The Packers brought Aaron Rodgers back last week for nothing. Just one day after they fell short in Rodgers’ return, the Packers were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Green Bay’s postseason hopes were already hanging by a thread before the Falcons squeaked out a win over the Buccaneers. But a missed field goal by Buccaneers kicker Patrick Murray was all it took to seal the Falcons’ win and crush the Packers’ chances at the playoffs.
Rodgers, who played in his first game since breaking his collarbone in Week 6, didn’t look ready in the Packers’ 31-24 loss to the Panthers. He threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, but he was also uncharacteristically picked off three times. Each one was an underthrown ball, a clear sign that his arm strength isn’t yet where it needs to be.
The Panthers also sacked Rodgers three times and hit him seven times. That’s not ideal for someone who’s fresh off of a surgically repaired collarbone.
McCarthy: Aaron Rodgers is sore. He was hit too many times. We'll see what tomorrow brings.— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 19, 2017
Now that the Falcons’ win knocked them out of contention, the Packers will probably just shut Rodgers down for the rest of the season, and rightfully so. This year is over. Let him get healthy for next year.
Here’s how the playoff race is shaping up in both conferences.
Are the Patriots just going to win the whole dang thing again?
The Patriots are your AFC East champions yet again. It didn’t necessarily feel like a foregone conclusion when they got shellacked by the Chiefs in Week 1, but here we are for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.
If we’ve learned anything over the past 18 years, it’s that you should never count out Touchdown Tom. If you had somehow forgotten that, you were reminded once again against the Steelers. That said, this Patriots team has some weaknesses. Any team that can lose to the Dolphins can definitely get knocked out of the playoffs.
If they face the Jaguars, that swarming defense could harass Tom Brady enough to get a win over New England, as long as the good Blake Bortles shows up. Pittsburgh will be gunning for the Patriots if there’s a rematch in the playoffs — and the Steelers should have a healthy Antonio Brown then.
There’s another rematch to watch for, too: The Chiefs, if they make it in, already stomped the Patriots in the season opener. So don’t just assume the Patriots will cakewalk to the Super Bowl.
But then again, never count out whatshisname.
What did the AFC playoff picture look like last week?
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- New England Patriots
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Tennessee Titans
- Buffalo Bills
What does it look like now?
The Steelers are lucky they already locked up a playoff spot in Week 14, because otherwise, the Patriots clinching would add all kinds of insult to injury. The end of the Patriots’ win over Pittsburgh was maybe the wildest two minutes of the entire season so far. But New England came out ahead — thanks in part to the NFL still not really knowing what a catch is — and the AFC playoff picture is coming into clearer focus.
The Jaguars also clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time in a decade, though the AFC South is still up for grabs at this point. Jacksonville got a little help from the 49ers, who won their third game in a row on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. That gives the Jaguars a two-game lead over Tennessee and puts them one step closer to locking up the division.
- New England Patriots (11-3)**
- Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)**
- Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4)*
- Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
- Tennessee Titans (8-6)
- Buffalo Bills (8-6)
*clinched playoff spot
What’s happening in the NFC postseason race?
No Carson Wentz? No problem. Nick Foles led the Eagles to a win over the Giants, which guaranteed Philadelphia a first-round bye. The Vikings are still slotted in at No. 2. Nobody else in the NFC has clinched yet.
The NFC North champion Vikings punched their ticket to the postseason, too, by knocking off the completely outmatched Bengals, 34-7, on Sunday.
No team from the NFC South has clinched a spot in the postseason. The Saints, Panthers, and Falcons all won this week, meaning the division is still up for grabs. This battle may go right up until Week 17.
- Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)**
- Minnesota Vikings (11-3)**
- Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
- New Orleans Saints (10-4)
- Carolina Panthers (10-4)
- Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
The Seahawks, Lions, and Cowboys are still in the wild card hunt, though they’ll all need some help. Everyone else is eliminated. The Packers join the Cardinals, Washington, Bucs, Bears, 49ers, and Giants in looking forward to next season.
Which games matter most in Week 16?
We’re at the point that, for any team in contention, every game is crucial. Here are the top matchups for this year’s playoff race.
Rams vs. Titans
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
If Rams win: They clinch the NFC West and land in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
If Titans win: They stay in the hunt for the AFC South (as long as the Jaguars lose this week) or at least a wild card spot.
Bills vs. Patriots
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
If Bills win: They keep their spot in the wild card race.
If Patriots win: They stay in the top spot in the AFC, and nobody will be surprised.
Falcons vs. Saints
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
If Falcons win: They draw even with the Saints’ record and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after sweeping New Orleans this season.
If Saints win: They clinch a playoff spot and stay in firm control of the NFC South title.
Buccaneers vs. Panthers
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
If Buccaneers win: It may be enough to play spoiler in the division and set the Panthers back in a hotly contested NFC race.
If Panthers win: It depends on the outcome of Falcons vs. Saints, but they may be able to take the lead in the NFC South.
Dolphins vs. Chiefs
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
If Dolphins win: Miami’s faint playoff hopes aren’t dead yet. It could also give the Chargers a chance to stay alive in the AFC West race.
If Chiefs win: The AFC West title is theirs for the second year in a row.
Seahawks vs. Cowboys
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
If Seahawks win: They need the Falcons and the Lions to lose, but they still have a chance at landing a wild card bid.
If Cowboys win: They’re in the exact same boat as the Seahawks.
All I want for Christmas is for the Bills to end their playoff drought. Will it happen?
The Bills’ 17-season playoff drought is the longest active streak in pro sports. All of us non-grinches want to see them make the playoffs. But will it happen? If you’re a Bills fan, you might want to brace yourself.
They’ve got the Patriots this week, and while the Bills could play spoiler, New England beat them 23-3 earlier this year at New Era Field. This week’s game is in New England. Next week, they face the Dolphins on the road, which could go either way.
The Bills also have to contend with the Titans, Ravens, and the Chargers for one of those two wild card bids. Let’s check out their remaining schedules, from easiest to toughest:
- Ravens: vs. Colts, vs. Bengals. Their schedule is as breezy as it gets over the rest of the season.
- Chargers: at Jets, vs. Raiders. The Chargers might even slide into the top spot in the AFC West if the Chiefs fall apart.
- Titans: vs. Rams, vs. Jaguars. They’ve got it worse than the Bills and everybody else in the playoff hunt.
Can the Bills get there? Yes. Will they? Idk, ask Santa. But if not, there’s always next year.