AFC Week 17 in Review
AFC Week 18 In Review by Grant Poarch
Saturday Afternoon Football
Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos
From the opening kick, Denver wanted to make a statement. They were not going to roll over or be beaten easily just because they are out of the playoff picture. Denver decided to take the ball first, and were just inches away from scoring on the 3rd play of the game.
Not surprisingly, Drew Lock was off the mark in the air early in the game. On the aforementioned 3rd play, Broncos wideout Jerry Jeudy burned a corner and was destined for the end zone. The pass was just out of his reach and fell hopelessly to the ground.
After a long 92-yard drive by Kansas City capped off with a Travis Kelce touchdown, it seemed as if the Chiefs would walk their way to the win. The thought continued as the Broncos went three and out again, and in response the Denver faithful began to rain the offense with boos. On the ensuing punt, punter Sam Martin was roughed. Without the penalty, perhaps Kansas City would have gone on to blow out Denver. However, the penalty proved to be costly. This extension of the Denver drive was the spark they needed to go down and tie the game.
As mentioned on the broadcast, the Chiefs underestimated the running talents of Drew Lock. Despite not having a single touchdown on the ground all season, Lock scampered in for not one, but two touchdowns.
Back and forth was the story for most of the game after the roughing call, until the unthinkable happened. Up 21-20 and going in to extend their lead, Denver coughed up the ball. Kansas City was able to return the fumble 86 yards for a score.
The Chiefs never looked back after that as they added the two-point conversion on a Patrick Mahomes scamper into the end zone. In a crazy turn of events, the Chiefs were finally in the lead again.
With just seven and a half minutes to go in the contest, Denver was forced to find an answer. The Broncos were methodically driving the ball down the field, but stalled out once they reached the red zone. On a 4th and 9 with four and a half minutes to go, the Broncos decided to take the field goal. At the time, they still had all three timeouts so this decision didn’t look awful in the moment.
In the end, the Broncos never got the ball back as Kansas City was able to get first down after first down with ease. The kneel down is a offense’s favorite play, and for the Chiefs that is the way they closed out their division rival.
The loss dropped Denver to 7-10 and they have the 9th overall pick. Quarterback still is the biggest question in Denver, and they may draft the answer in this year’s draft. It is questionable whether or not the top two quarterbacks in the class, Matt Corral and Kenny Pickett, will even
be available at this selection. Carolina and Atlanta both pick before Denver does, and if they both choose to take a quarterback, the Broncos may be forced to roll with Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater next season.
Kansas City’s expected win improved their record to 12-5, and are the second seed in the AFC playoffs. They have a date in the Pittsburgh Steelers, who got in with lots of help. The Chiefs are big favorites going into the matchup, and will be even bigger favorites if it is determined that Tyreek Hill can play after an apparent heel injury suffered last game. Look for the Chiefs to win this game and a few more going deeper into the playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville curse continued for Indianapolis as they lost in Duval yet again. All the Colts had to do to make the playoffs this year was to beat the then 2-14 Jaguars, but that seemed to be too much to ask out of Indy.
Things looked different than most expected from the beginning. Trevor Lawrence took care of the ball as he orchestrated a beautiful opening drive touchdown for the Jaguars. Indianapolis responding by turning it over on downs with Jonathan Taylor getting stuffed on a 4th and 1 on the Jacksonville side of the field. Their next drive, a field goal, was the only points Indianapolis would score until late in the 4th quarter. At that point, it was too late.
Despite the win, Jacksonville was able to keep the first overall pick as Detroit defeated Green Bay. In the end, they ended up getting the best of both worlds as they finally got a win and they knocked out their division rival from the playoffs. Sitting at 3-14, and with the first pick, the Jaguars are still in a rebuild. Even with the first pick, this team is still a few years away from making the playoffs. However, getting some offensive line help for Lawrence would be a good start to that. If things go well enough, it is possible to see a Cincinnati-like improvement in year two under their franchise quarterback. I doubt it, though.
Indianapolis’ disappointing end to a pretty good season is still something that can be used as a building block going forward. They were one win away from the postseason with Carson Wentz at the helm. While he is nowhere near his 2017 self, this draft can be a real opportunity for the Colts to get the pieces they need to get to the next level.
Tennessee Titans @ Houston Texans
With the Kansas City loss to Cincinnati last week, the Titans were in the driver’s seat to get the first overall seed and first round bye in the AFC playoffs. Last time these two matched up, Houston pulled off the 22-13 upset in Nashville. The second game did not follow suit, however, as the Titans won a close one 28-25.
After jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first half thanks to three Ryan Tannehill touchdown passes, it looked like the Titans were going to walk their way to the AFC’s top seed.
The Texans had something to say about that. With 18 unanswered points, Houston looked like they were going to play spoiler. It wasn’t until there were seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter that the Titans responded. Julio Jones finally emerged from hibernation as he caught a short pass from Ryan Tannehill for Tannehill’s fourth passing touchdown of the game. Houston did drive down the field again and score, but the late touchdown was not enough to muster the comeback.
Houston fell to 4-13, and still hold the 3rd overall pick in the draft. They are in desperate need of a quarterback, as well as other offensive weapons. They will have no shortage of choices at number three, and with that should get someone solid to help the team get back to playoff form or at least somewhat closer than what they have been in the past few seasons.
The Titans win places them on bye next week and they will play the lowest seed remaining after Wild Card Weekend. With Derrick Henry coming back for the playoffs, look for the Titans to make some postseason damage.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens
Somehow, Steeler fans’ prayers were answered. All the chips fell in Pittsburgh’s favor, including this win over a division rival. In what could have been Big Ben’s last game, the Ravens and Steelers played another physical, defensive battle.
If you had the under, you were very happy with this game. Neither quarterback played well, and frankly the game was hard to watch. Big Ben threw for 44 attempts in the game, which at this point doesn’t make sense as most of his passes are checkdowns and he has shown that his arm is weak.
Despite winning the first matchup, the Steelers are lucky that Lamar Jackson missed the game. Backup Tyler Huntley got the start again and was pretty bad. Throwing for less than 150 yards with barely over 50% completions and two interceptions is a day to forget, to say the least about it.
The first half reflected poor quarterback play as each quarterback threw an interception in the first quarter. The second quarter wasn’t much of a help as the teams punted seven times in a row. Big Ben’s career hung in the balance as the score was 3-3 at halftime.
The second half started to look bleak for Big Ben as the Ravens took the opening kick of the second half thanks to a breakaway run from Latavius Murray. Murray, unlike both of the quarterbacks in this matchup, had a nice day as he rushed 16 times for 150 yards and a score. His sole rushing touchdown put the Ravens up 10-3 early in the second half. Pittsburgh responded with 10 answered points thanks to a Chris Boswell field goal and a Big Ben touchdown pass.
With just two minutes to go after the Pittsburgh touchdown, Baltimore needed a field goal to extend the game. That is exactly what they got thanks to reliable Justin Tucker. Each team punted after this with a chance to win the game in regulation.
Baltimore received to start overtime and did not convert on another opportunity to win the game, and this time it was costly. Big Ben reached into what was left in his bag for his career and orchestrated a long drive that lead to the walk off field goal for the Steelers.
With the win and a Colts’ loss during the 1pm hour, all Pittsburgh needed to make the playoffs was any other result besides a tie during the Raiders-Chargers game. Suddenly, their playoff hail mary was started to look like Dobbs to Jennings against Georgia. Pittsburgh has a road playoff date at Kansas City next weekend, and while they are massive underdogs, stranger things have happened before.
Baltimore caps off their disappointment of a season with another loss in a campaign without a Lamar Jackson injury was destined for the postseason. Now, they sit at home watching two of their divisional rivals in the playoffs. They have the 14th pick in the draft and desperately need offensive line help. If the Ravens can get the help they need to protect Lamar, watch out for the Ravens next year.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
Joe Burrow sat out the game, and that’s basically all you needed to know about who was going to win this game. The speculation was that Burrow was resting his knee for the playoffs, but if he was good enough to go he probably should have went because winning this game would have meant that the Bengals would be the three seed instead of the four.
Burrow wasn’t the only starting quarterback that missed this game. Baker Mayfield was finally benched due to injury and poor performance, perhaps due to the injury. Case Keenum got the start for the Cleveland, and he played well. Keenum connected with Jarvis Landry for a score that marked the only points scored in the first quarter.
D’Ernest Johnson had another great game in the backup running back role. He rushed for 25 carries, 123 yards and a score. His touchdown extended the Cleveland lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter as it looked like the Browns would soon begin to run away with the game.
Cleveland had the ball again ready to close out the second half when Cincinnati forced a fumble that was recovered by Trayvon Henderson for a 29-yard scoop and score. Now a 14-7 game at the half, it looked like this matchup between divisional rivals would come down to the end.
That narrative continued into the second half as the teams didn’t score for the first 10 minutes of the quarter. Cincinnati took their first drive of the half 14 plays and 8:36 of gametime and scored with a field goal. 14-10 was the closest that the Bengals would get to the lead all game as they gave up a touchdown on a long drive to start the 4th quarter.
The 21-16 win for Cleveland was essentially meaningless for the direction of their season, but it is always nice to beat a division rival. The Browns improved their record to 8-9 and have the 13th pick in the draft. Perhaps one of the Ohio State receivers, Chris Olave, could stay home in Ohio and be the Odell Beckham Jr. the Browns thought they were getting originally.
Cincinnati’s loss didn’t really hurt them that much as if they became the three seed, they would have had to play the Patriots. New England is a much tougher opponent in the playoffs than Vegas, which is who the Bengals have in the first round of the playoffs. The Vegas-Cincinnati opening game of Wild Card Weekend will most likely be a great start to the playoffs as Coach Bisaccia has the Raiders playing well while Joe Burrow has looked like a top quarterback in the league for most of the season.
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
Miami continued their winning ways in the second half of the season as they took down New England for the second time this season. Miami’s season sweep of New England was their first of the kind since 2000.
The running game and defense payed dividends again for the Dolphins as they had a 100 yard rusher in Duke Johnson and had two defensive touchdowns. Miami took control of the game from the beginning as they scored the first 17 points of the game and never looked back.
Even after the New England touchdown before half to cut the lead to 17-7, ESPN gave the Dolphins a 57.1% chance of winning the game outright. ESPN ended up being right in the end. The Patriots did make several attempts at a comeback as they cut the lead to seven at the beginning of the second half and cut it to three late in the fourth quarter.
Miami improved to 9-8, and since being 1-7 have turned their season on its head. You would think that their coach would be praised for the turnaround, but instead head coach Brian Flores was fired the other day. I, among many others, were stunned by the firing and are confused on what the Dolphins will do next. If it’s anything like their first eight games this season, good luck Charlie.
While both of the comeback attempts for New England were fruitless, their playoff aspirations are still fruitful. They have a date with the division rival Buffalo Bills in Buffalo. Round three of their epic battles this season will most certainly be one to watch out for. New England is the underdog going into the matchup, but don’t surprised when Bill Belichick finds a way to win this game.
New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills
Buffalo’s win over New York gave the Bills the AFC East title for the second year in a row. Like has been the case for most of the season, the Jets showed fight in the beginning of the game and raw talent showed up afterwards.
Buffalo took over from the jump as they got out to a 10-0 lead, but it looked like the Jets were going to hang around for as long as they could. They responded late in the second quarter with a long passing touchdown from Zach Wilson to Keelan Cole to cut the lead to 10-7. Buffalo responded with a field goal to close out the first half with a 13-7 lead.
The third quarter was pretty uneventful as the only scoring came from a Jets’ field goal. However, the fourth quarter was basically Buffalo flexing their muscles on the Jets as Devin Singletary rushed for two touchdowns en route to a 27-10 win.
The Jets fell to 4-13 and have the 4th pick in the draft. Their biggest need is help in the secondary, so maybe LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. would be the right choice here. Regardless of who the Jets pick, their fans should have optimism about the direction of the team as they won double the games they did last year, and have come very close to beating several good teams.
Buffalo moved up to 11-6 with the win, and with that became the division champs once again. This crown gives them a home playoff game in Wild Card Weekend which puts them against their division foe. New England and Buffalo will be meeting for the 3rd time this season. The teams split the season series, where each team won on the road. The first matchup will be similar to this one as the weather is expected to be poor. Look for a low point total, old school football, and a close game this weekend between these two.
Sunday Night Football
Los Angeles Chargers @ Las Vegas Raiders
“I’ve never wanted a tie so bad” said Justin Herbert.
Yeah, me neither Justin. Neither did countless bettors who bet on this game ending in a tie. News came out that if this game had ended in a tie, it would be the biggest loss for sportsbooks ever. Billions of dollars would have been paid out amongst thousands of sports bettors, and it would have been a great day.
Going into the game, both of these teams controlled their own destiny. With a Chargers win, the Chargers would have made the playoffs. With a Raiders win, the Raiders would make the playoffs. The best part about this is that if they were to tie, then both teams would make it while the Steelers would be bounced from the postseason.
This game was the back and forth contest that we all had hoped for. Vegas went up early thanks to a Daniel Carlson field goal and a Hunter Renfrow receiving touchdown near the end of the first quarter.
Austin Ekeler was the star of the second quarter as he scored two touchdowns, one on the ground and one in the air. The Chargers offense began to click and showed that they were not going to lay down lightly after a slow first quarter.
Vegas scored the go-ahead touchdown in a two minute drill just before halftime capped off by a Josh Jacobs one-yard touchdown run. Going into halftime with the lead and some momentum, the Raiders were just thirty minutes away from clinching their spot in the postseason.
The end of the first half trend continued into the second half as the teams offenses sputtered in the 3rd quarter, with the only points being scored by the Raiders on a Daniel Carlson field goal. Hunter Renfrow and Daniel Carlson can basically run this team by themselves as they again were the stars for the Raiders in the 4th quarter. Renfrow found the end zone again early in the 4th quarter to put the Raiders up 26-14. Just a few minutes later, Daniel Carlson extended the lead 29-14.
At this point, it appeared that the Raiders were going to walk away with the game. Justin Herbert had something to say about that, as he threw a touchdown to former Vol Josh Palmer and another one to Mike Williams as time expired.
Just as everyone had hoped, this game was headed to overtime. The tie was possible. Vegas won the toss and took the ball first. Josh Jacobs broke for a 28-yard scamper on their second offensive play, which put the Raiders into Los Angeles territory. Soon after, the drive stalled out and Vegas was forced to kick yet another field goal. The Chargers took over the ball and had the chance to win the game if they were to score a touchdown. Justin Herbert aired the ball out all over the field throughout the drive, and if it weren’t for a penalty on the first play perhaps the Chargers would have got the touchdown they needed to clinch a playoff spot. On a 4th and 9 at their own 26, Herbert connected with Mike Williams for a 47-yard gain, which put them in field goal position. After an Ekeler carry for four yards and two incomplete passes by Justin Herbert, the Chargers were forced to settle for three. Dustin Hopkins made the field goal for the Chargers, tying the game at 32 all.
At this point, Pittsburgh fans began to sweat. With 4:30 to go, each team could hypothetically just take a knee and both get a playoff spot. The Raiders, however, had a different plan. Derek Carr methodically took Vegas into Los Angeles territory. Once in Charger territory, the Raiders decided to put the game in the hands of Running Back Josh Jacobs. He was stuffed on first down, followed by a timeout. Jacobs gained seven on second down, which was followed up by a questionable timeout as if they had let the clock run down they would have had a much better chance at the postseason. On third down, Jacobs ran for the first down setting up the game-winning field goal by Daniel Carlson. As time expired, Carlson converted and broke the hearts of the Charger faithful.
Las Vegas’ win got them into the playoffs and a road contest against the Bengals. With how Bisaccia has the Raiders playing, the opening game of Super Wild Card Weekend should be a really good one.
The Chargers’ calling timeouts on the last drive, especially on 3rd and 4, may have cost them their season. Los Angeles has the 17th overall pick and need some help on both the offensive and defensive lines. Many mock drafts have the Chargers taking defensive lineman DeMarvin
Leal out of Texas A&M. This would be a great value pick as Neal could go as early as the end of the top ten. Regardless, getting Justin Herbert some help on the offensive line is key. If this past game is any indication of how the offense will be run in the future, where Herbert threw the ball 64 times, then getting line help is essential to the Chargers’ future success.