NFL.com breaks down what you need to know from all of Saturday's doubleheader in Week 15.
1) It would be inaccurate to say these Bills don't have any postseason pedigree. They were last there just 11 months ago, and they ended a near two decade-long drought two seasons before that. Sean McDermott has been moving the needle in Buffalo since he arrived. But this year's team feels different, and not simply because they won the franchise’s first division title since 1995. The Bills are playing like they're among the NFL's elite. They've beaten good teams and beaten up on bad ones, as we saw against Denver. Their explosive offense and opportunistic defense was on full display in the Saturday spotlight. The AFC East champs might have gotten their due respect sooner if not for "Hail Murray," which prevented a sweep of the NFC West. Just don't let their past postseason failures distract you. The 11-3 Bills are for real.
2) The Bills' offense goes as its quarterback does. That's basically been the case since Josh Allen became the starter in Week 2 of his rookie year. The difference now is, and it's a significant one, Allen is really, really good. That he's taken a leap in Year 3 after being paired with Stefon Diggs probably isn't a coincidence. The two were up to their usual antics Saturday, connecting 11 times for 147 yards. Diggs set the franchise record for receptions in a season -- he's at 111 and counting -- in the process. The sixth-year wideout is a sure bet to make his first Pro Bowl team this year. The impact he's had on his young QB seems even more noteworthy. Allen is playing with much more poise and less panic than he did even two months ago. He tallied another four TDs (and zero turnovers) against the Broncos, including a pair on the ground that could make a defense feel like his gifts are unfair. It was the 12th game since the beginning of last season in which he's passed and rushed for a TD in the same game, tops in the NFL. Buffalo later tied a league record with 13 different receivers catching a touchdown in a season. Much of the credit will go to Allen, and deservedly so, but his top receiver has also helped lift this offense to another level.
3) The Broncos (5-9) have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, which felt like a formality given how they've performed all year. Denver doesn't look any closer to contention than it has at really any point since winning Super Bowl 50 and sending Peyton Manning off into the sunset. The defense is mostly reliable and can win a few games itself each season. The offense is limited and inefficient, a reflection of its starting QB. Against the Bills, Drew Lock (20 of 32, 132 yards, 0 TDs) didn't even bother testing the defense downfield and yet was fortunate to not throw at least a couple of interceptions. His lost fumble, as noted below, was costly. He's capable of playing well every once in a while. But his first 16 career starts hardly portend greatness. The front office might be feeling the same about Vic Fangio, who's won at a .400 clip through 30 games. Both seem likely to be back in their respective roles next year -- this is only Year 2 for each -- but does anyone expect markedly different results from them in 2021?
4) Jerry Hughes was crouched down and had his back turned to the end zone when he scooped up Lock's fumble at the Broncos' 22-yard-line in the second half. He ran four yards the wrong way before he gathered himself and evaded at least six defenders en route to the most exciting scoop and score of the season. Hughes isn't your typical defensive end, so it makes sense that his "big guy" touchdown was unique. As NFL Network's James Palmer noted, Hughes was a first-team All-District selection at running back and kick returner in high school, rushing for 1,412 yards and 19 touchdowns. His exceptional play gave the Bills a commanding 35-13 lead in the third quarter, ultimately burying a Broncos team that had rallied before halftime to trail by eight. The joke was made that perhaps Buffalo should give Hughes a look in its backfield. The run game remains a legitimate nitpick for its dynamic offense. Allen was leading the team in rushing -- with a mere 33 yards -- until Devin Singletary's 51-yard TD run with two minutes remaining. As good as he is, the Bills might be asking a bit too much of their QB.
1) Moments after it was over, Aaron Rodgers succinctly summed up his team's unremarkable win over the Panthers: The Packers won't beat a lot of teams playing like that. Especially not those they're most concerned with. While Green Bay was good enough to hold off Carolina at home in December, it will need more from its offense in January. Perhaps the Packers were due, after topping 30 points the past four weeks while their QB seemingly catapulted to the front of the MVP race. Rodgers tossed his league-best 40th touchdown of the year, setting an NFL record in the process, but it was his only passing score of the evening. More concerning is how Green Bay, after reaching paydirt on its first three possessions, mustered just three more points total and saw its passing attack shut down and offensive line infiltrated (more on that later). These performances aren't uncommon, even for great teams. But the Packers (11-3) probably can't afford another one against either the Titans and Bears over the next two weeks if they're going to hold onto the NFC's top seed.
2) The Panthers' rebuild might not be as daunting as their 4-10 record suggests. They have foundational pieces on both sides of the ball. A few on defense did their part to keep Carolina competitive with Green Bay. Rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown recorded the first two sacks of his career and had two tackles for loss. Second-year edge rusher Brian Burns added two sacks and two TFLs. The Panthers had five sacks in all, the most Green Bay has allowed this season. (Rodgers had been sacked just 13 times through 13 games.) Carolina's pass rush aided what has been an uneven secondary, as the defense limited Rodgers to a season-low 143 passing yards. The emergence of Brown and Barnes, along with rookie safety Jeremy Chinn and mainstay Shaq Thompson, give defensive coordinator Phil Snow a lot to work with moving forward.
3) The Packers slightly altered their defensive alignment and might have found a remedy to their woes against the run. Krys Barnes took over Christian Kirksey's role as the primary off-ball linebacker, handling the communications and staying on the field when Green Bay went with one linebacker and a box safety. And it worked well. Barnes recorded six tackles, including one for loss, and forced a Carolina fumble at the Packers' 1 -yard-line to protect a two-score lead early on. Kirksey, meanwhile, still recorded nine tackles. The Panthers entered Week 15 boasting a top-10 offense by DVOA, and they didn't get into the end zone until late in the third quarter. That coincided with Barnes exiting the game with an eye injury.
4) This was, surprisingly, a winnable game for the Panthers. Their defense did more than you could ask for against one of the best offenses in the league. Too bad Carolina's offense, again missing its best player in running back Christian McCaffrey, had perhaps its roughest night of the season. Teddy Bridgewater's fumble at the goal line in the second quarter changed the tenor of the contest, as the Packers capitalized with a TD of their own to go ahead 21-3. It was a 14-point swing the Panthers simply couldn't overcome. As Carolina punted on its next three possessions and continually came up short in the red zone, producing only a late touchdown, the fan base, and maybe first-year coach Matt Rhule, had to wonder if Bridgewater should be a bridge QB next year to a 2021 draft pick.