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Northwestern in the NFL: Regular season comes to a close

A former ‘Cat in a new location makes the biggest news in Week 18.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Another NFL regular season is officially in the books, but the playoffs may offer the perfect opportunity for former Wildcats to continue their 2022 seasons even longer. Let’s take a look at how the ‘Cats closed out the regular season:

Ifeadi Odenigbo: DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Odenigbo’s Bucs dropped the last game of the season to Desmond Ridder and the Atlanta Falcons, but that didn’t stop him from putting up the best stat-line of the season. The Colts had waived Odenigbo in a somewhat surprising move after a Week 15 loss to the Vikings, and the Bucs signed him to their practice squad a week later.

After clinching a playoff berth in Week 17, the Bucs decided to activate Odenigbo for their meaningless matchup against the lowly Falcons. Odenigbo absolutely showed out, registering a season-high six combined tackles (two solo), including a tackle of Atlanta’s Avery Williams for a loss of eight yards on the last drive of the game. There’s only so much to take away from an outlier performance against a bad team, but Odenigbo at the very least has earned himself a better look for the playoff roster, if not some attention going into this offseason.

Next playoff matchup: vs. Dallas Cowboys (Monday, 7:15 p.m. CT)

Greg Newsome II: CB, Cleveland Browns

Newsome didn’t have an incredible close to the season in the Browns’ loss to the Steelers last Sunday, but he did make an impact in his career-high 15th game of the year. The Browns, with nothing to play for after having been eliminated from playoff contention, let their second-year cornerback take the field in 92% of defensive snaps in the season finale.

Although Newsome recorded only two total tackles (one solo), he was able to impact the game by breaking up passes from Pittsburgh’s rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. He started the day a little messy, drawing a pass interference call with just over 4:30 left in the second quarter to give the Steelers an automatic first down, but Newsome made up for it five plays later by defending a deep pass meant for Diontae Johnson just after the two-minute warning. Newsome opened up the very next Pittsburgh drive with another pass defended at the expense of Johnson, this one a short pass on first-and-10. Neither were enough to keep the Steelers from scoring on their drives, but Newsome did what he could.

Justin Jackson: RB, Detroit Lions

In an ultimate spoiler performance from the Lions to prevent the division rival Packers from clinching a playoff berth, Justin Jackson was called in to fill multiple roles to bring his team the win. Even with D’Andre Swift back at full strength, the Lions’ coaching staff has been finding ways to get Jackson in the game, through a combination of rushing, receiving and returning.

Jackson has gradually become a primary kick returner for the Lions throughout the second half of the 2022 season, and he continued that trend by taking two out of the Lions’ four returns for 25 and 23 yards each. His receiving skills came in demand again, as he caught a pivotal 11-yard pass on third-and-10 early in the second quarter to avoid a devastating three-and-out. It’ll be very interesting to see how Jackson is utilized next season with this newfound versatility.

Earnest Brown IV: DE, Los Angeles Rams

Brown hadn’t been a regular for the Rams in 2022, appearing in only four games prior to Week 18, but you would never know it based on his performance in a close loss to the Seahawks last Sunday.

The Rams gave him more run than they had in previous games, placing him in 77% of the team’s defensive snaps to show them what he’s got. Brown responded with a season-high five total tackles (three solo), including a tackle of standout rookie running back Kenneth Walker for a loss of two yards on first down late in the second quarter. Pushing Seattle back to 2nd and 2 likely prevented a score on that drive, keeping the Rams in the game.

Injured Wildcats: OT Rashawn Slater (Chargers), LB Anthony Walker (Browns), DE Joe Gaziano (Chargers), DE Dean Lowry (Packers), QB Trevor Siemian (Bears)

Other Wildcats in the NFL:

OC Mike Kafka (Giants), WR Ben Skowronek (Rams), RB Godwin Igwebuike (Seahawks), OL Blake Hance (Jaguars), LB Joe Jones (Titans), WR Kyric McGowan (Commanders)