NFL seasons are, for the most part, completely forgettable unless you chosen team does something remarkable. Everyone remembers the year their team made the Super Bowl, or had the deep playoff run full of individual performances that are burned in your memory — but on the whole it’s difficult to really say that top to bottom a season was memorable.
There’s a lot of factors that play into the 2022 season to make it one of the most unforgettable of any I’ve seen in the last 15 years of writing about the league every week — but here we are. In Week 17 we ushered in 2023, and the NFL chose to crush dreams, add more unpredictability and more or less cement a playoff picture where I don’t think anyone has any damn clue what will happen when we hit the elimination stage — and that’s fun as hell.
This week was particularly notable, because it was a chance to shatter dreams in a million pieces. This took the form of eliminating teams from the playoffs all together, or just destroying the possibility of having faith in an organization before the playoffs began.
One of the best example of this came from the NFC South, where the Panthers saw their Cinderella playoff run finally killed by a bout of Tom Brady brilliance. Everyone outside of Tampa was rooting for Carolina to go from being one of the worst teams in the NFL to winning the NFC South in a single coaching change — but Tom kicked off 2023 and said to himself “I feel like ruining someone,” and Carolina was in the way.
Then you had the Commanders, who might have been so flummoxed by the playoff rules that they thought Carson Wentz could try to play football for a week and they’d still have a way into the playoffs.
Here's the video.— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoTWW) January 1, 2023
I am absolutely gobsmacked that Rivera didn't know that the Commanders could be eliminated today.
How does this happen in the modern NFL?
Did this impact his decision to start Wentz?
I'm so confused right now. pic.twitter.com/9BNCr26mxm
Spoiler: Carson Wentz could not play football, and Washington was eliminated.
Typically at this point of the season there’s a lot of chest puffing and confidence in a playoff run, but I don’t know if anyone should feel good or comfortable right now. Every single team either in the playoffs or on the bubble looks as vulnerable as we’ve ever seen at this point in the season. There’s nobody who feels like a lock to go all the way.
Don’t get me wrong ... there are a couple of fanbases who should feel pretty good right now. The Bills are in a good spot, at least until we see how they fair against the Bengals on Monday Night Football. 49ers fans are happy right now. Anyone else might be lying to themselves, or just blissfully ignorant.
The Eagles have shown they collapse without Jalen Hurts under center. The Chiefs made it look entirely too difficult against the Broncos. Minnesota were embarrassed by the Packers. The Ravens are dead in the water without Lamar Jackson. That’s four of the better teams in the playoffs, and all have some serious problems. This is a recipe for absolute anarchy in the postseason — and I’m here for it.
Winner: Tom Brady
This hasn’t been a great season for either Brady or the Buccaneers, but on Sunday the GOAT went full God Mode to save Tampa Bay’s season. Beating the Panthers isn’t a huge accomplishment — but Carolina’s defense is better than it’s often given credit for, and TB12 sliced and diced it for 432 yard and three touchdowns.
It was a huge second half comeback that won the NFC South. It’s not going to be a Super Bowl season, because this team has too many holes — but it’s no longer the nightmare 2022 was looking like for Touchdown Tom.
Winner: George Kittle’s look
George Kittle headed straight from the game to the bowling alley pic.twitter.com/2PAv7Jh8hd— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) January 2, 2023
George Kittle is out here looking like the dirtbag boyfriend every single mom starts dating in a 1980s coming of age movie. I love it so much.
Winner: Brock Purdy
One of the most remarkable stories this season has been the ascension of Mr. Irrelevant. Purdy has gone from “Dude who would never see the field” to now truly looking like the future of San Francisco’s QB position.
The 49ers have major questions to answer this offseason. Are they ready to commit to Purdy? Do they want to return to Trey Lance? It’s going to be fascinating. What we do know is that Purdy is cooking in this offense, and showed serious grit against the Raiders to finish with 284 passing yards and two touchdowns in an overtime victory.
Loser: Kirk Cousins
It’s been a big season for Cousins, but his performance on Sunday really didn’t inspire any kind of confidence as the Vikings hurtle towards the playoffs. It wasn’t just his lack of production, or the three interceptions — but how lost he appeared.
Cousins sailed passes, his accuracy was suspect all afternoon, and his play was a huge factor in not only letting Green Bay win, but keep their season alive. There’s a very real chance the Packers find a back door into the playoffs because of this game, and God help everyone if they meet again in the playoffs.
Winner: Major Tuddy
The Commanders revealed their new mascot, and this is a good army pig.