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Season of signal-callers: 37 things you need to know

If you root for a team without a bona fide franchise passer, the message is clear: You're out of luck.

With one more week to go, the NFL's current playoff picture resembles a Who's Who at quarterback.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are set to surge into January in the AFC. Across the way, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford lead a group of NFC contenders that also will include either Cam Newton or Matt Ryan.

Outliers like Andy Dalton and Ryan Lindley are the exception. Lindley only exists in the public psyche because of Arizona's laundry list of injuries under center. Dalton has his moments, but the Bengals often win despite him -- and it's entirely possible that he misses the party in favor of Baltimore's Super Bowl-winner in Joe Flacco.

One day after Brian Hoyer's Browns were shipped into oblivion, Sunday's crucible of action put an end to Kyle Orton's Bills and Mark Sanchez's Eagles. With Case Keenum's Texans and Alex Smith's Chiefs not far behind, you're playing with fire without a star passer.

Here's what else we learned during Week 16:

  1. Unless the Week 17 Packers-Lions tilt ends in a tie, the Cowboys cannot get the NFC's No. 1 seed. With Seattle's 35-6 victory over Arizona on Sunday night, Dallas will have seeding to play for in the early game next week. We might not have a good read on coach Jason Garrett's plans for Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray until later in the week.
  1. Romo's fifth game out of the past six with a passer rating over 129.0 has pushed him past Aaron Rodgers for the NFL lead. Outside of a faceplant in the season finale, Romo will finish the season atop the list. While Murray has been a mainstay in the MVP discussion all year, Romo should merit consideration as well. He has come a long way from September, when the football cognoscenti questioned whether his body would ever allow him to play at a high level again.
  1. Andrew Luck was pulled from the game down 35-0 late in the third quarter. Absent a ground attack and No. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton, Luck never had a shot to keep his team competitive. Having locked up the AFC South last week, the injury-depleted Colts showed little incentive on Sunday. Once Dewey McDonald dropped a wide open fake-punt pass deep in Indianapolis' territory late in the first quarter, the Colts appeared to fold up their tents for the afternoon.
  1. The Dolphins did well to bounce back from 15 Vikings points in a 15-second span late in the fourth quarter, but their own playoff chances were given a death blow by the Steelers' victory over the Chiefs. NFL Media research confirms Miami has officially been eliminated from the postseason.
  1. Teddy Bridgewater has drawn comparisons to Alex Smith and Andy Dalton for his underwhelming arm talent. We believe he's a better passer than both veteran quarterbacks. He has completed more than 70 percent of his throws in four consecutive games, averaging 8.9 yards per attempt. The Vikings coaching staff deserves kudos for his development, but Bridgewater will need offensive line help in the offseason.
  1. Speaking of development, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced Sunday that head coach Joe Philbinwill be back for another season in 2015. That should ensure that Ryan Tannehill gets another season in Bill Lazor's offense that borrows heavily from Chip Kelly's as well as Kyle Shanahan's 2012 scheme with the Redskins. Tannehill's four touchdowns Sunday are a single-game career high and the 396 passing yards are the second-most of his career. The Dolphins have scored more than 30 points five times under Lazor this year after managing the feat just twice in two seasons under Mike Sherman.
  1. The Steelers were displeased when Chiefs coach Andy Reid rested his starters in last year's season finale, costing Pittsburgh a trip to the postseason. Mike Tomlin's squad exacted revenge on Sunday, propelling themselves into January while sending Reid's season to the precipice. Having lost four of their last five games, the Chiefs will have to beat the Chargers and get help elsewhere to continue playing beyond Week 17.
  1. Pittsburgh's secondary remains a mess, but they have to be feeling better about their pass rush and run defense with James Harrison back in the lineup. In a game that featured NFL sack leader Justin Houston, Harrison was the best defensive player on the field, beating Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher and teaming with Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds and Cameron Heyward to harass Alex Smith throughout the afternoon. Tomlin told the broadcast team at halftime that his is the best red-zone defense in the NFL this season. That side of the ball isn't the liability we thought it was a month ago.
  1. Antonio Brown entered the game with more receptions, yards and touchdowns than the entire Chiefs wide receiver corps. He exited the game with 122 receptions, 1,570 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Despite being limited to just one reception, Le'Veon Bell is up to 2,115 yards from scrimmage with one game to go. Both players merit All-Pro selections. Ben Roethlisberger isn't far behind at quarterback.
  1. The Patriots become the first team in NFL history to secure a first-round playoff bye in five consecutive seasons. The Jets made them earn it in a game where New England was limited to just 231 yards of total offense. Tom Brady hovered near the Gabbert Zone at 5.2 yards per attempt and Shane Vereen, their leading rusher, gained just 38 yards. And yet ...
  1. This felt like Rex Ryan's last chance to give Jets owner Woody Johnson pause before cleaning house in the offseason. Instead, Ryan and the Jets get swept by the Patriots this season by a total of three points. Ouch.
  1. Jets center Nick Mangold was carted off in the first half with a lower leg injury. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that an X-ray revealed no break. Players from both teams gathered around Mangold before he was taken off the field, a sign of the respect the veteran has earned.
  1. The Lions won, but it was a sloppy, folly-filled game for the playoff-bound team. If Jim Caldwell's squad repeats that performance in the postseason, Detroit will get mauled. Matthew Stafford threw two terrible picksin the red zone. A muffed punt and a roughing the kicker led to both of the Bears' touchdowns. Add in a field-goal block when Matt Prater chunked it like an amature golfer from the spongy rough and it was a comedy of errors.
  1. After two three-and-outs to start the game, Jimmy Clausen looked very comfortable in Marc Trestman's offense, throwing his first twotouchdown passes since January 2011. Not blessed with an explosive arm, Clausen was accurate on short and intermediate throws. The 27-year-old signal caller finished 23-of-39 passing for 181 yards. Bears wideouts killed Clausen with seven drops. Clausen did a good job reading the defense and making pre-snap adjustments, getting the Bears into advantageous plays. He's not the long-term answer, but ...
  1. If Trestman's goal in benching Jay Cutler was to prove to management that his offense could move the ball with good quarterback play, he might have done that. Trestman still might not survive the guillotine, but the offense moved the ball more fluidly when it mattered -- not just garbage time. Protections were adjusted more regularly, and Clausen took the easy open passes. The quarterback went through his progressions very well, which is a sign of good coaching.
  1. This one will sting the Ravens for a long, long time. Instead of controlling their playoff chances, which they could have done by beating Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel/Brian Hoyer to end the season, the Ravens now dip into a convoluted pool of scenarios alongside Buffalo and San Diego. If the season ended today, the Chargers would snag the sixth seed.
  1. Joe Flacco did not react well to an onslaught of zero blitzes from Romeo Crennel. The Ravens quarterback didn't react well to anything, honestly (final numbers: 21-50, 195 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions). He needed to place the team on his shoulders with their playoff destiny in hand. He simply could not. Blame also goes to Gary Kubiak, who finally countered an all-out blitz properly in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. Losing both starting tackles to injury, Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner, further complicated matters.
  1. Just a year ago, Case Keenum was 0-8 as the starting quarterback of the Houston Texans and on Sunday, he threw the ball 42 times. Bill O'Brien's game plan was brilliant, all the way down to the beautiful halfback pass by Arian Foster. Though he was a little too confident in Keenum at times, allowing him to sling a deep ball up 16 with 40 seconds left in the first half, there were few imperfections.
  1. The Saints watched their biggest rivals return a fumble for a touchdown as time expired, the final insult in a fifth straight home loss, a season series sweep at the hands of the Falcons and elimination from playoff contention. It gets no lower for this Saints franchise, and we wonder if there will be any surprising shakeup moves ahead.
  1. Matt Ryan has been a better quarterback than Drew Brees on balance this season. He was definitely the better quarterback on Sunday. Ryan was aggressive going down the field early, and his impressive numbers (322 yards on 40 attempts) would have been even better if not for some costly drops. Ryan throws so well in a crowded pocket and didn't let the Saints' blitzes bother him.
  1. While Drew Brees is hardly at fault for this Saints season, it felt fitting that he threw an interception to end a Saints rally. New Orleans' defense played well enough to win. They forced two fourth-quarter punts from Atlanta, giving the Saints a chance to drive for the game-winning touchdown. But costly interceptions from Brees have been too common in close games.
  1. What a letdown for the Bills. With an outstanding chance to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture, Buffalo crumbled against a less-talented team. Or are they? The Raiders are 3-2 over their past five games. It starts with a feisty Oakland defense that held the Bills at one point to five straight three-and-outs and completely erased Buffalo's ground game. Quarterback Kyle Orton brought the Bills to within two points on his 30-yard touchdown strike to Robert Woods with 1:09 left, but he also threw a pair of ugly picks and saw 10 of his 14 drives end in a turnover or punt.
  1. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr showed off his big arm on a 50-yard post-pattern rocket to Kenbrell Thompkins in the opening quarter. The rookie doesn't have much talent around him, but Carr's 214 yards and two touchdowns were helped by a ground game that topped 100 yards for just the fourth time all year. Rookie runner Latavius Murray led the way with 86 yards on 23 carries and another 22 yards through the air. Even Darren McFadden had his way with Buffalo's front seven after defensive tackle Marcell Dareus left with a knee injury.
  1. C.J. Spiller's return to action for the Bills was a massive dud. With minus-four yards off four attempts, the fleet-footed runner couldn't save a Buffalo ground game that accounted for just 13 yards on as many carries.
  1. More magic from Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants' rookie phenom torched an overmatched St. Louis secondary on his way to eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Beckham now has 79 receptions for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns -- amazing production given he missed the first four weeks with a hamstring injury. Beckham is an absolute lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year and may even snag a few MVP votes. People need to understand how rare it is for a rookie wide receiver to hit the ground running as a superstar. Beckham pulled a Moss.
  1. The Rams' back-to-back shutouts feels like forever ago now. The Giants torched the Rams in their own building, piling up 514 yards on Gregg Williams' defense. The Rams have plenty of talent on their roster, but consider Sunday a reminder they shouldn't be gloating about their organizational success just yet.
  1. Eli Manning is quietly on the way to perhaps the best statistical season of his career. The Giants quarterback was locked in on Sunday, finishing 25 of 32 for 391 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Manning, 33, already has two Super Bowl MVP awards on his resume. A couple more seasons like this and he's a veritable lock for Canton. Beckham could be the guy who puts Eli over the top.
  1. The six-win Panthers have a legitimate chance to win the NFC South. Carolina's showdown with the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday will decide this hyper-ugly division. It's amazing to ponder the Panthers as a playoff entry during a campaign that saw them lose six straight games.
  1. Johnny Manziel's second start answered no questions. The rookie passer threw for just 32 yards before leaving late in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. Manziel was hurt after taking a massive shot from linebacker Luke Kuechly on a quarterback keeper. Before the injury, Johnny Football repeatedly bailed on the pocket too early and missed his share of open targets. He made one pretty 28-yard pass to Andrew Hawkins on Cleveland's lone scoring drive of the first half, but Johnny Football hardly altered perceptions. In six quarters with Manziel on the field, the Browns have generated just 175 yards.
  1. Cam Newton looked healthy and nimble after missing last week with the back injury he sustained in a Charlotte-area car crash. Ace Boogie picked his spots in throwing for 201 yards and running for another 63, converting third downs with his feet and bolting into the end zone for a 2-yard score before the half. Helping the Panthers to outgain the Browns 206 yards to 68 over the first two quarters, Newton -- despite one ill-advised pick on Sunday -- is playing his best ball of the year.
  1. If the Seahawks take care of business at home versus the Rams next week, they will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If they should stumble and the Cardinals manage to win at San Francisco, Arizona would win the division. Entering Week 17, the Super Bowl champions are the NFL's most complete team. Pete Carroll's squad is coming off a five-game stretch more dominant than any similar span from last season.
  1. Dan Quinn's defense deserves all of the credit they have been receiving as the NFL's best, but it's the improvement on offense that has to have Seattle faithful excited. Whereas a month ago the offense was based on Marshawn Lynch and randomness in the passing game, Russell Wilson manufactured big plays over the past three weeks. Wilson is playing as well as ever, making blitzers pay with his unparalleled scrambling ability and keeping plays alive to hit open receivers down the field. Clicking on all cylinders, the Seahawks racked up 596 yards against one of the NFL's top-five defenses.
  1. To the surprise of no one, the Cardinals have a quarterback problem. Ryan Lindley was too inaccurate to be intercepted, completing just 41 percent of his passes. Coach Bruce Arians suggested last week that Drew Stanton might be able to return for the season finale. As much as we admire Arians' coaching ability, the best-case scenario is entering the postseason limited by a backup quarterback coming off a knee sprain. It's not a recipe for success, especially if the Cardinals are forced to leave Arizona for a Divisional Round game.
  1. The win sets up Green Bay for a high-octane Week 17 showdown with the Detroit Lions to decide the NFC North. Very much alive for a first-round bye, the Packers look like a team that won't be stopped if they secure home-field advantage throughout January.
  1. Battling an illness, Aaron Rodgers shook off a slow start to hit on 31-of-40 passing for 318 yards and a touchdown. The Packers' star quarterback appeared to hurt his foot early in the game, but stayed on the field to find Randall Cobb for 131 yards and Jordy Nelson for another 113 off a combined 20 grabs. Rookie target Davante Adams cost the team with a handful of drops, but it hardly mattered against a Bucs squad that was outgained 431 yards to 109.
  1. Eddie Lacy is a beast. Green Bay's featured back looked fresh in pounding the Bucs for 99 yards off 17 totes. After averaging 11.7 carries per outing in his first 11 games of this season, Lacy has 18.2 totes per start over the past five weeks. Give Packers coach Mike McCarthy credit for keeping his best runner fresh for the games that matter most. His 44-yard touchdown rumble in the first half helped Lacy cross the 1,000-yard barrier for a second straight year.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Week 16 game and breaks down the playoff picture. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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