Two coaching firings have been announced the morning after the end
of the regular season with the Bears getting rid of John Fox and
the Lions parting ways with Jim Caldwell. The Bears finished in
last place in the NFC North for the third consecutive season under
Fox, who was hired by the team in January 2015 after a four-year
stint as the Broncos’ coach. Fox coached Denver to a 46-18 record
but went just 14-34 in Chicago. In 2017, they were 0-6 vs. the NFC
North, marking the franchise’s first winless season in their
division in nearly 50 years. Caldwell is out less than one year
after he signed an extension. He posted winning seasons in three of
his four years as coach of the Lions, however, the team missed the
playoffs twice in the last three seasons – including this year
following a 9-7 mark. Others rumored to be on the hot seat include,
the Broncos’ Vance Joseph and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati.
Hue Jackson, on the other hand, has apparently survived Black
Monday in Cleveland despite a historic, losing season. Jackson will
be back with the Browns after going 0-16 this year and 1-31 in the
past two seasons. Jackson has apologized for the team’s performance
a day after it lost in Pittsburgh and joined the 2008 Lions as the
only teams in NFL history to lose all 16 games.
The Bills are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Buffalo ended the longest active postseason drought in major
professional sports after posting a 22-16 victory over the Dolphins
and getting some late help from the Bengals, who eliminated the
Ravens with a stunning 31-27 win in Baltimore on Andy Dalton’s
49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left. The
Bills will visit the Jaguars next Sunday in the opening round but
may do so without leading rusher LeSean McCoy, who was carted off
with a right ankle injury in the third quarter.
The Titans also ended a long playoff absence by recording a 15-10
win over the AFC South champion Jaguars to reach the postseason for
the first time since 2008. Tennessee will be the AFC’s No. 5 seed
and will visit West champion Kansas City on Saturday in the
The Chargers came up just short of a playoff berth despite a 30-10
rout of the Raiders that triggered the end of Jack Del Rio’s tenure
in Oakland. The 54-year-old was let go immediately following the
loss despite signing a four-year contract extension in February.
Del Rio led the Raiders to 12 wins and the franchise’s first
playoff appearance since 2002 last season, but Oakland slipped to
6-10 among raised expectations this year. Reports have surfaced
that owner Mark Davis is planning to pursue onetime Raiders coach
and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden with a lucrative offer that
could include an ownership stake.
Chuck Pagano is also out in Indianapolis, with Colts owner Jim
Irsay announcing the move shortly after the team’s 22-13 win over
the Texans. Pagano led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his
first three seasons, but the team has missed the postseason in each
of the last three while compiling a 20-28 record during the
drought. Indianapolis finished this season 4-12 with franchise
quarterback Andrew Luck not taking a single snap due to
complications from offseason shoulder surgery.
The Patriots locked up home-field advantage throughout the AFC
playoffs with a 26-6 victory over the Jets in New England’s
coldest-ever regular-season home game. Needing a win or a
Pittsburgh loss among other scenarios, the AFC East champion
Patriots wrapped up the regular season at 13-3 to secure the
conference’s No. 1 seed for a second consecutive season and seventh
time overall. Only San Francisco and Denver have claimed more No. 1
seeds with eight apiece. Dion Lewis totaled 133 yards and two
touchdowns while Tom Brady completed 18 of 37 passes for 190 yards
and two TDs despite not targeting Rob Gronkowski even once.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Browns became the second
team in NFL history to finish with an 0-16 record by losing 28-24
to a Steelers team which rested Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell
and many other starters. Cleveland joins the 2008 Lions as the only
teams ever to go 0-16. The Browns did put up a good fight, coming
back to tie the game at 21-all after falling into an early 14-0
deficit, but JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 96-yard kickoff return for a
touchdown put the Steelers back in front. The Browns had their
chances in the fourth quarter, but a fumble by Duke Johnson, a
DeShone Kizer interception and a dropped fourth-and-2 pass by Corey
Coleman did them in.
On the NFC side, the Vikings locked up the No. 2 seed with a 23-10
win over the Bears and the Saints clinched the South Division
despite falling 31-24 to the Buccaneers when Jameis Winston found
Chris Godwin for a 9-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left.
New Orleans will be the No. 4 seed and will play next Sunday
against division-rival Carolina, which failed in a bid to capture
the South by losing 22-10 at Atlanta. The victory got the reigning
NFC champion Falcons in as the sixth seed, and they’ll visit the
West champion Rams on Saturday.
Amid reports of animosity between Texans coach Bill O’Brien and
general manager Rick Smith, Smith announced he is taking a leave of
absence to be with his wife, who is battling breast cancer. Smith
said, “I remain committed to our quest to bring a championship to
the city of Houston, yet my family needs me now and they are my
priority.” O’Brien and Smith apparently have disagreed on the
direction the franchise should take, with reports that one of the
two would have to go. It is unclear at this point whether O’Brien
will have a greater say in personnel decisions in Smith’s absence.
The Giants appear to have their eyes on Eagles defensive
coordinator Jim Schwartz to be their next head coach. ESPN reports
the former Lions coach is the frontrunner to take over in New York
after the team fired coach Ben McAdoo earlier this month, with
Steve Spagnuolo serving as the interim coach since then. Owner John
Mara has said he wants an experienced coach, and Schwartz fits the
bill, though Detroit went 29-51 in his five seasons at the helm.
The Rockets ended their five-game losing streak by outlasting the
Lakers 148-142 in double overtime, though the victory was marred by
star guard James Harden exiting the contest late with a hamstring
injury. Harden had 40 points and 11 assists before departing with
under a minute left in regulation.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley announced he will forgo his
senior season and enter the 2018 draft, where the early-season
Heisman candidate is expected to be a top-10 pick. Barkley finished
fourth in balloting for the Heisman and completed a stellar junior
campaign by rushing for 1,271 yards and scoring 22 total
touchdowns, including two on kick returns. The 20-year-old wrapped
up his career by rushing for 137 yards, highlighted by a Fiesta
Bowl-record 92-yard touchdown run, in the ninth-ranked Nittany
Lions’ 35-28 win over Washington on Saturday.
The Golden Knights continued their surprising run with a 6-3
victory over the Maple Leafs that extended the unexpected Western
Conference leaders’ winning streak to seven games, the longest by
an expansion franchise in NHL history. Vegas improved to 11-0-1
over its last 12 games, also a record for consecutive games with at
least a point by a first-year team.