With the conclusion of Week 16, the NFL regular season is almost finished. At this point, all of the divisional races are wrapped up with the exception of the NFC South. This week, several playoff dreams were crushed, while other contenders won to stay in the hunt. As teams begin to prepare for the playoffs, here are the Week 16 winners and losers.
Winners: Kansas City Chiefs
A few weeks ago, the Chiefs were in absolute free-fall. The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders were surging, and the Chiefs’ once tight grip on the AFC West lead had been reduced to a three way tie. But in Weeks 14 and 15, the Chiefs rebounded and won by convincing margins against those aforementioned divisional rivals. This Sunday, they faced a middling Miami Dolphins squad at Arrowhead, and the Chiefs took care of business. Alex Smith had a solid game, racking up 304 yards on 25/39 passing, while kicker Harrison Butker was on point all game, nailing five field goals. The Kansas City defense was also superb, forcing three Miami fumbles and recovering two. With a 29-13, the Chiefs clinched the AFC West title.
Along with the division title, Kansas City is also locked into the number 4 seed in the conference. Next Sunday, they’ll travel to Denver for a showdown with the weak Broncos. They will be able to rest their key players as they wish, so that everybody is fresh and prepared for a Wild Card game at home the following week.
Losers: Detroit Lions
When the week began, the Lions’ NFC playoff hopes were very much alive. The Vikings had already clinched the NFC North, but Detroit, at 8-6, would have been in good position if they could take care of business on the road against the uninspiring Cincinnati Bengals. Before Sunday, the Bengals were just 5-9 and had dropped three straight games, including a 33-7 drubbing at home to the lowly Chicago Bears. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Bengals decided to play spoiler this week. Quarterback Matt Stafford passed just 19/35 (54.3%) on the day, and was picked off by Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey. The defense, was torn apart by Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, who rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown.
On top of their elimination from the playoff race, the Lions should be worried about Stafford, who was recently signed to a $135 million extension through the 2022 season. The extension made Stafford the highest paid player in NFL history, so much more should be expected of him. Nobody can argue that Stafford is not a talented and capable NFL quarterback, but when the Lions’ season was on the line, he fell flat and couldn’t deliver. In addition to this season’s failure, Stafford is 0-3 in the playoffs. He’ll have to find his clutch gene soon if he wants to avoid the narrative stuck with his high school center Clayton Kershaw.
Winners: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were licking their wounds after suffering a 42-7 thrashing at home at the hands of division leader Los Angeles Rams. While their chances at winning the NFC West were reduced to next-to-nothing, the Seahawks were still in the Wild Card chase, but only if they rebounded from the tough loss to LA. On Sunday, Pete Carroll and his troops marched into AT&T Stadium for a dogfight with the Dallas Cowboys, who were also 8-6 and fighting for a playoff spot. Seattle rose to the challenge, securing a 21-12 victory over Dallas. Despite passing for a career-low 93 yards, quarterback Russell Wilson was able to throw one touchdown pass each to tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks defense was outstanding as well. Despite the absences of Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, cornerback Justin Coleman and linebacker KJ Wright each intercepted Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott. Cornerback Byron Maxwell also forced a fumble by Dez Bryant, and the ball was recovered by Wright.
The Seahawks’ confidence has to be pretty high after defeating the Cowboys on the road, and although they are currently the 7 seed in the NFC, they have a good chance to squeeze into the playoffs. Atlanta holds the 6 seed at 9-6, but maintains the tiebreaker over the Seahawks after winning in Seattle in Week 11. However, they just lost to New Orleans, and will have to defeat Cam Newton and a tough Carolina squad in Week 17 in order to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Seahawks will have to beat the lackluster Arizona Cardinals at home. While it’s not sure thing that Atlanta loses and Seattle wins, the Seahawks have to feel pretty good about their chances.
Losers: Tennessee Titans
Just a few weeks ago, the Titans and Jaguars were neck-and-neck in the race for the AFC South. Since then, the teams have gone in opposite directions, as the Jags have clinched the division and the Titans have lost back to back games to the Cardinals and 49ers. If the Titans could beat the Rams at home on Sunday, they could all but clinch their spots in the AFC playoffs. The Titans haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2008-9 season. Sadly, the Titans were unable to rise to the occasion, and continued their steep downward trend. Though quarterback Marcus Mariota logged 275 passing yards, he threw an interception and no touchdowns. The Tennessee defense was also helpless against LA quarterback Jared Goff, who passed for 301 yards and four touchdowns.
The Titans can still get into the playoffs. They hold the 6 seed in the AFC, and though they have the same 7-6 record as the Bills and Chargers, Tennessee holds the tiebreaker advantage. However, the Titans will play the Jaguars at home, which is no simple task. The Titans control their own destiny in the sense that as long as they win, they are in. However, if the Titans, Bills, and Chargers all lose, the Titans will make the playoffs no matter what. Either way, Tennessee’s path to the playoffs is not easy.
Winners: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens started the season 4-5 and looked like a mediocre team. However, they went 4-1 over their next four games to catapult themselves back into the playoff picture. At 8-6, the Ravens could further improve their chances with a Week 16 win over Indianapolis. Unsurprisingly, the Ravens continued their scorching hot streak with a solid 23-16 victory. Joe Flacco was elite in this game, throwing for two touchdowns and 237 yards on 29/38 (76.3%) passing. As usual, kicker Justin Tucker was on his game. He put away all three of his field goal attempts, and became the fourth kicker of all time to register five seasons of at least 30 field goals each.
With the win, the Ravens are now the 5 seed in the AFC. Their record is 9-6, and as previously mentioned, the Bills, Chargers, and Titans all sit at 8-7. To put it simply, a lot of things would all have to go wrong in order for the Ravens to miss the playoffs. Regardless, the Ravens control their own destiny, like the Titans. They just have to defeat the 6-9 Bengals at home next Sunday to finalize their spot in the AFC Wild Card round.
After a string of big wins characterized by their airtight defense, the Jaguars had convinced many that they were contenders rather than pretenders. With the Tennessee loss, they had clinched the AFC South before they even took the field on Sunday. Their tilt with the 5-9 49ers figured to be a tuneup for the playoffs, but things did not go as planned. Blake Bortles, who had been on fire the last few weeks, turned in an absolute dud. Despite throwing for an impressive 382 yards and two touchdowns, Bortles was picked off three times by the San Francisco secondary. The Jaguars, whose defense had been praised by many as the best in the NFL, surrendered a whopping 44 points to a team whose offense ranks 22nd in the NFL with 19.8 points per game.
The 49ers may be a different team with Jimmy Garoppolo playing quarterback, but for the Jags defense to surrender that many points is unacceptable. The Jags will go to battle with division rival Tennessee next week, but they have already secured the AFC South title and the 3 seed. Still, this game is important for the Jaguars to show that the game against San Francisco was simply an outlier. If they emerge victorious next week, the team’s confidence will be much higher, and they will have some momentum heading into their Wild Card game.