“I recognize that there is no perfect solution," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on Thursday.
The Kansas City Chiefs didn't want their path to the No. 1 seed to open up like this, with a game being canceled due to Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffering a cardiac emergency on the field, but the reality is they benefit from BIlls-Bengals being declared a no contest. With a win Saturday over the Las Vegas Raiders, they get the bye. That's a huge advantage, even if the AFC championship game could be at a neutral site.
The Bills were in line for the No. 1 seed if they won out, but they'll have one fewer game than the Chiefs. Buffalo can still get the No. 1 seed if they beat the New England Patriots and the Chiefs lose to the Raiders. The Bengals had a shot at the No. 1 seed but do not anymore because they needed to win in Week 17 and 18 and have the Chiefs lose the finale. The Baltimore Ravens were also impacted. They can no longer win the AFC North. They best they can do is finish a half-game behind the Bengals. However, as part of Friday's decision by the NFL, if the Ravens beat the Bengals on Sunday and there is a Ravens-Bengals matchup set for the wild-card round of the playoffs, a coin toss would determine where that game is held.
It's imperfect and unprecedented for seeds and division titles to be decided with teams playing an imbalanced number of games. However, there was no way to satisfy every team. Now all the clubs know what's at stake going into the finale.
Here are the Week 18 games that will have the biggest impact on the playoff picture:
We get a division championship game in Week 18. The winner of Saturday night's game takes the AFC South title. The Jaguars still have an outside shot at the wild card if they lose. They'd also need losses by the Patriots, Dolphins and Steelers. The Titans can not get a wild-card spot. The Titans come in reeling, and will start Joshua Dobbs at quarterback. Dobbs was signed off the Lions' practice squad on Dec. 21 and made his first career start a week later. Saturday night's winner-take-all game will be Dobbs' second start.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Even if the Chiefs clinch the No. 1 seed with a win on Saturday, the Bills still want the No. 2 seed and to host a potential divisional round game against the Bengals. They clinch the second seed with a win or Bengals loss. The Patriots clinch a wild-card spot with a win. They still have an outside shot at a wild-card spot if they lose. New England would then need the Dolphins and Steelers to lose, and the Jaguars to win and clinch the AFC South.
The Dolphins are still alive and need to win. This will be a battle of backup quarterbacks. The Jets, who are eliminated, are starting Joe Flacco as Mike White was ruled out with a rib injury. The Dolphins are probably starting rookie Skylar Thompson. Tua Tagovailoa will be out, and Teddy Bridgewater is dealing with a finger injury. Miami needs to win and have the Patriots lose to the Bills.
A couple weeks ago, you'd have thought the team needing a win in this game would be the Giants. Instead, the Giants are locked into the No. 6 seed and the Eagles still have to win to take the NFC East. The Eagles have lost two in a row but are the No. 1 seed and division champions with a win over the Giants. If the Eagles lose, the Dallas Cowboys take the NFC East with a win over the Washington Commanders.
The 49ers can still get the No. 1, 2 or 3 seed. If the Eagles lose and the 49ers win, San Francisco takes the top seed and the bye. If the Eagles win, the 49ers are the No. 2 seed with a win or a Vikings loss. The No. 2 seed will face the No. 7 seed, which will be the Packers, Seahawks or Lions.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
All Seahawks fans seem angry this week. They're convinced the NFL is out to get the Seahawks by having them play at 4:25 p.m. Eastern, and putting the Packers in prime time. The reasoning is if the Seahawks win, which they need to do to stay alive for a wild-card spot, that means the Lions are eliminated before their game at Green Bay kicks off and Detroit wouldn't be motivated. The NFL isn't rigged; it just wanted Aaron Rodgers in prime time for good ratings. Still, the Seahawks need to win and hope for a Lions upset to make the playoffs.
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
If the Seahawks lose, this game becomes a winner-take-all for the No. 7 seed. If the Seahawks win, the Lions are eliminated. No matter what, if the Packers win they'll complete their unlikely march to the playoffs and be the No. 7 seed in the NFC.