5 Takeaways from a Wild NFL Week 18

For the first time since 2016, the New Orleans Saints won’t be in the postseason. It’s a tough way to end a season where the Saints always seemed to have their backs against the wall.

From Hurricane Ida, to COVID adversity, to too many injuries to count, not many people expected the Saints to be in the hunt until the end. But the Saints-Falcons season finale turned into an unexpected storyline of Week 18. If the Saints won and 49ers lost at the Rams, the fighters from the Big Easy would earn a trip to sunny L.A. for Super Wild Card Weekend.

Only half that puzzle came true.

The Saints’ season ended on a high note with a 30-20 victory over the Dirty Birds – their sixth win on the road this season. But when Matthew Stafford’s overtime interception landed in the waiting arms of 49ers rookie Ambry Thomas, New Orleans’ locker room had “a hollow feeling,” QB Trevor Siemian said.

Even more annoying was the Rams won the NFC West anyway despite the loss, thanks to the Arizona Cardinals’ continuing freefall at home, where they’re just 3-5.

It’s onto the offseason for New Orleans, reflecting on tremendous progress in year 1 without Drew Brees.

Fans won’t forget their heroic efforts on defense either, especially in the season sweep of Tampa Bay. But home losses to the Giants (4-13) and Falcons (7-10) are ones that got away. And don’t forget the 23-21 Titans loss back on Nov. 14. If the Saints made their extra points, that could’ve been a win too.

New Orleans Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (22) celebrates his interception against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
  1. The Raiders and Chargers didn’t tie! I only caught the fourth quarter of this insane game – after the 49ers won, I confess I poured myself a large glass of wine, had dinner with my husband, and forgot about football while I let lingering sadness pass that the Saints’ season was over.

    Looking at Twitter, I think I’m in the minority, but I’m so glad the Raiders didn’t tie the Chargers. From the Raiders’ perspective, isn’t it more satisfying to prevent your division rival from going to the postseason AND be a higher seed in the playoffs? Chargers coach Brandon Staley is getting a lot of heat for taking a timeout, but if the Chargers would’ve stuffed the Raiders on 3rd down and made the winning field goal longer than 47 yards, or maybe Daniel Carlson misses it, then we’re having a different conversation. Bill Barnwell breaks down the wild ending nicely – the Raiders had ZERO intention of settling for a tie on purpose, and I’m glad it didn’t end that way. (As I know Pittsburgh Steelers fans are, too!) Wasn’t it famed coach Herm Edwards who once said, “You play to win the game?!”

2. Colts squander golden opportunity – for second straight week. What’s happened in Indianapolis?? Jonathan Taylor was looking like an MVP candidate, and all the Colts had to do to punch their postseason ticket was beat 2-14 Jacksonville, after failing to beat the Raiders at home in Week 17. They were favored by 15.5 points – and the Jaguars wanted next year’s No. 1 overall pick. Cakewalk, right?


Talk about a clown show – the Colts lost at Jacksonville for the seventh straight time, fell to 0-7 when Taylor doesn’t reach 100 yards, and find themselves OUT of the playoffs. Oh, and the Jaguars clinched the No. 1 pick anyway when Detroit beat Green Bay Sunday. Ouch.

QB Carson Wentz was brought in to win big games, and he failed to deliver. The Jaguars sacked him six times and forced two turnovers, which they converted into 10 points. Big decisions to make in Indy, and plenty of blame to go around.

3. Black Monday off and running … Part of NFL Week 18 coming and going means Black Monday, when many NFL coaches and general managers are inevitably, or surprisingly, fired. One head-scratcher I woke up to today was Dolphins coach Brian Flores getting the boot.

It wouldn’t have seemed too difficult to imagine, say, midway through this season when Miami was 1-7. But the Dolphins closed the season winning eight of their final nine games and stayed in the playoff race until Week 17, swept the Patriots, and had winning seasons in two of Flores’ three seasons (including 10-6 in 2020 when they narrowly missed the playoffs).

Owner Stephen Ross made it clear he’s confident in QB Tua Tagovailoa, who finished 7th in the NFL in completion percentage this season while struggling to stay healthy. Ross harped on communication and collaboration in announcing the coaching change – remember the Dolphins were a team mentioned in Deshaun Watson rumors – so perhaps that influenced the decision. Either way, expect Flores to be a popular name in the hiring circles this offseason.

Who else has been fired? No real surprises – Broncos coach Vic Fangio, Bears coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. Meanwhile Giants coach Joe Judge is still employed (until Tuesday, when Judge was canned after just two seasons). ESPN’s Ryan Clark teed off on the Giants’ “despicable display of football.” As if I needed another reason to be angry about the Saints’ loss to them in October.


4. It’s playoff time. I’m all aboard the AFC train this postseason. I always like to see my fellow LSU Tigers Joe Burrow & Ja’Marr Chase do well … so I’m on the Bengals vs. the Raiders Saturday. I also like the No. 1-seed Titans, mostly because they’re playing the shadow of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, whom they waxed 27-3 in Week 7. How did defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons not get picked for the Pro Bowl? 8.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and 39 quarterback pressures. If Simmons and the Titans have anything to say about it, they’ll have other plans that day.

Super Wild Card Weekend Schedule

Courtesy of NFL.com

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