The NFL season concluded in dramatic fashion with a Week 18 that included several memorable moments which helped solidify the playoff picture and NFL draft order.
Let’s take a look at three important takeaways from the final weekend of the regular season.
Magic In Western New York
The week leading up to Saturday and Sunday’s games has been unlike any other in the history of the league. Football fans and society as a whole have thrown their full support behind the recovery of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, as he continues to battle back from a frightening episode of cardiac arrest suffered during Monday Night Football in Week 17. Hamlin has been making steady progress, and was able to address the team in the days leading up to their Week 18 matchup with the New England Patriots.
No one was quite sure how the Bills would respond on the field after such an emotionally charged week. Our answer would come immediately when the game began, as Nyheim Hines took the opening kickoff the distance for a storybook start. The crowd went absolutely wild, and it set the tone for an important team victory.
The narrative that Hamlin’s presence fueled Hines, who took back another kick for a score later in the game, is touching. It had actually been three years and three months since the Bills had a kickoff return for a touchdown. Number three, of course, is Hamlin’s number.
Questionable Chargers Strategy
There were a few teams that entered the weekend with their playoff lives at stake. The Los Angeles Chargers were not one of them. They had solidified their spot in the postseason heading into Week 18, and all that was up in the air was whether they would be a five or six seed heading into the playoffs.
Different teams have different ideas on how to play “meaningless” games in the NFL, and head coach Brandon Staley decided to start the game with his key players. Some coaches like to do this to keep the team’s rhythm going into the postseason, but it’s safe to say that strategy backfired.
Wide receiver Mike Williams, who has struggled to stay healthy all year, left Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos with a back injury. Pass rusher Joey Bosa appeared to aggravate a groin injury which caused him to miss the majority of the season. Both players would now appear to be questionable for Wild Card Weekend.
Players Don’t Tank
It’s easy for fans to look at a team’s subpar record and think that the team is trying to lose games purposely in order to improve their draft position. It’s a topic of conversation that gets a lot of mileage as franchises with little to no current hope look to build for the future.
However, don’t tell the Houston Texans that. They entered Week 18 with the worst record in the NFL, and all they needed was a loss to the Indianapolis Colts to secure the first overall pick in April’s draft. As it turned out, Houston came to play, and they defeated the Colts 32-31.
In doing so, that pick will now belong to the Chicago Bears. However, their performance is a good reminder that current players need to play well in order to get future opportunities, and they don’t care about losing games now to better a future outcome.