Five Cold, Hard Football Facts from NFL Week 18

Grant Mitchell

Just like that, in the blink of an eye, the 2021 NFL regular season is officially over.

Questions regarding the AFC playoff picture remained through the final seconds of an overtime period between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders, with a bold and ill-advised timeout from Brandon Staley seeming to end his team’s postseason hopes.

The playoffs are now officially set, and with the Tennessee Titans leading the AFC and the Green Bay Packers the NFC, here is a look back on the NFL’s regular-season finale.

#5: Carson Went Missing

A month ago, the Indianapolis Colts were the team that nobody wanted to meet in the playoffs — now, those concerns have been alleviated by the Colts seeing themselves out of the postseason following a shock loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback Carson Wentz finished the outing with just 185 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, leaving the Jags to seize a 26-11 victory.

With the fourth-best offensive line and sixth-graded ground game in Offensive Rusher Rating, as well as an Offensive Player of the Year candidate in Jonathan Taylor, the season’s result is nothing short of a calamity. Many will be calling for Carson Wentz’s job, and in a division that was just won by the best team in the AFC — the Tennessee Titans — Indy needs to do some real soul searching before the next season begins.

#4: Cardinals’ Collapse

The Arizona Cardinals are near the top of most major metrics and are fifth in the Quality Stats Power Rankings, reflecting how dominant they have been this season; however, last weekend’s 38-30 loss to the 7-10 Seattle Seahawks was their fourth loss in five weeks, meaning that they are headed into the postseason on a terrible run of form.

Although the loss cost Arizona the NFC West title and means that they will be on the road in the first round of the playoffs, they will be getting healthier with the potential return of J.J. Watt, though it has already been confirmed that DeAndre Hopkins will be unable to go on Monday night. If there is one glimmer of hope to cling to, it is that the Cardinals beat the Dallas Cowboys just two weeks ago, so even if they have not been their usual consistent selves as of late, they still have shown that they can rise to the occasion regardless of circumstance.

#3: The Journey Continues

In what could have been the final game of his career, Ben Roethlisberger led another fourth-quarter/overtime comeback — his sixth of the season (most in the league — to help the Pittsburgh Steelers edge past the Baltimore Ravens 16-13 in OT. The Raiders beat the Chargers later in the evening, locking up a last-second playoff berth for the AFC North’s most famous franchise.

Pittsburgh heads into the playoffs with the worst mark in the Quality Stats Power Rankings (22nd) of all playoff teams, which is a testament to their coaching. Mike Tomlin has never finished a season under .500 as a Head Coach, and with the potential Defensive Player of the Year in J.J. Watt at his service, Pittsburgh has a blueprint to at least both the Kansas City Chiefs in their opening-round matchup.

#2: The Best Division in Football

The San Francisco 49ers continued their frantic run to the playoffs by beating the Los Angeles Rams 27-24 in yet another overtime game. Deebo Samuel finished the afternoon with a passing touchdown, 45 yards, and another touchdown on the ground, as well as 95 receiving yards, while Matthew Stafford’s 238 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions came in vein.

The 49ers’ win set them up for a first-round face-off with the Dallas Cowboys, a game that will require them to be as dynamic as ever against a stellar pass rush and playmaking secondary. They don’t measure well in Scoreability or Bendability, but they have a creative head coach and a quarterback that, despite common criticism, has lived up to his billing in clutch situations.

#1: Raiders Revenge

The Las Vegas Raiders became the final team to reach the AFC playoffs, knocking off the Los Angeles Chargers 38-35 on a last-second field goal in overtime. A tie would have seen both teams into the postseason, but a controversial late timeout from Chargers’ coach Brandon Staley rubbed Vegas the wrong way, who then quickly sent their rivals packing.

Derek Carr has been a monster for the Raiders this season, and although they are similar to the Steelers in that they do not portray themselves well in the power rankings, they have landmark wins and explosive capability. The biggest question coming out of the weekend was whether or not the timeout was worth it, but all that matters now is that the Las Vegas Raiders are officially in the 2021 Playoffs.