blues
Neither the Raiders or 49ers were expected to compete with first-place teams in Week 17. Oakland headed to Kansas City to take on a Chiefs team that needed a win in order to secure the AFC West title and a home-field advantage. What followed for Jon Gruden and Co. was a humiliating 35-3 loss to the Chiefs. How bad was it? Well, just ask Derek Carr and Jared Cook. By virtue of their 12th loss on the season, the Raiders will be picking No. 4 overall in April. Whether the team is in Oakland when that happens remains to be seen.
Much more competitive in recent weeks, Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers laid a complete egg against the Rams in Los Angeles. The game started with San Francisco committing a turnover on its first three possessions en route to falling down 14-0. It didn’t get much better in a 48-32 defeat, San Francisco’s 12th on the season. By virtue of this loss, San Francisco will be picking second in the 2019 NFL Draft. How fun.
It took mere hours for the first coach to get his Black Monday walking papers. Immediately after his team’s 34-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter was fired. This now leads us to wonder what the future will bring for former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston. After all, the two seemed to be tied at the hip.
It’s also been noted that the Jets had moved on from Todd Bowles and the Cardinals were going to do the same with Steve Wilks after just one season. Others on the chopping block include Vance Joseph (Broncos), Adam Gase (Dolphins) and Marvin Lewis (Bengals). The good news. Doug Marrone has kept his job after a horrible 5-11 season in Jacksonville.
Is Marcus Mariota’s future in doubt?
One question came to mind when watching the Titans’ loss to Indianapolis Sunday night. How would this game have turned out of Marcus Mariota wasn’t dealing with a stinger? We’ll never find out. Tennessee ultimately dropped the game by the score of 33-17, missing out on the playoffs in the process.
This begs one pretty big question. Is Mariota even the long-term answer in Nashville? He’s now missed the season finale in three of his four seasons in the NFL, leading some to wonder whether the former Oregon star is injury plagued. Tennessee certainly won’t move on from Mariota this offseason, but the team might be smart to add insurance behind him via the 2019 NFL Draft.
Playoff matchups are set
By virtue of their win on Sunday against the 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams will have a first-round bye and be the No. 2 seed in the NFC. This means that the Chicago Bears will play host to Philadelphia with the Seahawks traveling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys Wildcard Weekend. Those two games should be a blast with both Philadelphia and Seattle playing stellar football right now.
Kansas City clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC with its win over a hapless Raiders squad on Sunday. It will join New England with a first-round bye. This leaves a pretty interesting Wildcard Weekend slate in the AFC. After finishing the regular season 12-4, the Chargers will have to head to Baltimore to take on a red-hot Ravens squad. Meanwhile, the Colts will head to Houston to take on the AFC South champion Texans after defeating Tennessee on Sunday night. That should also be a good one.