WHAT WE LEARNED: NFL WEEK 18
As the curtain closes on the 2022-23 regular season, we have plenty to talk about so let’s get started with our playoff brackets.
HERE ARE YOUR NFL PLAYOFF SEEDS
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)
6. Baltimore Ravens (10-7)
7. Miami Dolphins (9-8)
The only real drama here heading into Week 18 surrounded which team would claim the AFC South and the final Wild Card Spot. For the South, it was the Jaguars who knocked off the Tennessee Titans in a winner take all (or loser leaves town) match. The Miami Dolphins ruined the Pittsburgh Steelers’ chance to get obliterated by the Buffalo Bills by barely hanging on to beat the New York Jets, setting up their own trip to the Buffalo guillotine.
AFC WILD CARD MATCHUPS
Dolphins at Bills
Ravens at Bengals
Chargers at Jaguars
The most intriguing game of this group is the Chargers at Jaguars, which will be played Saturday at 8:15 pm EST. This will be Justin Herbert’s playoff debut and the debate between him verses Joe Burrow will be settled for good if he goes into Jacksonville and loses. And I’m not down on Herbert at all, but you’ve got to win in the postseason to be a great quarterback. Burrow has already done that. He’s made a Super Bowl. Let’s see what Herbert can do.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
2. San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
3. Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)
5. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
6. New York Giants (9-7-1)
7. Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
If anyone out there believed that the “NFL is rigged,” Sunday’s action disproved that theory completely. Because I promise you, no NFL or network executive wanted the Seattle Seahawks to make the playoffs. At all. Every TV and league person outside of Seattle hoped beyond hope that the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers would sneak into that seventh seed. If not them, then the Detroit Lions, everybody’s favorite Bad News Bears underdog, would take that spot. By beating the Los Angeles Rams in overtime, the Seahawks ensured the Lions would be sitting at home regardless of the outcome of Sunday night’s contest.
And when the Lions beat the Packers, Seattle slid into the seventh seed and Roger Goodell stomped his hat into the dirt.
Also, and again I promise you this, no one wanted the Buccaneers to get into the playoffs with a losing record. So your crazy conspiracy theory-addled uncle will just have to go back to planning his next assault on the US Capitol and leave his “rigged NFL” beliefs behind. Because a rigged league would not have this NFC playoff bracket.
NFC WILD CARD MATCHUPS
Seahawks at 49ers
Giants at Vikings
Cowboys at Buccaneers
Here’s the thing about these games — You can’t count on any of these teams. Yes, the 49ers have looked like a buzzsaw, but they’ve played a lackluster schedule and I’m still not sold on Brock Purdy. The playoffs are a whole new monster.
And while the Cowboys should be able to run the Bucs out of their own stadium, can you trust Mike McCarthy to do that? I honestly think his job is on the line Monday night. If they’re one and done in the playoffs again, there’s no way Jerry Jones is keeping him. Not with Sean Payton out there circling.
BLACK MONDAY CLAIMS TWO SCALPS
Listen, Lovie Smith never had a chance to be retained. He was a one-year head coach and there was no question about it. But if he had any shot of keeping that job, he screwed it up by winning in the season finale against the Indianapolis Colts, once again costing the Houston Texans a No. 1 overall draft pick for the second year in a row. And, honestly, I knew he would. I put the Texans in every parlay I played last week.
Kliff Kingsbury getting the ax was more of a surprise. I thought he’d get another year with a new general manager, but the Bidwell family had seen enough. Kliff and Lovie now join Nathaniel Hackett, Frank Reich and Matt Rhule in the unemployment line. They might be joined by Mike McCarthy if he loses this weekend. There’s also a slight chance that Sean McVay steps away from the Los Angeles Rams, but I honestly don’t think that’s going to happen.
That means the following jobs are open as of this writing;
So who are top contenders for these open jobs? I think Steve Wilks makes a lot of sense for Carolina, since he’s already there and did a good job as the interim head coach. I would want him to go outside the box on an offensive coordinator, steal a QB coach from the Chiefs, Rams, or 49ers to call the plays and design the offense. Hell, Kliff Kingsbury is available as an OC, but I honestly think he’ll end up with McVay with the Rams.
Raheem Morris, the Rams defensive coordinator, along with Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, are on everyone’s short list. If I’m a Bidwell, Bieniemy is my No. 1 target as head coach. I would have that contract ready to go the second they can legally talk to him.
As for Morris, the Broncos would be an excellent fit for him.
Of all the fired head coaches, only Reich really has a shot at landing another head coaching job. Arizona will probably take a good look at him along with Carolina if they don’t want to stick with Wilks.
The Texans are the ultimate wild card simply because no one will want that job. They can’t be trusted to keep a head coach past a season and are in the midst of a complete rebuild as they have been for the past three years. They do have multiple good draft picks and that could entice someone to take the job, but this is easily every real coaching contender’s last choice. And for Sean Payton, who will be No. 1 on everyone’s list, there’s no chance in hell he’d even look in Houston’s direction.
But, if he did, they probably wouldn’t fire him after a single season and they do have an extra first rounder (via the Cleveland Browns) to trade to the New Orleans Saints for his services.
Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan.