By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer
The Miami Dolphins are back in the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2016. So are the surprising Jacksonville Jaguars, returning to the postseason for just the second time since 2007.
Among those headed home: The New England Patriots and six-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Belichick.
The NFL’s postseason field is largely set after Sunday afternoon’s games. The only remaining drama is if one of the game’s all-time great quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, can lead the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs by beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday night. If the Packers lose, the Seattle Seahawks will sneak into the bracket.
The Lions don’t have much to play for against the Packers. They were eliminated from playoff contention earlier Sunday when Seattle’s Jason Myers kicked a 32-yard field goal to beat the Los Angeles Rams 19-16 in overtime.
It’s been an eventful week for players and fans, who watched in horror Monday night as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field and had to be given CPR before leaving the field in an ambulance. A few days later, those same players and fans have watched with joy as Hamlin recovers.
That made it much easier to focus on Week 18 and now the playoffs, which start with the wild-card round next weekend.
The No. 1 overall seed in the AFC was claimed by Kansas City with its 31-13 win over Las Vegas on Saturday. The NFC’s top spot was snagged by Philadelphia, which beat the New York Giants 22-16 on Sunday.
The AFC bracket could still be affected by the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game after Hamlin’s injury. The Bengals avoided a coin flip for home field after beating the Ravens 27-16, but there still could be a neutral field AFC championship game if the Bills line up against the Chiefs.
Here’s a look at some other developments as the postseason approaches:
WHAT’S THE FORMAT FOR THE PLAYOFFS?
This is the third straight year of the current NFL playoff format, which includes the top seven teams from both the AFC and the NFC.
The four division winners in both conferences automatically get the top four seeds, regardless of record, and then the top three teams with the best record that didn’t win their division are the wild-card selections. That’s why it’s fairly common for a wild-card selection to have a better record — but worse playoff seeding — than a team that finished as a division winner.
The No. 1-seeded team in each conference gets a bye into the second round — that’s the Chiefs and Eagles — while No. 2 hosts No. 7, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 during wild-card weekend.
So in the AFC, it’ll be the Dolphins at Bills, Ravens at Bengals and Chargers at Jaguars. In the NFC, the Vikings will host the Giants and the Tom Brady-led Bucs host the Cowboys. The 49ers will host either the Packers or Seahawks.
The NFL has a re-seeding policy after each playoff round. That means that no matter how the bracket started, the lowest-seeded team will always travel to the higher-seeded team.
There are four rounds to the playoffs: The wild-card round is during the upcoming weekend, the divisional round is Jan. 21-22, the conference championship games are on Jan. 29 and the Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.
WHAT CHANGED WITH THE BILLS-BENGALS CANCELLATION?
The Bills-Bengals game had major playoff implications in the AFC, so the cancellation of the game due to Hamlin’s injury could force some changes depending on playoff results.
The AFC championship game will be played on a neutral site if the Chiefs and Bills reach that point.
Buffalo’s 35-23 win over New England on Sunday coupled with Kansas City’s 31-13 victory at Las Vegas on Saturday means the No. 1 seed Chiefs (14-3) can’t host the conference title game against the Bills (13-3) because the teams played an unequal number of games.
NFL owners approved a resolution Friday that implemented new rules for this postseason in response to the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game after Hamlin collapsed on the field Monday night.
WHAT ELSE HAPPENED THIS WEEKEND?
In fairly straightforward playoff drama, the Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans 20-16 on Saturday night to win the AFC South for the first time in five seasons. The Titans needed a win to advance to the postseason.
The Dolphins and third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson squeezed past the Jets 11-6, snapping a five-game losing streak. Miami then had to wait a few minutes for Buffalo to finish off New England to make the Dolphins’ playoff appearance official.
“We’re In” was displayed on the videoboard at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly found a way to sneak into the postseason but couldn’t quite make it. They did their part by beating the Browns 28-14 but needed the Patriots and Dolphins to lose.
The Patriots obliged. The Dolphins did not.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi and AP Sports Writer Alanis Thames contributed to this report.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.