Meanwhile, Nikita Kucherov needed just one to pot the winner for the Lightning, and that was after he set a goal up for Calvin de Haan on the only other sequence in which he went unmarked, only reinforcing the obvious — that the Canadiens will begin to win with more regularity when they have more players who only need one or two plays to make the difference.
Him. MVP. 8-Bal.
Whatever you want to call him, Lamar Jackson has cemented himself as the frontrunner for the best player in the NFL for the 2023 season.
Jackson threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns, finishing the game with a perfect passer rating as the Baltimore Ravens clinched the top seed in the AFC with a 56-19 torching of the Miami Dolphins.
A connection to Zay Flowers, who scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass, helped Flowers surpass Torrey Smith’s franchise rookie record of 841 receiving yards as well.
Isaiah Likely also hauled in two touchdowns for the Ravens, who won their sixth straight game, and Jackson connected with Justice Hill for a 20-yard dart in immediate response after Miami’s early touchdown before their total domination.
This marks the first time the Ravens have won their division since 2019, the year Jackson won MVP, and now get a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The loss for Miami also means the AFC East will come down to their matchup against the Buffalo Bills next week.
Here are some other takeaways from Week 17 action in the NFL.
What’s the verdict on Fields?
The Chicago Bears officially clinched the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which now raises the question that has been floating around all season: Keep Justin Fields under centre and build around him, or draft Caleb Williams to maximize a rookie contract?
Fields looked like a magician, escaping tackles and tossing dimes as he threw for 268 yards with a touchdown pass and a rushing touchdown in what could be his final home game for Chicago, beating the Atlanta Falcons 37-17.
Fields completed 20 of 32 passes and ran for 45 yards in the win, connecting with D.J. Moore for a seven-yard touchdown pass on Chicago’s first drive, and running in a nine-yard carry to the end zone himself on the next possession.
With Williams, Drake Maye and other quarterbacks available in 2024, the Bears certainly have a choice to make when it comes to who they want to run their offence next season. But wherever Fields ends up, it’s clear he has the drive to thrive.
Cardinals expose Eagles’ defence in win
Fraudulent is a word that gets tossed around when teams lose, and it’s not always accurate. But in Philly’s case, it just might be.
They’ve lost four of their last five games, with their latest loss coming from former Eagles defensive coordinator and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon as he knocked his old team out of the NFC East lead.
James Conner ran in a two-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left to give the Cardinals the victory in a game where the Cardinals ran for 221 yards and did not punt, exposing much of the Eagles’ defence.
The Eagles led 21-6 at the half, but they allowed the Cardinals to score 29 points in the second half while only scoring 10 themselves, and Arizona scored four touchdowns and a two-point conversion on four possessions.
In their worst defensive performance of the year, the Eagles allowed 449 yards, an average of 6.2 yards per play, as well as allowing the Cardinals to convert on both of their fourth down attempts as well as going 5-of-10 on third down.
Saints’ defence shines against Bucs
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: the AFC South is less than glamorous as far as NFL divisions are concerned. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked good coming into their divisional matchup on a four-game winning streak, but New Orleans had other plans.
The Saints’ defence came out on top against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, holding Tampa Bay to 44 yards of offence in the first half, forcing four turnovers including interceptions by Alontae Taylor and Johnathan Abram plus fumble recoveries by Demario Davis and Isaac Yiadom.
They stopped the run game, holding Tampa Bay’s 15 carries to just 57 yards, and they forced Baker Mayfield to make bad decisions as they forced two interceptions and sacked him twice.
The win kept New Orleans’ playoff hopes alive as they moved back to .500 at 8-8 heading into the regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
No, not that Josh Allen
As the Jacksonville Jaguars battled to stay at the top of the AFC South against the Carolina Panthers, edge rusher Josh Allen broke the franchise single-season sack record with his three sacks bringing him to 16.5. The previous mark was held by Calais Campbell with 14.5 in 2017.
Allen’s performance has been crucial for the Jaguars’ defence throughout the season, and Sunday’s shutout of the Panthers was the fifth game in 2023 for Allen with two or more sacks.
In five seasons with the Jaguars, Allen now has 43 career sacks, and he reached 13.5 sacks by Week 13. He had been held without a sack for three games but broke the franchise single-season record by taking Bryce Young down twice.
Rookies shine in Houston
One win away from a playoff berth. A Houston Texans team that went 3-13 last season is one win away from a playoff berth.
C.J. Stroud returned from being out in concussion protocol to throw for 213 yards and a touchdown, while Houston’s defence held Tennessee to just 187 net yards and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
Fellow rookie Will Anderson Jr. led the Texans’ defence with two sacks in the win, and the defence as a whole finished with six sacks in a dominant showing where they held the Titans to just three points.
The Texans have now clinched their first winning season since 2019, and have a chance at the AFC’s final wildcard spot in their Week 18 showdown against the Indianapolis Colts in a win-and-you’re-in game.
Steelers stay alive with win over Seahawks
Neither Pittsburgh nor Seattle have had a particularly memorable season, but both of their playoff hopes remain alive after the Steelers kept their hopes especially afloat in a 30-23 win.
Najee Harris rushed for a season-high 122 yards, finding the end zone twice, and averaged 4.5 yards per carry and reached the 100-yard mark for the first time since Week 17 of last season against Baltimore.
The Seahawks had no answer for the Steelers on the ground as Jaylen Warren also added another 75 yards on the ground and scored on an 18-yard run in the first quarter.
Seattle’s win streak stopped at two despite looking hot early as Geno Smith threw for 290 yards, connecting with Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a 12-yard touchdown while Kenneth Walker III added 53 yards and a 13-yard touchdown on the ground in the first half.
But the Seahawks managed just three field goals in the second half, and Smith committed a game-changing turnover, fumbling at his own 16-yard line that resulted in a Steelers field goal. The Seahawks still have hope going into Week 18, but they need a win and a lot of help.
Chiefs rule the AFC West
It was ugly, but the job was done, and the Kansas City Chiefs won their eighth-straight division title in a 25-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Harrison Butker was the team’s MVP for the day as he was a career-best 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts, while the Chiefs’ defence held the Bengals scoreless over their final seven possessions to come back after facing an early deficit.
The Bengals jumped ahead 10-7 after Joe Mixon‘s touchdown catch, and a strip-sack on Patrick Mahomes set up the Bengals to get a one-yard touchdown run from Jake Browning and put the Bengals ahead 17-7. Butker’s first field goal got the Chiefs within 17-10.
Struggling to connect with receivers all year, Mahomes looked to Marquez Valdes-Scantling wide open right before the half, but a dropped pass — the NFL-leading 40th by Kansas City this season — led the Chiefs to settle for a field goal to trail 17-13 at the break.
But the Chiefs’ defence stepped up in the second half, stopping the Bengals on fourth-and-1 at the Kansas City six-yard line, then driving 82 yards for Butker’s third field goal. Mahomes later hit Rashee Rice for 67 yards to set up another Butker kick that gave the Chiefs a lead they would ride until the final whistle.