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What to know from NFL Week 18: Aaron Rodgers is going home — maybe for good

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sits on the turf after throwing an interception during the fourth quarter Sunday night. (Morry Gash/AP)
10 min

In a previous version of this story, Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams was misidentified as Jamaal Williams, a Lions running back. The story has been updated.

The stakes in Week 18 often feel astronomical, but this weekend they did not seem so big. Damar Hamlin’s harrowing, life-threatening injury continued to hover over the NFL. The week brought heartening updates on his health, and support for Hamlin united the country. But the scene left Buffalo Bills players traumatized — and reminded every NFL player and fan of the dangers inherent to football. The games, as ever, rolled along.

Here is what to know.

The Aaron Rodgers speculation can begin. In the moments after the Green Bay Packers were eliminated from playoff contention, the Detroit Lions’ Jameson Williams asked for his jersey. “I’m going to hold on to this one,” Rodgers replied. Rodgers then walked off the field with his arm around Randall Cobb, one of his best friends, with glassy eyes. It sure looked as though he had played his final game at Lambeau Field, as a Packer or otherwise.

The Lions stormed into Lambeau out of playoff contention, went for it on fourth down every chance they got, bullied the Packers along the lines and knocked them out of the playoff picture with a 20-16 victory. It ended the Packers’ run toward the postseason and opened the question of Rodgers’s future.

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Rodgers openly pondered retirement the past two offseasons. Jordan Love is waiting his turn and played well in limited chances this season. Maybe Rodgers would be tempted to fill the quarterback void in Las Vegas and reunite with wide receiver Davante Adams. If he is finished in Green Bay, the latter half of his tenure will be defined by missed opportunity. In 11 seasons after winning the Super Bowl, Rodgers compiled seven playoff wins.

In the Packers’ stead, the Seattle Seahawks will be the seventh seed in the NFC. Geno Smith’s out-of-nowhere revival will be hard-pressed to continue — Seattle’s opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, enters the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak. But it’s remarkable that Seattle got this far, especially after a field goal doink as regulation expired against the Los Angeles Rams forced the Seahawks to win in overtime.

The Jaguars won last offseason. While most observers overlooked or derided their moves, the Jacksonville Jaguars were undergoing one of the great rapid transformations in recent NFL history. They nailed their most important moves, even when those moves drew criticism. When they edged the Tennessee Titans, 20-16, on Saturday night, they capped a five-game winning streak to close the regular season and clinch the AFC South championship.

To replace Urban Meyer, the Jaguars jilted franchise icon Byron Leftwich in favor of Doug Pederson, who came with a history of nurturing young quarterbacks and helped Trevor Lawrence blossom in his second season. They defied convention by drafting defensive lineman Travon Walker with the first pick, but Walker validated Jacksonville’s faith. He capped a solid rookie season — 3.5 sacks, two turnovers forced — by dominating the Titans’ offensive line Saturday night.

Most in the league derided the four-year, $72 million contract wide receiver Christian Kirk signed in free agency. The contract now appears appropriate, given how the wideout market exploded, and Kirk proved himself a worthy No. 1 option. His 84 catches for 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns earned him $1 million in incentives; he literally outperformed his contract.

The Jaguars will only strengthen their grip on the division. Their nucleus is young, and Lawrence may evolve into an elite quarterback. They also added Calvin Ridley, who’s serving a season-long gambling suspension, for two late-round picks at the trade deadline. In a division of teams in various states of disarray, and in which only they have a settled and desirable quarterback situation, the Jaguars could get comfortable at the top.

Kadarius Toney is fitting in — as the rest of the league feared. The Kansas City Chiefs viewed Toney as such a good fit that they tried trading for him in the offseason. They instead waited until a few weeks before the deadline, at which point the New York Giants had soured on the wide receiver’s off-field issues. Coach Andy Reid never turns down a talented player with a problematic history. Upon arriving in Kansas City, Toney provided an immediate spark before heading to the sideline with an injury.

Toney is back now, and the Chiefs appear ready to unleash him on the AFC playoffs. An electric current with the ball in his hands, Toney caught two passes for 18 yards and ran three times for 26 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 31-13 victory over the Raiders on Saturday. The stats did not reflect his impact or potential. As Patrick Mahomes cinched his second MVP award, it may have been Toney who stood out.

Defenses now have to worry about two outlier receiving threats, not just Travis Kelce. Toney is not the same style receiver as Tyreek Hill but, like Hill, provides a unique threat. No one is faster than Hill, and no one cuts and jukes quite like Toney. The Chiefs can use him on gadget plays at the goal line, to stretch the field horizontally or vertically, and on intermediate patterns. As the Chiefs chase their second Super Bowl title in four years, bet on Toney making a crucial play or two.

The Texans’ honest effort gave the Bears the first pick. All Houston had to do to secure the top pick was lose, and it was well on its way. The Texans squandered a 10-point lead in the second half and trailed 31-24 when they took over at their 17 with 3:29 left. On fourth and 20 from the Chicago 28-yard line, Davis Mills heaved the ball into the end zone, and it somehow fluttered into Jordan Akins’s gut. Lovie Smith went for two, and when Akins snared another pass, the Texans won their third game of the season and leaped ahead of the 3-13 Bears in the standings.

So the Bears are on the clock. The Texans probably will end up with the quarterback of their choice, presumably Alabama’s Bryce Young. They just might have to relinquish extra capital to do it — and Smith won’t be there to coach him.

The Bears are committed to Justin Fields and do not need a quarterback. But that won’t provide the Texans any comfort. The Bears could threaten to auction off the first pick, which would force the Texans to trade up from two to one, even if they know the Bears won’t take a quarterback. By ending up with the first pick, the Bears can draft the player they want most and bank additional picks and/or players.

The Texans will proceed with a new coach after firing Smith on Sunday night, giving owner Cal McNair two consecutive one-and-done coaches who never stood a chance given the rosters they inherited. The fact that both were Black is disturbing.

The Dolphins are limping into the playoffs. The final AFC playoff spot went to a team that looked nothing like a playoff team. Third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson led the Miami Dolphins to an 11-6 victory over the New York Jets without an offensive touchdown. The Jets had nothing to play for and performed like it behind quarterback Joe Flacco.

With Tua Tagovailoa probably out for the season following multiple concussions, Teddy Bridgewater should be able to return from a hand injury and start for Dolphins at Buffalo. But so what? The Dolphins have been abysmal without Tagovailoa and had lost five games in a row before Sunday. Hill returned after suffering an ankle injury, but if he’s limited, the Dolphins’ offense is in trouble. The promising portion of their season ended weeks ago, and they pose no threat to the Bills, especially if Hill is not full strength.

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The Dolphins managed to knock out a more dangerous team. The Pittsburgh Steelers soundly beat the Cleveland Browns, 28-14, for a victory that would have catapulted them into the playoffs if not for Miami’s victory. The Steelers went 6-1 down the stretch and finished 9-8, continuing Mike Tomlin’s remarkable streak: 16 seasons, 16 years without a losing record.

Will Lamar Jackson play in the postseason? It might be the biggest question in the NFL, for what it portends in the playoffs and the future. The Baltimore Ravens muddled to a 3-3 record since Jackson’s injury, scoring 12.5 points per game. They had no chance Sunday against Cincinnati in a 27-16 loss with third-string quarterback Anthony Brown, and they will have little chance against the Bengals next weekend if Jackson does not play, even if backup Tyler Huntley returns from his injury.

The curiosity around Jackson extends beyond his immediate availability. It is an unequivocal surprise that Jackson hasn’t played since he sprained a knee ligament Dec. 4. He was expected to miss a few weeks; Coach John Harbaugh said it would not end his season. And yet Jackson has been an observer at practice and on game day.

Jackson’s contract situation hangs over everything. He declined a massive offer from the Ravens in training camp, refusing to accept anything less than the guaranteed money Deshaun Watson had received from Cleveland. Is Jackson healing more slowly than expected? Is he holding himself out for fear of suffering a more serious injury before free agency? Is he disillusioned with the Ravens? Are they with him? Jackson does not use an agent, relying on his mother for business dealings. He is both unconventional and inscrutable.

As Commanders eye the future, Sam Howell makes a case to be part of it

Harbaugh has not betrayed any explicit ire, but he has implied frustrations in the I’m-just-talking-about-players-who-are-available variety. It once seemed unthinkable that Jackson would ever play in a uniform that wasn’t purple and black. It is quickly becoming a question that at least must be asked, especially if Jackson stays on the sideline next week.

Uh, Cowboys? Dallas entered Sunday with plenty to play for, still able to win the NFC East if the Eagles lost. The Cowboys fell, 26-6, to the Commanders, who gave rookie Sam Howell his first start with no playoff spot on the line. Dak Prescott completed 14 of 37 passes for 128 yards and threw a pick-six.

Dallas has been one of the NFL’s best teams for most of the season, but it has not been sharp in more than a month. It has lost to Jacksonville and Washington. The Cowboys needed four turnovers to beat the Philadelphia Eagles with backup Gardner Minshew II by six points. They barely beat the Texans and let the Titans hang around. Even when they beat the Indianapolis Colts, 54-19, it was 21-19 after three quarters. Micah Parsons, an unstoppable force early on, has 1.5 sacks in his past six games.

Suddenly, the second weekend of the playoffs seems in question. The Cowboys will play at Tampa Bay, which rested its key starters Sunday, in the first round. The Buccaneers played their best game of the season two weeks ago against Carolina. Tom Brady is Tom Brady. A victory cannot be taken for granted. A loss would mean an offseason of drama and immediate Sean Payton speculation.