The first ever week 18 was one for the books. It was filled with almost exclusively wild endings that nobody could have possibly predicted. Ten days ago, the Indianapolis Colts were the team that nobody wanted to see in the playoffs, and now, nobody will see them at all. The Steelers seized the moment and created their own playoff birth on Sunday barring an impossible scenario in the evening, and the impossible came within seconds of happening. There were qb sneaks on 3rd and longs, 4th down attempts within teams’ own red zone, and covers from underdogs as far as the eye could see. A glorious ending to a magnificent regular season that left the door for any magic your heart can muster up wide open in this years playoff.
Chiefs @ Broncos
We start on Saturday, long before the fireworks, where the only epic happening was that it was the first game to ever be played in a week 18. Truly a ho-hum affair in the Rockies where the Chiefs escaped with a narrow victory of 28-24. Drew Lock had the start for Denver with Teddy Bridgewater in the thralls of concussion protocol. He would gather two rushing touchdowns, Melvin Gordon added another, and from the scoreboard’s perspective, the Broncos controlled the pace of the game. Unsurprisingly, however, in the midst of a 13-game losing streak to their divisional rivals, they seem to still be learning the art of the finish. Denver would let Kansas City hang around all day long, and eventually fork up the game with a fumble that was scooped and scored by Chiefs rookie LB Nick Bolton. The Chiefs firmly planted themselves in the No. 2 seed for the playoffs with the win.
Cowboys @ Eagles
The second and final game of week 18’s Saturday debut was a lopsided ordeal where the Cowboys finished atop the Eagles, 51-26. The Cowboys proved, once and for all, that they are the big brother of the NFC East in 2021, and ended the year at 12-5. Finishing the regular season with their win column at double-digits for the first time since they last won the division in 2018. Dak Prescott led Dallas’ offense with an undeniable 295 yard, 5 touchdown effort. Everything seems to be clicking at the right time for America’s Team, and they will need every little bit of what they have to compete with come the first round of the playoffs. The Cowboys locked themselves into the No. 3 seed in the NFC with this victory, and circumstantially, drew the 49ers as their Wild Card opponent next weekend. The Eagles, on the other hand, managed to stay above water, and will limp into the playoffs as the NFC’s 7th seed. Philadelphia will bring its best effort to Tampa Bay and square off with Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the opening round.
Packers @ Lions
The weeks second most astonishing upset came in Detroit, where the Lions took down the NFC’s biggest dog, and their divisional tormenter, the Green Bay Packers, 37-30. The victory was the first of its kind for the Lions since 2018, and brought a 5-game losing streak to Green Bay to an end. Dan Campbell surely swayed anyone that was still unsure of his leadership, and locked up his employment as Detroit’s head coach for the foreseeable future. When they say, “good teams win, but great teams cover,” whoever they might be, they surely mean that good teams win, but great teams dominate. However, if we take that old adage literally, the Lions were great this year. Detroit finished the regular season 11-6 against the spread, and served as, for attentive wallets at least, a trustworthy go-to for quick cash this year. So, cheers, and congratulations, to Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions for a uniquely great season!
Colts @ Jaguars
Next, the big daddy. The holy grail of week 18. The greatest upset of the year, and the game that stirred the playoff pot into the concoction that it is. Once more, the Colts were the team labeled as the AFC’s worst nightmare. They were too strong, too steady, too tough. And yet, they lost the final game of the year to the season’s least involved participant, the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-11. On a day where the Jacksonville faithful attended the game dressed as clowns, the AFC’s dark horse became the laughing stock of the league. Jonathan Taylor, a sure bet to be an MVP finalist, averaged 5.1 yards per carry, but only received 15 touches on the ground. Carson Wentz, who the team spent its 2022 first round selection on, was tasked with passing 29 times; he only completed 17, and sprinkled in an interception. it was a mismanaged disaster for the Colts, and the Jaguars controlled the momentum throughout. All the Colts had to do was beat the worst team in football and they were in the playoffs as the No. 5 seed. They dropped the ball, and opened the floodgates to whoever wanted in.
The Jags celebrated a high note to end the year on, and were still able to maintain their possession of the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. A true win win.
Steelers @ Ravens
The Steelers went into week 18 with a laundry list of events that had to take place in order to reserve a spot in the playoffs. First and foremost, they had to win their game against Baltimore, which they did, by a score of 16-13. Once they took care of what they could control, they needed a miracle of sorts in a Jaguars victory, which came to fruition, and finally, they needed a winner to emerge from the night game in Las Vegas. With the first two boxes checked, it seemed appropriate to start celebration, but much to the city of Pittsburgh’s chagrin, the third, and seemingly simplest box they needed to check off would prove to be the most daunting.
Chargers @ Raiders
With the Colts losing, the AFC bracket was blown wide open. The Steelers had won against the Ravens and emerged as the 7th seed, but the result of the Chargers and Raiders game would determine the fate of both Pittsburgh and the playoff as a whole. Given overall records in the regular season, and the Colts falling out of the picture, the winner of this game would take over the 5th seed. However, if the game were to result in a tie, the Chargers would take the 5-seed for their divisional tie-breaker with Las Vegas, and the Raiders would assume the 7-seed, bumping the Steelers back out of the picture. The prospect of a tie is typically overlooked and considered almost entirely irrelevant, but in week 18, on the South side of the strip, the thought of a tie was stirring before the opening kickoff. It was truly a long shot, but everything that happened in the final game of the year for the Chargers and Raiders went perfectly for fans of the dramatic. The game would end up going into overtime, and the Raiders kicked a field goal as time expired to bring to life a final score of 35-32. Las Vegas nestled into the 5-seed, the Chargers fell out of the picture, and the Steelers, by the skin of their teeth, remained in contention.
49ers @ Rams
Back to the NFC. San Francisco had everything in front of them traveling down the Gold Coast to Los Angeles. A win-and-in situation left their fate in their control and they took care of business. In another overtime thriller, Kyle Shanahan and the Niners proved to be one of the toughest teams in the mix. The Rams were up 17-0 before half, but SF stuck to its guns and played its monotonous, ground and pound game, beating their divisional foe into submission and earning themselves the No. 6 seed in the NFC. The final score was 27-24, and although they lost, the Rams still won the West (with some help from the Seahawks) and wound up the No. 4 seed, set to face off with Arizona in the first round.
Seahawks @ Cardinals
With the Rams loss, the Cardinals were a victory over the last place Seahawks from claiming the division for the first time since 2015. Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll, however, had different plans. Amid season long rumors of “the end of an era” in Seattle, with whispers of the Seahawks being ready to part ways with its head coach/quarterback tandem of the last decade, Russ and Pete emerged winners, 38-30. The Cardinals fell into the 5th seed, and the Seahawks are now faced with an organizational decision to make this offseason: will they, or will they not, get the band together for one more show in 2022?
That concludes the standout action from week 18. The Bills beat the Jets 27-10 and claimed the No. 3 seed, as well as the AFC East crown. The Patriots, as is tradition, lost to the Dolphins in Miami to end the year and will have to travel to Buffalo in the Wild Card round. The Buccaneers trounced the Panthers, 41-17, the Saints beat the Falcons, and the Vikings topped the Bears in games that didn’t mean much.
Washington was victorious against the Giants, the Titans earned the AFC’s No. 1 seed and the bye week, and Cleveland beat Cincinnati’s practice squad.
Overall, the NFL’s first ever 18th week set the bar incredibly high for future season finale’s, and we have got one heck of a playoff field to enjoy in the coming weeks on the road to Super Bowl LVI.