The outcomes of National Football League games became a lot less important at 8:55 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 2 when millions watched, in real time, as Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin fought for his life on the turf of Paycor Stadium.

In a Monday Night Football game, host Cincinnati led 7-3 over the Bills, in a pivotal American Football Conference clash, and was moving the ball when Hamlin made a tackle most watchers of the sport had seen thousands of times, in this instance when Bengals’ receiver Tee Higgins caught a 13-yard pass in Cincinnati territory and ran a few yards near midfield. Hamlin came up to make the stop and Higgins initiated the contact as Hamlin wrapped him up and twisted him to the ground.

Reade Brower

Hamlin, who was contacted in the chest and head areas by Higgins’ shoulder pad and perhaps a portion of his helmet, quickly got up after the tackle, and, seconds later, collapsed on the ground.

At that moment, and the moments that followed, the world collectively held its breath and shed a few tears as the 24-year-old battled for his life.

Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest and was without life for a period of time, was saved with the incredible fast-acting, professional help of many. Hamlin was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

The game was postponed and later canceled. It will not be made up.

The raw emotions of that night, especially of the players, is something most will not  forget.

Since that sad, surreal, gut-wrenching moment, most have, in fact, hung on each piece of daily information on Hamlin’s health. The latest reports were he was improving, but remained in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital. Incredibly, it was reported one of the first things he asked when he regained consciousness was: “Who won the game.”

Well, that game will not be finished, for a myriad of reasons, regardless of its importance to seeding, etc., but a bundle of final Week 18 games will be played on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 7-8 before the playoffs kick in the following week.

With positive news for Hamlin’s recovery, we turn our attention back to the games at hand and, for the “Pigskin Pundits,” who will finish first, second, third and fourth, and how will the guests fare down the stretch.

At this point, after a solid Week 17 by all — with the Bills-Bengals game thrown out of the mix — Mark Haskell appears to have a stranglehold on the regular-season title. Now, there will be a fight for second.

And, as fate would have it, an old friend returns as the guest picker in the final week. Zack Miller, a member of the “Pigskin Pundits” for several years, will attempt to beat his former colleagues, but this side as as “outsider.”

Of course, making up ground at the end of the campaign can be a challenge. While selecting the outcomes of games during the regular season is, at best, unpredictable, that can be magnified at this point because it is difficult to know the health and motivation of each team.

Ken Waltz

As the pundits and their weekly guests continue to realize, predicting the outcome of games is harder than it looks — and always a hit-or-miss proposition.

In any case, we are on to Week 18.

The MaineStay Media/VillageSoup “Pigskin Pundits” include Reade Brower (company owner), Ken Waltz (sports editor), Haskell (associate sports editor) and Jim Leonard (Republican Journal news editor).

Those four, with a different weekly guest, pick the outcome of games.

In Week 17, Haskell and Brower finished 13-2, Waltz 11-4 and Leonard 10-5. Guest Brad Strong of Rockland finished 11-4.

Seventeen weeks into another crazy NFL campaign, Mark Haskell remains first at 165-88-2 (.639 winning percentage), Brower 159-94-2, Leonard 157-96-2 (.618) and Waltz 156-97-2 (.609). The guests are 154-99-2 (.601).

Thus, Mark Haskell leads Brower by six games, Leonard eight and Waltz nine as the campaign heads down the home stretch. The guests are 11 games back of the leader. However, only three games separate Brower, Leonard and Waltz, so second place seemingly is up for grabs.

The Week 18 guest is Zack Miller of Warren.

This season for the guests, Sam Adolphsen of Hope finished 6-9-1 in Week 1, Rachel Coor of Damariscotta 7-9 in Week 2, Zach Smith of Belfast 6-10 in Week 3, Dan Falla of Tenants Harbor 10-6 in Week 4, Quinn Commeau of Rockland 11-5 in Week 5, Chris Audet of Searsport 8-6 in Week 6, Casey Holmes of Dixmont 9-5 in Week 7, Sam Bickford of Vinalhaven 9-6 in Week 8, Ethan Abbott of Belmont 9-4 in Week 9, Ibrahim Moustapher of Camden 8-6 in Week 10, Connor Light of Warren 10-4 in Week 11, Amin Hernandez of St. George 11-5 in Week 12, Brandon Hurd of Brooks 13-1-1 in Week 13, Ryan Verrill of Warren 6-7 in Week 14, Beckett Haskell of Rockland 11-5 in Week 15, Jeremiah LaBree 9-7 in Week 16 and Brad Strong of Rockland 11-4 in Week 17.

Thus far, Brower and Mark Haskell have the best weekly records among the “pundits” at 13-2 in Week 17.

Brandon Hurd of Brooks (13-1-1) in Week 13, Brad Strong of Rockland (11-4) in Week 17, Beckett Haskell of Rockland (11-5) in Week 15, Amin Hernandez of St. George (11-5) in Week 12 and Quinn Commeau (11-5) in Week 5, have the top marks among guests.

Mark Haskell

The NFL games got under way on Sept. 8 and, after 18 weeks (17 games) of the regular season, which includes a bye week for all teams, and a few weeks of playoff battles, it will be time for Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12, 2023 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Az.

As the dog days of summer quickly transition into the brisk days of fall, the start of the regular season is upon us as 32 teams gear up for a run at the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.

And, on a Midcoast level, sportswriters and sports aficionados look to prove their mental mettle for bragging rights.

For the 24th year, the MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff ushers in its “Pigskin Pundits” weekly NFL game selections, where readers/fans test their football wits against the “pros.”

For decades, the weekly picks were featured in Courier Publications’ newspapers The Courier-Gazette, Camden Herald and The Republican Journal. Now, those picks are made exclusively on the organization’s websites — knox.villagesoup.com and waldo.villagesoup.com.

The prognosticators and weekly guest go head-to-head when they pick the winners — no scores or points spreads involved — of that week’s slate of games.

After 18 weeks, the guest with the best weekly record will return to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Miller and Brower for the playoffs and Super Bowl. The guest with the best weekly record also will receive a year’s subscription to one of MaineStay Media/VillageSoup newspapers or one of the organization’s websites.

Those interested in being a weekly guest picker should email Haskell at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.

The games for Week 18 include:

Jan. 7

Kansas City at Las Vegas

Tennessee at Jacksonville

Jan. 8

Baltimore at Cincinnati

Tampa Bay at Atlanta

New England at Buffalo

Minnesota at Chicago

Houston at Indianapolis

Jim Leonard

New York Jets at Miami

Carolina at New Orleans

Cleveland at Pittsburgh

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver

New York Giants at Philadelphia

Arizona at San Francisco

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle

Dallas at Washington

Detroit at Green Bay

The Week 18 picks for the “Pigskin Pundits” and their guest include:

Brower — Kansas City, Jackonville, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, New England, Minnesota, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Green Bay.

Waltz — Kansas City, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Green Bay.

Mark Haskell — Kansas City, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Buffalo, Minnesota, Houston, New York Jets, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Green Bay.

Leonard — Kansas City, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota, Indianapolis, New York Jets, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Green Bay.

Zack Miller

Miller — Kansas City, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota, Indianapolis, New York Jets, New Orleans,, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Detroit.

History lesson

Last year’s top guest picker was Ryan Verrill of Warren, who finished 12-2 in Week 14, and earned the right to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Brower and former picker Zack Miller in the postseason.

In the playoffs, Haskell and Miller finished 9-4, Waltz 8-5, Brower 7-6 and Verrill 6-7, as Haskell, Waltz and Miller correctly picked the Los Angeles Rams to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.

Overall in 2021-22, Brower finished 188-96-1 (.662); Haskell, 184-100-1 (.648); Waltz, 180-104-1 (.634); Zack Miller, 176-108-1 (620); and guests, 176-108-1 (620).

MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com.