Green Bay’s run toward the playoffs and plenty up for grabs in Week 18


Around the AFC

Somber week: The NFL reeled this week in the wake of the life-threatening injury to Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin on Monday night in Cincinnati. The best news so far has been that Hamlin has made progress in the hospital over the course of the week, but his on-field cardiac arrest hit players and coaches around the league hard. As we carry on into Week 18 and then to the postseason, the biggest win would be more progress for Hamlin and more of the kind of kindness and support his fight has brought to the foreground.

Bills try to rebound: Getting back on the field will be most difficult this weekend for the Bills, who face the Patriots on Sunday. Buffalo practiced for the first time of the week Thursday. It’ll be a tough task for head coach Sean McDermott, quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills’ leadership and certainly there will be eyeballs from around the country on the game. The NFL on Thursday announced the game between Buffalo and the Bengals won’t be made up and the potential now exists for a neutral site AFC title game if the right combination of Buffalo, Cincinnati and Kansas City are involved.

Bengals’ big weekend: It’s no easy task to return to the field for Cincinnati, either, though they’ll play a critical game Sunday against Baltimore. The NFL declared the Bengals AFC North champs on Thursday and outlined scenarios that could include a coin toss determining home field if Baltimore gets the No. 6 seed and rematches against the Bengals in the wildcard round.  Regardless, one thing to keep an eye on is whether Lamar Jackson returns to the field for Baltimore as he recovers from a knee injury (and does so without certainty about his status with the franchise beyond this season).

Around the NFC

Top seed up for grabs: It’s simplest for Philadelphia: Beat the Giants, earn the No. 1 seed and first-round bye. If the Eagles lose, however, all San Francisco has to do is beat Arizona and the top slot is theirs. One more wrinkle: In the unlikely event both the Eagles and 49ers lose, Dallas could crash the party and grab the No. 1 seed by beating Washington. All three of those games happen simultaneously in the afternoon window.

Seahawks’ tough spot: Seattle needs a win and a Green Bay loss in order to make the playoffs. The only trouble is if they win, they eliminate Detroit, which is playing the Packers on Sunday. That, of course, is after the Seahawks wrap up their finale against the Rams. Those games should probably be played at the same time. Alas. All Seattle can do is win and then hope.

Brady does it again: It’s been anything but smooth for Tom Brady and the Bucs this year, but they head into Week 18 with the NFC South already clinched at 8-8 and playing for seeding in the playoffs rather than trying to get into the dance. When they needed it most, Brady threw for 432 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina on Sunday. Mike Evans finished with 10 catches for 207 and three scores and Chris Godwin had 120 receiving yards, too. Who wants to face Brady in the playoffs? Speaking of Hall of Famers getting going at the right time…

Game of the Week

Detroit at Green Bay

Not long ago, the Packers were 4-8 and the biggest storyline around the team was whether they should pack it in and let Jordan Love start for a banged-up Aaron Rodgers the rest of the season. Now they just have to win a primetime game at home against the Lions to punch their playoff ticket. The way they’re playing makes them a threat no matter how long this run lasts. Their body of work this season, though, makes it no sure bet they’ll get past Dan Campbell’s team, which enters as a 4.5-point underdog and itself can make the playoffs with a win and a Seattle loss earlier in the day. At the end of the day, though, it’s tough to bet against Rodgers at home with a postseason spot in the balance.

Packers 28, Lions 24

Lock of the Week

Arizona at San Francisco

As outlined above, Kyle Shanahan’s team has a chance still at the top overall seed. Even outside of that though, this is the hottest squad in the NFC. San Francisco’s won nine straight. At one point, this team was 3-4 with losses to Denver, Atlanta and Chicago on its ledger. Now, they might just be the favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. Not only that, but they’re doing it with rookie seventh-round draft pick Brock Purdy at quarterback. The playoffs will be a stiffer test. Week 18 as a 14-point favorite against the Cardinals is not.

49ers 34, Cardinals 17


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