Here are five things to watch as the NFL enters the final weekend of the regular season.
The massive groundswell of support for Damar Hamlin will rise even higher when the final regular season games get underway.
There may be some uncertainty, doubts, and fears about players taking the field for the first time since the Buffalo Bills defender suffered a life-threatening injury during their game earlier this week. There will be plenty of visible emotion, and any signs of injuries will be met with bated breath.
However, Bills coach Sean McDermott says games this weekend will represent “a celebration of life,” as Hamlin has shown continued signs of progress. NFL players and fans will see his #3 highlighted in Buffalo Bills Blue or Red on 30-yard lines in stadiums across the country. Players will wear “Love for Damar 3” shirts before the game, and Bills players will also have a #3 patch on their game jerseys.
Top of the conference fight: We may witness history. For the first time, a conference title game being played on a neutral site.
The Buffalo Bills game with the Cincinnati Bengals in which Hamlin was injured will not be completed. It means the two teams will finish the regular season with one fewer game than the other playoff teams, affecting their ability to secure home field advantage should they advance to the AFC Championship game. So, if either or both of those teams make it to the title game, depending on varying circumstances, we could see the title game played at a neutral location. The Kansas City Chiefs are atop the conference at 13-3. The Bills are at 12-3 and the Bengals are at 11-4.
Scratching to get in: The New England Patriots are in the driver’s seat for the final wild card spot in the AFC. If they beat the Bills, the Patriots are in, but they’ll have to do it on an extremely emotional day in Buffalo. If they lose, the Miami Dolphins would get the first crack at the final spot with a home win over the New York Jets.
If the Patriots and Dolphins both fall, the Pittsburgh Steelers would vault all the way up to 7th and final spot if they beat the Cleveland Browns at home. It would also mean head coach Mike Tomlin would not have a losing season for the first time in his 16-year career.
The AFC South title is on the line Saturday night in Jacksonville. The red-hot Jaguars host the reeling Tennessee Titans. The winner secures the 4th seed and hosts a first round playoff game next week.
The Philadelphia Eagles are hoping a third time is a charm for them to clinch the NFC East and the top seed in the NFC playoffs. To do it, they need to beat or tie a New York Giants team which has already secured the 6th seed and will start the playoffs on the road. If the Eagles fall again, the Dallas Cowboys take the NFC East crown with a win over the Washington Commanders and the Eagles would slip to a Wild Card.
The 7th and final spot’s a three-team race between the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers and Lions play each other Sunday night at Lambeau Field. For Green Bay, it’s simple: win and you’re in. The Lions and Seahawks both need to win and some help to get in the postseason party.
The end of every season means there’s one last chance for players to put their names into the record books. Let’s start with the QB’s.
Patrick Mahomes needs 430 yards passing to break the single-season passing record of 5,477 set by Peyton Manning in 2013.
Tom Brady needs just one completion to break the all-time single-season record for most completions in a season of 485 completions set in 2021 by… Tom Brady. Surprise!
Justin Jefferson needs 194 receiving yards to break the single season record of 1,964 yards set in 2012 by Calvin Johnson. The Minnesota Vikings star has topped the mark once this season, against the Lions in Week 4.
Ryan Stonehouse has a chance to become the best single-season punter of all-time. The Titans star can break the record for highest punting average in a season of 51.4 yards set by Sammy Baugh all the way back in 1940. Stonehouse’s current average is 53 yards per punt.
The final game of the regular season is huge not just for players on playoff-contending teams, but for players who can make large sums of money in the form of incentives, sometimes with a single catch. Here are some of those players according to fantasy football and sports betting analyst, Sal Vetri.
Christian Kirk needs two catches for a $500,000 bonus, and 91 yards to trigger a $500,000 bonus.
Zay Jones needs two catches for a $250,000 bonus, and 98 yards for a $500,000 bonus.
Za’Darius Smith needs one sack to earn $750k,000.
Preston Smith needs 1.5 sacks to earn $1 million
Tyler Higbee needs 13 yards to hit a $500,000 bonus.
Gerald Everett needs five catches to cash in $250k,000.
Everett hit 5+ catches in 50% of his games.
Jamaal Williams needs six rushing yards to hit 1,000, which would earn a $250,000 bonus.