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Forty-two things we learned from Week 16

Christmas, Christmas time here hear. Time for toys and time for cheer...ing your first win of the season and avoiding lifelong ridicule from family and friends!

*On a day when there were multiple playoff spots and futures on the line, it was the lowly Browns who stole the show, securing their first win of the season in its 16th week. *

In pounding the Vikings, the Packers inched toward a division title or at least a playoff berth. A high-stakes matchup with the Lions awaits in Week 17.

Rex Ryan will never want to hear the name Jay Ajayi ever again. Ever. The Dolphins running back torched Ryan's Bills defense again as Miami earned its 10th win of the year and knocked Buffalo out of playoff contention. The 'Fins will be watching Sunday night's clash between the Chiefs and Broncos very, very closely.

Here's what else we've learned from Week 16:

  1. The Chiefs still have a shot at the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye if they win in San Diego and the Matt McGloin-led Raiders lose in Denver to close out the regular season. Should the Chiefs and Dolphins each finish 11-5, per NFL Research, Miami will nose out Kansas City for the No. 5 seed by virtue of a superior record versus common opponents.
  1. Since Andy Reid and Alex Smith arrived to jumpstart a new era in 2013, the knock on Kansas City has been a lack of explosive playmaking ability offense. With dynamic rookie Tyreek Hill joining stud tight end Travis Kelce as the twin centerpieces, that skepticism is fading.

This performance stands as the high-water mark for an offense steadily growing more dangerous throughout the season. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Chiefs had two offensive scores of 70 or more yards in the same game. The Broncos defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in the same game since November of 2014. By halftime of Sunday's tilt, Kelce was over 100 receiving while Hill was sitting on 99 rushing yards. The scoring ended with 350-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe tossing a short touchdown pass to Demetrius Harris out of the "Wildcat" formation. By game's end, the Chiefs had gashed Denver's normally stout defense for a season-high 484 yards. This was one of most lopsided AFC West matchups of the season.

  1. Rob Gronkowski's season-ending back surgery has opened a spirit battle between Kelce and Carolina's Greg Olsen for first-team All-Pro honors. After Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive seasons over 1,000 receiving yards, Kelce answered with his finest all-around effort of the season. His blocks sprang Alex Smith and Hill for touchdowns on Kansas City's first two possessions of the game. Shortly thereafter, he took a screen pass 80 yards to paydirt for a 21-7 lead. Taking full advantage of a mismatch with Denver's safeties, Kelce broke future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez's single-game franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end, finishing with 160 on 11 catches. He also established an NFL record of his own, becoming the first tight end with six 100-yard games in a season.
  1. Cleveland has dodged the horrors of 0-16. Instead of becoming an inglorious footnote in the NFL history books alongside the 2008 Lions -- and the enduring target of snark-dripping bloggers east to west -- the Browns, at last, played four full quarters to upset the Chargers in a tilt that might cost coach Mike McCoy his job in San Diego. Cleveland's win certainly takes tremendous pressure off coach Hue Jackson and the team's new front office as they head into Year Two of their bold rebuilding plan. But will Sunday's win cost them the No. 1 overall pick?
  1. Philip Rivers and the Chargers zipped down the field for on an easy touchdown on their opening drive, but San Diego's offense struggled from there against a Browns defense that -- while not generating a sack -- made life difficult for the veteran. Rivers (24-of-47 passing for 321 yards) threw a costly first-half pick to cornerback Jamar Taylor before returning in the second half to lob touchdown strikes to Tyrell Williams before San Diego's final five marches failed to produce points. For the first time in months, Cleveland's secondary operated as something other than an open prairie land. Without question, the absence of running back Melvin Gordon hurt a Chargers team that ran for just 35 yards at 1.9 yards per rush.
  1. The Browns are using the final games of this lost season to make a decision on quarterback Robert Griffin III. Cleveland will never sport a sustainable offense with him at the helm, but Griffin played his best game in years on Sunday. The former first-round pick of the Redskins used the read-option to run for 42 yards and kept drives alive with a handful of money throws to guide the Browns to their most points since Week 8. Griffin was sacked an unruly seven times and couldn't finish the game because of a concussion suffered in the final quarter, but he and fill-in Cody Kessler will always be remembered as the passers who prevented a winless season (and also nearly made it happen).

-- Marc Sessler

  1. The white-hot Packers have emerged as the sleeping giant no Super-Bowl hopeful wants to draw in the NFC's postseason field. Two years ago, Aaron Rodgers captured his second career MVP award after his early-season admonition to R-E-L-A-X ignited a torrid three-month stretch. A similar scenario is playing out ever since Rodgers predicted 4-6 Green Bay would "run the table" with six consecutive victories to close out the season. Locked into the zone like his previous MVP campaigns, the most physically gifted quarterback in football put on his most spectacular display of the season with 347 yards, five touchdowns and a 136.6 passer rating. His best throw of the afternoon would have been good for a sixth score had Davante Adams not dropped the pass -- Adams' third botched touchdown in the past two weeks. Rodgers' tender calf came through with flying colors, as he reached 18.10 mph and covered 47.49 total yards on his meandering six-yard touchdown scramble, per Next Gen Stats.
  1. Now leading the league with 40 total touchdowns while carrying a one-dimensional offense, Rodgers is in the thick of a tight MVP race featuring Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott. He's not the lone Packers star in the running for a major award. First in the NFL in receiving yards (870) over the past nine weeks, Jordy Nelson is vying for Comeback Player of the Year honors along with Le'Veon Bell, Jimmy Graham, Cameron Wake and Andrew Luck. Rodgers' version of Rob Gronkowski as the field-stretching red-zone weapon who makes the offense's engine go, Nelson hauled in two more touchdown passes to increase his league-leading total to 14. This connection is clicking on all cylinders entering January.
  1. Although the Packers' front seven got to Sam Bradford for four sacks and eight quarterback hits, the overly generous secondary remains an issue. Top cornerback Damarious Randall didn't appear in nickel packages to start the game after getting benched last week. LaDarius Gunter was immediately ruled out after suffering an elbow injury. Meanwhile, Bradford led an offensive attack that piled up a season-high 446 yards while Adam Thielen pulled off a convincing Nelson impersonation. Bypassing Stefon Diggs for the season lead in receiving yards (960), Thielen enjoyed the game of his life with 12 receptions for 202 yards and two touchdowns -- the second of which came with under a minute remaining, long after Rodgers had been put on ice in a one-sided affair.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. The Bills, now 7-8, are officially eliminated from playoff contention because of Rex Ryan's defense. Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and the Bills' offense essentially played a perfect second half, scoring 24 points on only four possessions. But the Bills' defense could not get a stop when it mattered, including when the Dolphins got the ball back with 1:20 left and no timeouts, needing a field goal to force overtime. It's the second straight season that Buffalo's defense, not the offense, let the team down.
  1. The Dolphins won in large part because they could match Buffalo's outrageous running game. Jay Ajayi's masculine performance included 206 yards on 32 carries, with so much of the production coming after contact. That's the third time he went over 200 yards this season, with two of them coming in tight wins over Buffalo. Ajayi's effort in overtime, when his left shoulder was clearly hurting, was the stuff playoff berths are made of. He had 75 of Miami's 77 yards on their game-winning overtime drive.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. Just when it seemed the Raiders were hitting their stride for a Super Bowl run, their MVP candidate collapsed to the turf with a serious lower-leg injury. Quarterback Derek Carr was carted to the locker room after his right ankle was twisted awkwardly beneath his body early in the fourth quarter. Raiders coach Jack Del Rio told reporters after the game Carr suffered a broken fibula and is out indefinitely.
  1. Carr's injury overshadows a promising showing for a Raiders offense that been searching for consistency since the deflating loss at Kansas City two weeks ago. Oakland's top-notch offensive line built a forcefield around Carr and opened holes for a three-headed backfield that is more dynamic with rookie DeAndre Washington back in the mix. Michael Crabtree converted a series of third-down opportunities before an ankle injury of his own ended his day prematurely.
  1. Coming off their best performance of the season in last week's blowout victory versus the Vikings' fatally flawed attack, the Colts defense was simply outclassed by a superior offense in Oakland. They allowed 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground through the first three quarters and didn't get a finger on Carr until Cole's early-fourth sack knocked the quarterback out of the game. While the perennially beleaguered offensive line actually boasts promising building blocks to turn the unit around, the defensive front seven is desperately in need of talented young pass rushers and run stuffers next offseason.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. With the season teetering in the balance, the Steelers' big-time players made big-time plays. Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger powered Pittsburgh's 4th quarter comeback. The Steelers trailed by 10 points early in the final stanza after Big Ben's second interception led to a Baltimore field goal. Back-to-back Bell touchdowns wiped out the deficit. After the Steelers defense allowed Joe Flacco to drive the Ravens on a 14-play, 75-yard TD drive to retake the lead, Pittsburgh answered again. Big Ben guided a flawless 10-play drive in 1:09 minutes. Roethlisberger went 8-of-8 on the final drive (plus two spikes). With 0:14 remaining on the clock, he hit Brown just short of the end zone. The Steelers stud receiver would not be denied the end zone, sealing the win.
  1. The Ravens' defense deserves credit for keeping the Steelers playmakers in check for long stretches. After an easy first drive for Pittsburgh, C.J. Mosley and Co. held Bell to 28 combined rushing yards the next three drives of the first half. Linebackers Zach Orr and Mosley each made great plays on interceptions. Eric Weddle was all over the field, per usual. A lack of a pass rush ultimately did in Baltimore as they couldn't get Big Ben off his spot in the fourth quarter.
  1. With a potent offensive trio in Bell, Brown and Big Ben, the Steelers pose the biggest threat to the New England Patriots in the AFC tournament. With quarterback questions for several of the other conference powers (including Raiders QB Derek Carr's injury), a healthy Steelers and Patriots squads are clear favorites.
  1. A brutal day turned tragic for the Titans. The loss places their playoff hopes on life support. Worse for Tennessee fans was seeing Marcus Mariota carted off the field in the third quarter with an air cast on his right leg. Coach Mike Mularkey said after the game Mariota fractured his fibula and will miss the rest of the season. Mariota's ankle bent awkwardly on a sack by Jaguars defensive lineman Sheldon Day. Matt Cassel took over to close out the loss. Mariota struggled against a good Jags pass defense before suffering the savage injury. He finished just 8-of-20 passing for 99 yards and a touchdown. Mariota couldn't connect deep and was off-target on boundary throws. Mariota's play this season has typified an up-and-down Titans team. When he's on-target, the Titans can plow through defenses. When he's off, Tennessee gets stuck in the mud for long stretches.
  1. Blake Bortles made his case to the next coaching staff to keep the Jaguars' quarterback gig. The enigmatic signal-caller played his best game of the season, hitting quick strikes over the middle and finally finding the mark on several downfield tosses. Bortles finished 26-of-38 passing for 325 yards, one TD throw, and zero interceptions. It was his first time throwing for 300-plus yards in a Jags victory (had been 0-10 when throwing for more than 300 yards). Facing a bad Titans secondary that was missing top corner Jason McCourty certainly helped. Bortles' wonky delivery still causes problems (see the first-half fumble), especially on sideline throws, but he was able to move the chains on third down and allowed his receivers to make plays. The quarterback even caught his first NFL pass, a 20-yard touchdown from Marqise Lee to ice the game.
  1. Getting Allen Robinson involved early was key for Bortles. In his previous five games, Robinson compiled 105 total yards. Saturday, A-Rob went for 147 yards on nine receptions (12 targets). Robinson corralled receptions of 37, 28, 21, 18 and 16 yards. When Robinson is making plays for Bortles, the Jags can be a potent offense. Games like Saturday leave you shaking your head, wondering how the duo could post so many woeful afternoons this season.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. What did we expect? Bill Belichick does not sleepwalk through football games, but there was every opportunity to on Saturday. The Patriots scored their first two touchdowns of the game on simple post routes with no safety help over the top. The second was scored by Matt Lengel, a 25-year-old man from Mechanicsburg, Pa., who has never caught a pass in a professional football game before. When Brady is extremely comfortable, his drop backs take on a near-rhythmic consistency, with a little bounce just before he releases the football. On Saturday, a complete lack of awareness from the Jets secondary allowed the league's best quarterback to operate like a metronome and complete passes like this.
  1. In fairness to Jets coach Todd Bowles, on Saturday we saw why the team has been so hesitant to throw their young quarterbacks into the fire. Truly, I get it now. This is not a professional-grade offense and if they believed Christian Hackenberg has any sort of fragility in his makeup, there was no reason to subject him to the pounding that Bryce Petty and Ryan Fitzpatrick took on Sunday. Petty injured his shoulder after having to make a tackle on a Khiry Robinson fumble and did not return. This was a week after he was nearly split in half by Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh. Fitzpatrick was constantly on the run. I wonder if getting squeezed out of the QB situation next year might end up being the best thing that could possibly happen to Petty, who certainly won't develop here. As for Hackenberg...good luck in 2017.
  1. Saturday will be the third time in four weeks that the Jets (4-11) have had their effort seriously questioned. The 41-10 blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football back on Dec. 5 turned out to be a sign of things to come instead of an outlier. A four-touchdown performance by Matt Moore a week ago in a 34-13 win was the next step. This offseason, Jets owner Woody Johnson -- or whomever runs his football operations -- needs to make a decision that could have long-term ramifications for the franchise. What is really the problem here? The effort, or the talent?

-- Conor Orr

  1. Overcoming a horrible start and trailing 31-25 with 2:22 remaining, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks drove 45 yards over six plays to punch in the tying score with one minute left on the clock. Then -- in an event that recalled the wayward 6-6 tie these teams played to in Week 7 -- Seattle's Steven Hauschka somehow MISSED THE EXTRA POINT. From there, Carson Palmer and the Cardinals blazed 50 yards in less than a minute to set up Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning 43-yard field goal as time expired. No rivalry was more impacted by the troubles of their kickers in 2017.
  1. This game operated as a white-knuckle slugfest between two clubs that genuinely despise each other. Forget Arizona's ugly record. The Cardinals deserve credit for barreling into Seattle and laying a hurt on quarterback Russell Wilson, who was sacked four times over the game's first 17 minutes and six times overall. The Cardinals brought pressure from every angle and got just enough from Palmer, the veteran passer who completed 16 of 26 passes for 284 yards and made the most of receiver J.J. Nelson. The speedy pass-catcher hauled down three catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. It's been a rough campaign for the Cardinals, but Sunday's gritty road win felt pulled from last year's magic carpet ride.
  1. Injuries played a major factor. After the Seahawks briefly lost safety Kam Chancellor to an ankle injury, Palmer went for broke with a beautiful 80-yard touchdown strike to Nelson for the 14-0 lead. Three plays later, Wilson hit Tyler Lockett on what appeared to be a long scoring pass. Instead, the ill-fated Lockett was called down at the one-yard line and lost for the year after suffering a grisly broken leg on the play. It's a tremendous loss for Seattle's passing and return game.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. You can't keep Tom Savage down for long. Once the Bengals subjected Houston to a deficit of over three points, the promoted quarterback turned it on, leading the Texans' only touchdown drive of the game in just over two minutes to put Houston ahead for good. Savage's first half was historically terrible (2/7, 13 yds, 3 sacks), and he often looked more like his predecessor, Brock Osweiler, in the pocket, resorting to dump offs to running backs and C.J. Fiedorowicz. But the playbook opened up for Savage in the second half when the Texans went to a no-huddle offense. Savage was more comfortable, making some clutch throws in a collapsing pocket. Most importantly, he targeted star wideout DeAndre Hopkins five times down the stretch, connecting for three catches and 43 yards. Houston has found its formula with January approaching: Hurry with Hopkins.
  1. Savage will be the guy going forward, but how should Houston handle the QB position next week at Tennessee? What looked to be the game of the week is now an all-but-meaningless contest, what with the Titans eliminated and Marcus Mariota injured. Would Bill O'Brien consider playing both Savage and Osweiler next week, so to at least avoid injury to his preferred starter? We've learned this week that, heading into the postseason, you can never be too careful with your QB1.
  1. This Thursday Night Special on Saturday Night played out like Week 7's Seahawks-Cardinals matchup, which is to say a sneaky defensive slugfest. Both units came out flying. Cincinnati's defensive line sacked Savage three times in the first half and four times on the game. Jadeveon Clowney (one sack) and Whitney Mercilus (two sacks) were terrors once again against Cincy's porous line. But the key to both defenses' prowess on the night was the secondary play. Bengals corners Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones combined to handle Hopkins and Will Fuller on the outside for three quarters. Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye had a game-high nine tackles and continues to play himself into a multi-year deal. Bouye, Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson will be able to hold their own against the AFC's best receiving corps in the postseason.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. It's been a tough two weeks for the upstart Buccaneers. With back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Saints, Tampa Bay (8-7) has blown an opportunity to win the NFC South; Atlanta's win over Carolina and Tampa's loss secured the title for the Falcons. For the Bucs to sneak into the playoffs as the second wild card, they'll need help from the Lions and the Giants and permutations to be named later in Week 17.
  1. Where were these Saints two and three weeks ago? When New Orleans was still in the playoff hunt and in low-scoring competitive games against the Lions and the Bucs, its offense was stagnant and Drew Brees was a turnover machine. But since then, the Saints have reverted back to their early-season, high-octane approach. The Saints got Mark Ingram going once again; the back struck the Heisman pose on one of his two touchdowns. Brees spread the ball around to Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas and did not commit a turnover on the day. That formula on offense, if repeated consistently throughout the season, could have spelled playoffs for the Saints. Instead, New Orleans will be marching toward the golf course in January.
  1. One of the more curious stories coming into the game was the shocking deactivation of starting running back Doug Martin, who was not listed on the injury report during the week. GM Jason Licht told a local radio station that the move was a "football decision" and that Jacquizz Rodgers (15 car, 63 yds) gave "us the best chance to win." But if that was the case, why not start Rodgers and sit Martin? There's something curious going on behind the scenes here.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. A game that dragged on for three quarters with a one-score difference became rather exciting in the fourth. Los Angeles pushed its way down the field to score on a touchdown pass from Jared Goff to tight end Tyler Higbee, and the Niners responded, going 75 yards to trim the deficit to seven on a Colin Kaepernick run. The sequence of plays inside the Los Angeles 20 were indicative of how the Niners would be best served to operate under Kaepernick, who missed on two throws to the end zone, then threw caution to the wind and ran it in himself. That proved to be the best strategy later in the fourth, when Kaepernick won a sprint to the goal line and dove over two defenders to convert the two-point attempt and give the Niners a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
  1. The Rams are bad, and right now, it doesn't matter who their head coach is. The new year and the end of the season can't come fast enough for this franchise, which needs to find its next coach and double up on the wishes that Jared Goff pans out as the franchise quarterback the Rams expected him to be. He was much less than that on Sunday, completing 11 of 24 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. And quite frankly, it was uglier than that, with none worse than his final pass, which went wide of Brian Quick and into the intercepting arms of Rashard Robinson.
  1. We mentioned how it was a slog of a game for three and a half quarters. Much less than the 83,000 and change of tickets announced as distributed actually turned into folks in the stands, and at one point in the game, the broadcast duo turned to Jay Glazer back in FOX's studios to talk about the future of the Rams while the game was still being played. If that doesn't scream indifference, I don't know what does. Thankfully, the Niners showed life, stole a win from the floundering Rams and as a result, put the Browns back in the driver's seat for the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. Consequences, even from an inconsequential game.

-- Nick Shook

  1. Hot take alert: The Falcons are going to unseat the Cowboys as the favorite in the NFC. Atlanta rolled over two overmatched opponents in Weeks 14 and 15, and in Week 16 jumped out to an early lead in Carolina before grinding out the win by leaning on a rushing attack that looks better with each week. Matt Ryan isn't perfect, but he's been above average and even better statistically, which is more than enough for Atlanta to hit its groove on a weekly basis. Spreading completions among 10 different targets, Ryan completed 27 of 33 passes for 277 yards and two scores, renewed a rapport with Mohamed Sanu and welcomed back Julio Jones in the win. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined to rush for 143 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, including Coleman's 55-yard jaunt that was the final blow to a demoralized Panthers defense.
  1. Cam Newton was errant as ever in the first half Saturday. Statistically, it was as ugly as many of his inaccurate throws: 18-of-43 passing, 198 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Atlanta's pass rush, again keyed by Vic Beasley, harassed Newton often. It showed in his play.
  1. Greg Olsen has been the model of consistency since being traded from Chicago to Carolina in 2011, and the numbers prove it. Olsen on Saturday became the first tight end to record three straight 1,000-yard seasons, and trails only Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten for most 1,000-yard seasons by a tight end (Gonzalez and Witten each have four). Also in related tight end news, tight end D.J. Tialaveaplayed in his first professional game and caught one pass for one yard and his first professional touchdown. Talk about a great Christmas present.

-- Nick Shook

  1. The Redskins did their part to stay in the playoff race by dominating a Bears team that had been friskier in recent games than their record would otherwise indicate. Kirk Cousins did it with his arm and his legs, dropping dimes in the hands of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon while also scoring two rushing touchdowns. Cousins often found his receivers in mismatches against linebackers for big plays. The Redskins got off to a 17-0 lead and never looked back.
  1. Jordan Howard has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable season for the Bears. He's turned into the every-down back they thought they were getting in Jeremy Langford when Matt Forte departed for New York. Howard notched 119 rushing yards on 18 carries, his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the year. Howard is averaging over five yards per carry and is getting overlooked as one of the year's biggest breakthroughs due to the irrelevance of his team.
  1. A week after putting up a paltry 29 rushing yards against the Panthers, the Redskins got 208 on the ground from the combination of Robert Kelley, Cousins, Chris Thompson and Mack Brown. As good as Cousins has been this year, the Redskins' offense needs a consistent ground game to give him the ability to beat the defense deep and utilize play action. The Redskins will need that kind of performance out of their ground game against the Giants next weekend to have any chance of playing on Wild Card Weekend.

-- Mark E. Ortega

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