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NFL Week 16: Ten Things You Need To Know

Normally by the end of the season, teams are either in three modes: a) taking their foot off the gas after confirming their appearance in th


Normally by the end of the season, teams are either in three modes: a) taking their foot off the gas after confirming their appearance in the playoffs, b) furiously trying to eke out results as their scramble for a wildcard postseason berth, or c) looking ahead to 2016 by trying new players or playing for pride. Week 16 really did not conform to any of those norms. We saw an unbeaten team lose for the first time, a team right in the thick of the playoff action lose to a division rival playing a new quarterback, and a team right in the playoff action beat a team already in the postseason in bizarre circumstances. Want to know more? I thought so. With that clue, here are the ten things you need to know from Sunday. 1. The Jets came into Sunday with everything on the line. They knew they needed to beat the Patriots to haul themselves back into the wildcard spots in the AFC, while needing the Steelers to drop a game. Well they held up their end of the bargain, after out-gaining and eventually outscoring the Patriots 26-20 after overtime. The most curious part of this game was the Patriots’ decision to kick the ball to the Jets to start overtime. In those rules, if the team that has first possession of the ball scores a touchdown on their opening drive, then they get the win without the other team getting a possession back. Therefore, logic dictates that you would want first possession of the ball 99% of the time if you get the option. Well, Bill Belichick decided that he would take the one percent, and it backfired massively. Eric Decker was found on a touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick, who tied the Jets’ franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season (29), to seal the victory for the Jets. A win against Buffalo next week will see the Jets in the postseason for the first time since 2012. 2. Either Carolina took Atlanta lightly, or this Falcons unit is totally different from the team that got shut out against the Panthers just two weeks ago. Regardless, the undefeated dream is gone for the Panthers, meaning that the ’72 Dolphins will remain the only perfect NFL campaign for at least another year. The loss does not change too much for Carolina, though they will be concerned over how the loss of running back Jonathan Stewart hurt the balance of the offense. With the Cardinals mercilessly beating the Packers, they do lose the luxury of effectively taking the final week of the regular season off, as Arizona can leapfrog them for the top seed in the NFC. The Falcons have won two straight, and at the time left themselves with a chance of making the playoffs. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed later on Sunday, as the Vikings beat the Giants to confirm their appearance in the postseason, leaving the Falcons out of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. 3. Even the most ardent of Ravens fans would not have held much hope of their team coming up trumps against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and thus completing the season sweep over their most bitter rivals. After all, Baltimore were on their fourth quarterback of the season (Ryan Mallett), were missing a whole host of players, and had to find a way of controlling a hot Steelers offense with a porous secondary. As we all know, though, games aren’t played on paper, and the Ravens pulled off a deserved 20-17 victory to leave the Steelers reeling and out of playoff contention as things stand. Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and Antonio Brown had a quiet day (for him), being held to just 61 receiving yards. Mallett proved to be an upgrade over both Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen, remaining turnover free and throwing for 274 yard (a career high) and a touchdown. It could have been worse for the Steelers, had Jimmy Smith, who already had one pick of Roethlisberger, been allowed to have a 101 pick-six stand. However, an errant foot from Courtney Upshaw strayed offside, letting the Steelers stay around for a little longer. Ultimately, though, it was in vain, as that loss handed the Cincinnati Bengals the AFC North. Poetic that it will be the Ravens, even in a lost season, that may probably end the Steelers playoff hopes in 2015. 4. There just may be a new team at the top of our Power Rankings on Tuesday. The Arizona Cardinals, long the unheralded team of the season, pummelled a potential Super Bowl contended in Green Bay off the field with a 38-8 rout, clinching themselves a playoff bye and putting them in line for a shot at home field advantage for the entirety of the playoffs. Though they have a tricky end of season game against the Seahawks to come, a win for them and a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the Panthers would clinch Arizona the #1 seed in the NFC. For the Packers, they host the Minnesota Vikings next week in what will be a winner-takes-all clash for the NFC North. The game was defined by a the swarming Cardinals defensive line, coupled with the firepower of the Cardinals offense. The defensive line generated eight sacks and 14 quarterback hits and Aaron Rodgers was put under extreme duress all game long. The fact that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy pulled him from the game with almost the entire fourth quarter remaining spoke volumes over the way the Green Bay offensive line was getting man-handled. To boot, the Cardinals returned two Rodgers fumbles on sacks for touchdowns in the third quarter, putting the game to bed just after Rodgers had found Eddy Lacy for the Packers first score of the game. Oh, and Carson Palmer threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns, while running back David Johnson rushed for a score and had a combined 127 yards from scrimmage as a dual threat in the passing and rushing attacks. Nobody is going to want to play this Cardinals team come the playoffs, and, dare I say it, may be the Super Bowl favourites heading into the final week of the regular season. 5. Another team that was starting their fourth quarterback of the season also won on Sunday. This time, it was the turn of the Houston Texans, led by Brandon Weeden, who obliterated their AFC South foes, the Tennessee Titans, 34-6. The Texans remain in control of their destiny, needing to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars next week to secure the AFC South, due to the Colts beating the Miami Dolphins. Weeden had a nice day in relief of Brian Hoyer/T.J Yates. He rushed for his first NFL touchdown, as well as throwing for two touchdowns himself as the Titans proved to be no match for Houston. Yet again, though, it was the defense that defined the victory, forcing four turnovers and converting them to the tune of 17 points. They will have their hands full with the Jaguars high powered offense next weekend, in what will be a pivotal game for this unheralded team. 6. In a Week 1 throwback, the St. Louis Rams once again had the Seattle Seahawks number in a 23-17 victory. The Rams led 17-0 early, thanks to a Kenny Britt touchdown and a Russell Wilson fumble that was recovered by Akeem Ayers for a score. From there, the Rams defense took over, despite two Wilson touchdown passes, the final one coming in garbage time. The result meant nothing but bragging rights for the Rams, but for center Tim Barnes, he can also start calling himself the ‘Football Magnet’. He recovered two fumbles in one possession for the Rams, one where he snatched the ball right from the nose of Earl Thomas after a Benny Cunningham fumble, then later after Todd Gurley had hurdled a Seahawks defender only to cough up the ball. This was the first game in 71 straight that the Seahawks never held a lead, ending the longest streak of that kind in NFL history. 7. Give the Kansas City Chiefs a pat on the back, after they became only the second team in NFL history to start the season 1-5 but still qualify for the postseason, after a nine-game winning streak, coupled with a Ravens victory over the Steelers, confirmed their appearance in the playoffs. They beat the Browns on Sunday 17-13 for that ninth consecutive win, while also keeping their once ridiculous hopes of winning the AFC West alive, if the Broncos fail to win both of their remaining games, and the Chiefs overcome the Raiders next Sunday. Alex Smith and Johnny Manziel did not look too dissimilar on Sunday, with both quarterbacks making more plays with their legs than through the air. The game actually came right down to the final moments, but the Browns ran out of time to give them a chance to score late. 8. Setting up our humdinger of a final weekend, the Minnesota Vikings humbled the New York Giants 49-17 to book their place in the playoff, leaving us with a lovely primetime winner-takes-all clash in the NFC North next week between them and the Packers. The Giants, eliminated from playoff contention a mere 24-hours previously, looked like many teams whose seasons had ended prematurely and wanted to be anywhere else. Eli Manning threw three interceptions, including a pick-six to Harrison Smith late in the second quarter, as he missed Odell Beckham in the Giants receiving corps badly. Adrian Peterson once against stole the show for the Vikings, with a 104-yard rushing performance and a touchdown, giving the Vikings ground game a nice confidence boost heading into the final week of the season. 9. In a good old fashioned Madden-style shootout in New Orleans, the Saints beat the Jaguars 38-27. The Jaguars defense has been nothing but generous to opposing quarterbacks all season long, and gave up 412 yards and three touchdowns to a banged up Drew Brees and crew, with Brandin Cooks the pick of the receivers with 123 yards off five catches, and a touchdown. Blake Bortles also had himself a day, with four touchdown passes and another game with over 350 passing yards, but two early interceptions frustrated a Jaguars offense that too often has to play in fifth gear to stay in games. Another unsurprising stat? Both Allen’s (Hurns and Robinson) finished with over 100 receiving yards each and three touchdowns between them, confirming that for as long as that tandem stays in Jacksonville, then if the defense can shore up, they will be a threat for anyone in coming years. 10. It’s not much consolation for Detroit fans, but the Lions are on somewhat of a roll right now, even if it is too little too late. They overcame the San Francisco 49ers 32-17 to win their fifth game in their last seven, much to the frustration of the Lions organisation and fans who must be wondering where this form was when it mattered. Bear in mind that they could easily have won six of their last seven. barring Aaron Rodgers late game heroics in that infamous ending. It may have been the last games in Detroit for head coach Jim Caldwell, who is an uncertainty to return after the Lions dismal start to the season and the midseason firings of the Lions president and general manager, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who could be a free agent come the offseason. One answer they have is at quarterback, where Matthew Stafford has flourished in new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme. The 49ers can’t say the same, but should continue with Blaine Gabbert in their plans for 2016. For the low expectations he came into the role with, he has proved to be an upgrade over Colin Kaepernick, and provides a workable base for a franchise quarterback. Though his fumble proved to be costly for the 49ers on Sunday, handing the Lions an unassailable lead, he throws a beautiful deep ball and is sneakily athletic, similar to the play of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. The 49ers need as much talent with upside that they can get their hands on, and he is one piece not to let go of.  

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NFL Week 16: Ten Things You Need To Know

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