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Playoff picture set for Wild Card weekend

By Kirk A. Dickerson Native Sun News Correspondent

Well NFL fans we have reached the conclusion of the regular season. Even though it is scheduled for seventeen games it is hard to believe we are at the end of the regular season. End of the regular seasons has changed over the decade. Teams would seal a playoff spot or win their division ahead of schedule and choose to rest their starters.

This did not sit well with some fans who paid to see starters play. In turn, the league would schedule teams to play the last two games of the season as divisional games. This appeared to work over the years keeping teams competitive to the end.

However, it did not work out that way this season. Some teams have already locked up the top seed playoff spots. We had divisional winners in the NFC South lock up the divisional lead with an under .500 record as predicted by The End Zone.

One saving grace for resting starters is keeping them healthy for the playoff race. It does backfire on top seeded teams as the wild card teams play every week and do not have to shake off the rust from resting.

Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Eagles elected to play their starters trying to capture a top seeded playoff spot. Top Wide Out AJ Brown injured his knee in the first quarter. Teammate QB Jalen Hurts injured his middle finger on his throwing hand but stayed in the game until the second quarter in which he was pulled shortly thereafter. 

At the end of the regular season it always hosts a list of firings. One of these terminations involved the four year tenure ship of Washington Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera. Rivera coached the Commanders through a team name change and a host of NFL investigations of team owner Dan Synder. Rivera did muster a one playoff run in his four years of coaching.

Carolina Panthers terminated their General Manager Scott Fitterer after a dismal (2-15) season. Some may say oh well at least they will get the number one pick in the draft, however the Panthers gave that pick to the Chicago Bears.

Speaking of the Bears, saying his goodbyes was QB Justin Fields. Fields’ future with the Bears is uncertain now that his team gets the number one overall pick in the draft.

Another Head Coach that also received his pink slip of termination was Atlanta Falcons Arthur Smith. Smith had the Falcons start out strong at (4-2) at one point but the team ended their season (7-10).

Also saying goodbye to his team after a long career was Titans RB Derrick Henry who appeared to be waving good bye to Titans fans towards the end of the Titans versus Jaguars contest.

That brings to question the standing of New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick after a (4-13) season. “I’m under contract,” stated Belichick, I am going to do what I always do, come in, work to help the team in whatever way I can.” 

Towards the last two games of the regular season the league hosts Saturday games. Saturday’s contest featured the (10-7) Pittsburgh Steelers who caught fire towards the end of the season defeating the (13-4) Baltimore Ravens 17-10. Steelers RB Najee Harris helped gain the victory with 112 yard of rushing on 27 carries for a score. Ravens rested QB Lamar Jackson for QB Tyler Huntley as they had already acquired the number one playoff seed for the American Football Conference.

Also notching a playoff berth are the (10-7) Houston Texans led by QB CJ Stroud who many feel will be elected Rookie of the Year. Stroud led all passing with 272 yards and two scores to defeat the (9-8) Indianapolis Colts 23-19 clinching a playoff berth. Colts RB Johnathan Taylor led all rushing in the contest with a whopping 188 yards and a score including a 49-yard scamper in the loss.

It may have sounded like a baseball score however it qualified for the divisional crown. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-8) completed their third straight divisional title defeating the (2-15) Carolina Panthers 9-0. As Bucs QB Baker Mayfield completed 137 yards of passing for the win.

Congratulations to the Detroit Lions who set a franchise record best of (12-5) defeating the (7-10) Minnesota Vikings 30-20. Lions QB Jared Goff had a wonderful outing tossing for 320 yards and two scores. However the Vikings mustered most of the offense from QB Nick Mullens tossing for 396 yards and two scores. This was coupled by a healthy WR Justin Jefferson who lassoed an amazing 192 yards of receptions and a score in the loss.

It was the “Breece Hall Show” as the (7-10) New York Jets defeated the (4-13) New England Patriots 17-3. RB Breece Hall carried the victory personally as he mounted a running attack of 178 yards and a score including 37 carries.

“A lot of coaches get too much credit sometimes when you have superstar quaterbacks like Tom Brady, stated the Captain.  When these players retire or move on the coaches struggle to find replacement talent as in the case of Bill Belichick.

Qualifying for the playoffs after the departure of All-Pro QB Aaron Rogers were the (9-8) Green Bay Packers who defeated the (7-10) Chicago Bears 17-9. Packers QB Jordan Love tossed 316 yards of completions and two touchdowns in the victory granting his team a playoff berth in his first year as a starter.

It was a cruising contest as the (11-6) Kansas City Chiefs locked up their eighth straight division title edging the (5-12) Los Angeles Chargers 13-12. Chiefs’ starters rested as Chargers QB Easton Stick knotted 258 yards in passing. However, Chiefs Kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 41-yard field goal with only: 50 seconds remaining to seal the deal for the Chiefs.

Both of these teams ended up (8-9) in this contest as the Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Denver Broncos 27-14. Raiders RB Zamire White rumbled for 112 yards off of 25 carries for the Raiders. Raiders Coach Antonio Pierce ended the season 5-4 as Interim Head Coach.

Finishing the season but not qualifying for the playoffs at (9-8) were the New Orleans Saints routing the (7-10) Atlanta Falcons 48-17. Saints QB Derek Carr was the star tossing for 264 yards and a whopping four touchdowns for the victory.

“You better believe the routing of the Falcons led to the demise of the termination of their Coach Arthur Smith,” noted the Captain.

Coming alive late in the season were the (6-11) Tennessee Titans playing spoilers knocking the (9-8) Jacksonville Jaguars out of the playoffs by the score of 28-20. Titans RB Derrick Henry dominated the contest rushing for 153 yards on 19 carries as he places his resume for another team next season.

Improving to (9-8) are the Seattle Seahawks who edged the (4-13) Arizona Cardinals 21-20. Catching fire towards the end of the season was Cardinals RB James Conner who rushed for 150 yards and a score. His team’s hopes were dashed of a victory when Kicker Matt Prater missed a 51 yard field goal with little time remaining for a comeback. 

Losing six of their last seven games but still in the playoffs are the (11-6) Philadelphia Eagles who slipped to the (6-11) New York Giants 27-10. Injuries began to plague the Eagles and Giants QB Tyrod Taylor took advantage by tossing for 297 yards and a score to aid the win.

In San Francisco, the (12-5) Forty Niners rested many of their starters as they dropped to the (10-7) Los Angeles Rams who had a late season winning surge, rested many of theirs as well. This victory knotted their divisional crown with a 27-20 win. Rams Rookie WR Puka Nacua broke a franchise rookie record with 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.

A back up stepping in for another back up quarterback? Yes this happened as Bengals QB Jeff Driskel stepped in for QB Jake Browning leading the (9-8) Bengals to a 31-14 routing of the (11-6) Cleveland Browns  31-14. However it was Bengals RB Joe Mixon who would provide the offense needed rushing for 111 yards off 14 carries and a score in the victory.

Finishing strong were the (12-5) Dallas Cowboys who routed the (4-13) Washington Commanders 38-10. On fire was Cowboys QB Dak Prescott whose team has been an offensive juggernaut this season. Prescott tossed for a whopping 279 yards and four touchdowns aided by WR Cee Dee Lamb who corralled 98 yards of receptions and two scores. Cowboys have now secured the number two seed in the NFC playoffs. 

(Contact Captain Kirk at salesmanager@nativesunnews.today)

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