There is a reason coaches preach playing all 60 minutes in a game. Sunday’s example was a second-year wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals becoming the hero of Buffalo sports fans. As Week 17 neared its end, the AFC filled in the final couple of spots in the playoff bracket in dramatic fashion. The NFC had some seeding to sort out on the final day of the regular season as well, setting the stage for a pretty wide-open run to the Super Bowl.

Happy New Year, everybody. Enjoy the first NFL Blitz of 2018.

Patriots clinch home-field in AFC, Steelers are No. 2

The story of the AFC all season long suggested there were two really good teams in the Patriots and Steelers, and then it was pretty much a free-for-all after that. On Sunday, the Patriots left no doubt about which of the two top seeds would get the home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs. New England kept Tom Brady and the starters in well into the fourth quarter while handling the New York Jets in a 26-6 victory. The win locked up the top seed in the AFC. That was to be expected.

The Patriots also closed out the game with newcomer James Harrison making some defensive plays.

The Steelers needed a win at home against the Cleveland Browns and a Patriots loss (or tie) to grab the top spot in the AFC. Facing the Browns, the Steelers felt they could win the game without some key players, like Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh also probably banked on expecting New England to win anyway, so the extra rest for top players on a bitterly cold day made perfect sense.

Still, the decision almost came back to haunt them as the Browns put up a valiant effort in their final attempt to pick up a win. As it stands, the Patriots have the top seed, followed by the Steelers getting next weekend off with a first-round bye.

We’ll talk about the Browns a little bit later. But first, here’s how the AFC playoff picture came together in the final moments.

Bills get in, thanks to the Bengals stunning the Ravens

The Buffalo Bills finally brought an end to their long playoff drought, and it could not have happened in more dramatic fashion. After taking care of business in Miami against the Dolphins after nearly blowing a sizable lead, the Bills had to wait and see what would happen in Baltimore, where the Ravens had to lose to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals did the Bills a solid with Andy Dalton delivering a game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd. It was the last bit of NFL action available on Sunday, meaning the final AFC playoff spot was not decided until the final minute of the regular season.

Bills fans in Miami made sure to gather in the concourse to watch the end of the Ravens-Bengals game before making their way out of the stadium. It was worth it.

So the Bills are in. Buffalo returns to the postseason for the first time since 1999. Welcome back, Buffalo.

The Bills are looking to get past the wild card weekend for the first time since 1995. But they were not the only AFC team to punch their playoff ticket on Sunday. Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans are in too, thanks to a home win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars will be hosting the Bills in the AFC Wild Card round, while the Titans will hit the road to play AFC West champion Kansas City.

The Ravens would have been in the postseason if they beat Cincinnati. Try as they might, the Los Angeles Chargers needed just a bit more help from the Dolphins to get into the postseason as the last AFC Wild Card. The Chargers missed out on the postseason despite a 30-10 blowout at home to the Raiders. The only way the Chargers would have gotten in is if the Ravens and Bills both lost.

Vikings lock up No. 2 seed in NFC

The Philadelphia Eagles already wrapped up home-field advantage and the number one seed in the NFC last week, but the Minnesota Vikings still had business to attend to in Week 17. Although they would clinch the second seed and a bye week in almost all of the various scenarios, there was still a chance the Vikings could fall to the No. 3 seed. Fortunately, the Vikings hosted the Chicago Bears in their final game of the season.

The Vikings are trying to become the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. With the Eagles suddenly struggling without Carson Wentz and the way the Vikings are playing, that is not at all an unrealistic possibility.

The Vikings would have taken the second seed even with a loss, because the Carolina Panthers lost on Sunday as well. Speaking of which…

NFC Wild Card picture

Like the Ravens in the AFC, the New Orleans Saints were stunned by a late touchdown by Tampa Bay when Jameis Winston connected with rookie Chris Godwin for a go-ahead score. Unlike the Ravens, the go-ahead touchdown by Tampa was insignificant to the Saints’ playoff hopes and, as it turned out moments before, to the Saints’ NFC South hopes. With the Carolina Panthers losing on the road to the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints clinched the division and will get a home game in the wild-card weekend.

The Panthers were already locked into a playoff spot, but will now have to go on the road for the wild-card weekend. Carolina had already been blocked from any shot at winning the No. 2 seed in the NFC by kickoff because Minnesota had won.

The Falcons winning against the Panthers means the defending NFC champions are back in the postseason. In a win-or-stay-home game, the Falcons clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs behind a 300-yard day by Matt Ryan in a 22-10 decision. Atlanta would have been in anyway, though, because the Seattle Seahawks lost a puzzling one at home to the spoiler Arizona Cardinals. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are staying home, losing three of their final four games after handling the Eagles in a big home win.

While the Eagles and Vikings get the week off, the Rams will host the Falcons and the Saints will host the Panthers. Game on.

Your NFL Playoff bracket

Here is your schedule for the playoff games:

Browns go 0-16

cleveland browns-corey coleman

Give the Cleveland Browns some credit. After 15 straight losses, they gave it a commendable effort not to fall to 0-16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular season finale.

If not for a dropped pass by Corey Coleman, they may have very well been able to put one in the win column in the final week of the season. After DeShone Kizer escaped a sack to keep a play alive on fourth down, Kizer found a wide-open Coleman along the sideline for an easy pass, except the receiver let the ball go right through his hands.

So the Browns are 0-16 in 2017, and 1-31 over the past two seasons. Better luck in 2018, I suppose?

Who better to provide analysis and reaction to this infamous moment than… Michael Rapaport, who was sitting in an NFL studio for some reason?

The Browns will own the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. On top of that, they will also own the fourth overall pick (which previously belonged to the Houston Texans).

NFL Blitz

Cowboys 6, Eagles 0: The Eagles had nothing to play for and gave their starters a day off or took them out early. Unfortunately, what they got out of Nick Foles was far from inspiring. The Eagles head into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and there is a lot of work to do to take advantage of the home-field playoff.

Also, this game was gross to watch, but the Dallas Cowboys ending the season 9-7 should make for an interesting offseason. Oh, what could have been if Ezekiel Elliott just served his six-game suspension earlier in the year. You just never know.

Lions 35, Packers 11: This was a game that was actually played in the NFL on Sunday. The Packers end the year 7-9, and the Lions finished 9-7. Neither team has to be happy with how this season played out.

Colts 22, Texans 13: Things got a bit testy.

And now the offseason begins with plenty of storylines between these two franchises. For starters, the Colts have fired Chuck Pagano.

And the Texans situation could be dicey with Bill O’Brien reportedly prepared to draw a line in the front office forcing owner Bob McNair to choose between he and GM Rick Smith.

Meanwhile, Smith is taking an extended leave of absence to attend to his wife’s battle with cancer.

Giants 18, Redskins 10: Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins may have played the final games of their careers in their respective uniforms. The 2018 season could bring new environments for both quarterbacks, and that may be best for all involved. Cousins was dreadful in the final game of the year. Manning says he still wants to be with the Giants in 2018, although we will see how that all plays out.

The NFL Coaching Carousel is underway! Commence the Gruden rumors!

As is usually the case, the conclusion of an NFL regular season transitions quickly to the NFL Coaching Carousel for teams not making the playoffs. And yes, the Jon Gruden rumors are flying hot and heavy right now.

The Raiders have already fired Jack Del Rio, which was expected after a disappointing season in Oakland. The top name being thrown into the ring is Jon Gruden, who the Raiders once traded to Tampa Bay and later lost to as a head coach. Adam Schefter is pretty confident Gruden is leaving the Monday Night Football booth to go back to the Raiders.

The Colts wasted little time firing Chuck Pagano, a move that seemed to be likely to happen for a while in a season without Andrew Luck healthy.

There were some rumors about Seattle’s Pete Carroll possibly considering retiring, but the coach took to Twitter to try and put that one to bed.

Two NFC North coaches got their pink slips Monday morning, as the Lions fired Jim Caldwell and the Bears dismissed John Fox.

There could be more moves made Monday, resulting in a less than happy New Year for several NFL coaches. The New York Giants already fired their head coach earlier this season, so they are on the market as well.

All your rowdy friends are coming over for… the College Football Playoff?

With the season now in the books and no Monday Night Football scheduled tonight, we can get ready for the playoffs next weekend. In the meantime, settle in to watch some college football tonight as the College Football Playoff gets underway.

Oklahoma and Georgia in the Rose Bowl give you a chance to scout Baker Mayfield. Alabama and Clemson meet for the third straight postseason in the Sugar Bowl after that. Earlier in the day, you can see if future Colts head coach Jim Harbaugh (kidding… I think?) can lead Michigan to a win over South Carolina to close out an undefeated bowl season for the Big Ten.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.