Another huge and exciting weekend in the NFL, as the postseason scenarios heat up. The playoff picture is now getting much clearer, as the Giants clinched a playoff spot despite losing, while the Falcons and the two Lone Star State teams, the Texans and the Cowboys, each locked up their division titles, respectively. Miami is awfully close to clinching a playoff spot after a very exciting road win in frigid Buffalo.
Some other teams got knocked out because of untimely losses, including the Bills, the Titans, and Colts all saw their playoff hopes vanish with defeats.
Also, two teams with massive losing streaks finally won, as the Browns avoided the prospect of a winless season by beating San Diego, and the 49ers ended their franchise record losing streak by beating the Rams on the road.
Let's take a close look at all of the Christmas Eve games that were played yesterday:
Philadelpia 24, N.Y. Giants 19 - I already reviewed this one. Here were my thoughts on it from just a few days ago (from Giants Blow Chance to Clinch Playoffs, published on 12/23/16):
Not really sure what it is about the city of Philadelphia that makes it so difficult for the Giants to win there, but they rarely ever seem to do it, these days.
Apparently, they cannot even do it when they enter a game red hot while the Eagles looked ice cold, like both teams did for last night's game.
Nope, it hardly mattered that the G-Men had won eight of their previous nine games, and that Philly had won only two games total since starting the season off 3-0 back in September. Once these teams took the field last night, it was Philly that dictated play and found a way to win.
Maybe it is those black uniforms that the Eagles always wear whenever they play the Giants in the City of Brotherly Love. I honestly cannot remember the Giants ever beating them when Philly wears those black uniforms.
For their part, the Giants wore throwback uniforms in honor of the New York Giants teams of the 1980's and 1990's - the team that won both Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXV. Their were slight differences - particularly the helmets, which remained the color that they are now, and not the very dark, navy blue that sometimes looked almost black back then. Also, the Giants traditionally had blue on the top of heir socks, Still, it was refreshing to see those old uniforms put back into use for the first time since the 1999 season, before the Giants changed their uniforms to something very similar to what they have now.
In any case, the Eagles won again, and New York wasted an opportunity to finally clinch a playoff spot. Also, the loss by the Giants assured that the Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East title, as well as home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Costly missed opportunity for the G-Men.
New York had some opportunities down the stretch, and their defense, which has been stellar all season, kept them in this game, as well.
However, in the end, too many mistakes did the Giants in. Eli Manning attempted a career record 63 pass attempts, and completed 38 of them for 356 yards and one touchdown. However, he also threw three very costly picks that helped do the Giants in.
Most likely, the Giants will qualify for the playoffs, although they seem intent on doing it the hard way. It will not be easy for them to win at Washington next week, either, and their offense has been quite mediocre and limited in production for the past three weeks, failing to reach 20 points for four consecutive weekends now. They are one of four teams that has failed to put up 30 points in a single game thus far. The other teams that have not managed to score 30 points in any games this year are the Chicago Bears, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Cleveland Browns - the three losingest teams in the league this season, with a total of four wins and 38 losses this season. Methinks the Giants will have to do better to have a chance at doing more than qualify for the playoffs, and then seeing a quick exit. This team will need to score some points against elite teams come January, always assuming that they will still be playing in January. Their defense is awesome, ranking third, but the offense has proven to be a liability, even with a two-time Super Bowl MVP at the helm. They should be better.
A missed opportunity for sure, and the Giants now probably need to route for the Dallas Cowboys to beat the Detroit Lions in the next game, as a loss by the Lions would likely allow the Giants to just about clinch a playoff berth finally, once and for all.
We shall see.
Miami 34, Buffalo 31 (F/OT) - Remember the days when the Bills and the Dolphins was one of the best rivalries in the NFL? That was around the early 1990's, when the two teams battled frequently, but Buffalo was the one who generally triumphed and accomplished things, going to four straight Super Bowls, and knocking out Dan Marino and the Dolphins out of the playoffs, specifically, twice during that span. Of course, that was a long time ago, back when Pearl Jam was a young and still emerging band, instead of legends who have secured their place in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Well, this game was almost like a throwback to that glorious era between these two teams, as they met in a very relevant, intense game, with a lot of playoff ramifications for both. Clearly, Buffalo showed up for their head coach, Rex Ryan, as they came ready to play. But do did the Dolphins, who are so close to the playoffs now, they can smell it. They fought very hard for it, too. Both teams played extremely well, but it was Miami that made the biggest plays when absolutely necessary in this back and forth affair, that went deep into overtime before this thing was decided. The Dolphins got the winning field goal after Buffalo coach Ryan decided to punt with a little over five minutes left in OT, in a game that the Bills could neither afford to lose or even tie. Now, he has a lot of explaining to do, as questions are swirling as to whether or not he will remain as Buffalo's head coach next year. This win almost assures the Dolphins have punched their ticket into the postseason, although a loss by Denver at KC later today would make it official. Huge win for Miami, and equally huge loss for the Bills, who will extend their playoff drought to 17 seasons!
Atlanta 33, Carolina 16 - Remember when Atlanta and Carolina was one of the best rivalries in the NFL? Yeah, neither do I. That's because these two teams never seem to be very good at the same time. It seems that when the Panthers are doing very well, the Falcons are not, and vice versa. Last year, the Panthers looked like world beaters, while Atlanta was irrelevant - particularly in the second half of the season. This year, it's the Falcons who look suddenly high and mighty, while Carolina has been surprisingly inept all season. In a game that meant nothing much to the Panthers, but which meant everything to the Falcons, Atlanta once again showed an impressive level of dominance to win convincingly on the road, and officially clinch a playoff spot. Yes, Atlanta's offense is indeed one of the best and most dangerous in the league, and at Carolina yesterday, they were, once again, explosive. They scored 33 points, which is right around their average, and the defense made that stand with a solid showing, containing Carolina to a pedestrian 16 points total. The Falcons, by virtue of their winning and both Tampa Bay and Seattle losing, not only clinched the NFC South title, but even currently hold the second seed in the NFC playoffs, and they can wrap that position up with a win over New Orleans next weekend.
Washington 41, Chicago 21 - Washington snapped an untimely losing streak, and got back into strong relevance in the NFC playoff picture yesterday by beating the Bears convincingly in Chicago, as well as by benefiting from a surprising Tampa Bay loss at New Orleans. Still, Washington would need some help from their division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, as they have to hope that Detroit loses to Big D on Monday Night, and that the Lions then beat the Packers next weekend. If those two things happen, then Washington would simply need to win against the Giants next week, and the Giants might just rest their starters, having already locked up the fifth seed themselves.
Cleveland 20, San Diego 17 - The Browns managed to clinch their first and only win of the season this year, thus assuring that they will not be remembered historically as one of the few winless seasons in NFL history. Instead, this season will be forgotten, as this team was not inept at a historical level, but just very, very bad. It helped Cleveland that San Diego had some miscues. Once again, the Chargers reverted to earlier season struggles, when they kept finding new and innovative ways of losing. It happened again this weekend, just in time to remind management that some major overhauls are required.
Green Bay 38, Minnesota 25 - The Packers struggled earlier this season, and a major losing streak threatened to derail their playoff hopes and expectations. But Green Bay has gotten hot while Lambeau Field has grown frigid, and the Pack looks virtually unstoppable right now. Once again, they took care of business, and convincingly, as Aaron Rodgers was very prolific, and looked very much like an MVP candidate. Minnesota just could not seriously contend, as they were beaten down into submission, their playoff hopes for this year extinguished, once and for all. By virtue of this win, the Packers control their own destiny, as a win next week at Detroit gives them another division title.
Jacksonville 38, Tennessee 17 - What a disastrous day for the Titans. All season long, they had been showing some signs of tremendous hope, but all of that was for naught following this one horrific game. This was the worst case scenario for Tennessee, as their playoff hopes came crashing down with a shocking suddenness to one of the worst teams in the league, and the Texans beating Cincy to clinch the AFC South. To add insult to injury, the present and future of the franchise, Marcus Mariota, was injured after an awkward hit, and is out for the duration of the season - which will be only one game for the Titans. The big, end of season clash against Houston means nothing now, and the Titans will have to hope to build on their success this season now going forward, as they were eliminated officially from playoff contention.
New England 41, N.Y. Jets 3 - New England just keeps on rolling, as they improve to 13-2 on the year, having already clinched a playoff bye, and are now eyeing the top seed throughout the AFC playoffs with a win next weekend, no matter what happens anywhere else in the league. Predictably, the Patriots looked as impressive as ever in humiliating Gang Green in this one. This would have been the most fitting end to the Jets miserable season, but the torture for the Jets and their fans will go on at least for one more week. New York is one of the worst teams in the league, while New England might very well be the best, and this game was what you could expect it to be, given the circumstances. The Patriots will hope to wrap up the number one seed with a game at Miami next weekend.
New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 24 - This was one crushing loss for the Bucs, who had been fighting for a playoff spot. Now, they need some serious help. Tampa Bay lost controlling it's own destiny with yet another untimely loss, this time to New Orleans. The Saints have the league's top rated offense, and they were a dangerous team coming in. Tampa Bay learned that the hard way, as they fell victim to that offense at the most inopportune time. Now, the Bucs are almost eliminated from playoff contention, as a scenario where they make it in seems unlikely. Still, this was a season that should instill hope for the Tampa Bay faithful, and the future does look bright.
Oakland 33, Indianapolis 25 - The Raiders reached an impressive 12 wins on the season, having already clinched a playoff berth. In the process, they are inching closer to that division title, and enjoyed their most successful regular season since all the way back in the 1990 season, when they finished at 12-4 on the year. Of course, the Raiders already had a playoff spot locked up, but they are battling to win the AFC West outright, and needed this win to stay ahead of Kansas City, because the Chiefs win any tiebreak by virtue of their season sweep of Oakland. As for the Colts, another disappointing season sees them missing the playoffs for a second season in a row. Now, the Colts will need to spend the off-season making adjustments to try and field a more competitive team next season.
San Francisco 22, L.A. Rams 21 - A gutsy call to go for the win with a two-point conversion rather than just the tie helped the 49ers end a franchise record 13 game losing streak, as they completed a season sweep of the hapless Rams - the only team that San Francisco managed to defeat this season. This was a battle of two pretty bad teams, but San Francisco managed the win, overcoming a 21-7 fourth quarter deficit, and taking that tremendous gamble that paid off for them, and earning their second win of the season, and their only road win on the year. Still, this was a disappointing season for both teams involved in this particular game.
Arizona 34, Seattle 31 - The Cardinals stunned the Seahawks in Seattle, and in the process, they knocked the 'Hawks out of the coveted second seed, which came with a playoff bye. It is not impossible that Seattle could still get that second seed, although they now need some serious help, as they need not only to win next weekend, but they need Atlanta to lose. Maybe this is a sign that the Seahawks just are not nearly as good as we have gotten used to them being in recent seasons. As for Arizona, this was a solid and promising win for a team that was supposed to be a hell of a lot better than they actually wound up being this year. One of the few highlights for the Cardinals.
Houston 12, Cincinnati 10 - Another thriller for the Texans, who just keep amazing us by lighting up the board with incredible offensive production. This win clinches the division title, in what surely remains the weakest division in the league. So now, a huge showdown for the division title against Tennessee was averted, and the Texans can relax, having locked up home field for a playoff game in the Wildcard round. As for the Bengals, just another loss in a disappointing season that saw all of their hopes and aspirations, and even expectations, frustrated. This was a real snoozefest of a game for Christmas Eve.