GET THE BEST ADVANCED FOOTBALL STATISTICS AND YEAR-ROUND ANALYSIS. SIGN UP FOR COLDHARDFOOTBALLFACTS HERE
Six of eight NFL divisions have been clinched entering the final week of the season, but there's still a ton for teams to play for. What did we learn from a wild and crazy Week 16?
Here's five critical developments, for a start:
5) The NFC East craptacular denoument is nigh. No, there's nothing pretty about what has developed in the NFC East this year, but it's still brought us to pretty riveting Week 17, where three of the four teams could claim the division and a playoff spot. Following Dallas' blowout of Philadelphia, here are the different possible scenarios that would lead the three non-Eagles teams to the postseason:
A) Washington beats Philadelphia, wins division outright
B) Dallas beats New York, Philadelphia beats Washington; Dallas wins division outright
C) New York beats Dallas, Philadelphia beats Washington; New York wins division on tiebreaker
The fact that the Giants, who have muddled through a third-straight 10-loss season, still have a chance to reach the playoffs is an embarrassment. It also means that Giants-Cowboys should be absolutely must-watch football next Sunday, particularly with the likelihood that an Eagles team that has been revitalized by the shift to Jalen Hurts can handle a Washington team playing out the string with Dwayne Haskins under center while also talking about moving on from him in the offseason (that maskless strip club trip wasn't such a slick move, eh Dwayne?).
The Quality Stats still like Washington because of the defense, but only marginally. And given Dallas' late-season surge, it shouldn't surprise anyone if Dallas is not only playing but hosting a playoff game in two weeks. Talk about insanity.
4) Pittsburgh took care of business. Finally. Are you excited about the Steelers' postseason chances? No, we're not either. Still, the Steelers clinched the AFC North on the fourth chance, pushing a dangerous Indianapolis team to the brink in the process. It wasn't pretty, with Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense muddling through a putrid first half before snapping awake just in time to clinch the division at home at the whistle.
Now, with Cleveland Brownsing the only way it knows how (more on that momentarily), the Steelers could have nothing to play for in Week 17, besides keeping a divisional rival under their thumb and out of the postseason. And, of course, the need to find some rhythm and flow heading into the playoffs. Because right now, even with that victory, they don't have any going.
3) Wait, the Browns lost to who? Oh Cleveland, how could you? With the Browns able to clinch a playoff spot for the first time in a generation (counterintuitively thanks to divisional rival Pittsburgh), they instead found a way to hand the Jets their second win of the season. To put Cleveland's setback in perspective, just consider that they not only held an advantage in all three key Quality Stat indeces, but held a Real QBR Differential advantage of nearly 20 spots! That's an almost insurmountable edge, but it wasn't insurmountable at all on Sunday.
Yes, Cleveland was playing without any of their primary receivers because of COVID-19 contract tracing. They still should have had enough to win, and had a chance to had Baker Mayfield not been stuffed on fourth-and-short on a bizzare forward fumble that was called back on a technicality. That sets up a must-win game against Pittsburgh Sunday that will no longer be for the division, but could be to avert yet another absolutely soul crushing end for Browns fans.
2) What happened to the Rams? Wither Los Angeles? Two weeks ago, the Rams steamrolled the Patriots in what was effectively a punctuation mark on the end of New England's Belichickian dynasty. Since then they're 0-2, and an unimpressive 0-2. The loss to the Jets was virtually unexcusable, and the loss to the Seahawks, while certainly believable, wasn't particularly competitive. The defense is still performing at a level, but the Los Angeles offense has been ground in to dust, leading to legitimate questions about whether Los Angeles can do absolutely anything in the playoffs.
The Rams were 13th in Offensive Passer Rating as recently as Week 12. It's not a stretch to imagine Jared Goff and co. finish the regular season ranked in the league's bottom third. And now, their loss to Seattle has set up what could be a win or go home Week 17 matchup with Arizona. Looking at that matchup from the outside, would you feel more comfortable backing Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense, or Goff after two weeks in which his offensive production cratered beyond recognition?
1) One way or the other, the AFC playoffs are going to be without a very dangerous team. The losses by the Colts and Titans ensure that one of those two teams or the Browns will miss the playoffs. After Week 15, those might have been the three teams seen as the greatest threat to the Chiefs in the AFC playoffs.
The Titans loss to the Packers was, if not fully expected, certainly justifiable. The Colts loss to the Steelers perhaps similarly justifiable, if slightly less expected because of Pittsburgh's malaise. And then there's the Browns, who, well, let's just not revisit open wounds, shall we?
The point is that one of these three teams will reach next Sunday evening with their season at an end, despite at least 10 victories to their name. That will make for a bitter pill to swallow for a team that added a future Hall of Fame quarterback to get over the top (Indy), a team that finished a half away from the Super Bowl (the Titans) or one that has been waiting for this moment for nearly 20 years.
While there are multiple paths for each of these teams to end up in the postseason, in all likelihood it will come down to Cleveland's game with the Steelers. Win, and Cleveland will be in. Lose, and they're highly likely to spend January on the beach. That may very well suit the Chiefs and Bills well, though the Colts or Titans missing out would obviously serve the same purpose. It's just remarkable that it has come to this so late in the season.