The Jaguars, 49ers, and Browns entered week 16 of the NFL season with a combined three wins on the year and a record of 0-25 since week 5. Somehow, on Saturday they all won. If you needed any more proof that the NFL is an Any Given Sunday league, there it is. Most notable of the bunch was the Browns’ 20-17 victory over the Chargers, snapping a 17-game losing streak and allowing the Cleveland to dodge becoming only the second team in history to finish 0-16. While that result garnered the most attention, the Jaguars’ 38-17 triumph against the Titans was far more meaningful, as it, coupled with the Texans’ win, eliminated Tennessee from playoff contention. As for the Niners? Come on- you didn’t really expect Jared Goff to win a game, right?
Six more teams clinched playoff spots last week. On Saturday, the Falcons and Giants became locks following the Buccaneers’ loss to the Saints, and later that night the Texans to overcame the Bengals and captured the AFC South crown. The Steelers defeated the Ravens in a Christmas thriller to win the AFC North and the Chiefs earned at least a wild card in the process. Kansas City then paid it forward- their dominating performance versus Denver gave the Dolphins the #6 seed.
The seeds aren’t finalized yet, but we do know the six AFC playoff teams. The order as it currently stands is Patriots, Raiders, Steelers, Texans, Chiefs, Dolphins. All the divisions are wrapped up minus the AFC West, where the Raiders must either take down the Broncos or get lucky with a Chiefs loss to the Chargers to earn their first division title since 2002 and a first round bye.
Over in the NFC, the Cowboys have the #1 seed, and the Falcons are a home victory against the Saints away from the 2. Despite inconsistent performances, the NFC West champion Seahawks are the current #3 seed, and the Giants will have a chance to reprise their 2007 role as #5 seed Super Bowl Champions. Two spots remain, and four teams are alive. One the two final playoff teams will be the winner of the NFC North, to be decided week 17 between the Lions and Packers.
Should the Redskins defeat the Giants, they will become the #6 seed. However, if the Redskins lose, the NFC North runner-up will make the playoffs. Technically, the Buccaneers haven’t been eliminated yet, but to win the tiebreakers, they’ll need a victory over the Panthers and the following results: a Giants/Redskins tie, and wins by the Cowboys, Lions, Colts, Titans, and 49ers. You’ll notice those aren’t even all NFC teams. Tiebreakers are strange.
We’re nearly finished with the regular season- let’s take a look at my power rankings.
1. Patriots (13-2, LW: 1) Everyone knew Pats-Jets in Foxborough wasn’t going to be close, but come on- 41-3? Not only does New England have the immortal Tom Brady running the show on offense, but also the #1 scoring defense, which held Jets quarterbacks to 8/24 passing for 136 yards and three interceptions. Good luck to whoever wins a wild card matchup just to play these guys.
2. Cowboys (13-2, LW: 2) Now Dez Bryant is throwing touchdowns? That’s just not fair. The Cowboys played a near-flawless offensive game against the Lions, featuring two touchdowns from Ezekiel Elliot including a 55-yard explosion, two receiving touchdowns from Dez Bryant, one of them a juggling one-handed masterpiece, and the aforementioned Bryant pass to Jason Witten. In total, Dallas dropped 42 on a team that hadn’t allowed more than 20 since week 6. Not too shabby.
3. Raiders (12-3, LW: 3) No, Derek, no! The Raiders were victorious against the Colts but lost star quarterback Derek Carr to a broken fibula in the fourth quarter, which will keep him out the remainder of the season. It’s a crushing blow to Oakland, who had high Super Bowl hopes following an incredible rise to being one of the league’s best teams this year. Now Matt McGloin must step in and try to deliver a championship. The Raiders are still a good team, but he’s obviously going to need some help.
4. Chiefs (11-4, LW: 5) Can anybody stop Tyreek Hill? Even without catching a pass in the last two weeks, the rookie phenom has rushing touchdowns of 68 and 70 yards in back-to-back games. Simply put, Hill might be the fastest player I’ve ever seen on a football field. The rookie fifth-round pick’s acceleration is so unbelievable by the time you blink he’s 20 yards down the field. Hill is a big-play threat any time he touches the ball and has the ability to effect the receiving, rushing, and return games. Oh, and the rest of the Chiefs are pretty darn good, too.
5. Steelers (10-5, LW: 6) Six wins in a row for Roethlisberger and Co., who are definitely peaking at the right time. The Ravens gave Pittsburgh everything they could handle in one of the sport’s best rivalries, but the Steelers prevailed, and are a team no one (Patriots included) wants to see in the postseason. After snagging just one catch for seven yards in the first half, Antonio Brown finished with a line of 10/96/1, and the Steelers scored 21 fourth quarter points to seal the deal.
6. Falcons (10-5, LW: 8) The Falcons have to be the most underrated team in the league. No one is talking about Atlanta, who have won four of their past five games by 17 or more points, and are a real Super Bowl contender. The Falcons have a reputation for being a team that collapses late in seasons, but it hasn’t been the case this time around. And with their five losses by a combined 22 points, this is a team just a few plays away from being clearly one of the league’s best. But that’s okay- let’s keep them underrated and let Matty Ice, my pick for MVP, go to work.
7. Seahawks (9-5-1, LW: 4) Someone forgot to tell the Seahawks that scoring 21 fourth quarter points doesn’t allow you to complete a comeback if you still allow 20. Seattle’s loss to the Cardinals is just another example of a wildly inconsistent football team that can beat or lose to anyone in the league. Yes, they’ve beaten the Patriots, but they’ve also lost to the Rams. You have to judge the Seahawks on a week-to-week basis, and because of that, I just can’t call them an elite team.
8. Giants (10-5, LW: 7) Victor Cruz finally became a major player in the Giants offense and have arguably his best game of the season in his first trip back to Philadelphia, where he suffered an injury that nearly ended his career two years ago. However, in line with recent years, the Eagles got the better of Big Blue at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s not a huge hit for the Giants, who will be the #5 seed regardless of what happens in week 17, but I’d like to see their offense have the breakout game they’ve been waiting for against the Redskins.
9. Packers (9-6, LW: 10) It just goes to show you, never count out Aaron Rodgers and the Packers- remember to R-E-L-A-X. Five weeks ago, the 4-6 Packers looked all but done- after all, only one more loss and might’ve taken them out of the race entirely. However, that hasn’t been the case, and Green Bay is just one game away from a division title. The game does come in Detroit, so things won’t be easy. Still, the recovery from this team has been impressive, and the Rodgers-Jordy Nelson combo had no problems with the Vikings’ secondary.
10. Lions (9-6, LW: 9) For the 9-4 Lions, the idea was simple: just win one more game. Easier said than done. After a loss to the Giants where the offense scored just six points and a defensive meltdown in Dallas, the Lions now must take care of business against the Packers at home or risk a Redskins win which would see the end of Detroit’s season. Matthew Stafford might be a comeback king, but something tells me the Lions will be looking to make a statement early.
11. Dolphins (10-5, LW: 14) It was a crazy, back-and-forth game that saw the Dolphins blow a two-possession lead to the Bills, go down a field goal with a minute and change left, send it to OT, benefit from a missed Bills field goal, and eventually win after Jay Ajayi broke 200 yards rushing for the third time this season and second time against Buffalo. Matt Moore is 2-0, and while Ryan Tannehill may return for the playoffs, Miami fans shouldn’t worry too much if Moore remains the starter. What a year for Adam Gase, the league’s youngest head coach.
12. Ravens (8-7, LW: 13) The Ravens suffered a heartbreaking loss that eliminated them from the playoffs but played easily one of their best games of the year, and deserve to be rewarded for it. Joe Flacco also crossed the 4,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. It’s a disappointing end result for a team that began the year 3-0, but they also did well to fight back into contention after falling to 3-4.
13. Redskins (8-6-1, LW: 15) Finally. I’d been waiting for weeks for someone to just blow out the Bears, who had been on a run of keeping games surprisingly close. The Redskins succeeded in multiple areas of the game- they rushed for over 200 yards and played turnover-free while intercepting Matt Barkley five times. Washington’s fate now rests in their own hands- beat the Giants, and take the #6 seed. It’s already been a great year for the NFC East, but having three playoff teams would be the icing on the cake.
14. Buccaneers (8-7, LW: 11) As I said in the introduction, things aren’t quite over the Bucs, but it’ll take a miracle for Jameis Winston to lead his team on beyond New Year’s Day. This wasn’t the same defense that held the Saints to just 11 points two weeks ago- this time, they allowed 31. I like their odds of beating the Panthers at home, but…you know, good look getting that tie to happen.
15. Texans (9-6, LW: 17) Look- I don’t know how they’re doing it. I’m not even sure if they know how they’re doing it. Still, the Texans found a way to steal another win- this time thanks to a missed field goal from their former kicker Randy Bullock. Tom Savage looked anything but in the first half but was able to turn things around into a decent game. Still, the Texans’ main strengths obviously reside on the defensive side of the ball, even without J.J. Watt. One and two-point victories over the Jaguars and Bengals don’t spell good things for the Texans in the postseason, but hey- they’ll be there.
16. Titans (8-7, LW: 12) Can you say worst week ever? Tennessee entered week 16 favorited by some to win the division. Then, they were embarrassed by the Jaguars, lost Marcus Mariota to injury, and were eliminated from playoff contention with the Texans’ win. Before the head-scratching loss, the Titans had been soaring up the power rankings and looking to be a tough playoff out. This is a team with a bright future, they’ll just have to wait another year.
17. Broncos (8-7, LW: 16) I’m not entirely sure whether the Broncos’ last two losses: 16-3 and 33-10 defeats to the Patriots and Chiefs, were more reflective of how good those teams are or how far Denver has fallen. Regardless, this is a team with nothing resembling an offense. Call it disrespectful if you want, but the 346 pound Dontari Poe’s touchdown pass against Denver was one of the funniest moments of the season.
18. Colts (7-8, LW: 18) Andrew Luck had a great second half against the Raiders. If only he hadn’t trailed 33-7 before deciding to flip the switch. It’s a second consecutive disappointing year for a Colts teams that believes Andrew Luck can lead them to multiple Super Bowl titles. It’s clear the Colts need help on the defensive side of the ball.
19. Bills (7-8, LW: 19) Today marks the end of the Rex Ryan era in Buffalo. It’s been an up-and-down two seasons, but ultimately the Bills still haven’t made the playoffs in the 21st century. Is Buffalo the new saddest sports town in America? The Bills lost to the Dolphins with 589 total yards of offense- that’s not easy to do.
20. Saints (7-8, LW: 24) They might have been eliminated themselves, but that didn’t stop the Saints from playing spoiler to the Bucs. Sean Payton picked up his 100th career victory (including playoffs) as coach of the Saints, but rumors are circulating about the possibility of him leaving the team, perhaps to coach the Rams. While I doubt Payton would leave his current position, Drew Brees turns 38 next month and will likely finish the year 7-9 for the third straight season. Time is running out.
21. Panthers (6-9, LW: 20) When was the last time an NFL MVP followed it up with as poor a year as Cam Newton has had? Newton has completed fewer than 53 percent of passes this season, the worst completion percentage among qualifying QBs. Newton has an 18:11 touchdown to interception ratio, and ranks 22nd in yards and 28th in passer rating. The Panthers have greater problems than quarterback, but Newton has to play better going forward.
22. Cardinals (6-8-1, LW: 25) It’s really a mystery: how does the NFL’s third-best yardage defense with a running back who has gained over 100 total yards in every game this season only sit at 6-8-1? That’s what the Cardinals will have to figure out over the offseason to get back on the right track in 2017. For now, however, they can be proud of an impressive year against the Seahawks, notching a win and a tie. The Cardinals and Saints are in a similar situation- Carson Palmer turned 37 today.
23. Vikings (7-8, LW: 21) If you started Adam Thielen in your fantasy football championship, you’re pretty happy with the Vikings right now. The wide receiver had the game of his life, catching 12 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, but it still wasn’t enough to beat the Packers. Looking forward to 2017, it is encouraging to see the emergence of Thielen and Stefon Diggs. With a healthy Teddy Bridgewater, this team should be interesting, but does Adrian Peterson have anything left in the tank?
24. Eagles (6-9, LW: 26) The Eagles’ offense did just enough to defeat the Giants and were in great position following a Malcolm Jenkins pick-six of Eli Manning that gave Philadelphia a 14-0 lead just minutes into the game. The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Eagles, and also provided their first win in the NFC East. They’ll go for two in a row against the Cowboys.
25. Bengals (5-9-1, LW: 22) When your defense allows just 12 points and you still lose the game, the defense isn’t the problem. Cincy’s match against the Texans was a struggle both ways, and the Bengals’ only had two plays of longer than 11 yards in the entire game. One of them was an 86-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell, but the Bengals managed just a field goal otherwise. A.J. Green intended to play for the first time since week 11, but with the season over, he was prevented from taking the field.
26. Chargers (5-10, LW: 23) Earlier this season, I thought the Chargers were a pretty good football team that just cracked in the fourth quarter. Now that San Diego has lost to the Browns, that is no longer the case. It should be an interesting offseason for the team- they’ll move to Los Angeles, and likely will hire a new head coach. Interestingly, the team managed nine sacks against Cleveland, but the fact still remains- they’re the team that lost to the Browns.
27. Jaguars (3-12, LW: 30) Look- there’s still a huge gap between the Chargers and the bottom six teams on the list, but I wasn’t even aware any of those teams were capable of putting together a performance like the Jaguars did against the Titans. Tennessee had won three in a row and Jacksonville made them look like one of the worst teams in the league. It has to be a huge confidence boost for Blake Bortles, who’s been criticized all season long.
28. Bears (3-12, LW: 27) Five interceptions won’t win you football games and Matt Barkley just figured that out. Honestly, I think it’s pretty clear that Brian Hoyer should be the Bears’ starting quarterback next season. Hoyer threw for 1,445 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions in roughly five games of work. However, who knows what the Bears will do. Jeremy Howard has rushed for nearly 1200 yards as a rookie- he’s a big piece of their future. The whole rest of the picture is a mystery.
29. Jets (4-11, LW; 28) The Bryce Petty experiment didn’t exactly go as planned- while he did manage one win as starter following the benching of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Petty never looked like starting-caliber quarterback, and to top it all off, he’s been placed on the IR with a torn shoulder labrum. Now who do the Jets start: Ryan Fitzpatrick or rookie Christian Hackenberg? Todd Bowles’ plan was basically to redshirt the rookie, but now might be a good time to give him a shot.
30. Rams (4-11, LW: 29) Much has been made of the fact that the Giants are the only team to beat the Cowboys this season, but the Rams are also the only team to lose to the 2-13 49ers. Jared Goff has now gone 0-6 as a starter, and this was his best chance at a win on the season, home against one of the only two teams worse than the Rams. They held a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter, but still came up short. Rams will be Rams.
31. 49ers (2-13, LW: 31) Colin Kaepernick rushed for a two-point conversion as Chip Kelly pulled a Jack Del Rio and went for it for the game against the Rams. It’s nice to see San Francisco get back in the win column for the first time since the first Monday night game of the season. We’ll soon see if Chip Kelly’s future remains in the NFL.
32. Browns (1-14, LW: 32) Well what do you know, the Browns got a win! And since the 49ers won as well, the Browns keep hold of the #1 pick in the draft! The Browns managed to both block a field goal and benefit from a missed field goal to seal defeat the Chargers by three points. Hey, a win is a win no matter how you get it, and this one feels good.