In first Week 18 with new schedule, it’s playoff-minded Chargers vs. Raiders in finale

 Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert drops back to pass against the Raiders.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert drops back to pass against the Raiders. Their AFC West showdown in Week 18 will decide a playoff spot.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The NFL is constantly tinkering and tweaking, looking for new ways to promote and grow the game.

Whether it’s expanding the season to 17 games, adding a seventh playoff team to each conference, trimming the preseason or, before that, moving the draft out of New York and treating it like a mini-Super Bowl.

The latest change: ending the season with Saturday cliffhangers.

Kansas City at Denver has been moved to Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time, followed by Dallas at Philadelphia at 5:15. Both will be on ESPN and ABC.


If the Chiefs win, they keep their hopes alive for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Tennessee would need to beat Houston on Sunday for the top spot.

Dallas has clinched the NFC East. The Eagles are playoff-bound but are still playing for wild-card seeding.

The Chargers will face the Raiders in Las Vegas in the regular-season finale Sunday night. The game will be at 5:20 Pacific time on NBC.

Before this season, the league always has finished with a full slate of Sunday games.

The objective of the NFL with these Saturday games is to pick play-to-stay-alive matchups, not to get the teams with the biggest national fan bases — Pittsburgh, Dallas, Green Bay, Las Vegas — another appearance in prime time.

The Chargers took control of their playoff destiny Sunday, with Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler spearheading the team to a 34-13 win over the Broncos.

Jan. 2, 2022

What’s more, it was the NFL’s preference that Saturday results have minimal to no impact on games played Sunday. Ideally, nothing to disrupt the Sunday intrigue.

A problem in past seasons is there always has been an interesting story line that gets lost in a clump of games, an on-the-bubble team that needs to win and get help — yet winds up with only 10% of the country watching. Saturday lets the whole country in on the plot.


One of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s core philosophies is that success is actually a problem for the NFL because it dissuades people from taking risks.

Before the season, Goodell told the Los Angeles Times: “The thing that always drives me nuts is when you say, ‘Oh, it’s Aug. 7. What did we do last year on Aug. 7?’ then do the same thing year after year. We should be reevaluating everything we do all the time.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford had two passes intercepted by the Ravens and also had a fumble, but on a last-ditch drive he came through with the winning touchdown pass.

Jan. 2, 2022

“We have to look at what we’re doing and see if we can do it better. It’s not change for the sake of change.”

Here’s why it wouldn’t have made sense for the NFL to move San Francisco at the Rams to Saturday night:

As it is, the Rams and Arizona are in the hunt for the NFC West title. The Rams would win the division by beating the 49ers.

If the Rams were to do that Saturday night, they would steal the Sunday motivation from the Cardinals. In that case, Arizona might as well rest its starters. The NFL doesn’t want that.

Matthew Stafford (9) signals touchdown as Rams teammate Sony Michel crosses the goal line against the Ravens.
(Nick Wass / Associated Press)

On a roll: With their 20-19 victory at Baltimore on Sunday, the Rams achieved their first five-game winning streak since 2018, when they opened the season by winning their first eight and ultimately wound up in the Super Bowl.

Not many people saw that coming when the Rams dropped three straight in November and slipped to 7-4.

To win tough road games against Arizona, Minnesota and Baltimore is quite an accomplishment, especially with the roster ravaged and rearranged by positive COVID tests.

Coming off his three-interception game at the Vikings, Matthew Stafford had two more picks and a lost fumble. But once again, the Rams quarterback made the plays he needed to make in the fourth quarter to bring his team back from the brink.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 20-19 road win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

Jan. 2, 2022

The Rams’ defense kept the Ravens out of the end zone — Baltimore’s only touchdown came on a pick-six — and limited the home team to four field goals. The defense pulled its weight.


No ordinary Joe: Joe Burrow is putting up absurd numbers for Cincinnati. He threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday’s 34-31 win over Kansas City, with three of those scoring passes caught by rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

That came a week after Burrow threw for 525 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-21 victory over Baltimore. He nearly became the second quarterback to throw for at least 450 yards and four touchdowns in consecutive weeks. The first was … Dan Marino? John Elway? Joe Montana? Tom Brady?

Nope. Jameis Winston did that in Weeks 14 and 15 of the 2019 season.