Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday's action in Week 18 of the 2022 NFL season. Before we get into our takeaways for each game, here's a look at the complete playoff picture entering Super Wild Card Weekend:
- Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
- San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
- Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)
- Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
- New York Giants (9-7-1)
- Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
- Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
- Buffalo Bills (13-3)
- Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)
- Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)
- Baltimore Ravens (10-7)
- Miami Dolphins (9-8)
Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:
- Miami Dolphins 11, New York Jets 6
- Buffalo Bills 35, New England Patriots 23
- Cincinnati Bengals 27, Baltimore Ravens 16
- Atlanta Falcons 30, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
- Carolina Panthers 10, New Orleans Saints 7
- Minnesota Vikings 29, Chicago Bears 13
- Houston Texans 32, Indianapolis Colts 31
- Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Cleveland Browns 14
Bobby Kownack's takeaways:
- The future is bright in the Motor City. The 2022-2023 Lions are sadly done for the season, unable to capture a playoff berth after winning eight of their last 10 to finish at 9-8. There's no such thing as moral victories in a results-driven business, but that doesn't mean the fans can't go wild with future expectations based on this game and this season. As rookies go, No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson and third-round safety Kerby Joseph were difference makers Sunday night. Hutchinson continued a tremendous rookie campaign with the team's only two sacks to put his season total just shy of double digits at 9.5, and Joseph picked off Aaron Rodgers for the third time this season to end Green Bay's final drive. He also had another interception that would have changed the game even earlier had it not been nullified by a hands-to-the-face penalty. On offense, Jared Goff proved himself far more than the placeholder he was thought to be when he joined Detroit in a trade with the Rams two seasons ago. Running back Jamaal Williams, who scored both Lions touchdowns on 1-yard runs, helped eliminate the team that drafted him while passing Barry Sanders as Detroit's single-season TD record holder with 17. There's far more than just building blocks here looking ahead to next year.
- Packers stall too often, pay the price. Green Bay's offense let too many opportunities go by the wayside in the first half, and it came back to haunt it. A 46-yard pass interference on the opening drive put them in business at Detroit's 5-yard line, but the Packers had to settle for a field goal. That set the tone for the night. The next two drives into Lions territory ended in field goals, as well, and the two after that resulted in a lost fumble and missed 53-yard kick by Mason Crosby, respectively. When the Lions' slumbering offense finally awoke in the second half, the Packers found themselves behind the eight ball due to their early mistakes and failed to keep pace. Rodgers flashed chemistry with rookie Christian Watson again for 104 yards on five receptions, but he threw just one touchdown for the fifth straight game and tossed a hopeless interception on his final pass attempt of the season. It was a disastrous overall effort in a must-win game, filled with poorly timed offensive futility and head-scratching unsportsmanlike penalties by cornerback Rasul Douglas and linebacker Quay Walker on two different Detroit scoring drives. This will sting after the gargantuan effort it took to even have a playoff dream entering Week 18, and it's sure to be on Rodgers' mind as he evaluates his football future.
- Lions don't need playoffs to prove their worth. Was there any doubt a Dan Campbell-led team would give it everything despite learning it was eliminated from postseason contention roughly an hour before kickoff? The Lions played ferocious defense, preventing Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon from getting in rhythm and forcing the former to fumble on a late first-half drive that seemed destined to give Green Bay a two-score lead at halftime. In the six Packers drives that reached the Lions' 34-yard line or deeper, the defense held Green Bay to just 16 points. It was a superb performance for a unit that saw its defensive backs coach fired on Halloween. The offense rode the wake of the defense's wave to show up in the second half, scoring 14 points in the final two frames and accounting for 21 of the game's 32 fourth-quarter snaps. The two TDs were understandably the highlights, but the play of the night came on second-and-17 from the Packers' 31-yard line with 2:12 remaining. Goff threw a screen to Amon-Ra St. Brown that looked to be well-contained before St. Brown quickly lateraled to running back D'Andre Swift for a wide-open 14-yard run. The gutsy, creative call put the Lions in a position to ice the game with a first down. Two plays later they did.
Next Gen stat of the game: Lions running back Jamaal Williams had 13 rushes for 60 yards and two touchdowns with seven-plus defenders in the box.
NFL Research: Lions rookie safety Kerby Joseph tied Brian Urlacher (three) for most interceptions of Aaron Rodgers all-time.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- It was a solid tune-up for Jalen Hurts, Eagles offense. Hurts suited up for the first time since the pre-Christmas game against the Bears, and for the most part he looked good. No, the entire operation was not pristine, with the Giants logging three first-half sacks, including two as the Eagles were trying to score before halftime. There also was the matter of a third-quarter interception that was as bad a decision as Hurts has made this season. If you're the type of Eagles fan who is looking for negatives, the team's red-zone execution was pretty poor in this game -- against a Giants defense that rested five regulars. Really, the Eagles had most of their disappointments after crossing midfield. But if you're the glass-half-full sort, Hurts was a solid 20-of-35 passing for 229 yards and had a touchdown taken off the board (the play before the pick) on a questionable illegal man downfield call, and he just overthrew A.J. Brown for what would have been a long catch. He didn't run much, but we'll assume his shoulder injury had no bearing on that. Hurts was fine on the quick-hitting stuff; everything else looked kind of rusty. Was it a vintage showing? No. Did this game reignite the Hurts-for-MVP talk? Doesn't feel like it, even with the Eagles losing one game this season he started. But it gave Hurts and the Eagles offense a respectable run-through and helped seal the No. 1 seed and all the spoils that come with it. Mission accomplished. The real work starts back in Philly in two weeks' time.
- Giants show some heart, even with mostly reserves playing. It made sense for Giants head coach Brian Daboll to rest some key contributors in this game with his team's playoff seeding locked up. That included quarterback Daniel Jones, left tackle Andrew Thomas and running back Saquon Barkley, so the expectations for the offense were summarily adjusted. This wasn't just QB Davis Webb's first NFL start after being drafted in 2017. It was also his first game actually throwing passes. (He was allowed to take two kneel downs, losing 3 yards in a game for Buffalo last year for his only regular-season appearance prior to Sunday.) Webb wasn't great, but he wasn't terrible either. He also seemed to get better as the game went on, as his pass protection -- Haason Reddick was killing Giants right tackle Evan Neal -- let him down early on. The highlight of the game offensively was Webb steamrolling Eagles safety Reed Blankenship for his first NFL TD. The Neal struggles were probably the development that was most germane to the Giants' immediate concerns for when the face the Vikings next week. But the Giants also came out of this game relatively injury-free, so that's the big takeaway.
- Eagles finish with 70 sacks, didn't break all-time mark. There was an outside chance of the Eagles tying or breaking the NFL's season sack record of 72, set by the 1984 Chicago Bears. Debates about 16 and 17 games notwithstanding, it's pretty remarkable considering no other team had hit the 60-mark since the 2013 Panthers. Even more impressive are the Eagles' four players with 11 or more sacks. They had two sacks on Sunday, including the first this season by Zech McPhearson, who became the 14th Eagle this season with at least half a sack. (Although it did come on a fake field goal, for what that's worth.) In short: They get after it. But the Eagles had about three would-be sacks slip through their fingers, as Webb proved to be tougher to bring down than anticipated. The Eagles entered the day with 68, and added two more. Had they been able to take advantage of all those missed sacks, they might have tied the '84 Bears. Instead, these Eagles will finish the regular season tied for third all time, also behind the 1989 Vikings and the 1987 Bears.
Next Gen stat of the game: Jalen Hurts was 0 of 9 passing with an interception on passes with 2.5-plus seconds to throw -- the most such attempts in a game without a completion by any QB in the Next Gen Stats era.
NFL Research: Hurts is one of six quarterbacks since 1950 to record 35-plus touchdowns and one or fewer loss in games they started, joining Randall Cunningham (1998), Tom Brady (2007), Aaron Rodgers (2011), Cam Newton (2015) and Patrick Mahomes (2020).
Kevin Patra's takeaways:
- Sam Howell leads Commanders to victory in first career start. The fifth-round pick tossed a touchdown on his first NFL pass, hitting Terry McLaurin for a 16-yard score on a short field. From there, Washington rolled over a listless Cowboys club. Howell nailed receivers in stride well and displayed good accuracy downfield, hitting McLaurin on a gorgeous 52-yard bomb in the second half. Howell also displayed ability with his legs, rushing five times for 35 yards and a TD. He became the first Washington rookie QB with a passing and rushing TD since Robert Griffin III in 2012. There were some rookie moments from the young QB. He missed a few reads and threw an ugly red zone interception that three different Cowboys could have picked. But Howell showed good mettle bouncing back from the INT. The rookie's performance adds to the offseason question marks for the Commanders as they figure out their future under center.
- Cowboys head to postseason after a dismal performance. The best the Dallas fans can hope is Sunday's performance got all the bad mojo out of their system heading into the postseason. Because it was bad. Awful, in fact. The Cowboys bumbled a punt and muffed a return to open the game. Dak Prescott was off the mark all day, completing 14 of 37 passes -- career-low 37.8% -- for a measly 128 yards with a TD and a pick-six. The run game was nonexistent. And receivers couldn't get open. Prescott went 0 of 10 on tight-window throws, tied for the second-most such attempts without a completion in a single game by a passer since 2016. Dallas went three-and-out a whopping 10 times and generated just three second-half first downs. All game, it appeared Mike McCarthy was hoping his offense would snap out of the funk and find some rhythm before he sat them. They never did. McCarthy finally sat Prescott with 5:19 left in the fourth quarter. It was the most depressing performance from the QB all season and surely can't make Cowboys fans feel good heading to Tampa Bay in Super Wild Card Weekend.
- Give some love to the Commanders D. Despite nothing but pride to play for and sitting several starters, Ron Rivera's club battled to the end. Even without Jonathan Allen, the defensive line controlled the game, holding Dallas to 2.4 yards per game on the ground. Montez Sweat and Chase Young pressured the QB, and the secondary smothered Cowboys wideouts. Kendall Fuller had a near interception early in the second quarter but slipped on the play. On the very next snap, Prescott threw another bad out-route toward the corner, who swiped it for a pick-six to give the Commanders a two-score lead. It was a disappointing end of the season for Rivera's club after getting eliminated last week, but the effort was there in the finale.
NFL Research: Dak Prescott has thrown at least one interception in seven straight games (longest streak of career), which is the longest single-season INT streak by a Cowboys QB since Vinny Testaverde had nine straight in 2004 (led NFL with 20 interceptions that season).
Next Gen stat of the game: Sam Howell's 52-yard completion to Terry McLaurin had an air distance of 60.0 yards, which is the longest completion by a Washington quarterback in the Next Gen Stats era.
Bobby Kownack's takeaways:
- Broncos passing game suddenly has life. Although crazier things have happened during regime changes, Russell Wilson's contract makes it far more likely that whoever coaches the Broncos next year will do so with the 34-year-old behind center. If Week 18 is anything to go off of, Wilson's rapport with his receiving duo of Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton also can't be written totally off in Year 2. Wilson had just his second game of the season with three passing touchdowns and put up his third-best passing-yard day of the season with 283. His rapport with Jeudy particularly shined. The third-year wide receiver has struggled at points this season to live up to his potential, but against the Chargers he set a career-high with 154 receiving yards on a team-leading five receptions. His average of 30.8 yards per catch was buoyed by two 50-plus yard bombs. Sutton finished second on the team with three catches, and he turned those into 33 yards and his second TD of the season. The chemistry on display bodes well if this trio sticks together in 2023.
- Chargers open themselves up to criticism. Los Angeles began the game knowing it had the AFC No. 5 seed locked up thanks to a Ravens loss to the Bengals earlier in the day. Head coach Brandon Staley chose to play his starters anyway. The thinking behind Staley's decision is clear. The Chargers had won four in a row, and he valued carrying that momentum into the postseason over playing it safe with injuries. The problem with that? Injuries took place. Wide receiver Mike Williams, who already missed four games this year, suffered a back injury late in the second quarter. He required help getting off the field and was later carted to the locker room. Pass rusher Joey Bosa, who missed 12 games of his own with a groin injury, also appeared to get banged up during the second quarter. He never received a designation despite sitting out the rest of the game. Although it made some sense to get Bosa reps in his second game back from injured reserve, and he did log his first sack since Week 1, that's still a lot of added insult to take. Staley then egregiously doubled down on his decision by keeping star QB Justin Herbert, RB Austin Ekeler and most others in until just over 11 minutes remained in the contest -- and it was all for a loss in a meaningless game.
- Denver defense finished on a high note. The fatigue of carrying the offense on its shoulder finally took its toll in the latter stages of the season, as Denver's defense allowed 31.8 points per game from Weeks 14-17 after surrendering just 17 per contest across the team's first 12 games. The unit still gave up 28 in the season finale, but it made the right plays at the right time to come away with a victory. Safety Justin Simmons continues to be a stud. He made 10 tackles and forced two fumbles, both of which came against Los Angeles starters. Then, when the Chargers backups had a chance to take a lead on their final drive, the Broncos allowed just a single yard on a three-and-out. Wilson and Co. turned the two turnovers into 10 points and were also able to run seven plays following the three-and-out to bleed the rest of the clock. In a year of few highs, the Broncos created one together to close the season.
Next Gen stat of the game: Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa had three QB pressures and a sack on seven pass rushes (42.9 pressure percentage). Bosa played 20 total defensive snaps.
NFL Research: Chargers running back Austin Ekeler became the fifth player in the Super Bowl era with 800-plus rushing yards, 10-plus rushing touchdowns, 700-plus receiving yards and five-plus receiving TDs in a single season.
Nick Shook's takeaways:
- Seahawks survive sloppiness in Seattle. This one was as ugly as an overcast, rainy day in the Pacific Northwest, so it's only right that the game took place amid such conditions. Both teams struggled to move the ball, combining to go 5 of 25 on third down (including a 1 for 11 rate for Seattle), and once the Seahawks failed to punch it in along the Rams' goal line in the fourth quarter, it was clear this contest was likely headed for overtime. Jason Myers' clanged field goal attempt at the end of regulation sent it to an extra period, where Quandre Diggs made a heroic interception of a Baker Mayfield pass that had enough air to -- as Mark Sanchez put it -- clear the Space Needle. Myers got his redemption with his 32-yarder to win it on a day when the Seahawks didn't have much to be proud of statistically. Geno Smith completed 19 of 31 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown, but threw two bad interceptions, while Kenneth Walker III landed just below four yards per carry. None of that matters, though, because the Seahawks finished the job -- and after the Lions defeated the Packers on Sunday night, it was good enough to get them into the postseason.
- Rams end season with Cam Akers standing as their strongest remaining weapon. I've covered this in recent Rams write-ups, but Sunday was a true test of Akers because it came against one of the NFL's worst run defenses. Akers met expectations, posting his third straight 100-plus-yard game on the ground and powering a Rams offense that, like the Seahawks, struggled to pick up first downs. Akers' season finale stood as a capper to an impressive late-season surge that should once again drum up expectations for him entering 2023. Let's shoehorn this in there, too: Mayfield was an intriguing figure for the Rams late this season and played well enough at times to warrant consideration for a job -- I said job, not starting job -- somewhere. Obviously, his overtime interception reminded folks of who he can often (and unfortunately) be, but there has to be a personnel executive out there believing their team can buy low and reap the benefits. Just keep an eye on Mayfield this offseason.
- Hats off to Pete Carroll. Let's all take a moment and collectively admit none of us saw this coming from the Seahawks. As soon as the 2022 schedule came out and pit the Seahawks against Russell Wilson and the newly minted darling Broncos, Seattle looked like the hunted, not the hunter. Perhaps in that fateful moment -- you know, the one in which Nathaniel Hackett sent his kicker out for a 64-yarder at sea level -- the Seahawks truly began to believe. Nine wins later, Seattle is off to a once-unlikely playoff berth built on the backs of young playmakers drafted by a front office that mined the 2022 class for plenty of quality talent and watched it pay off. Even if the Seahawks hadn't made the playoffs, they could be proud of what they accomplished in a season in which most folks expected them to be picking in the top five of the first round. Oh, they still will be doing so -- but it will be with Denver's pick, not their own. How's that for a last laugh?
NFL Research: Thanks to Sunday's performance, Geno Smith capped his stunning comeback season by setting Seahawks franchise records for completions (399), pass attempts (572), completion percentage (69.8) and passing yards (4,282), becoming the first Seattle quarterback to lead the NFL in completion percentage since Dave Krieg in 1991 (65.6).
Next Gen Stat of the game: Geno Smith's 36-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett traveled 51.2 yards of air distance, the second-most on a Seattle completion this season.
Christian Gonzales' takeaways:
- Brock Purdy continues stellar play heading into postseason. San Francisco's goal for the No. 1 seed in the NFC came up short with the Eagles' win over the Giants. But Purdy's consistent play doesn't seem to be a fluke or feel-good story for the NFC's second-seeded 49ers squad. With Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell in the backfield, Purdy knew when to deliver a pass to his running backs in space in the season finale. Purdy seems to have a different favorite target each week, and George Kittle benefited on Sunday with two receiving touchdowns. Purdy's day finished early thanks to San Francisco's giant lead in the fourth quarter. The 49ers rookie QB went 15 of 20 for 178 passing yards and three touchdowns.
- J.J. Watt's farewell tour ends with memorable performance. With Watt announcing that he will be retiring at the end of the season, the future Hall of Fame defensive end made his last game one to remember. He went up the middle and wrapped his arms around Purdy for the first sack of the game. In the second half, Watt went in between two Niners to get Purdy down for his second QB takedown. In the final two minutes of the game, Watt received a standing ovation from the 49ers crowd and was emotional walking off the field. Watt's afternoon ended with two sacks, two QB hits and three tackles for loss. Watt will now look forward to his plans off the field, even though it looked like the 33-year-old surely can still play.
- Niners defense doesn't miss a beat. After allowing a season-high 34 points to the Raiders last week, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans' squad responded in the season finale. Safety Tashaun Gipson was the X-factor in San Francisco's takeaways on Sunday. The 11-year veteran turned in his best game of the season, intercepting passes from David Blough and Trace McSorley. Defensive back George Odum also got involved in the INT party by finalizing the 49ers' dominant defensive performance late in the fourth quarter. Nick Bosa, a frontrunner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, got one sack and disrupted the Cardinals' run game. With Bosa healthy heading into the postseason, San Francisco is now riding a 10-game winning streak heading into the playoffs.
Next Gen stat of the day: In his final NFL game, J.J. Watt generated five QB pressures, two sacks and a season-high 22.7% pressure rate. Watt finished his final season in the NFL leading the Cardinals in pressures (50) and sacks (12.5).
NFL Research: Brock Purdy has thrown multiple pass touchdowns in six straight games, joining Justin Herbert (seven straight in 2020) as the only rookies with a streak of six-plus such games in NFL history.
Kevin Patra's takeaways:
- Dolphins survive, head to postseason with Jason Sanders' game-winning field goal. It wasn't a pretty game, but Mike McDaniel's club did just enough to beat an eliminated Jets squad. The victory, coupled with a New England Patriots loss, sends Miami to the playoffs to face the Buffalo Bills. With Skylar Thompson under center, the Dolphins offense couldn't find splash plays against a good Jets defense. Miami settled for three field goals while generating 17 first downs on nine possessions. The Dolphins benefited from a Jets horse-collar penalty on the final drive to get into field-goal range for the game-winning score. But after losing five straight games, McDaniel's club need not apologize for winning ugly. The only thing that matters is the Fins will be dancing in the tournament next week.
- How will Miami's quarterback situation sort out? The status of Tua Tagovailoa will be newsworthy for at least one more week as the starting signal-caller remains in concussion protocol. The Dolphins' offense hasn't been nearly as dangerous this season sans Tua. Teddy Bridgewater was active Sunday but didn't play after injuring his throwing hand in Week 17. Thompson's performance didn't project confidence he could keep up with a high-flying Bills team in the postseason. The seventh-round rookie completed 20 of 31 passes for 152 yards. On the positive side, he didn't turn the ball over and mostly avoided negative plays. But the explosive elements aren't there. Thompson's longest pass was a flutterball after being hit that landed in the arms of Mike Gesicki for 32 yards. Neither Jaylen Waddle nor Tyreek Hill had a catch go for longer than 15 yards. If Thompson is forced to start a playoff game, McDaniel will need to find some bigger plays.
- Jets head into offseason with sixth straight loss. A once-promising season for Robert Saleh's crew has circled the drain for the past two months. Gang Green lost its seventh game in the past eight weeks. While the defense played tough again Sunday, the offense is an atrocious mess. The most stunning part of Sunday's loss might have been that a statuesque Joe Flacco wasn't sacked at all. Gang Green's offensive line remains an issue, and the ground game has offered no support since Breece Hall's injury. The best thing Flacco did Sunday was target Garrett Wilson over and over. A favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Wilson caught nine of 17 targets for 89 yards. No other Jets player had more than two catches or four targets. The rookie is the brightest spot for an otherwise depressing offense. It will be interesting to see if Saleh moves on from offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur after the struggles of 2022.
Next Gen stat of the game: Garrett Wilson was targeted on 17 of 31 routes (54.8%) in Week 18, the fourth-highest target rate in a game since 2016 (min. 30 routes). Wilson ends the 2022 season leading all rookies in targets (147), receptions (83) and receiving yards (1,103).
NFL Research: This marks the third time in 21 years the Dolphins are going to the playoffs. Each of those times was with first-year coaches: Mike McDaniel (2022), Adam Gase (2016), Tony Sparano (2008).
Kevin Patra's takeaways:
- Nyheim Hines delivers storybook start, has two kickoffs for TDs. After an emotional week in Buffalo concerning the health of teammate Damar Hamlin, Hines kicked off the contest with a 96-yard touchdown for an incredible opening script. After the Bills got behind for the first time midway through the third quarter, Hines blasted off again, going 101 yards to give Buffalo a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Given the stakes, Hines' returns were extraordinary. The Patriots were so fearful of Hines that they later kicked a ball out of bounds trying to avoid the returner. It was a day of big plays for Buffalo. Josh Allen was up and down against a good Pats defense, tossing another red zone interception. But the quarterback splashed a 42-yard touchdown to John Brown and a 49-yarder to Stefon Diggs to seal the win and a No. 2 seed.
- Mac Jones made plays, but turnovers sank Pats. Jones looked better in Buffalo than he has most of the season. The Pats QB picked up chunk gains to DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne as New England put up 341 yards and 20 first downs. Jones did well to sidestep pressure and fire darts over the middle and down the sideline. It was an encouraging performance until the miscues reared their head. The QB made a questionable toss to a covered Nelson Agholor that was picked off to scuttle a promising drive to open the second half. With a chance to make the game interesting late, Jones forced a high pass to Hunter Henry at the goal line that was intercepted. And his final throw of the season was an under-pressure toss behind Damien Harris that was picked. Jones and the Patriots' offense head into the offseason needing a reimagination following a poor 2022 campaign.
- Bills clinch No. 2 seed; Patriots fall out of playoffs. Buffalo's stirring victory secured the No. 2 spot in the AFC postseason. With the cancellation of the Week 17 game against Cincinnati, a potential neutral-site AFC Championship Game is in play if the Bills and Chiefs meet. The victory ensured the Bills won't play a road playoff game. For the Patriots, they fumbled a golden opportunity to make the postseason. It's wild that a Bill Belichick team fell because its special teams collapsed. But down the stretch, the Pats have found a way to lose games -- a botched pitch play in Las Vegas, a fumble against Cincinnati, and Sunday's miscues. New England lost five of its final seven games to miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
NFL Research: Nyheim Hines is the 11th player in NFL history with two kick return touchdowns in the same game and the first since Leon Washington in Week 3, 2010. Hines' two kick return TDS are one shy of the Bills' single-season record of three set by Terrence McGee in 2004.
Next Gen stat of the game: Josh Allen's 49-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs traveled 62.2 yards in the air, the third-longest completion by air distance this season. Allen has a league-high five completions traveling 60-plus yards in the air since entering the league in 2018.
Nick Shook's takeaways:
- Cincinnati takes care of business. With the AFC North title already in hand by way of winning percentage advantage, the Bengals only needed to win in Week 18 to secure a home game on Super Wild Card Weekend. Baltimore's decision to go with its third-string quarterback certainly didn't hurt Cincinnati's hopes. The Bengals jumped all over the Ravens early, putting 24 points on the board in the first half before their offense faltered in the final two quarters. Fortunately for Joe Burrow and Co., 24 points was enough, and the extra three points scored in the third quarter made things a little more comfortable. Burrow didn't have a memorable game and missed a couple of chances to score touchdowns (including one underthrown pass to an open Ja'Marr Chase), but in the end, it didn't matter much. Cincinnati will need to figure out why it struggled so much in the second half -- gaining just 90 offensive yards after picking up 167 in the first half -- before preparing for its playoff rematch against rival Baltimore, but fortunately for the Bengals, their first-half efforts were enough to win.
- Anthony Brown has a rough debut. With Tyler Huntley stuck in the gray area between inactive and able to play, the Ravens decided to take the safe approach Sunday, sitting Huntley and starting the Oregon product in his place. The results were predictably poor, with Brown throwing two first-half interceptions and fumbling away another possession in Baltimore's end zone, allowing the Bengals to build a 24-7 lead before halftime. Brown didn't bring much to the table, completing 19 of 44 passes for 286 yards and two interceptions, but he wasn't as dreadful as that stat line suggests. Still, Brown didn't pose much of a threat to the Bengals, and even Kenyan Drake's efforts (16 carries for 60 yards and one touchdown) weren't enough to make this game close. With the regular season now complete, Baltimore will now hope either Huntley or Lamar Jackson can play next week.
- Bengals put the coins pack in the purse. Cincinnati -- coach Zac Taylor, specifically -- was displeased by the NFL's decision to determine AFC playoff seeding and game location by more than just win percentage following the cancellation of the Bengals' Week 17 game against the Bills. Taylor ranted against the league's resolution, which would have used a coin flip to determine the location of a potential playoff rematch between the Ravens and Bengals if Baltimore was able to defeat Cincinnati on Sunday and the Chargers beat the Broncos. The Bengals handled the matter by defeating the Ravens emphatically and eliminating the 50-50 chance of a coin flip. Joe Mixon added an exclamation point to Taylor's comments by celebrating his touchdown by taking a quarter out of his glove and tossing it into the air. Title-contending teams solve issues like these by going out and winning, not by making headlines. Taylor's Bengals did both this week and can save their change for parking meters, or a coin collection.
Next Gen stat of the game: Trey Hendrickson was one of three Bengals defenders with three-plus QB pressures (he finished with three) and one or more sacks (he finished with two). Hendrickson also forced a turnover caused by pressure, resulting in Joseph Ossai's fumble-recovery touchdown.
NFL Research: Cincinnati scored three touchdowns off three takeaways in the first half Sunday, the most in the opening half of a game by any team this season, by the Bengals since 2000, and by any team since 2007.
Michael Baca's takeaways:
- Buccaneers work out kinks before playoffs. Tampa Bay chose to play a majority of its starters in the season finale despite having already locked up the NFC South, and Todd Bowles' squad received a healthy dose of positive experience as a result. Tom Brady opened the game with a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with a touchdown throw to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Brady's day came to an end with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, finishing with 84 yards passing (13 of 17, touchdown) in five offensive possessions. Blaine Gabbert (6 of 8, 29 yards, TD) finished a majority of the game before Kyle Trask (3 of 9, 23 yards) saw his first NFL action in the final two possessions. Defensively, the Bucs starters were in attack mode, blitzing the Falcons more often than not and forcing a key turnover that turned into points to tie the game before Brady made his exit. Tampa Bay ultimately succumbed to a young Falcons team down the stretch, but saw some positives heading into a home game on Super Wild Card Weekend.
- Falcons rookies shine in season finale. Quarterback Desmond Ridder logged one of his better performances to conclude his first NFL season, completing 19 of 30 passes for a 224 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions in the victory. Making his fourth start of the year, the third-round QB wasn't afraid to let it fly against the Bucs and displayed good accuracy and a great zip on the football when given time to throw. A 40-yard completion to fellow rookie Drake London was one of several throws that should conjure excitement in Atlanta. London also finished the year on a high note, catching six balls for a career-high 120 yards to set the franchise's rookie receptions record (72). Perhaps the biggest eye-opening rookie of Atlanta's season, Tyler Allgeier, gained 135 rushing yards on the day to push him to a franchise rookie-record 1,035 yards. The fifth-round running back continued to showcase his distinct ability to use his blockers and quickly turn a corner off tackle, and he rounds out a Falcons draft class that features prominent figures in Arthur Smith's team.
- Injuries on Bucs offensive line persist through Week 18. Despite pulling most of their starters by halftime, the Bucs didn't exactly finish the regular season unscathed, with starting center Robert Hainsey (hamstring) and wideout Mike Evans (illness) exiting in the first quarter. Although the severity of Hainsey's injury is unknown in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's loss, injuries to Brady's O-line have been a recurring theme for the Bucs in 2022 dating back to the first day of training camp when center Ryan Jensen suffered a serious knee injury. Jensen was designated to return to practice on Dec. 28, but counting on the veteran to return in time for next week shouldn't be expected. Nick Leverett moved from left guard to center in Hainsey's absence on Sunday and John Molchon played at left guard for Tampa Bay's latest O-line configuration.
Next Gen stat of the day: Tyler Allgeier had 23 rushes for 130 yards on rushes outside the tackles (one carry for 5 yards on rushes inside the tackles).
NFL Research: Tom Brady set single-season NFL records for completions (490) and pass attempts (733) in Week 18 at ATL (set both on 5-yard completion to Russell Gage).
Christian Gonzales' takeaways:
- Sam Darnold struggles in Panthers' season-ending win. Carolina's first three drives only produced 26 total yards. On the Panthers' next drive to close the first half, they surpassed that mark with 42 yards, but it mattered little when Darnold's throw to DJ Moore in the end zone was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu. In the last two minutes of the game, Darnold threw a deep ball that was underthrown to Moore and resulted in his second INT. Fortunately for Carolina, New Orleans' final drive ended with a missed field goal that gave Darnold one more chance. Darnold led his team down the field and gave Eddy Pineiro a shot at glory. Pinero delivered with a 42-yard game-winning field goal. Darnold finished the game 5 of 15 for 43 passing yards and a 2.8 QB rating. Was this Darnold's final audition with the Panthers or will he be back in Carolina for the 2023 season?
- Was ejection final showing for Marcus Davenport with Saints? After holding the Eagles to a season-low 10 points last week, the Saints' defense is trending in the right direction for next season despite the result, but the future is unclear for one of its biggest names. New Orleans stopped Carolina's run game and held Darnold to only four passing yards in the first half. However, things went south for Marcus Davenport as he was ejected for exchanging punches with D'Onta Foreman. The Saints traded three draft picks to select Davenport No. 14 overall in the 2018 draft and his future in New Orleans is unclear. The defensive lineman struggled this season with only 0.5 sacks in 15 games during the final year of his rookie contract. NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal's has Davenport ranked No. 22 in his top 51 free agents of 2023.
- Running backs again a positive for Panthers. With Carolina trading All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey earlier this season, it seemed like the Panthers were headed toward a rebuild season. However, Foreman and Chuba Hubbard have been complementary to one another ever since the trade, contributing solid performances each week. Sunday was no different other than Foreman's ejection as he and Hubbard had over 65+ rushing yards each against a tough Saints defense. Interim head coach Steve Wilks found something that worked, and he finished the season going 6-6. After the Panthers started the season 1-4, Carolina finished second in the NFC South, its best standing since 2017.
Next Gen stat of the day: Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard had 14 rushes on 57 yards to the left (4.1 average).
NFL Research: Saints rookie WR Chris Olave joined Michael Thomas and Marques Colston as only the third player in franchise history to record 1,000 yards in their rookie campaign.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- The Bears will pick first overall in the 2023 NFL draft. Well, well, well. Right when it looked like the Texans would fall at the Colts, Houston converted two wild fourth downs late, scored a touchdown and took the lead in the final minute with a two-point conversion. It might have been the best game Bears fans watched all season. Drama! And now for the first time since 1947, the Bears own the top overall selection in the draft. Even if general manager Ryan Poles can't drum up the proper market for the pick, it's always better to pick first than second. No one can steal your pick, if you want to play it that way. Trading down certainly feels like a strong option they'll be open to. But we implore Bears fans not to read too much into Poles' comments from now until April. His best bet is to fog the air with the possibility of using No. 1 on a quarterback, perhaps even downplaying the franchise's view of Justin Fields in the interim. Why? Well, then teams might start to think they really could draft a QB there. That, theoretically, should give them a better chance of moving the selection. If not, they stand pat and get a football player they love. The Bears might have lost to their division rivals Sunday, but they earned the first massive W of the offseason thanks to the Texans and Lovie Smith. Who knew Lovie would give his former team another victory a little more than a decade after it fired him?
- Kirk Cousins' first-half tuneup was exactly what you want to see as a Vikings fan. Recent Cousins outings have revived the chatter that the Vikings' QB is not the man to lead this team -- the one almost universally branded as the most overrated heading into the playoffs -- with his seriously up-and-down play. First there was the Jekyll-and-Hyde game against the Colts. Cousins was great against the Giants but far below great against the Packers last week. But in one half of action against Chicago in Week 18, Cousins was dialed in – and anything less would have raised the anxiety meter a few notches. This is not a good Bears defense, but Cousins hit on 17 of 20 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown in 30 minutes of work and arguably could have led five scoring drives in five chances, had it not been for a Dalvin Cook fumble and the end-of-half field-goal attempt coming one second too late. Now we get to see if Cousins can play this way in his upcoming home playoff game.
- The Bears still have a long way to go. Bears fans have anesthetized themselves for most of this season with the idea that they have football's most important position figured out. Fields, who did not play Sunday, might be that guy. But the truth is we don't fully know that yet. What we do know is that the Bears need to do a lot this offseason to improve the talent around him. The numbers don't tell the entire story, but it's worth reminding everyone -- Fields or not -- the Bears end this season with a franchise-worst 14 losses in a season and a franchise-long 10-game losing streak. Fields was out there for most of those. The Bears understandably have shed salary, especially on defense, over the past year with an eye on reloading for the future. They have the draft picks and the salary-cap space to do some real damage this offseason. But goodness, there are a lot of boxes that need checking.
Next Gen stat of the game: Kirk Cousins was 4 of 6 passing for 123 yards and a TD on passes of 10-plus air yards and 13 of 13 for 102 yards on passes of fewer than 10 air yards.
NFL Research: With four catches and 38 yards Sunday, Justin Jefferson became the sixth NFL player with 1,800-plus receiving yards in a season and the ninth to catch 125 or more passes.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- Draft drama made Texans-Colts must-see TV. What a league. Fans and media alike breathlessly tweeted and monitored the scores of the Texans-Colts and Vikings-Bears games like it was the Super Bowl. As the teams' games went back and forth, the pace did not slow down. People care about the 2023 NFL Draft, clearly. The Texans appeared to be on the verge of clinching the No. 1 overall pick after the Colts took a seven-point lead with 3:33 remaining. But that's when Davis Mills connected on two fourth downs -- fourth-and-12, followed by fourth-and-20 -- and a two-point conversion to take the lead and hang on against the Colts, who have made art of blown leads a few times this season. And just like that -- poof! -- the top pick in the draft went with it. The Bears now will pick first overall, and the Texans second (along with their other first-rounder). And now we'll spend the next four-plus months dissecting what that will mean for both franchises. Forget playoff drama. Draft drama is where it's at, kids. Even if Texans fans might not be too happy about it right now.
- The future of the Texans is very much up in the air. Lovie Smith oversaw a vastly improved team down the stretch this season, winning two games and losing to the Cowboys by four in Dallas and the Chiefs by six in overtime. Sunday was proof that he had no designs on this tanking business, and who knows? It might even cost him his job, as rumblings have floated that Smith’s future in Houston might not be very secure right now. But good for Smith, if this is it -- he went out the way a prideful coach is supposed to, competing until the end. He certainly did his Bears friends a solid by coaching the Texans to a victory Sunday. Texans fans won't love this development, of course, but can they blame Smith for wanting to go out on top if this is indeed it? How Smith was supposed to win consistently with this roster is anyone's guess, but he made it pretty competitive late in the season. Whether he deserves another shot as coach is pretty immaterial; the Texans won't look at it that way. After a decision on Smith, they'll now have to drill down on Mills at the QB position and determine whether the now-costlier method of drafting a quarterback will be worth it. After all, Chicago could trade its pick back … but it will cost Houston.
- Colts also helped their draft status. Lost a bit in the mayhem of the Texans' comeback and the draft implications it held was the fact that the Colts finished the season with a 4-12-1 mark, which guaranteed that Indianapolis will pick no lower than fifth in the 2023 NFL Draft. They, like the Texans, might be looking hard at the draft's QB options. Sam Ehlinger isn't solely to blame for Sunday's loss, even with the two picks he threw. He's a competitive quarterback who might be in the plans for next year, just not as the starter. Matt Ryan appears to be out of the team's plans, as the aging-veteran method to addressing the position has not worked since Andrew Luck retired. There's also the matter of Jeff Saturday's status as interim head coach. So, yeah, there's a lot to dissect in Indy. But the good news is that the Colts are still in a good spot to land a QB -- or at least, a good spot from which to trade up.
Next Gen stat of the game: The Texans had a win probability of 6.5% prior to their fourth-and-12 conversion on their final offensive drive.
NFL Research: With their win Sunday, the Texans are the first team to lose 12-plus games in a season despite having a winning record versus divisional opponents (3-2-1).
Nick Shook's takeaways:
- Pittsburgh's defense rises to the occasion. The Steelers didn't take the NFL lead for the most interceptions as a team (20) by accident, and they certainly didn't luck into their takeaways Sunday. Powered by a relentless pass rush that feasted on backup tackle James Hudson and embattled starter Jedrick Wills, the Steelers snagged two Deshaun Watson passes for interceptions, then watched their offense turn those takeaways into 10 points. Sunday was a triumphant capper to a career year for edge rusher Alex Highsmith, who recorded 2.5 sacks to bring his 2022 total to 14.5. As a team, Pittsburgh finished with seven sacks, and if Watson wasn't exceptionally elusive, they might have reached double digits. The seven were certainly enough to slam the door on the Browns, though, and keep Mike Tomlin from recording the first losing season of his stellar coaching career.
- Browns can't get out of their own way. With little to play for, Sunday became an interesting examination of how the eliminated Browns might respond against a division rival. Defensively, they created early opportunities for a second straight week. But errors on both sides of the ball spelled their demise. Penalties undercut early offensive gains, Watson was frequently under duress (and threw two ugly interceptions), and Joe Woods' defense had a horrible day, giving up a number of third-down conversions and blowing coverage once again in allowing Pittsburgh's first touchdown of the day. Cleveland closed a disappointing 2022 season with a performance that won't inspire much optimism entering the offseason, and Woods capped a tough year by failing to scheme up a defense well enough to get off the field on key downs. We'll see if he's still on the staff next season.
- Bright future ahead for Pickett and Pickens. The rookie quarterback-receiver duo produced a number of highlights in their debut seasons, and Sunday didn't disappoint. Kenny Pickett found George Pickens down the seam for a wide-open touchdown to kick off the Steelers' scoring efforts in the first half Sunday, and the two teamed up for a couple of fantastic completions, including one that moved the chains on a key put-away drive in the fourth quarter. Pickett didn't see a full season's workload in 2022, and Pickens didn't become a major part of the offensive game plan until the first month of the season was just about finished, but both will be major parts of the Steelers' plans moving forward. We should expect the Pickett-Pickens duo to become a household pairing in the years ahead, which can stand as a silver lining for the Steelers narrowly missing the playoffs in 2022.
Next Gen stat of the game: Pittsburgh got after Watson all afternoon, recording a QB pressure percentage of 44.4, 10% higher than Watson's average pressure faced in Weeks 13-17.
NFL Research: Mike Tomlin has finished each of his first 16 seasons as an NFL head coach (2007-2022) with a winning percentage of .500 or better, which is the longest such streak to start career by any head coach in NFL history. Pittsburgh has gone 19 seasons without a losing record, which ties the second-longest streak without a losing season in NFL history.