Two minutes before kickoff of the final day of games in the NFL regular season, Damar Hamlin released a photo from his hospital bed.
Less than a week after the Buffalo Bills safety nearly died on the field during “Monday Night Football,” Hamlin and his parents were watching the games in the “Love for Damar” shirts that were omnipresent in locker rooms around the league.
That made the return to football seem almost normal, even though Hamlin’s remarkable recovery from a cardiac arrest was never far from the mind. And what a return it was, with the finalized 14-team playoff field welcoming seven teams that were not part of the postseason last year and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers missing out in the final minute of the season.
Here are The Post’s NFL power rankings at the end of the regular season, with the ranking from the last edition (two weeks ago) in parenthesis:
“Let’s Go Buffalo!” pregame chants became “Hamlin! Hamlin! Hamlin” chants by game’s end. In between, Nyheim Hines returned two kickoffs for touchdowns (96 and 101 yards) to spark a 35-23 victory over the Patriots, who would’ve made the playoffs with a win. John Brown gave the football from his key 42-yard touchdown catch to trainer Denny Kellington, who restarted Hamlin’s heart with CPR.
Angry that their half-game lead would be ignored and they would have to flip a coin to decide the AFC North title if they lost to the Ravens, the Bengals took matters into their own hands with a 27-16 win that included touchdowns from Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon and the defense. The reward? A rematch with the Ravens in the playoffs next week.
Patrick Mahomes set the single-season passing yardage record as the Chiefs beat the Raiders, 31-13, to clinch the No. 1 seed and a bye in the AFC playoffs. Jerick McKinnon extended his NFL record for a running back with a touchdown catch in six straight games. The Chiefs have 300 yards or more of offense in 17 straight games – a franchise record.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 22-16 win against the second- and third-stringers for the Giants. Jake Elliott’s five field goals rescued the Eagles. The bye week should help Jalen Hurts, who was unimpressive in his return from a two-game absence (both losses that prevented resting starters) with a shoulder injury.
Brock Purdy became the second rookie quarterback in NFL history with six straight games of multiple touchdown passes as he threw three in a 38-13 rout of the Cardinals to ruin J.J. Watt’s final game. The 49ers have scored at least 33 points in five of those games. Tashaun Gipson Sr. had two interceptions for the NFL’s most fearsome defense.
Perhaps deflated by seeing the Giants sit starters to hurt their chance of stealing the NFC East title, the Cowboys came out flat in a 26-6 loss to the Sam Howell-led Commanders. Dak Prescott threw a pick-six to up his co-NFL-leading interception total to 15. The Cowboys converted just four of 17 first downs and managed only 169 total yards.
Kirk Cousins (225 passing yards and a touchdown) only played the first half as the Vikings built a 10-point lead and never were threatened in a 29-13 win against the Bears clinched by Duke Shelley’s interception. The result combined with the Texans’ win changed the top of the draft order to give the No. 1 pick to the Bears.
A risky decision to play starters with nothing to gain in playoff seeding might have cost the Chargers, who lost receiver Mike Williams and pass-rusher Joey Bosa to injuries that could jeopardize their playoff availability. All for a 31-28 loss to the Broncos. Justin Herbert’s 27 straight games with at least 20 completions is the third-longest streak since the NFL merger in 1970.
Who wants to face an overachieving team that is getting healthy at just the right time and playing with house money in the playoffs? Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and 17 of the other 19 starters watched as quarterback Davis Webb and Wink Martindale’s aggressive defense pushed the Eagles before losing for the ninth straight year in Philadelphia.
After not leading over the first 57 minutes, the Jaguars jumped in front when Josh Allen scooped up a fumble and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown for the final points of their AFC South-title-clinching, 20-16, victory over the Titans. One of the hottest teams entering the playoffs has won five straight. Trevor Lawrence tossed a touchdown but missed too many easy throws.
A season-ending six-game losing streak was low-lighted by not scoring a touchdown in the final three. The sixth quarterback change of the season brought Joe Flacco back into the fold and he couldn’t play spoiler in a 9-6 loss allowing the touchdown-less Dolphins led by third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson to clinch a playoff spot.
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