Playoff billing is at stake as the NFL season concludes this weekend with the league still reeling from Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest during a game in Cincinnati.
Hamlin, 24, was improving Thursday but remained on everyone’s minds in the NFL as they geared up for the final few games of the regular season.
He collapsed during the Bills’ Monday night game against the Bengals and was revived on the field before being hospitalized in critical condition.
The playoff-headed Bills, who host the New England Patriots on Sunday, were encouraged by news that Hamlin is awake and appears to be “neurologically intact,” though he remains in critical condition on a ventilator at a Cincinnati hospital.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen said after an exciting week, the team is ready to play, thanks in part to encouraging news about Hamlin’s progress and a “request” from his father, Mario Hamlin.
“We want to go out there and play for three,” he said, a reference to Hamlin’s shirt number. “It’s going to be a huge driving force.”
Bill Belichick, the famously taciturn Patriots coach, said Hamlin’s medical emergency was concerning.
“Life is bigger than this game and I think this is one of those humbling moments for all of us that stands out,” Belichick said.
Pending a decision by the NFL on whether to resume the Bills-Bengals game that had been stopped — or possibly cancel it or declare it a draw — the precise AFC playoff chances remained unclear.
Whatever happens, the Kansas City Chiefs, facing the Las Vegas Raiders, are in the running for the number one seed, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage going into the playoffs.
The Bills also have a shot at first place in the AFC, as does the Bengals, closing out the season against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots, meanwhile, will be looking to snag one of the last two playoff berths in the AFC.
The Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars are also still in playoff contention.
Things looked clearer in the NFC, where the Philadelphia Eagles will take the top seed with a win or tie against the New York Giants, or a loss or tie by the Dallas Cowboys against the Washington Commanders plus a loss or tie by the San Francisco 49ers. against the Arizona Cardinals.
“We have to do this,” said Eagles wide receiver AJ Brown. “We need to try and find some momentum for the playoffs.
“It’s not about pressure. There’s no pressure yet because once you’re in, you’re in and then it’s a whole new season. We’re trying to get ready for the new season, but trying to build some momentum.
“Build some confidence during the week so you have confidence on Sunday. Get rid of mistakes, play fast, play ball.”
The Eagles squandered a chance to clinch the top seed for the second straight week with a 20-10 loss to New Orleans on Sunday.
The Saints fired Gardner Minshew – filling in for injured quarterback Jalen Hurts – six times, and Hurts’ status remained uncertain heading into the regular season finale.
The Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers are chasing the last playoff spot in the NFC.
The Packers will advance with a win over the Lions, while the Lions need a win and a Seahawks loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Seahawks would advance with a win and a Lions win.
Veteran Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 159 yards and a touchdown in an explosive victory over Minnesota and was confident in the Packers’ chances of progressing, despite naysayers continuing to point to their poor start to the season.
“We’re becoming a more dangerous team,” Rodgers said. “We’ve all seen some of the comments out there: ‘No one is worried about the Packers, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’
“Now what will they say?”