Week 16 provided more clarity as the playoffs near. The Vikings, Saints, Panthers, and Colts have all been eliminated, while the Giants and Falcons officially punched their ticket to the postseason. The Nightmare Before Christmas was real for the Raiders and Titans who lost their young phenom quarterbacks for the season. Here is what else we learned from the penultimate week of the regular season…
Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines out of Week 16 of the 2016 NFL season:
Go crazy, folks
Seahawks may be one and done: Seattle, after falling 34-31 to Arizona, has lost three of five and look nothing like the team that went to back-to-back Super Bowls. Since safety Earl Thomas went down, the Seahawks gave up 38 at Green Bay and 34 at home to the Cardinals, with a 24-3 victory over the lowly Rams wedged in between. The Seahawks, who allowed Arizona to score on four of its final six possessions, just aren’t the same defense without Thomas. That might be OK if the offense could be counted on, but unless Russell Wilson plays Superman every week (350 yards, four touchdowns vs. Arizona), status quo doesn’t work for Seattle. Seattle's offensive line is so bad at this point (2.9 rushing average, six sacks allowed, 14 total QB hits), and with injuries mounting (WR Tyler Lockett is out for the season and RB Thomas Rawls left the game), it’s difficult seeing the Seahawks being much of a threat this postseason.
Loss of Carr a crusher for Raiders: The Raiders were one of the best stories in the NFL this year. Young, daring and unflinching, Oakland appeared poised to at the very least inject a lot of fun into the AFC playoffs this season with QB David Carr, WR Amari Cooper and OLB Khalil Mack. But after Carr suffered a broken fibula (same injury, same day as Titans’ Marcus Mariota) and was ruled out for the season, Raiders just won’t be able to hang with the AFC big boys. Backup Matt McGloin is a gamer and gives the Raiders a better shot than the Titans, but Carr’s passion and play drove the Raiders. It’s a shame, but good things are coming for the Raiders.
David Johnson is something else: The Cardinals’ running back tied Hall of Famer Barry Sanders for the NFL record with 15-straight games with a 100+ scrimmage yards. He became the first Cardinal to go over 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season and now leads the NFL with 20 touchdowns after scoring three against the Seahawks. Johnson has been so good it makes you wonder why the Cardinals were so disappointing this season.
Great comeback by 49ers: After losing RB Carlos Hyde to a bad leg injury, the 49ers showed a lot of moxie coming from 21-7 down in the fourth quarter and winning on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 31 seconds left. Considering the way the season has gone, it was somewhat surprising to see the emotion on the 49ers’ sideline after Rashard Robinson’s game-clinching interception. Good sign for a team that hasn’t had much success this season.
Winston needs to be better: The Bucs’ defense was torched by Drew Brees and the Saints, and that led to a 31-24 loss, but QB Jameis Winston needs to be better to win these types of games in the future. His two interceptions to Jairus Byrd just can’t happen when the season is on the line. Yes, Winston was under pressure throughout this game but needs some work in the offseason with his footwork and making his release a bit quicker.
About Saturday Night
Just what you wanted for Christmas, the Texans back in the postseason. After putting together one of the ugliest regular-season campaigns ever, the Houston Texans clinched their second-straight AFC South title and a third-straight winning season under Bill O'Brien with a 12-10 victory over the undermanned Bengals. Tom Savage (79.1 rating) didn't make anyone forget about Brock Osweiler in his first start this season, but the Texans are going back to the dance, where they lost 30-0 at home to the Chiefs last year. Have to give O'Brien and his staff credit. Despite a myriad of QB issues during his tenure, they find a way to win very ugly. Next step: a postseason victory.
I didn’t like the pass interference call against Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner on 2nd-and-goal from the Seattle 3 yard line early in the fourth quarter. Both Wagner and Gresham were going for the ball and it wasn’t a well thrown ball by Carson Palmer. Instead of 3rd and goal, Cardinals had first down at the 1 and scored to go up 21-10.
Coolest thing I saw
The 3rd-and-8 catch by Amari Cooper that sealed the win for the Raiders over the Colts was unbelievably clutch. Vontae Davis, one of the better CBs in the league, was draped all over Cooper yet he still made the catch in a huge spot.
After the whistle
As of this moment, the AFC playoff quarterbacks are Tom Brady (Patriots), Matt McGloin (Raiders), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Tom Savage (Texans), Alex Smith (Chiefs) and Matt Moore (Dolphins). You could also throw in the fact that Average Joe Flacco (Ravens), Trevor Siemian (Broncos) and Matt Cassel (Titans) are still alive. Is this some kind of a joke? Man, between injuries, average players and ineffective play, things could not be setup any better for the Steelers and Patriots. At this point, if Roethlisberger and Brady aren’t in the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium, it would be a major shock. Like colossal choke level. Compare the AFC to the NFC, where you have Dak Prescott (Cowboys, with Tony Romo backing up), Matt Ryan (Falcons), Matthew Stafford (Lions), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Eli Manning (Giants) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers), and it’s not even close. AFC, we kind of have a quarterback problem.