Seahawks rolling, set up for run at the No. 1 seed
The Seahawks routed the Cardinals in the desert on Sunday Night Football, running away with a big 35-6 win. Seattle absolutely caught fire in the second half on the way to a franchise-record 596 yards on offense, playing suffocating defense that held the Ryan Lindley-led Arizona offense to just 216 total yards. Seattle appears to be peaking at the right time.
Russell Wilson finished 20-of-31 for 339 yards passing against one of the best defenses in the NFL to this point, throwing two touchdowns while rushing for 88 yards and another score. Marshawn Lynch added an absurd 79-yard touchdown scamper while breaking several tackles along the way. The defense is the real identity of this Seahawks team though, and over the past five games they've only given up 33 points, an average of 6.6 points per game.
The win puts the Seahawks in the driver's seat for the NFC's No. 1 seed for the second year in a row, a right Seattle can guarantee next week by beating the Rams at home while hoping the Packers and Lions don't tie. If Seattle can take care of business next week against St. Louis, the road to the Super Bowl may once again go through CenturyLink Field.
Packers, Lions win set up a wild Week 17
Jimmy Clausen and the Bears did not make it easy, but the Lions gutted out yet another comeback to knock off Chicago on the road.
Clausen, who took over for a benched Jay Cutler, completed 23-of-39 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns against one of the NFL's best defenses. His effort wasn't quite enough though, as he threw a pick late in the fourth quarter as the Bears tried to put together a game-winning drive. It was the Lions' fifth fourth-quarter comeback of the year, the most in the NFL. A huge Joique Bell touchdown run with 7:15 to go put them in front for good.
The Lions offense remains inconsistent and sloppy. Matthew Stafford finished the day 22-of-39 for 234 yards and two costly red zone interceptions. In this one, Detroit leaned on its run game, even with Bell benched for the first quarter due to disciplinary reasons, and the Lions finished the day with 138 yards on 26 carries. The Lions improved to 11-4 with the win.
More on the QB drama
More on the QB drama
Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Packers bounced back from a tough loss in Buffalo last week, winning 20-3 in Tampa Bay to clinch a playoff spot. The Bucs were able to keep it close -- it was 10-3 going into the fourth quarter -- but ultimately Aaron Rodgers was too much for Tampa Bay, who remain in the hunt for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft this year. Rodgers finished the day a clean 31-of-40 for 318 yards and a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson, and the Packers relied on Eddie Lacy and the ground game to control the clock for nearly 39 minutes as compared to Tampa Bay's 21 minutes of possession. Lacy finished with 99 yards rushing, including a 44-yard rumble for a score.
Green Bay's performances on the road the last two games make things interesting as the playoffs approach. With the Packers' loss at Buffalo last week, they no longer have the inside track for home-field advantage throughout the postseason, so while Rodgers and the Pack have been almost unbeatable at home, they may have to go on the road in order to win the NFC, a much tougher proposition.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though, and with the Lions and Packers both grabbing wins this week, it sets up a big-time matchup next Sunday for all the NFC North marbles. Two 11-4 teams will meet at Lambeau Field to decide the division champion, and while the Lions haven't won there since 1991, their top defense gives them a good shot to break that streak.
By Eric Sollenberger
It was a defensive slugfest and a rare off-game for Tom Brady who was held to less than 200 yards passing on the day. The Jets defensive line brought pressure all day and knocked Brady around, leaving him uncomfortable in the pocket for much of the afternoon. An ugly win is still a win, and this one gave New England a first-round bye for the playoffs. This is the Patriots' NFL-leading sixth consecutive postseason appearance.
The end for Rex
The end for Rex
The Jets were in a position to take the lead with just more five minutes left in the game but Nick Folk missed a long field goal that would have put the Jets up by two points. The other back-breaking play came from the Jets' second-year quarterback Geno Smith, who besides one costly turnover played a conservatively decent game. New York was driving, protecting a three-point lead in the third quarter when Smith threw an interception that the Patriots turned into the go-ahead touchdown after an eight-play drive.
The game underscored the difference between the two franchises, which are headed in diametrically opposite directions. It will likely be Rex Ryan's last home game as head coach. The Jets are likely to clean house at the end of the season. Belichick's team has been playing as well as any team in the league, leaving the Jets to begin their coaching search as the Pats are on the hunt for another Super Bowl.
The NFC South comes down to one game
By Danny Kelly
Meanwhile in the NFC South, a similar division-deciding title game is set to take place in Week 17, but the two contestants are not quite as heavy in the win column. The 6-9 Falcons will face off against the 6-8-1 Panthers in a winner-take-all showdown in Atlanta. The matchup was set up by a pair of big wins for the two teams this week.
The Saints went into the week looking like the favorites to win the division. When Jalen Saunders returned the opening kickoff 99 yards, setting up a Mark Ingram touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, New Orleans' grasp on the lead in the division looked even stronger. But, the Falcons didn't falter, fighting back to take a 13-7 lead into the half, and three Saints turnovers in the fourth quarter ended up sinking New Orleans' shot at the postseason.
Atlanta was led by Matt Ryan's 30-of-40 passing line for 322 yards, and his touchdown pass to Eric Weems in the second quarter put them in front for good. Julio Jones returned to catch seven passes for 107 yards, adding a much-needed spark. The real story was the Falcons' defense though, which picked off Drew Brees twice and sacked him five times, forcing a fumble on the final one and turning it into a defensive touchdown to finish off the Saints.
Offense hasn't been an issue for the Falcons this season, but their league-worst defense makes them very vulnerable. If Atlanta's defense can continue to put together performances like this against strong offenses, it is definitely a dark-horse to make some noise once the Wild Card round kicks off in two weeks.
The Falcons first have to get past the Panthers, though, who beat the Browns at home to stay a half-game ahead of Atlanta. The battle of two former Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks was slightly anti-climactic after Johnny Manziel left with a hamstring injury in the first half, but here's the more interesting and meaningful storyline: despite losing six games in a row during the middle part of the season, Carolina has officially come back to life and now has a shot at its second straight NFC South title.
Cam Newton was back on the field two weeks after breaking two bones in his back in a car accident, and passed for one touchdown and ran for another to help knock off the Browns.
Carolina held the Manziel and Brian Hoyer combo to just 10 completions for 166 yards, but the Panthers' only slip nearly cost them the game. Hoyer connected with Jordan Cameron on a huge 81-yard touchdown bomb, which gave Cleveland a 13-10 lead with 9:59 remaining, but the Panthers struck back with a seven-play, 66-yard touchdown drive of their own.
Carolina ran for 209 yards, dominating time of possession 38:03-21:57 on their way to the 17-13 win. Newton's gutsy performance was the story of the game. He'll have to be at the top of his game next week for the Panthers to pull it off on the road.
2. Odell Beckham is still amazing.
3. Cam Newton is still making one fan's dream come true.
5. Bears fans gave Matthew Stafford a Christmas greeting, kinda.
6. The Falcons win social media with a Cash Money tribute.
Atlanta Falcons 30, New Orleans Saints 14 (final)
Green Bay Packers 20, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3 (final)
New England Patriots 17, New York Jets 16 (final)
Carolina Panthers 17, Cleveland Browns 13 (final)
Detroit Lions 20, Chicago Bears 14 (final)
Miami Dolphins 37, Minnesota Vikings 35 (final)
New York Giants 37, St. Louis Rams 27 (final)
Seattle Seahawks 35, Arizona Cardinals 6 (final)