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Illini in the NFL: Week 17 Update

It was the final week of the NFL regular season. Which Illini players are playoff bound?

Atlanta Falcons v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The NFL regular season is over, each team completing a full schedule of 16 games. Considering the events of the last 9-to-10 months, that is nothing short of a miracle.

Also included in this post is a breakdown of which Illini and their respective teams qualified for the playoffs.

Happy New Year!

Baltimore Ravens

Playoffs?: Yes. The Ravens play at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

Jihad Ward, defensive end: This was an important week for Ward and the Ravens in their close-out road game versus the Cincinnati Bengals. Ward had 1 tackle and a batted down pass in Baltimore’s 38-3 blowout victory.

Buffalo Bills

Playoffs?: Yes. The Bills host the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

Del’Shawn Phillips, linebacker: Unfortunately for Phillips, he was put on the Injured Reserve list for the second time this season. Per league rules, that means his season is officially over — he is ineligible to return to the active roster since he’s been placed on IR twice. We wish Phillips the best in his recovery and hope he has plenty of opportunities down the road. Congrats to the Bills for winning the AFC East.

Dallas Cowboys:

Playoffs: No.

Malik Turner, wide receiver/special teams: Turner was on the field in the Cowboys’ finale only on special teams.

Houston Texans:

Playoffs?: No.

This has been a season to forget for Houston. Not only will the Texans be on the hunt for a new head coach, but they also forfeit their top draft pick to the Miami Dolphins as part of the Laremy Tunsil trade. Houston took on the tough Tennessee Titans, losing 41-38.

Corey Liuget, defensive tackle/special teams: Liuget was cut from Houston’s active roster a couple of weeks ago.

Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker: Mercilus was not able to play against the Bengals last week since he was placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list on Christmas Day. After a week of experiencing some mild Covid-19 symptoms, Mercilus did not play against the Titans either. This ends an overall disapointing year for one of the more experienced Illini alums in the NFL.

Indianapolis Colts:

Playoffs?: Yes. The Colts play at the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.

Tavon Wilson, safety/special teams: The Colts hosted the awful Jacksonville Jaguars and won 28-14. Wilson earned his second start of the season with regular starter Khari Wilson inactive because of a concussion he suffered last week against the Texans. Wilson had 5 tackles and played in every single defensive snap for his team. It was a solid game for a playoff-bound player.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Playoffs?: No.

The Jaguars had one of the league’s worst seasons in recent memory. One of the few bright spots was our very own Dawuane Smoot. Has Smoot played his last game for the Jags? Stay tuned...

Dawuane Smoot, defensive end: Smoot had 2 tackles in a loss to the Colts. He was on the field for 57 defensive snaps — the second highest amount he’s been in a game all season.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Playoffs?: Yes. The Chiefs are on bye in the opening round of the playoffs.

Nick Allegretti, guard: Allegretti and the Chiefs went into Week 17 with the AFC’s top seed already in hand. Resting several starters including quarterback Pat Mahomes against division foes the LA Chargers, Allegretti was mostly on the bench (though dressed) for the meaningless final game. Expect him to return to normal playing duties after the well-earned bye.

Miami Dolphins:

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Playoffs?: Almost, but No.

The Miami Dolphins played went on the road to take on one of the league’s best teams in AFC East rivals Buffalo Bills. In a game Miami needed to win, the Dolphins were blown out 56-26.

Ted Karras, center: As has been the case all season long, Karras earned the start at center for Miami. He started all 16 games this year for an improving franchise and was part of one of the better team turnarounds in recent memory.

Clayton Fejedelem, safety/special teams: Fej’s performance last week was one of the league’s top stories. This week Fej was held off the stat sheet, but per usual was on the field on special teams.

Needless to say, Fej and Karras played very well this past season and the best is yet to come for those Illini Alums residing in South Beach.

Minnesota Vikings:

Playoffs?: No.

Hardy Nickerson, linebacker/special teams: In a meaningless game against the Detroit Lions, Nickerson had 1 tackle and 1 forced fumble in a 37-35 win. While this game was meaningless for the Vikings, Nickerson has played great football in the closing few games of the season — amassing a strong enough tape that will likely land him, if not in Minnesota, on another team’s roster in 2021.

New England Patriots:

Playoffs?: No.

Akeem Spence, defensive tackle/special teams: The Patriots hosted the New York Jets in the final week of the season. Spence had 2 tackles in New England’s 28-14 win.

New Orleans Saints:

Playoffs?: Yes. The Saints host the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.

Justin Hardee, cornerback/special teams: Hardee had 1 tackle versus the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte and did the bulk of his dirty work on special teams.

New York Jets:

Playoffs?: No.

Chase McLaughlin, Kicker: McLaughlin made his NY Jets debut in Week 17. He did not attempt a field goal in the game. He was 2 for 2 on his extra points.

*Just a reminder, Detroit Lions wide receiver Geronimo Allison and New England Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19.