Playoff picture gets last-second shake-up

The 32 things we learned from Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season:

1. Parity, perhaps the NFL’s most important calling card, continues to create rampant playoff turnover. Ever since the league first expanded the playoff field to 12 teams and began seeding them in 1990, at least four new clubs have reached the postseason every successive year. The 2021 lineup will feature seven teams – the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers – that didn’t participate a year ago.

2. With the Cards limping into the field, breaking a six-year drought, every NFC team has participated in the Super Bowl tournament at least once since 2016 – when the New York Giants and Detroit Lions last qualified. The New York Jets maintain the league’s longest playoff drought, one that extends to 2010, followed by the Broncos. Denver, which hasn’t returned since winning Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 season, fired coach Vic Fangio on Sunday morning.

3. What’s different about this year’s playoffs? Maybe not a whole lot given Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are both back once again. But you won’t see either on the league’s first Monday night wild-card broadcast, a rubber match forum as the Cardinals visit the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC West rivals’ third meeting of the season.

4. Also different? The presence of Raiders QB Derek Carr, who will be making his long-awaited postseason debut. Carr was an MVP candidate in 2016, when the Silver and Black last reached the playoffs. But he suffered a season-ending broken leg in Week 16.

4a. Las Vegas’ Rich Bisaccia also becomes the first interim coach to guide his team into postseason.

5. But what an amazing regular-season finale Sunday to wrap up the league’s first 17-game regular season. The Pittsburgh Steelers clinging to life with an overtime win at Baltimore and help from an unlikely source in Trevor Lawrence. Then the 49ers made a memorable comeback in Los…

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