NFL Reactions: Week 18

NFL Reactions: Week 18

This article is part of our NFL Reactions series.

Welcome to the first ever Week 18 NFL Reactions.

Sunday marked the first Week 18 of an NFL regular season since a one-year trial in 1993, and I entered the day with that bittersweet feeling one has when they know something they love is ending. I know we had an extra week this year, but it somehow still wasn't enough. This season was absolutely amazing. It's been a tough couple years in our world — to put it lightly — and the 2021 NFL season delivered with all of the storylines, heroics and outstanding games that make football season so great.

The NFL is the sports world's best television drama, and the season finale did not disappoint.

Not only that, but it has me even more ready to binge the next episodes — the playoffs.

There was so much to digest in what ended up being a wild week of action, but my attention goes directly to two teams in the AFC South: the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts. One team earned the playoff bye. The other, well, is going bye-bye.

Both teams came into their respective games with a lot on the line. With a win, the Titans would lock up the AFC's first-round bye and home-field advantage. A Colts victory would clinch a playoff berth. One team stepped up to the challenge. The other did not.

The Titans beat the Texans 28-25. They are the No. 1 seed and the road to the Super Bowl for the

Welcome to the first ever Week 18 NFL Reactions.

Sunday marked the first Week 18 of an NFL regular season since a one-year trial in 1993, and I entered the day with that bittersweet feeling one has when they know something they love is ending. I know we had an extra week this year, but it somehow still wasn't enough. This season was absolutely amazing. It's been a tough couple years in our world — to put it lightly — and the 2021 NFL season delivered with all of the storylines, heroics and outstanding games that make football season so great.

The NFL is the sports world's best television drama, and the season finale did not disappoint.

Not only that, but it has me even more ready to binge the next episodes — the playoffs.

There was so much to digest in what ended up being a wild week of action, but my attention goes directly to two teams in the AFC South: the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts. One team earned the playoff bye. The other, well, is going bye-bye.

Both teams came into their respective games with a lot on the line. With a win, the Titans would lock up the AFC's first-round bye and home-field advantage. A Colts victory would clinch a playoff berth. One team stepped up to the challenge. The other did not.

The Titans beat the Texans 28-25. They are the No. 1 seed and the road to the Super Bowl for the AFC will go through Nashville. As a football fan, it's awesome to see a new team on top, and Tennessee has the potential to be scary in January. The team is getting healthy at just the right time. A.J. Brown and Julio Jones are both healthy after not seeing the field much at the same time this season. Most important, though, is the imminent return of Derrick Henry. The Titans have stayed afloat without him, but his ability to take over a game is a big advantage. The team has been knocking on the door in recent years. Could this be the season they come barging through on their way to a Super Bowl? We shall see.

That same door, however, was slammed shut in the face of the Colts by none other than the now 3-14 Jaguars. Just a few short weeks ago, many asserted that Indianapolis could be the team that no one wants to see in the playoffs. Their superb rushing attack with Jonathan Taylor and solid defensive play had people wondering if the Colts had a shot to shake things up in the postseason. We will never know now.

Sunday was essentially a playoff game for the Colts, and they couldn't get anything going against a Jaguars defense that has struggled throughout the season. It was the ultimate letdown for Colts fans who, rightly so, had high hopes for their team with their recent success. Carson Wentz is  talented, but he has too many head-scratching moments to have complete confidence in him. The Colts aren't far from contending, but changes are needed to take the next step.

We have a great slate of playoff matchups ahead on the way to what I'm sure will be an electrifying Super Bowl. And after that, well, it'll be time to prepare for fantasy drafts.

Sunday Takeaways

  • Allen Lazard enters the Packers' first-round bye with a great deal of momentum, leading the team in receiving with 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions. Lazard scored eight times this season, including five touchdowns in his last five games. Green Bay's aerial attack still goes through Davante Adams, but Lazard could have a big postseason if the Packers can make a run. The trust is there.
  • In his second season, Darnell Mooney proved he can be a solid playmaker for fantasy, despite being in an offense that struggled at times. The wideout saw a team-high 16 targets from backup quarterback Andy Dalton, catching 12 balls for 126 yards against the Vikings. He'll be an intriguing option in fantasy drafts next season, especially as Justin Fields continues to develop as a passer.
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown knows how to finish. In a win over the Packers, the rookie caught eight of his 10 targets for 109 yards and a touchdown. St. Brown started the year slowly, but he came on strong with five scores in his last six games while getting at least eight targets per game. He's another young wideout who should climb up draft boards next season.
  • The whole Deshaun Watson situation certainly muddied the waters in Houston heading into the 2021 season, but is it possible the Texans may have found an answer to their future at quarterback? Davis Mills hasn't been perfect, but his play is raising some eyebrows. The rookie third-rounder threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-25 loss to the AFC's No. 1 seed Titans. Without a home-run franchise quarterback prospect entering the 2022 draft, the Texans could continue to develop Mills. He's certainly shown flashes.
  • Kirk Cousins had an efficient, clean game to close out the regular season, completing 14 of 22 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Bears. Cousins gets a lot of criticism for not winning in big spots, and this season didn't help his case. The vast majority of Minnesota's nine losses were in one-score games, and though this is not all on Cousins, the great quarterbacks find a way to finish. It will be interesting to see what the Vikings do in the offseason, but for what it's worth, the veteran signal caller is under contract through the the 2022 season.
  • Jauan Jennings had an underwhelming season as the 49ers' No. 3 wide receiver, but he waited to have his best game of the season in a come-from-behind win over the Rams to clinch a wild-card berth. Jennings caught six balls for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He made big catches down the stretch to help put the team in position to win. With Dallas up next in the playoffs, it'll be all hands on deck for the 49ers' offense to keep up with the Cowboys. Jennings could see similar usage in the wild-card round.
  • Tyler Higbee had been relatively quiet heading into Week 18, averaging roughly 40 yards per game and no touchdowns in his last four games. In Sunday's loss to the 49ers, Higbee was much more involved. The tight end caught six of his team-high eight targets for 55 yards and two scores. With the Cardinals on tap in the first round of the playoffs, Higbee likely will continue to be involved in what should be a high-scoring affair.
  • Rashaad Penny continued to impress in Seattle's season finale, rushing 23 times for 190 yards and a touchdown. His trip to the end zone came on a 62-yard run in which Penny showed off his breakaway speed. Penny is doing everything he can to make his case to be a starter somewhere in the league. He'll be a free agent in 2022, and whether he stays in Seattle or lands elsewhere, Penny could make some noise leading up to fantasy draft season.
  • Although much speculation has been made as to what the Seahawks offense could look like next year, there's a good chance it can look like what it did in Week 18. It looks like the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson will stay together in 2022. This should make Tyler Lockett happy, as he knows what a healthy Russell Wilson can do. Lockett caught all five of his targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Cardinals. The veteran wideout, along with fellow receiver DK Metcalf, will look to right the ship with Wilson after a down season for the Seahawks.
  • James Conner did it on the ground and through the air in a loss to the Seahawks. He rushed 15 times for 52 yards and a touchdown, adding six catches for 41 yards and a second score. Conner has been an extremely important piece of the Cardinals' offense, accounting for 18 total touchdowns this season. He suffered a rib injury in the third quarter and did not return. If Conner is available for the Cardinals' wild-card matchup against the Rams, he'll likely play a big role in the offense. Another important note: Conner is set to be a free agent in 2022 and his value has definitely increased from a year ago.

Injury Notes

  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling exited the Packers' loss to the Lions in the second quarter with a back injury. Fortunately, the wideout has the bye week to recover and hopefully get back for the team's first playoff game in the divisional round.
  • Brandin Cooks left the Texans' loss to the Titans with a knee injury. With the Texans' season officially over, the veteran will have the offseason to heal and prepare for the 2022 campaign.
  • Devonta Freeman was forced out of the Ravens' loss to the Steelers with a rib injury. With the Ravens eliminated from playoff contention, Freeman will have plenty of time to recover and figure out his next move as a free agent.
  • Taysom Hill exited the Saints' win over the Falcons with a Lisfranc injury. The Saints finished out of the playoffs, so Hill will look ahead to next season as he'll likely compete for the starting quarterback role in New Orleans.
  • Jamison Crowder left the Jets' loss to the Bills with a calf injury. Once his injury is recovered, Crowder will focus his attention on his impending free agency.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Daley
Joe Daley joined RotoWire in 2021 as a beat writer for the Denver Broncos and a contributor of NFL content. Joe is a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan from Connecticut. Beyond his family, his biggest passions are writing and fantasy football. The ability to marry those two things together is an absolute dream.
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