Five things we learned in Week 16:
1. Frightening thought: the Seahawks defense might actually be playing better than they did in 2013. Oh, and the Russell Wilson-led offense racked up a franchise record 596 yards against one of the league’s top defenses on the road.
Arizona had been allowing right around 90 yards rushing per game coming into the contest (6th in the NFL). Marshawn Lynch picked up 79 on this one play.
Run of the year.
2. Dallas is rolling and Indy looks far from being playoff ready.
Not only have the Cowboys clinched their first NFC East title since 2009, they took out an AFC contender in emphatic fashion. Dallas 42 – 7 Indianapolis.
Oh, and I use the term “AFC contender” very lightly when talking about the Colts. This is a team trending in the very wrong direction.
3. Rex Ryan might be looking for a new job in 2015, but he sure does have New England’s number.
New York still lost, but the Pats nearly gave up an embarrassing upset as they squeaked past the Jets 17-16.
4. The winner of the NFC South will have at the very least seven wins! Yippee!
The (6-8-1) Panthers will take on the (6-9) Falcons in week 17 for a winner-take-all Turd Bowl.
The Grand Prize? A trip to the postseason.
3 divisions up for grabs in Week 17: NFC North: Lions @ Packers NFC South: Panthers @ Falcons AFC North: Bengals @ Steelers
— NFL (@nfl) December 21, 2014
If the Falcons win they’ll go from worst to first. If the Panthers win they’ll ride into the playoffs on a four-game win streak.
Either team will hope to be matched up against the quarterback-strapped Cardinals, and not the Seahawks, Packers or Lions.
5. Oakland’s getting better – and dare I say it, almost respectable. With three wins in their last five games, the Silver & Black may have finally turned a corner for the better.
In particular, Derek Carr appears to have true franchise quarterback potential. He boasts 20 TDs, 11 INTs and over 3,000 yards in 15 games…these are very, very good numbers for a rookie.
Team on the Rise
What does a quarterback have to do to get some love up in here? Hmm, I don’t know – how about lead his team to the playoffs every single season he’s ever played.
Sure, Andy Dalton’s stat line on Monday Night Football was less than mind-boggling (17/26, 146 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) but it was good enough to help the Bengals knock off the Denver Broncos and clinch a spot in the 2014 postseason.
So, to all you Dalton haters, STFU. All Hail the Red Rocket!
Andy Dalton has now led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first 4 seasons pic.twitter.com/rH3JsQN520
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 23, 2014
Seriously, though – there was time early in the campaign when Cincy was (3-0) and we were talking the Bengals up as perhaps the best team in the AFC.
But then, after their BYE week, Cincinnati was blown out 43-17 by the Patriots, tied the lowly Panthers 37-all and were blanked 27 to zip by Andrew Luck and the Colts.
They went from stud to dud overnight and it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that either the Ravens or the Steelers would recapture the AFC North.
Since then, the Bengals have quietly gone (7-2), including last night’s affair where they flustered Peyton Manning into tossing out interceptions (4 to be exact) like he was throwing candy to a parade crowd.
— Fake GAINER (@fakeGAINER) December 23, 2014
Of course he won’t be participating in any parade if he can’t find a way to win big games against nasty defenses.
I’d love to see these two clubs meet up again for a rematch in the playoffs.
Team on the Decline
If you don’t know who’s earned this week’s “Team on the Decline” designation, you simply haven’t been paying attention.
In a game of role reversal, the Cowboys are peaking just at the right time while the Eagles have cupped their own fart just to see what it smells like. Bad idea.
Philadelphia has been officially eliminated from the playoff race following a 24-27 debacle at Washington.
Mark Sanchez set up Kai Forbath for the game winning 26-yard field goal with just five seconds left to play to give the Redskins their fourth win of the season.
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) December 22, 2014
Hold on a tick. Sanchez doesn’t play for the Redskins.
Exactly. And who knows if he’ll be playing for anybody in 2015.
Game Changers in Week 17
As you may have already noted in the graphic above, NFL fans will be treated to three head-to-head division title match-ups in week 17.
In the case of the Lions-Packers and Bengals-Steelers, the loser will still qualify for the postseason as a Wild Card team. Of course, the loser of the Panthers-Falcons tilt will be at home where they belong.
Seattle will look to wrap up home-field advantage and the #1 seed by beating the Rams at home (and avoiding the unlikely event of a tie in the Detroit vs. Green Bay game) but St. Louis has already beaten the World Champs once this season and so this game is far from a gimme.
Pete Carroll will have his special teams crew on the lookout for fake punts and other trickery. Jeff Fischer had a whole bag of fast ones up his sleeve the last time these two clubs met.
The Broncos will need to rebound from this week’s disappointing loss if they hope to retain their first-round bye. This should be easy to do at home against the Raiders but stranger things have happened. They have, however, already ceded home-field advantage to the Patriots.
The final AFC Wild card position is still up for grabs, with San Diego being the only team in the running that controls their own destiny. If the Chargers beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead that’s all she wrote, but then it gets a little complicated.
If Kansas City pulls out the win the Ravens are next in line (assuming they beat the Browns at home).
Should both Baltimore and San Diego lose, Houston would slide in past the Chiefs by winning at home over Jacksonville.
The Chiefs clinch a playoff spot with a win plus a Ravens loss and a Texans loss or tie.