The top and bottom of the NFL regular season was sealed on Sunday.
A narrow 17-14 win for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Atlanta Falcons earned the reigning Super Bowl champion the number one seed in the AFC with one game remaining.
Secure a victory next week against the 6-9 Los Angeles Chargers, and the Chiefs finish the season 15-1.
Regular season job done, but the chase for a second Super Bowl win in two years is now the priority.
Securing the number one seed has been especially crucial this year.
In a normal season, 12 teams would advance to the playoffs — six from each conference, with the number one and two seeds awarded first round byes. The third to sixth seeded teams fight it off in the Wild Card round, before facing one of the first and second seeds in the Divisional round games.
In this coronavirus affected season, the NFL has increased the number of teams from 12 to 14. Consequentially, this year only the number one seed is awarded a bye for the opening round of the playoffs. This is in addition to earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
These benefits are crucial. Owing to the unpredictable, coronavirus-affected scheduling, injuries have been on the rise and the extra rest could play a significant role in the outcome of the playoffs.
Speaking after the game, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “We can use [the playoff bye-week] as a healing time and get ourselves back healthy and ready to roll.”
Despite Sunday’s victory, the bullish Chiefs were self-critical following the game.
Reid said he was “proud” of the team for its 14-1 record, but later added: “We just weren’t as sharp as we need to be.”
He also took responsibility for a result which, on paper, was closer than it should have been against a Falcons team that went into the game with a 4-10 record.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was similarly critical of his performance.
He opened his press conference by saying: “First off, I’ve got to focus on fixing the things that I made mistakes on during the game.”
Mahomes added: “The defense played their tail off to keep us in that game and give us a chance, and the offense found a way to score a touchdown when we needed to.
“So that’s just that ‘championship swagger’ that Tyrann [Mathieu] would say, of knowing when to win the game even when you’re not playing well.”
Tank for Trevor is over
At the other end of the standings, the Jacksonville Jaguars have secured the wooden spoon.
In the eyes of many, that is a job very much well done.
Bottom of the AFC, and with the worst record in the entire NFL, the Jaguars have been awarded with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. That means they might get the opportunity to select generational quarterback talent Trevor Lawrence from Clemson.
Having won their season opener against the Indianapolis Colts, the Jags have now lost 14 consecutive games.
For much of the season, it looked likely that the New York Jets would take the first overall pick. Two weeks ago, they had zero wins and looked destined to clinch only the third 0-16 season in NFL history.
Shock wins against the LA Rams and Cleveland Browns, however, puts the Jets at 2-13. Even if the Jaguars win next week, and the Jets lose, Jacksonville has the number one pick tied up.
Lawrence won the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship with Clemson as a freshman and finished as a runner up to the Joe Burrow-led Louisiana State in 2020.
He will lead the number two seed Tigers in the Sugar Bowl against third seed Ohio State. If Clemson win that game, Lawrence will have made three College Football Playoff National Championship finals in three years.
He is considered to be potentially the highest-rated college quarterback since Andrew Luck in 2012 or maybe even Peyton Manning in 1998.
Lawrence has not yet announced whether he intends to leave college this season or remain for his senior season.
But if he declares for the 2021 NFL Draft, it is highly likely the league’s commissioner Roger Goodell will be calling his name before any other and that the 21-year old will wear the black, teal and gold of Jacksonville.