It's been a long, winding, and often confusing road, but the NFL season is finally complete. We now know the 12 teams competing for the Lombardi Trophy, and we saw some teams just completely fail to show up. In case you missed it, here are the highlights from this past week.
Who Earned His Paycheck?
It started with an ugly 3-3 tie, but the Ravens persevered to a 20-10 victory over the Browns. Of course, the Browns were trotting out third-string quarterback Connor Shaw, and had suspended top receiver Josh Gordon and first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert before the game…not to mention the team was in the midst of one of the worst late-season collapses in recent history (falling from first to last place in the division in just three games) but hey, whatever. As long as you get the W. And with the W, the Ravens are back in the playoffs. It's highly unlikely they'll contend for a Super Bowl, since their pass defense is atrocious and Joe Flacco likes to imitate a scarecrow from time to time. But that's why you play the games.
The other team who had yet to clinch a playoff spot? The Carolina Panthers, who overcame a truly abysmal 3-8-1 start to finish at 7-8-1 and clinch the NFC South with a 34-3 trouncing of the Falcons. The offense played decently enough, but the defense was the star of the show, forcing three turnovers that led to 21 points, including returning both of Matt Ryan's interceptions for touchdowns, courtesy of Roman Harper and Tre Boston. Of course, that's still a below-.500 record for a division winner, but the Seahawks finished at 7-9 four years ago, and we all know how that ended–in case you don't, it ended with Marshawn Lynch jumping backwards into the endzone holding his groin after running over, around, and through the Saints, who were heavy favorites going into the game. Cam Newton is still only three weeks removed from a car accident in which his truck flipped over FOUR TIMES, and he's now played in two NFL football games since then, leading his team to victory in both. Maybe he really is Superman.
Were we watching a New York Jets game?! 37 points on offense, led by Geno Smith's 20 for 25 for 358 yards and three touchdowns, Eric Decker's 221 receiving yards, a fake punt that went for 38 yard completion instead, and an end around for a 23-yard score. For good measure, the defense gave up a 97-yard rushing touchdown to Lamar Miller, as well. If this was Rex Ryan's final game for Gang Green, it was certainly entertaining.
Even though the Texans just missed out on the playoffs, J.J. Watt put a stamp on what could very well be an MVP season. He finished this year with 20.5 sacks, the final one of which was on Blake Bortles in the end zone for a safety. To go along with the sacks, he's got an 80-yard interception return, a 45-yard fumble recovery, three touchdown catches, 50 quarterback hits and 29 tackles for loss. The hits, tackles for loss and sacks all lead the NFL. Simply absurd.
For the second time in four weeks, Peyton Manning didn't throw a touchdown pass. No matter. CJ Anderson carried the load, racking up 107 total yards and three scores, and the Broncos routed the Raiders 47-14 to lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Amazing how good you can look when you play Oakland.
They weren't playing for anything, but the Niners avoided a losing season with a 20-17 win over the Cardinals, sending Jim Harbaugh off as a winner. Despite leading his team to three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, Harbaugh has already moved on from San Francisco. Frank Gore might be joining him. He rushed for 144 yards–making it 302 in his previous two weeks–and finished with over 1,000 for the eighth time as a Niner. He leads the team in rushing yards.
Whose Performance Deserves A "Needs Improvement"?
It's hard to single out one person in a 31-point loss, but Atlanta's Patrick DiMarco had a pretty inexcusable drop in the first quarter against the Panthers. On a short pass from two yards out, DiMarco let a pass ricochet off his hands as he was running into the end zone. The Falcons had to settle for a field goal, which ended up being their only points of the game. At the time, a touchdown would have trimmed the Panthers lead to 10-7. It was still early, but you could feel the air go out of the building after DiMarco's drop.
With how many injuries they had this year, it was only a matter of time before the Chargers fell short. Unfortunately, they did it against a Chiefs team whose quarterback was starting for just the second time in his career. A week after hanging 38 on the Niners, San Diego managed only seven. Philip Rivers had three turnovers, and the team was just 2-11 on third downs.
The triumphant return of Jay Cutler! Well…not really. Cutler finished 23 for 36 for a meager 172 yards. His longest completion went for 22. The Bears line just couldn't give him a lot of time to work; he was sacked twice and hit several others. But Chicago gets a better draft pick in the loss, so maybe it's worthwhile.
Odell Beckham Jr. had 185 yards, but only one touchdown. When you catch a long pass with three fingers on national television, we expect more than that. C'mon, OBJ!
Most Interesting Facts From Week 17
When facing an opponent with a record better than .500 on the road, Matthew Stafford is now 0-16 in his career.
Eric Decker had 42.5% of the receiving yards on Sunday that he had amassed in the prior 15 games total.
There were seven touchdowns of 50 or more yards. Three of them occurred in the Cowboys/Redskins game.
Ryan Lindley's first touchdown pass to Michael Floyd was his first in 229 pass attempts. That had been the longest streak in NFL history.
If someone had told you to name the five quarterbacks who would lead the NFL in passing in Week 17, would you have guessed Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Lindley, and Joe Flacco? If you said yes, people probably don't trust you. Ever.
Notes From Vegas
Going by the closing line, favorites went 6-9 against the spread (121-130-5 on the year) and 11-4 straight up (170-86 on the year). Only three home dogs this week–all three lost SU, but Tampa Bay was able to cover (albeit by blowing a 13-point fourth quarter lead) Home dogs ended at 1-2 for the week, finishing at 38-42 ATS on the season.
Top Dog: 63% of backers took the Bills straight up at a +170 ML, which turned out to be a steal as they faced the Pats' second string.
Biggest Upset: Conversely, 69% of bettors took the Patriots against the spread, who opened as 8.5-point favorites before closing as 4.5-point favorites. Elsewhere, the Dolphins opened and closed as 7-point favorites against the Jets, and lost straight up. They had 59% backing on both the spread and ML picks.
Last Week: 8-8, Overall: 40-50-2
Good thing I didn't quit my day job for this. Enjoy the playoffs, everyone!