Week 18 in the NFL did not disappoint, as the 49ers and Rams’ overtime game filled the evening gap before the Chargers and Raiders came perilously close to both making the playoffs with a tie on Sunday Night Football. San Francisco and Las Vegas ended up pulling out the wins in those games to secure their playoff berths, and now the NFL Playoff Field is set.
The end of the regular season also brings Black Monday, which began on Sunday when the Broncos fired Vic Fangio, who posted a 7-10 record in 2021 despite general manager George Paton’s failure to acquire a playoff-caliber quarterback. A similar scenario played out in Miami, where the Dolphins fired head coach Brian Flores and kept general manager Chris Grier despite the latter individual being as bad as anyone in the NFL at this job.
Grier did hit on this year’s first-round picks, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and edge rusher Jaelan Phillips, but he also assembled a 2021 roster that has featured zero starting-caliber offensive linemen, a consistent theme of the last three seasons, and drafted Tua Tagovailoa as his franchise quarterback over Justin Herbert. The Flores move was something of a shock, but then again, Stephen Ross owns the Dolphins, so this is about par for the course.
In expected moves, Chicago and Minnesota cleaned house on Monday morning, and while the Giants had not made an announcement at the time this was written, it is expected they will fire GM Dave Gettleman and perhaps head coach Joe Judge, who did not do himself any favors with his insane press-conference rant a week ago. Jaguars GM Trent Baalke and Raiders GM Mike Mayock are also in tenuous situations after their respective teams moved on from their head coaches, who both had organizational control, during the NFL season.
As those teams head to the golf course, NFL fans will shift their attention to a wide-open playoff field; this article will touch on Sunday’s disappointments, then break down the NFC and AFC Playoff fields. All odds are from DraftKings.
The Chargers made a case as the biggest disappointment with their debatable time-out call before Raiders running back Josh Jacobs ripped off a ten-yard carry on 3rd and 4 to set up a game-winning field goal, but ultimately, their failure did not approach the Colts’ debacle.
Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence was put into an exceptionally difficult situation during his first NFL season and his play suffered, but he ended his season on a high note. Lawrence set the tone early, going eight of eight on a game-opening touchdown drive that included conversions on 3rd and 13 and 3rd and 10, and played a clean game throughout, with two touchdowns to zero interceptions.
For the Colts, it was an alarming performance from quarterback Carson Wentz, who was outplayed by Jacksonville’s rookie despite Indianapolis having superior talent on the offensive line, at wide receiver, and at running back, where the Jaguars were playing street free agents. It was awesome to see running back Ryquell Armstead, who has battled significant health issues since contracting COVID early last year, lead the Jaguars in rushing in this win, but Colts fans are unlikely to take solace in that inspiring performance as they enter an offseason that will be filled with questions about Wentz. Indianapolis is stuck with Wentz moving forward after trading so much to acquire him, but he looks nothing like the player who appeared poised for superstardom early in his NFL career, and his high-risk style does not appear to be a great fit in an offense built around running back Jonathan Taylor.
Los Angeles has more reason for optimism entering the offseason, as quarterback Justin Herbert has established himself as one of the NFL’s most talented quarterbacks, but after a 4-1 start that included a win over the division-rival Chiefs, a 5-7 finish to miss the playoffs is rough. The cap flexibility offered by the combination of Herbert and left tackle Rashawn Slater, who are elite players at premium positions on rookie contracts, should allow Los Angeles to make upgrades this offseason, but the Chargers need to make significant improvements on defense heading into 2022 to avoid a repeat of 2021.
The NFC Field
It was a close thing for the Saints, who nearly made the playoffs despite starting four different quarterbacks during this NFL season, but the 49ers pulled off an epic comeback over the Rams to secure the NFC’s final playoff spot. After Sunday’s action, Green Bay is on a bye as the one seed, while Tampa Bay will host Philadelphia, Dallas will host San Francisco, and the Los Angeles Rams will host Arizona.
While Dallas blew out Philadelphia’s backups, the more significant performances of the NFL weekend came from Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, who went in different directions on Sunday. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady posted a 90.3 QBR and 130.4 QB Rating as he threw for 326 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions, which should end the talk that the Antonio Brown distraction would waylay this team, while Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford could not find a way to pull out the win against the 49ers despite his phenomenal start to the game. Stafford’s performances continue to leave little doubt about his talent, but he has not consistently played winning football, and after their loss, the Rams face a significantly more difficult playoff path. Unless the Bucs and Cowboys both lose next weekend, Los Angeles will go on the road for their second playoff game (assuming they beat Arizona), and if the favorites all win, that would mean a trip to Green Bay.
The Packers are the clear favorite to win the NFC at +160, with Tampa Bay in second at +350. Things get more interesting from there, as the Rams (+450, 4th seed) have shorter odds than the Cowboys (+600, 3rd seed), and the 49ers (+1000, 6th seed) come in ahead of Arizona (+1200, 5th seed). Philadelphia rounds out the field as a long-shot at +3000, a common theme for the NFL’s Pennsylvania teams in the playoffs. Green Bay got left tackle David Bakhtiari back for the first time this season on Sunday and expect cornerback Jaire Alexander back as well; given that the Packers were already the favorite, the addition of elite players at two premium positions makes it hard to bet against them, particularly as they have the first-round bye, but the Bucs did beat them in the NFC Championship game in Green Bay last year, and Tom Brady seems to have a knack for winning Super Bowls.
The AFC Field
Tennessee picked up another win without star running back Derrick Henry to secure the AFC’s top seed and a first-round bye, which should ensure that Henry is ready to roll for Tennessee’s playoff opener. It is an impressive accomplishment that has head coach Mike Vrabel at the top of the Coach of the Year discussion, though Steelers coach Mike Tomlin also has a strong case after Pittsburgh made the playoffs, which set up matchups between the Chiefs and Steelers, Bills and Patriots, and Bengals and Raiders for the first round of the AFC playoffs.
The Titans (+330) are slightly ahead of the Bills (+350) for the second-best odds in the AFC, with the Chiefs in the lead position at +175. Tennessee’s leap from last week was a bit bizarre; they were +500 ahead of their matchup with the Texans, a great price for a team that was poised to secure the first-round bye, though one might have thought NFL bettors would have anticipated Tennessee’s win over the Texans and bet accordingly. NFL analysts and bettors alike have struggled to take Tennessee seriously since Henry went down, and this shift in odds is the latest reflection of that reality.
Cincinnati comes in 4th in AFC odds at +700, followed by the Patriots (+1000), Raiders (+2000), and Steelers (+3500). The odds indicate that Kansas City is seen as the best team by a significant margin, given that they have significantly better odds than Tennessee even though Kansas City has to beat an NFL football team in the first round to reach the divisional round. The Steelers have not been overly impressive this season, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not close to the player he once was, but edge rusher T.J. Watt, who tied Michael Strahan’s NFL sack record on Sunday, will line up against the Chiefs’ right tackle, Andrew Wylie, who is the weak link on their offensive line. The Chiefs should win this game comfortably, but the same was true of the Colts in their matchup with the Jaguars, and Indianapolis is sitting at home now, a good reminder that in the NFL, anything can happen.
If the Chiefs did lose, the AFC field would be wide open, but while they have lost to the Titans, Bills, and Bengals this year, Kansas City has a championship pedigree and is arguably the most talented team. Given their respective records against their conference’s playoff fields, the Packers seem like the better favorite to pick from these two teams, but the Chiefs have a track record of getting over the top, while the Packers have stumbled in two straight NFC Title games, and that has to count for something.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL this weekend. For more of The Professor’s content check him out on BeerLife Sports!