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.
New England Patriots overthink it in big loss to the New York Jets
— FOX Sports Live (@FOXSportsLive) December 28, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
Clueless in Santa Clara
Were Lions a step ahead in 2nd half? Tomsula” “I don’t know that they were a step ahead. I mean, obviously, they were a step ahead.” #49ers
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 27, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
Minnesota Vikings force do-or-die game for NFC North title
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 28, 2015
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.
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.