NFL Week 18 Winners & Losers
By Lee Wakefield & Peter Mann
That’s all she wrote. For the regular season at least. The playoffs are fast approaching, and the draft order for the non-playoff teams is set. We will continue with winners and losers until the end of the 2023 season, but this is your final edition of the regular season.
Winners - Peter Mann
The question now is, who will go on to lead the Las Vegas Raiders? After a season finale, 27-14 success, over AFC West rivals, Denver Broncos, interim Head Coach, Antonio Pierce, deserves much credit for the turn-around in the Silver and Black since taking over on Halloween.
Under predecessor Josh McDaniels, the season began with a 3-5 record, and the Raiders were struggling, badly; McDaniels was promptly sacked following the loss to Detroit Lions, and the Raiders went in-house, promoting Pierce from linebackers coach, and he promptly turned them around.
The win over the Broncos, at the Allegiant Stadium, and victory over another divisional rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, on Christmas Day, puts the California native in a good position when applications need putting forward to Mark Davis.
Finishing the 2023 regular season with a 5-4 record, reuniting a floundering dressing room, and pushing the Raiders to a second place in the West, is not to be sniffed at, and his players are giving just as much on the field, as Pierce and his coaching team are giving off it.
Opposing the Broncos rookie quarterback, Aidan O’Connell, posted two TDs for 244 yards, and the Raiders ran in three TDs, alongside two FGs for Daniel Carlson (and three successful conversions); the Raiders’ defense was also pretty much on-point, restricting the Broncos to a TD in the second and fourth quarters.
Dominating throughout, Pierce’s Silver and Black charges also posted a total of 359 yards, with an impressive 129 rushing yards amongst those (compared to just 48 from the Broncos); Mark Davis has a job on his hands with this one.
Todd Bowles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Claiming a third successive NFC South title (and fourth successive play-off berth) was impressive enough, doing so without the iconic Tom Brady, who retired for a second time about a year ago, perhaps made it even more so.
It was an improvement on last season as well, they won that with an uncomfortable 8-9 record, spun around to a 9-8 winning record this time around following a defensive shut-out, 9-0 success over the Carolina Panthers.
Granted it would be three FG attempts from Chas McLaughlin that eventually saw them through, the second of which, at the end of the second quarter, was a 57-yard effort – it was ugly, but the Bucs got the job done.
It was a fine line for Bowles’ franchise also, had they lost to the Panthers, then they’d have been out altogether, and that could easily have happened but for a clutch hit from safety Antoine Winfield Jr., on Panthers wide receiver Darrell ‘DJ’ Chark Jr. – had that landed the outcome could have been very different however, Winfield knocked the ball loose, the Bucs recovered, and their season continued into the playoffs.
Let’s finish the regular season Winners with a huge shout-out to Robert Saleh and the New York Jets. Yes, they finished third in the AFC East, and with a losing 7-10 record – but they finished the season by inflicting another loss on Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots.
Granted, the Patriots have been poor this season, very poor in fact. But, and it’s a big but, the Jets hadn’t beaten the Patriots since December 2015 – a 17-3 win this past weekend, at the Gillette Stadium no less, snapped what was a 15-game losing streak.
Initially, it was a game of field goals, four being converted until late in the fourth quarter, Greg Zuerlein with three for the Jets who led 9-3 with eight minutes left on the clock; the game could have still gone in any direction after that, until inside the closing minutes when running back Breece Hall embarked on a 50-yard run to wrap up the win, and snap the losing streak.
It was snowy, defensive performance from the Jets but, with Hall’s 37 carries over 178 rushing yards, it was a season finale the Jets will remember fondly for a little while at least – bragging rights over the Pats, of course they will!
Losers - Lee Wakefield
As I detailed on this week’s podcast, personally I’m quite pleased that the Jags went through a six-week-long collapse. For those who aren’t aware, I’m a Chargers fan, so after the capitulation in the Wildcard round last year and the season I’ve just endured, let me have this one…
However, schadenfreude aside, it has been some fall from grace for the Jaguars, hasn’t it? They went ahead and put playoff tickets on sale! They had 8 (eight) wins on November 26th.
They were probably correct to do so!
The AFC South is going to be a fun, fun division with Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Stroud, and Anthony Richardson around, as well as the blank slate of whatever the Titans do, now that they’ve fired Mike Vrabel.
It all came down to the final drive on Sunday. A heavily banged-up Trevor Lawrence couldn’t make out the yards needed to turn it around in the fourth quarter. It has been a bit of an underwhelming season for the Jags; QB. There have been flashes but some talking heads were ready to elevate Lawrence to the elite tie prior to the season, should he turn in top performances. Instead, he hasn’t truly kicked on.
This time last year, Lawrence and Doug Pederson were heroes and the good times were on the horizon for Jacksonville. It feels like 2024 is a pivotal year for both.
Arthur Smith has been a point of ridicule all year. From his bozo ‘tasche, his bizarre allocation of touches amongst offensive weapons, and absolutely every, single, fan around the NFL having zero surprise that he was fired within the first three minutes of Black Monday.
When everyone knows the writing is on the wall, it’s a sad place to be, because surely he knew the game was up too?
However, it begs the question of why he made the decision to wade across the field at full time to have a big old shout at Dennis Allen, bearing in mind that his final game as Falcons Head Coach was spent getting absolutely boat raced by their biggest rivals.
What the Saints did at the end of the game wasn’t great. I can understand why Smith was upset. But come on Arthur… Just go.
I sort of feel bad about writing this and continuing the pile on, but he’s a millionaire football coach who is the son of a multi-billionaire. Sure, money isn’t everything and there’s a human side to this, but he’s been a successful offensive coordinator before his stint in Atlanta. He will more than likely land on his feet next year.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots
The end of an era. Surely? Bill Belichick can’t come back from this season, right?
Yeah, he’s seemingly willing to relinquish some control over player personnel and of course, he’s a couple of good seasons away from being the winningest Head Coach in NFL history. But if he is to reach that most legendary of milestones, it will be elsewhere?
The Patriots are a mess. Sure, they have around $72m in cap space next year, which is around the third most in the league at the time of writing and they hold the third overall pick in the 2024 draft. But they are miles away from being a competitive team again.
It’s a sad end to the reign of terror that Belichick has had over the AFC and the NFL in general for about the past 25 years.
The Patriots should move on. They’ve been bad for a couple of years now, at least, and it’s time for some fresh impetus. They lost to the Jets in the snow on Sunday. Much to the utter disappointment of young Zeke Elliott. This was the Jets, who lost their star, franchise-altering Quartback, four snaps into the season and still managed seven wins. If this is the end of the Bill Belichick era in New England, it ended on a low.
Feature Image Credit: The Journal
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Lee Wakefield IS A defensive line enthusiast, Chargers Sufferer, and LONG-TIME writer and podcaster with a number of publications. @Wakefield90 on Twitter/X