NFL playoffs: Packed Week 18 slate will decide playoff field
The NFL’s Week 18 schedule is a must-see for anyone who likes high-stakes football, as long as they also enjoy elements of scoreboard watching and slightly muddled playoff matchups. .
It’s been an eventful week for players and fans, who watched in horror Monday night as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field and had to be given CPR before being taken off the field in an ambulance. Days later, the same players and fans have watched with joy as Hamlin recovers.
That makes it much easier to focus on the NFL’s final stacked week, which will determine the playoff fate of many teams.
One of the game’s all-time great quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, is facing a win-or-go-home situation when the Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions. One of the game’s all-time great coaches, Bill Belichick, and his New England Patriots need a win against the mighty Bills or they could find themselves on the couch watching the playoffs.
The No. 1 overall seed in the AFC was claimed by Kansas City with a 31-13 victory over Las Vegas on Saturday. The NFC’s top spot is still up for grabs. It remains to be seen how much the AFC bracket will be affected by the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game after Hamlin’s injury.
Here’s a look at some things to look out for:
WHAT IS THE FORMAT FOR THE PLAYOFFS?
This is the third consecutive year of the current NFL playoff format, which features the top seven teams from both the AFC and NFC.
The four division winners in both conferences automatically get the top four teams, regardless of record, and then the top three teams with the best record that did not win their division are the wild-card selections. That’s why it’s fairly common for a wild-card selection to have a better — but worse — playoff record than a team that finished as the division winner.
The No. 1 team in each conference receives a second-round bye, while the No. 2 waits for number 7, no. 3 waits for number 6 and no. 4 hosts No. 5 during the wild-card weekend.
The NFL has a reseeding policy after each playoff round. This means that regardless of how the group started, the lower seeded team will always travel to the higher seeded team.
There are four rounds until the playoffs: the wild-card round is Jan. 14-15, the divisional round is Jan. 21-22, the conference championship games are Jan. 29, and the Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 12. in Glendale, Arizona.
WHAT CHANGED WITH THE REPEAL OF THE BENGAL ACT?
The Bills-Bengals game had major AFC playoff implications, so the cancellation of the game due to Hamlin’s injury could force some changes depending on Week 18 or playoff results.
The AFC Championship will be played at a neutral site if the participating teams play an uneven number of games and both could have been the No. 1 and host the game if all AFC clubs played a full 17-game regular season.
The league is considering several locations, including indoor and outdoor stadiums.
There are many scenarios — especially for the Bengals, Bills and Chiefs — depending on future results. The list is quite long. AP has broken down those potential matchups.
WHAT ARE SOME BIG GAMES THIS WEEKEND?
In fairly straightforward playoff drama, the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans 20-16 on Saturday night to win the AFC South for the first time in five seasons. The Titans needed a win to advance to the postseason.
The Packers and Rodgers also have a direct path to the postseason. If they beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Lambeau Field, they’re in the bracket. If they lose, they’re out. The Lions are also in the playoff hunt, but must beat the Packers and hope the Seahawks lose to the Rams.
WHAT OTHER GAMES TO WATCH IN WEEK 18?
The New England Patriots travel to face the Bills on Sunday in a game that will be closely followed for many reasons.
First, there’s the obvious history of the Bills playing out less than a week after Hamlin’s emotional situation. But there are also important playoff implications.
The Patriots can punch their ticket to the postseason with an upset win. If they lose, they will need help from other teams. The Bills are still in contention for the No. 1 seed. 1 in the AFC, depending on what the Chiefs do against the Raiders on Saturday night.
Also worth noting: The Miami Dolphins — who are likely to land third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson — need a win against the New York Jets (and help from other teams) to move into the playoff bracket . In Philadelphia, the Eagles can clinch the No. 1 overall pick in the NFC if they beat the New York Giants.
Even the Pittsburgh Steelers have a chance. They have to beat the Browns on Sunday and then hope the Patriots and Dolphins both lose.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.
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