The drama about the final teams that would make the N.F.L. postseason was not cleared up until the last possible moment of the regular season, when the Las Vegas Raiders beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night on a field goal on the last play of overtime to claim one of two remaining wild card berths in the A.F.C.
The Raiders’ 35-32 defeat of the Chargers ended the season for Los Angeles, and because the Indianapolis Colts (9-8) were upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) earlier on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) sneaked into the playoff field on the strength of a win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Raiders and Chargers could have both made the playoffs with a tie, and for much of overtime it seemed as if the teams might be happy without a victory. But Daniel Carlson kicked a field goal as time expired to give Las Vegas the win, and a slightly more favorable playoff seeding.
The wild scenarios made the last game of the season of unusual consequence in the first N.F.L. season with an expanded, 17-game regular season. The last day of the season, which extended into the second weekend of 2022, included five A.F.C. teams fighting for the two remaining berths and the San Francisco 49ers taking the final spot in the N.F.C. with a win against the Los Angeles Rams.
What happened on Saturday
The two games completed on Saturday went according to seed, keeping the winners alive for higher playoff seeding. The Kansas City Chiefs, who beat the Denver Broncos, remained in the running for the top seed in the A.F.C. and a first-round bye, and ended any long-shot chance that the New England Patriots or Cincinnati Bengals might take the No. 1 seed for themselves.
The late game between the playoff-bound Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles was mostly meaningless — and lifeless, since the Eagles rested their starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, and had a raft of Covid-19-related absences — but it helped determine both teams’ seeding in the N.F.C.
The Eagles, for instance, will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4). The Bucs cruised into the postseason with an easy win at home that saw them set the team record for regular-season wins they had set in their Super Bowl-winning season in 2002.
Sunday’s early games
During the early games on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans sewed up the No. 1 seed in the A.F.C. by holding off the lowly Houston Texans. That wiped out Kansas City’s hopes for the top seed and the first-round bye.
The Colts failed to clinch one of the two remaining A.F.C. wild-card berths by losing to the Jaguars, one of the league’s worst teams. A Colts victory would have closed the door on the playoffs for both the Ravens and the Steelers.
The Bengals (10-6) had already won the A.F.C. North, but with Kansas City’s win on Saturday, their game against the Cleveland Browns did not help their playoff seeding.
Sunday’s late afternoon games
The Buffalo Bills (11-6) and the Patriots (10-7), who had both secured playoff spots before Sunday, were battling for the A.F.C. East crown, which greatly affected their seeding. The Bills beat the Jets (4-13) and the Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins (9-8), handing the division crown to the Bills and forcing the Patriots to travel next weekend … to Buffalo.
The Arizona Cardinals (11-6) lost a chance to claim the N.F.C. West by falling short against the Seattle Seahawks (7-10), handing the divisional title to the Los Angeles Rams (12-5), who lost to the San Francisco 49ers (10-7) in overtime.
The 49ers’ victory also eliminated the New Orleans Saints (9-8), who beat the Atlanta Falcons (7-10).
The Green Bay Packers (13-4) rolled to another win but had already clinched the top seed and a first-round bye in the N.F.C.