Linebacker Zach Brown did not play in any of the Redskins’ final three games as a precautionary measure due to an injury, but despite that he still finished with the team lead in solo tackles (84) and assists (43). Brown will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, having signed a one-year deal with the Redskins last year after a Pro Bowl campaign in his only season with the Buffalo Bills. If I’m Washington, I’m doing everything I can to keep him.
Bruce Carter completed a long grind of a season by seeing 21 special teams snaps and one defensive snap for the Jets, although he failed to record a tackle. Because of the difficulty in officially recording tackles, different resources list differing season totals for him, but the Jets’ official website has him with two solo tackles and four assists, so we’ll go with those. Needless to say, those aren’t career-high numbers, although Carter will likely be thankful he lasted an entire season with the Jets after originally missing the 53-man roster. He will be a free agent this offseason.
Minnesota Vikings 23, Chicago Bears 10
The rookie campaign of #2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky came to an end against the Vikings with a game he’ll likely not want to dwell too long on this offseason. He didn’t turn the ball over, but an intentional grounding penalty in his own endzone gave the Vikings a safety that made it a two-score game. He went 20 of 36 for 178 yards, and finished the season going 4-8 as a starter and going 196 for 330 (59.6% completion) for 2,193 yards and an even 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He broke 300 yards once, against Detroit, but failed to throw multiple touchdowns in a game this year.
The next few weeks will be key for the development of Trubisky as a franchise quarterback. The Bears have already fired coach John Fox, although they gave general manager Ryan Pace an extension through 2021. Pace has indicated that Trubisky will have some input in the Bears’ head coaching search, as they look for someone with an offensive mind to help Trubisky’s growth. The best-case scenario is finding someone like Sean McVay, who took over the Rams with Jared Goff coming off of a disappointing rookie year and turned them into the NFC West champions. Time will tell.
Detroit Lions 35, Green Bay Packers 11
Tight end Eric Ebron was targeted six times but only caught one nine-yard pass in the Lions’ win over the Packers, which left Detroit with a winning record and their first season sweep of Green Bay since the 1991 season, although they failed to make the playoffs in a stacked NFC. Ebron finished with 53 receptions for 574 yards and 4 TDs; he didn’t have any career highs but he finished the season strong, with two of those touchdowns coming in the last three weeks. Next year will be the final year of his rookie contract with Detroit, as the Lions picked up his fifth-year option last offseason.
Indianapolis Colts 22, Houston Texans 13
A snakebitten season for the Houston Texans mercifully ended as they skidded to their sixth consecutive loss and ninth in ten games. Quarterback T.J. Yates went 14 for 24 with 137 yards and an interception in the finale, giving him season totals of 47 completions, 97 attempts (48.5% completion), 523 yards, 4 touchdowns (a career high!), and 3 interceptions. Yates will not return as the starter in 2018—no disrespect to him, of course, but the job is unequivocally Deshaun Watson’s once he recovers from his injury. Yates will try to land on his feet at a training camp come May.
The Browns became the second 0-16 team in NFL history, and like many other teams whose seasons have already concluded, they’ve started adding players to the roster to prepare for training camp in a few months. One of those players was practice squad wide receiver and undrafted rookie Bug Howard, who never got called up but apparently showed enough that the Browns wanted to keep him around.
Abandon all hope of scoring, ye who enter here. The Cowboys and Eagles combined for the lowest point total in the history of their storied series, but a pair of rookie UNC WRs got some tidy playing time. Ryan Switzer had the first multiple-reception game of his career for the Cowboys, catching four of his five targets for 32 yards. On the other sideline, Mack Hollins caught three out of his career-high five targets for 25 yards. Hollins is the first Heel we’ve mentioned so far who will be playing meaningful football in January, as the Eagles earned homefield advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Things got scary for another former Heel, however. Guard Jonathan Cooper, who’s been a stalwart of the Cowboys offensive line since taking over early in the season, got rolled up on and was forced to leave the game. However, he avoided major injury and will likely re-sign with the Cowboys this offseason. He also picked up a nice check as an incentive: for having played 75 percent of the Cowboys offensive snaps this year, he gets a tidy half-million dollars.
Buffalo Bills 22, Miami Dolphins 16
The second former Heel who will still be on your TV screens in January is Bills return man Brandon Tate, who will be a part of a Bills team that is Buffalo’s first playoff squad since 1999, which was the longest drought in the four major American professional sports leagues! Tate averaged 9.6 yards on 20 punt returns and 19.6 yards on 29 kick returns during the regular season. He also recorded six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Bills play in Jacksonville this Sunday.
The Seahawks’ season ended in defeat to the Cardinals, their playoff hopes already having evaporated by virtue of the Falcons’ win over the Panthers. The day before the game, nose tackle Nazair Jones was placed on injured reserve, a formality more than anything so the Seahawks would be free to use his roster spot. Jones finished his rookie campaign with an interception, a fumble recovery, a pair of sacks, and ten solo tackles. And he can only get better from here.
For the Cardinals, it became official that T.J. Logan couldn’t return from the wrist injury he suffered in the Hall of Fame game way back in August. Hopefully he comes back strong for training camp. Defender Kareem Martin finished the season with an interception, a forced fumble, a sack, and a career-high 18 solo tackles. This was the final season of Martin’s rookie contract, and he will become a free agent in March.
Despite their win, the Chargers found themselves on the outside looking in for the AFC playoff picture. Safety Tre Boston picked up his fifth interception of the season, though, giving him five for the year. That’s easily his career high and he’s one of only eleven players to hit that mark this year (for perspective, the league lead for interceptions is 8). He also recorded career highs in tackles (56) and assists (23). Boston landed in LA after the Panthers surprisingly cut him this offseason (a move that has not aged well) and although he only signed a one-year deal, he should be back next year.
For the Raiders, rookie running back Elijah Hood ended the season on the practice squad. Although the Raiders have yet to announce their futures signings, it’s safe to say Hood will be one of them.
The game that sent the Bills to the playoffs. Giovani Bernard turned in a respectable 52 yards rushing and 18 yards receiving to help the Bengals pull it off, and center Russell Bodine finished the season strong. Bernard finished the year with 847 yards from scrimmage and 4 total touchdowns. Bodine played 961 out of 962 possible offensive snaps, and across his four-year career has only played in four games in which he did not play every snap. This is the final year of Bodine’s rookie contract, but it’s hard to imagine him going elsewhere.
For offensive tackle James Hurst and the Ravens, the season ended in heartbreak. Hurst has nothing to be ashamed about: he didn’t miss a single one of the Ravens’ 1,085 offensive snaps in his first full-time year as a starting tackle. Hurst was on a one-year deal with the Ravens after signing his restricted free agent tender after his initial three-year deal. He’ll be there next year.
San Francisco 49ers 34, Los Angeles Rams 13
The Rams, having already locked up a playoff spot and knowing that changing their playoff seeding meaningfully was out of the question, rested most of their starters. That included pass rusher Robert Quinn, who played only a handful of snaps and didn’t record a tackle. Quinn finished the regular season with two forced fumbles, 8.5 sacks, and 21 solo tackles.
Atlanta Falcons 22, Carolina Panthers 10
The Panthers, overall, had a Bad Day against the Falcons and were fortunate the final scoreline wasn’t more embarrassing. The Panthers will hope to bounce back against the Saints, a team they’ve already lost to twice this season. Regardless of what happens, Julius Peppers had a homecoming season to remember: two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 11 sacks and 21 solo tackles, all at age 37. And he’s still not done!
The Titans locked up the AFC’s other wild card spot, so we’ll be seeing Da’Norris Searcy and Sylvester Williams suiting up against the Chiefs this Saturday. Both Searcy and Williams finished the regular season with 12 solo tackles apiece, a career low for both of them, although Searcy picked up an interception.
Tar Heels in the Playoffs
- Titans: DB Da’Norris Searcy, NT Sylvester Williams
- Bills: WR/RET Brandon Tate
- Eagles: WR Mack Hollins
- Rams: DE/LB Robert Quinn
- Panthers: DE Julius Peppers