The Panthers remained perfect on the season, beating the Giants 38-35 in a barnburner that saw New York erase a 35-7 deficit to tie the game with 1:46 remaining. Cam Newton did what MVP candidates should do at that point and engineered a game-winning drive that saw him thread the needle on a few throws and run for several first downs. This two-minute drill set up the game-winning Graham Gano 43-yard field goal, and Carolina moved to 14-0 on the year. Anything but a total collapse over the final two weeks and the Panthers will get the No. 1 seed, meaning the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will almost surely go through Charlotte.
Meanwhile, New England held on to the top spot in the AFC with a dominant 33-16 win over the Titans. Every week it seems like the Patriots lose another key player or two to injury and this game was no exception, as Danny Amendola, Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung all left with maladies. Nonetheless, Tom Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns, spreading targets around to Rob Gronkowski, James White, Brandon LaFell and Keyshawn Martin. The Pats still have the inside track to the top seed in the AFC.
That Cardinals dominated the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, strengthening their claim as the No. 1 challenger in the NFC behind the Panthers. Tyrann Mathieu went down with a non-contact knee injury -- prognosis unknown at this point -- but that's really the only thing that could've dampened an otherwise jovial affair for the Cardinals, who celebrated after locking up the NFC West title in the 40-17 blowout.
The Bengals have to survive without Andy Dalton for a while and AJ McCarron's soft landing into the 49er defense was a nice little perk. McCarron finished 15-of-21 passing for 192 yards and a touchdown as he eased into running Hue Jackson's offense. While he may not have the control that Dalton has at the line, he was impressive enough with what he was asked to do, to offer Bengals fans some hope. Meanwhile, the Steelers came back from 17 points down on the tough Denver defense to win a wild one at home. The win pushes the high-octane Steelers into the sixth and final wild card spot in the AFC -- for now -- and this looks like a team that no one will want to face come January.
Along those same lines, Seattle continued their torrid run by easily dispatching the Browns 30-13 at home. With the win, the Seahawks clinched a playoff spot for the fifth time in the six-year Pete Carroll era. To get back to the Super Bow for the third year in a row, they'll have to do it on the road this year, rather than relying on the home field advantage the CLink offers. Seattle is playing their best ball right now, though, and looks like a team that could beat anyone.
The Packers survived a rough start to run away from the Raiders in Oakland, strengthening their hold on the lead in the NFC North. The Vikings aren't far behind though, and Teddy Bridgewater played lights out in Minnesota's 38-17 win over the Bears. Adrian Peterson left with an ankle injury but Bridgewater had his best outing of the season, giving hope to fans that he's caught fire at the right time.
Kansas City knocked off the Ravens to fortify its claim on the fifth wild card spot, and Washington won a big one over the Bills to remain the leaders in the NFC East. Kirk Cousins put together a spectacular performance, throwing four touchdown passes while running for another, and he has his squad looking like the team to beat in that division.
In a battle for control of the AFC South, the Texans knocked off the Colts 16-10 with suffocating defense, and a surprisingly efficient relief performance by Brandon Weeden after T.J. Yates tore his ACL. After winning 16 straight division games over the past three years, the Colts have now lost two in a row, and face the real prospect of losing their death grip on the division.
Win the water cooler:
Arm yourself with the most essential tidbits from Sunday's action ... impress your coworkers around the water cooler.
Newton doing big things
Without even getting into the MVP discussion, the things that Cam Newton is doing this year are nothing short of amazing. In Sunday's shootout win over the Giants, he became the only player in NFL history to throw for 300 or more yards while rushing for 100-plus and completing five touchdown passes in a single game.
Newton is now the only player in NFL history to start his career with five consecutive seasons of 3,000-plus passing yards and 500-plus rushing yards (in fact, he's the only player to have ever done that five times, period). He is just the fifth quarterback in league history with three or more games with at least five passing touchdowns in a single season, joining an esteem group that includes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper.
Newton's joining rarified air in a lot of statistical areas, but Russell Wilson is giving him a run for his money.
SB Nation presents: Cam Newton is indestructible
Russell Wilson torching the record books
On Sunday, Wilson passed for another three touchdowns and became the only player in NFL history with five straight games with at least three passing touchdowns and no interceptions. Think about that.
Hell, passing for three or more touchdowns five games in a row is rare enough as it is. Ignoring the fact that he's not thrown a pick in his crazy offensive explosion, Wilson joins Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks in league history with three-plus touchdown passes in five straight games. That's some good company.
Wilson's 29 passing touchdowns this year is just three shy of a Seahawks' franchise record, held by Dave Krieg (32) in 1984. With his second touchdown pass on Sunday, a strike to Doug Baldwin, Wilson hit a milestone -- 100 touchdown passes in his career -- and became the second-fastest quarterback in league history to get there, second only Dan Marino.
Wilson has 19 touchdowns to no picks in his last five games, all wins by the Hawks.
Doug Baldwin proving he's elite
Baldwin has complained about media perception for years but the fact of the matter has been that Seattle has a very low-volume passing offense. Well, during the last month and a half, Baldwin has proven that all he needed was the opportunity to show what he can do.
Baldwin caught two more touchdown passes on Sunday, and joined Calvin Johnson (2011) and Cris Carter (1995) as the only three players in the league's history with four straight games with multiple reception scores. Baldwin's 10 touchdown catches over the last four games ties the mark that Hall of Famer Jerry Rice set back in 1987 for most touchdown receptions in a four-game span.
Baldwin now has 13 receiving touchdowns on the season (tied for first in the NFL), which ties the Seahawks' all-time single-season mark (Daryl Turner, 1995) and moves ahead of Hall-of-Famer Steve Largent (1984) and Joey Galloway (1997) on that list.
Antonio Brown is really, ridiculously good
Okay, so we've established that Doug Baldwin is good. You know who else is really good? Antonio Brown.
Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns Sunday in the Steelers' big win over the Broncos, and in doing so became the first and only player in league history with two separate 15-catch games. He pushed his catch total to 116 on the year and now joins Wes Welker as the only two players in league history with three straight 110-catch campaigns. With 1,586 receiving yards this year, Brown also became just the fifth player in NFL history to have 1,500 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons, joining Julio Jones, Marvin Harrison, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson.
DeSean Jackson doesn't need volume to succeed
Washington receiver DeSean Jackson only has 26 catches this season but even if he's not getting the volume he would like, he's made the most of what gets thrown his way. In Sunday's win over the Bills, Jackson's 77-yard touchdown bomb from Kirk Cousins mid-third quarter gave Washington a 25-point lead. That score gave Jackson 20 career touchdowns of more than 60 yards, which is third on the all-time NFL list, behind only Jerry Rice (23) and Devin Hester (21).
Marcus Peters' late run at Defensive Rookie of the Year
Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters is making a case for himself as the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and two more interceptions on Sunday sure won't hurt when the voting comes in. His seven interceptions this season is the best from a rookie since 1992, when another Chief rookie named Dale Carter picked off that many.
Amari Cooper makes his case for Offensive Rookie of the Year
It's going to be tough to beat out the two standout rookie quarterbacks this year, but Amari Cooper bounced back this week with a big game, catching six passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers. Cooper went over 1,000 receiving yards on the season, the first Raider to do that since Randy Moss in 2005. In fact, as ESPN Stats and Info points out, the last three Raider receivers to hit the 1,000-yard mark in a season were Moss, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Is Cooper on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer like his predecessors?
Final Scores for Week 15
St. Louis Rams 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 (Thursday)
New York Jets 19, Dallas Cowboys 16 (Saturday)
Kansas City Chiefs 34, Baltimore Ravens 14
Houston Texans 16, Indianapolis Colts 10
Atlanta Falcons 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Minnesota Vikings 38, Chicago Bears 17
New England Patriots 33, Tennessee Titans 16
Carolina Panthers 38, New York Giants 35
Washington 35, Buffalo Bills 25
Seattle Seahawks 30, Cleveland Browns 13
Green Bay Packers 30, Oakland Raiders 20
San Diego Chargers 30, Miami Dolphins 14
Cincinnati Bengals 24, San Francisco 49ers 14
Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Denver Broncos 27
Arizona Cardinals 40, Philadelphia Eagles 17
The chippy plays and why Beckham earned a suspension
Newton ran over a ref -- but it wasn't his fault!
Forget about just giving kids a football after a touchdown. Now Newton wants a fist bump from them in return.
How did Giants fans handle losing to the Panthers? They started fighting in a bathroom stall, of course.
Not much went right for the Titans against the Patriots, but Delanie Walker's tackle-breaking TD was one of them.
Jordan Norwood had a punt return so incredible it made his teammates commit a penalty.
Johnny Manziel trucked a referee who was powerless to move out of the way.
David Johnson channeled BEAST MODE on the best touchdown run of the season.
The Eagles are still using NSFW sideline signals.
Patrick Peterson had a blast trolling the Eagles' crowd.
T.J. Yates started in place of an injured Brian Hoyer and then exited with what could be an ACL tear against the Colts. He was replaced by Brandon Weeden.
Marcus Mariota left the game with a right knee injury after getting sacked by the Patriots.
LeSean McCoy hurt his knee against Washington. Although he did not return, the injury is not considered to be serious.
Danny Amendola left the game against the Titans with a knee injury and did not return.
Melvin Gordon suffered a knee injury against the Dolphins late in the first half and was unable to return.