NFL

NFL Week 18: AFC & NFC top seed up for grabs as Titans face Jaguars in winner-takes-all clash

By Sports Desk January 05, 2023

The NFL has been in shock this week, following the terrible scenes in Monday's game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills.

Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest on the field has sent shockwaves through the sport, though it appears the 24-year-old is making progress in his recovery.

While Hamlin's health remains the league's priority over the rescheduling of that game from Week 17, there is also focus on the final round of fixtures.

There's plenty still be decided in Week 18, and Stats Perform has used Opta data to preview some of the key matchups.

SATURDAY (all times EST)

Chiefs (13-3) at Raiders (6-10) - 4:30pm

With the Bills and the Bengals having yet to finish the game that was rightly suspended on Monday, the AFC picture is not entirely clear. As things stand, a Kansas City Chiefs win in Las Vegas would mean they remain in with a chance of claiming the top seed, pending a decision on the Bengals-Bills game and the outcome of Buffalo's Week 18 clash against the New England Patriots.

The Chiefs have scored 28 or more points in nine consecutive games against the Raiders. The only longer streak of such games against a single opponent in NFL history is 10 by the Los Angeles Rams against the Green Bay Packers, and that came way back in 1949 to 1953. 

Jerick McKinnon caught two touchdowns in Kansas City's 27-24 win over the Denver Broncos and has seven touchdown catches in the Chiefs' last five games. That is the most receiving touchdowns by a running back over a span of five team games in the Super Bowl era. 

The Chiefs have scored 264 points on the road this season, averaging 33.0 points per game. If they hit their average on Saturday, they will finish with the third-most road points in a single season in NFL history, behind only the 2007 New England Patriots (314) and their own effort in 2018 (306).

Patrick Mahomes has 5,000 passing yards (5,048) and 250 rushing yards (329) in a single season for the second time in his career, also doing so in 2018.

Titans (7-9) at Jaguars (8-8) - 8:15pm

It will be winner-take-all in the AFC South when the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans face off. The victor will clinch the division and become the fourth seed in the playoffs. While Jacksonville would still be able to make the postseason via a wild card should they lose, Tennessee must win if they are to avoid elimination.

The Jaguars are looking to sweep the season series with the Titans for the first time since 2005. The only other NFL teams that have gone that long since they last swept a current divisional opponent are the Cleveland Browns, who last swept the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1988, and New York Jets, who last swept the Patriots in 2000 (the Browns also have a chance to end their drought this week).

Jacksonville could become the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs immediately following back-to-back 14-loss seasons.

Meanwhile, the Titans are looking to avoid joining the 1994 Eagles as the only teams in league history to have at least seven wins before ending the season on a seven-game game losing streak.

SUNDAY

Giants (9-6-1) at Eagles (13-3) - 4:25pm

The Philadelphia Eagles have been the team to beat in the NFC all season, yet after successive defeats in the absence of Jalen Hurts, they now need a win to clinch the top seed.

Should they lose to the New York Giants, both the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers will have to suffer defeats in order for the Eagles to be guaranteed home advantage in the playoffs.

The omens are good for the Eagles, who have won eight straight home games against the Giants, tied for the second-longest home win streak against a single opponent in team history. It trails only their active 10-game home win streak against the Steelers that started in 1966. 

A win against the Eagles would give the Giants 10 wins after having just four last season. It would be the first time New York earned double-digit wins in a season after having four or fewer wins since doing so in 1933 (11 wins after a 4-6 record in 1932).

Lions (8-8) @ Packers (8-8) - 8.20pm

Given the NFC East will get two of the conference's three wild cards, matters are relatively simple for the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. A Packers victory sends them through to the playoffs, while Detroit need to win and hope the Los Angeles Rams defeat the Seattle Seahawks.

The Packers are coming off a 41-17 win over the Vikings in which they had four takeaways and no giveaways. Green Bay are now 50-0-1 in the Super Bowl era (including playoffs) with a turnover margin of +4 or better in a game.

Green Bay's record at home against the Lions is 61-27-4, the most home wins by any team against a single opponent.

With another win, Aaron Rodgers would be the first QB in NFL history to have two seasons where his team was multiple games under .500 immediately before going on a five-or-greater game winning streak to end the regular season. 

But the Lions have scored at least 20 points while throwing no interceptions in eight straight games, tied for the longest streak in NFL history (regular season) with the 2005 Broncos, 2010 Patriots and 2018-19 Ravens.

Elsewhere...

New England will clinch a playoff spot should they defeat the Bills, who are of course recovering from that incident involving Hamlin. The Bills have won their last two games against the Patriots and are looking for three straight wins in the series for the first time since 1999-2000.

The Miami Dolphins have lost five in a row but can make the playoffs should they beat the Jets. The matchup is perfectly balanced all-time at 56 wins apiece with one tie entering this game. 

A run of five wins from six games has put the Steelers in playoff contention. They will have to beat the Browns and need results elsewhere go their way. Cleveland won against the Steelers in Week 3 this season. The Browns have not won multiple games against Pittsburgh in a season since the 1988 season.

The 49ers can still claim the top seed in the NFC by beating the Arizona Cardinals. San Francisco beat Las Vegas in Week 17, 37-34, despite trailing by 10 points in the third quarter. It was the Niners' second-largest comeback victory in the second half under Kyle Shanahan.

It has been a terrible season for the Rams (5-11), but they are 7-3 in their last 10 games against Seattle. The Seahawks got a 27-23 win in Inglewood in Week 13, the closest game between these teams since a 30-29 Seahawks win in Week 5, 2019. 

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  • Brazil 0-0 Costa Rica: Wasteful Selecao frustrated in Copa America opener Brazil 0-0 Costa Rica: Wasteful Selecao frustrated in Copa America opener

    Brazil began their Copa America campaign with a frustrating goalless draw against Costa Rica at the SoFi Stadium.

    The Selecao dominated large periods of the Group D clash. Marquinhos saw a goal ruled out following a VAR review, while Lucas Paqueta rattled the woodwork from distance.

    Yet despite enjoying just under three-quarters of the possession and registering 19 shots to their opponents' two, they could not find the breakthrough and failed to win their opening match in the competition for the first time since 2016.

    Dorival Junior's side subsequently lost early ground on Group D leaders Colombia, who beat Paraguay 2-1 earlier in the day.

    Brazil quickly asserted their authority on proceedings in California as they sought the game's opening goal.

    Rodrygo steered a shot wide following a jinking run into the penalty area, while Raphinha was denied by Patrick Sequeira after latching onto a diagonal ball over the top of the Costa Rica defence.

    The Selecao thought they had broken the deadlock on the half-hour mark when Marquinhos applied the finishing touch after Rodrygo glanced Raphinha's free-kick towards the far post, only for the strike to be ruled out for offside following a VAR review. 

    Rodrygo fired narrowly over in first-half stoppage time and, then on 63 minutes, Lucas Paqueta saw his ferocious 25-yard drive crash against Sequeira's left upright.

    Dorival withdrew the quiet Vinicius Junior in favour of Endrick and Savinho for the final 20 minutes, and both looked dangerous upon their introductions.

    The latter's cross almost saw Costa Rica defender Haxzel Quiros head into his own net with his blushes spared by Sequeira, who then beat away Guilherme Arana's fierce volley.

    Savinho was involved again in stoppage time as he teed up one final opportunity for Bruno Guimaraes, who bent his first-time shot narrowly wide to compound a frustrating start to the tournament for the nine-time winners.

    Selecao stutter on return to States

    It is fair to say Brazil do not boost particularly fond recent memories of playing in the United States in recent years.

    After all, the Selecao crashed out in the group stages when the Copa America was last held in this nation eight years ago.

    Neymar, who was part of that side, watched on from the stands having been ruled out of this tournament through injury.

    Try as they may, his team-mates just could not break down their opponents and turn their dominance into the elusive goal, with just three of their 19 attempts on target.

    Fresh from playing a starring role in Real Madrid’s LaLiga and Champions League double, Vinicius Junior was unable to inspire his nation – his tallies of 45 touches and 23 passes were the lowest recorded by any of Brazil’s outfield starters.

    On a brighter note, Marquinhos made his 16th Copa America appearance – with only Dani Alves (19) and Thiago Silva (18) playing more times for the Selecao in the competition since 2000 – though a VAR review prevented him from marking the occasion with a goal.

    Another clean sheet for repellent Costa Rica

    Costa Rica were heavy underdogs on their return to the Copa America for the first time in eight years.

    Not since 2004 have Los Ticos progressed from the group stages of this competition, but they certainly know what it takes to claim a scalp on the big stage.

    Exactly 10 years ago, they beat Uruguay and Italy to top Group D, which also featured England, on the way to reaching the World Cup quarter-finals.

    Fast forward a decade and Joel Campbell, who was part of that side, came off the bench for his 140th cap as his nation halted a run of nine successive defeats by Brazil. 

    More impressively, Costa Rica have kept clean sheets in each of their last four competitive games.

    Their failure to record a single shot on target for the first time in a Copa America match since 2011 will be a slight concern, but that defensive stubbornness will stand them in good stead as they look to progress in this tournament.

  • France secure landmark qualification to Euro 2024 knockout stages France secure landmark qualification to Euro 2024 knockout stages

    France's progression to the Euro 2024 knockout stages was confirmed on Monday, without Didier Deschamps' side kicking a ball.

    Les Bleus sit second in Group B - behind the Netherlands having scored a goal less - with four points from their opening two matches, ahead of facing Poland in Dortmund on Tuesday.

    However, the two-time European champions will approach the game safe in the knowledge they are assured of a place in the last 16.

    With Hungary and Croatia finishing third in Group A and Group B with three and two points respectively, even a defeat against Poland would see France advance as one of the four best third-placed teams.

    Deschamps' side are the only European nation to qualify from the group stage of all seven major international tournaments (World Cup and European Championship) since 2012.

  • United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener

    Christian Pulisic stole the show with an eye-catching strike and another assist as the United States opened their Copa America campaign with a 2-0 triumph over Bolivia on Sunday.

    Gregg Berhalter's side never appeared troubled in a routine victory at AT&T Stadium in Texas, thanks to the solo endeavours of captain Pulisic in their Group C opener.

    The Milan forward needed just three minutes to curl in a sublime opener before teeing up Folarin Balogun – who another strike ruled out after the interval – just moments before the break in a one-sided first half.

    Bolivia rarely seemed likely to forge a comeback as the USA managed a winning start to a Copa campaign for the first time since the 1995 edition when they defeated Chile 2-1 in Uruguay.

    Antonio Carlos Zago's side did not heed an early warning when goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra was forced to rush out and clear in front of Balogun.

    Bolivia were caught napping just minutes later as Timothy Weah worked a short corner with Pulisic, who coasted inside before curling into the top-right corner from an acute angle on the left-hand side of the area.

    Weah – son of legendary forward George – was denied from point-blank range as the USA almost doubled their lead immediately.

    Yet Berhalter's host nation would soon add to their advantage in Arlington.

    Pulisic was afforded the freedom of midfield yet again, dropping into space before offloading for Balogun to cannon a left-footed drive into the bottom-right corner.

    That smart 44th-minute finish marked Balogun's first-ever goal at this tournament and the Monaco striker found the back of the net for a second time after the interval, only for his celebrations to be cut short.

    His routine tap-in from inside the six-yard area was ruled out for offside as Weah had rushed forward to capitalise on Weston McKennie's pass before sliding across for his attacking partner.

    Viscarra was equal to Pulisic's effort before the hour as the forward attempt to recreate his early heroics, while substitute Ricardo Pepi prodded wide from Antonee Robinson's pinpoint left-wing delivery.

    Pepi was denied by fine Viscarra reflexes late on as the USA coasted to an opening victory before their next meeting with Panama on Thursday, a day before Bolivia face Uruguay.

    Pulisic stars in rare USA win

    Pulisic was tipped by many as the USA player to keep an eye on at the Copa America, and the Milan man delivered in emphatic fashion in this opener.

    Fresh off the back of scoring 15 goals across all competitions for the Serie A giants, Pulisic's opening strike had an expected goals (xG) tally of just 0.037 – yet that was no problem for the USA captain.

    His headline-worthy effort halted a woeful run for the USA against CONMEBOL sides at this tournament as well given Berhalter's side had previously lost eight of 10 such games.

    Victory also marked the USA's first Copa triumph over Bolivia in just their second attempt, avenging for a 1-0 defeat way back in 1995 when Marco Etcheverry scored the winner.

    Bolivia wait goes on

    Bolivia were seeking a win against a CONCACAF opponent in Copa action for the first time since the 1997 edition.

    They defeated Mexico 3-1 in the semi-finals of the tournament they hosted 27 years ago, though a wait for another such victory must continue after a drab showing in Texas.

    Carlos Zago won this competition as a player with Brazil in 1999 but his side have a long way to go if they are to even escape their group in the USA.

    Bolivia have now lost their last four international outings by a concerning margin of 9-1, having suffered defeats against Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and the USA.

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