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NFL scores and more, Week 17: What happened Sunday

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The Patriots have the easiest path the Super Bowl. The Cowboys are in great shape too. But it’s the Falcons and the Packers who could really surprise us all.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots didn’t need to play their starters as long as they did against the Dolphins on Sunday. All they needed was a secure lead, which they had with a 20-7 lead at the half. Leave it to Bill Belichick to put his foot on the gas in one last tune up before the Patriots get a week off.

They could see the Dolphins again, if Miami can beat Pittsburgh next week in the Wild Card round. Or, they could take on the winner of the Raiders-Texans game, which is the next best thing to a second bye. In other words, the Patriots have a fairly easy path to the Super Bowl, probably the easiest of any team in the playoffs this year.

Things aren’t so clear cut in the NFC. Dallas locked up the top seed a few weeks ago, and they looked excellent again, even with the backups playing, on Sunday afternoon against the Eagles.

The Packers are playing out their mind. After Aaron Rodgers promised to run the table in Week 11, they did it, winning six straight games to clinch their fifth NFC North title in the last six years.

Rodgers looks nearly impossible to beat the way he’s playing right now.

But out of all those teams, the one I think might be the surprise winner in the NFC is the Falcons. They’re playing indoors the whole way through the playoffs, even if they end up going to Dallas for the NFC Championship.

The Falcons are more than just a “dome” team. They’ve proven that time and again, and I’ll refer you back to this piece from Geoff Schwartz breaking down why that’s the case. However, the fact that they do get to play inside (hell, they’ll be in a dome if they do go all the way to the Super Bowl in Houston), only makes them better. The kind of speedy, explosive offense they have will burn up the turf under a roof.

Matt Ryan for MVP

He’s my pick. What he did this week against the Saints sealed it. He led a touchdown drive on the Falcons’ opening possession, something he’s done every week in his last six games. They scored five touchdowns on their first five drives.

This is Greatest Show on Turf era Rams level offense.

He joined Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as only the third player ever with at least 35 passing touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions. His 9.26 yards per attempt was a new NFL record.

Ryan finished the year with 4,944 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and seven picks. His 117.1 passer rating leads the league.

He’s got Julio Jones’ endorsement.

On the other hand, there’s Aaron Rodgers

He finished the season with the NFL lead in touchdown passes, with 40, topping Ryan. But the fantasy numbers don’t really tell the full story. This is the kind of stuff that does, impossible plays like the back-breaking touchdown against the Lions on Sunday night.

In his last seven games, Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdowns and no interceptions.

What makes Rodgers’ MVP candidacy different than Ryan’s is the hot streak late in the season, saving it for the Packers, and the dramatics.

Ryan’s success has been measured out over the course of an entire season. He puts up huge numbers week after week and makes it look effortless. Rodgers does it with more flair, like the play above. It’s no less valuable than what Ryan’s done this season, but it might be more to sway voters, especially since it’s the folks with a press pass doing the voting, and those people love a good story, so I’m told.

Confirmed: Texans vs. Raiders Wildcard game is going to suck

The Raiders might have Matt McGloin back next week. If not, they’ll go with third-string rookie Connor Cook.

The Texans will start Tom Savage, maybe. Savage suffered a concussion, came back onto the field for a kneel down at the half, and then was replaced by Brock Osweiler.

I think the Raiders will win that game. They’re a much better team, even with the backup quarterback in there. And then they’ll get fed to the lions the week after that, playing either the Patriots of the Chiefs.

This sucks for the Raiders. They’ve been one of the most fun teams to watch this year, and they will be again next year. But without Derek Carr, they’re just not as good as they could be. Greatness deferred.

A bad year for football in California

At least the Raiders are good, backup quarterback and all. That’s more than you can say about the other three teams that play in the Golden State.

The Chargers fired Mike McCoy on Sunday night. The 49ers were reportedly going to give Chip Kelly the boot on Monday, and the Rams reached their limit with Jeff Fisher’s trademark “7 and 9 bullshit” earlier in December.

It’s going to be awhile before the Rams or 49ers are good again. There’s a lot of work that has to be done. The Chargers could get there sooner, but the distraction of a relocation drama and the Spanos family’s commitment to being terrible, is going to hold them back.

Of course, the Raiders might be playing in Las Vegas soon.

Congrats, Browns!

The Browns took the Steelers’ backups all the way to overtime. They still lost, but points for trying! They still get to keep the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. They also have the 12th and 33rd picks.

Want some even better news, Browns fans? Owner Jimmy Haslam doesn’t plan to make any changes to the team’s leadership. They may add a personnel guy to help the eggheads, but that COULD make for a good balance.

Hue Jackson certainly didn’t deserve to get fired, even after a 1-15 season. His players played hard, and he showed a knack for trying whatever the hell he could, because what else did the Browns have?

Jackson and the front office haven’t had a chance to put their imprint on the team yet, and with all those draft picks, they could be set up for a decade, if their organizational vision holds.

Highlights

Rodgers somehow escaped disaster twice to throw his third touchdown pass of the night.

Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins was taken to the hospital after he was carted off the field in the third quarter with a neck injury.

Davante Adams after his touchdown catch executed an awesome 360 dunk over the goalpost, and was flagged 15 yards.

The kid who retrieves the kickoff tee for the Lions got a little extra screen time on ‘Sunday Night Football,’ and took advantage with a fun dance.

Two late turnovers ended Washington’s playoff hopes in an ugly home loss to the Giants.

Jeremy Kerley made a sensational one-handed grab against the Seahawks.

Tyreek Hill returned a punt 95 yards against the Chargers, tying a Chiefs rookie record with his 12th overall touchdown of the season.

Jahleel Addae picked off Alex Smith and somehow avoided several Chiefs on his way to a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown.

A frustrated Josh Norman headbutted Odell Beckham Jr.

Patriots TE Martellus Bennett equated winning with the Patriots to having sex.

The Rams and Cardinals traded interceptions in a sloppy sequence in Los Angeles.

Antonio Gates caught his 111th career TD pass, tying Tony Gonzalez for most all-time for a tight end.

Alshon Jeffery guaranteed he’ll win a Super Bowl next season ... but didn’t say for which team.

Broncos CB Aqib Talib ripped off the gold chain of Raiders WR Michael Crabtree.

The Jets accidentally kicked an onside. And then scored on it!

Do you think Tom Brady gets tired of setting records? Here’s another...

Good job on setting the completion percentage record, Sam Bradford.

The Browns had a pick-6! Oh, wait... nevermind. They are the Browns.

Who knew wide receivers could lay such devastating blocks?!?

Trick play touchdown pass! By the Bears!

Ah, yes, that IS the Mark Sanchez we all remember. Nice interception!

Tom Brady just passed Dan Marino in career passing yards — vs. the Dolphins.

Tipped interceptions have to be the worst for QBs — right, Jameis Winston?

Who remembers Tony Romo? Apparently the Cowboys do! He’s playing!

Hey! Looks like Malcolm Floyd can catch touchdowns even in a Pats jersey.

Martellus Bennett scored a touchdown, then scarfed down a banana on the sideline.

Injuries

Raiders backup QB Matt McGloin exited with a left shoulder injury against the Broncos, and is questionable to return.

Cardinals RB David Johnson was carted off after a leg injury against the Rams.

Officials sent Houston’s Tom Savage to get concussion testing, and he was ruled out.

LeSean McCoy was thought to be out for the game but went back to the sidelines.


Tony Romo made his season debut in Week 17