Here are five key takeaways from Week 17 in the NFL:
1. Where’s the defense?
Tennessee clinched the AFC South title with an epic finish against the Texans, but the long pass that set up the game-winning kick just had me thinking about how defenses this season have been so susceptible. When Ryan Tannehill hit A.J. Brown for 52 yards with 18 seconds left in the game, it was the third time in recent weeks that a team has inexplicably failed defend the deep middle or sidelines at the end of games. The Jets did it and lost to the Raiders; the Raiders did it and lost to the Dolphins. And now Houston did it. It’s a matter of situational football. Players need to know how much time is on the clock and, above all, cannot allow receivers to get behind the defense. Inexcusable.
2. Bullish on the Bills
Putting up 56 points is impressive – especially when you’re getting contributions from Matt Barkley (164 passing yards and 1 TD), Antonio Williams (63 yards and 2 TDs) and Gabriel Davis (107 yards and 1 TD). It shows how deep this Bills team is. Buffalo has scored 142 points in its last three games – 47 points per game. The Bills, the AFC’s No. 2 seed, will be a very tough out in the playoffs.
3. Cleveland’s back in the postseason
Cleveland was far from perfect Sunday, winning by two against a Steelers team that was resting several key starters, but the Browns are back in the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and that’s the bottom line. Their secondary will have to play significantly better to beat Pittsburgh with a rested Ben Roethlisberger when they meet again next week. Offensively, their strength remains running the ball. Cleveland rushed for 192 yards against Pittsburgh. The Steelers should be tougher next week when the defensive starters who sat Sunday are back. This will be a key when they play for the third time this season.
4. What will Jets and Dolphins do?
While the playoffs are all set, teams like the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins are focused 100 percent on next season. And these AFC East rivals both have a fascinating decision to make regarding their quarterbacks. The Jets and Dolphins have the second and third overall draft picks, respectively. So when the Jets evaluate Sam Darnold and Miami evaluates Tua Tagovailoa, they will be comparing them with Justin Fields and Zach Wilson, the two QBs who will follow Trevor Lawrence in the draft. This will be a compelling story to follow throughout the offseason.
5. Rookie of the year
With the L.A. Chargers finishing a disappointing 7-9 season, it’s easy to overlook the performance of rookie QB Justin Herbert. He had a remarkable season. After passing for 3 TDs and running for another in the Chargers’ season-ending win over Kansas City, Herbert finished the season with rookie records for touchdown passes (31) and completions (396). His 4,336 passing yards are second-most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Herbert is the clear favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year.