Decyfr’s Week 18 Roundup

After months of breathtaking NFL action, the 2023 regular season came to a dramatic conclusion as multiple divisions, and five playoff spots, were decided in a Week 18 for the ages. With the postseason now upon us, Decyfr delves into the latest slate of games.

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts

Final Score: 23 – 19

It was ‘win-and-in’ for both the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts heading into their Week 18 divisional clash. The Texans offense started hot, with a 75-yard touchdown from quarterback C.J. Stroud to Nico Collins – who would finish the game with a staggering 195 yards and a touchdown. While Houston struggled to get the running game going, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry, the Colts had no such issue – putting up 227 yards on the ground, with running back Jonathan Taylor accounting for 188. That said, Indianapolis did struggle through the air, with quarterback Gardner Minshew finishing the game with only 141 yards passing. Despite their inconsistent offense, the Colts found themselves in the red zone, with a chance to take the lead, with less than two minutes on the clock. However, a disastrous drop by running back Tyler Goodson on fourth-down resulted in a season-ending turnover on downs and a subsequent Houston victory. With the win and a Jaguars loss, first-time head coach DeMeco Ryans led the Texans to the AFC South crown – capping off a momentous turnaround for the organisation. Meanwhile, the Colts are eliminated from playoff contention, resulting in the franchise securing the 15th overall pick in the upcoming draft.

Player of the Game: Nico Collins, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans

Final Score: 28 – 20

In one of the most pivotal games of the weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars match-up with the Tennessee Titans could have decided the season for multiple AFC teams – including the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite starting 8-3, the Jaguars came into the clash looking to regain their form after losing four of their last five. The Titans had other ideas, however, as running back Derrick Henry dominated the Jaguars defense throughout – rushing for 153 yards and a touchdown in what was likely his final appearance for Tennessee. On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars offense couldn’t keep up either – turning the ball over twice. Furthermore, injuries continued to plague former first-overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who threw various errant passes as Jacksonville desperately attempted to claw back at the 28-13 deficit heading into the fourth quarter. With only one additional score for the Jaguars, the Titans claimed the victory – prompting Steelers and Bills fans to rejoice as both teams clinched playoff spots. The Jaguars coaching staff now have a lot to answer for, as they are eliminated from playoff contention.

Player of the Game: Derrick Henry, Running Back, Tennessee Titans.

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints

Final Score: 17 – 48

Despite the Atlanta Falcons still being in a position to make the playoffs, their Week 18 match-up with the New Orleans Saints was expected to be their last under head coach Arthur Smith. Meanwhile, for the Saints, a win and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers loss would secure the NFC South. Following a close start to the contest – with big plays from both teams tying the game at 17 apiece before halftime – the Saints were able to pull away after the half. With two interceptions and two forced fumbles, New Orleans’ defense was able to capitalise on sloppy play from the Atlanta offense. In similar fashion, the Saints offense dominated the Falcons defense – finishing with 400 total yards and six total touchdowns. For Atlanta, however, their struggles on the ground continued – with first-round pick Bijan Robinson rushing for only 28 yards. While they had more success through the air – as Ridder recorded 291 yards for two touchdowns – they were still held to zero points in the second half and ultimately lost the game by a massive 31 points. Following the game, Arthur Smith didn’t hide his outrage at Saints head coach Dennis Allen – accusing him of running up the score by calling a fake quarterback kneel, that went for six, at the end of the game. As expected, Arthur Smith was relieved of his duties following the Falcons’ elimination from playoff contention. Despite the victory, a win for the Buccaneers also eliminated New Orleans from the playoffs – resulting in their third-straight season without a playoff appearance.

Player of the Game: Derek Carr, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints.

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers

Final Score: 9 – 17

In one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries, quarterback Jordan Love hoped to extend the Green Bay Packers’ nine-straight wins over the Chicago Bears and secure a playoff berth in his first season as QB1. From the off, the Bears had a tough day moving the chains against the stifling Packers defense – being held to just three field goals all game, as quarterback Justin Fields was sacked five times. Meanwhile, the Packers offense continued their run of elite performances and moved the ball with ease. Running back Aaron Jones rushed for 111 yards, while Jordan Love aired it out for 316 yards and two touchdowns – connecting with second-round rookie receiver Jayden Reed for 112 yards. Having clinched the final playoff spot in the NFC with the win, Green Bay will take on the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs next week. Owing to the loss and their trade with the Carolina Panthers last year, Chicago now holds the first and the ninth overall picks in the 2024 draft. With a string of precocious talents at quarterback looming, will they replace Justin Fields?

Player of the Game: Jordan Love, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers.

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

Final Score: 10 – 27

Desperate to end their recent struggles – having lost four of their last five – the Philadelphia Eagles took on rivals the New York Giants, with the NFC East title up for grabs. Unfortunately for Eagles’ fans, however, Philadelphia’s offense faltered all game, with four total turnovers and a game-ending injury to quarterback Jalen Hurts – leaving Marcus Mariota to pick up the pieces. On the other side, while the New York Giants struggled to run the ball – with running back Saquon Barkley averaging just 2.6 yards per carry – quarterback Tyrod Taylor had a very solid game as he threw for 297 yards and a touchdown. It was the Giants defense that really stepped up, however, recording five sacks and two interceptions for safety Xavier McKinney. With a definitive 27-10 victory, New York finishes the season 6-11 – a huge drop from their playoff-clinching season in 2022, leading to numerous changes in staffing. While the loss doesn’t affect the Eagles’ seeding, it does make them the first team in 37 years to go 10-1 and still not win their division. With no momentum and multiple injuries to key players, Philadelphia have an almighty mountain to climb if they hope to progress in the playoffs.

Player of the Game: Xavier McKinney, Safety, New York Giants.

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins

Final Score: 21 – 14

The Buffalo Bills have embodied “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” in 2023. After a 5-5 start to the year, the Bills came into their Week 18 game against the Miami Dolphins with a 10-6 record and a playoff spot already secured – following Jacksonville’s defeat at the hands of the Titans. As a result, this AFC East clash would decide not only the number two seed in the AFC but the AFC East division title. The first half saw three turnovers between the two teams, before the Dolphins were able to recover and score two touchdowns ahead of halftime – giving Miami a 14-7 lead at the break. Still down by seven in the fourth quarter, the Bills got the spark they needed when Deonte Harty scored a 96-yard punt return for a touchdown – the longest in franchise history. This gave the defense the momentum they needed to immediately stifle the Dolphins offense. Following another touchdown to tight end Dawson Knox gave Buffalo the lead, a diving interception by safety Taylor Rapp would seal the game for the Bills. Despite the costly turnovers, quarterback Josh Allen had a solid game – recording 426 total yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was held to just 173 yards passing as he failed to stop the Bills from claiming their fourth-straight AFC East title and the number two seed in the AFC. The Dolphins now hold the sixth seed in the AFC and prepare to take on reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, at Arrowhead.

Player of the Game: Deonte Harty, Wide Receiver/Punt Returner, Buffalo Bills.

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