The Football Five 🏈
- The Giants clinched a playoff berth with a 38-10 thumping of the Colts at home. Daniel Jones threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more to put New York in the postseason for the first time since 2016.
- Up next for the Giants are the Eagles, who fell, 20-10, to the Saints. With Jalen Hurts still out, Gardner Minshew struggled, and Philadelphia still has work to do to get the NFC No. 1 seed.
- The Lions bounced back from a bad loss at Carolina with a 41-10 domination of the Bears. Detroit needs help to make the playoffs, but, hey, a chance is a chance.
- Also in the "need-help-but-has-a-chance" category: the Seahawks, who dispatched the Jets, 23-6.
- For the second straight week, Kenny Pickett threw a late touchdown pass -- this time to Najee Harris -- and the Steelers beat the Ravens, 16-13 for its fifth win in six games. The Steelers must beat the Browns and get losses by the Dolphins (to the Jets) and the Patriots (to the Bills) to make the playoffs. Here are all of the scenarios for Week 18.
Good morning to everyone but especially to...
THE GREEN BAY PACKERS...
Don't look now, but here come Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Green Bay dominated in all three phases in a 41-17 rout of the Vikings and now gets a win-and-you're-in game against the Lions in Week 18.
- The Packers had an interception return touchdown (Darnell Savage) and a kickoff return touchdown (Keisean Nixon) in the same game for the first time since 1967.
- Overall, the Packers forced four turnovers -- all from Kirk Cousins -- and have forced 12 turnovers during their four-game winning streak, tied for most in the NFL. Offensively, the running game led the way with 163 yards and touchdowns by Aaron Jones and Rodgers.
- The Packers earned an A+ in our weekly grades.
Here's the stat that stands out above all others, though: Under Matt LaFleur (since 2019), the Packers are 18-1 in December/January regular-season games. That's absurd. They're hitting their stride at the right time. It's good to be a good team entering the playoffs. It's better to be a hot team entering the playoffs. If the Packers beat the Lions, they'll be just that.
... AND ALSO A GOOD MORNING TO THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Oh, here come Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, too. Tampa Bay surged to the NFC South crown with a 30-24 win over the Panthers thanks to the magical right arm of its GOAT quarterback.
- Brady threw for 432 yards and three touchdowns, including 207 yards and all three touchdowns to Mike Evans.
- This is Brady's 14th consecutive playoff trip and 19th career division title. Here are other milestones he reached.
- The Buccaneers scored a season-high 20 fourth-quarter points.
Listen, this Buccaneers team isn't great. It took advantage of an awful NFC South. The offense and defense have taken major steps back compared to 2020 and 2021, but (clearly) Brady can still put on a show when needed most. He's guaranteed himself a shot to do it in the postseason.
- Jarrett Stidham threw three touchdowns in his first start, though the Raiders fell to the 49ers, 37-34.
- Gary Payton II could make his season debut tonight.
And not such a good morning for...
CARSON WENTZ AND THE WASHINGTON COMMANDERS...
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The Commanders have no one to blame but themselves after Carson Wentz threw three interceptions in a brutal 24-10 loss to the Browns that, combined with other results, knocked Washington out of playoff contention.
Wentz posted the worst passer rating (31.4) and highest off-target percentage (28.6) of his career.
- Wentz was the starter to open the season but went 2-4 and broke his finger. Then came Taylor Heinicke, who initially played well. But after recent struggles, the team went back to Wentz. The results were terrible.
- This is the final dagger in what was an abysmal last month. The Commanders tied the Giants, had the good fortune of having a bye before playing the Giants again but lost the rematch and then lost to the 49ers and Browns.
- Adding embarrassment to it all: Ron Rivera didn't appear to know his team could have been eliminated.
The Commanders gave Wentz two second chances: one this past offseason, when they traded for him after the disastrous end to his Colts tenure, and again days ago when they re-appointed him starter. It will be another offseason full of disappointment and major questions for Washington and Wentz. That's nothing new for either party.
... AND ALSO NOT SUCH A GOOD MORNING FOR THE MIAMI DOLPHINS
Revolving door at quarterback? Check. Late-season collapse? Check. Suddenly not in the playoff field? Check.
No, we're not talking about the Commanders again. We're talking about the Dolphins, whose 23-21 loss -- their fifth straight -- to the Patriots leaves Miami as the current 8 seed in the AFC and no longer in control of its playoff destiny.
- With Tua Tagovailoa out, Teddy Bridgewater was playing decently before throwing a pick-six to Kyle Duggar and suffering a finger injury trying to make the tackle. Skylar Thompson came in and threw an interception on his first series.
- They're just the fourth team in NFL history to have a five-game losing streak after starting 8-3 or better.
- The Patriots now control their own destiny for the 7 seed.
Unlike Washington, Miami still has a shot at the playoffs, but it will require help: a win over the Jets and a Bills win over the Patriots. For now, though, the Dolphins need to focus on helping themselves.
Not so honorable mentions
- This was not a great look for Kayvon Thibodeaux.
- The Bears' nine-game losing streak is their longest ever.
Georgia, TCU advance to CFP Championship after semifinal thrillers 🏈
The College Football Playoff has produced several memorable games, but it had never produced two unforgettable, competitive semifinals.
Until New Year's Eve.
Let's go chronologically, starting with No. 3 TCU stunning No. 2 Michigan, 51-45, in an all-timer. It was the highest-scoring Fiesta Bowl ever and the highest-scoring CFP game through the end of regulation. It also had a 44-point third quarter, most in any CFP quarter, and was the largest upset in CFP history.
- Michigan trailed by 19 late in the third quarter before a quick touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 11. Then TCU's Emari DiMercado fumbled on the Horned Frogs' first play of the ensuing drive, and Roman Wilson scored two plays later.
- After the two-point conversion, it was 41-38, TCU, less than a minute into the fourth quarter, but Michigan wouldn't get any closer.
- The Wolverines forced a 3rd-and-7 on the ensuing drive and had all of the momentum before Max Duggan found Quentin Johnson, who broke a tackle and outran the defense for a shocking 75-yard touchdown. Michigan got the ball back late but didn't go anywhere.
The Horned Frogs are so tough and so poised. The same team that pulled off five second-half comebacks during the regular season had to hold off a comeback in arguably its biggest game ever. TCU continues to overcome any and all adversity, writes Dennis Dodd. Michigan, meanwhile, will rue several missed opportunities, mistakes and a few calls that did not go its way.
If TCU is Cinderella still dancing, the clock struck midnight -- literally and figuratively -- on No. 4 Ohio State when Noah Ruggles missed a 50-yard field goal right as 2022 turned to 2023, and the Buckeyes fell to No. 1 Georgia, 42-41. It didn't seem like anything could top TCU-Michigan, but this one just might have.
- Behind C.J. Stroud and Marvin Harrison Jr., the Buckeyes jumped out to a 14-point lead and led by 11 with under nine minutes to play.
- Then Stetson Bennett found Arian Smith all alone for a 76-yard touchdown, and the two-point conversion cut it to 38-35.
- After a Ruggles field goal, Bennett engineered yet another touchdown drive, capped by a 10-yard touchdown toss to Adonai Mitchell.
- Stroud led a valiant drive, but Ruggles' kick never had a chance.
Our experts have made their early picks for the title game, which kicks off one week from today.
College basketball recap: No. 2 UConn falls 🏀
Though football stole the spotlight, college basketball delivered in a big way over the weekend, too. Let's start with No. 2 UConn going down, 83-73, against No. 22 Xavier.
- Zach Freemantle (16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) and Colby Jones (16 points, five assists) led the way for the Musketeers, who had five double-digit scorers.
- It was Xavier's first win over an AP top-two team since 2016.
- UConn's loss leaves two undefeated teams left in the country: No. 1 Purdue and No. 22 New Mexico.
Entering Saturday, Xavier had suffered close losses in all three of its games against ranked teams, but the Musketeers put it all together against the Huskies, writes Kyle Boone. The loss pushed UConn down to No. 3 and Xavier up to No. 14 in Gary Parrish's Top 25 And 1. Elsewhere...
- No. 4 Kansas dug itself a 15-point hole and then held on for a 69-67 win over Oklahoma State.
- No. 19 Kentucky got a much-needed win, 86-63, over struggling Louisville.
- Iowa State downed No. 12 Baylor, 77-62.
- No. 6 Texas squeaked by Oklahoma, 70-69.
- No. 22 New Mexico held off Wyoming, 76-75.
What we're watching Monday 📺
🏈 Here's the bowl schedule today.
🏒 Penguins at Bruins, 2 p.m. on TNT
🏈 Bills at Bengals, 8:15 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Hawks at Warriors, 10 p.m. on NBA TV