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NFL Regular Season Ends With Some Unexpected Twists And Coaching Changes

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Champions were humbled. Records were broken, nails bitten. The last NFL Sunday of the regular season did not disappoint. Don't worry if you missed it. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman is here to talk about some of the high- and lowlights.

Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So I know that you have brought us a particular moment that sort of encapsulates yesterday's craziness. Tell us what happened.

GOLDMAN: OK. The last day in the NFL regular season traditionally has some crazy moments as the teams' playoff chances - or lack thereof - are decided by the outcome of several games. So you had a situation yesterday where the playoff positioning of two teams, Kansas City and New England, hung in the balance. CBS broadcaster Kevin Harlan was calling the Kansas City game but watching the New England game on a monitor and reporting on that game as well. And here's what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN HARLAN: If the Chiefs win and New England loses, the Chiefs will be the two seed, they'll get the bye and they'll have a home game the next weekend.

RICH GANNON: I'm getting confused. What game are you calling?

HARLAN: I'm calling both games.

CHANG: And as it turned out, the Kansas City Chiefs did win. And the New England Patriots lost, which just about nobody expected. Right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's because they were playing the Miami Dolphins, the worst team in the NFL for much of this season. This was a game New England should have won, was expected to win and wanted to win for playoff seeding. But the Patriots were strangely off. During their dynasty, which continues as long as Bill Belichick is coaching and Tom Brady quarterbacking, New England has rarely, if ever, not won a game it had to win and at home, where the Pats normally are unbeatable. But New England couldn't beat the Dolphins, who have been playing better lately, so New England doesn't get next week off to rest up and heal injuries. So this is the...

CHANG: Poor New England.

GOLDMAN: Poor New England. Cue the violins.

CHANG: Right.

GOLDMAN: This is the first time since 2009 the Patriots won't get a first-round bye.

CHANG: Oh, that's just too bad.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

CHANG: Well, all this jockeying that teams do, I mean, to get those first round byes, why is that important?

GOLDMAN: If a team doesn't get the first round bye and it wants to play in the Super Bowl, which every team does, it has to win three postseason games in a row. That's hard to do against good playoff competition. And for the most part, that team will be playing those games on the road, which is tougher in a hostile environment. Every team that's played in the Super Bowl since the 2013 season got a first-round bye, so it is important.

CHANG: OK. With all the individual performances and records broken on the final Sunday, we want to mention one thing that is worthy of both praise and scorn. Can you tell us about Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. In a game against Atlanta, he helped bring Tampa Bay back after trailing early. He threw a couple of touchdown passes. And then on the first play of overtime, he threw an interception returned for the winning touchdown by Atlanta. Now, this is what's become a typical performance for Jameis Winston. He's the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: Now, his head coach, Bruce Arians, said this afterwards. There's so much good, and there's so much outright terrible.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: We've got to weigh that. He's up for a contract extension. You know, now we'll see if these - how these on-field problems loom as Tampa Bay considers whether or not to hold on to him.

CHANG: All right. So the playoffs begin next weekend...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Two games each on Saturday and Sunday. What do you think we can expect?

GOLDMAN: Oh, gosh - a lot. But I'll try and distill this to one. As we've discussed, New England is playing next weekend. And as shaky as the Patriots have been, I still can't bet against them as long as Belichick and Brady are there. I do see them beating Tennessee, but then the road gets tougher. The teams with the best chances of winning the Super Bowl aren't even playing next week because they have those byes we talked about.

CHANG: Right.

GOLDMAN: Green Bay, Kansas City, San Francisco and the prohibitive favorite at this point - the Baltimore Ravens.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tom Goldman.

Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEATH IN VEGAS' "SEQUENTIAL ANALOG MEMORY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.