This year, the NFL added an extra week to its regular season and one could only imagine the league’s finale in Week 18.
Just one week prior after week 17, there were 24 teams still in contention for a post-season playoff spot. Beginning the final week of play, only seven teams were still alive to capture one of those conference bracket fillers and potential Super Bowl trips.
Several scenarios of possible seed changes, along with home-field advantages, started on Saturday. A Kansas City win over Denver would keep the Chiefs’ hopes alive for a possible No. 1-seed and a first-round bye with a Tennessee Titans’ loss on Sunday. The Chiefs held serve and downed the Broncos by four points. All sights turned to Sunday.
On Sunday morning, some very interesting propositions and ramifications presented themselves. The game mostly discussed on media platforms was the matchup between Jacksonville and Indianapolis. The Colts just needed to defeat the Jaguars to secure a slot. Jacksonville came into the game with a record of 2-15 and they were heavily tabbed as a double-digit underdog.
A win by the Colts would have closed the path and eliminated the Steelers and kept the Ravens’ chances alive, just barely. But the Jaguars pulled off a massive upset with seismic repercussions lasting throughthe night.
As Jacksonville was bull handling Indy, the Steelers and Ravens were exchanging punts (15) in Baltimore in a rough and tumble defensive battle in the AFC North. Both teams were still in playoff contention.
A Steelers’ win would give them a chance to gain the final playoff-opening, barring the Raiders-Chargers game didn’t end in a tie game. The Steelers won in overtime, knocking out Baltimore and Indy, priming their playoff hopes with the win.
As other teams were trying to improve seeding and finding their way in, over at the other conference the NFC, had one spot left to fill and two games with major playoff ramifications. The 49ers had to defeat the Rams to get in — a San Francisco loss and a New Orleans win would send the Saints into post-season play. The 49ers rallied from 17 down and edged the Rams in overtime.
The Saints’ win was a moot point as the 49ers secured the final NFC spot and the Conference playoff schedule was set. All eyes were wide open and all attention was focused towards Las Vegas, Nevada for Sunday night football.
The final regular-season game between the Raiders and Chargers in Las Vegas would decide the entire playoff scene for the AFC. The Steelers make the playoffs as long as the Raiders and Chargers don’t tie. The winner of the Raiders-Chargers would join the Steelers and complete the bracket. A tie between the Raiders and Chargers would eliminate Pittsburgh.
Everything was riding on this one game. A trip to the Wild Card Weekend was at stake.
You knew both teams were eager to advance and keep their season alive and each had their eye on the prize. But what took place in that game was almost too unbelievable to comprehend.
The Raiders late in the 4th quarter led by 15 points and it seemed they would advance along with the Steelers, leaving the Chargers out of the mix. Then Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert went to work with what might be the best two drives of his young career. The Chargers drove the length of the field, scored, and completed a two-point conversion to make it a seven-point game.
The Raiders turned the ball over and Herbert, who faced several 4th down situations, had one more to look upon. Again, he fired a last-ditch tomahawk shot to the end zone and found a receiver between two defenders for the touchdown. The point after was kicked through the uprights and we had a tie ball game and were heading to overtime deadlocked, 32-32.
The Steelers and their fan base were almost as shocked as the Raiders. Televisions were beaming on past midnight in Pittsburgh and suddenly the stakes were raised significantly, along with the blood pressures of Steelers, Chargers and Raiders fans.
The Raiders scored first in overtime a 10 minute period with a field goal and the Chargers answered with their own. The next team to score would win the game. A tie would send both teams — Raiders and Chargers — to the playoffs and knock the Steelers out.
It began to look that the game would end in a tie as the Raiders played it close to the vest, knowing a playoff appearance was on the line. After a gain of 7 yards in a 2nd-and-11 situation, the clock ticking down prompted Charger HC Brandon Staley to call for a timeout.
The Raiders were facing a 3rd down and 4 from the 42. Stating he wanted to set up his run defense, it gave the Raiders a chance to indeed set up a running play that netted eight yards and a first down to the Chargers’ 34-yard line.
Two plays later, Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson made a 47-yard field goal to boot the Chargers out of the playoffs and turn televisions in Pittsburgh dark, just like the Chargers’ chances.
Raiders win 35-32 with 0.01 seconds remaining, securing the final playoff ticket in one of the most dramatic, high octane and exciting final games of the NFL season or seasons.
Now let’s head to the postseason and the Wild Card weekend:
Saturday 1:30 PM NBC
Raiders vs. Bengals Cincinnati -5 Total:49
Pick: RAIDERS +5
Saturday 5:15 PM CBS
Patriots vs. Bills Buffalo -4 1/2 Total: 44
Pick: BUFFALO – 4 1/2
Sunday 10 AM FOX
Eagles vs. Bucs Tampa Bay -8 1/2Total 49
Pick: UNDER 49
Sunday 1:30 PM CBS
49ers vs Cowboys Dallas -3 Total 50 1/2
Pick: OVER 50 1/2
Sunday 5:15 PM NBC
Steelers vs Chiefs KC – 12 1/2 Total: 46 1/2
Pick: UNDER 46 1/2
Monday 5.15 PM ESPN
Cardinals Vs. Rams LA -4 1/2 Total: 49
Pick: RAMS -4 1/2
Join us Saturday morning at 9 a.m. on Race & Sports Radio at 1090 AM The Mightier for live odds, game analysis and selections over ESPN radio.