United Stats of America #NBA Edition + 6 Other Things

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Steph Curry and the dominant Warriors aren’t just beating teams anymore, they’re throwing staggering knockout punches against the NBA’s best – make that second-best.

In a span of eight days, Golden State have 30-point wins over Cleveland, Chicago and San Antonio. Curry scored 37 points and hit six three-pointers in three scintillating quarters Monday night, and the reigning champions showed they still rule the West by routing the Spurs 120-90.

“No moment’s too big, obviously,” Curry said. “We know this is just another regular-season game, but there was some hype around it. Every time we have an opportunity to prove who we are and take another step in the journey, we’re ready for it. It wasn’t always that way. This core has been together for a while and understands how to mentally prepare for nights like this.”……(Continue Reading: Gregg Popovich: Warriors’ slaughter of Spurs was ‘like men and boys’ | The Guardian)

+ Warriors win the first round of 2015-16 duel with Spurs

In a highly anticipated matchup, Stephen Curry (37 points) and the Warriors coasted by the Spurs, 120-90, in what was the first matchup in NBA history between two teams with winning percentages of .830 or higher (minimum 40 games played for each team). Golden State’s 30-point victory soundly ended the Spurs’ 13-game winning streak. That’s the third largest margin of victory against an opponent with a winning streak of at least 13 games entering the matchup. The Knicks defeated the Mavs, 128-94, in March 2010, ending a 13-game streak, and the Magic routed the Rockets, 114-82, in March 1991, stopping a Houston winning streak at 13.

+ Cousins with another huge game

DeMarcus Cousins scored 56 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Kings’ double-overtime loss to the Hornets on Monday. Cousins, who totaled 48 points and 13 rebounds in his last game on January 23, is the fourth player with at least 100 points and 25 rebounds in consecutive games over the last 40 years. Michael Jordan did so in March 1990 (118 points and 30 rebounds; the first of the two games was his 69-point performance against the Cavaliers), David Robinson in April 1994 (100 points and 30 rebounds; he scored 71 points in the second of the two games), and Antawn Jamison accomplished this feat in December 2000 as a member of the Warriors (102 points and 27 rebounds).

Cousins’ 104 points over his last two games are the most for any player in Kings history; the previous high was 92 points by Oscar Robertson in February 1965 (when the franchise was known as the Cincinnati Royals). The last player with 100 points over a two-game span wasKobe Bryant in March 2007, netting 110 points.

+ A rare 50-point and 20-assist pairing

As though DeMarcus Cousins‘ 56-point performance was not enough, his Kings teammate Rajon Rondo dished out 20 assists in Sacramento’s overtime loss to the Hornets. It’s just the fourth game in NBA history in which one player scored at least 50 points and his teammate had at least 20 assists. The first such game was on March 2, 1962, in Wilt Chamberlain‘s 100-point game for the Warriors versus the Knicks; his teammate Guy Rodgers had 20 assists. And just under a year later, Chamberlain and Rodgers were at it again; Chamberlain scored 54 points and Rodgers totaled 20 assists for the Warriors against the Royals on March 1, 1963. The third instance was on February 10, 1998, when the Wizards’ Tracy Murray (50 points) and Rod Strickland (20 assists) did so versus the Warriors. In all three of those prior instances, the 50-point/20-assist team won the game.

+ A first for three young players

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 26 points, Zach LaVine added 21 points, and Andrew Wiggins had 20 of his own in the Timberwolves’ loss to the Cavaliers on Monday night. Towns, LaVine, and Wiggins, all 20 years old, are the first trio of teammates under 21 years old to put up at least 20 points in the same game in NBA history. Only one other trio did so at 21 years or younger: Kevin Durant (21 years old), Russell Westbrook (21), and James Harden (20) for the Thunder against the Wizards on November 20, 2009.

Towns also grabbed 11 rebounds, becoming the first rookie with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in a game against LeBron James.


1.

Wait A Second…

MLBPipeline.com will unveil its 2016 Top 100 Prospects list on Friday on MLB.com. The Top 50 will be revealed during a one-hour show on MLB Network at 9 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball’s Top 10 prospects at each position. There has been quite a bit of turnover from last year to the 2016 edition of the Top 10 second-base prospects, with six new names joining the list, thanks to two graduations and four who dropped off the list. Scouting reports, grades, stats and video on Prospect Watch……(Continue Reading: Prospect Watch: Top 10 second basemen for 2016 | MLB.com)


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2.

Helping The Homeless…

With the Mets bringing back Yoenis Cespedes, most of baseball’s big-name free agents are off the board.

That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare, however. There are many players left who could help plenty of teams.

Still, finding a spot at this point in the game of musical chairs is a challenge. Many clubs have filled their vacancies and/or reached their budgetary limits.

Pitchers and catchers are now less than a month from reporting, which means time is running out for the stragglers to sign before their unemployment lags into Spring Training. With that in mind, let’s spend other people’s money and see if we can find a home for 10 of the top players remaining on the market……(Continue Reading: Let’s play matchmaker for MLB players still unsigned.)


3.

Where There’s A Will There’s An Elway…

If Peyton Manning soon has the option to pull a John Elway and end a Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacking career in the glorious aftermath of a Super Bowl triumph, it will be because Elway provided him with a team capable of making it happen.

But few people in the room deserved more credit than the quarterback already enshrined in Canton who…...(Continue Reading: John Elway has put Peyton Manning in position to follow in his footsteps – The Washington Post)


4.

Get Over Yourself…

Seattle fans are still upset about something the Carolina Panthers QB did to the 12th man flag. Nevermind the crouch-grabber on your own team Seattle Fan.  Cam Newton has long moved on from thinking about the Seattle Seahawks, the team his Carolina Panthers beat two playoff rounds ago before beating the Arizona Cardinals last weekend to reach the Super Bowl.

Angry Seahawks fans have not forgot about Cam, though. #Stalker #StayClassy

Continue Reading: Bitter Seahawks fan starts petition to ban Cam Newton from CenturyLink | FOX Sports


5.

A Look Back…

Even though the Bears were 10-point favorites, the New England Patriots approached Super Bowl XX in New Orleans with confidence.

“We’ve been underdogs all year,” cornerback Raymond Clayborn said a few days before the game. “I accept it. We’ll go out and beat the Bears just like we beat everybody else. Do football players pay attention to the spread? We notice it. But we have confidence in ourselves.”……(Continue Reading: Pats thought they’d win Super Bowl XX)


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6.

#FanDuel Ultimate Value Lineup

Giving you the Perfect Lineup is easy and we tweet it, post it on Facebook and create an entire post about it in our RESULTS, so……What about if you had the greatest value lineup of all time?  A Lineup that every player chosen had low ownership, way less, and never cost you more than $6,500 – well my friends this is the #NBA Ultimate Value Lineup – culled directly from the numbers and our reports – Check Back Before 4:30p MST everyday and see who we like, and let us Teach You How To #Win!!!

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Your #NFL Weekend Update + #Superbowl50 Forecast

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Daniels helps Denver punch ticket to Super Bowl 50

In the 17th and quite possibly the final edition of “Manning versus Brady,” it was Peyton Manning and the Broncos emerging victorious over Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Manning completed 17 passes for 176 yards and threw two touchdowns, both to tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and a 12-yard TD pass in the second quarter, and those were his only two receptions of the game. Daniels tied the NFL postseason record for receptions in a game, all of which went for scores, last done by the Colts’ LaVon Brazill, also against the Patriots, in the 2013 playoffs.

Daniels is the fourth player to catch two touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in a playoff game. The previous three did so for the Colts against the Broncos: Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley in the 2003 playoffs and Reggie Wayne a year later.

Rare struggles for Patriots’ offense

Though a late touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski made the final score close, it was a day-long struggle for the Patriots on offense. Brady completed 27 of 56 passes, marking the first time in his professional career that he completed fewer than half of his passes in a postseason game. The 29 incomplete passes on Sunday were also a career-high for Brady in a postseason game.

The Patriots as a team converted two of 15 third-down attempts, good for just 13.3 percent. That’s New England’s lowest third-down percentage in a postseason game under Bill Belichick. The last time the Patriots converted a lower percentage of third downs in a postseason game was Super Bowl XX – New England lost to the Bears, 46-10, and were 1-for-10 (10%) on third downs.

Panthers pound Cardinals in NFC Championship

The Panthers are headed to Super Bowl 50 after overwhelming the Cardinals, 49-15, in the NFC Championship Game. The 49 points by Carolina are the second-most scored by a team that clinched a berth in the Super Bowl – the Bills scored 51 points in the AFC Championship Game in January 1991 against the Raiders. The Panthers, who forced seven turnovers in their blowout victory, are the second team in the last 20 postseasons to score at least 49 points and record seven or more takeaways in a postseason game. The other team to accomplish that feat in that span is the Jaguars, who racked up 62 points and forced seven turnovers in their divisional round victory over the Dolphins in January 2000.

nullSuperman Cam is clutch for Carolina

Cam Newton put up an MVP-like performance in the Panthers’ victory, throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a pair of scores. Newton is the fourth quarterback to total multiple touchdown passes and touchdown rushes in a single postseason game. Otto Graham had two such games for the Browns in back-to-back NFL Championships (1954 and 1955). The other two players to do so prior to Newton were Jay Cutler (Jan. 2011 against the Seahawks) and Colin Kaepernick (Jan. 2013 versus the Packers).

nullPalmer ties ignominious record in loss

Carson Palmer struggled against the mighty Panthers defense, throwing four interceptions and losing a pair of fumbles. Palmer’s six turnovers are tied for the most turnovers by a player in a postseason game. The last player to turn the ball over six times in a postseason game also did so in a Panthers-Cardinals matchup – Jake Delhomme had five interceptions and lost a fumble for Carolina in January 2009 against Arizona.

A first look at Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers

LAS VEGAS – The Carolina Panthers will go to San Francisco favored by more than a field goal to win the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

Oddsmakers didn’t even wait until the Panthers finished off the Arizona Cardinals to install them as favorites for the game against the Denver Broncos on Feb. 7. At most books, the Panthers were a 4-point pick, though the early line varied, with the over/under settling in at 45.

Five Quick Hits

* I wish there had been more time in between games on Sunday. The nail-biter in Denver ended minutes before kickoff in Carolina, and if the game had gone into overtime, that creates a conflict for viewers.

* Even if you DVR the NFC Championship Game while you watch the end of the AFC Championship Game, good luck avoiding the scroll at your bottom of your screen, telling you that it’s 17-0 Carolina before you’ve even switched over. There should be a hour, minimum, between the conference championship games. Probably one and a half. I’d rather watch a pre-game show for 15 minutes than miss the first drive of the NFC Championship Game.

* Anyone else catch Rob Gronkowski complaining to the back judge near the end of the early game? He mimed that the Broncos had basically attempted to murder him, on a play that rightfully drew no penalties. Hey Gronk, there’s another sport where crying and faking does draw penalties. It’s called soccer. Either sign with the New England Revolution, or grow up.

* Cam Newton is an all-pro QB and league MVP, and he played great on Sunday. But I’ve never seen a quarterback so willing to throw a 4-yard pass on 3rd-and-10.

* Congratulations to this year’s finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award: Anquan Boldin, Eli Manning, and Ben Watson. Boldin is the favorite. This is the second year in a row he’s been a finalist. Thomas Davis, who won last season, had also been a finalist for the second year in a row.

* Get an early look at the 2016 Super Bowl commercials.

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The Ghost of Christmas Future

Super Bowl 50: Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos
Santa Clara, California
February 7, 2015

For the third year in a row, the top seeds from both conferences will meet in the Super Bowl. But this result wasn’t as likely as that stat would imply. The hottest teams coming into the playoffs were the Chiefs (on a 10-game win streak), the Cardinals (who lost a 9-game streak with a half-hearted Week 17), and the Seahawks (whose last four wins came by a combined 139-32). The Panthers had a tough road to the big game, and the Broncos just didn’t look particularly intimidating at the end of the regular season.

This is the first Super Bowl for both head coaches, though both have been to Super Bowls in other capacities. The Broncos’ Gary Kubiak becomes the seventh head coach to make a Super Bowl in his first year with the team, joining Don McCafferty, Red Miller, George Seifert, Bill Callahan, Jon Gruden, and Jim Caldwell. Additionally, Peyton Manning will become the oldest QB to start a Super Bowl, breaking the record held by his employer, John Elway.

CAROLINA ON OFFENSE

Denver has a great defense, but this is a bad matchup. The Broncos thrive on pressure, but Cam Newton’s running ability means he can evade pass rushers, and he’ll run through openings if you leave them. The Broncos will get some sacks, but their pressure won’t have the same effect it did against the Patriots. Denver’s pass defense is better than its rush defense, and Carolina is one of the most balanced offenses in the league, with a good ground game. New England prefers to throw, which played to Denver’s strength, but if Mike Shula is smart, I’d expect the Panthers to run about 50% of the time, more if they get a big lead. I’d also look for some sort of trick play to break things open.

The Broncos need to contain the rush, while preventing big plays downfield: make Newton throw short and intermediate passes, string together long drives. He’s capable of that, but the Broncos can’t get run over on the ground, or killed on sudden, momentum-generating big-play strikes. The Broncos have won with their defense all year, and they’ll need a low-scoring game if they’re going to win, so giving up a 50-yard TD would be devastating. Force the Panthers to work the ball down the field, preferably through the air, and hope you can force a couple of turnovers.

DENVER ON OFFENSE

This still seems weird to say about a Peyton Manning offense, but the Broncos are best when their offense is smart and conservative, with an emphasis on ball control. You expect to see what the team has shown its last few games. They’ll stick with the run, mostly grinding out short gains to keep the defense honest, and probably break a long one at some point. Manning has to take a few shots downfield, but his role is more to find the right plays and pick up first downs on 3rd-and-6. The priority is avoiding turnovers. The Broncos aren’t going to win a shootout, and they’re not expecting to win with explosive offense; they want big plays from their defense.

Carolina’s priority is probably to prevent Denver from establishing its run game and getting into a rhythm. Don’t make mistakes, and force Manning to win with his arm. The Panthers are effective ballhawks, as we saw in the NFC Championship Game, but they probably don’t need to force turnovers as long as they’re solid throughout the game. They need to be creative enough that Manning doesn’t pick them apart with his calls at the line, but they don’t need to be aggressive, exactly. Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman are terrific players, but Carolina’s most important defender in this game might be Kawann Short. Manning can’t overcome a good interior pass rush.

SPECIAL TEAMS

This might be a small advantage for Denver, which has a slightly better kicker, slightly better punter, and a more consistent return game. For the Broncos to win, they’ll probably need an edge from special teams: a big return or a blocked kick or something.

THE FORECAST

The three best teams in the NFL this year were all in the NFC: the Panthers, Cardinals, and Seahawks. The Panthers have already beaten the other two, pretty handily, and they’re 4-point favorites to win Super Bowl 50. Denver has a great defense, though, and you should never underestimate great defensive teams in a championship. The Broncos were in the Super Bowl two years ago, so they have Super Bowl experience, which the Panthers do not – not that it matters a damn. And it’s widely assumed that this will be Manning’s last game. I hate to imply that players don’t always perform at their peak, especially in a game of this magnitude, but sometimes you see a little more when emotions are running high. Who’s to say the Broncos don’t find something extra to help the Sheriff ride off into the sunset?

All the intangibles point in Denver’s direction. But the Panthers are a better team. They have a good defense, too, as their seven takeaways against Arizona would attest, and they have an offense that scores more points. Their ground game plays away from Denver’s strengths, and interior defensive pressure could radically disrupt Manning’s gameplan.

Source: Sports Central NFL – Super Bowl 50 Preview

United Stats of America #NFL Divisional Round + MMQB

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Hail Mary heaves, coins that don’t flip and a play Bruce Arians had been saving for two years: Everything from the Cardinals-Packers playoff game for the ages. Plus a look at the wins by Carolina, New England and Denver, title game previews and more…

A day later, it still felt unreal to Bruce Arians. All of it. Since 1967, Arians has played high school and college football, then coached college and pro football … 48 years altogether … and on Sunday morning in Arizona, he considered this question: Of all the games you’ve ever played and coached, where does Saturday night’s overtime win over Green Bay rank?

Forty-eight years now. Keep that in mind. Coaching under Bear Bryant, coaching Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck and now Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald—14 coaching jobs in all.

“That probably was the most dramatic up-and-down, end-to-end game and finish of my life,” Arians said. “We stop ’em on fourth down. Game over. Nope. We got ’em fourth-and-20 way back at the goal line. Game over. Nope. We blew that one. Then they throw a Hail Mary on the last play of the fourth quarter and we get good pressure. Game over. Nope.

“And then overtime. They can’t even flip a coin. Then Larry makes that first play—unbelievable—75 yards, thought he was going to score. And then the play I’ve been saving for two years. I love that touchdown play.”……

Continue Reading: Cardinals-Packers craziness headlines NFL divisional playoffs | The MMQB with Peter King


 

+ United Stats of America – Divisional Round – Elias

 

1.

Chiefs @ Patriots

Gronkowski’s two TDs help Patriots knock out Chiefs

For the first time in their 56 seasons of existence, the Patriots and Chiefs squared off in a postseason matchup (they had been the only two of the original eight AFL franchises that never met in the postseason). And it was New England that came away victorious, defeating Kansas City, 27-20, to advance to the AFC Championship Game next week. The Patriots scored a touchdown in each of the first three quarters, including two touchdown passes from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski, who had a TD reception in each of the Patriots’ three postseason wins last year, is the first tight end in NFL history with a touchdown reception in at least four consecutive postseason games. His career total of eight receiving TDs in the postseason is also tops among all tight ends in league history, surpassing Dave Casper and Vernon Davis, who each had seven.

nullBrady passes early and often for New England

Tom Brady, who completed 28 passes for 302 yards, was hard at work right out of the gate for the Patriots. Brady led an 11-play touchdown drive on New England’s opening possession, and all 11 plays were pass attempts (he had eight completions, capped by Gronkowski’s touchdown). The last team before New England to score a touchdown in a postseason game on a drive of at least 11 plays – all passes – was the Falcons in December 1995 at Green Bay. Atlanta had an 11-play touchdown drive spanning the third and fourth quarters; Jeff George went 9-for-11 on the drive, including a 27-yard TD pass to J.J. Birden.

That opening drive was a sign of things to come for the Patriots, as New England passed on 75 percent of their plays from scrimmage – not to mention that four of their 16 rushing attempts were kneeldowns by Brady. Only three other teams won a postseason game with pass plays accounting for at least 75 percent of their plays. New England did so last year in a divisional-round victory over the Ravens (80 percent), as did the Rams (78 percent in Super Bowl XXXIV against the Titans) and the Packers (76 percent in Super Bowl XLV versus the Steelers).

nullPlenty of throws for Smith as well

It was also a pass-happy day for the Chiefs in a losing effort with Alex Smith throwing 50 passes, completing 29 for 246 yards. Smith’s yardage total is the third-lowest in NFL postseason history for a quarterback with at least 50 pass attempts. The top two on that list are Jay Schroeder, who had 195 yards on 50 attempts for the Redskins in a loss to the Giants in January 1987, and Drew Bledsoe, who threw for 235 yards on 50 attempts in New England’s loss at Cleveland in January 1995. Bill Belichick was also on the opposing sidelines for both of those games – he was defensive coordinator for the Giants versus Schroeder and the Redskins and head coach of the Browns against Bledsoe and the Patriots.

2.

Packers @ Cardinals

Fitzgerald finishes off Packers after late scare

It looked like another miracle comeback was in the cards for the Packers after Aaron Rodgers completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Janis at the end of regulation to force overtime. Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals had other plans – the longtime Cardinals receiver had a 75-yard reception to start overtime and, two plays later, crossed the goal line after catching a screen pass from Carson Palmer to give Arizona a 26-20 victory over Green Bay. The game-winning score was Fitzgerald’s 10th touchdown reception in just eight postseason games. No other player in NFL history had at least 10 touchdown catches in their first eight postseason games. The previous fastest to 10 TD receptions in the postseason was Jerry Rice, who scored his 10th receiving TD in his ninth postseason game.

Rodgers finds Janis for miracle TD

The overtime loss was a bitter blow for the Packers, who drove 86 yards with no timeouts in less than two minutes to conclude the fourth quarter. The touchdown pass by Rodgers to Janis to complete the drive marked the first game-tying or game-winning passing touchdown at the end of regulation in NFL postseason history.

nullAnother OT loss for Rodgers, Packers

The Packers have lost their last five postseason games that required overtime, which now stands as the longest losing streak of its kind in NFL postseason history. Green Bay had been tied with the Colts, who have lost their last four postseason games that required overtime. Aaron Rodgers has yet to register an overtime win in his NFL career – with Rodgers under center, the Packers are 0-4 in regular season overtime games and 0-3 in the postseason.

3.

Seahawks @ Panthers

Carolina dominates first half in victory over Seattle

The Panthers started fast, built a 31-0 halftime lead, and held off the Seahawks’ bold comeback to advance to the NFC Championship Game with a 31-24 victory over Seattle.

Jonathan Stewart opened the game with a 59-yard run that set up Carolina’s first score. During the expansion era, only two other players ran for 50 yards or longer on the first play from scrimmage of a postseason game: Ray Rice, 83 yards for Baltimore against New England; and Tim Hightower, 70 yards for Arizona against New Orleans. They did it six days apart in January 2010.

The Panthers’ 31-point lead was the third largest in a first-half shutout in an NFL playoff game. Oakland led the Houston Oilers, 35-0, at halftime of a 56-7 victory in 1969; and the Giants led the Vikings, 34-0, at intermission in the 2000 NFC Championship Game (Jan. 2001).

Panthers-Seahawks was like two different games

By outscoring Carolina, 24-0, in the second half, Seattle made Sunday’s game the fourth in NFL postseason history in which each team scored at least 24 unanswered points. Predictably, the others were a memorable bunch:

– Chargers 41, Dolphins 38 (Jan. 1982): San Diego led, 24-0, after 15 minutes. But Don Strock replaced David Woodley at quarterback and by early in the third quarter, Miami had tied the game. Strock passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns, but the Chargers prevailed in overtime after each team’s kicker missed a short field-goal attempt in the extra period. Dan Fouts passed for 433 yards, including 13 completions to Kellen Winslow.

– Bills 41, Oilers 38 (Jan. 1993): Frank Reich, subbing for injured Jim Kelly, led Buffalo to the greatest playoff comeback in NFL history. The Bills trailed 35-3 in the third quarter, actually led late in regulation time, and won the game in overtime on Steve Christie’s field goal after Nate Odomes picked off Warren Moon.

– 49ers 39, Giants 38 (Jan. 2003): The 49ers trailed, 38-14, late in the third quarter, after Amani Toomer had caught three TD passes from Kerry Collins. But in the game’s last 18 minutes, Jeff Garcia threw two TD passes and ran for another score. Still, the Giants had a chance to win the game but botched the snap on a 41-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.

nullNewton’s running game shut down by Seattle

It wouldn’t be Elias Says without a bit of pure trivia, right? Cam Newton carried the ball 11 times on Sunday but netted only 3 yards. He became the seventh player with less than 10 yards on more than 10 carries in an NFL playoff game. Among the others were Cecil Isbell, better known for throwing more TD passes than anyone else to Hall of Famer Don Hutson, for the Packers in 1941; and Barry Sanders, who was held to minus-1 yard on 13 carries by the Packers in 1994.

4.

Steelers @ Broncos

Broncos rediscover the end zone in the nick of time

When it mattered most, Denver drove 65 yards on 13 plays for its only touchdown of the game. C.J. Anderson‘s 1-yard run with 3:00 to play was the winning score in the Broncos’ 23-13 victory over the Steelers. It also snapped Denver’s streak of 22 consecutive drives without a TD over its last two playoff games. That was the longest TD drought by any team over the last 10 postseasons.

nullManning joins Favre, Simms

Peyton Manning became the third quarterback to start a postseason game at age 39 or older. The others were Phil Simms for the Giants following the 1993 season (a win against the Vikings and a loss to the 49ers), and Brett Favre for the Vikings following the 2009 season (a win over the Cowboys and a loss to the Saints).

Steelers were missing key players in loss at Denver

Pittsburgh played without Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams on Sunday. It was only the second postseason game in NFL history in which a team was missing its leaders in rushing yards and receiving yards-that is, two different players-from the preceding regular season.

The only other such instance was the 1934 NFL Championship Game, in which the Giants hosted the Bears at New York’s Polo Grounds. The Giants prevailed despite playing without their rushing leader, Harry Newman, and their receiver leader, Red Badgro. Newman had suffered broken bones in his back in a game against the Bears in November; Badgro broke a leg in New York’s regular-season finale.

That game lives in NFL lore as the “Sneakers Game,” in which the Giants overcame a 13-3 deficit by scoring 27 fourth-quarter points for a 30-13 win, ruining what would have been a perfect season for George Halas’ Bears, who went 13-0 during the regular season. The Giants were aided by a change of footwear. Having played the first half of the game on an icy field, several Giants players changed at halftime from football cleats to basketball shoes. The sneakers were borrowed from the Manhattan College locker room by Andy Cohen, a part-time Giants trainer who happened to work at the college and had a key to the storage room.

nullBryant stars in Steelers’ loss

In Antonio Brown‘s absence, wide receiver Martavis Bryant was a noteworthy performer for Pittsburgh, with a pair of long gains: a 40-yard run and a 52-yard pass reception. Only four other players had gains of 40 yards or longer on both a run and a reception in the same postseason game: Hugh McElhenny (49ers vs. Lions in 1957), Oscar Reed (Vikings vs. Redskins in 1973), Chuck Foreman (Vikings vs. Rams in 1976), and James Lofton (Packers vs. Cowboys in Jan. 1983).

Bryant also had a 44-yard run against the Bengals in Pittsburgh’s Wild Card win a week ago. Five other players had runs of 40 yards or longer in consecutive postseason games, but all were running backs: Joe Cribbs, Marcus Allen, Merril Hoge, Terrell Davis, and Brian Westbrook.

Source: Elias Says: Sports Statistics – Stats from the Elias Sports Bureau

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#NFL Week 17 – United Stats of America – Elias Sports Bureau

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Age is no obstacle for NFL’s rushing champion

Adrian Peterson, who turned 30 years old in March, won the NFL rushing race when Doug Martin fell 16 yards short of Peterson’s total heading into the Vikings’ Sunday night game at Green Bay. Peterson is the third player in league history to lead the NFL or AFL in rushing yards in his 30s. The only other players to have done so were Marion Motley in 1950 (at age 30) and Curtis Martin in 2004 (31).

Ryan gains sweet revenge against the Jets

The Bills defeated the Jets, 22-17, and that result, combined with Pittsburgh’s victory at Cleveland, denied the Jets a spot in the postseason. Thus, Rex Ryan became the first head coach in NFL history to help keep a team that he had head-coached in the previous season out of the playoffs by beating that club, head to head, in the season’s final week.

Additionally, Ryan is the first NFL head coach in 85 years to sweep a two-game season series against a team of which he was the head coach in the previous season. The last to do so was Jack Depler, a player-coach with the Orange Tornadoes in 1929 who bolted to coach the Brooklyn Dodgers a year later. The Tornadoes moved from East Orange, New Jersey to Newark in 1930, enduring a 1-10-1 season that included a pair of shutout losses to Depler’s Dodgers: 32-0 at Ebbets Field and 14-0 on the infield of the Newark Velodrome.

nullMarshall makes a great first impression

Brandon Marshall finished the season with 1502 receiving yards, breaking Don Maynard’s team record that had stood since 1967. Notably, Marshall fell six receiving yards short of the NFL record for a player in his first season with a team-any team, that is-a mark that Marshall himself set with the Bears three seasons ago.

Marshall and Eric Decker scored touchdowns in the same game for the ninth time this season, tying an NFL record. The only other teammates to score TDs in the same game nine times in one season were Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith with the Cowboys in 1995.

Brown caps season with another spectacular game

Antonio Brown caught 13 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers’ 28-12 win at Cleveland. For most players, even some great ones, that would be a “career game.” Consider that Tony Gonzalez never gained even 150 receiving yards in one game; Cris Carter never had a 170-yard game; and neither Larry Fitzgerald nor Hines Ward ever had as many receiving yards in one regular-season game as Brown did on Sunday.

But that was Brown’s fourth-highest total this season, following games of 195 against the 49ers, 284 against the Raiders, and 189 against the Broncos. Brown is the first receiver in NFL history to reach the 180-yard mark in four games in the same season.

nullSung to the tune of you-know-what: “Peyton never subbed before”

Peyton Manning made the first relief appearance of his career and he made it count, engineering the Broncos’ rally in a 27-20 come-from-behind win over the Chargers to clinch the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Manning has started 265 regular-season games; this was the first in which he came off the bench. That’s a record of sorts. The last player to start even 200 games before his first game as a substitute was the Raiders’ Hall of Fame guard, Gene Upshaw. Upshaw started 207 games before his first appearance as a sub in 1981.

Carolina ends a great season with a noteworthy victory

The Panthers walloped the Buccaneers, 38-10, to finish their season with a 15-1 mark. It was the largest season-ending victory posted by any of the seven teams that won at least 15 games. The only other club among that group that won its season finale by at least 20 points was Chicago in 1985. The Bears finished their regular season with a 37-17 win at Detroit. Carolina’s head coach, Ron Rivera, was a linebacker on the 1985 Bears.

nullWatt captures sacks title with three in season finale

J.J. Watt sacked Blake Bortles three times in Houston’s 30-6 victory over Jacksonville, to pass Khalil Mack of the Raiders as the NFL leader for the 2015 season. Watt became only the second player to lead the NFL in sacks twice within his first five years in the league. He previously led the league as a second-year pro in 2012. The other player to do so was Reggie White in 1987 and 1988, his third and fourth seasons in the NFL.

It should be noted that Watt’s three sacks on Sunday were enough to catch and pass Mack, but not enough to lead his team in sacks in its win over the Jags. That distinction goes to Whitney Mercilus, with three-and-a-half sacks of Bortles. Over the last four seasons, only one other pair of teammates had at least three sacks each in the same game: Chris Long and Robert Quinn of the Rams in a loss to Seattle in 2013.

Seahawks end season with rout of powerful Cardinals

The Seahawks made a bold season-ending statement with a 36-6 victory at Arizona, crushing a Cardinals team that had a 13-2 record coming into the game. It was the fourth-largest margin of victory in NFL history against a team with a record at least 10 games above the .500 mark. The largest was a 41-0 victory by the Boston Patriots at San Diego on the final week of the 1961 AFL season. The Chargers had a 12-1 mark prior to that game. One week later, San Diego lost the AFL Championship Game to the Houston Oilers, 10-3.­­

nullCousins’ fast start dooms Cowboys

Kirk Cousins threw three touchdown passes to give the Redskins a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and Washington rolled to a 34-23 win at Dallas. Only one other player has thrown three first-quarter touchdown passes in a game against the Cowboys: Randall Cunningham in a memorable 46-36 Vikings win at Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day 1998. Cunningham’s early TD passes all covered more than 50 yards. He connected with Randy Moss for first-quarter TDs of 51 and 56 yards and with Cris Carter for a 54-yard touchdown. For good measure, Cunningham found Moss on a 56-yard scoring pass in the third quarter.

nullEagles’ Thurmond asks the Giants, “Hey, remember me?”

Walter Thurmond recovered a fumble by Eli Manning in the third quarter and returned it 83 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the Eagles’ 35-30 win over the Giants. Thurmond, who played two games for New York in 2014, became the first ex-Giants player to score a second-half game-winning TD against the team since Bobby Hammond did it for the Redskins in 1980, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Joe Theismann in the final minute of a 23-21 victory.

It was yet another blown opportunity for the Giants, who lost nine of the last 18 games in which they led in the second half. New York has lost six of the last nine games against the Eagles in which it led at some point after halftime, dating back to 2009.

Chiefs turn season around, finish with 11-5 mark

Kansas City extended its winning streak to 10 games, capping its season with a 23-17 win over the Raiders. The Chiefs, who lost five straight games after winning their season opener, finished with an 11-5 mark, the best in NFL history by a team that suffered five consecutive losses during the season. The previous record was the Jets’ 10-6 mark in 1986, when they lost their last five games after a 10-1 start.­

nullBengals’ Hill snaps drought with long TD run

Jeremy Hill flashed rarely-seen breakaway ability, running 38 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter of the Bengals’ 24-16 win over the Ravens. That was Hill’s longest run from scrimmage by far this season, snapping a streak of 232 carries for less than 20 yards.

Pats lose second straight intradivision game

The Dolphins finished the season with a 6-10 mark, defeating the Patriots, 20-10, to snap New England’s streak of 20 consecutive wins against teams with a record at least five games below .500. Combined with a 26-20 loss to the Jets last week, it marked the first time that New England lost consecutive games, both to divisional rivals with Tom Brady at quarterback. It’s also the first time that a team head-coached by Bill Belichick lost its last two games of a season since 1991 and 1992, Belichick’s first two seasons as an NFL head coach (both with Cleveland).

Bears end historic season with home loss to Lions

With a 24-20 loss to Detroit, the Bears finished the 2015 season with a 1-7 record at Soldier Field. That is the team’s worst home record, whether based on winning percentage or games below .500, in any of its 96 seasons in the NFL. By either of those standards, the Bears suffered their previous worst home records at Wrigley Field in 1969 and at Soldier Field in 1973 (1-6 in both seasons).

New Colts QBs lead team to win over Titans

With Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, and Charlie Whitehurst all injured, Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley each threw a touchdown pass in the Colts’ 30-24 win over the Titans. Over the last 25 seasons, only one other pair of teammates both threw a TD pass in the same game in which each was making his team debut. Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski did it in the Bengals’ 2011 season opener.

Source: Elias Says: Sports Statistics – Stats from the Elias Sports Bureau

What You Need To Know For Wednesday, Dec. 30 2015

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nationwide_college map

1.

Degenerate Me

Last weekend was a monster for us junkies, despite what looked like insane violence on many football fields – or is it because of it? (shrugs shoulders)  Only the wetheads worry about blood on the grass during times like these, when the football gets better each week and the money you pillage from suckers, lines your pockets like fine silk.  The best being yet to come, except for maybe place like Cleveland and San Francisco who are more like bloated dead bodies floating along the ethereal abyss.

Playing with House-Money has always been risky – however, last week was swimming with sharks.  Many high-altitude rollers got eaten alive on Sunday – those that survived were clubbed like baby seals, causing an eruption of fear and grief in homesteads from coast to coast.  Strong men wept, and women hurled themselves savagely down dirty stairwells in filthy towns like Boston and Cleveland – Cripes, even in the frozen snow out here in the Rockies.

But me?  My own luck was splendid, as the Marquis used to say, as I repeatedly fleeced and humiliated two of the cruelest and most depraved degenerates in America, the infamous McCutcheon brothers from Pittsburgh.  T’was wonderful.  The arrogant swine got exactly what they deserved – a massive public beating they will never forget.  They came out here with huge wads of ca$h and revenge in their hearts for the losses they suffered last year in the very same bunker – where their doom is a constant companion.  It’s even worse during bowl-season.

2.

C’Ya Chipster

Good luck Chipster – your 1st lesson as a professional was a hard one.  You found out that going 10-6, 10-6 and 6-9 don’t mean much in Philly.  Never you mind that the Eagles have no idea how to win, because they haven’t since…….ummm, hold on, it’s right here in my notes….oh yeah, 1960.  It was 20 years later since they returned to play for a title, and another 24 until the next one – losing both – so it’s likely not until 2024 that they contend anyway.

Besides looking for another job in the #NFL – Tennessee, maybe? – you have to deal with Screamin’A dustin’ off an old narrative; as he did appearing on Mike and Mike this morning telling a classic Screamin’A story about a time he was “stopped on the street” by some Eagles players who came up to him and started talking about Chip Kelly.  Sensationalism!

The point is – you had all the control Chip and made some shaky decisions and never quite won enough to earn the cache you need.  Just remember, Bill was run out of Cleveland and it also took awhile in Foxboro before he became the man he is today – You just keep it 100 Chipster and if it doesn’t work out here, you’ll have your pick of places in college – like Baton Rouge if Les doesn’t change.

+ GOODBYE, MR. CHIP: PHILLY FIRES KELLY – Read More

LF=212yds 5TD’s

3.

(Can’t) Hold That Tiger

The Tigers wrapped up a very memorable, drama-filled football season with a record-setting 56-27 win over Texas Tech in the Advocare Texas Bowl, and it sure does feel good. One could argue that last night’s game doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot, but after losing three of the previous four bowl games, and enduring a three-game losing streak in the month of November, it’s nice to head into the offseason on a high note. With last night’s win, the Tigers ended the season 9-3, and let’s not forget that this would have almost certainly been a 10-win season had the season-opener against McNeese State been played.

Source: Dandy Don’s LSU Recruiting and Sports News – LSU Football and More!

4.

Today in History

On December 30, 1978, Ohio State University (OSU) makes the decision to fire its 65-year-old football coach, Woody Hayes, one day after Hayes punched a player on the opposing team near the end of the Gator Bowl.

Source: OSU fires coach Woody Hayes for attacking an opposing player – Dec 30, 1978

5.

Out of Chaos Comes Order

Social issues are a minefield for athletes.  Michael Jordan was never going to be confused for Kareem when it came to social justice and attitudes.  No one is, and athletes that came after never wanted to jeopardize their image to their corporate masters – just as players today are more conscious of their “brand” then they are at times with their play.

Yet, Lebron speaks out after advocates ask him to strike games to honor Tamir Rice – is this what we want our athletes to do when every social crisis occurs?  Read more here.

Source: LeBron Speaks Out After Advocates Ask Him To Strike Games To Honor Tamir Rice

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6.

The More You Know

Week 17 – Situational Trends

By Week 17 Vegas knows which teams are truly bad. In the last five years, home underdogs of a touchdown or greater in the last week of the regular season have gone 1-33 SU and 14-20 (41%) ATS.

  • Games Matching this Criteria: Browns (+10) vs. Steelers and Dolphins (+9) vs. Patriots.

The Cardinals and Chiefs are on fire each having won nine straight games. The last 30 teams to win that many games in a row went 22-8 straight-up in their next matchup but 12-17-1 (41%) against-the-spread.

  • Games Matching this Criteria: Chiefs (-6.5) vs. Raiders and Cardinals (-4.5) vs. Seahawks.

Tom Brady and the Patriots don’t lose often but when they do, New England typically wins (40-10 straight-up) and covers (34-16 against-the-spread – 68%) the next week.

  • Games Matching this Criteria: Patriots (-9) at Dolphins.

  • ATL -4 vs. NO The Falcons are 7-3 against-the-spread in their last ten games as home favorites against the Saints.
  • AZ -4.5 vs. SEA Carson Palmer is 7-1-1 against-the-spread at home with Arizona against non-divisional opponents but 3-3 ATS vs. the NFC West.
  • BAL +7 @ CIN In the last five years, AFC North teams that have been underdogs of a touchdown or greater to the Bengals are 0-5 straight-up and 1-3-1 ATS.
  • BUF +3 vs. NYJ The Bills are 8-2 against-the-spread in their last ten home games against the AFC East.
  • CAR -10.5 vs. TB Cam Newton has never lost as a touchdown or greater favorite, he is 11-0 straight-up and 6-5 ATS.
  • CHI -1 vs. DET The Bears are 2-7-1 against-the-spread in their last ten games against the Lions.
  • CIN -7 vs. BAL The Bengals are playing for a bye in the AFC. All-time, teams that have been favored by a touchdown over the Ravens are 5-1 straight-up.
  • CLE +10 vs. PIT Cleveland has lost eight straight as double-digit underdogs against AFC North rivals but the Browns went 5-3 ATS in those games.
  • DAL -3 vs. WAS The Cowboys are 1-5 against-the-spread at home this year and are now 3-11 ATS the last three years when Tony Romo doesn’t start.
  • DEN -7.5 vs. SD Denver is 3-6-1 against-the-spread in its last ten home games as touchdown or greater favorites.
  • DET +1 @ CHI Detroit is 2-18 straight-up in its last 20 games as road dogs against the NFC North, the Lions went 9-10-1 ATS in those games.
  • GB -3 vs. MIN The Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win, Aaron Rodgers is 18-4 straight-up (14-7-1 ATS) vs. the division as a home favorite.
  • HOU -6.5 vs. JAX The Texans clinch the AFC South with a win, Houston is 15-7 straight-up all-time as a home favorite against the division.
  • IND -6 vs. TEN Indy needs a win (plus a lot of help) to make the playoffs. The Colts are just 3-4 straight-up (3-4 ATS) in home games this year.
  • JAX +6.5 @ HOU The Jags have been road dogs in 13 straight games vs. division opponents. Jacksonville went 8-4 ATS in its previous 12 games.
  • KC -6.5 vs. OAK KC has won nine straight (including four in a row vs. the AFC West) and is 7-2 against-the-spread during the winning streak.
  • MIA +9 vs. NE The Dolphins have been underdogs to the Patriots in 25 straight games, Miami went 11-13 ATS in the previous 24 contests.
  • MIN +3 @ GB The Vikings can clinch the NFC North with a win but Minnesota hasn’t won in Green Bay since 2010 and is 1-4-1 ATS in its last six games in Lambeau.
  • NE -9 @ MIA New England clinches home-field advantage with a win, the Pats have won 18 straight as touchdown favorites vs. the AFC East ( but are only 6-10-2 ATS)
  • NO +7 @ ATL This is the fifth straight division game in which the Saints have been underdogs, New Orleans covered the previous four.
  • NYG -3 vs. PHI The Giants are 2-8 ATS in the team’s last ten home games against the Eagles.
  • NYJ -3 @ BUF The Jets can clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Bills but New York has lost and failed to cover in four straight vs. Buffalo.
  • OAK +6.5 @ KC The Raiders are 14-6 against-the-spread in the team’s last 20 road games against division rivals.
  • PHI +3 @ NYG Philly is 8-2 against-the-spread in its last ten road games as underdogs against division opponents.
  • PIT -10 @ CLE Big Ben has been a double-digit road favorite seven times in his career and failed to cover in each game (including losing outright last week).
  • SD +7.5 @ DEN Philip Rivers has won six of his last ten trips to Denver and the Chargers went 7-1-2 against-the-spread in those games.
  • SEA +4.5 @ AZ In Russell Wilson’s career, the Seahawks following a loss in the regular season are 11-6 against-the-spread the next week.
  • SF +3.5 vs. STL The 49ers have been home dogs to the Rams 11 times. San Francisco is 3-8 straight-up and 5-5-1 ATS.
  • STL -3.5 @ SF The Rams aren’t favored on the road often (just 10 times in the last ten years), but when they are St. Louis covers (7-3 ATS).
  • TB +10.5 @ CAR The Bucs have lost six straight as double-digit dogs to divisional rivals but Tampa Bay went 3-3 against-the-spread in those games.
  • TEN +6 @ IND The Titans have failed to cover in seven straight road games against division rivals (1-6 straight-up as well).
  • WAS +3 @ DAL The Washington professional football team is 8-2 ATS in its last ten trips to Dallas.

Peyton Manning responds to HGH allegations; #NFL Week 16 upsets – MMQB with Peter King

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A strange weekend of football

The 10 stories that hit me over the head Sunday:

There’s one head-to-head division title game in Week 17, and it will be game 256. Minnesota (10-5) at Green Bay (10-5) was flexed to the Sunday night game next week, meaning the last game of the regular season will be a second straight frigid Sunday night game in the Great North. Forecast for Green Bay next Sunday: no snow, wind chill of about 10 degrees. But will the friendly confines help? Green Bay, trying for its fifth straight NFC North title, is 4-5 since Halloween (and would be 3-6 if not for Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary of all Hail Marys on Dec. 3 at Detroit). Incredible to think the team that started 6-0 with visions of home-field through the playoffs is now one loss away from traveling to Washington to play a wild-card game in two weeks. “We will bounce back,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s the way we are wired.” Perhaps. But the Packers haven’t looked like the Packers since September, and it’s too late to think McCarthy can just flip a switch and life will return to normal.

Pittsburgh? Really? My Pittsburgh friends shrieked “Tomlin must go” after Sunday’s totally embarrassing 20-17 loss at Baltimore, which made Pittsburgh’s playoff chances sub-50 percent. For the Steelers to make the postseason, they’d need to beat the Browns Sunday while Rex Ryan beats the Jets … or while Denver loses Monday night to the Bengals and next week to the Chargers, both games at home. Who knows? Rex would trade five years off his life to keep the Jets from the playoffs, so we shall see. But the Steelers were my fifth-ranked team last week, and to see them dominated by first-time Ravens starter Ryan Mallett was a stunner. The Steelers forgot this was a rivalry game, and Ben Roethlisberger was surprisingly mediocre, with his second touchdown-less game in the last three weeks.

Pop the corks, Dolphins. For the 43rd straight season, there won’t be a perfect NFL team. Formerly 14-0 Carolina is now 14-1 Carolina. This one felt different for the ’72 Dolphins, though, because coach Don Shula’s son Mike is the Carolina offensive coordinator, and Mike Shula said his dad wanted Carolina to be unbeaten more than he (Mike) did. But Carolina was flawed for the second straight week. Last week they gave up a 28-point lead to the Giants before pulling out a late win; this week they were flat, and Cam Newton played his first average game in a while. Carolina could still lose home-field in the NFC with a loss to Tampa Bay and a Cardinals win over the Seahawks on Sunday.

Did Cam open the MVP door a bit for Carson Palmer? I discuss below, but it’s not impossible.

There’s a difference in the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. It’s called offense.Against the best team in the AFC on Sunday, New York rushed for 143 yards, threw three touchdown passes, protected the quarterback serviceably against a good Patriots pass rush, and drove 80 yards to start overtime after New England coach Bill Belichick chose to begin OT by giving the ball to the Jets. In all, the only thing that could have made the day better for the Jets would have been Rex Ryan losing.

LaAdrian Waddle—yes, that LaAdrian Waddle—could all of a sudden be a key player for the Patriots. Waddle, waived by the Lions and picked up by New England two weeks ago, became the fifth left tackle for the Patriots in 15 games Sunday when Sebastian Vollmer went out against the Jets with an ankle sprain. New England is the black hole of injury reporting, so no one knows how bad Vollmer is … and then Waddle went out with what appeared to be shoulder or neck injury. Cameron Fleming finished the game on the left side. Waddle and Fleming combined to give up five pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and Tom Brady was pressured, sacked or hit 17 times against the Jets. Seemed like more……(continue reading)

Source: Peyton Manning responds to HGH allegations; NFL Week 16 upsets | The MMQB with Peter King

10 Things We Learned from #NFL Week 16

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A lot was decided around the NFL during the second-to-last weekend of regular season action.

The Minnesota Vikings clinched a playoff berth in the NFC while the New York Jets inched closer to a postseason spot themselves by virtue of a curious decision from the New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers blew a golden opportunity against an injury-riddled Baltimore Ravens team.

On the other hand, Brandon Weeden led his Houston Texans (yes, that’s a thing) to a blowout win over the Tennessee Titans to pretty much lock up the AFC South.

Here are your top-10 takeaways from this weekend in the NFL.

1.

New England Patriots overthink it in big loss to the New York Jets

Bill Belichick’s career as a mad scientist is by now well known. An evildoer to those who goes up against him, this future Hall of Fame head coach actually found a way to get in his own way on Sunday.

The seen was about as surreal as it gets. Heading into overtime against the Jets in New Jersey, the Patriots (obviously) won the toss. Instead of electing to receive the ball and give Tom Brady an opportunity to win the game, New England decided to kick off.

Making matters even more interesting, the Patriots believed they could choose what direction they kicked. NFL rules clearly state otherwise heading into overtime.

New York proceeded to drive down the field 80 yards on five plays en route to a game-winning touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Eric Decker.

It was one of those things you just don’t see. Coach Belichick and the Patriots getting in their own way during a pivotal moment in a game.

It also set the Jets up perfectly to earn a playoff spot. With a win over the Bills in Buffalo next week (or a Steelers loss), they will earn their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season.

2.

Green Bay Packers absolutely crushed by unstoppable force in the desert

How can a team with an opportunity to clinch a division title and inch closer to a first-round bye in the playoffs perform the way Green Bay did in Arizona on Sunday? It really is unfathomable.

The Cardinals sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times, forced four turnovers and allowed a total of 77 passing yards. In fact, Green Bay racked up 178 total yards while converting 5-of-17 third-down opportunities in the team’s 38-8 loss.

Defensively, the Packers didn’t do much better. Rookie running back David Johnson racked up 127 yards on 12 touches before Arizona decided to call off the dogs before three quarters had even been completed.

By virtue of this loss, Green Bay now heads into a Week 17 game with Minnesota still looking to clinch the NFC North title. If not, the team might have to open the season on the road against what is suddenly a red-hot Washington Redskins team.

Yeah, it was a brutal loss all the way around.

For the Cardinals, it could not have been more spectacular. They head into Week 17 with an opportunity to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after winning their ninth consecutive game.

They do so as the hottest team in the NFC and as a near unstoppable force. After all, Arizona has won nine consecutive games by an average of nearly two touchdowns.

Let that sink in before picking any other team to come out of the NFC.

3.

About those Seattle Seahawks

Playoff positioning was the only thing at stake for Seattle as it hosted the suddenly resurgent St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Though, said positioning was pretty darn important.

With wins in their final two games, the Seahawks could have clinched the fifth seed in the NFC. This means that they would have headed to D.C. to take on an eight or nine win Washington Redskins team.

Seattle now finds itself as the likely sixth seed, which would force it to play in either Green Bay or Minnesota in the wild card round. No one wants to play in those stadiums as a road team in January.

Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the Rams was a mix of fluky action and some tremendous struggles from the home team.

On the second half drive that saw St. Louis take a two-score lead, the Rams recovered two ridiculous fumbles en route to a touchdown — the last of which was pure hustle on the part of center Tim Barnes.

Outside of that, Seattle turned the ball over three times, including a Russell Wilson fumble deep in St. Louis territory late in the final stanza.

That was the fluky. Now on to the struggles.

Without the services of both Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls, running backs combined for 21 rushing yards on 16 attempts.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s vaunted defense failed to get to Case Keenum for a single sack on the afternoon. That enabled the Rams to come away with a win despite the fact that their journeyman quarterback threw for a whopping 103 yards.

In reality, Seattle needs to play better football if it is going to win even one postseason game.

Considering what we saw in the five weeks prior to Sunday’s performance, we know Pete Carroll and Co. have the talent to do just that. We just don’t know if they will be able to show consistency on both sides of the ball in order to get it done.

4.

Pittsburgh Steelers blow it against hapless Baltimore Ravens team

Pittsburgh lost a game to a team that started Ryan Mallett under center, Baltimore’s fourth starting quarterback this season.

In doing so, Mike Tomlin and Co. find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC playoff picture heading into Week 17.

It was pretty much a disaster from the get go. Pittsburgh capped off a promising opening drive by failing to convert on a fourth and one from Baltimore’s 25.

It then proceeded allow Mallett to lead the Ravens down the field on a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown-scoring drive to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead.

Baltimore wouldn’t look back. It added two field goals — one immediately following a Ben Roethlisberger interception — to take a 13-3 lead into the half.

After some drama in the second half, Pittsburgh simply couldn’t get out of its own way in a disheartening 20-17 loss to its division rivals.

Heading into Week 16, Pittsburgh had one of the two wild card spots in the AFC on lock down. By virtue of its loss and the Jets win, Mike Tomlin and Co. need some major help to even make the playoffs.

If the Steelers fail to get said help, 2015 would go down as a disastrous season for the franchise.

There’s no reason why a team with this much talent, especially on offense, could possibly fail to make the playoffs. And in the end, that failure is squarely on Tomlin’s shoulders.

5.

Clueless in Santa Clara

What? Seriously, what the heck is Jim Tomsula talking about here? We really would love to know what the follow up question was to this dumpster fire of an answer.

Less than two hours before, the San Francisco 49ers were penalized for coming on to to the field too early in the third quarter. That’s about as amateur as it gets.

Down just 20-17 at the half against the Detroit Lions, San Francisco found itself outscored 12-0 in the final two quarters to drop its 11th game of the season.

To make matters more disturbing for those of us looking for a silver lining, the 49ers coaching staff completely screwed the pooch once again.

After racking up 122 yards on 20 carries in the first half, San Francisco attempted just three runs in the second half. Those three runs went for a combined negative one yard as the team was shut out in the final two quarters.

Talk about adjusting out of a sound game plan to create a mess we have seen too many times from San Francisco’s sideline this season.

As much as some of us wanted to defend Tomsula earlier in the year, it’s readily apparent that the 49ers’ coaching staff is simply in over its head.

With one game remaining in what has been a disastrous season in Santa Clara, it will be interesting to see if we start hearing rumors of some dramatic changes within the team’s front office and coaching staff over the next several days.

Simply put, it’s become rather embarrassing for one of the most historic franchises in the NFL. What happens from now on will tell us whether the ownership group is okay with it.

6.

Inspired Atlanta Falcons end Carolina Panthers pursuit of perfection

Cam Newton and Co. had to be feeling good heading into Atlanta Sunday afternoon. After all, the Panthers had just obliterated Atlanta 38-0 two weeks prior.

What ended up happening was one of the most surprising outcomes of the NFL season thus far.

Atlanta held Newton to 142 yards through the air without a passing touchdown en route to a 20-13 take down of the Panthers at home on Sunday.

It was a banner defensive performance by the Falcons defense in a game that kept the team’s playoff hopes alive for just a few minutes.

While Atlanta will not be playing meaningful January football after a 5-0 start to the season, coming out victorious against the previously undefeated Panthers gives them something small to build off of heading into the offseason.

For the Panthers, this loss doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. They are still in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

They also don’t have to go through said playoffs with the distinction of being an undefeated regular season team — something that would have added a bit more pressure to a team without a ton of playoff experience and with minimal margin for error in a stacked NFC.

7.

Washington Redskins prove to be the class of the east

Kirk Cousins threw another four touchdowns en route to a division-clinching win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night.

More than anything else, the fact that this division is wrapped up prior to Week 17 is rather interesting.

It tells us a story of a Redskins team that’s in its own class when it comes to the NFC East.

Whether this translates to playoff success is anyone’s guess. Entrenched in as the No. 4 seed in the NFC, Washington has nothing to play for against the Dallas Cowboys next week, meaning that it could very well head into the postseason with an 8-8 record.

As it is, Washington is right there among the hottest teams in the NFL right now.

And in reality, the Redskins’ turnaround has more to do with quarterback play than anything else. Cousins has now thrown eight touchdowns compared to zero interceptions over the past two games and boasts a 20-to-3 split since consecutive two-interception performances back in mid October.

If Cousins is able to keep up this ridiculously high level of play, Washington stands a decent chance of advancing beyond the wild card round.

That’s only magnified by the fact that he’s combined for 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions at home on the season.

This was all made possible by a 38-24 win over a Philadelphia Eagles team that headed into Saturday night controlling its own destiny in the NFC East.

Putting up that performance in front of a national audience on the road against a division rival is mighty impressive. It also might change our opinion of the Redskins heading into the playoffs.

8.

Frank Gore turns back the clock in helping Indianapolis avoid elimination

The Indianapolis Colts simply needed to win a game in order to even have a shot at the AFC South title. Turning back the clock some, the 32-year-old Gore did everything in his power to lead the fledgling team to a huge win against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Gore’s 37-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter put Indianapolis up eight. He then added an 11-yard scoring scamper late in the second quarter to give the Colts a two-score lead heading into the half.

Despite struggling to score in the second half, Indianapolis held off a hapless Dolphins team 18-12 to head into Week 17 with a small chance to save what has been a lost season up to this point.

The Colts would need 10 different things to break their way from here on out to earn that trip to the playoffs. This leaves the team with a 0.03 percent chance of playing football beyond next week.

But at least for one day, Gore showed everyone why he still has something left in those tires.

9.

Minnesota Vikings force do-or-die game for NFC North title

Following a 38-17 dismantling of the Chicago Bears last week, Minnesota headed into Week 16 with an opportunity to win the NFC North. That still remains the case after a second consecutive blowout win, this time by the score of 49-17 against the New York Giants.

Finding his way back after struggling over the past three games, Adrian Peterson netted 104 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts.

Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater put up yet another stellar game in what was a tremendous overall performance from the Vikings.

It was the defense that did the heavy lifting here, though. Minnesota forced three Eli Manning interceptions, including a pick-six by Harrison Smith late in the second quarter to blow the game wide open.

With both sides of the ball playing great football, Minnesota now heads to Green Bay to take on a struggling Packers team with a chance to earn an unlikely division title.

If it’s able to do that, some unlucky team will have to play outdoor football in Minnesota in January — proving that home-field advantage may in fact be of utmost importance for the surprising Vikings.

10.

The Kansas City Chiefs keep winning

It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination. Kansas City held off a game Cleveland Browns team at home Sunday for its ninth consecutive win, clinching a playoff spot in the process.

In fact, the game hung in the balance with Cleveland’s final drive stalling with the team down by four inside the Chiefs 35-yard line.

But at the end of the day, Kansas City found a way to get the job done. Not only did Andy Reid’s squad clinch a spot in the postseason after a one-year hiatus, it put the pressure on the Denver Broncos to win Monday night.

It also proved to the rest of the AFC that it could win a game playing less-than-stellar football. That’s a huge bonus for a team that could possibly find itself playing playoff football in the midst of a whopping 10-game winning streak.

The biggest factor Sunday was a lack of mistakes from the Chiefs. They turned the ball over just one time while committing five penalties in the 17-13 win over a last-place Browns team.

This performance won’t be good enough come January. It, did however, add another layer to what we have seen from the Chiefs over the past two-plus months.

In this, Kansas City proved itself worth to be mentioned among the top teams in the NFL.

Source: Top 10 takeaways from NFL Week 16 action