Around the AFC
Chiefs reign. Another Week 18, another week of Patrick Mahomes donning shades instead of a helmet and watching his team. Kansas City is locked into the AFC’s No. 3 seed and, thus, isn’t playing Mahomes and likely a few others. It’s an opportunity wasted for the other teams in the division. This was the most vulnerable Kansas City team maybe of Mahomes’ career. They went 5-4 at home and are 3-2 in the division entering the final week. And yet, no sweat toward another division title. If nobody got them this year, when’s it going to happen?
15.5. A year ago, the Broncos averaged 15.5 points per game in the 15 games coached by Nathaniel Hackett. That number jumped all the way to 16.9 for the season when Denver scored 55 over the final two games of the year. The 2023 New York Jets, with Hackett as the offensive coordinator, enter the final week of the season averaging… 15.7 points per game. If they score 12 points against New England on Sunday, they’ll finish at 15.5 per game. The Jets would have to rip off 36 against the Pats to get to 16.9.
Tomlin the Great. A tip of the cap to Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin. Despite an offense that struggled most of the year and, like many others, started multiple quarterbacks, the Steelers entered their game against Baltimore Saturday night guaranteed of a winning season. That makes Tomlin 17 of 17 in that department. It’s one of the most remarkable numbers in football, given the length of time and the parity in the game. Given the ups and downs with Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph this season, maybe he’ll be in the market for a veteran quarterback playing at the league minimum in 2024 when he tries to make it 18 straight.
Around the NFC
Win and in. For all of Green Bay’s early season struggles, they enter Sunday with a simple reality: Beat Chicago for the 10th straight time and they’re in the playoffs. The Packers lost in the same scenario last year Week 18 against Detroit and like the 2022 Lions, this year’s Chicago team has played well down the stretch. Even still, it’s a golden opportunity for the Packers under first-year quarterback Jordan Love. He enters with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year and has played the past seven games to a 109.9 quarterback rating.
Rest of the hopefuls. If the Packers lose, Seattle can get in with a win over Arizona. If the Packers and Seahawks both lose, then New Orleans can get in with a win over Atlanta. The Saints also get in with a win and an unlikely Panthers victory over Tampa. The Falcons and Minnesota have even longer and more convoluted odds of getting in, but crazy things do happen. Technically any of Tampa (56%), New Orleans (26%) or Atlanta (17%) can still win the NFC South.
Fields’ future. One of the most fascinating decisions of this upcoming offseason is what Chicago does with quarterback Justin Fields. The Bears are locked into the No. 1 pick thanks to last year’s trade with Carolina. Fields has progressed this year and had the Soldier Field crowd chanting his name in Week 17. But is he the no-doubt option going forward? With Caleb Williams or Drake Maye there for the taking with the top pick? Chicago’s in a great spot. They can trade Fields for extra capital (in addition to their pair of top-10 picks) or keep him and trade out of No. 1 for an absolute haul. Here’s the thing, though: It’s a great spot, but one that the decision-makers in the Windy City absolutely have to get right.
Game of the Week
Buffalo at Miami
Man, talk about a bad week for the Dolphins. They got absolutely destroyed by Baltimore on Sunday night (56-19) and had star pass-rusher Bradley Chubb tear his ACL late in the blowout. Injuries have mounted for Mike McDaniel’s team at the wrong time. Not only that, but the Bills have won four straight to make it an AFC East division title game on Sunday night. The silver lining for Miami is that even if they lose this one, they’ll still be dangerous in the playoffs. They’ll just have to go on the road to show it. Most of the year Miami looked like it had a vice grip on the division. But who’s betting against Josh Allen and company as a three-point road favorite now?
Bills 34, Dolphins 28
Lock of the Week
New York Giants at Philadelphia
It’s been a rough road for the Eagles. At one point, they beat Dallas, Kansas City and Buffalo in consecutive weeks to get to 10-1 on the season. Since then, Philly has lost four of its past five, including a pair of blowouts and last week a terrible loss to 4-12 Arizona that clinched the No. 1 seed for San Francisco. Now the Eagles need a win as a five-point favorite and a Dallas loss at Washington to win the division. Otherwise, they’ll be the No. 5 seed and playing on the road against the winner of the NFC South. That’s not a bad path, but even still, you have to imagine they’ll at least do their part and force Dallas to win (which Mike McCarthy’s team should do easily as a 13-point favorite. Right? Right?)
Eagles 35, Giants 17
Upset of the Week
Jacksonville at Tennessee
The Jaguars wrap up a division title in the wild AFC South with a victory as a 5.5-point favorite against the eliminated Titans. But did you see Mike Vrabel’s rant this week about the game mattering despite Tennessee’s snuffed playoff hopes? He said in no uncertain — and quite colorful — terms that it’s an important game to win because losing freakin’ stinks. If that doesn’t sound like a guy who’s planning on his team playing spoiler, I don’t know what does. Playing against Vrabel with a playoff spot on the line and nothing to lose on the other sideline is like navigating past a perturbed bear. You’re basically just hoping the wind’s blowing in your favor.
Titans 23, Jaguars 20
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