Week 16 saw five more teams secure their place in this year’s playoffs. The five teams join the Green Bay Packers, who clinched last week, and now that means only eight spots remain. With two weeks left to go in the season it is now or never for the remaining teams. That still rings true for the teams that have already clinched their passage to the playoffs. Seedings and division titles are still up for grabs as only three of the eight divisions currently have a winner. Neither conference has the number one seed locked up, so as you can see, there is still a lot to play for. So, let’s jump into who did themselves a favor last week and who shot themselves in the foot.
Winner #1 Buffalo Bills
In the battle for supremacy in the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills emerged victorious. The 33-21 win gave the Bills control of their destiny and slayed the team that has stood in their way for the last decade. This could end up being the signature win that this franchise has been desperate to get for years. Now, to take full advantage of this win, the Bills will need to take care of business: win their last two games. Then nothing the Patriots do will deny Buffalo the division title. If they slip up, this will all be for naught. The good news is that the Bills finish the season with two winnable games against the Falcons and Jets.
Loser #1 Los Angeles Chargers
No one had a bigger and more disappointing loss than the Chargers this weekend. What was supposed to be a straightforward win turned into a nightmare. Losing this late in the season is always a difficult pill to swallow, but to lose to the Houston Texans was simply unacceptable. The 41-29 score only paints part of the picture because the Texans were in control for most of this game. The Texans were able to run on the Chargers at will, and that set up their offense for a huge day. On the other side, the Texans kept Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense fairly quiet all game. A garbage time TD made the score look better than it was in reality. Speaking of reality, the Chargers’ reality may include missing the playoffs yet again. They can certainly look to this game as a reason why.
Winner #2 Los Angeles Rams
The Rams got a gift on Christmas day when the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Colts. That gave the Rams the opportunity to stand alone atop the NFC West. All the Rams had to do was win against an up-and-down Vikings team. Thanks in large part to their defense and special teams, the Rams got the job done. The 30-23 victory puts the Rams in a strong position to win the division and be able to host a playoff game. It isn’t all good news though, as Matthew Stafford had one of his worst games as the Rams QB. He threw three interceptions that kept the Vikings in it. Stafford will need to do a better job of protecting the football if the Rams want to go far. As for next week, a win and an Arizona loss will clinch the division for LA.
Loser #2 Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns)
Now, only the most die-hard Cleveland fans expected the Browns to beat Green Bay. Them losing isn’t surprising, but the way that they lost is what stings. The Browns could’ve and probably should’ve won this game. The Packers gave Cleveland every chance to steal this game, and Baker Mayfield made sure that the Browns didn’t take advantage. He was downright terrible in this game and quite possibly cost his team a valuable win. He threw four interceptions, including one to end the game – it’s that fourth one that makes this loss sting. The Browns were at midfield with a chance to win the game with a FG. But Mayfield sealed their fate with the INT. The Browns can still make the playoffs, but it’s hard to feel confident about it.
Winner #3 Miami Dolphins
Once upon a time the Dolphins were 1-7 and looked a complete mess. Fast forward to this week and the Miami Dolphins have risen from the dead. By winning seven straight games, and thanks to results elsewhere, the Dolphins are now in possession of a playoff spot. The Dolphins are the first team in NFL history to lose seven straight games and win seven straight games in the same season. Now with two games left to go, the Dolphins miraculously control their own fate. However, the two foes standing in their way have caused previous Miami teams to miss the playoffs. Former Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill – best known in Miami for keeping them out of the playoffs – will play them next week. Then Miami finishes the season against hated division rival Patriots. If Miami can rise above these roadblocks, this could have the Dolphins feeling like a team of destiny.
Loser #3 Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos vs the Las Vegas Raiders game was basically a “loser leaves town” matchup. Win, and you keep your playoff hopes alive. Lose, and the chances of you making the playoffs become desperately low. Well, this past Sunday saw the Raiders boost their playoff chances at the expense of the Broncos. The loss puts Denver on the brink of elimination, and quite frankly it’s well deserved. The Broncos offense is virtually nonexistent, and their need for a franchise QB was laid bare on Sunday. They mathematically still have a chance to make the playoffs but will need a lot of help. What doesn’t help Denver is their schedule, as they end the season against the Chargers and Chiefs. Not exactly the teams you want to see with the season on the line.