This was a week for teams in the NFL to go “off script”.
Really, if you predicted the winner of all 16 games this past weekend, send me an email and I’m buying you a ticket to Las Vegas. That’s right, you and me – Vegas, baby. Vegas.
I’ll bring the cash and you just tell me “red or black”. I’ll be Tom Cruise and you’ll be Dustin Hoffman.
And with that Rain Man reference, I am officially old.
But before we get into all the wildness that was Week 16, let’s do a quick recap of a couple teams that did their job as predicted to earn a playoff berth.
Minnesota laid the smack-down on Eli Manning and the Giants with a 49-17 blowout on Sunday Night Football. Perhaps the G-Men came out flat having nothing to play for (Washington clinched the NFC East with a cruisy 38-24 win over Philadelphia) and perhaps this Vikings team is just that good.
We’ll find out next week when the Vikings take on the Packers in a winner-take-all battle for the NFC North title. Green Bay is flailing and Minnesota is hungry – but the game is being played in Lambeau, a tough place to win. Period.
Either way, Minnesota has now qualified for postseason play for the first time since 2012 and the NFC playoff tournament is set.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 28, 2015
Houston stayed atop the AFC South by dominating the Titans 34-6 and guess what? Brandon Weeden actually looked pretty good out there.
He tallied 200 yards passing with 2 TDs, no INTs and another touchdown on the ground, his career first.
And that’s the thing with middling quarterbacks – at one point in their life they used to be absolute studs. It’s just that playing the position at the NFL level has a way of making incredible athletes look a lot worse than they really are. Maybe he wasn’t to blame for the ship sinking in Dallas after all?
Check out this killer scoring strike Weeden tossed to DeAndre Hopkins.
— NFL (@NFL) December 27, 2015
The victory all but puts Houston into the playoffs with the Colts’ clinging on to a ridiculous 3,326 to 1 (according to ESPN) mathematical chance of sneaking in. Along with Indy winning and the Texans losing, seven other teams must also win in order for the two teams to tie on strength of victory.
But here’s some good news for Colts fans – those odds are now slightly better following Denver’s MNF win over the Bengals! The Broncos’ victory also means that we’ve still got a quarterback controversy brewing in the Mile High City at the worst time of the year to have one.
The Chiefs also beat the Browns 17-13 in a yawner. The victory (their ninth in a row) gives Kansas City the most wins ever for a team that started out (1-5) and clinches them a spot in the playoffs.
Never give up kids.
Tasty Tidbits from Week 16
So, if you haven’t already heard. The Carolina Panthers’ dreams of a perfect season are over.
They fell 20-13 to a Falcons team they recently demolished 38 to zip.
“We did not take this team lightly,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game. “Truth of the matter is, we came in and played hard. They played better. They coached better.”
Whoops. Shit happens. And truthfully the loss might actually increase the Panthers’ chances of making it to the Super Bowl. Releasing the added pressure of the perfect season is quite a load off for a young team that’s lacking in playoff experience.
So I wouldn’t read too much into this one.
Nor into the Rams sweeping the Seahawks with a 23-17 win at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
The Hawks played ugly. Real ugly. And it was a game that Coach Carroll said the club would just like to forget. I don’t see the loss having any real effect on their chances of getting back to the Super Bowl – other than the fact that it became evident how badly this team needs Beast Mode back for the playoff run.
But here’s a crazy stat:
This was the first time in 71 games that the Seahawks did not hold a lead at one point or another in the contest – the longest such streak in the history of the NFL.
Even the St. Louis punter was laying the hits.
Let’s hope Johnny Hekker doesn’t meet Cliff Avril in a dark alley.
But for a couple upsets that do matter…
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) December 28, 2015
First we turn to the NY Jets who got the job done in overtime 26-20 over the Patriots after Bill Belichick made the strange decision to kick the ball to the Jets to start the extra period after winning the coin toss.
Ryan Fitzpatrick now has the chance to finally get into the playoffs with a win next week against his old team, the Buffalo Bills.
While his game-winning strike to Eric Decker was key to opening up the win-and-in scenario, he might also want to send a box of cookies to the Baltimore Ravens for knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-17.
It’s been a rough year for Baltimore but a late-season win over their bitter division rivals is quite the Christmas present, particularly when they will have knocked Big Ben and Company out of playoff contention should the Jets win or tie in week 17.
Oh, and laugh if you want, but the Redskins are actually looking pretty darn good these days. Record aside, they’re playing their best football of the year and once the playoffs kick off your win-loss ratio means diddily-squat (aside from seeding and home-field advantage).
Don’t discount Kurt Cousins as dude’s on fire and sudden death playoffs were made for big time upsets.
Offensive Player of the Week
9 catches, 178 yards.
But all anyone is talking about is this 70-yard touchdown:
Defensive Player of the Week
William Hayes, Aaron Donald and Akeem Ayers dominated the Seahawks’ offensive line in Seattle, putting pressure on Russell Wilson all day long and squashing the run game.
But despite Ayers picking up a Seahawks fumble and rumbling 45 yards for a defensive touchdown, William Hayes was the star of the bunch.
Hayes took down Wilson three times for a sack and added four tackles for loss and five QB hits.
— Rams SPORTalk (@SPORTalkRams) December 28, 2015
If only this Rams team could play Seattle every single week.
Team on the Rise
With the playoff teams all but set I’d like to take a moment to appreciate Matthew Stafford and the Lions.
Detroit started the season (1-7) but has now gone (5-2) over their past seven games.
Forget about getting a better draft pick – it’s a good sign for 2016 and beyond that the Lions came out to play in the second half of the season despite being all but eliminated at the midway point of the season.
Team on the Decline
While the Steelers’ offensive machine will make them a gigantic dark horse in the AFC should they get in to the postseason, losing to a (4-10) Ravens team starting Ryan Mallett in a must-win game in Week 16 puts this club in the dog house.
Pittsburgh supporters will now be relegated to hope for “help” in Week 17 from the Buffalo Bills.
Just in Case You Missed It
- Marshawn Lynch has returned from his hiding in rehab and could practice as early as Wednesday.
- Case Keenum, Ryan Mallet and Brandon Weeden all won this week.
Games to Look Forward to in Week 17
Jets at Bills –Win and they’re in for New York. Rex Ryan would love to play spoiler against the team that fired him.
Seahawks at Cardinals – Arizona may have already wrapped up the division but Seattle will want this win to gain momentum before the postseason. The Cardinals still have something to play for as they could snag the #1 seed should Carolina fall to the Bucs at home.
Vikings at Packers – The last game of the regular season just happens to be for the NFC North title. Both clubs are in the playoffs but the winner of this game plays the Wild Card round at home.