There is always a random nature to Week 17 in the N.F.L., and this year was no different. New England lost in shocking fashion to Miami, Tennessee and Philadelphia completed their circuitous journeys to the postseason and Baltimore’s backups beat Pittsburgh. But when put to the test, San Francisco, Green Bay and Kansas City all came through with big wins, joining the Ravens as the four playoff teams with first-round byes.
Here’s what we learned:
The Wild-Card Round
Next week’s matchups have been set.
No. 5 Buffalo at No. 4 Houston, 4:35 p.m., ABC and ESPN
Early Line: Texans -3
No. 6 Tennessee at No. 3 New England, 8:15 p.m., CBS
Early Line: Patriots -5.5
No. 6 Minnesota at No. 3 New Orleans, 1:05 p.m., Fox
Early Line: Saints -7.5
No. 5 Seattle at No. 4 Philadelphia, 4:40 p.m., NBC
Early Line: Seahawks -1
First-round byes: Baltimore, Kansas City, San Francisco, Green Bay
Week 17’s Top Performers
Top Passer: Dak Prescott
Prescott is seeking a huge new contract, and he will undoubtedly get it, but the amount of his production that came against terrible teams this season, and his inability to steer his team into the playoffs, shouldn’t be ignored.
Top Runner: Derrick Henry
Henry’s dominance in the second half of the season helped power his team to an unlikely playoff spot, and on the season’s final day he passed Cleveland’s Nick Chubb for a hard-earned rushing title. Gus Edwards of the Ravens deserves some attention as well, though, as the running back who is typically his team’s third option for carries behind Mark Ingram II and Lamar Jackson, provided the bulk of Baltimore’s offense in a somewhat surprising win over Pittsburgh. The Ravens broke a 41-year-old N.F.L. record by running for 3,296 yards as a team this season.
Top Receiver: DeVante Parker
As the season progressed it seemed like every noteworthy player on the Dolphins was either traded away or sustained a season-ending injury. Parker stuck around and on Sunday he helped lead his team to a shocking upset of the Patriots, giving Miami a nice ending to a trying season.
Cleveland Fires Freddie Kitchens
The Cleveland Browns were a trendy pick for a Super Bowl run after the team acquired wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Kareem Hunt in the off-season, so it was not much of a surprise when the team followed up its 6-10 season by immediately firing Coach Freddie Kitchens.
If there was anything notable about the decision, it was the choice to announce Kitchens’s firing on Sunday rather than wait for what has come to be known as Black Monday because of the large number of coaches that are often fired on the day after the regular season concludes.
Monday’s purge began with the firing of Pat Shurmur of the Giants. Other coaches who could be on the way out on Monday, or soon after, include Jason Garrett of the Cowboys and Doug Marrone of the Jaguars. Neither the Redskins nor the Panthers are expected to retain their interim head coaches.
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Chiefs 31, Chargers 21 A big win clinched a first-round bye for Kansas City, but it came with a huge cost as Juan Thornhill, a standout rookie defensive back, injured his knee and may be unavailable for the playoffs.
Packers 23, Lions 20 Green Bay did not lead at any point before Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal as time expired — but that’s all that counts.
49ers 26, Seahawks 21 San Francisco had its last five games of the season come down to the final play, and has been dealing with numerous injuries on defense, but a first-round bye gives the 13-3 team a chance to get healthy as it seeks the sixth Super Bowl win in franchise history.
Titans 35, Texans 14 The unlikely (and apparently unstoppable) duo of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry came through once again, delivering a playoff-clinching win over an unmotivated division rival. While Tennessee kept Henry in the game so he could pass Cleveland’s Nick Chubb for the league’s rushing title, the team may have to apologize to Tannehill for not letting him throw the ball at least one more time: He finished the season with 2,742 passing yards, leaving him 8 short of earning a $250,000 bonus.
Dolphins 27, Patriots 24 “Nobody feels sorry for the Patriots not getting a first-round bye in the playoffs,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said.
Saints 42, Panthers 10 Needing a win to stay alive in the race for a first-round bye, New Orleans had done enough to get there by the end of the first quarter — and then just kept going in a blowout. Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes, stretching his record to 547 for his career and putting him six ahead of Tom Brady before an off-season in which both future Hall of Famers may consider retirement.
Broncos 16, Raiders 15 A wild final drive by Oakland, which included a ball being simultaneously caught by a receiver and a defensive back (tie goes to the receiver, F.Y.I.), resulted in a touchdown and a 1-point deficit with just seven seconds remaining. Coach Jon Gruden decided to go for the win with a 2-point conversion, rather than tie the game with an extra point, and that decision blew up for the Raiders when quarterback Derek Carr’s pass was deflected to the ground at the line of scrimmage.
Cowboys 47, Redskins 16 In a game that did not end up mattering — Dallas needed Philadelphia to lose to the Giants for a chance at winning a division title — the Cowboys finally let their offense have some fun. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott both looked terrific, and the mystery of where they were last week in a loss to the Eagles will continue to haunt the team.
Eagles 34, Giants 17 The youthful Giants put up quite a fight for much of this game, but Philadelphia’s defense turned up the intensity, forcing a few turnovers and helping the team clinch a division title.
Ravens 28, Steelers 10 It would be an exaggeration to say Baltimore’s backups could be a playoff team, but an offense led by quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Gus Edwards did enough to beat Pittsburgh despite the Ravens having no motivation to win.
Bears 21, Vikings 19 Chicago’s 2018 season ended with a missed field-goal attempt in the playoffs, and its 2019 season ended with a go-ahead field goal by Eddy Pineiro with just 10 seconds remaining against a team with no real motivation to win. The stakes were far lower than last season, but progress is progress.
Jets 13, Bills 6 Buffalo did not have any incentive to win this game — it showed — and that minimal effort helped the Jets avoid a fourth consecutive season of double-digit losses.
Rams 31, Cardinals 24 It is nowhere near as good as a trip to the playoffs, but Los Angeles finished with a winning record thanks to a strong effort by quarterback Jared Goff, who outdueled Arizona’s Kyler Murray by throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
Falcons 28, Buccaneers 22 Getting a win in overtime was ultimately meaningless, but along the way Atlanta ran a play in which Ty Sambrailo, a 315-pound offensive tackle, ran up the seam as an eligible receiver, caught a pass from Matt Ryan in stride, and outran Tampa Bay’s defense into the end zone to deliver the N.F.L.’s seventh receiving touchdown by a 300-pound player this season — a record. The play went for 35 yards, breaking the previous record for reception length by a 300-pound player (25 yards, by tight end Kevin Brock in 2013).
Jaguars 38, Colts 20 There’s no telling what Jacksonville’s plans at quarterback will be next season, but Gardner Minshew closed this season on a high note, with 295 passing yards and touchdown passes to three different receivers.
Bengals 33, Browns 23 The pressure was off for Cincinnati, as last week’s loss clinched the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft and the right to select Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow. That freed Andy Dalton to go out and drive the final nail into the coffin of Cleveland’s season while earning his 70th, and probably last, win for the Bengals.