Welcome to Week 18, the NFL’s Season Finale.
The music stops playing this weekend and there are only three remaining chairs – three final postseason berths. With one week to play, 18 teams are in Super Bowl contention. The last time there were more entering the final week of the regular season was 15 years ago (20 in 2006).
The 2021 regular season concludes with 14 of 16 games featuring at least one team either in the playoffs or in playoff contention.
In the AFC, five teams are fighting for the final two playoff invitations. In the NFC, two clubs have a shot at the final playoff reservation. Only the Green Bay Packers have secured their playoff seeding, clinching the NFC’s No. 1 seed and only first-round bye.
The Season Finale kicks off on Saturday with a doubleheader on ESPN and ABC: The Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) visit the Denver Broncos (7-9) at 4:30 PM ET and the Dallas Cowboys (11-5) travel to meet the Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at 8:15 PM ET.
For the 12th consecutive year, all 16 games scheduled for the final week are division contests. The last matchup on the 2021 regular-season schedule features the Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) at the Las Vegas Raiders (9-7) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC). The winner will earn the final spot in the NFL Playoffs.
Only one team in each conference gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.
In the AFC, four teams enter the final weekend with an opportunity to earn that right, which includes homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Tennessee Titans (11-5) have the most direct path to that coveted No. 1 seed, win at Houston (4-12) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). But don’t sleep on the Texans, who have won two of their past three and defeated Tennessee in Week 11.
The Chiefs can secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed for a second straight season, but they need to first win at Denver on Saturday and hope for a Titans loss the next day. And if Houston defeats Tennessee in the early window on Sunday, and the Broncos defeat the Chiefs, the door opens for both the Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) and New England Patriots (10-6).
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4) host the Carolina Panthers (5-11) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS), quarterback Tom Brady has an opportunity to accomplish something only two players have done in 31 years.
Brady leads the NFL in passing attempts (682), completions (456), passing yards (4,990) and touchdown passes (40). Only Drew Brees (2008) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (2013) have led the league in all four categories since 1991.
In last week’s win, Brady passed for 410 yards and three touchdowns while tight end Rob Gronkowski recorded 115 receiving yards.
Brady has 13 career games with at least 400 passing yards, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (13) for the third-most such games all-time. Only Drew Brees (16 games) and Manning (14) have more.
Brady, who had 40 touchdown passes in 2020 and 50 touchdown passes in 2007, has reached 40 touchdown passes for the third time in his career, joining Aaron Rodgers as the only quarterback ever with three career seasons with at least 40 touchdown passes. Brady also joined Drew Brees (2011-12) as the only quarterbacks all-time with at least 40 touchdown passes in consecutive seasons.
Gronkowski registered his 31st career game with at least 100 receiving yards, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez (31) for the most such games by a tight end in league annals.
In last week’s win, the Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat Kansas City and earn the AFC North division title for the first time since 2015.
Cincinnati completed a worst-to-first turnaround, winning its division the year after finishing in last place. In 17 of the past 19 seasons (2003-21), at least one NFL team has finished in first place the season after finishing in last or tied for last place.
This week, quarterback Joe Burrow leads the Bengals on the road at the Cleveland Browns (7-9), the latest installment in the Battle of Ohio series (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
In the Week 17 win, Burrow passed for 446 yards and four touchdowns while rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase had 11 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the Bengals' Week 17 win over Kansas City.
Burrow, who had 525 passing yards and four touchdown passes in Week 16, is the second quarterback all-time with at least 450 passing yards and four touchdown passes in consecutive games, joining Jameis Winston (Weeks 14-15, 2019).
Burrow has 971 passing yards in his past two games, surpassing Phil Simms (945 in Weeks 5-6, 1985) for the second-most passing yards by a quarterback in a two-game span ever. Only Dak Prescott (974 in Weeks 3-4, 2020) had more.
With 266 receiving yards last week, Chase broke the NFL’s single-game rookie record, previously held by Jerry Butler (255 on Sept. 23, 1979).
Chase also established the league’s single-season rookie record last week. With 1,429 receiving yards this season, he surpassed Justin Jefferson (1,400 in 2020).
Chase, who also had 201 receiving yards in Week 7, is also the first rookie ever and the fifth overall player in the Super Bowl era to record multiple games with at least 200 receiving yards in a season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Calvin Johnson (2011 and 2012) and Don Maynard (1968) as well as Josh Gordon (2013) and Alshon Jeffery (2013).
Chase leads all qualifying NFL players with 18.1 yards per reception and can become the first rookie to lead the league in that category since Kenny Stills (20.0 yards per reception) in 2013.
Both Cincinnati and Dallas have clinched division titles after missing the postseason in 2020. At least two NFL teams have now won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs in 18 of the past 19 years.
The New England Patriots (10-6), who visit the Miami Dolphins (8-8) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS), can join that group this week. The Patriots would win the AFC East with a win and a Buffalo loss.
Last week, New England’s Bill Belichick became the second head coach all-time with 20 seasons of 10-or-more wins, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula (20 seasons).
The Patriots, who scored 54 points in Week 7 and 50 last week, are the first team since the 2014 Green Bay Packers to score at least 50 points twice in season.
Also in last week’s win, New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones completed 22 of 30 attempts (73.3 percent) for 227 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a 128.1 rating. Meanwhile, defensive back J.C. Jackson recorded his eighth interception of the season.
Jones has nine games with a completion percentage of 70-or-higher, tied with Dak Prescott (nine games in 2016) for the most such games by a rookie quarterback all-time.
Jackson has 25 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2018 and is the fourth player in the Super Bowl era with at least 25 interceptions in his first four seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney (32), Lester Hayes (25) and Everson Walls (25).
So far this season, five teams have clinched playoff berths after missing the postseason in 2020 – Arizona, Cincinnati, Dallas, New England and Philadelphia. Since 1990 – a streak of 32 consecutive seasons – at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before.
The Cardinals finish their regular season at home against the Seattle Seahawks (6-10) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX). Arizona can also join the group of new division winners that missed the playoffs last season with a win and a Los Angeles Rams loss.
Last week, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson passed for four touchdowns with no interceptions and a 133.0 rating in the Seahawks' win. Including the postseason, Wilson now has 112 career wins, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (112) for the most wins, including the postseason, by a quarterback in his first 10 seasons in league annals.
Wilson has 17 career games with at least four touchdown passes, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famers Peyton Manning (17) and Dan Marino (17) for the most such games by a player in his first 10 seasons in NFL history.
The Indianapolis Colts (9-7) look to keep their playoff hopes alive on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS).
Last week, Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor totaled 114 scrimmage yards (108 rushing, six receiving) and one rushing touchdown. He now has 2,076 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns (18 rushing, two receiving) this season.
Taylor last week, at 22 years and 348 days old, became the youngest player with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns in a season all-time.
Taylor, who was selected in the second round (41st overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft, joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (1983) and David Johnson (2016) as the only players with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns in one of their first two career seasons in NFL history.
So far this season, 46 games have been decided with a winning score in the final minute of regulation or in overtime, the fifth-most in a season all-time. Only 2013 (49), 2015 (49), 2003 (48) and 2002 (47) had more. In addition to Cincinnati and Las Vegas, the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers each scored go-ahead game-winning touchdowns in the final minute of regulation in Week 17.
This week, those Rams (12-4) can capture the NFC West division title with a victory over the San Francisco 49ers (9-7) at SoFi Stadium (4:25 PM ET, FOX). The 49ers with a win would return to the playoffs.
Last week, Los Angeles wide receiver Cooper Kupp registered six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown while defensive lineman Aaron Donald recorded half a sack in the team's road win.
Kupp has 138 receptions this season and surpassed Antonio Brown (136 receptions in 2015) and Julio Jones (136 in 2015) for the third-most receptions in a season in NFL history. Only Michael Thomas (149 in 2019) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (143 in 2002) had more.
Kupp has 1,829 receiving yards in 2021 and became the fifth player with at least 1,800 in a season in NFL history, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Calvin Johnson (1,964 in 2012) and Jerry Rice (1,848 in 1995), as well as Antonio Brown (1,834 in 2015) and Julio Jones (1,871 in 2015).
With at least five receptions in 20 consecutive games, Kupp has tied with Jarvis Landry (20 games from 2017-18) and Michael Thomas (20 from 2018-19) for the third-longest such streak in NFL history. Only Antonio Brown (36 from 2013-15) and DeAndre Hopkins (23 from 2018-20) have longer streaks.
Donald has 98 career sacks since entering the NFL in 2014, tied with teammate Von Miller (98) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas (98) for the fourth-most sacks by a player in his first eight NFL seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White (124 sacks), DeMarcus Ware (111) and Jared Allen (105) have more.
Atlanta rookie tight end Kyle Pitts has 1,018 receiving yards this season. Last week, he joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka (1,076 in 1961) as the only rookie tight ends in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards.
Pitts, whose Atlanta Falcons (7-9) host the New Orleans Saints (8-8) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX), also has 66 receptions in 2021. He is the third rookie tight end all-time with at least 65 receptions, joining Keith Jackson (81 in 1988) and Jeremy Shockey (74 in 2002).
New Orleans can clinch a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season with a win over Atlanta in combination with a San Francisco loss.
Quarterback Josh Allen rushed for two touchdowns last week to help the Buffalo Bills (10-6) clinch a playoff berth for the third consecutive season.
Allen, whose club hosts the New York Jets on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS), has five games with at least two rushing touchdowns since entering the NFL in 2018, tied with Jalen Hurts (five) for the most such games by a quarterback in his first four seasons in the Super Bowl era.
Allen also has six rushing touchdowns this season and joined Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks ever with at least five rushing touchdowns in each of their first four seasons.
With 101 touchdown passes and 31 rushing touchdowns, Allen is the first player in NFL history with at least 100 touchdown passes and 30 rushing touchdowns in his first four seasons.
Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (9-7) (8:20 PM ET, NBC)
On 32 occasions this year, more than any season in NFL history, a game-winning score on the final play has decided a game. Last week, Cincinnati rookie Evan McPherson and the Raiders’ Daniel Carlson each kicked game-winning field goals with no time remaining in the fourth quarter.
This week, Carlson and the Las Vegas Raiders host the Los Angeles Chargers in a win-or-go-home 2021 NFL regular-season finale on Sunday Night Football.
The Raiders lead the all-time series, 65-56-2, though the Chargers have won past two. The Chargers won the last meeting, 28-14, on Oct. 4, 2021, and the Chargers beat Las Vegas in overtime, 30-27, on Dec. 17, 2020, the last time the Raiders hosted the Chargers.
CLINCHED (5 of 7):
BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-8) (vs. Pittsburgh (8-7-1), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)
Baltimore clinches playoff berth with:
1. BAL win + LAC loss + IND loss + MIA loss or tie
BUFFALO BILLS (10-6) (vs. New York Jets (4-12), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CBS)
Buffalo clinches AFC East division title with:
1. BUF win OR
2. NE loss OR
3. BUF tie + NE tie
CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-6) (at Cleveland (7-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FOX)
Cincinnati clinches AFC’s No. 1 seed, only first-round bye and homefield advantage with:
1. CIN win + TEN loss + KC loss + NE loss or tie OR
2. CIN win + TEN loss + KC loss + BUF win
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-7) (at Jacksonville (2-14), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)
Indianapolis clinches playoff berth with:
1. IND win or tie OR
2. LAC loss + BAL-PIT tie OR
3. LAC loss + PIT loss + MIA win
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-5) (at Denver (7-9), Saturday, 4:30 PM ET, ESPN/ABC)
Kansas City clinches AFC’s No. 1 seed, only first-round bye and homefield advantage with:
1. KC win + TEN loss or tie OR
2. KC tie + TEN loss
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (9-7) (vs. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7), Sunday night, 8:20 PM ET, NBC)
Las Vegas clinches playoff berth with: 1. LV win OR
2. LV tie + IND loss OR
3. IND loss + PIT loss or tie
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (9-7) (at Las Vegas (9-7), Sunday night, 8:20 PM ET, NBC)
Los Angeles Chargers clinch playoff berth with:
1. LAC win or tie
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-6) (at Miami (8-8), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CBS)
New England clinches AFC’s No. 1 seed, only first-round bye and homefield advantage with:
1. NE win + BUF loss or tie + KC loss + TEN loss
New England clinches AFC East division title with:
1. NE win + BUF loss or tie OR
2. NE tie + BUF loss
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-7-1) (at Baltimore (8-8), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)
Pittsburgh clinches playoff berth with:
1. PIT win + IND loss + LV-LAC game does not end in a tie
TENNESSEE TITANS (11-5) (at Houston (4-12), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)
Tennessee clinches AFC’s No. 1 seed, only first-round bye and homefield advantage with:
1. TEN win OR
2. TEN tie + KC loss or tie OR
3. KC loss + CIN loss or tie + NE loss or tie OR
4. KC loss + CIN loss or tie + BUF win
CLINCHED (6 of 7):
ARIZONA CARDINALS (11-5) (vs. Seattle (6-10), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, FOX)
Arizona clinches NFC West division title with:
1. ARI win + LAR loss
LOS ANGELES RAMS (12-4) (vs. San Francisco (9-7), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, FOX)
Los Angeles Rams clinch NFC West division title with:
1. LAR win or tie OR
2. ARI loss or tie
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (8-8) (at Atlanta (7-9), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, FOX)
New Orleans clinches playoff berth with:
1. NO win + SF loss
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (9-7) (at Los Angeles Rams (12-4), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, FOX)
San Francisco clinches playoff berth with:
1. SF win or tie OR
NO loss or tie
Joseph Santoliquito can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.