The 32 things we learned from week 18 of the 2022 NFL season:
1. Six days after Buffalo Bills S. Damar Hamlin’s horrific collapse on the field after suffering cardiac arrest, how lovely it was to be back at full football this weekend – with an alert and recovering Hamlin backed by his watching from the hospital room?
2. Hamlin was clearly on his mind and prayers surrounding the league…not to mention his No.3, who adorned T-shirts (which also read ‘Love For Damar’) of players, coaches and staff while he was on the 30th in Blue and red were lit -yard lines from stadiums across the country.
3. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans came together in midfield Saturday night for a pregame prayer in Hamlin’s honor before kicking off their AFC South title game.
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4. But it’s hard to imagine the Bills returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the New England Patriots — Buffalo’s first game since Hamlin went down midway through the first quarter of last Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
4a. Buffalo’s Nyheim Hines actually brought in two kickoffs in the Bills’ 35-23 win over New England, the first time a player has done so in more than 12 years.
5. After the NFL canceled the Bills-Bengals Week 17 game Thursday night, the league made unprecedented efforts to build in scenarios that would have a measure of fairness given the massive playoff impact that the Buffalo-Cincinnati contest brought would create. However, no coin toss is required to determine a host city in the wild card round, and there remains only one scenario for a potential AFC championship game at a neutral venue — if the Bills match top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
6. The league will start exploring neutral venues in earnest this week as the possibility is viable. Detroit and Indianapolis have been raised as options, while Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis has also offered Sin City’s Allegiant Stadium as an alternative. “We’re here for the NFL if they need us,” Davis said Friday.
7. The best celebration on Sunday? Had to be Indianapolis Colts’ Rodney Thomas II, a high school teammate of Hamlin’s after intercepting a pass against the Houston Texans.
7a. Second best party on Sunday? How about Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon sarcastically tossing a coin in the end zone? Not required as the Bengals will host the Ravens again next week… and it remains to be seen if Baltimore will have QB Lamar Jackson once the playoffs begin.
8th. Bengals QB Joe Burrow threw his 35th TD pass of the season on Sunday, a new team record. He had previously set the record in the first quarter against Buffalo on Monday night … but that TD was wiped out by the game’s cancellation.
8a. Previously, Burrow set the franchise mark for a season of 34 TD passes last year.
9. It took longer than expected, but the Philadelphia Eagles eventually secured first place in the NFC and associated home field advantage and the first-round bye. The last time Philly won the conference regular-season crown was in 2017…then they won Super Bowl 52, their first championship since 1960.
10 The Eagles’ 14 regular-season wins are the most in the franchise’s 90-year history.
11. The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8) missed the postseason field by a tiebreaker but averted coach Mike Tomlin’s first losing season by winning six of their last seven games. Pittsburgh’s 19 consecutive campaigns without a under-.500 record is now two years short of the Dallas Cowboys’ 21-year lossless run between 1965 and 1985 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry.
TB12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady, who set NFL single-season records for pass attempts (733) and completions (490) on Sunday, is a member of its 19th division champion, and his Bucs will host the Cowboys during wildcard weekend.
12a. Brady is 7-0 all-time against Dallas, including a 19-3 win to open the 2022 season.
13. TB12’s former team, the Patriots, were eliminated from the playoff race on Sunday and have not won the AFC East since Brady bailed after the 2019 season.
14 Congratulations to Atlanta rookie QB Desmond Ridder, whose first two NFL TD passes allowed the Falcons to beat Bradys Bucs 30-17 on Sunday.
fifteen. In the five seasons since Patrick Mahomes became the starting quarterback in 2018, the Chiefs have earned the No. 1 spot in the AFC playoffs three times and secured first-round byes four times.
16 Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler finished the tournament with a team-record 107 catches.
17 Chargers QB Justin Herbert threw his 24th and 25th TD passes this season, allowing him to join Peyton Manning as the only player with at least 25 in each of his first three NFL seasons.
18 Of course, it’s definitely worth wondering why Herbert, Ekeler and other key Bolts played in a game that didn’t affect their playoff seeding…especially since WR Mike Williams was transported away with a back injury. Ekeler even ended up making two tackles against lost Chargers fumbles, one of which was his own. Not great, Brandon Staley.
19 With rookie QB3 Skylar Thompson at the helm, the Miami Dolphins didn’t score a touchdown — nor did they give up one — on Sunday, but their 11-6 win over the New York Jets was enough to earn the AFC’s final playoff berth.
20 The Finns haven’t won a playoff game in more than 22 years, the longest losing streak without a postseason win in the AFC.
21 Only the Detroit Lions, who last won a playoff game after the 1991 season, have had a longer losing streak.
22 Of course, the game of the day took place between the Texans and Colts, who were also led, probably the two worst teams in the league. But kudos to the Texans for clinching a 32-31 win, including the game-winning two-point conversion in the last minute, though the win cost them the 2023 draft pick.
23 So what will the Chicago Bears do with this No. 1 pick, which they’re holding for the first time since 1947? There will certainly be trade talks as it appears they already have their franchise quarterback in Justin Fields. But if they stick and pick? Meet Georgia DT Jalen Carter and Alabama OLB Will Anderson Jr. Chicago fans.
24 If you’re counting, that’s seven TD catches in the last four games for San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle. Seems to bode well for the NFC’s No. 2 in the postseason.
25 If you’re counting, that’s seven straight games with at least one interception for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott. Seems to point to ominous things in the postseason for the NFC No. 5, who has to travel to Tampa next weekend.
26 AFC South champions Jaguars are the first team since the 2008 Dolphins to win a division this season after posting the league’s worst record.
26a. This marks the 18th time in the past 20 seasons that at least one team has won its division in the season after finishing last or finishing last.
27 This is also the 33rd consecutive season that at least four teams have qualified for the in-season playoffs after failing to make them. The Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville, Chargers, Miami, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants all missed the 2021 postseason.
28 The Raiders’ RB Josh Jacobs and WR Davante Adams became the first teammates of this century with 1,500 yards rushing and receiving respectively.
28a. The last 1,500-yard rushing/receiving teammates were Hall of Famers Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison for the 1999 Colts.
29 Memo to the New Orleans Saints: They have great uniforms…but you shouldn’t wear the all-white shorts with black jerseys. Let’s not see that again.
30 Shoutout to Carolina Panthers interim HC Steve Wilks, who went 6-6 after inheriting a roster that looked like roadkill after Matt Rhule was fired after a 1-4 start.
31 Have we seen the last of Rams coach Sean McVay on the LA sidelines? If the whispers are true and he chooses to walk away from the franchise that won him the Lombardi Trophy last season, his final season would be the worst ever for a defending Super Bowl champion. The Rams’ 12 losses are two more than any other team in the year following a Super Sunday triumph.
32 Last but certainly not least, salute to retired Arizona Cardinals star JJ Watt, who has collected two sacks in his 160th game (including playoffs). His 12½ sacks in 2022 was Watts’ second-highest in the past seven seasons.
32a. But it must be reiterated that, despite being almost a surefire first-choice Hall of Famer in 2028, Watt should be remembered as a better person than a football player.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.