The NFL’s big worry on the final week of the regular season is that some games would be rendered meaningless because teams don’t necessarily have any incentive to go all out and win.
We saw a hint of that on Saturday, when the playoff-bound Philadelphia Eagles chose to rest many of their starters and were blown out in prime time.
With only three of the 14 available playoff spots up for grabs and only three of the day’s 14 matchups pitting teams with winning records, the league’s concerns seemed valid. But then … you never know what can happen on any given Sunday.
Here are the winners and losers from Week 18:
Titans wide receiver Julio Jones celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown reception against the Texans, his first TD of the season.
Tennessee Titans: Wrapping up the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage through the conference championship game could pay major dividends down the road. The Titans’ 27-3 home win in Week 7 against the second-seeded Chiefs was the tiebreaker that ensured they’d host a potential rematch for a spot in the Super Bowl.
In addition, the bye that comes with winning the No. 1 seed will allow an extra week of rest for star running back Derrick Henry, who’s been sidelined by a foot injury since Week 8 but is very nearly ready to return.
Henry has typically become a nearly unstoppable force late in the season. The 12-5 Titans could be even more formidable with their workhorse rested and back in the lineup.
Justin Herbert: Talk about leaving everything on the field. The Los Angeles Chargers quarterback led his team on a 19-play, 83-yard drive to send the final game of the NFL’s longest regular season into overtime with no time left in regulation.
That, after capping a 14-play drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-21 and a two-point conversion to erase a 15-play deficit.
In a win-or-go home game, Herbert was successful on four separate fourth-down conversions in the final quarter and another in overtime, any one of which would have likely ended the game had it been unsuccessful.
Even though his team ended up losing a 35-32 thriller to the Las Vegas Raiders, the second-year quarterback finished the game with a career-high 64 pass attempts, completing 34 for 383 yards and three touchdowns.
Sports books: The chances of any NFL game finishing in a tie are extremely remote. There was only one tie out of the 272 games this season.
However, the possibility that the Raiders and Chargers could BOTH go to the playoffs if they tied made it just slightly more likely. However, the long odds, plus the teams mutually benefiting from a tie made it an attractive longshot for bettors.
Had the Raiders’ Daniel Carlson missed the 47-yard field goal attempt as the clock expired in overtime, sports books would have taken a massive hit.
Jacksonville Jaguars: A hugely disappointing season ended on a high note when the Jags knocked the Indianapolis Colts out of the playoffs with a 26-11 thrashing. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence played perhaps his best game of the season as Jacksonville won for just the third time all season.
However, the victory could have been a costly one for the Jaguars, who entered the game with the NFL’s worst record and the inside track to the No. 1 overall draft pick. Fortunately for them, the Detroit Lions pulled an upset of their own to lock in the Jags at No. 1 for a second consecutive season.
Week 18 record-breakers: One ripple effect of the NFL adding an extra game to the regular season is that players would have one more opportunity to add to their stats – and potentially rewrite the record books. Several took advantage.
— Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman T.J. Watt tied Michael Strahan’s record for sacks in a season with 22.5.
— Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle began the day just two receptions behind Anquan Boldin’s rookie record. He took care of the suspense quickly with three catches on the Dolphins’ first four plays. He later added a touchdown reception and finished with a total of 104.
— Although the Cincinnati Bengals rested most of their key players, rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase played long enough to catch two passes for 26 yards and break Chad Johnson’s franchise record for receiving yards in a season with 1,455.
— In Detroit’s upset of the Green Bay Packers, Amon-Ra. St. Brown caught eight passes for 109 yards and his sixth touchdown in his last six games (five receiving, one rushing). In the process, St. Brown set a Lions record for receiving yards by a rookie – doing it with his parents in the stands and his brother Equanimeous, a Packers wideout, on the other sideline.
— The Packers’ Davante Adams surpassed Jordy Nelson’s team single-season receiving yards mark. He finished with a franchise-record 1,553.
— Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews broke the team reception record previously held by Derrick Mason, finishing with 107.
Flea-flickers: One unexpected benefit of some teams playing for nothing but pride is that it makes coaches a little more likely to go deep into their playbooks. Lions coach Dan Campbell called for a little trickery not once but twice – and both times, it resulted in touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Texans called for a flea-flicker of their own against the Titans – and quarterback Davis Mills connected with wideout Chris Moore for another score.
Stefon Diggs’ feet: The Buffalo Bills’ All-Pro wide receiver paid tribute to legendary entertainer Betty White, who died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 99, by featuring her picture on his cleats before the game.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ cleats paid tribute to actress Betty White, who died on December 31 at the age of 99.
On the Bills’ first series against the New York Jets, Diggs capped off a touchdown drive with a 10-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Josh Allen on a beautiful sideline toe-tap to stay inbounds.
Joe Judge: One week after his team totaled minus-6 yards passing, but still found a way to insist the Giants “ain’t some clown show organization,” the embattled New York Giants coach felt the heat once again for his team’s offensive ineptitude against the Washington Football Team.
One series in the second quarter typified Giants fans’ frustrations. Backed up inside their own 5-yard line with more than five minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Giants threw an incomplete pass, committed an offensive penalty, and then ran back-to-back quarterback sneaks before punting on fourth down.
The Giants did snap their six-quarter scoreless streak with a third-quarter touchdown pass from Jake Fromm to Darius Slayton, but they fell to Washington 22-7 and were outscored 106-26 over their final four games to finish the season with a record of 4-13.
In two seasons, Judge is 10-23 as Giants head coach.
Carson Wentz: Needing just one win in his final two games, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback turned in arguably his worst games of the season. A fumble and an interception on consecutive possessions in the second half opened the door for lowly Jacksonville to take a commanding lead over the Colts. Then Wentz couldn’t rally his troops against a team with an interim head coach and the worst record in the NFL.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans’ nerves: After experiencing the highs of winning in overtime and knowing that only a tie could keep them from making the playoffs, Steelers Nation was tortured for four hours of Sunday Night Football as the Raiders and Chargers battled into overtime.
There was even the false sense of security when a failed two-point conversion by the Raiders made the score 26-14 early in the fourth quarter. How can a 12-point game end up going into OT?
Yet that’s exactly what happened when the Raiders kicked a field goal to go up by 15, and Herbert rallied the Chargers to a pair of late touchdowns and a tying two-point conversion.
Even after the Raiders kicked a field goal in overtime, the Chargers came back to tie it up once again. The Steelers could finally exhale when Carlson split the uprights with no time left on the clock to send both his team and Pittsburgh to the postseason.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 18 winners, losers: Bye makes Titans even scarier