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2023 NFL season, Week 18: What We Learned from Saturday doubleheader

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Saturday's action in Week 18 of the 2023 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 · 10-7-0
Baltimore Ravens
2023 · 13-4-0


  1. Steelers D delivers, suffers potentially massive loss. Pittsburgh’s defense showed out in a typically bruising AFC North battle on Saturday with the knowledge that a loss would put its playoff hopes on life support. The unit took advantage of rainy conditions and Baltimore’s decision to rest stars like Lamar Jackson and Zay Flowers, bullying a diminished Baltimore offense into two fumbles and 224 total yards. Second-year linebacker Mark Robinson had the game of his career, forcing his first NFL fumble and logging his first NFL sack. T.J. Watt, as always, was ferocious leading the way with two sacks of his own, bringing his season total to a league-leading 19 to perhaps lock up his second Defensive Player of the Year award. But there’s a massive cloud of uncertainty now hanging over Pittsburgh’s prospects should it advance to Super Wild Card Weekend. Shortly after logging his second sack in the third quarter, Watt is believed to have suffered a Grade 3 MCL sprain, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. The knee injury knocked him out of the game and typically requires a multi-week recovery. Watt’s defense was the heart behind Pittsburgh’s surprising 10-win season, and any absence he might face completely changes the operation.
  2. Ravens prioritize health. Baltimore rested multiple starters with the AFC’s No. 1 seed all locked up -- principle among them the league’s MVP frontrunner, Lamar Jackson. What resulted was a sloppy affair at a rainy M&T Back Stadium. Second-string quarterback Tyler Huntley especially looked overwhelmed by the Pittsburgh front and often saw balls skip short of targets or slip through their hands. A handful of Ravens still performed admirably, though. Tight end Isaiah Likely continued his campaign for the NFL’s best backup tight end, collecting two catches for 31 yards and a score to mark his fifth touchdown in the last five games. Pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney also scored a personal victory. His sack of Mason Rudolph near the end of the second quarter put him at 9.5 on the season, tying a career high and passing a nine-sack incentive in his contract to earn $750,000. The three-time Pro Bowler let everyone know it, too, celebrating for nearly the duration of time before the next play.
  3. Steelers stay grounded in sloppy win. With the defense playing so well, Mike Tomlin was content to ride the running game to an all-important victory. Najee Harris carried the load with 112 yards and a score on 26 carries, taking advantage of an offensive line that seems to be peaking at season’s end. Jaylen Warren contributed nine carries for 33 yards, and the backfield pair combined for 38 receiving yards on 10 catches. The grind-it-out approach was much needed in a slopfest of a game that saw eight fumbles -- including six by the Steelers, who lost two. Rudolph, a three-time fumbler on Saturday, struggled mightily despite throwing only two incompletions on 20 attempts. Unlike the previous two weeks, when Rudolph had two of Pittsburgh’s top three passing-yardage games of the season, he managed only 152 passing yards on Saturday. 71 of those came on a single play, during which Diontae Johnson did most of the work by streaking through a crowd of Ravens to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead. Regardless, the Steelers have now won three in a row to close the season and give themselves a 65% of sneaking into Super Wild Card Weekend, per Next Gen Stats. A loss from either the Jaguars or Bills on Sunday will get them there.

Next Gen stat of the game: Najee Harris totaled 112 yards and a TD on 26 carries (+14 RYOE) in Week 18 against the Ravens, his third straight game of positive RYOE.

NFL Research: Mike Tomlin broke a tie with Bill Cowher for the most 10-plus win seasons by a head coach in Steelers franchise history, accomplishing his 10th such campaign.

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Houston Texans
2023 · 10-7-0
Indianapolis Colts
2023 · 9-8-0


  1. Texans clinch playoffs, complete turnaround. Houston started the regular season with a rookie quarterback, its fourth different Week 1 head coach in four years and 11 combined victories in the previous three campaigns. It finished it Saturday night as a 10-win wild-card team with a slam-dunk franchise QB, a first-year head coach clearly in his element and a chance at a division title should the Jaguars lose on Sunday. As was on display in a win-or-go-home showdown with the Colts, C.J. Stroud and DeMeco Ryans have officially turned this franchise around. With the game tied, 17-17, Stroud completed all seven of his attempts for 82 passing yards to lead a go-ahead touchdown drive. And when Ka'imi Fairbairn missed the ensuing extra point, Ryans’ defense held strong against a driving Colts offense to force a turnover on downs 15 yards from a score at just over a minute remaining. The Texans performed beyond their years with the season on the line down the stretch. They have arrived, they’re dangerous and no one should want to face them.
  2. Stroud-Collins connection is too much for Colts. Indianapolis earned some confidence after its opening drive, on which the offense marched 56 yards and looked more than capable against Houston’s stout rushing defense to open the scoring with three points. Then Stroud had his rebuttal, and it was immediate. On Houston’s first offensive snap, Stroud unleashed a deep play-action pass to Nico Collins over the top of Indy’s defense for 75 yards and a score. It was a prelude of things to come, as Stroud went back to the Collins well repeatedly throughout the night, peppering his favorite wide receiver with nine targets that netted nine catches for 195 yards and the aforementioned score. Stroud finished 20 of 26 for 264 yards with a 134.1 passer rating and the fifth 4,000-yard passing season for a rookie in NFL history, while Collins’ claimed his first-ever year with 1,000 receiving yards. The two displayed a near-telepathic understanding Saturday night and managed to befuddle the Colts just enough for a tight win thanks to their connection.
  3. Indianapolis can’t convert on Jonathan Taylor’s excellence. After all the tumult between the Colts and Taylor over his contract and injury rehab at the beginning of the year, Indianapolis’ hopes of reaching the playoffs relied almost entirely on him Saturday night. He put together a performance far above even his price tag, gashing the NFL’s third-ranked rushing defense for 188 yards (6.3 yard per carry) and a touchdown on 30 carries. Taylor alone put up 62 more yards against Houston than any other team has this season. He looked especially vintage while shrugging off multiple arm tackles and busting one outside for a 49-yard score in the third quarter, and the offense appeared notably flatter when he departed the game with an ankle injury at the end of that same frame. Despite receiving a doubtful designation, Taylor, Indy’s best chance at a win, came jogging back on the field with 6:20 remaining in the contest after Houston took a 23-17 lead. The Colts proceeded to hand off to him on nine of their first 11 plays while marching 60 yards before doing the unthinkable. They not only took the ball out of their star’s hands on fourth-and-1, but they took him out of the game entirely. Gardner Minshew then threw a quick dart behind running back Tyler Goodson, who couldn’t corral it to convert. That effectively ended the game, leaving a long offseason of regret for a Colts team that barely missed its playoff shot.

Next Gen stat of the game: C.J. Stroud generated a perfect passer rating (158.3) on play-action passes against the Colts in Week 18, completing 6 of 7 such passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

NFL Research: Jonathan Taylor’s 135.2 rushing yards per game versus the Texans are the most by any player against a single opponent in the Super Bowl era (minimum of five games).

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