There was a plan for what would lead off this power rankings post, as usual. It would be something off of the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game since it was important to the standings. Probably something on the plight of the loser, posted shortly after the game ended.
Then it would be a normal week. Playoff projections. Update a playoff scenarios post. Then we'd get into talking about quarterback situations for Week 18, betting angles and whatever other drama the NFL world offers. Excitement was peaking with the NFL playoffs coming up soon. Normal.
Then it wasn't normal at all. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin had to be resuscitated on the field after having cardiac arrest. Since then all that mattered was updates on his health, which have thankfully been positive.
The games will continue. It will take a while before it feels right to care.
Are we supposed to be as invested in whether the Green Bay Packers make the playoffs after Sunday night? Is it OK to go back to worrying over whether the Miami Dolphins cover to win the last leg of your parlay? Can we discuss what happens to our fantasy league championships that are left unsettled?
Everyone knows it's different this week. It's still not time to debate a fair way to determine who should be the AFC's No. 1 seed without feeling guilty about it.
It's also impossible to not care at all. We've heard a lot about football being unimportant, and, well, yes and no. Football is unimportant in regards to Hamlin's plight and human life in general. Everyone knows that. But football is important. Almost 22 million people took three hours out of their Christmas Day to watch a bad Denver Broncos-Los Angeles Rams game. It matters to us. We care about what happens with our teams and the league in general even in the middle of summer when there are no games being played. Whatever the reason for millions of people to be passionate about the NFL — it's a family tradition, a way to bond with friends, a fun hobby to escape life's realities — we come by it honestly.
We also, hopefully, watch football understanding the sacrifices of the men on the field. They're not just avatars on our TVs. They're humans who have a dream job that's also extremely dangerous. We saw on Monday night with Hamlin that "putting our lives on the line with every play" isn't really a cliché.
We'll watch games Saturday and Sunday and wonder about playoff seeds, if Patrick Mahomes locked up NFL MVP or which records might be broken. It won't feel normal. It might not for the rest of the season.
There's no right answer for what the NFL should do, or how fans should feel this week or beyond. It probably won't feel normal this weekend. The NFL world will move on though, with Hamlin and all of the other players risking their health for our entertainment foremost in all of our thoughts.
Here are the power rankings after Week 17 of the NFL season:
32. Houston Texans (2-13-1, Last Week: 32)
The Texans finish with the Colts, who lately have looked bad. It's possible Houston screws this up and wins, opening the door for the Bears to take the top pick. Keep this in mind, however: In 2014, Lovie Smith was the Buccaneers head coach and the team clearly tanked in the finale — pulling out starters in the second half of a close game against the Saints, and they eventually lost — to secure the No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft, which was Jameis Winston. Don't be surprised if something similar happens again. It's not like the NFL pretended to care when the Bucs did it eight seasons ago.
31. Indianapolis Colts (4-11-1, LW: 28)
In any normal situation, there would be zero chance of Jeff Saturday being back as Colts coach next season. But anything regarding Colts owner Jim Irsay is typically unusual. So we'll wait and see.
30. Chicago Bears (3-13, LW: 29)
The Bears have picked first overall in the draft twice, in 1941 (Tom Harmon) and 1947 (Bob Fenimore). If the Bears lose to the Vikings (who can still move up to the No. 2 playoff seed with a win) and the Texans beat a bad Colts team, Chicago will have the No. 1 overall pick. Justin Fields won't play, and it probably doesn't matter that much because the Bears aren't picking a quarterback and the Texans likely will, but it would open up more trade possibilities with teams in love with a quarterback like Alabama's Bryce Young.
29. Arizona Cardinals (4-12, LW: 31)
One bright spot: Rookie tight end Trey McBride had his best game, with a 7-78-1 line against the Falcons. That's a positive sign as the Cardinals finish a rough season.
28. Denver Broncos (4-12, LW: 30)
The Broncos aren't the first team to look good in its first game after firing its coach. But the fact that the Broncos played their best game of the season after firing Nathaniel Hackett will give life to all of those Broncos fans who have been saying that Hackett has been the biggest problem in Denver.
27. Los Angeles Rams (5-11, LW: 27)
The Rams will get up for Week 18, trying to play spoiler at the Seahawks. If they beat the Seahawks, Seattle is eliminated from the playoff race. I'm not sure the Rams can beat the Seahawks, but they'll try.
26. Atlanta Falcons (6-10, LW: 26)
Rookie running back Tyler Allgeier has been a nice find over the second half of the season. Over the past three games, with a small increase in workload, Allgeier has 296 yards on 55 carries for a 5.4-yard average. He should be Atlanta's clear starter to begin next season.
25. Carolina Panthers (6-10, LW: 22)
The Panthers were close. They led Tampa Bay 21-10 in the fourth quarter, and a win would have put them in prime position to win the NFC South. But they didn't have a cornerback to cover Mike Evans with Jaycee Horn out, and Tom Brady and Evans snatched the win from Carolina. That probably costs interim head coach Steve Wilks any realistic shot at getting the job full time, though he has done a very good job.
24. Las Vegas Raiders (6-10, LW: 25)
What happens if Jarrett Stidham has another good game to finish the season? He threw for 365 yards against a tough 49ers defense on Sunday. Would the Raiders consider rolling with him next season? Most teams wouldn't, but he is a former Patriot so it's possible Josh McDaniels considers it.
23. New Orleans Saints (7-9, LW: 24)
The focus was on the Eagles losing, but it was a pretty good win for the Saints on Sunday. If there was any question about Dennis Allen's future, he probably answered it.
22. Washington Commanders (7-8-1, LW: 17)
It's alarming that everyone in the world knew Carson Wentz wouldn't work out for Washington, but the Commanders obliviously dove right in. It's emblematic of a franchise that can't do anything right. Now they turn to rookie Sam Howell, which, shrug.
21. Cleveland Browns (7-9, LW: 23)
Deshaun Watson completed nine passes Sunday. It wasn't some massive step forward, despite three touchdowns. There's still a lot to prove, and that's not ideal for a quarterback with a $230 million guaranteed deal. It's probably unfair to judge it until Watson gets a full offseason with his new team, but Cleveland has a nervous offseason ahead.
20. New York Jets (7-9, LW: 16)
At least we've found out that Mike White isn't going to be a good answer at QB. The Jets use him like he's prime Kurt Warner running the Rams, and he's overexposed throwing 45 or more times a game. Of all the teams that need to fix a quarterback situation, the Jets are the one that might have the biggest upside if they get it right.
19. Tennessee Titans (7-9, LW: 19)
Once the Titans made the decision to start Joshua Dobbs in Week 17, it was clear that if he was competent he'd start Week 18 too. And that's what will happen. It's strange that a guy signed off Detroit's practice squad on Dec. 21 would start a division championship game on Jan. 7, but it's the right call. Malik Willis isn't ready yet.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8, LW: 21)
At some point we will take a step back and realize that a 45-year-old quarterback had 432 yards and three touchdowns in a division-clinching game is one of the unique accomplishments in sports history. A reminder that before Tom Brady, the entire combined history of 45-year-old QBs in the NFL was 116 yards and two touchdowns.
17. Seattle Seahawks (8-8, LW: 20)
The Seahawks are rooting hard for the Detroit Lions this weekend. The Seahawks need to win and have the Lions beat the Packers to make the playoffs. If nothing else, a winning record after everyone figured they could be the worst team in the NFL this season would be a nice accomplishment.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8, LW: 18)
We have to talk about Mike Tomlin as NFL Coach of the Year. He might not win it but deserves consideration. It amazes me that some Steelers fans don't like Tomlin. If Pittsburgh finishes above .500, Tomlin steps even closer to Hall of Fame consideration. He has done an outstanding job this season.
15. Miami Dolphins (8-8, LW: 11)
Teddy Bridgewater has an injured finger, and if he can't go the Dolphins are relying on rookie Skylar Thompson to beat the Jets in Week 18 to keep their playoff hopes alive. Going from 8-3 and a practical playoff lock to a losing season would be devastating for the franchise.
14. New England Patriots (8-8, LW: 15)
You'd think, based on the reactions to the Patriots' season, they're a 3-13 team in line for the first pick of the draft. In reality, they're a Week 18 win (or a lot of losses around the AFC) from being in the playoffs. The bar is so high for the Patriots that being a win from a playoff berth has been mostly viewed as a disastrous season.
13. New York Giants (9-6-1, LW: 12)
The Giants will get either the Vikings or 49ers in the wild-card round and that won't be easy. Even if they're one-and-done, it's a great season. They have to feel good about Brian Daboll. And after so many poor seasons since Eli Manning won his second Super Bowl, it's good to be back in the playoffs.
12. Detroit Lions (8-8, LW: 13)
At first, the Lions looked like they blew it by winning in the finale last season, giving the No. 1 pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Then the Jaguars surprisingly passed on Aidan Hutchinson, enabling the Lions to run their Hutchinson pick up to the podium. They got a player who has 7.5 sacks, three interceptions and already looks like a star. We'll see how the Jaguars' pick of Travon Walker turns out but the Lions have to be incredibly grateful they ended up with Hutchinson in the end.
11. Baltimore Ravens (10-6, LW: 8)
Let's get the obvious out of the way: The Ravens need Lamar Jackson back. It's hard to say what their ceiling is with him anymore after he has missed this much time with a knee injury, with no word on whether he'll practice this week. The Ravens are masterfully coached and a tough defensive team, but it's hard to see them winning playoff games without Jackson.
10. Green Bay Packers (8-8, LW: 14)
No, the NFL doesn't rig things so Green Bay makes the playoffs. The Lions are going to play hard regardless of what happens with the Seahawks game. The NFL just preferred prime-time ratings over what's technically "fair" in the NFC wild-card race. Won't be the last time. It's also not the first sports league or any other entity to make a decision based on ratings.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8, LW: 10)
The Jaguars won division titles in 1998, 1999 and 2017. That's one division championship over the past 22 seasons. Saturday night, when the Jaguars can win the AFC South by beating the Titans, is a huge moment for the franchise that hasn't had a lot of success but now has Trevor Lawrence and an exciting future.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (10-6, LW: 9)
The Ravens' loss Sunday night was big for the Chargers. That slid the Chargers into the No. 5 seed. If the Chargers win Sunday, on wild-card weekend they'll face the No. 4 seed, which is the AFC South champion. That's not easy, especially if it's the Jaguars, but it's a heck of a lot better than facing one of the Bills/Chiefs/Bengals in the first round.
7. Minnesota Vikings (12-4, LW: 7)
The No. 3 seed isn't a bad place for the Vikings. If they're No. 3, they face the sixth-seeded Giants on wild-card weekend. If the Vikings move up to No. 2 they'd get the No. 7 seed, which is probably going to be the Packers. And we saw on Sunday how that matchup turned out.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4, LW: 6)
From all accounts it seems the Bengals did everything right as an organization on Monday night, including players and coaches. The Bengals deserve a lot of credit.
5. Dallas Cowboys (12-4, LW: 5)
The Cowboys are still in the mix for the NFC East, somehow. Dallas doesn't historically rest its starters in Week 18 even with nothing to play for, so it's not like they're missing out on a pseudo bye week. Here's the funny thing though: They might be better off as the No. 5 seed playing at Tampa Bay than getting to the No. 2 seed and having to host the Packers.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (13-3, LW: 3)
The Chiefs haven't been blowing teams out, but they've done this before. They aren't always the best team against the spread because they hit lulls in which they do just enough to win. And they have won, which is what matters most.
3. Buffalo Bills (12-3, LW: 2)
I don't want to be trite and talk about football in the Bills' spot, so I'd rather point to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg's post on Damar Hamlin, one of many stories about Hamlin that paint him as an impressive, thoughtful young man.
2. San Francisco 49ers (12-4, LW: 4)
The 49ers weren't going to blow everyone out by double digits. It was still impressive to win a game with a still-unproven rookie quarterback when the defense surprisingly gives up 34 points to Jarrett Stidham. With the Eagles' loss on Sunday, the 49ers are still in play for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3, LW: 1)
There's no need to freak out. It shouldn't be a shock they're not the same team without Jalen Hurts. He was an MVP candidate for a reason. If the Eagles beat a Giants team with nothing to play for in Week 18, they're still the No. 1 seed and in great position to make a Super Bowl. If the Eagles lose Sunday? Yeah, then freak out. But not because they lost to the Saints with their backup quarterback in a game that might not even cost them the top seed in the NFC.