The following hypothetical perfectly sums up this NFL season: The Vikings and Seahawks are both 9-5. Seattle is already in the postseason regardless of what happens. If Seattle wins one of their final two games, Minnesota will make the playoffs, even if the Vikings lose both of their games. However, if the Vikings and Seahawks both lose their final two games, and the Falcons (currently at 7-7) win both of their remaining games, they'd all be 9-7. Thanks to the NFL's weird rule about 3-way ties, the Falcons and Seahawks would make the playoffs, even though the Vikings beat the Falcons head-to-head. Does that make any sense? No, it does not. Neither has this season. But Week 15 provided a few moments of clarity–in case you missed a moment of the action, we've got you covered.
Most Entertaining Game Of The Week
We may have gotten a little sneak peek of an AFC divisional round playoff matchup when the Broncos visited Pittsburgh, and it was filled with all the intrigue of a postseason performance. Despite an early barrage of points, the Broncos didn't score in the second half, though the offense was plentiful amongst both teams as they combined for 758 yards. Antonio Brown and Martavis "Every One Of My Fantasy Owners Adds An Extra Syllable To My Name" Bryant racked up 26 catches between them. Ben Roethlisberger threw a dreadful interception with just over two minutes left when the Steelers could have all but salted the game away. It was edge of your seat excitement, which is really all you can ask for.
Who Earned His Paycheck?
This is Cam Newton's world and we're all just living in it, trying to aspire to greatness. The Panthers QB threw for 342 yards and five touchdowns, and added another 100 on the ground as the Panthers hung on for a 38-35 victory. Let me just repeat an important point from the previous sentence: Cam Newton is a quarterback and he RAN for 100 yards. But he's also a machine and not actually human, a fact further aided by his inability to take a bad photograph. Let's all hope Carolina goes for an undefeated season, because they'd be the most jovial group of winners in probably the entire history of football.
Kansas City made a little history on Sunday, becoming the first team to lose five games in a row, then immediately follow that up with eight straight wins. Despite giving up a 47-yard Hail Mary before halftime, the Chiefs made short work of the Ravens in a 34-14 victory. Kansas City's defense forced three turnovers, including two from cornerback extraordinaire Marcus Peters, who took one of his interceptions back for a touchdown.
The Rams and Chargers very likely could have played their final games in St. Louis and San Diego, respectively. If they did, they went out with a bang. The Rams dropped 31 in a win over the Bucs, with Tavon Austin leading the way en route to 73 total yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Chargers, who put up only three points in three separate games over the past month, torched the Dolphins in a 30-14 victory. Philip Rivers threw for 311 yards and three scores, all to Danny Woodhead. Woodhead finished with 50 yards on six catches, and added a fourth touchdown on the ground. Both of these performances were great send offs for their respective fanbases.
They were mentioned above, but the Steelers turned a disastrous start against the Broncos into a crucial win. With the victory, they move ahead of the Jets as the 6th seed, thanks to a better conference record. And with a run game that was averaging less than two yards a carry, Antonio Brown came to the rescue. His 16 catches for 189 yards is the SECOND TIME he's had that many catches and yards in the same game. This year, he's had six games with at least 124 receiving yards. It's unreal how he continues to not only get open, but rack up yards after the catch–just under a third of his 1,586 yards have come after securing a pass. There's a very unlikely chance he reaches the 2,000 yards mark this season, which would be unfathomable after a multi-game stretch of catching passes from Michael Vick.
The name David Johnson is so common, it could belong to your accountant, cab driver, or annoying coworker. It could also belong to an absolute beast of a running back. In fact, Cris Collinsworth was so enamored after Johnson's 47-yard touchdown run that he said it was worthy of Beast Mode. While Johnson refrained from grabbing his groin like Marshawn Lynch did in his famous playoff touchdown run, the rookie out of Northern Iowa did run through what seemed like the entire Eagles team. On the night, he had 187 rushing yards, 42 receiving yards, and three scores, as the Cardinals clinched the NFC West. This team is SCARY good.
Whose Performance Deserves A "Needs Improvement?"
In a game that should ultimately decide the AFC South, the Texans won an ugly 16-10 game against the Colts. Neither team played superbly, but Indy's performance was particularly tough to watch. They only managed 190 yards total, and after hopping out to a 10-0 lead, they didn't score again the final 36:10 of the game. The run game couldn't help out Matt Hasselbeck, managing just 50 yards on 19 carries, good for 2.6 yards per carry. They haven't had a 100-yard rusher in three years. And this latest poor performance may have contributed to the Colts missing the postseason this year.
Speaking of AFC South teams dropping the ball, the Jacksonville Jaguars had a very winnable game against the Atlanta Falcons. The last time we saw the Falcons, they lost 38-0 to the Panthers in losing their sixth straight game. Yet Jacksonville couldn't muster enough offense to put the birds away. Going 0-for-8 on third downs probably didn't help, nor did the poor running game. Blake Bortles led the way with 44 yards and a touchdown, and he's the quarterback. The loss ensures Jacksonville will finish with a losing record for the fifth straight season.
Odell Beckham Jr. made a nice little catch to tie things up with the Panthers, though the Giants' wild comeback attempt fell just short. It's a shame ODB shouldn't have even been in the game at all. He went head to head with Panthers CB Josh Norman. Literally–the Giants receiver needlessly slammed his head into Norman's head on a block that had no business being made. On the day, Beckham had three personal foul penalties. Antics like that get people hurt, potentially beyond just this season. Beckham should have been ejected during the game, and the NFL reacted swiftly, suspending him for next week's contest on Monday. Beckham's far and away the best receiver on the team, and he needs to act like a leader. This was childish and will hurt whatever dwindling playoff hopes the Giants had.
Philadelphia just had to win Sunday night, and they'd be in control of their playoff destiny. Instead, they gave up 40+ points, which has happened in their past three losses. This has to be one of the most maddening teams in NFL history. Getting a ton of plays off quickly just doesn't work if you can't execute them, and Philly seemed out of sorts all night. The worst part of the evening was a fumble, another fumble, and then a pick six on three straight possessions. Doesn't matter who you are, it's tough to win when you pull that off.
It is physically painful to watch the Miami Dolphins attempt to play football. Fortunately, it's sunny in South Florida, so you don't have to actually do it. Go outside, get some Vitamin D, and enjoy living in pretty much the one place that doesn't get chilly. In this latest atrocity, the Dolphins had half the amount of first downs the Chargers did, converted 2-of-13 third downs, and possessed the ball for barely a third of the game. The rushing attack was worse than if I had gone out there myself with no blockers (actually not an exaggeration), and Miami as a whole was outgained by 211 yards. Again, residents of South Florida, please turn your attention to other outdoor activities, because your football team has already done the same.
Five Fun Facts From Week 15
Philip Rivers threw an interception to Reshad Jones that was returned for about 50 yards, and then he recovered a fumble when the ball squirted out of Jones' hands. The net gain on the play was negative four yards. That might be the first time ever this sequence of events has happened. Of course, last year Josh McCown both fumbled and threw an interception on the same play, so clearly anything is possible.
The Texans won in Indianapolis for the first time in team history.
Tavon Austin is the first player in 50 years to score at least four rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and a punt-return touchdown in the same season. The last to do it? Gale Sayers. Pretty good company!
Leading the Bengals to a 24-14 victory, AJ McCarron became the first ex-Alabama quarterback to win a game since 1987.
This is the first time in franchise history the Cardinals have reached 12 regular-season wins.
Five Predictions For Week 16
Last Week: 1-4
Possibly the only time this sentence has ever been uttered: thank goodness for the Redskins. They helped me avoid an 0-5 week, which surely would have led to an early retirement. And, like last year, we're going big for the final two weeks, when teams may start resting players, naturally: all games are being picked (except the two that are off the board). As always, home teams are in caps. Let's get back to .500!
San Diego +5.5 over OAKLAND
PHILADELPHIA -3 over Washington
MINNESOTA -4 over New York Giants
Chicago +3 over TAMPA BAY
CAROLINA -7 over Atlanta
Dallas +6 over Buffalo
Jacksonville +3.5 over NEW ORLEANS
San Francisco +8.5 over DETROIT
KANSAS CITY -12.5 over Cleveland
New England -3 over NEW YORK JETS
ARIZONA -4.5 over Green Bay
St. Louis +13.5 over SEATTLE
BALTIMORE +10.5 over Pittsburgh
Cincinnati +3.5 over DENVER