This article is part of our NFL Observations series.
I was against having a Week 18 -- the season is long and brutal enough -- but what an epic week, capped off by an epic game. The Chargers were dead to rights so many times -- how can you convert a life-and-death 4th-and-23 for a TD, a life-and-death two-point conversion, and so many life-and-death 4th-and-10s both on the final regulation drive and overtime? And for the Raiders to make the long field goal at the end, rather than just run out the clock too -- the whole thing was so insane. But I had the Raiders plus three, and that was the important thing in the end, especially because it sent me to 12-4 ATS on the week, and a win in my home picking pool which was a triple-week because people (not me) had tied the previous two.
- Justin Herbert was under pressure for most of the game and while he wasn't efficient, it's rare to see a young QB so unflustered in a high-pressure situations. Given his age and rookie contract, he is far and away the most valuable commodity in the NFL. That the Chargers couldn't make a seven-team playoff with him is damning.
- The healthy version of Josh Jacobs (26-132-1, 2-2-12-0) is a difference maker.
- Hunter Renfrow (5-4-13-2) had a modest game, but scored twice. It used to be the red-zone specialists were 6-4, 220-pound fade guys, but now it's slight, quick ones like Cooper Kupp and Renfrow.
- Austin Ekeler (16-64-1, 12-5-34-1) wasn't especially efficient, but his two scores tied him with Jonathan Taylor for the league lead with 20. I faded Ekeler at my peril this year, but I'll probably do so again next year in his age 27 season after 206 carries at 200 pounds.
- It's funny the Chargers converted so many fourth and longs, but couldn't get it done on 4th-and-short, particularly the one on their own 20-yard line. While Brandon Staley will get some heat for that decision, it won't be nearly as much as say Bill Belichick got when he did it on 4th-and-2 from his own 28 against the Colts in 2009. It's much more inside-the-box now, and plenty of nerds will have Staley's back. And Belichick was facing Peyton Manning, while Staley would have been punting back to Derek Carr.
- Another bizarre facet of that game were all the errors and bounces. The Chargers' second TD drive was kept alive by a 3rd-and-17 ticky-tack hold and a third-and-long tipped pass to the wrong receiver. Carr missed a wide open Zay Jones on his second drive, but the Raiders scored anyway after Andre Roberts muffed a punt. Then before the half, the Raiders scored thanks to a PI in the end zone on a play that never seemed to have a chance. There were so many crazy bounces and huge calls for both teams.
- People kept saying "Big Ben's last home game," "Big Ben's last pass," "Big Ben's last moments," and improbably, none of it was true, as the Steelers will drag his carcass out for another week.
- Even though I had the Raiders plus three, I kind of hoped the game-winning field goal were blocked for a TD. It would serve them right for even risking the loss when the playoff-clinching tie was one kneel-down away.
- It really was coaching malpractice for the two teams not to tie intentionally from the outset. The NFL can whine all it likes about competitive integrity and "The Shield" (LOL), but teams trot out third stringers all the time in Week 17 (and now 18) to preserve their starters for the playoffs. In fact, it's their earned privilege to do so because they don't need the game. For the Chargers to miss the playoffs (and the Raiders to play a five-quarter war) when they could have breezed in with a virtual Week 18 bye is prehistoric. It's like settling a legal dispute with a duel rather than a mutually-satisfactory court-approved settlement. Still it was an epic game and hilarious how close it was to ending in a tie anyway.
- The Buccaneers played their starters virtually the entire game to lock up the No. 2 seed and boost Tom Brady's MVP chances. The award is going to Aaron Rodgers, Brady or Cooper Kupp.
- Brady has 83 TD passes during the regular season as a Buccaneer, and his 5,316 passing yards is the third most all-time in a single season, albeit in 17 games.
- Mike Evans eclipsed 1,000 yards for the eighth straight year. No one else has started a career with more than six.
- Rob Gronkowski (10-7-137-0) had 802 yards in 12 games. He's still the greatest TE of all time and should have a massive role in the playoffs with Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin out.
- Russell Wilson finally looked like himself the last couple weeks.
- Rashaad Penny (23-190-1) would go in the first round next year if we could be sure he'd play 17 games.
- James Conner (15-52-1, 6-6-41-1) was a touchdown machine with 18 on the year in 15 games. He left late with a rib injury, so we'll see about his status for the playoffs.
- The Dolphins always play the Patriots tough. So odd that line was -6.5 in Miami.
- Brandon Bolden is the AFC's JaMychal Hasty. Don't ask me why this is important. The comp occurred to me and struck me as perfect.
- Duke Johnson (25-117-1, 1-1-5-0) passes the eye test. He'll be 29 next year, but the odometer is low.
- The 49ers were down 17-0 and won 27-24, giving Sean McVay his first ever loss with a halftime lead. Actually, it was McVay who gave himself the loss with a cowardly play call, running the ball on 3rd-and-9 to force the 49ers last timeout rather than throwing for a would-be game-winning first down. The 49ers still had 1:34 left when they got it back and drove for a game-tying TD.
- If the Niners were a higher seed Deebo Samuel (8-45-1, 6-4-95-0) would deserve MVP votes. He comes up huge every week, and in the must-win game, made the key play on the game-tying drive, had several huge runs and even threw a 24-yard TD pass.
- I was rooting for Cooper Kupp (1-18-0, 7-7-118-1) to get the all-time records, but it's better he didn't (he fell four catches and 17 yards short.) Seventeen-game records deserve more of an asterisk than steroid-aided ones in baseball. Kupp finishes with 191-145-1,967-16, on a massive 10.2 YPA. There are only five other players in history to eclipse 10 YPT on more than 150 targets.
|Steve Smith Sr.||2005||150||103||1563||15.2||12||10.4|
Kupp's MVP case would be stronger if the Rams were the No. 2 seed, but any way you look at it, he had a season for the ages.
- Jimmy Garoppolo was shaky early, but made the throws in the end. He's still under contract for next year, and while Trey Lance will almost certainly take over, you have to wonder what Kyle Shanahan would do if Garoppolo makes a deep playoff run. (More likely, a deep playoff run would make him a good trade candidate to say the Broncos or Steelers, though.)
- The Jets just couldn't make that last third-down stop on Devin Singletary to force a field goal and go down 13 for the cover. Instead they lost by 17 while getting 16.5.
- Kyle Pitts (5-2-8-0) will be an interesting pick next year. I could see him anywhere from TE1 to TE5. Maybe Julio Jones' perennial lack of TDs was a Matt Ryan thing, though.
- Alvin Kamara (30-146-0, 2-2-16) isn't like Ekeler or Christian McCaffrey -- he's 215 pounds and could handle feature back work, though he's no longer young for a running back.
- Like the Lions, the Texans are one of the hardest-playing bad teams in NFL history. I heard rumors they would fire David Culley, and if so I'd be happy to see the Giants replace Joe Judge with him.
- Mike Vrabel is the easy Coach of the Year for me, locking up a No. 1 seed despite all their injuries and a first-place schedule that included the Rams, Bills, 49ers, Cardinals, Chiefs and Steelers.
- Mark Andrews (16-8-85-0) finished with 1,361 yards, the third most all-time for a tight end. His 107 catches also tied for third most.
- The Colts always seem to struggle in Jacksonville, and this setup was especially bad because the Jaguars stop the run, and you don't want the game in the hands of Carson If.
- Jonathan Taylor (15-77-0, 4-3-18-0) is out of the MVP running with the Colts out of the playoffs obviously. Even though I wanted the Jaguars to win for Sunday night drama purposes, and also because I took them in "Force The Bet," I found myself rooting for Taylor out of loyalty on behalf of my now defunct fantasy teams.
- Trevor Lawrence had possibly his best game of the year. It wasn't much, but something to take with him for the offseason.
- My ATS record would have been a lot better this year if I didn't almost always take the Giants. They even pulled it to 12-7 at one point! They were, hands down, the worst offense in the league -- and truly hopeless after Daniel Jones went down. They need to fix the offensive line and get someone (not Jason Garrett or Freddie Kitchens) who can call plays. We'll see -- they have some skill pieces on both sides of the ball .
- The Vikings should have been six or seven point favorites, but this game went off just over three. Of course, they had the requisite drama, getting down 14 before storming back.
- Dan Campbell is Mike Vrabel 2.0. I love all the trick plays and how this team plays like it's overtime in the Super Bowl on every series. They have a good offensive line, D'Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Jared Goff isn't terrible, either. There are worse things to be than a Lions fan right now, and I am one of them (Giants fan).
- When Mason Crosby missed a PAT early in the game, I had a premonition he would sink the Packers in the playoffs. Kickers don't matter until they do. I'd hate to be a No. 1 seed going into the postseason with a shaky kicker.
- The Eagles brought their offense in a meaningless game, but left behind the defense.
- Dak Prescott's stat-padding was a bit gauche for my tastes in Week 18 against a preseason defense.
- The Broncos had the Chiefs on the ropes, up one and driving with less than eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Melvin Gordon fumbled and Nick Bolton returned it 86 yards for the TD. What a game-destroying play! Still, the Broncos did the right thing, allowing the Chiefs just enough yardage on the final drive to kneel down on their five yard line, ceding the win but heroically preserving the cover.