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32 things we learned from Week 17 of 2021 NFL season: Chaos breaks out, but clarity follows

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The 32 things we learned from Week 17 of the 2021 NFL season:

1. John Madden has been almost universally beloved for decades, but the outpouring following his Dec. 28 death has underscored how much he will be missed despite the fact he'd largely retreated from public view since retiring from broadcasting a dozen years. My favorite Madden memory was watching him joyously react to his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in early 2006 in Detroit when I was covering my first Super Bowl. Madden's delight was infectious as many openly wondered during his press conference why he hadn't been bronzed years earlier. Great coach. Great analyst. Great pitchman. Great businessman. Great guy. You will be deeply missed, Coach. RIP.

1a. And though Madden's eminence as a broadcaster and video game maven have defined him for recent generations, let's take a beat to remember just what a great coach he was. His .759 regular-season winning percentage is the best ever among those who coached at least 100 NFL games. In 10 seasons, his Oakland Raiders never finished below .500, qualified for postseason eight times and won Super Bowl 11 – the 1976 team one of the greatest ever, going 16-1 overall. Respect.

2. Speaking of legends, the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick joined the league's all-time winningest coach, the late Don Shula, as the only head men with 20 seasons featuring at least 10 victories.

2a. Will we be speaking about the Pack's Matt LaFleur in similar terms in the not-too-distant future? His gaudy 39-9 (.813) regular-season record represents the best three-year start for any coach in the league's 102-year history.

3. And let's not forget yet another coaching luminary, Dan Reeves dying just days after Madden. He led the Broncos to the Super Bowl three times and got the Falcons there once.

4. Eventful Sunday afternoon in the AFC, the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals winning division championships while the Patriots and Buffalo Bills assured themselves postseason spots.

4a. Sunday evening brought the Green Bay Packers' coronation as the NFC's No. 1 seed for the second straight year, their exile of the Vikings officially ushering the Philadelphia Eagles into the playoff field.

4b. Heading into Week 18, the AFC's No. 1 seed hangs in the balance, as do the AFC East and NFC West crowns and three additional wild-card berths. The action kicks off with a Saturday doubleheader as the Chiefs visit the Broncos while the Eagles host the Cowboys.

5. Thanks for coming out, y'all. Teams eliminated from playoff contention Sunday included the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Football Team. The trio of AFC teams were all bounced courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers' win.

6. Shoutout to the Titans, who maybe weren't exactly written off following RB Derrick Henry's midseason foot surgery but certainly haven't been a frontburner topic ever since. Now the AFC South champs two years running, the Titans have also resurfaced as the conference's projected top seed and are expected to have their backfield king back for the playoffs. Count them out at your peril.

7. Shoutout to the Las Vegas Raiders, who have just about overcome a decade's worth of adversity this season. And following Sunday's defeat of the Colts in Indianapolis, the Silver and Black will host what's likely a de facto playoff game in Week 18 against the archrival Chargers.

8. Congratulations to the Falcons' Kyle Pitts, the first rookie tight end in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to surpass 1,000 receiving yards. Pitts, who injured a hamstring Sunday, needs 59 more to break Hall of Famer Mike Ditka's all-time rookie record (1,076), which dates to 1961.

9. The newly crowned AFC North champion Bengals won their division by ending the Kansas City Chiefs' league-best eight-game winning streak in what could be a delightful playoff preview. Sophomore Cincy QB Joe Burrow passed for 446 yards and four TDs, giving him 971 yards and eight TDs passing over the past two weeks. Burrow fell 3 yards short of matching Dak Prescott's two-game record for air yardage, but good bet No. 9 will be wearing a lot of (fantasy) championship rings at season's end.

10. Congrats, too, to Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor for turning this organization around in three years ... though Sunday leaves us wondering if we'll be scrutinizing his game management in postseason, too.

NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE: Where things stand after Week 17

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) takes a video with fans after a 41-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) takes a video with fans after a 41-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Cincinnati.

11. And we must mention Bengals rookie WR Ja'Marr Chase for his epic journey from LSU star (and 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner), to 2020 opt-out, to 2021 first-round draft pick, to 2021 preseason bust, to possible 2021 offensive rookie of the year. Chase made quite a closing argument Sunday, piling up 266 yards – a rookie record – and three TDs receiving. His 1,429 receiving yards trump the rookie record (1,400 yards) for the Super Bowl era, set just last year by former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson.

12. Was there ever a doubt Tom Brady would vanquish the New York Jets ... again? The NYJ put on a show for much of Sunday's matchup, but TB12's 33-yard TD pass to Cyril Grayson with 15 seconds to go allowed the NFC South champs to improve to 12-4. Brady is now 31-7 all-time against the Jets, and his 9,059 passing yards against them in the regular season are the most for any quarterback against a single opponent in league history.

13. Fun fact: Brady and Jets rookie Zach Wilson were both born on Aug. 3 ... but 22 years apart. Brady, 44 and Wilson, 22, provided the largest age difference between starting QBs in NFL history.

14. While Burrow threw for 446 yards, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints combined for 458 – total – in Sunday's most unwatchable contest.

15. Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray, a Texas native, has now won all eight of his starts at AT&T Stadium – five coming when he was in high school, one when he was at Oklahoma and the past two, including Sunday's upset of the Dallas Cowboys, at the NFL level. (Note: Murray also enjoyed a ninth win at JerryWorld in 2015 when the freshman, prior to transferring to Norman, played sparingly behind Texas A&M starter Kyle Allen when the Aggies beat Arkansas ... yes, the alma mater of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.)

15a. None of that seems to bode particularly well for the Cowboys, who surrendered any shot at home-field advantage in Week 18 with the loss and may very well have to welcome Murray and these very same Cards back for a rematch in the wild-card round.

16. If Sunday was QB Russell Wilson's final game in Seattle, he gave Seahawks one final, fun memory. He threw at least four TD passes for the 17th time in his illustrious career as the 'Hawks gifted their 12s with a 51-29 blowout of the Detroit Lions in their last home game of the season.

17. Congratulations to San Francisco 49ers rookie Trey Lance, the final first-round QB of the 2021 draft to earn a win this season. Of course Lance was making only his second start, while all of his peers have at least 10.

18. Chicago Bears OLB Robert Quinn registered his 18th sack of the season, which turns out to be a single-season record for a franchise loaded with defensive Hall of Famers. It's the second time in Quinn's career he's hit 18, his personal best of 19 in 2013 for the St. Louis Rams.

COVID-19. Scores of players continue to be caught in the league's virus protocol as the omicron variant continues to billow across the nation. The most prominent recent positive tests came courtesy of infamously unvaccinated QBs Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz, the former ineligible to play Sunday night for the Vikings, and the latter not doing nearly enough to help the Colts fend off the Raiders even though the NFL's revised protocols gave him just enough time to return to the lineup.

20. Fortune favors the bold? With three turnovers, QB Matthew Stafford didn't have his best game Sunday but did just enough – finishing a game-winning drive with a TD pass in the final minute – as the Los Angeles Rams survived the Baltimore Ravens to keep their NFC West hopes alive. Stafford's newest teammates, WR Odell Beckham Jr. (TD) and OLB Von Miller (2 sacks) certainly did more to justify their midseason acquisitions for a team in Super Bowl-or-bust mode.

OPINION: Rams' resilience, cohesion makes them formidable Super Bowl contender

21. Rams coach Sean McVay is now 9-2 in 1 p.m. kickoffs in the Eastern time zone.

22. Rams WR Cooper Kupp is up to 138 catches, a dozen shy of the 150 plateau that has never been scaled.

23. Kupp also now sits on 1,829 receiving yards – only the fifth player to hit 1,800 – giving him a reasonable shot of surpassing Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson's single-season record (1,964 yards) and maybe even 2,000.

24. Kupp is also on track to become the fourth player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to lead the league in catches, receiving yards and receiving TDs in the same season.

25. But as the playoffs approach, Stafford must be more careful with the ball. Sunday's pick-six was his fourth of the season, tying a dubious single-season franchise record. For further context, Stafford's predecessor, Jared Goff, served up four total INT-TDs in five seasons with the team.

26. But Stafford is also in some good company. Though he has 27 career pick-sixes, he still trails Brett Favre (32), Dan Marino (28) and Joe Namath (28) – all Hall of Famers – on the all-time list.

27. Any more questions about Eagles QB Jalen Hurts? Keep building this playoff roster around him – and those three first-round picks next spring we'll certainly help

28. Any more questions about Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa? Actually ... after the season came crashing down Sunday after the team worked so hard to dig out of a 1-7 hole? Expect a lot more Deshaun Watson speculation in 2022 or draft speculation in 2023.

29. In a stat that pretty well sums up their season, the New York Giants finished with -10 passing yards Sunday, QB Mike Glennon throwing for 24 but losing 34 on four Chicago sacks.

30. Taunting calls will doubtless continue to be a point of contention even as they continue to be a point of emphasis for league officials. But kinda fun when Falcons QB Matt Ryan gets called for it – he couldn't figure out why – and it happens on what turns out to be a non-TD play that ultimately proves fatal for Atlanta. Matty Not-so-nice?

31. If you'd thought WR Antonio Brown put an exclamation point on his career after last season, when he earned his first Super Bowl ring, he has almost certainly put a different kind of punctuation on his wild 12-year NFL ride now – Bucs coach Bruce Arians saying that AB is "no longer a Buc" following Sunday's bizarre antics, including a veritable strip tease as Brown left the field in the middle of the game. It would be shocking if this wasn't Brown's final meltdown as a member of the league.

32. The Patriots had 32 first downs in their playoff-clinching 50-10 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. No more appropriate way to wrap up 32 things this week.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL scores and more, Week 17 2021: 32 things we learned