There were some pretty big games yesterday, although none bigger than the Sunday Night Football showdown between the visiting Green Bay Packers and the hometown Detroit Lions, with what seemed like everything riding on it.
As it turned out, however, both teams had clinched playoff berths as a result of the Giants road victory in Washington. The only bit of mystery remaining involved seeding, with the winner of the SNF duel reaching the fourth seed and having home field advantage in a Wildcard game against those same Giants next weekend. Plus, there was some mystery remaining regarding the second seed, with both the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks fighting for it.
Over on the AFC side, all six playoff teams had been decided. The only real mysteries remaining also involved seeding, with New England trying to wrap up the number one seed, and the Oakland Raiders trying to wrap up the AFC West division title, with the Kansas City Chiefs right behind them.
Now, however, the playoff picture is complete. Let's take a look:
New England 35, Miami 14 - The Patriots are rolling once again, as they essentially dismantled Miami in this game yesterday to finish their year at an impressive 14-2 mark. Entering the game, New England needed to win to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, although Oakland's loss later in the day would have secured it anyway. Still, the Pats were very impressive, and they had the best record of any team in the league this year. As for the Dolphins, this game meant essentially nothing to them, so they probably were not trying too hard. Still, they get to play in the Wildcard round next weekend, and appear to have a bright future. Not a surprising outcome here.
Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 24 (OT) - The Browns had an opportunity to pull off a solid win - a second win in a row - to end what was otherwise a highly forgettable season for them. Predictably, they fell short. The Steelers had nothing to really gain, as they were already locked into that third seed spot. However, this victory assures that they finish with six straight victories, and may just be the hottest team entering the playoffs - a big "if", though. They managed to defeat a lowly Browns team that should be happy just to put this pathetic season behind them, and work towards a brighter future, hopefully.
Philadelphia 27, Dallas 13 - Romo returned, and looked sharp, completing 3 of 4 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown in his brief return to the field of play. But Dallas pulled him out of what was to them a meaningless game, and the 'Boys played a lackluster game without their starters, losing for only the third time all season, but with obviously much more important things looming ahead. For the Eagles, a solid two wins at the end of the season helps to make them feel better about what was a mediocre season, but this was not indicative of how bad they were this year following that early 3-0 start.
Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 10 - The Ravens need help. True, they won the Super Bowl following the 2012 season, and looked like a model of consistency at that point. However, they have now missed the playoffs in three of the four seasons since, and they looked positively miserable at points this season. They lost to another hugely disappointing team, the Bungles, who figured to contend for the playoffs again, but failed. Both teams could return back to playoff form for next season, although each team is a long way from contending for anything bigger than that at this point.
Minnesota 38, Chicago 10 - Now the Vikings looked like bullies again, much like they did during their 5-0 start to the season, only it was too little and came much too late to save Minnesota's season. Sam Bradfrd statistically had a brilliant season, although it probably does not feel like it right now. He played well yesterday, too, completing 25 of 33 pass attempts for 250 yards and one touchdown, as well as an interception. He really helped the Vikings look sharp in this one, even though it was against one of the worst teams in the league at the moment. The Bears looked almost helpless, particularly on defense, where they looked overwhelmed, deflated, and defeated. However, Jordan Howard had a good day running for 'Da Bears, gaining 135 yards on 23 carries. Overall this season, he gained 1,313 yards on 252 carries, and had 6 touchdowns. Not bad production.
Indianapolis 24, Jacksonville 20 - Well, both teams had memorable endings to largely forgettable seasons. Both played well in the final weeks, although not nearly well enough to overcome some poor play earlier in the season. Ultimately, the Colts won in this meaningless contest, where both teams played for pride, as Indy outlasted Jax, 24-20.
N.Y. Jets 30, Buffalo 10 - Buffalo came in without playoff hopes, as well as without their head coach. Frankly, they looked it, too, as the Jets not only got a relatively rare win this season, but earned perhaps their most convincing victory of the season to enter the off-season on a positive note. Still, this season was largely forgettable for both franchises, with the Jets being one of the teams that many thought would contend for the playoffs. But some infighting early in the season left a bad feeling that Gang Green never fully recovered from. Meanwhile, the Bills just simply want to make the playoffs again, so that they no longer own the longest active drought among all NFL teams for failing to qualify for the playoffs. They have not made it to the postseason since their Music City Miracle defeat back during the 1999-2000 season, but they will have to wait until next year, at least, to try and end that dubious distinction.
Tampa Bay 17, Carolina 16 - Cam Newton's struggles this season continued, just one year after he won the NFL MVP award. And as his fortunes went, so did Carolina's, a team that dominated the NFL with a 15-1 record, before bowing to Denver in the Super Bowl. The whole season felt like that one game this season, as teams kept roughing the Panthers up. In this finale, Carolina was hoping to at least regain enough of last season's form to frustrate Tampa Bay's last hopes for a playoff berth. It was a tight game, and when the Panthers had seemingly scored the tying touchdown with seconds left, they decided to go for the two-point conversion to win it, rather than a point after to tie. It was no good, and that secured the win for the Bucs, and another, frustrating loss in a long series of them for Carolina this season. In the end, however, all this meant for Tampa Bay was that they were the NFC team with the best record (9-7) among the teams that failed to qualify for the postseason.
Tennessee 24, Houston 17 - The Titans lost the game that truly meant something last week, but at least they ended this season off right by beating Houston in the season finale, and finishing with a winning record, even with Mariota absent. It was a good season for the Titans, but this win surely was bittersweet, as they really had a chance at qualifying for the postseason. As for the Texans, they won the NFL's weakest division, but they have a lot of question marks, particularly on offense, and especially at the quarterback position. This loss, however, meant nothing to them.
Seattle 25, San Francisco 23 - Boy, Seattle is not nearly as menacing as they have been in recent seasons past! They had to win this contest for a chance at the second seed and playoff bye, but barely did so, even against a 49ers team that had the second worst record in the league, at 2-14. The Seahawks still did not get the second seed, as Atlanta won earlier in the day. Still, the win was a nice one, and still necessary for them to secure the third seed, as a loss would have sent them down to the fourth seed, as they would have had a worse record than the NFC North champs (Green Bay, as it turns out). Now, the Seahawks have to get ready for Detroit next weekend.
Arizona 44, Los Angeles 6 - For the Cardinals, this was probably far and away their most impressive, dominant performance of the season, and it came on the heels of a huge win last weekend at Seattle. That allows the Cardinals to enter this off-season feeling better about what was otherwise a hugely disappointing season, when high expectations met with the disappointment of reality. As for the Rams, they won only one game after getting off to a 3-1 start, matching the two worst teams in the league, the Browns and the 49ers, for that distinction. This was an embarrassing end for the newly relocated Los Angeles franchise, and they urgently need to make improvements to hope to contend in the future.
Denver 24, Oakland 6 - Matt McGloin looked bad in starting at quarterback after Carr's injury last weekend, and McGloin also got hurt in yesterday's game. Just an awful, awful game for the Raiders, who would have clinched the AFC West Division that they had been leading for most of the season with a win, and instead produced 6 points in an embarrassing, frustrating loss. Denver finally got a decent and meaningful divisional win against a winning team, and it helps them to feel better about what turned out to be a disappointing title defense season that saw this franchise miss the playoffs fort he first time since the 2010 season. Still, their defense is obviously quite good yet, and they should be contenders at least next season. But they need to get a quarterback. Desperately.
Kansas City 37, San Diego 27 - It was a tough, back and forth game, and the Chiefs were not even fully in control of their own destiny. Yet, in the end, the best case scenario worked itself out for KC. They won, overcoming a surprisingly tough San Diego team, while the Raiders lost. Thus, the Chiefs managed to not only win the AFC West, but to secure a playoff bye that allows them to rest and get healthy in time for their first playoff contest in two weeks. As for the Chargers, a disappointing season that saw them fail time and again at the most crucial points finally ends, but it will be a long and tumultuous off-season, most likely.
Atlanta 38, New Orleans 32 - The Falcons were hot early, determined to clinch that second seed, and the playoff bye that comes with it. They scored early and often, and then essentially held New Orleans off towards the end. This is their most successful season since 2012, when they finished 13-3 and were the NFC's top seed, ultimately losing to San Fran in the NFC Championship. This season, they may have a tough challenge against either Seattle or, if Detroit happens to win, Green Bay or New York. The Falcons appear to be in good shape, and enter the playoffs as one of the truly hottest teams in the league. As for the Saints, they had an elite offense this year, but their defense, on the other hand, was not very good, and proved a liability. But they now have all off-season to work on those issues.
N.Y. Giants 19, Washington 10 - The Giants defense has been the strength of the team this season, and the offense has been a liability all season long. They kept their starters in, hoping to generate a spark and, indeed, they did not look half bad through the first half, taking a 10-0 lead into the locker room. Washington fought back to make a game of it, even tying the game at 10-10 at one point, but the Giants secured the win to knock Washington out of the playoffs. Still, their offense was disappointing in the second half, even though the defense made their pedestrian amount of points stand up. It might not have been an essential game, as the G-Men were already locked into that fifth seed. However, the win means that they managed to knock a team out for the season already, and allows them to recover from the disappointment of losing at Philly last week, as they now prepare for a tough road game at Lambeau Field. That said, Eli Manning has won his two previous playoff contests at Lambeau, and this game saw them playing sharp - especially on defense - so they should be running in with confidence.
Sunday Night Football - Green Bay 31, Detroit 24 - Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of 39 for 300 yards and four touchdowns, and they look positively scary entering the playoffs with a six game winning streak, and perhaps the NFL's hottest offense right now. The Packers stayed hot by remaining just on top of the Lions through the game last night, then putting it out of reach late in the fourth quarter, to secure an improbable division title, after they fell to 4-6 with four straight losses and looked largely out of it. Now, they defeat the Lions in Detroit to win the NFC North. The loss was obviously bad news for the Lions, although they still somehow backed into the postseason after dropping their final three games of the regular season, to drop from one of the top looking teams in the NFC at 9-4, to the lowest seed to enter at 9-7. Frankly, they are lucky to get in. They will now face Seattle in the playoffs next weekend, another surprisingly vulnerable team.