19 Clubs Remain In Contention For Super Bowl LVII
The National Football League began playing postseason games in 1933. Since then, the list of seasons in which multiple teams have made the postseason after falling at least four games below .500 is extremely short.
This week, four teams that were at least four games under .500 at some point in 2022 have the opportunity to earn playoff berths. Never in the 89 seasons from 1933-2021 has the league seen so many teams bounce back in the same year.
The DETROIT LIONS (8-8) were 1-6 following a Week 8 loss. The team is aiming to become only the second ever and the first in 52 years, since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals (1-6), to make the playoffs after winning no more than one of their first seven games.
Their opponents this week on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC), the GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-8), were 4-8 following a Week 12 loss. Only the 2008 San Diego Chargers (4-8) and the 2014 Carolina Panthers (3-8-1) have gone to the playoffs after winning no more than four of their first 12 games.
The JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (8-8) were 2-6, 3-7 and 4-8 on respective occasions this year. Only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals (2-6) and the 2020 Washington Football Team (2-6) have earned postseason berths after winning no more than two of their first eight games.
The PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-8) were 2-6 and 3-7 at different points in 2022. Only the 2014 Carolina Panthers (3-6-1) and the 2020 Washington Football Team (3-7) have qualified for the playoffs after winning no more than three of their first 10 games.
That’s just one storyline in a fascinating Week 18. It’s the 13th consecutive year that the NFL scheduled all 16 games in the season’s final week between division foes, enhancing the possibility for last-minute playoff implications.
The Starting 11 entering Week 18…
- COMPLEMENTARY FOOTBALL: Guiding the Packers on storybook turnarounds in December and January is nothing new to AARON RODGERS. For the third time in his career, he has an opportunity to lead Green Bay to the playoffs after a remarkable comeback. No quarterback in NFL history has led a club to the playoffs during three different seasons in which his team had a below-.500 record at least 10 games into the year. But with a GREEN BAY (8-8) win against DETROIT (8-8) on Sunday Night Football at Lambeau Field (8:20 PM ET, NBC), Rodgers would be the first to do it. This season, Green Bay was 4-8 prior to its current four-game winning streak and needs one more victory to reach the playoffs. In 2016, Green Bay was 4-6 before the Packers won six straight and entered the postseason at 10-6. And in 2013, Green Bay was 5-6-1 before winning three of its final four to qualify for the playoffs at 8-7-1.
The quarterback’s teammates complemented him well in last week’s win. While running back AARON JONES had 111 rushing yards on just 14 attempts, cornerback KEISEAN NIXON returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown and safety DARNELL SAVAGE returned an interception 75 yards for another touchdown. The Packers became the first team with a 100-yard kickoff-return touchdown and a 75-yard interception-return touchdown in the same game since Minnesota in Week 11 of the 2016 season.
DETROIT is also trending up, having won seven of its last nine. Former Green Bay running back JAMAAL WILLIAMS leads the NFL with 15 rushing touchdowns, the most by a Lions player since Pro Football Hall of Famer BARRY SANDERS (16) in 1991.
On defense, the Lions’ future is blindingly bright. In last week’s win, rookie defensive lineman AIDAN HUTCHINSON had a half sack, interception and fumble recovery, rookie linebacker JAMES HOUSTON had three sacks and a forced fumble, and rookie defensive lineman JOSH PASCHAL had two sacks. Hutchinson, who has 7.5 sacks this season, and Houston (eight sacks) are the NFL’s first pair of rookie teammates each with at least seven sacks since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Hutchinson is the first rookie since 1982 with at least seven sacks (7.5) and three interceptions (three). Houston is the first player with eight sacks in his first six career games since 1982. And Houston and Paschal became the fourth pair of rookie teammates since 1982 to each have multiple sacks in the same game.
- NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 19: The number of teams remaining in contention for the Super Bowl, the most entering the final week of a season since there were 20 in 2006. Only three playoff berths remain, two in the AFC and one in the NFC.
- IMPROVEMENT IS EN VOGUE: Five teams have an opportunity to improve their records by at least five games compared to last year. In 16 of 19 seasons from 2003-21, at least three teams have improved their win totals by five-or-more games. And should Detroit, Jacksonville and the New York Giants win this week, three teams would have six-game improvements. That hasn’t happened since there were four in 2018. It’s a healthy trend the NFL can continue this week.
The DETROIT LIONS (8-8) need a win at Green Bay on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC) to improve by six games over 2021, when they were 3-13-1.
The JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (8-8) with a win vs. Tennessee (7-9) on Saturday (8:15 PM ET, ESPN/ABC) would have six more victories than in 2021 (3-14).
The MINNESOTA VIKINGS (12-4) with a win at Chicago (3-13) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX) would have five more victories than in 2021 (8-9).
The NEW YORK GIANTS (9-6-1) with a win at Philadelphia (13-3) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS) would have six more victories than in 2021 (4-13).
And the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (13-3) are one victory away from improving their record by five games over 2021 (9-8).
- SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Browns guard JOEL BITONIO and Steelers defensive tackle CAMERON HEYWARD have combined for 10 Pro Bowl selections (five each). They’ll square off across the line of scrimmage on Sunday when PITTSBURGH (8-8) aims to keep its postseason hopes alive against CLEVELAND (7-9) at Acrisure Stadium (1:00 PM ET, CBS). …Pittsburgh quarterback KENNY PICKETT is the first rookie ever with a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of consecutive games.
- SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: In the Jets’ Week 5 win over the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium, cornerbacks SAUCE GARDNER and D.J. REED – both key offseason additions – were pivotal in holding TYREEK HILL and JAYLEN WADDLE out of the end zone and limiting the wide-receiver duo to a combined 70 receiving yards, their lowest combined total of the season. On Sunday, the DOLPHINS (8-8) host the JETS (7-9) in a rematch at Hard Rock Stadium (1:00 PM ET, FOX) and Miami needs a win to stay alive in the race for one of the AFC’s final playoff berths. Last week, Gardner had a career-high four passes defensed and enters Sunday leading the league with 20 on the season. Meanwhile in 2022, Hill ranks second in the NFL with career bests in catches (117) and receiving yards (1,687), both Miami single-season franchise records. Plus, Hill and Waddle have combined for 2,999 receiving yards this season and need 176 to establish the most by a pair of teammates in NFL history.
- STREAK SPEAK: TENNESSEE (7-9) and JACKSONVILLE (8-8) face off Saturday night (8:15 PM ET, ESPN/ABC) in a winner-take-all showdown for the AFC South division crown and one of the conference’s final two playoff slots.
With a victory, Jacksonville would complete a “worst-to-first” turnaround after finishing fourth in the AFC South last season. In 17 of the past 19 seasons (2003-21), at least one team has finished in first place in its division the season after finishing last or tied for last.
With a win, the Jaguars would improve their winning streak to five games, the franchise’s longest in a single regular season since 2005. Jacksonville would also notch its first season sweep of the Titans since that ’05 campaign.
A Tennessee win would give the Titans their third consecutive AFC South title. Should that happen, the tiebreaker would come down to Tennessee’s better record in the division.
- DID YOU KNOW?: Since the NFL began determining No. 1-seeded playoff teams in 1975, no team has ever earned a conference’s No. 1 seed after having a losing record through its first seven games. The SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-4), who were 3-4 after a Week 7 loss, could become the first. San Francisco needs a win against ARIZONA (4-12) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX) coupled with a Philadelphia loss, to earn the NFC’s lone bye and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs…With a victory Sunday, the 49ers’ BROCK PURDY would become only the third rookie quarterback ever to win each of his first five career starts, joining BEN ROETHLISBERGER (won first 13 starts in 2004) and MIKE KRUCZEK (first six in 1968).
- UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: Since 1990 – a streak of 33 consecutive seasons – at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before. Four teams – BALTIMORE, the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS, MINNESOTA and the NEW YORK GIANTS – have already clinched playoff berths after missing the postseason last year while DETROIT, JACKSONVILLE, MIAMI and SEATTLE have a chance to join them this week.
- TREND TIME: No question, the 2022 season will go down as the Year of Close Games and Comebacks. The league can make even more history in those two departments this week.
Entering Week 18, 69 games have been decided by three points or less. The single-season league record is 73 in 2018.
Entering Week 18, 133 games have been decided by seven points or less. The single-season league record is 135 in 2016.
Entering Week 18, 11 games have been won or tied by teams that trailed by 16-or-more points. The single-season league record is 12 in 2011.
In 2022, 19 games have been won or tied by teams that trailed by 14-or-more points, matching the single-season league record (19 in 2013).
Already this season, the NFL has broken its single-season records in seven related categories: Games decided by six-or-fewer points (114), games decided by eight-or-fewer points (148), games within a one-possession margin in the fourth quarter (192), games won or tied by teams that trailed by 10-or-more points (51), games won/tied by teams that trailed in the fourth quarter (81), games with the winning score coming in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime (62) and games with the winning score coming in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime (71).
- THIS WEEK IN NFL HISTORY: Jan. 4, 2003 (20 years ago) – On a snow-covered Lambeau Field, 22-year-old MICHAEL VICK and the Falcons shock Green Bay, 23-7, in an NFC Wild Card game. Atlanta head coach DAN REEVES avenges his Ice Bowl loss on the same field 35 years prior, handing the Packers – 13-0 in Wisconsin since the NFL began its playoff system in 1933 – the first home postseason loss in franchise history. Vick defeats future Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE, who had been 35-0 at home in cold-weather games.
- AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Raiders running back JOSH JACOBS enters the season finale leading the league with 1,608 rushing yards. After LAS VEGAS (6-10) hosts KANSAS CITY (13-3) on Saturday (4:30 PM ET, ESPN/ABC), Jacobs could finish the weekend as just the second in franchise history to win a prestigious NFL rushing title and join Pro Football Hall of Famer MARCUS ALLEN (1,759 in 1985). … What’s more, both NICK CHUBB (1,448) and DERRICK HENRY (1,429) are nearing 1,500 rushing yards this season. The last time the NFL had at least three players rush for 1,500 yards was 2012.
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