With the regular season drawing to a close, many of the playoff battles ended up coming down to the wire. Heading into the week, only one of the six wild card spots were clinched, which made for some excellent football in Week 17. The Dolphins crashed out of the playoffs, while the Titans barely hung onto the AFC South. Let’s take a look at some of the major stories from all the action in Week 17.
Miami Dolphins (10-6) – 26 vs Buffalo Bills (13-3) – 56
When the Steelers announced that they would be resting their starters this week, the Bills task of winning the 2 seed became that much easier. It turns out it wouldn’t have even mattered, as the Bills spent most of the afternoon demolishing the Dolphins. Josh Allen threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns, and the defense picked off Tua Tagovailoa three times en route to a blowout victory. They also got a big game out of backup running back Antonio Williams, which allowed them to essentially rest their top duo of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. While the Bills coasted into the playoffs, the Dolphins crashed out. They will head into the offseason looking to make some additions and build off this promising season.
New York Jets (2-14) – 14 vs New England Patriots (7-9) – 28
These two teams appeared to be heading in opposite directions heading into the week, but saw the outcome reflect otherwise. Sam Darnold continued to struggle against the Patriots defense, adding two interceptions to his tally. Cam Newton most likely played his last game with the Patriots, and it was arguably his best. Newton did a little of everything, as he threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 79 yards, and caught the other Patriots score on a pass from Jakobi Meyers. This game highlighted the potential of the Patriots offense that it often failed to live up to. Both teams head into the offseason hoping to have a more successful campaign next season.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – 38 vs Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) – 3
The Ravens had to win to get into the playoffs, and they comfortably dispatched the Bengals to lock up the 5 seed. Led by Lamar Jackson and his three touchdown passes, the Ravens flew out to an early lead, before handing the ball off for much of the afternoon. Led by J.K. Dobbins, who had 160 yards and two score, the Ravens ran for over 400 yards against the Bengals. The Bengals struggled in pretty much every aspect of this one, as Brandon Allen threw for only 48 yards and two interceptions. While their ground game averaged 7.7 yards per carry, they were forced to play from behind for most of the game, and had to abandon the run. The Bengals will hope to have a healthier 2021 season, while the Ravens head into a first round matchup against the Titans.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – 22 vs Cleveland Browns (11-5) – 24
Despite last week’s shocking loss to the Jets, the Browns still had the ability to control their fate, and earn themselves a playoff spot. The Browns went up early against a Steelers team resting some starters, and appeared to be in cruise control, only for Mason Rudolph and the Steelers to lead a spirited comeback. With the running game still nowhere to be found for the Steelers, Rudolph aired it out for 315 yards and two scores, but failed to convert on a 2-point attempt to tie the game. The Steelers could have gotten the ball back with a chance to win, but Baker Mayfield called game.
Mayfield didn’t have a fantastic performance, but he did enough to pick up a much needed win, and clinch Cleveland’s first playoff berth in 18 years. With the Steelers being the 3 seed, and the Browns being the 6 seed, these two teams will square off again next week in the first round of playoffs, and it should be another thrilling game.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – 19 vs New York Giants (6-10) – 23
The Cowboys and Giants faced off in a matchup that would determine which team would have a shot at the NFC East. While it ultimately did not matter who won, the Giants were able to prevail in this one, keeping their playoff hopes alive only for the next few hours. The Cowboys struggled to move the ball for the majority of the game, opening the door for Daniel Jones and the Giants offense. Sterling Shepard led the way, catching 8 passes for 112 yards and a score, while also running for 24 yards and another TD. The Cowboys hung around, and made it inside the Giants 10 yard line with under two minutes to play, but forced Andy Dalton to throw a desperation heave to the endzone that resulted in an interception. With Washington winning against the Eagles, both teams playoff hopes were squashed, and they will look to get healthy for the start of next season.
Minnesota Vikings (7-9) – 37 vs Detroit Lions (5-11) – 35
In a game where neither team had anything to play for, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford engaged in aerial duel. Both threw for three scores each, while Cousins also added another score on the ground. This game also featured Vikings rookie wideout Justin Jefferson set a new NFL record in the Super Bowl era for most receiving yards by a rookie with 1400 yards on the season. The Lions had a shot to tie the game on a 2-point attempt, but failed, and the Vikings made them pay, as they ran out the remaining 4+ minutes of the game. The Vikings will hope to get some more overall consistency next season, while the Lions will hope to get a new head coach that can usher in a more competent Lions squad.
Atlanta Falcons (4-12) – 27 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) – 44
The Buccaneers clearly wanted to hang onto the 5 seed, and a first round matchup against the NFC East champion, and they sure proved it. The Bucs nearly let the Falcons crawl back into this one after jumping out to an early lead, but they put on the afterburners in the 4th quarter to lock themselves into the 5 seed. Tom Brady had another phenomenal game, as he threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns. Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin did most of the heavy lifting, finishing with 138 and 133 yards respectively, while scoring two touchdowns apiece. While the Bucs head into their desired playoff matchup against the Washington Football Team, the Falcons head into the offseason hoping to find a new coach that can help solve some of their errors.
Tennessee Titans (11-5) – 41 vs Houston Texans (4-12) – 38
The Titans needed to win to capture the AFC South, and while they were ultimately able to accomplish that, it wasn’t pretty to say the least. The Titans appeared to be on their way to an easy win, as they had a comfortable two touchdown advantage with four minutes left in third quarter, only to see Deshaun Watson and the Texans lead a furious charge back. Watson did all he could to keep the Texans in this one, throwing for 365 yards and three touchdowns, but saw his defense once again throw the game away. After kicking a field goal to tie the game at 38, the game seemed destined to be headed for overtime. A.J. Brown had other ideas.
This huge catch by Brown set up a field goal for Sam Sloman, who ended up kicking it off the right upright, only for the ball to take a fortunate bounce down behind the goal post. Despite Brown’s late game heroics and terrific overall stat line (10 REC, 151 YDS, 1 TD), much of the praise will go Derrick Henry’s way. Henry steamrolled the Texans for 250 yards on 34 carries, and he turned two of those carries into scores. The Titans head into a tough first round matchup against the Ravens, while the Texans will try to pick up the pieces Bill O’Brien left behind.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) – 14 vs Indianapolis Colts (11-5) – 28
After the Dolphins lost to the Bills, all the Colts had to do was beat the hapless Jaguars to sneak into the 7 seed. A common theme this weekend, the Colts raced out to a big lead, before watching the Jaguars chip away at it little by little. This game spent most of the second half being a one possession game, but the Jaguars seemed to want no part of winning. While Philip Rivers didn’t have his best outing, Jonathan Taylor did his best to make sure the Colts didn’t become the laughing stock of the NFL. Taylor ran all over the Jaguars to the tune of 253 yards and two touchdowns. The Colts now head into a difficult matchup against the red hot Bills, while the Jaguars will look to continue their rebuild, and potentially draft supposed top pick Trevor Lawrence.
Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) – 32 vs Denver Broncos (5-11) – 31
Much like the Vikings-Lions game, neither team had anything to play for, so Derek Carr and Drew Lock spent most of the game racking up passing yards. This was a back and forth offensive affair that featured neither defense having much success stopping the other. Despite struggling to slow the Raiders offense down, the Broncos were able to force four turnovers, and yet they still somehow lost this game. The Raiders ran a successful two minute drill against the Broncos, with Carr finding Darren Waller to give the Raiders a one point lead. The Broncos then had a desperation 63 yard field goal blocked to end the game. The Raiders head into the offseason looking to build around this potent offense, while the Broncos need to consider if Lock is the right QB for the job.
Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) – 38 vs Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) – 21
With the Chiefs already having secured the 1 seed in the AFC, they have the luxury of being able to give their starters a two week vacation. The Chargers were the benefactors of that decision, and cruised to their seventh victory on the season. Justin Herbert put the finishing touches on a fantastic rookie season, as he picked up 302 yards and three touchdowns, all while missing top option Keenan Allen. Mike Williams picked up the slack, racking up 108 yards and a score as the top target. The Chiefs handed the ball over for Chad Henne, and while he didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t light up the stat sheet either. The Chiefs head into their first round bye and await their next opponent, while the Chargers will head into the offseason looking to get some defensive help for Herbert and the offense.
Green Bay Packers (13-3) – 35 vs Chicago Bears (8-8) – 16
Both the Packers and the Bears had something on the line this week, but it was the Packers who came out and showed why they are the top NFC team. The Packers spent last week dismantling the Titans, and they kept that trend going this week against the Bears. Aaron Rodgers continued his torrid pace, throwing for 240 yards and four touchdowns. The Bears brought the game to within five points early in the third, but never felt like they were seriously threatening to snatch this win from the Packers. Despite the loss, the Bears still managed to sneak into the playoffs due to the Cardinals losing. They draw the Saints in next week’s opening round, while the Packers will enjoy a hard earned first round bye.
New Orleans Saints (12-4) – 33 vs Carolina Panthers (5-11) – 7
Drew Brees faced a lot of criticism for his play after returning from his rib injury, and finally put forth a performance that should silence those critics for the time being. With most of his shiny offensive weapons injured or out due to COVID protocols, Brees threw for 201 yards and 3 touchdowns against an overmatched Panthers defense. In truth, Brees didn’t have to do much due to the Panthers being a mess offensively. Teddy Bridgewater was benched for P.J. Walker after throwing two interceptions, only for Walker to top that and throw three of his own. Despite their quarterbacking struggles, wideouts Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore were both able to top 100 yards, with 118 and 101 respectively. The Saints will now look ahead to their upcoming matchup with the Bears, while the Panthers must decide whether or not they will move forward with Bridgewater under center.
Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – 7 vs Los Angeles Rams (10-6) – 18
One of the most enticing matchups heading into the week due to it’s playoff implications turned out to be quite a dud. Kyler Murray got injured early in the first quarter, and despite having a quick 7-0 lead, it was clear the Rams had a more prepared backup. The Rams offense did not score a touchdown, but John Wolford did enough to lead the Rams to victory. A pick six by Troy Hill was the only touchdown from the Rams, but it was enough to overcome the Cardinals. Even with Murray returning midway through the third quarter in attempt to will the Cardinals to a playoff spot, it was not to be. The Cardinals narrowly miss out on a playoff spot, and will look to build off of Kyler Murray’s breakout season. Meanwhile, the Rams head into the playoffs as the 6 seed, and are set up for their third battle with the Seahawks this season.
Seattle Seahawks (12-4) – 26 vs San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – 23
The Seahawks entered play with an outside shot at claiming the 1 seed in the NFC, and despite winning this one, remain locked in the 3 seed. The 49ers actually led for a good portion of the second half, before Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett combined to give the Seahawks the win. Wilson only threw for 181 yards and two scores, and typically when he threw the ball, it went to Lockett. Lockett caught 12 of Wilson’s 20 completed passes, for 90 yards and both his scores. C.J. Beathard did a good job of keeping the injury riddled 49ers in this one, but had a costly fumble that allowed the Seahawks to make this a two score game. The 49ers will look to get healthy for next season, while the Seahawks will look towards their upcoming playoff game against the Rams.
Washington Football Team (7-9) – 20 vs Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) – 14
The Football Team only had to win to make the playoffs, and they didn’t meet much resistance in the Eagles. Despite being down only three points in the fourth quarter, Eagles coach Doug Pederson decided it would be a good time to get third stringer Nate Sudfeld some reps, and bench Jalen Hurts. Hurts wasn’t playing a great game, as he had only 72 passing yards and an interception, but he clearly gave the Eagles the best shot to win the game. He also scored the Eagles only two scores of the game, both on the ground. It seemed like Pederson wanted nothing to do with winning this game, and he rightfully has faced a lot of heat in the aftermath. Besides that, the Football Team head into the playoffs for a daunting matchup with the Buccaneers, while the Eagles will head into what will most likely be a messy offseason.