The 2013 NFL regular season came to an end Sunday, and it definitely ended with a bang. In perhaps the most dramatic final week of a regular season ever, playoff hopes of several teams were on the line, which made for plenty of great football.
Like most weeks this year, Week 17 had nail-biting finishes, disappointing losses, and record-breaking performances. By the time Sunday Night Football between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles ended, NFL fans everywhere were thirsting for the playoffs.
With that being said, here is the best and worst of Week 17.
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Peyton Manning has been breaking records all season long, and he continued to do so in Week 17. On Sunday he led the Denver Broncos to a win over the rival Oakland Raiders. Manning finished one yard ahead of Drew Brees' record for most yards in a season with 5,477 total yards. Although he sat out the entire second half, Manning still finished with 266 yards and four touchdowns.
Manning's 2013 season was nothing short of spectacular, and is one that will go down as perhaps the greatest statistical season in NFL history. After all he has done this year, Manning is almost a sure lock for the Most Valuable Player award, and rightly so. Fans will remember Manning's 2013 season for a long time.
In the final week the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a lot to happen for them to make the playoffs. The Steelers had to win their game, and the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, and San Diego Chargers had to lose.The odds have all of that happening was very improbable. In fact, the Steelers had 3.2 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Nevertheless, it seemed that the Steelers were destined to defy all the odds. The Dolphins lost to the New York Jets; the Ravens lost the Cincinnati Bengals; and the Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns. All that was left was for the Chargers to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs.
At the end fourth quarter and the score tied 24-24 Chiefs' kicker Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal that would have won the game. Upon further replay, the Charger defense was lined up in an illegal formation, which, if called, would have given Succop another attempt from a closer distance. However, the officials never made the call, and the Chargers eventually won the game in OT, extinguishing the Steelers' playoff hopes.
The stage was set Sunday for the rivalry between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers to reach its highest point of the season. The two rivals faced off in a game that would decide the immediate future of both teams. The winner would clinch the division and reach the playoffs and the loser would be out.
The return of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was one factor that made the matchup even more interesting. After missing nearly two months due to a broken collarbone, the former MVP made his return in the biggest game of the season with the pressure at an all-time high.
In the fourth quarter and the Packers trailing by one point, Rodgers and the Packers faced a fourth-and-eight. Rodgers escaped a tackle by Chicago's Julius Peppers and launched a 48-yard rocket off his back foot to the waiting arms of a wide-open Randall Cobb for the game-winning touchdown.
Rodgers finished with 318 yards and two touchdowns in the 33-28 win. The Packers will face the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the first round of the playoffs. While the 49ers are a powerhouse in the NFC, the Packers have to like their chances with their superstar quarterback returning to the lineup.
Although the Cleveland Browns finished with a terrible 4-12 record, including losing 10 of their last 11 games, one season isn't much time for a head coach to develop any sort of structure to start to improve a football team. Nevertheless, the Browns fired Rob Chudzinski Sunday, making it clear that they aren't ready to exhibit any sort of patience.
"We needed to see progress with this football team," the team told ESPN. "We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year."
Two reasons for the concerning step backward may be the injury quarterback Brian Hoyer suffered early in the year and the trading of running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts. Even then, both of those events were out of Chudzinksi's control, and shouldn't have carried any weight in his firing.
It seems that the Browns aren't ready to rebuild, and want to win immediately. If that is indeed the case, not only will Cleveland need to find a phenomenal replacement at head coach, but it will have to make some big roster improvements as well.
Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean "Shady" McCoy had a phenomenal regular season. In fact, he had the greatest season ever by an Eagles running back. After setting the franchise record for most rushing yards in one game just weeks ago, McCoy was back at it again Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, and he broke two additional franchise records in total rushing yards (1,607) and total yards from the line of scrimmage.
He also became the first Eagle since 1949 to lead the league in rushing.
The Eagles beat the Cowboys, 24-22, to secure their place in the playoffs. McCoy finished the game with 131 rushing yards and one receiving touchdown.
The Eagles will face the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs Saturday night in Philadelphia.
For the third year in a row, the Cowboys' season and playoff hopes came down to the final game of the year against a division rival. In each game, the winner would win the NFC East division and make it to the playoffs, and the loser's season would come to an end.
In 2011, The New York Giants defeated the Cowboys, 31-14.
In 2012, the Washington Redskins capitalized on turnovers and defeated Dallas, 28-18.
Sunday, the Cowboys were in the same position on their home field hoping that the third time would indeed be the charm. Disappointingly, the results were the same. The Eagles topped Dallas, 24-22.
In order for the Cowboys to make the playoffs in the future something needs to change. Whether it is the Cowboys' management, coaching, players, or atmosphere, something is holding them back. The sooner the problem is solved, the better.
Next week, the most exciting time of the NFL season begins: the playoffs.
With the anticipation mounting, the playoff games will headline the world of sports this weekend.
The first playoff game will take place on Saturday afternoon between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts.
The second playoff matchup will take place on Saturday evening with a battle between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The third playoff game will be Sunday afternoon with the San Diego Chargers taking on the Cincinnati Bengals.
The fourth playoff matchup will be Sunday afternoon between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers.
As far as first-round byes go, the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots have the byes in the AFC, while the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers have the byes from the NFC.