The NFL playoff field is in place and the regular season is officially over.
It wasn’t football’s most aesthetic Sunday, but the first list of games following the near-tragedy involving Buffalo Bills safety’s Damar Hamlin last Monday gave a sense of normality.
Hamlin’s No. 3 has been all over the league, a show of solidarity that has harmonized not just the league but the entire country.
The Bills secured second place in the AFC with a 35-23 win over the New England Patriots. The Bills and Hamlin kick off the final batch of winners and losers of the 2022-23 regular season:
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Nyheim Hines replied a Kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown on the very first draw of Sunday’s game.
It’s been a poetic start for Hines and a Bills club who have had an emotional week reflecting on all things surrounding Damar Hamlin’s injury and recovery. However, Hines wasn’t done yet. In the third quarter, he returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown giving the Patriots a 21-17 lead. Buffalo prevailed with a 35-23 win to secure the AFC’s No. 2 playoff title. Hines is the 11th player in NFL history with two kick return touchdowns in the same game and the first since 2010.
Although Hamlin did not play, the role he played in lifting his team’s spirits after the trauma they suffered on the field on Monday was undeniable.
As he continues his recovery, Hamlin was again able to FaceTime his teammates. He broke the team down in the dressing room and was awarded the ball.
Philadelphia could have bagged the #1 NFC and NFC East crown weeks ago. But Jalen Hurts’ injured right shoulder presented a late-season hurdle.
Hurts returned for Week 18 against the New York Giants, who were already seeded 6th in the NFC and opted to rest starters on both sides of the ball. The Eagles closed the deal with a 22-16 win and are rewarded with a bye and home field advantage in the playoffs. Another week for Hurts to rest his shoulder is another added bonus.
Smith won’t be the Houston Texans’ head coach next year. His decision to go for a two-point conversion late in the game against the Indianapolis Colts could be the nail in the coffin. (The 3-13-1 record didn’t help.)
Because of their 32-31 win and the loss of the Chicago Bears, the Texans will now pick second in the 2023 NFL draft. It’s not the end of the world, with multiple quarterbacks slated to lead the first round, but still not ideal.
Give Smith lots of credit for ignoring all of that and playing for a win. At least he doesn’t have to coach the Texans anymore.
Speaking of which, the Bears are a “winner” this week despite losing their 10th straight game. The Bears already have a potential franchise quarterback in Justin Fields, and the question, “Which team will trade for the No. 1?” Discourse is music to general manager Ryan Poles’ ears.
The Bengals held Baltimore 26-16 and avoided a coin toss to determine the location of next week’s playoff matchup against the Ravens. The back-to-back AFC North champion will host division rivals Ravens in back-to-back weeks.
Joe Burrow and the Bengals celebrated another division title with cigars after the Week 18 win.
“That’s our standard now,” Burrow said after the game. “We will celebrate it every time we do it. We’ll smoke our cigars and wear our t-shirts and hats, but that’s what we expect every year.”
What a roller coaster of emotions for the “12” on Sunday. The dejected Rams sent the Seahawks into overtime, with Seattle needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Seahawks walked away with a 19-16 win as rookie running back Kenneth Walker ran for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season.
Seattle held its breath for Sunday night’s contest, needing the Detroit Lions to knock out the Green Bay Packers to allow the Seahawks to slip to 7th in the seed. Detroit won 20-16, setting up a trip for the Seahawks to San Francisco for a wild card matchup against the Niners. The #5 pick they’ll have in the 2023 draft, courtesy of the Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson, is icing on the cake.
The Lions, eliminated by kicking off their matchup against the Packers, had nothing to play at Lambeau Field. It didn’t matter. Head coach Dan Campbell’s club were as aggressive as ever in winning to knock Green Bay out of the playoffs. The Lions finish the regular season 9-8 in Year 2 for Campbell.
They make the list almost standard. First-year coach Mike McDaniel is in the playoffs, and the team needed a win against the New York Jets with quarterback Skylar Thompson to redeem their ticket. Before that, they had lost five times in a row. You’ll need either starter Tua Tagovailoa or backup Teddy Bridgewater to stand a chance in a wild card matchup against No. 2 Buffalo.
Special teams of the New England Patriots
The Patriots will miss the postseason due to an unfortunate fling and a disastrous special team performance. Those two reasons would have been unfathomable at any other point in Bill Belichick’s tenure.
Hines’ runbacks were the difference in a New England defeat that sunk the playoff chances of a club facing a win-and-in scenario. The second touchdown was a clear lack of unit effort, a part of the game Belichick is particularly passionate about.
Offense and special teams were a disaster, the defense only played marginally better. Dak Prescott threw a pick-six and was 14-to-37 while the Cowboys averaged 2.4 yards per carry on 27 total attempts. The performance was uninspiring considering the NFC East wasn’t out of range earlier in the day. Now Dallas will have to travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wildcard round, a team they’ve struggled with lately. Tom Brady’s 7-0 record against the Cowboys isn’t reassuring either.
Baltimore’s loss to Cincinnati secured the Chargers fifth place ahead of Los Angeles’ game against Denver. Though the game had no playoff impact, Staley wanted to “slowly phase out” his starters in Sunday’s meaningless game against the Broncos. However, the Chargers coach oddly held off quarterback Justin Herbert and the starters for most of the contest. Staley’s decision backfired. Wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a back injury during the game and did not return. Pass rusher Joey Bosa and inside linebacker Kenneth Murray were also thrashed in the 31-28 loss.
The occupation did not need to be confirmed, but the coaches were widely praised throughout the week after the reaction saved Hamlin’s life. In the fourth quarter, the Packers linebacker shoved a member of the Lions training staff who was handling running back D’Andre Swift.
Walker was rightly kicked out. It was his second exit this season. Both times, a member of the opposing team who wasn’t even playing was pushed.
Consecutive one-and-dones with the head coach. Her win on Sunday – one of seven in the last two seasons – cost her the No. 1 spot. And Josh McCown’s hiring looks imminent.
Green Bay packers
Like the Patriots, they failed to play in a win-and-in situation. The defense came off the field in the fourth quarter and a late Aaron Rodgers interception – perhaps his last throw of his Packers career? – prevented a comeback attempt.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.