Welcome to Part I of my Monday Morning Quarterback Post for Week 18. The playoffs are now set after 17 games of NFL madness this season. I hope your favorite team qualified, if not well good luck next year!
A number of games this week really didn't mean anything, but the NFL (and us fans) got lucky because most of the games that had playoff consequences came right down to the wire before being settled. A massive upset in the AFC changed the playoff picture in that conference and made several games more meaningful.
This post will cover the two Saturday games and the early slate on Sunday. Part II will cover the late slate on Sunday, which had some more meaningful games. Of course the big upset in the early slate made some of those games even more meaningful.
Just remember I am a Dallas Cowboys fan and I'm extremely biased. Feel free to agree or disagree with anything mentioned here. All comments are welcome.
Practice Makes Perfect
Cowboys 51 Eagles 26
The Cowboys and Eagles have one of the bitterest rivalries in the NFL. However in Week 18 their game was rather meaningless. Dallas had already clinched the division and Philadelphia had already clinched a playoff spot. Neither team had much of a chance to improve their position.
Each team took a different approach to this game. The Eagles decided to play it safe and rest their starters. Dallas decided to play their regulars to get some momentum heading into the postseason. The result was a massacre. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed it.
Not much to say here as this game was essentially a glorified practice for the Cowboys. The defense was missing a number of starters due to covid, including Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. The Eagles took advantage to hang around for a while, but the Cowboy offense beat up the Eagles backup defense all night long.
Dak Prescott (21/27, 295 yards, 5 TDs) had open receivers all over the field. Zeke Elliott (18 rushes, 87 yards) had his best performance in months. The game got so ridiculous Dallas pulled their 4th and 5th string running backs off of the bench to score TDs. They looked great, but it was just a warmup.
The Cowboys finished the season 12-5, winners of the NFC East and the #3 seed in the NFC. Next week they will host the #6 seed San Francisco 49ers Sunday evening. Not a great matchup for Dallas and I am worried.
The Eagles played it safe and took their beating in stride. Gardner Minshew (19/33, 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) did what he could with the backups. The Eagles finished the season 9-8 and claimed the #7 seed in the NFC. They will play the #2 seed Buccaneers in Tampa Bay next Sunday afternoon.
Upset Of The Week
Jaguars 26 Colts 11
A lot of playoff implications were up in the air in the AFC heading into Week 18. However most of them would have been solved early if the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sounded simple enough. The Colts are a pretty good team. The Jaguars are a dumpster fire who reek so bad the few fans who bothered to show up for their season finale dressed up as clowns to let management know how pissed off they are about the situation.
That is why they play the game.
What the hell Indy? All the Colts had to do in Week 18 was defeat a 2-14 team to make the playoffs. And they blew it in spectacular fashion. The Jaguars kicked their asses. It was never close. Jacksonville led 26-3 in the 4th quarter before the Colts scored a garbage time TD. Wow.
Should we have seen this coming? The Colts were the only team to lose to the Jaguars last season and haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014. But c’mon! The Jaguars were terrible, beyond terrible. The Colts had a top notch defense and the best running back in the NFL in Jonathan Taylor. Indy was a massive 14.5 point favorite.
Yet with everything on the line the Colts collapsed. Carson Wentz (17/29, 185 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 fumble) picked the wrong time to have a terrible game. The Colts front office has to be wondering why they traded two first round draft picks to pick him up. Jonathan Taylor (15 rushes, 77 yards) was good as usual, but with Indy trailing by so many points the running game had to be abandoned.
The Colts defense fell flat on their faces right out of the gate by letting the Jaguars march down the field and score a TD with the game’s first possession. They let the Jags convert half of their 3rd and 4th down plays and forced zero turnovers. Top to bottom it was a poor showing by Indianapolis in their most important game of the year. The Colts finished the season 9-8 and missed the playoffs. What a disappointing way to end the year. The Colts only needed to win one of their final two games to advance.
Congrats to the Jacksonville Jaguars. They had nothing to play for but pride. Trevor Lawrence (23/32, 223 yards, 2 TDs) had his best game of the season against a very good defense. That should give the long suffering Jaguars fans a little glimmer of hope heading into the offseason.
Despite the win, Jacksonville still secured the #1 pick in next year’s draft by finishing with a league worst 3-14 record. Hopefully they can find a coach who will know what to do with it.
Steelers 16 Ravens 13 OT
If the Colts would have won, this game would have been meaningless. However the Colts flop opened up a playoff opportunity for each team. They were scoreboard watching and knew the situation.
This game was a hard fought defensive battle. Neither offense could get much going in the first half and the game was tied 3-3 at halftime. The Ravens offense broke through first in the second half when Latavius Murray busted out a 46 yard TD run to put Baltimore ahead 10-3.
The Steelers responded with a field goal, then the defenses took over again. The Steelers trailed 10-6 with eight minutes left in the 4th quarter when Ben Roethlisberger found a little of his old magic. He started hitting on some passes and finally led Pittsburgh to their first TD of the game. With 3 minutes left the Steelers led 13-10.
Staring the end of their season right in the face, Tyler Huntley stepped up to the plate. He broke off a 21 yard run and completed a few passes to move the Ravens into field goal range. Justin Tucker hit the 46 yard kick to tie the game 13-13. Overtime was coming.
The Ravens won the toss and took the first possession in overtime. They got a couple of first downs, but their drive stalled at midfield. They punted and the Steelers took over on their own 17-yard line. Roethlisberger connected on several passes to move Pittsburgh across midfield. Then Najee Harris rushed around the left end for a fifteen yard gain to give the Steelers a first down on the Ravens 16-yard line. The Steelers took no chances from there, they sent out Chris Boswell to kick a game-winning field goal.
What a good game. Each team left everything on the field knowing a win could mean a long shot playoff spot was possible. The dream came true for Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger will have to put his retirement plans on hold for at least another week.
Roethlisberger (30/44, 244 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) is not the same quarterback he used to be, but when the season was on the line he made the veteran plays to put the Steelers into position to win. Najee Harris (11 rushes, 28 yards) was injured during the game, but came back to make a huge run in overtime.
The Steelers defense was brutal, forcing three turnovers and sacking Huntley three times. The Steelers finished the season 9-7-1 and snuck into the playoffs with the #7 seed in the AFC. They will play the Chiefs in Kansas City next Sunday night. The defense will need to be excellent for Pittsburgh to score the upset.
Tough ending to a tough season for the Baltimore Ravens. This team was ravaged by injuries before the season even started and things got worse as the season carried on. Somehow the Ravens streaked out to an 8-3 record, but reality came crashing down eventually as Baltimore dropped their last six games. Losing Lamar Jackson in Week 14 was the final nail in the coffin.
Tyler Huntley (16/31, 141 yards, 2 INTs) struggled against the Steelers pass rush. He did have success on the ground, rushing for 72 yards on 12 carries. Latavius Murray (16 rushes, 150 yards, 1 TD) kept the Ravens in the game with several big runs. The Ravens finished the season 8-9. Despite all their struggles, they deserve some credit for even making it to Week 18 with a small chance of making the playoffs.
Around The League
Chiefs 28 Broncos 24
Not much was on the line in Denver on Saturday. The Broncos were already eliminated from the playoffs and the Chiefs had a slim chance of improving their seed. But both teams came out ready to play and kicked off Week 18 with a good game.
The Broncos offense has been very poor this year, but they hung tough with the Chiefs. The Chiefs took an early 7-0 lead, but Denver responded with a TD of their as the 1st quarter ended with a 7-7 tie.
The Chiefs only gained two yards with their second possession and punted back to Denver. The Broncos unleashed their ground attack and ran the rock right down the field. Drew Lock finished of the drive with a 23 yard quarterback scramble for a TD. The Chiefs then kicked a field goal before the defense took over for the rest of the quarter. The Broncos took a surprising 14-10 lead into halftime.
Kansas City got the ball first in the second half and Patrick Mahomes broke off a long quarterback scramble of his own to help the Chiefs score a TD and retake the lead 17-14. The Broncos fired back with some big plays. Drew Lock connected on a 31 yard pass before Melvin Gordon smashed through the defense with a 47 yard TD run. Denver held a 21-17 lead entering the 4th quarter.
The Chiefs drove into Broncos territory to start the final period, but the drive stalled at the 32-yard line and they settled for a field goal. Holding a slim one point lead, the Broncos took the ball deep into Chiefs territory. They had a chance to finish off Kansas City, but disaster struck. Melvin Gordon fumbled the ball and Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton returned the turnover for an 86 yard TD. The Chiefs went for two and converted to go ahead 28-21.
The Broncos kicked another field goal, but the Chiefs got the ball with five minutes left and bled out the clock with several first downs to escape the Rocky Mountains with a close win.
Patrick Mahomes (27/44, 270 yards, 2 TDs) not only had a good day in the air, but also led the Chiefs offense on the ground: 9 rushes, 54 yards. Tyreek Hill left early with an injury, but Mecole Hardman (8 receptions, 103 yards) stepped up in his place. Kansas City finished the season 12-5 and captured the #2 seed in the AFC. They will host the Steelers next Sunday night.
The Broncos surprisingly took it to the Chiefs, but they unsurprisingly blew it with a turnover in the 4th quarter. Drew Lock (12/24, 162 yards, 2 rushing TDs) wasn’t strong in the air, but the running back committee backed him up with 191 yards on the ground. The Broncos finished the season 7-10. After the game Denver fired head coach Vince Fangio, who went 19-30 in three seasons as the Broncos head coach.
Browns 21 Bengals 16
The battle for Ohio didn’t mean much in Week 18. The Bengals already clinched the AFC North division title and the Browns already were eliminated from the playoffs. Lots of backups played in the game.
Cincinnati didn’t start quarterback Joe Burrow or running back Joe Mixon. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase played long enough to catch two passes for 26 yards in order to set a new NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie.
The Bengals only goal in this game was to leave with all of their players healthy. They still almost won with their backups because the Browns are still the Browns. Cincinnati finished the season 10-7, securing the #3 seed in the AFC. They will host the Las Vegas Raiders next Saturday afternoon.
The Browns finally benched an injured Baker Mayfield and let Case Keenum (17/24, 176 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) start the final game. Maybe if they had done that a few weeks earlier they could have snuck into the playoffs. Cleveland pounded the Bengals on the ground behind D’Ernest Johnson (25 rushes, 123 yards, 1 TD) and Nick Chubb (9 rushes, 58 yards).
Cleveland finished the season 8-9, which was very disappointing considering what they accomplished last year with basically the same team. The Browns will have to decide if they want to continue with Baker Mayfield or move on this offseason.
Lions 37 Packers 30
The Green Bay Packers were the only team in the NFL that had their final playoff slot fully locked up heading into Week 18. The NFC North champions had already secured the best record in the NFC and therefore clinched the #1 seed.
With a bye coming up next week, the Packers decided to let their starters play the first half. That was smart. Too often I see teams that have a bye decide to rest their starters in the final week. That means those players go three full weeks without playing a down of football in a game situation. That is too long, players get rusty and momentum is lost. I’ve seen it happen so many times, including to my Cowboys. Practice is no substitute for real competition. One week off should be enough.
With that being said, you can’t completely discount what the Lions accomplished in Week 18. The Packers played their starters in the first half and Detroit was ahead 17-13 at the half. Could have they held on for the win if the Packers played their starters in the second half? Doubtful. Yet the Lions went head-to-head with the best team in the NFC for a half and came out ahead. There are no moral victories in the NFL, but that was a moral victory. When you are the Detroit Lions you have to take what you can get.
Jared Goff (21/30, 238 yards, 2 TDs) finished up his first season in Detroit with a good game. He did most of his damage with Amon-Ra St. Brown (8 receptions, 109 yards, 1 TD) and Kalif Raymond (4 receptions, 101 yards, 1 TD). The Lions finished the season 3-13-1 and will get the #2 pick in next year’s draft.
I’d say Detroit head coach Dan Campbell had a decent first year. Sure their record stinks, but look at the roster. They have very little talent. Still the Lions didn’t get blown out much and were very competitive in most of their games. The effort was there, the talent wasn’t. Kudos to Campbell for creating a culture where his team played hard despite the fact they knew they were outmanned every week.
Mission accomplished for the Green Bay Packers. The final score meant nothing to them. They managed to play the starters for a half to help keep them sharp and nobody got hurt. I know that I mentioned this before, but it is important not to give your team too much rest before the playoffs. It hurts more than it helps. Think about all those Peyton Manning Colts teams. The Colts always clinched early and rested the starters at the end despite having a bye. And most of those seasons the Colts came out in the playoffs flat and went one & done. The Packers finished the season 13-4, the #1 seed in the NFC. They will enjoy a bye next week.
Vikings 31 Bears 17
Talk about a meaningless game, the Bears/Vikings matchup was one of two contests in Week 18 in which both teams missed the playoffs. If that wasn’t bad enough, both head coaches were dead men walking coming into this game and everyone in the country knew it. Including them.
What can I say about this game? The Vikings were flat for three quarters and trailed 17-10 heading into the final period. Then they must have realized how ashamed they would feel if they lost to Chicago and Kirk Cousins fired up the offense for two quick TD drives to take a 24-17 lead.
At that point the Bears realized they were about to lose to the Vikings. Oh no! How Embarrassing! So they unleashed Andy Dalton. And Andy Dalton unleashed a pick six to put the Bears down by two scores. Then the clock ran out, the game was over, nobody cared and everyone went home to begin their offseason.
OK I might have used a little artistic license here, but cut me some slack. Some games are hard for even a NFL die hard to get excited about. What I do know is the Vikings finished the season 8-9, the Bears finished 6-11 and neither team made the playoffs. On top of that both head coaches, Matt Nagy for Chicago and Mike Zimmer for Minnesota, were fired on Monday.
The Vikings have been perennial underachievers. They seem to have plenty of talent, but struggle to finish with a winning record. Was Mike Zimmer the problem? Or is Kirk Cousins not the answer at quarterback? I guess we’ll find out next year.
The Bears issues are a little more cut and dried. Chicago has not had a real good quarterback since Sid Luckman retired and he retired in 1950. In 1985 the Bears got away with a super defense and a strong running game. Those are still good today, but with the modern rules you need a quarterback who can play. Will Justin Fields be that guy? I hate to say it, but I didn’t see anything this year to make me think so.
No-Names 22 Giants 7
The other game in Week 18 that featured zero teams in the playoffs was this turd. Dear Lord, I actually watched some of this game out of morbid curiosity. Could it have been as bad as I thought it would be? The answer was yes. The Giants threw the towel in on this season weeks ago, so the No-Names expended minimal energy to beat them handily.
Since Daniel Jones went down with a neck injury, the Giants have had the absolute worst offense in the NFL. They can’t pass, they can’t run and somehow, in something that defies the laws of physics, the play calling has been even worse. Woof.
Washington knew the Giants couldn’t score, so they just ran over the Giants to put up a few points on the board. The No-Names gained 226 yards and a TD on the ground on 37 carries. The defense just stood there and waved their arms around. That was enough to confuse New York.
It seems hard to believe now, but before the season began most pundits were picking Washington to win the NFC East. (Not me, I picked the Cowboys ;). 2021 proved 2020 was a fluke for the No-Names, not something they could build on. They have no quarterback, the running back situation is up in the air and the defense was overrated. A good quarterback can cover up a lot of those problems, but I don’t know where they can find one. Washington finished the season 7-10.
The Giants didn’t have the worst record, they finished 4-13, but as the regular season came to a close they were the worst team in the league. Not even close. At least all the other bad teams continued to compete until the very end. Hell, most of them even showed at least a little improvement. Not New York. The Giants gave up weeks ago. Not just the players, the coaches too. It was sad to watch.
This clown show starts at the top with team president (and co-owner) John Mara. His hires for general manager and head coach have been lousy. Apparently he isn’t planning on firing head coach Joe Judge despite the fact that Judge has become a laughingstock around the league. The Giants won’t want to hear this but it’s true: right now the Jets are the better New Jersey team. Yikes.
Man, Part I kind of ended on a downer didn't it. Sorry about that, but the early slate on Sunday held all the rubbish. I promise things will pick up in Part II where all the games had playoff implications.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.