December 31, 2017 at 9:05 PM
The NFL playoff field is now set. In the AFC, the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills are all in. In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have advanced to the postseason.
While many of the playoff-bound teams coasted through their regular season finale, Week 17 did provide some drama for viewers and a surprise ending for a previously ill-fated franchise.
The Buffalo Bills, who have spent the last 17 years on the outside looking in at the postseason, entered Sunday in need of help. First, they needed to take care of the Dolphins on the road in Miami. Then they needed the Cincinnati Bengals to knock off the Ravens, who only needed to win to advance, in Baltimore.
Check, and check.
The Bills beat the Dolphins, 22-16, and then received a significant gift from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who, on fourth and 12 and with his team trailing by three points, connected with Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown with just 44 seconds remaining. Cincinnati held on after kicking off for a 31-27 win, which secured the Bills their first playoff berth since 1999. The 17-season drought was the longest active streak without a playoff appearance in the NFL. (The Cleveland Browns’ 15-season drought is now the longest.)
Unfortunately, the Bills’ good fortune is the Ravens’ bad luck. Baltimore, who, again, only needed to win Sunday to make it in, will extend its absence from the playoffs to three years.
Buffalo, who finished the season 9-7 under first-year Coach Sean McDermott, will face the Jaguars in Jacksonville next Sunday. It will be the first meeting between the Jaguars’ first-year head coach, Doug Marrone, and Buffalo since Marrone resigned as head coach in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Vikings secured a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs with a 23-10 win over the Chicago Bears. The Eagles had already secured a bye; they lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 6-0, while resting several starters.
Last into the NFC field were the Falcons, which punched their ticket Sunday with a 22-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. With the Panthers’ loss, the Seattle Seahawks will miss the postseason for the first time 2011.
The Saints, who clinched the NFC South title with the Falcons’ win, lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-24; they will host the Panthers on Sunday. The Rams will host the Falcons on Saturday.
In the AFC, the Titans, who defeated the Jaguars, 15-10, will head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs, who sneaked by the Denver Broncos, 27-24, next Sunday.
As for the top seeds, the Patriots and Steelers had already clinched bye weeks, but still cruised to victories over the Jets and Browns, respectively. Which brings us to Sunday’s other story line…
Amid the dramatic final push for the playoffs was a bit of predictability: another Cleveland Browns loss. With their loss to the Steelers, they became the first team to finish a season winless since the 2008 Detroit Lions. The Browns were in the game, hanging in against a Steelers team that was resting Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and Cam Heyward (among others), but fell short — until next spring’s NFL draft, when they’ll have the No. 1 pick in addition to a second top-five selection, courtesy of the Houston Texans (who traded this year’s first-rounder as part of the deal that allowed them to draft Deshaun Watson).
With their victory over the Redskins, the New York Giants will have the No. 2 pick.
In other news
Black Monday: There could be turnover involving as many as a third of the NFL’s coaches when the traditional firing day begins Tuesday. (Keep up with the moves and possible moves here.)
Chucky rides again? The Raiders reportedly want to hire Jon Gruden so badly that they’re willing to give him an ownership stake. (Read more.)
Concussion confusion: Texans go unpunished for the Tom Savage concussion, an outcome that the NFL and the NFL Players Association say is “unacceptable.” (Read more.)
No to Chucky: The Buccaneers reportedly will stick with Dirk Koetter rather than bringing back ESPN’s Jon Gruden. (Read more.)
A bit of good luck for a change: Andrew Luck is back from rehab in The Netherlands, says he needs no more surgery. (Read more.)
Standing Pat: The powerful Patriots show no signs of slowing down. (Read more.)
Rotten Apple? The Giants suspend Eli Apple, a former first-round draft pick, and may have cause to dump him altogether. (Read more.)
The Cousins conundrum: As Redskins season ends, Kirk Cousins season begins. (Read more.)
Adjusting replay: One NFL owner (who was burned on an overruled touchdown last week) says “we have to fix replay” as the league continues to struggle to get calls right. (Read more.)
Business as usual: Steelers players were furious with James Harrison for signing with the Patriots, but he says it was just a “business decision.” (Read more.)
Welp: The 2017 “Sunday Night Football” season ends with a whimper this season as the NFL opts not to telecast a game on New Year’s Eve. (Read more.)
Forte out: The Jets placed Matt Forte and Akeem Judd on the injured reserve list Saturday, activating Lucky Whitehead and Jahad Thomas from the practice squad.
No Burfict: Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been downgraded to out against the Ravens because of a shoulder injury.
Key players listed as out for 4:25 p.m. EDT games:
Fantasy football advice
Best/worst matchups: While seasonal fantasy leagues may be over, here’s how to pick some DFS winners in Week 17. (Read more.)
The best fantasy draft pick of 2017: It’s the Rams’ Todd Gurley and it isn’t even close. (Read more.)
The Fantasy Football Beat: The fantasy MVPs and the biggest busts at each position. (Listen.)
The top trends and insights from Las Vegas. (Read more.)