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Jacksonville Jaguars' collapse among biggest surprises from Week 18

The final weekend of the NFL regular season is always a bit of a mixed bag. Twenty teams woke up on Saturday in the playoff mix and only a handful went to sleep on Sunday night turning their attention to playoff games. Teams have already started sorting through the aftermath -- and that includes, in some cases, searching for new head coaches -- but we're taking one last look back at the surprises and revelations from Week 18.

1) The Eagles went belly up. Head coach Nick Sirianni made the smart decision to pull quarterback Jalen Hurts and others just before halftime of the Giants’ 27-10 victory Sunday afternoon. The game was over -- and a prolonged playoff run was in jeopardy long before that, though. In 2023, the Eagles haven't looked like the team that nearly won the Super Bowl last year. Both sides of the ball were shaky, but the team kept winning, starting the season 10-1 and clinching a playoff spot early. And then the wheels flew off. The offense struggled to score against all but the worst teams, the defense couldn't stop anyone, including the worst teams, even after Sirianni took play-calling responsibility from defensive coordinator Sean Desai and gave it to Matt Patricia. It all came together Sunday, when the Giants took a 24-0 halftime lead, shredding the Eagles defense over and over, and finally prompting Sirianni to protect Hurts. Prior to Sunday, the Eagles had beaten the Giants 17 of the last 20 times they had played, and the Giants, already eliminated from the postseason, had only draft positioning on the line. The Eagles lost five of their last six games. The good news is they are 0-0 for the playoffs. The bad news is they have had all season to fix their issues and haven't been able to do it. Now injuries to Hurts (finger on throwing hand) and receiver A.J. Brown (right knee) will bear watching as the Eagles limp into the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2) The Houston Texans are way ahead of schedule. The Texans were so deep in the wilderness for so long -- a total of 11 victories from 2020 through 2022, a revolving door at head coach, a disgruntled franchise quarterback who was benched and then traded -- that it seemed like a long climb out of the hole was going to be needed, especially with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback. Saturday night's 23-19 road victory over the Indianapolis Colts, which put the Texans into the playoffs (they won the division when the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday), underscored just how wrong that was, and how dramatic the turnaround led by DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud has been. The Colts beat the Texans by 11 points in Week 2, but Stroud's rapid development -- his poise and deft touch, in particular, both on display in Saturday's opening touchdown bomb to Nico Collins -- combined with the positive energy Ryans has brought to the building and a stellar rookie class (including pass rusher Will Anderson Jr.) have turbocharged the Texans' fortunes and put them in the playoffs for the first time since 2019. They will be a dangerous opponent in these playoffs and for years to come.

3) The Bucs -- yes, the Bucs -- are the most consistent team in the NFC. Their victory over the Panthers on Sunday means the Bucs have won the NFC South for the third straight season and made the playoffs in four straight campaigns, the only NFC team to do that. Baker Mayfield was banged up on Sunday and the offense struggled against the Panthers, but Todd Bowles' defense carried the day, as it has for most of the season. What was supposed to be a reset year after Tom Brady's retirement, and a chance to clean up the salary cap, has far exceeded expectations.

4) The Steelers just completed what might have been Mike Tomlin's best regular-season coaching job. The Steelers needed help from the Titans on Sunday to snag a wild-card spot, but that they won 10 games and were in that position is stunning considering the travails of the offense. There were high hopes for Kenny Pickett, the running game and the offense coming out of training camp, but they never materialized, forcing Tomlin to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada early in the season, an uncharacteristic move for him and the Steelers organization. Then, with Pickett injured and Mitch Trubisky ineffective, Tomlin made the right decision to go with third stringer Mason Rudolph, who energized the offense and got George Pickens involved. Then, with Pickett recovered and available, Tomlin opted to stick with Rudolph's hot hand with playoff hopes on the line. Most of all, it was Tomlin's defense -- which was ravaged by injuries and had to use late-season fill-ins -- that carried the Steelers to the playoffs. T.J. Watt's knee injury will have a huge impact on their wild-card game.

5) The Jaguars collapsed. They were 8-3 as December began. They won only once after that, including Sunday’s loss to a Titans team playing only for the thrill of knocking a division rival out of the playoffs. The division title had seemed all but theirs until it was not. The offense went into a tailspin after receiver Christian Kirk suffered a core muscle injury, they couldn't run the ball and Trevor Lawrence was banged up -- he had an ankle injury, a concussion and a shoulder injury -- and it showed, particularly in the season finale, when his final fourth-down pass was wildly off target. The season started with the Jaguars expected to do big things after their playoff victory last season. It ended with five losses in the final six games, and the Colts and Texans providing a real challenge -- an indication that what looked like the dawning of the Trevor Lawrence era is now much more likely to be a dogfight.

6) The future is bright in Green Bay, and the present is pretty good, too. So much for the growing pains the Packers were supposed to experience this season. Did anybody have the Packers going to the playoffs in Jordan Love's first year as the quarterback, with the youngest roster in the league after trading away a four-time league MVP? They got in with a victory over the Bears on Sunday, and Love's play in the last eight games is a big reason. In that stretch, the Packers went 6-2 and Love threw 18 touchdowns and only one interception. The moment has never looked too big for Love, who finished the regular season with 32 touchdowns, and now he starts the playoffs on the biggest possible stage, against the Dallas Cowboys.

7) New Orleans players did what? Saints players ignored the wishes of head coach Dennis Allen and ran a play -- a handoff to Jamaal Williams, who scored the 1-yard touchdown -- even though Allen told them to take a knee in the victory formation with the game against arch-rival Atlanta well in hand. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, whose seat has grown hot in recent weeks, yelled at Allen when the two met on the field after the game, and Allen said later Smith was right to be upset. Allen, in telling the story to reporters, also put the blame squarely on his players. Maybe it will all blow over because the Saints' season is over, but Allen can't be happy with the lack of respect for his authority.

8) The Bills got the full Josh Allen experience – sometimes beautiful, sometimes maddening – to win the AFC East after trailing the Dolphins all season. Gorgeous deep passes, helter-skelter runs, two terrible interceptions, a horrible decision to throw inches short of the end zone as time expired at the end of the first half, a fumble inside the Dolphins' 30-yard line, and a highlight-reel run with the game on the line, the Bills absorbed all of it. A punt return for a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter seemed to snap the Bills out of their slumber, and Josh Allen constructed the best drive of the night on the next offensive possession to give the Bills the lead midway through the fourth. In the meantime, the defense held an injury-limited Dolphins offense in check in the second half – Miami punted on four straight drives for the first time all season, and intercepted Tua Tagovailoa in the Dolphins' final drive -- and even more injuries limited the Dolphins pass rush. Allen hadn't had a multiple-interception game since the mid-November loss to the Denver that caused the Bills to fire their offensive coordinator and launched their late-season surge to the playoffs. Allen can't afford so many mistakes as the Bills go into the playoffs, but those heroics could carry them a long, long way.

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