*Here's what we learned from Sunday's Week 16 slate: *
- With one week left in the regular season, Kansas City is rounding into shape on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs defense, buoyed a bit by the acquisition of Terrell Suggs via waivers this week, held Chicago to three points (tied for a season-low), 234 total yards (Chicago's second-lowest at home) and 18 first downs. Suggs played 17 of 59 snaps and tallied a tackle as he was cycled in and out of Steve Spagnuolo's system, complementing the pass rush provided by Chris Jones and Frank Clark (a sack each). Since Week 11, K.C.'s defense has been tops in the league in points and opposing TDs allowed; that didn't change on Sunday night. The Chiefs' win over Chicago marked the fifth straight game they've allowed fewer than 17 points. They figure to extend that trend next week against the static Chargers. After entering last January as the worst defense in the playoffs, there's a case to be made this time around that this Chiefs unit will enter the postseason as one of the best.
- Sunday night didn't provide the fireworks desirable of a prime-time game in deep December but watching Patrick Mahomes dance around Khalil Mack's advances was good enough entertainment. Unbothered by Chicago's pass rush, Mahomes (251 yards, 2 TDs) effortlessly spread the ball around and extended scoring drives under the Soldier Field lights, becoming the first player in NFL history to reach 9,000 passing yards and 75 passing touchdowns in his first 30 games in the process. Mahomes did this all in front of a Bears organization that, IF YOU RECALL, passed on Mahomes in the 2017 draft and instead traded up to select Mitchell Trubisky, who through three seasons, has not been as successful as the reigning MVP Mahomes, to say the absolute least. Surrounded by a more talented crop of pass-catchers, Mahomes played better than Trubisky (157 yards on 34 attempts) in their first head-to-head meeting, throwing for 94 more yards and completing 16.7 more percent of his passes. After a second-quarter touchdown, NBC's cameras caught Mahomes counting to 10 with his fingers. Ten, as in how the hell was Mahomes the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft, and how many years will it take Chicago fans to get over the fact the Bears drafted Trubisky at No. 2 instead?
- Chicago's postseason hopes were dashed last week and there's little left to say about the Bears' 2019 campaign, other than better luck next year with Trubisky (or whoever they sign to compete with him). The AFC West champion Chiefs, on the other hand, are heading to the postseason and already assured a home playoff game. All that's left to finalize is when it will take place and against whom. Kansas City will enter Week 17 with the opportunity to either secure the No. 2 seed (and a first-round bye), the No. 3 seed or the No. 4 seed. The Chiefs need a win over Los Angeles and a Patriots loss to the 4-11 Dolphins at home -- yikes -- to secure a first-round bye. If K.C. and New England win, then the Chiefs will host either the Titans, Steelers or Raiders as the No. 3 seed. If the Chiefs lose and the 10-5 Texans beat the Titans, then K.C. will host the Bills as No. 4. Long story short, the Chiefs have a lot to play for at Arrowhead in Week 17.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- This game got off to a hot start thanks to the Eagles sprinting out of the tunnel and into the end zone, and then it turned into a late afternoon nap.
OK, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it seems almost too perfect for this snooze-filled NFC East that doesn't want to separate contender from pretender (perhaps they're one and the same?) to work toward begrudgingly deciding itself by slogging through nearly three quarters of pure attrition. Instead of trading errant shots from one trench to the other, the Cowboys and Eagles traded failed third-down conversion attempts and resulting punts.
The Eagles broke through late, though, thanks to a big play made by little-known quarterback-turned-wideout Greg Ward. It was fitting for these Eagles, who are without a significant collection of talent they once counted on to make these types of plays. It wasn't DeSean Jackson or Alshon Jeffery making the 38-yard reception that set up Miles Sanders' 1-yard touchdown run, but Ward, last week's hero who stepped up again in the clutch. Thanks to the underdogs like Ward and others, and the preparation of coach Doug Pederson, the Eagles are a victory from winning the NFC East.
- If the Eagles end up winning the division, Dallas Goedert will find himself enjoying his first taste of Philadelphia sports royalty. The tight end with a frame similar to that of Zach Ertz was asked to fill the void left by the more notable tight end when he suffered a rib injury, and boy, did he answer that call. Goedert finished with nine receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown, including two massive grabs made to extend possessions with fresh sets of downs late with the Eagles clinging to their eight-point lead. His last was the most impressive, making the catch and tight-roping the sideline enough to move the chains. Sanders finished it off with a 38-yard run through the heart of Dallas' defense three plays later.
Philadelphia began with a touchdown pass to Goedert and finished by going right back to him. That will make the diehards in Philadelphia love him for weeks, and perhaps years to come.
- The Cowboys showed us a glimpse of what they should be last week when they dominated the Rams, but fell right back to earth in a hostile environment Sunday. Dallas waded its way through a sleepy first half, mustering six points but only after managing to get up off the mat after the Eagles landed an early haymaker, and failed to find the end zone all night. Ezekiel Elliott tapped out for a play and didn't go back in on second or third down, instead leaving it to Tony Pollard, who fumbled on third down to end Dallas' first possession of the second half. Dak Prescott couldn't find targets on third downs throughout most of the second half (though he had a nice fourth-down completion), as the Cowboys converted just three of 14 such attempts. Amari Cooper spent a crucial fourth down on the sideline after an errant pass from Prescott fell short of him on third down, and that might be the most emblematic image from this entire season. With the underachieving Cowboys up against it, their best target wasn't even on the field.
-- Nick Shook
- Kyler Murray exited Sunday's game due to a hamstring injury with the Arizona Cardinals leading 20-7 early in the third quarter, and the world expected a Seahawks comeback. The Cards' defense and Brett Hundley had other plans. The backup quarterback led a 9-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that milked the clock to give Arizona cushion late, negating any Russell Wilson magic. Mostly ineffective through the air, Hundley used his legs on that scoring drive, evading defenders and picking up first downs. Murray spun magic through two-plus quarters, making bullet throws, heady scrambles, and brilliant magic, as the Cards controlled the game before he exited with the hamstring injury. Kenyan Drake is about to get P-A-I-D, paid. The running back, who was head-scratchingly mothballed in Miami, once again dominated. The speedster dashed for an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter in which he outraced Seattle's defensive angles. Drake gobbled up a career-high 166 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns, motoring the Cards offense both before and after Murray's injury. Sunday was the latest example of brighter days ahead in Arizona under Kliff Kingsbury.
- Seattle looked unbeatable to open the game, picking up chunk gains with ease on an 89-yards, nine-play touchdown drive. The offense went to sleep the rest of the way. The Seahawks next six drives generated 40 yards, two first downs, four straight three-and-outs and two plays for negative yards before halftime. The Cardinals defense swarmed holding Seattle to a meager 224 total yards -- 135 after the opening drive -- 1 of 12 on third down and just 13 total first downs. With running backs Chris Carson (hip) and C.J. Prosise (arm) being ruled out at halftime with injuries, Seattle's offense had no identity. Sixth-round rookie Travis Homer was the only back left. Under siege behind a brutal offensive line that came in banged up, Russell Wilson was routinely fleeing for his life. Against an Arizona defense that had been flamed through the air this season, Wilson generated just 169 yards and a TD on 16-of-31 passing. Tyler Lockett was smothered, with his only catch on eight targets coming with 11:59 left in the game, and D.K. Metcalf put up a goose-egg. With no one to block Chandler Jones, the Seahawks offense was a dink-and-dunk operation to Homer as they attempted to come back. That's no way to live and will be especially daunting next week against San Francisco and into January.
- Chandler Jones deserves attention for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Yes, his team is marred at 5-9-1, but the pass-rusher leads the NFL with 19 sacks, after picking up four Sunday against Wilson. Jones was unblockable all game, creating havoc in the Seahawks' backfield and wrecking play after play after play after play. Where the ball was, so was Jones. His final stat line was ridiculous: Four sacks, six tackles, six QB hits, two tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. Give the man some love, world. For Seattle, the disappointing loss puts their record at 11-4 ahead of a showdown with the 49ers for the NFC West on the line next Sunday night. Pete Carroll's crew can still take the division and get a bye, but life is much harder to secure one of the top two seeds after the loss.
-- Kevin Patra
- A sleepy, sloppy, penalty-filled start by the Saints saw Drew Bees and Co. dig a 14-0 hole before New Orleans woke up on both sides of the ball. Trailing 14-3 with under three minutes remaining in the first half, the Saints' next five possessions went touchdown, end of half, touchdown, touchdown and touchdown, New Orleans scoring 24 straight points at one point to take a 31-21 lead it would never relinquish. Alvin Kamara enjoyed his best game in weeks, blasting off a 40-yard touchdown to open the half, his longest of the season, and his first TD since Week 3. Kamara looked more like the dynamic back we're used to seeing gobbling up 110 scrimmage yards and his first two-rushing TD game of the season. After a slow start outdoors, Brees caught a groove in the second half, throwing dimes as he compiled three touchdown passes to extend his NFL record to 544 for his career. As the Titans kept the game close, it was apropos that Brees found Michael Thomas repeatedly down the stretch. In a magical season, Thomas generated his third straight game with 11 or more receptions, gobbling up 12 catches for 136 yards and a TD to break Marvin Harrison's single-season NFL catch record. Thomas has 145 catches with one week to go.
- Ryan Tannehill continues to impress, throwing strikes as the Titans streaked out of the gate with big plays to take the lead. It was a five-series stretch, however, that ultimately cost the Titans. After taking a 14-0 lead, Tennessee's next five drives generated just 42 total yards, all ending in punts. After getting down double digits, Tannehill battled the Titans back to keep the game close, throwing three TDs, zero INTs and 272 yards passing, despite suspect blocking that cost him five sacks. With Derrick Henry sitting due to a hamstring injury, the Tennessee offense wasn't able to grind the ball like we'd become accustomed to seeing. Credit Tannehill with keeping the Titans in the game sans the offensive centerpiece.
- The victory keeps the Saints (12-3) in the hunt for a potential playoff bye. Despite a plethora of defensive injuries, Sean Payton's team stood tall in key moments Sunday until the offense got churning. New Orleans can't finish with worse than the No. 3 seed, but has its sights set on one of the top two spots in the NFC, and potentially the No. 1 seed. With the Carolina Panthers on the docket in Week 17, getting to 13-3 could be enough. Still, New Orleans remains in a dogfight with the 49ers (12-3), Seahawks (11-3, playing a late game versus Arizona) and the Packers (11-3, playing Monday night) for a postseason bye. The Titans (8-7) loss means little in the grand scheme and did so entering the game (likely the reason Henry sat). With the Steelers losing to the Jets, Tennessee's postseason path is simple: Beat the Houston Texans next week. Since Tannehill took over, the Titans have played like a playoff team. Now they have one game to cement it.
-- Kevin Patra
Jackson and Co. went right down the field not once, but twice, scoring two touchdowns to wipe out nearly two quarters' worth of positive momentum for Cleveland and remind folks of who rules the AFC North. After gaining 120 yards on its first four possessions, Baltimore racked up 138 yards, seven first downs and two touchdowns in 1:18 of game time, then followed it up with a methodical drive to its third straight trip to the end zone in as many possessions to start the second half. In a flash, a break and a march, the Ravens won the game.
- Freddie Kitchens cannot escape blame for his team's meltdown in the final minutes of the first half. After Baltimore took a 7-6 lead, Kitchens rode his fatally aggressive style to a possession that took just 0:23 off the clock and opened the door for the Ravens to again fly down the field to permanently wrestle away momentum.
Earlier this season, Kitchens attempted to close a half in aggressive fashion with the goal of scoring, getting the ball back and scoring again, as he'd explain afterward. It was similarly fatal to Cleveland's hopes.
For the second straight week, a star wideout (this time, Odell Beckham Jr.) went to the sideline late to exchange heated words with Kitchens. The calls for his job are louder than ever, and Browns fans went home from the team's final home game of 2019 with the same unhappiness that has too often plagued home finales. The first season in which the Browns (6-9) beaten every AFC North team at least once seems wasted with the postseason now out of the question. It's hard to believe there won't be some repercussions come January.
- One of Baltimore's greatest strengths is its ability to move the chains on third down. The Ravens were 7-of-11 on third down Sunday, relying heavily on tight end Mark Andrews and Jackson's quick-fire ability to get the ball out to a target at or beyond the sticks. The frequency with which Baltimore moved the chains had to be demoralizing to Cleveland's shorthanded defense. Instead of forcing Ravens mistakes, it was Baltimore that was doing exactly what it needed to overcome a deficit, pad its lead and ensure it wasn't going to be swept by Cleveland.
-- Nick Shook
- With the game on the line, Devlin "Duck" Hodges fumbled the snap and chucked it errantly into center field, the ball, along with a 16-10 Steelers loss to the Jets, falling to the ground. Hodges, following two first-half interceptions, was benched and then returned as Mason Rudolph -- who threw the Steelers' only touchdown of the day -- left with an injured shoulder. As the Steelers' chaotic quarterback carousel spins along and the offense as a whole struggles to maintain scoring drives and health, alike, it is the defense, a fearsome contingent of first-rounders, that's leading the way -- hopefully back to the playoffs. Yep, the Steelers still have their sights and very real hopes set on the AFC's No. 6 spot. JuJu Smith-Schuster returned from injury, James Conner left with another one and Maurkice Pouncey hitched a cart ride, too. Still, the Steelers defense, led by T.J. Watt and his first-round mates (the Steelers have eight first-rounders on defense) held the Jets' inept offense to one touchdown and 259 yards. As it has all season, the Pittsburgh defense gave the Steelers a chance. Sitting at 8-7, the Steelers still have a chance to get into the playoffs with a game left against the mighty Ravens, who have already locked up the top seed and might well have little incentive.
- Though certainties (in air quotes) have been made by the franchise that Adam Gase will return for a second season, this victory over a possible playoff team bodes well for another campaign with eyes focused on turning around Gang Green. The offense continued to struggle, though, with a touchdown pass from Sam Darnold and a trio of Sam Ficken field goals standing as the offensive production. Playing against such a formidable defense as the Steelers offer, perhaps that's excuse enough for this week. But amid all the tumult of this currently 6-9 season, Gregg Williams' defense looked good once again. The returns of Jamal Adams (game-high eight tackles, including two for a loss) and cornerback Brian Poole boded well and a phenomenal Marcus Maye pass deflection late saved the day. Offensive woes remain, but the Jets defense continues to offer building blocks going forward.
- For the first time -- presumably since the end of the 2017 season -- Le'Veon Bell got to see his former Steelers teammates. He even showed up in yellow shirt and black pants. It was much ado for little, though. Bell began with a pair of seven-yard bursts on the first drive, but finished the day with an underwhelming 72 yards on 25 carries, a paltry 2.9 yards per carry to show for the victory. It very much encapsulated Bell's debut in Gotham; there was plenty to talk about before the game, but not much after it.
-- Grant Gordon
- There wasn't much on the line as it concerned these respective teams. But that was hardly the case for certain players. Nyheim Hines might have won himself a starting job. He became the first NFL player since 2012 to return two punts for touchdowns in a single game, going for 84 and 71 yards respectively. Hines nearly took his first punt return to the house as well, making multiple defenders miss en route to a 40-yard return that set up the Colts' first touchdown. Hines' 195 PR yards were the fourth-most ever and just 12 shy of LeRoy Irvin's all-time record. And Hines did it with just those three returns. The second-year running back came into the game with nearly as many receptions (40) as rushing attempts (44), and just four punt returns. His special skill warrants a new role in Indy (7-8).
- In what is another lost season for the Panthers (5-10), to ignore the exploits of Christian McCaffrey would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He's only having one of the most prolific seasons in NFL history. With a franchise-record 15 catches Sunday, McCaffrey reset his own NFL record for RB receptions in a season with 109. He's the first-ever running back to hit the century mark twice, and he's done it in consecutive seasons. Additionally, only Michael Thomas (321) has caught more passes in his first three seasons than CMC's 296. With one game to play, McCaffrey needs 216 yards against the Saints next week to break Chris Johnson's record for yards from scrimmage in a season (2,509).
- Welcome to the league, Will Grier. It was a rough debut for the 2019 third-rounder, as he was sacked five times and intercepted thrice. He threw for just 224 yards and averaged 5.1 yards an attempt, all while completing just 12 of 29 passes to Panthers not named McCaffrey. It might be hard to assess what Grier is in these final weeks with a makeshift coaching staff. But the rookie QB will be eager to put better play on tape in the regular-season finale as the Carolina front office contemplates big decisions about its future.
-- Adam Maya
- Even with their combined win total of six coming in, the struggling Giants and Redskins would've been out of playoff contention. Still, the NFC East foes battled late into the afternoon, Case Keenum emerging from the bench to lead his woebegone Redskins into overtime against the returning Daniel Jones and resurgent Saquon Barkley. On a day that didn't matter in the standings, it was Danny Dimes who threw a nickel's worth of touchdown passes, the last coming in overtime to Kaden Smith for a 41-35 Giants triumph over the Redskins. Making his way back from an ankle injury that allowed Eli Manning to have a fitting ride into the sunset, Jones looked outstanding from phenomenal start to clutch ending for the Giants (4-11) against the Redskins (3-12). On a day in which he was locked in a duel with fellow first-rounder Dwayne Haskins and ultimately outlasted him, Jones was 28-for-42 for 352 yards and a 132.1 rating, the yards, rating and five touchdowns all season-highs. From Jones to Barkley (see below) and a few others, a glimpse was provided of what the Giants offense hopes to be for autumns ahead.
- Surely there were those who doubted Saquon Barkley would return to his rookie-phenom form. But this Sunday, preceded by a 112-yard outing against the Dolphins, saw Barkley flash his previous self and renew hope with a career-high 189 yards rushing, buoyed by a 67-yard first-quarter touchdown run that was his longest jaunt of the year. Versatile as we remember, he added a 33-yard touchdown catch as one of his four grabs for 90 yards as part of a career-high 279 scrimmage yards. Barkley's back, skillful and special as always and still budding with potential to lead the Giants back from the doldrums.
- From progress to peril went Dwayne Haskins' Sunday. The 2019 15th overall pick made his NFL debut in a Week 4 loss to the Giants. Though he didn't start, he had three interceptions, a 32.8 rating and was 9-for-17 for 107 yards in that game. In the first two drives on Sunday, he was 9-of-9 for 111 yards, two touchdowns and a sterling 157.6 rating. Without argument, it was the best he's looked in a trying rookie campaign. But then came a Markus Golden sack and a cart ride to the locker room. Haskins left and did not return to action with an ankle injury. He did return to the sideline, though, and watched his team rally. Though it ended with a limp, this was a hugely positive step forward for Haskins in a rematch with the team against which he had the worst showing of his first year.
-- Grant Gordon
- Two squads with 5-9 records, lame duck head coaches and unmet expectations faced off Sunday afternoon in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons got on the board early with a pair of touchdowns by Devonta Freeman in the first quarter. The Falcons offense efforted a well-balanced attack against the struggling Jaguars defense. Along with Freeman, Julio Jones had a big day with 166 yards on 10 receptions. Atlanta's offensive line, which has been a problem this year, blocked well, allowing Matt Ryan and Co. to move the ball around evenly. However, the Falcons (6-9) weren't error-free and had plenty of missed opportunities. It was exciting to see the offense finally click but time isn't on their side. Perhaps it will be just enough to prove there's plenty of good pieces on this Falcons roster.
- Days after parting ways with Tom Coughlin and resetting the clocks around the team facility, it was assumed a revitalized Jaguars team would take the field. It did not. The Jags (5-10) fell into a hole early getting blanked in the first quarter. Down 24-6 late in the fourth quarter, Gardner Minshew tossed his first and only TD pass of the game to Chris Conley. The late burst was too little too late, which sums up the Jaguars' season perfectly.
- Since this turned out to be an underwhelming game, let's talk about record-setting performances! Sunday's matchup featured two big moments for a pair of players. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette reached over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and over 75 receptions this season, edging out previous Jags record-holders Maurice Jones-Drew (2011) and Jimmy Smith (1999), respectively. Falcons star receiver Julio Jones became the fastest player to reach 12,000 receiving yards.
-- Andie Hagemann
- A game that had no playoff implications ended up being one of the most exciting games of the day due to a wild finish. The Dolphins (4-11) had the game in the bag for almost four quarters. Ryan Fitzpatrick was on fire out of the gate hitting Christian Wilkins for a big-guy TD in the opening drive, making the defensive tackle the sixth player weighing 300-plus pounds to catch a receiving TD this season. This was Fitzmagic's second game this season with three passing TDs before halftime. He had a whopping 252 yards at the half but finished the day with 419 yards and four touchdowns.
- Though the Bengals (1-14) lost today, it must be noted that a team with the worst scoring offense in the league was able to score 23 points in the final six minutes to force the game into overtime. After a missed FG by Miami late in the fourth quarter, the Bengals took advantage by scoring back-to-back TDs (Tyler Boyd [9/128/2] and Tyler Eifert [4/57/1]) and two-point conversions with an onside kick recovery in between to tie the game. After a rough start, Andy Dalton finished with 396 yards and four touchdowns. But it was a little too much, too late. Cincinnati is officially on the clock. They might've lost the game, but they locked down the draft pick battle. With this loss, the Bengals have the first overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. This is the first time since 2003 when they drafted Carson Palmer out of USC.
- It felt like Fitzpatrick was slinging it to anyone who would catch a pass. Before the end of the first quarter, wideout DeVante Parker surpassed 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career. He also became the first Dolphin with 1,000 receiving yards and nine receiving TDs in the same season since Chris Chambers in 2005. Tight end Mike Gesicki also had a big day scoring two of Miami's five touchdowns of the day.
-- Lakisha Wesseling
- The Raiders (7-8) are improbably still eligible for the playoffs. It's not impossible that they get in either. Oakland needed nine things to break its way in the final two weeks of the season. Five happened Sunday, requiring four specific outcomes in Week 17: Raiders over Broncos, Texans over Titans, Ravens over Steelers and Colts over Jaguars. It would create a four-team cluster with 8-8 records, and Oakland would prevail thanks to its Week 4 win over the Colts and a superior strength of victory percentage than the Steelers.
- If every game is an audition for Derek Carr with coach Jon Gruden, he would seem to have passed Sunday. He repeatedly found the open receiver, even if it wasn't downfield as often as his coach would prefer. Carr completed 26 of 30 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns, including one on the ground. It was a crucial performance for Carr after his lackluster play contributed to four consecutive losses coming into this weekend.
- What was supposed to be a Chargers send-off before they head to SoFi Stadium in 2020 turned into another farewell party for the Raiders in their former hometown. The Chargers' final game at Dignity Health Sports Park went about as well as you might expect considering it was in front of a legion of Raiders fans. Philip Rivers, who played through an apparent thumb injury, had to burn a timeout because he couldn't hear a fourth-down call. He tried to rally Los Angeles back from a 14-point deficit in the second half by leading a pair of scoring drives. But the Chargers (5-10) never had possession with a chance to so much as tie in the second half. It was their ninth one-possession loss of the season.
-- Adam Maya
- This one was for pride, and both teams played with it. The Lions jumped out to a 10-0 lead following a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jamal Agnew. Denver tied it by halftime, before the two teams traded leads in the second half. Too much Phillip Lindsay ultimately proved to be the difference. He rushed for 64 yards after the break and 109 overall. His 27-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter made it a two-possession game. A Lions offense that produced just 191 yards wasn't going to overcome that.
- Drew Lock has won again. He was fairly responsible for it too. The rookie quarterback was more solid than stellar in his fourth start, completing 25 of 33 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Denver (6-9) had just three wins through the first 11 games of the season. It's won three of four with Lock as the starter. He's certainly given John Elway something to ponder as the Broncos face another offseason with questions about their long-term plans at QB.
- Sometimes when you lose, you win. The Lions (3-11-1) enter the final week of the regular season positioned to draft third overall in 2020. They have a chance to earn the second pick with a loss to the Packers next week and a Redskins win over the Cowboys. Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford opened this past week declaring second-year coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn would be back next season. She also said she expects to be a playoff contender. Building through the draft is vital for a team that needs more talent and isn't always able to attract top free agents.
-- Adam Maya