The Final Day of the NFL Season: A Fan’s Perspective

The National Football League certainly knows how to create suspense and intrigue fans heading into the final week of the regular season. The league doesn’t even announce its Week 18 schedule until late Sunday night the week before and schedules most of its matchups with similar ramifications during the same time slot to make sure teams keep their best players in games.

While most weeks see a doubleheader of games on either CBS or Fox, Week 18 gives both networks a crack at having two games, with fans being exposed to as much football as possible on the NFL’s most important day. The final day is action-packed for everyone watching live at the stadium or on television, but especially for “stat-heads” like this contributor.

The Background

You may know me as the writer of the “MLB Top 5” series on the Last Word On Sports website. I am a fan of the four main North American team sports, especially MLB and the NFL. I am also a self-professed “stat nut” who has been hooked ever since opening my first pack of baseball cards at age six. However, that fact isn’t surprising to anyone who knows me, considering I have been creating lists of just about everything since I was a kid and has been compiling the best lineups for each team in the major sports since I was in high school (hence my desire to write for this site). I have also been involved with fantasy sports since 2002, a fact that will also come into play in this article.

The Recaps

The NFL may have put most of its games on Sunday afternoon, but there were also two games on Saturday. The Nor’easter hitting the East Coast of the U.S. over the weekend played some part in some of these games, especially Saturday’s first game. The Steelers and Ravens braved the weather to play a defense-laden contest that ended with a 17-10 score in favor of visiting Pittsburgh. Baltimore kept MVP favorite Lamar Jackson out of the lineup. Although Mason Rudolph‘s 71-yard pass to Diontae Johnson put the Steelers ahead for good early in the fourth quarter, the real star of the game was Najee Harris, who ran for 112 yards and the first score of the game. The Steelers will have to wait for some results from the AFC South games to see whether they will make the playoffs or not.

On Saturday night, the Colts scored on their first possession with a Matt Gay field goal, but the Texans came right back on the very next play from scrimmage, with rookie sensation C.J. Stroud hitting Nico Collins with a 75-yard touchdown pass. Gay tied the score early in the fourth, but Stroud led another scoring drive, which was finished by Devin Singletary‘s three-yard run with 6:20 remaining. The game was in doubt until Gardner Minshew‘s fourth-down throw could not be corralled by young running back Tyler Goodson with 1:06 left, and Houston went on to win the AFC South by a 23-19 score. The end of the game had Super Bowl XLIX vibes. Jonathan Taylor was having a Marshawn Lynch-type dominating performance (30 carries for 188 yards), but Indy coach Shane Steichen decided not to give the ball to his best player when it mattered most. Collins finished the game with 195 yards receiving.

In addition to the games, my mind was on my fantasy team, which is playing for a championship against my best friend from college. Although T.J. Watt left the early game with an MCL sprain in his left knee (confirmed by his brother, J.J., on the CBS pregame coverage on Sunday), he put up 10 points before that. Along with 41 from Taylor and 10 from Colts linebacker E.J. Speed, the performance gives my opponent a 61-7 lead heading into Sunday’s games (I got seven points from Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn and none from Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith).

Sunday’s Early Afternoon Games

Before the games started, I had to make sure and remove the eight inches of snow that had accumulated on my car during the night and make sure my team was set with the latest injury updates and coaching decisions.

I decided to stick with the CBS game of the Jaguars and Texans over FOX, which was showing the Jets vs. Patriots game. Despite being a lifelong New Yorker (and Giants fan), I knew I couldn’t bear to hear about will this be Bill Belichick‘s final game for three hours.

Here is the rundown of the experience with the early games (all times Eastern):

1:00 p.m. – We’re off to Tennessee, where Kevin Harlan, Trent Green and Melanie Collins are on the call for the Titans and Jaguars.

1:10 – The day’s first score comes a little more than five minutes into the action, with Jaguars kicker Brandon McManus (an ex-Giant) puts a 44-yard field goal through the uprights.

1:17 – Game break to New Orleans where, after a Saints punt, the Falcons get on the board first with a 15-yard pass from Desmond Ridder to tight end Jonnu Smith.

1:19 – The Titans come right back, with Ryan Tannehill hitting Tyjae Spears with a screen pass. The running back took his 50th catch of the year 28 yards to the end zone for his first career touchdown to give his team a 7-3 lead.

1:30 – Back to New Orleans, where another of my fantasy starters, Derek Carr finds A.T. Perry with an 18-yard touchdown pass to tie the score 7-7.

1:31 – Game break to New Orleans (again) and the Falcons’ choice to start Ridder at quarterback is looking good at this point. Ridder zips a pass to rookie running back Bijan Robinson, who takes it the rest of the way for a 71-yard touchdown and a 14-7 Atlanta lead. Robinson is also on my fantasy team, so that adds 14 big points to my total.

1:37 – Game break to Detroit, where rookie running back (can you even call them rookies at this point?) Jahmyr Gibbs scored on a three-yard run to give the Lions a 13-0 lead over the Vikings.

1:38 – Both televised games reach the end of the first quarter, with the Titans up 3-0 on the Jaguars and the Jets beating the Patriots 3-0 in snowy Foxborough.

1:45 – Jaguars star Trevor Lawrence throws a picture-perfect 59-yard strike to his top target, wide receiver Calvin Ridley to take a 10-7 lead.

1:52 – Another look-in at the Saints and Falcons, and Kendre Miller reaches the end zone on a three-yard run to tie the score once again.

1:54 – One of the most consistent performers on my fantasy team this season, Titans running back Derrick Henry scores on an 18-yard run to put Tennessee in front 14-10 as we near the midway point of the second quarter.

2:01 – A Lawrence pass bounces off tight end Evan Engram (another ex-Giant) and into the hands of linebacker Tremaine Edmonds for an interception.

2:10 – Fans in Tennessee are booing their own team for taking Henry out in a goal line situation, but Spears converts from three yards out for a 21-10 lead.

2:21 – Lawrence overthrows Zay Jones and tosses his second pick of the game, this one by Sean Murphy-Bunting.

2:26 – Ty Zentner drops a punt snap and is tackled by Brenton Strange, giving the Jags the ball back in Titans’ territory.

2:31 – Following the events late in the first half, McManus kicks a 30-yard field goal as time expired to cut the Tennessee lead to 21-13.

2:45-2:48 – There’s no better way Tennessee (or my fantasy team) to start the second half than with Henry’s 69-yard run. Two plays later, Tannehill finds star receiver DeAndre Hopkins with a six-yard pass for a 28-13 Titans lead.

2:52 – Game break to New Orleans, where Carr hits Chris Olave with a 26-yard scoring pass to give the Saints a 24-17 advantage.

3:04 – Back to New Orleans where, just over four minutes after their previous score, the Saints add to their lead with a 39-yard pass from Carr to Rashid Shaheed.

3:17 – Engram atones for his earlier mistake, catching a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut Jacksonville’s deficit to 28-20.

3:23 – Andre Cisco intercepted Tannehill and returns it 29 yards into Tennessee territory to give Jacksonville life.

3:32 – Jacksonville’s ensuing drive ending mere inches from the end zone when Lawrence’s lunge on fourth and goal was stopped by Quinton Bohanna.

3:55-3:58 – Lawrence overthrows Engram on fourth-and-2 with 1:50 left. Three kneel-downs later, the Titans hold on for a 28-20 victory, giving them a 6-11 record. The Jaguars lost their final four games and five of their last six to go from 8-3 to 9-8 and out of the playoffs. The result gives the Steelers the final spot in the AFC playoffs.

Here is the recap of the early Sunday action:

Henry finished with 153 yards and a score in what could be his final game with the Titans. He is a free agent at the end of the season. Lawrence threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns and Ridley caught six passes for 106 yards and a score for the Jaguars.

Maybe weather isn’t the only factor in low-scoring games. Chase McLaughlin kicked three field goals to give Tampa Bay a 9-0 win and the NFL South title. The biggest play of the game was a pass from the top pick in the draft, Bryce Young, to receiver D.J. Chark. The play should have been a 43-yard touchdown, but only one problem … Chark lost the ball before he crossed the plane of the goal line, and the fumble was recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

Jake Browning threw three touchdown passes and Joe Mixon ran for 111 yards and a touchdown and added a receiving score in a 31-14 win for the Bengals over the Browns.

Jared Goff threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns and Amon-Ra St. Brown caught seven passes for 144 yards and a score to give the lions a 30-20 win over the Vikings. Nick Mullens threw for 396 yards and two scores and star receiver Justin Jefferson caught 12 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown for Minnesota in a losing effort. Goff took over the league lead for the moment with 4,575 passing yards.

Breece Hall ran for 178 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown with 1:47 remaining as the Jets won, 17-3, to snap a 15-game losing streak against the Patriots. New York’s defense intercepted Bailey Zappe twice and sacked him seven times.

Carr threw for 264 yards and four touchdowns as the Saints pulled away to defeat the Falcons, 48-17. New Orleans now has to hope Green Bay and Seattle both lose to get a playoff spot.

Finally, I get star performances from Carr (37 points), Henry (36), Mullens (31), Bijan Robinson and the Jets’ defense (30 each) to storm in front, 205-88 in my fantasy matchup. I have Bears players Khalil Herbert and T.J. Edwards in the late afternoon games while my opponent has eight players remaining.

Sunday’s Late Afternoon Games

4:25 – CBS takes us to East Rutherford, N.J., where Ian Eagle, Charles Davis and Evan Washburn are covering the Giants vs. Eagles. Having games called by Harlan and then Eagle is definitely the shot of energy I need to stay awake for a long day of football.

4:39 – Game break to Green Bay, where Bears kicker Cairo Santos bounces in a 50-yard field goal off the upright for an early lead over the Packers.

4:41 – Game break to Washington, D.C., and Dak Prescott (Here we go!) finds Jalen Tolbert with a three-yard scoring pass for a 7-0 advantage.

4:42 – A 33-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Wan’Dale Robinson starts a drive that ends with a Mason Crosby 24-yard field, giving the Giants a 3-0 lead.

4:46-4:50 – With no D’Andre Swift in the lineup, Kenneth Gainwell picks up the slack, ripping off a 32-yard run into Giants territory. Quarterback Jalen Hurts followed with a first down on a “tush push,” but the drive ends soon after. Hurts hit A.J. Brown on a slant for a first down, but Nick McCloud punches the ball out and Micah McFadden recovers for New York. Brown goes down injured on the play.

4:53 – Taylor is thought to have suffered a right thumb injury, and Tommy DeVito comes in for the Giants on their next possession, which is a three-and-out.

4:54 – Game break to Washington, and Brandon Aubrey’s 32-yard field goal attempt is blocked by Joshua Pryor and recovered by Jace Whittaker, who returns it 51 yards to the Dallas 20. The play was the first miss in Aubrey’s career, and his 35 consecutive field goals was two shy of the record set by Mike Vanderjagt in 2003.

5:00 – Just as the Commanders tie the score with the Cowboys, the first quarter ends with the Giants up, 3-0.

5:04 – Game break showing the aforementioned Washington touchdown, a one-yard pass from Sam Howell to running back Brian Robinson.

5:06 – Hurts’ fourth-down pass falls incomplete, giving the Giants the ball in Eagles territory.

5:10 – Game break to Washington a Prescott pass is tipped and intercepted by Quan Martin.

5:14 – A 26-yard pass from Taylor to Robinson sets up Saquon Barkley‘s two-yard touchdown run, giving the Giants a 10-0 lead.

5:24 – Game break, where Joey Slye gives Washington a 10-7 lead over Dallas with a 36-yard field goal.

5:26 – Some crisp completions from Taylor set up Barkley’s second touchdown of the day. Giants lead 17-0 with 5:08 left in the first half.

5:36 – What is going on with the Eagles? A 46-yard pass from Taylor to Barkley sets up a 19-yard strike to Darius Slayton and the Giants are up 24-0.

5:43 – Xavier McKinney‘s interception of Hurts is confirmed by replay, overturning the initial incomplete call and ending another Eagles’ drive.

5:44 – Game break with Tony Pollard plowing his way into the end zone to put the Cowboys back in front, 14-10.

5:46-5:50 – Philadelphia appears to be waving the proverbial white flag by putting in Marcus Mariota late in the first half. He is promptly picked off by McKinney on his first pass, giving New York the ball on the 12. On the very next play, the former Giant James Bradberry got his hand on the ball and Reed Blankenship corralled it for an interception. The first half ends three plays later with boos heard from the surprisingly large number of Eagles fans at MetLife Stadium.

During a break in the NFL action, let’s go to the world of college football, where congratulations are in order. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits defeated the Montana Grizzlies, 23-3, to win their second straight FCS Championship.

6:16 – While the Giants and Eagles trade punts, we get an update from Washington. Prescott scrambles around and finds star receiver CeeDee Lamb with a six-yard touchdown, his second of the game. The pass puts Dallas up 28-10 midway through the third quarter.

6:22 – Taylor goes down injured and comes off the field as DeVito enters and the Giants have to punt again.

6:27 – Game break and Dallas is pouring it on. Prescott throws his fourth touchdown pass of the game, this one to Brandin Cooks, giving the Cowboys a 35-10 advantage.

6:33 – Game break to Green Bay, where Packers rookie kicker Anders Carlson hit a 25-yard field goal to put his team up 17-9 with 10:54 remaining.

6:34 – Giants killer Jake Elliott sneaks a 36-yard field goal inside the left upright, but the Eagles still trail, 24-3.

6:39 – The third quarter ends for several games, including the Giants-Eagles and Cowboys-Commanders.

6:51 – Eagles fans finally have something to cheer about as Mariota hits Quez Watkins with a 16-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 24-10.

7:03-7:06 – A long Giants drive takes more than six minutes off the clock and ends with a Crosby 21-yard field goal to extend the lead to 27-10. Two plays later, Mariota had the ball stripped by Jihad Ward, with Azeez Ojulari recovering the fumble to pretty much ice the game. Crosby clangs a field goal attempt off the post, but the Giants have a 27-10 lead at the two-minute warning.

7:14 – Ojulari sacks Mariota on the final play and the Giants upset the Eagles. Taylor finished with a game-high 297 yards passing.

7:15-7:17 – Changing the channel to FOX, where the 49ers are on the move with under a minute left, trailing the Rams, 21-20. Sam Darnold getting chased and wrapped up but loses the ball and Los Angeles recovers. Carson Wentz dropped to a knee once as the Rams hold on.

Here is the recap of the late Sunday action:

The Packers get 316 yards passing and two touchdowns from Jordan Love, 111 yards rushing from Aaron Jones and 112 yards receiving from Jayden Reed to beat the Bears, 17-9, and clinch the final NFC playoff spot.

Geno Smith connected with Tyler Lockett on both a 34-yard touchdown and the go-ahead two-point conversion, and the Seahawks beat the Cardinals, 21-20, when Matt Prater‘s 51-yard field goal sailed wide right.

Mike Edwards returned a fumble 97 yards for a touchdown, but without their offensive stars, it took a 41-yard field goal by Harrison Butker in the final minute to give the Chiefs a 13-12 win over the Chargers.

The Raiders got solid offensive performances from Aidan O’Connell (244 yards and two touchdowns), Zamir White (112 rushing yards) and Jakobi Meyers (two scores, one rushing and one receiving) in a 27-14 victory over the Broncos.

Carson Wentz threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score to lead the Rams past the 49ers, 21-20. First-year sensation Puka Nacua caught four passes for 41 yards and set a pair of rookie records. He finished the season with 105 catches (breaking the previous record of 104 by Miami’s Jaylen Waddle in 2021) and 1,486 yards, which passed the mark of 1,473 set by Bill Groman, of the Houston Oilers, back in the first season in 1960.

Prescott finished with 279 yards passing yards and four touchdowns and Lamb caught 13 passes for 98 yards and two scores as Dallas beat Washington, 38-10. The Cowboys take the NFC East title with the win and pushes the streak to 19 straight seasons with a different division winner. Prescott finished the season with a league-best 36 passing scores.

Finally, in fantasy, Bears players T.J. Edwards (seven points) and Khalil Herbert (five) gave me a 217-123 lead. Kyler Murray scored 22 points, but he was the only one of his five players to score in double figures. I have no players left while my opponent (a big Bills fan) has three players in the upcoming game.

Sunday Night Game

8:13 – Carrie Underwood leads us into Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth and Melissa Stark for NBC’s coverage. The pre-kickoff video package with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Dan Marino was awesome to see as a fan of football history and highlights the importance of this game.

8:35 – A Bills drive ends with Josh Allen being intercepted by former Giant Eli Apple in the end zone. The call was upheld on replay and was the first pick thrown by Allen in the red zone all season.

8:53 – Allen tried to get fancy by throwing a 32-yard off-balance pass across his body to the end zone, but Miami safety DeShon Elliott snagged it for another interception.

9:03 – De’Von Achane put up the first points of the game with a 25-yard scoring run.

9:11-9:13 – Bills star receiver Stefon Diggs made a fantastic catch with a defender draped on him, bringing in the 36-yard pass from Allen. A few plays later, Buffalo tied the score on another amazing play. Andrew Van Ginkel deflected an Allen pass high in the air, but receiver Trent Sherfield corralled the ball and dragged both feet in the back of the end zone with 4:31 left in the first half.

9:30 – Tua Tagovailoa hooks up with Tyreek Hill on a scoring pass for the 13th time this season, followed by Hill sticking the landing on a backflip in the end zone. The Dolphins take a 14-7 lead with 1:43 remaining in the second quarter.

9:46 – Allen drives the Bills down the field in the two-minute offense, but Ty Johnson was stopped on the one-yard line and the clock ran out on the Bills.

10:25-10:26 – The second half did not have too many scoring plays but did feature some great defense, including a Christian Wilkins sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on Allen inside the final minute of the third quarter. The score remains 14-7 Miami with 15 minutes left in the NFL regular season.

10:37 – Buffalo draws even thanks to a 95-yard punt return by former Saints player Deonte Harty with 13:42 remaining. The play is the longest punt return in Bills’ history. Miami Cameron Goode was injured after colliding with a teammate and was carted off the field.

10:51 – After a three-and-out by Miami, Allen took Buffalo 74 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead score. A 26-yard pass to Dalton Kincaid and a 28-yard strike to Khalil Shakir set up a five-yard scoring pass to Dawson Knox for a 21-14 Bills advantage with 7:16 left.

11:20-11:23 – The Dolphins followed the score with another punt but stopped Allen on a fourth-down keeper on the next drive. Miami had one final chance but Tua’s deep pass for Chase Claypool was intercepted by Taylor Rapp at the Buffalo 22. Two kneel-downs later and the Bills had a comeback victory to go 11-6 and win their fourth straight AFC East title.

Final Recap

Tagovailoa threw for 173 yards. He was able to retake the passing title, finishing the season with 4,624 yards to Goff’s 4,575. Despite not playing, San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey holds onto the rushing title with 1,459 yards and Miami’s Raheem Mostert led the NFL with 18 scores on the ground. Among receivers, Hill’s 82 yards on Sunday night allowed him to edge out Lamb by a 1,799-1,749 count, and the Miami star tied with Detroit’s St. Brown for second with 119 receptions behind Lamb’s 135. Hill’s 13th touchdown catch ties him with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans for the league lead.

After all that action, here are the matchups for “Super Wild Card” weekend:

Saturday, January 13
Browns at Texans, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)
Dolphins at Chiefs, 8 p.m. (Peacock – Really NFL? You’re giving us a premium playoff matchup that no one can watch for free?)

Sunday, January 14
Steelers at Bills, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Packers at Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
Rams at Lions, 8 p.m. (NBC)

Monday, January 15
Eagles at Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m. (ABC/ESPN)

Finally, despite Allen’s 32 points and 17 from the Bills’ defense, my fantasy matchup ended with me earning a 217-174 victory, giving me a second straight championship and fifth in the 21-year history of my league.

Main Image:  Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

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