NFL Week 18 preview: who will grab the last remaining playoff spots? | NFL

With the final week of the NFL regular season kicking off on Saturday and continuing into Sunday, the postseason picture remains incomplete. Here’s a primer for the games that will decide the last remaining playoff berths:

The AFC’s No. 1 seed

On Thursday, the NFL finally announced that Monday night’s suspended game between the Bills and Bengals would not be resumed. Doctors from the University of Cincinnati said Thursday that Hamlin showed “substantial improvement” after regaining consciousness and even asked if the Bills had won in a written note.

On Friday, the league will meet to vote on a recommendation by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell regarding the site of a potential AFC championship game involving the Bills or Bengals. The commissioner recommended that the AFC title game be played at a neutral site in the event that the Bills or Bengals qualify for the championship as the lower-seeded team and outlined several scenarios that would lead to that scheduling. (The full explanation can be viewed here.)


Winner takes all

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars (Saturday, 8.15pm EST/Sunday, 1.15am GMT)

An unlikely candidate for must-see TV, Saturday night’s battle between Jacksonville and Tennessee will decide the AFC South division title. The two franchises entered 2022 with vastly different expectations and few thought they’d be battling for a playoff spot in the last week of the season: The Titans entered the 2022 season heavily favored to win a third consecutive division title and reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons under head coach Mike Vrabel. The Jaguars, meanwhile, combined for a 4-29 record between the 2020 and 2021 seasons and spent most of last year battling numerous embarrassing stories surrounding former head coach Urban Meyer, who was fired after 13 games.

Now, Jacksonville is favored to make the playoffs. Led by a budding star in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and a Super Bowl-winning coach in Doug Pederson, the Jaguars improved from one of the league’s worst offenses last season to one that ranks seventh in yards per game and 11th in points per game in 2022. They enter Saturday’s game on a four-game winning streak against an ailing Titans side that has lost six games in a row and already fired its general manager. Tennessee’s starting quarterback will be Josh Dobbs, a 27-year-old journeyman who made his first career start in last week’s loss to the Cowboys and joined the team on December 21.

If the Jaguars win or tie: They clinch the No. 4 overall seed and the Titans are eliminated from playoff contention.

If the Titans win: They clinch the No. 4 overall seed. The Jaguars are eliminated from playoff contention unless the Patriots, Dolphins and Steelers all lose their Week 18 games.


Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 8.20pm EST/Monday, 1.20am GMT)

It’s been another dramatic season for Aaron Rodgers, but he’s one win away from clinching his 12th career playoff berth as Green Bay’s starting quarterback. Winners of four in a row, the Packers can salvage a turbulent season with a Sunday night win over Detroit, which are seeking their first playoff berth in six years.

After a 40-33 loss against the Eagles on November 27, the Packers fell to 4-8 and looked certain to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Last week, they routed the 12-win Minnesota Vikings to save their season.

Thanks to improved play from Rodgers and the versatile backfield tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillion, Green Bay can clinch a wild-card spot if they can defeat an exciting Lions side with a thrilling offense and porous defense. Detroit quarterback Jared Goff anchors a high-flying attack that ranks third in yards per game and fourth in points per game and is coming off a 41-10 thrashing of the Chicago Bears.

If the Packers win: They clinch a wild-card berth.

If the Lions win or tie: They clinch a wild-card spot with a Seahawks loss or tie.


New York Jets v Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1pm EST/6pm GMT)
New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1pm EST/6pm GMT)

On the same day Green Bay fell to 4-8 on the 2022 season, the Miami Dolphins improved to 8-3 with an easy victory over the Houston Texans and appeared bound for the playoffs. Since that win, Miami has lost five consecutive games and needs to beat the Jets to extend their season. The Dolphins will be missing several key players – starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, left tackle Terron Armstead and linebacker Bradley Chubb are three of the team’s most important starters – and have yet to announce a starting QB for Sunday’s game. If backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater isn’t healed from an injured finger, then head coach Mike McDaniel will turn to either third-stringer Skylar Thompson or veteran Mike Glennon, who was added to the roster on Wednesday.

Even a win wouldn’t be enough to get the Dolphins in the playoffs. To secure a spot, Miami will need New England to lose to the Bills, who are returning to play for the first time since defensive back Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in Monday’s game against the Bengals. The Patriots clinch a playoff spot with a win, but enter as winners of just two of their last six games with an offense that ranks 26th in yards per game. If they lose, they risk missing the playoffs for just the fifth time in coach Bill Belichick’s 23rd season leading the team.

If the Patriots win: They clinch a wild-card spot.

If the Dolphins win: They clinch a wild-card spot with a Patriots loss.

If both teams lose: The Patriots clinch if the Titans and Steelers also lose. The Dolphins’ season is over with a loss.

Philadelphia will be counting on Jalen Hurts to return from injury and help the Eagles lock down the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. Photograph: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Battle for No. 1

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 4.25pm ​​EST/9.25pm ​​GMT)
Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4.25pm ​​EST/9.25pm ​​GMT)
Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders (Sunday, 4.25pm ​​EST/9.25pm ​​GMT)

The Philadelphia Eagles appeared to be in firm control of the top seed in the NFC to start December, but back-to-back losses have put them in jeopardy of losing the coveted bye week. Starting quarterback Jalen Hurts is expected to return to action after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury against the Giants, who clinched a playoff spot last week and will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

The two teams eligible to snatch the top spot from the Eagles are the San Francisco 49ers – winners of nine consecutive games – and the division rival Dallas Cowboys, who hold a tiebreaker that could sink the Eagles all the way to the No. 5 seed. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Niners and Cowboys each face teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

If the Eagles win or tie: They clinch the No. 1 overall seed.

If the Niners win: They clinch the No. 1 overall seed with an Eagles loss.

If the Cowboys win: They clinch the No. 1 overall seed with an Eagles loss and Niners loss/tie.

If the Niners win, the Cowboys win and the Eagles lose: The Niners became the No. 1 overall seed; Dallas won the NFC East and is the No. 2 seed; Philadelphia earned a wild-card spot and the No. 5 seed.


Long shots

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 1pm EST/6pm GMT)
Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4.25pm ​​EST/9.25pm ​​GMT)

The Steelers are long shots to make the playoffs, but they are playing for one of the most remarkable streaks in the NFL. If Pittsburgh beats or ties Cleveland on Sunday, head coach Mike Tomlin will complete his 16th consecutive season – the entirety of his tenure with the Steelers – without a losing record. Tomlin is the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL behind Belichick and has made the postseason 10 times in his career.

The Seahawks weren’t a popular preseason pick after trading Russell Wilson to Denver and handing the starting quarterback job to veteran Geno Smith. The move worked – the Broncos already fired their coach and Wilson endured a miserable season – and Seattle can snatch a wild-card spot with a win over the Rams and a Packers loss. It would be a remarkable moment for the 32-year-old Smith, a former Jets first-round pick who served primarily as a backup from 2014 through 2021. In 2022, Smith has the highest completion percentage in the NFL and has thrown for more touchdowns than both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

If the Steelers win: They clinch a playoff spot if both the Patriots and Dolphins lose.

If the Seahawks win: They clinch a playoff spot with a Packers loss.

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