By Ben Morse, CNN
Some teams will be happy, others will be disappointed and wait for next season, while another portion will be satisfied but insist their season is still far from over.
With postseason places now locked in and the playoffs around the corner, here’s everything you need to know from Sunday’s games in Week 18.
Bills provide shock end to season
It has been an up-and-down season for the Buffalo Bills, but it ended in perfect fashion for the upstate New York team.
Although the team’s playoff spot had been sealed before Sunday’s game against their division rivals, the Miami Dolphins, following the Jacksonville Jaguars’ earlier defeat, they went out and produced something spectacular.
After quarterback Josh Allen had recovered from a two-interception first quarter, the Bills beat the Dolphins 21-14 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami to snatch the AFC East division title from their grasp and claim the AFC’s No. 2 seed.
It completes a dramatic turn around for Buffalo, which was 6-6 after Week 12 despite coming into the season as a Super Bowl contender.
It looked like the season might be slipping away, but the team finished by winning its final five games of the season to book a spot in the postseason and snatch the division title away from Miami at the last opportunity.
The team’s topsy-turvy season was perfectly encapsulated by Allen on Sunday who threw two ghastly interceptions in the end zone in the opening quarter of the contest but then rallied late on to lead the Bills to victory.
Buffalo was boosted in the fourth quarter when Deonte Harty returned a punt 96 yards untouched for a touchdown which seemed to spark the Bills offense to life.
After winning their fourth consecutive AFC East title, the Bills will play the No. 7 seed Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in their first playoff game of the season.
Despite the team’s season looking dead and buried midway through the year, Allen insisted that he and his teammates rallied under a common cause when they were hanging on a precipice at 6-6.
“We knew what was in front of us, had a lot of internal talks. Trusted the guys in this locker room,” Allen told reporters. “At the end of the day, this is fun, this is cool, I’ll never say no to winning a division.
“But the only thing that it solidifies is a home game and one more game, so [it] doesn’t mean anything if we go out there next week and don’t do our job. We’ve got to find a way to put our best foot forward go find victory next week.”
For Miami, it is a disappointing end to what has largely been a positive season.
The team has faltered down the stretch and struggled with injuries as the regular season came to a close; wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and running back Raheem Mostert both missed Sunday’s game.
According to the NFL, the Dolphins had been 11-0 when leading at halftime before Sunday’s game which had been the most wins without a loss this year before Buffalo’s comeback victory.
After the loss, Miami has the No. 6 seed in the AFC and will travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.
Miami head coach Mike McDaniel stressed the importance of his team moving on from Sunday’s loss, calling the game against the Chiefs a “new season.”
“As hard as it is, that’s part of the reason why you have so much joy in the game, is when you come out the right side there is nothing like it,” he told reporters. “Then the polar opposite, when you let opportunities go by the wayside, it just completely absorbs you.
“We don’t have time to sulk. This is what happens in football against a very good team. Our team really, really wanted it bad, but wanting, you’ve still got to do the things in football to come out victorious; we didn’t. So I’m very confident that our players and coaches will turn their attention full bore to Kansas City because that’s all we can do.”
AFC playoff schedule
Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans – Saturday, January 13, 4:30 p.m. ET
Miami Dolphins @ Kansas City Chiefs – Saturday, January 13, 8 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills – Sunday, January 14, 1 p.m. ET
Packers return to playoffs
The Green Bay Packers looked to have a serious rebuilding job on their hands following the departure of Aaron Rodgers in the offseason and with a young cast of offensive weapons.
But under the stewardship of head coach Matt LaFleur and the emerging excellence of quarterback Jordan Love, Green Bay is back in the postseason.
The Packers booked their playoff spot with a victory over their long-time rivals, the Chicago Bears, on Sunday, winning 17-9 to clinch the seventh seed in the NFC and a must-see match-up with former head coach Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the postseason.
Love threw 27-for-32 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns, both to fifth-round rookie Dontayvion Wicks, and that was enough as the Packers claimed their 10th straight victory over the Bears.
After beginning the season 3-6, it’s a remarkable turnaround for the Packers who finished their season on a three-game winning streak to earn a postseason ticket
Love became the first quarterback in Packers history to reach the playoffs in his first year as the full-time starter, according to the NFL, and it’s the fourth postseason berth in five seasons for LaFleur.
Afterwards, LaFleur paid tribute to his quarterback, calling him a “tough-minded sucker.”
“His family did a hell of a job raising him in terms of what he’s all about,” he told reporters. “He’s about all the right things. The guy just comes to work every day. Has a great attitude, is one of the guys, has really improved over the course of four years. I’m just super happy for him. He’s earned it.”
The Packers have an excellent recent record against the Cowboys having won their past four matchups against Dallas.
NFC playoff schedule
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys – Sunday, January 14, 4:30 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Rams @ Detroit Lions – Sunday, January 14, 8 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Monday, January 15, 8 p.m. ET
Rookie wide receiver completes historic season
When Puka Nacua was selected in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft, it came with little fanfare.
But the wide receiver has been a sensation for the Los Angeles Rams – particularly, during the absence of star pass-catcher Cooper Kupp – and completed a historic season with a set of records on Sunday.
First, Nacua broke the record for rookie receiving yards with a six-yard catch in the third quarter of the Los Angeles Rams’ 21-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
In doing so, he surpassed Bill Groman’s mark of 1,473 yards set in a 14-game season in 1960, finishing the game with 1,486 receiving yards.
On the very next play, Nacua caught another pass from quarterback Carson Wentz – filling in for starter Matthew Stafford, who was resting for playoff football – which was his 105th reception in his rookie season.
That broke the previous rookie receptions record of 104 set by Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in 2021. Nacua became just the third rookie to catch 100 or more passes in a single season alongside Waddle and Anquan Boldin, who did so in 2003.
Nacua was pulled for the game shortly afterwards to ensure he didn’t pick up any injuries ahead of the Rams’ playoff push, as the 22-year-old out of BYU finished the afternoon with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
“Really happy for Puka Nacua,” Rams head coach Sean McVay told reporters after the game. “God, was that frustrating to try to figure that out.
“After the first drive, thought we would be able to do that, and I thought our guys just did a great job. For him to be able to break both of those records is such a credit to this team but also his consistency and his body of work over a 17-game season. I’m really happy for him.”
Sunday’s victory over the 49ers sets up an intriguing first-round playoff clash against the Detroit Lions, in particular for former Lions quarterback Stafford.
Stafford was drafted by Detroit with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft before spending 12 seasons with the team.
He was eventually traded to the Rams in 2021 and won a Super Bowl ring in his first season in Los Angeles.
It’ll be Stafford’s first game back in Detroit since he was traded and should make for an intriguing playoff encounter.
Full Week 18 Sunday scores
Away vs. home
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 Carolina Panthers
Cleveland Browns 14-31 Cincinnati Bengals
Minnesota Vikings 20-30 Detroit Lions
New York Jets 17-3 New England Patriots
Atlanta Falcons 17-48 New Orleans Saints
Jacksonville Jaguars 20-28 Tennessee Titans
Seattle Seahawks 21-20 Arizona Cardinals
Chicago Bears 9-17 Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs 13-12 Los Angeles Chargers
Denver Broncos 14-27 Las Vegas Raiders
Philadelphia Eagles 10-27 New York Giants
Los Angeles Rams 21-20 San Francisco 49ers
Dallas Cowboys 38-10 Washington Commanders
Buffalo Bills 21-14 Miami Dolphins
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