The San Francisco 49ers clinched a playoff berth with a thrilling win in New England on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North with a win in Chicago and the Houston Texans claimed the AFC South title.
With only three weeks remaining in the season, the National Football League’s best teams looked like they were set for the playoffs while the bad teams were really, really bad.
There were also plenty of thrills and surprises: the Minnesota Vikings became the sixth seed in the NFC with a huge road win in St. Louis behind Adrian Peterson’s 210 rushing yards, the Niners built a 31-3 lead in the Sunday Nighter but needed a huge play from Michael Crabtree with 6:38 left to hold off the rallying Patriots and Dallas got a huge interception from Brandon Carr in overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So if the season ended today, Houston (12-2), Denver (11-3), New England (10-4) and Baltimore (9-5) would be division champions in the AFC while the Indianapolis Colts (9-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) would be the Wild Card teams.
However, Pittsburgh (7-7),
the New York Jets (6-7) and the Miami Dolphins (6-8) are still in the Wild Card hunt.
In the NFC, if it all ended today, Atlanta (12-2), San Francisco (10-3-1), Green Bay (10-4) and Washington (8-6) would be the division champs while Minnesota (8-6) and Seattle (9-5) would be the wild card teams.
However, Chicago (8-6), Dallas (8-6), the New York Giants (8-6) and St. Louis (6-7-1) are still in the Wild Card race.
The final two weeks should be a load of fun. In the meantime, let’s look closely at the 14 games we watched on Sunday of Week 15:
Seattle 50 Buffalo 17 in Toronto
Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson went 14-for-23 for 205 yards and a touchdown and rushed nine times for 92 yards and three TDs as Seattle completed its second consecutive rout. The Seahawks, who beat Arizona 58-0 last week, have now scored 108 points in two weeks. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch carried 10 times for 113 yards and a rushing TD. C.J. Spiller reached the thousand yard rushing mark this season as he carried 17 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. Seattle is now 9-5 and in the Wild Card driver’s seat while Buffalo fell to 5-9 and was mathematically eliminated from the post-season.
Minnesota 36 St. Louis 22
The Vikes Adrian Peterson was magnificent – carrying 24 times for 212 yards and an 82-yard TD run. Meanwhile, Blair Walsh, The Blair Kick Project, booted five field goals as the Vikings improved to 8-6 and stayed in the Wild Card hunt in the NFC. Peterson now has 1,812 yards rushing this season and is 294 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time NFL single-season rushing record. The Vikings Christian Ponder went 17-for-24 for 131 yards and no touchdowns, but he did run for a five-yard TD. The Vikings scored 10 of their 23 points in the second quarter off turnovers. DE Emerson Griffin returned an interception 29 yards for the backbreaking touchdown. Sam Bradford went 35-for-55 for 377 yards, three touchdowns and one devastating INT. With the Dallas win, the Vikings are now the sixth seed in the NFC, but the Vikings have a tough schedule remaining. They go to AFC South champion Houston next week and finish at home against NFC North champion Green Bay.
Green Bay 21 Chicago 13
The Packers improved to 10-4 and clinched the NFC North. The Bears have lost five of their last six after starting the season 7-1. The Bears are now 8-6. Aaron Rodgers went 23-for-36 for 291 yards and three touchdowns – all of them to James Jones who caught five passes for 60 yards. Randall Cobb was Rodgers’ favorite target. Cobb caught six passes for 115 yards. Jay Cutler was 12-for-21 for 135 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Denver 34 Baltimore 17
Chris Harris’s 98-yard interception return for a touchdown put Denver in the driver’s seat as the Broncos won their ninth straight game and improved to 11-3. Peyton Manning had a comfortable game, going 17-for-28 for 204 yards and a touchdown. University of Minnesota product Eric Decker was Manning’s favorite target catching eight passes for 133 yards and the one TD. Knowshon Moreno carried 22 times for 118 yards and another touchdown. Joe Flacco went 20-for-40 for 254 yards, two touchdowns and the longest interception return in Broncos history. Baltimore fell to 9-5, losing their first game – at home – since they fired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. Slick move.
Houston 29 Indianapolis 17
The Texans are 12-2 and have clinched the AFC South for the second consecutive year. Matt Schaub went 23-for-31 for 261 yards and one TD as Andre Johnson caught 11 passes for 151 yards and the only TD pass for the day. Arian Foster carried 27 times for 165 yards. Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck went 13-for-27 for 186 and two touchdowns, but the 9-5 Colts lost their first game in the last four. Indy needed a win to clinch a playoff berth after going 2-14 last year. Houston’s MVP candidate, DE J.J. Watt, had three sacks.
New Orleans 41 Tampa 0
Drew Brees went 26-for-39 for 307 yards and four touchdowns as New Orleans improved to 6-8 and the Buccaneers fell to 6-8. Mark Ingram carried 14 times for 90 yards and another Saints TD. Tampa’s Josh Freeman went 26-for-47 for 279 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. The Saints defense held Tampa rookie runningback Doug Martin to just 16 rushing yards.
Washington 38 Cleveland 21
Even without Robert Griffin III, the Redskins beat the Browns in Cleveland, despite falling behind 14-10 at the half. The Redskins got every penalty call and every possible break in the third and fourth quarters as they outscored the Browns 28-7 in the second half. Washington rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 26 of 37 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns while Alfred Morris carried 27 times for 87 yards and two TDs. The Redskins are now 8-6 and in first place in the AFC East while Cleveland fell to 5-9 and was eliminated from playoff contention.
Atlanta 34 NY Giants 0
Atlanta clinches the NFC South at 12-2. The Falcons built a 17-0 lead at halftime and coasted to a crushing win over a Giants team that falls to 8-6 and out of first place in the NFC East. Matt Ryan went 23-for 28 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Julio Jones caught six passes for 74 yards and two of those TDs. Eli Manning went 13-for-25 for 161 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. It was the first time the Giants had been shut out since 1996.
Dallas 27 Pittsburgh 24 (OT)
A turnover won it for Dallas. DB Brandon Carr intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in overtime, took it back to the Pittsburgh one-yard-line and then Dan Bailey kicked a 21-yard field goal to win it. Tony Romo went 30-for-42 for 341 yards and two touchdowns while Dez Bryant, playing with a broken finger caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger went 24-for-40 for 339 yards and two TDs, but his overtime interception cost Pittsburgh its fourth loss in five games. The Steelers are now 7-7 while Dallas moves to 8-6, tied with Washington and the Giants on top of the NFC East.
Miami 24 Jacksonville 3
In the most meaningless game of the week, the Dolphins improved to 6-8 with an easy win over the embarrassingly bad 2-12 Jaguars. Rookie Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill went 22-for-28 for 220 yards and two touchdowns while Reggie Busch carried 21 times for 104 yards. Chad Henne went 18-for-34 for 221 yards and no touchdowns for Jacksonville.
Arizona 38 Detroit 10
Another completely meaningless game, but Arizona halted its nine-game losing streak by beating a horrible Lions outfit. The Lions trailed 24-10 early in the fourth quarter and had a chance to get right back in the game but Matt Stafford threw an interception two yards deep in the Cardinals end zone and Greg Toler returned it 102 yards for a touchdown that put the game away. Arizona is now 5-9 while Detroit falls to 4-10 and Lions coach Jim Schwartz has to be on thin ice. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 1,600-yard receiving seasons and tied an NFL record with his seventh straight 100-yard receiving game. However, Lions QB Matt Stafford was a lousy 24-for-50 for 246 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Carolina 31 San Diego 7
Cam Newton went 19-for-33 for 231 yards and two touchdowns while Mike Tolbert scored tow rushing TDs and DeAngelo Williams carried 22 times for 93 yards and no touchdowns, but scored a TD on a tipped pass that he caught and took 45 yards for a touchdown. Philip Rivers went 16-for-23 for 121 yards, one TD and no interceptions and now Norv Turner has to be fired. Carolina is 5-9 and San Diego fell to 5-9 and was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Oakland 15 Kansas City 0
In another meaningless game, Oakland’s Sebastien Janikowski kicked five field goals and that was the only scoring. Raiders runningback Darren McFadden carried 30 times for 110 yards while Carson Palmer went 18-for-29 for 182 yards. The Raiders are now 4-10 while Kansas City is 2-14.
San Francisco 41 New England 34
The San Francisco 49ers built a 31-3 lead in the fourth quarter, but New England roared back to tie it, but San Francisco hung on. Colin Kaepernick went 14-for-25 for 216 yards and four touchdowns, the first to Randy Moss. Michael Crabtree caught seven passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. The 10-3-1 Niners clinched a playoff berth while New England lost its first game after 21 straight wins at home in December. Tom Brady finished 36-for-65 for 443 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Danny Woodhead carried for 61 yards and two touchdowns while Brandon Lloyd caught 10 passes for 190 yards while Aaron Hernandez caught 10 passes for 92 yards and a TD.
Tennessee 14 NY Jets 10
The Jets were terrible. Mark Sanchez was sacked three times and threw four interceptions as the Jets (now 6-8) were officially eliminated from the playoffs. Chris Johnson carried 21 times for 122 yards but he took it 94 yards on one run to the end zone for the longest TD run in the NFL since 2006. Sanchez finished 13-of-28 for 131 yards and one touchdown to receiver Jeff Cumberland. Tennessee’s Jake Locker went 13-for-22 for 149 yards and no touchdowns but he did carry seven times for 43 yards and the game-winning TD. The Titans are now 5-9 and have been eliminated from the post-season for awhile.