2021 NFL season, Week 17: What we learned from Sunday's games

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday's action in Week 17 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Green Bay Packers
2021 · 13-3-0
Minnesota Vikings
2021 · 7-9-0

Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Packers roll through NFC North foe en route to No. 1 seed. For roughly 26 minutes of game time, the Packers dominated Sunday night, but had no touchdowns to show for it. Then Aaron Rodgers found Allen Lazard. Ball game. It produced just a 13-point lead, but for all intents and purposes, the game was sealed there. It was somewhat emblematic of Green Bay's run through the NFC North this season. Before the 2021 campaign even commenced, most prognosticated the Packers would run to a third consecutive division title and they have. Green Bay is 4-1 within the division this season and has one game left against the Lions. The Packers have won five games in a row overall now. They've dominated and claimed nail-biters, and they've beaten lowly foes and contenders. On Sunday night, they locked up the NFC's No. 1 seed and did so by simply taking care of business against an overmatched opponent. Though it was bitterly cold in Green Bay on this evening, Rodgers (29 for 38, 288 yards, two touchdowns) still got hot and Davante Adams (11 receptions for 136 yards, TD) did, too. The sky is blue, water's wet, it's cold in Wisconsin and Rodgers and the Packers rule the NFC North (and the NFC as a whole for that matter, right now).
  2. Where do the Vikings go from here? With Minnesota's season in the balance, its quarterback, Kirk Cousins, was on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Much-maligned over the autumns for his performances in the clutch, Cousins will rightfully or wrongfully be judged on his inability to be there for his team Sunday. It is the top bullet point on a list of ponderances of what could've been and even more of what will be for the Vikings. Will Mike Zimmer be back on the sidelines in 2022 after the Vikings, who were eliminated from playoff contention with the loss, failing to advance to the postseason for the second year in a row and the third time in four seasons? Nobody gave the Vikings much of a chance Sunday even before Cousins was ruled out, but that hardly softens the finality of it all. In a season marked by close games, Minnesota's playoff hopes were dashed on a cold night in an even chillier blowout. The postseason isn't coming, but it would seem myriad changes could be in Minnesota.
  3. Getting defensive in Green Bay. All is well for Green Bay, but not great. The defense could use some shoring up and Sunday was a great move in that direction. Of course, it was against an undermanned and overmatched foe, but they all count the same and the Packers were dominant on defense. Having allowed 28 or more points in four of their previous five games, the Packers bottled up the Vikings and second-string QB Sean Mannion from the start. Minnesota mustered just 206 yards of offense, 11 first downs and only 27 yards on the ground, and Green Bay held Dalvin Cook to 13 yards on nine carries. This should be celebrated as a good performance for the Packers defense, but better yet would be if it's a sign of things to come as Green Bay has its most important game(s) starting in about three weeks.

Next Gen stat of the game: Aaron Rodgers was 9 of 12 for 159 yards, 2 TDs on passes of 10-plus air yards.

NFL Research: Packers head coach Matt LaFleur won his 39th career regular-season game and 22nd regular-season home game, which are both most in NFL history by a head coach in his first three seasons.

Arizona Cardinals
2021 · 11-5-0
Dallas Cowboys
2021 · 11-5-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Kyler Murray, Cardinals get back to early-season form to snap three-game skid. The Cards badly needed to halt their late-season skid, and Murray delivered. After struggling for weeks, Murray authored several gorgeous deep shots and made a host of plays out of the pocket. Murray reconjured the magic that had been missing, befuddling a good Cowboys defense at every turn and making pinpoint throws on the move. The QB also used his legs effectively, sprinting for first downs and keeping Dallas off balance. Antoine Wesley, playing in place of DeAndre Hopkins, came up with big plays wide, including two massive TD snags. Sans a reliable ground game, the Cards threw a bevy of misdirection at the Cowboys and picked up chunk yards. A 15-play, eight-minute second-quarter drive, highlighted by a giant fake-punt catch and a fourth-down TD pass from Murray, spearheaded a Cards lead that they wouldn't relinquish. When the Cowboys cut the lead to three points late, Murray made accurate throws to move the chains and burn the clock. The QB picking up the game-sealing first down with his legs was apropos on a day in which Murray carried the Cardinals offense to a massive victory.
  2. Cowboys offense remains an enigma. Dallas couldn't get anything going early and repeatedly shot itself in the foot. The inability of the Cowboys to find a ground game in the first half against a Cardinals defense that had been shredded by the run was head-scratching. Ezekiel Elliott had the second-fewest rushing yards in a game (16) in his career, and the Cowboys rushed for 45 yards (T-second fewest in a game in the Dak Prescott-Elliott era). Prescott continued his up-and-down end to the season. The QB made some great throws, including a back-shoulder dime to Michael Gallup for a TD (the WR tore his ACL on the amazing catch and is out for the season). But Prescott once again vacillated between wow plays and high, off-target throws. His fourth-quarter fumble trying to scramble epitomized the frustrating day for Dallas. With Chandler Jones wrecking the Cowboys' offensive line and constantly in Prescott's face, Dallas could not take advantage of a young Cards secondary until it was too late. An array of offensive holds on Dallas short-circuited drive after drive and helped lead to an inconsistent day for Mike McCarthy's club.
  3. Cards keep hope alive for division title; Cowboys drop to the No. 4 seed. With the win, Arizona kept pace with the Los Angeles Rams heading into Week 18. A loss would have sealed the Cards into an NFC wild-card spot. But Arizona played its best ball in a month, keeping it in the hunt for the NFC West title with next week's game against the eliminated Seattle Seahawks on tap. With the loss, Dallas lost its grip on the No. 2 seed and hopes of climbing to the No. 1 spot if Green Bay stumbled. The Cowboys already clinched the division, but the loss hurts the ability to get multiple postseason home games.

Next Gen stat of the game: Chandler Jones generated four QB pressures, two stuffs, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

NFL Research: Kyler Murray had his first game with multiple pass TDs or a 100-plus passer rating since Week 13.

San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 9-7-0
Houston Texans
2021 · 4-12-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Kyle Shanahan was in a tough spot Sunday, tasked with navigating QB Trey Lance's second career start in a must-win situation. The 49ers leaned on the running game early, including some designed runs for Lance, with a conservative approach that resulted in a scoreless game for much of the first half. Credit Shanahan, however, for eventually turning Lance loose, even after an ugly interception that led to a 7-0 Texans lead. Lance responded with a field goal drive just before the half, a third-quarter touchdown drive to take a 10-7 lead, then a brilliant 45-yard TD strike to Deebo Samuel -- rolling right before launching a deep strike across the field to his left -- to put the game away. The youngster finished 16 of 23 for 249 yards, two touchdowns, and 31 yards on the ground.
  2. It's hard to quantify how much Brandin Cooks means to the Texans offense, but his value was on full display Sunday. Take, for instance, a second-half Houston drive on which he caught a 50-yard deep ball in traffic that was called back on a holding flag (tight end Pharaoh Brown on defensive end Nick Bosa). QB Davis Mills went right back to him for two more deep balls on the same possession, drawing defensive pass interference flags for 23 and 33 yards, on two different defensive backs. Cooks caught seven of 10 targets for 66 yards, including Houston's lone touchdown. San Francisco, which has struggled at the cornerback position, was fortunate it wasn't a lot more.
  3. Elijah Mitchell is good to go. Due to a knee injury, it had been nearly a month since we'd seen the 49ers running back in action, so expectations for Mitchell -- who was questionable to play -- were rightly tempered. They were also, as it turned out, off the mark. Mitchell exploded for 119 yards on 21 carries (5.7 per carry) to pace a big day for the 49ers ground game. Whatever ailed him enough to be on this week's injury report, it certainly wasn't apparent on a 37-yard scamper to the Houston 6-yard line in the fourth quarter. He looked explosive, and not just because he was gashing the NFL's 31st-ranked run defense. Mitchell's return couldn't have come at a better time, given QB Jimmy Garoppolo's unavailability with the 49ers battling to stay above .500.

NFL Research: Deebo Samuel now has the third-most scrimmage yards in a single season by a 49ers wide receiver. He trails two of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice's seasons (1986, 1995) with 1,630 scrimmage yards.

Denver Broncos
2021 · 7-9-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The Chargers knew the assignment and acted accordingly. Los Angeles simply needed to win to remain in the hunt for a wild-card berth and faced a division opponent deserving of a dose of revenge exacted on them by Los Angeles. The Chargers delivered with emphasis, building a 17-0 lead and shutting down Denver's best scoring chance of the first half. The dam burst in the second half, with the Chargers scoring on every possession but the last in the final two quarters to cruise to victory. Justin Herbert was again sharp, completing 22 of 31 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns, and engineering an efficient 11-play, 49-yard drive in the second quarter that took just three minutes and ended in a Keenan Allen receiving touchdown to make it 17-0. It was a total team victory for the Chargers and a great way to bounce back from a pair of disappointing losses in the last two weeks. Next up: the Raiders, who stand in the way of securing a playoff spot.
  2. Week 17 defined Denver's tumultuous and frustrating season. The short-handed Broncos (who were missing Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and around a dozen players due to COVID-19) had their opportunities to make this a close contest and played well enough to do so except for on third down, in which Denver was just 3 for 11. Play-calling -- a trick play on fourth-and-goal, for example -- and an untimely penalty wiped out chances at two touchdowns, leading to just six points scored until a garbage-time touchdown pass from Drew Lock to Noah Fant. Denver didn't capitalize on early stops and on the few legitimate chances it had, and its chances of making an unlikely postseason appearance are now gone. One more date with the rival Chiefs remains before the Broncos head into an offseason that will again be a significant one.
  3. Despite the loss, Sunday might have helped Lock's case for the future. Lock's Broncos managed to score just 13 points on the day, but it wasn't because the QB wasn't effective. Lock completed 18 of 25 passes for 245 yards and one touchdown, looked composed and in control in the pocket, and even shook off a shoulder injury that required a trip to the locker room to return to finish the game. Denver's biggest issue was an inability to convert in key moments -- which included some questionable play-calling -- but it wasn't without effort from Lock. The quarterback hasn't exactly thrilled when called upon in 2021, but he was solid Sunday. Denver is again headed into an offseason of uncertainty under center, and Lock may have bolstered his case with Sunday's performance, even if it didn't show in the final score.

Next Gen stat of the game: After throwing two interceptions on passes outside the numbers against Denver in Week 12, Justin Herbert completed 10 of 13 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown on such attempts Sunday.

NFL Research: With a 45-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, Justin Herbert threw his 35th passing touchdown of the season, passing Philip Rivers (34 passing touchdowns in 2008) for the Chargers' single-season record. Herbert is just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw 35-plus passing touchdowns in a single season at the age of 23 or younger.

New Orleans Saints
2021 · 8-8-0
Carolina Panthers
2021 · 5-11-0

Jelani Scott's takeaways:

  1. Saints keep playoff hopes alive with scrappy win. The notoriously tough Saints defense lived up to its billing Sunday with a smothering performance in a must-win game. Led by Cameron Jordan and his game-high 3.5 sacks, New Orleans punished the Panthers with its physicality, piling up seven sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. After New Orleans allowed 10 points and two 60-plus-yard drives to begin the game, a P.J. Williams strip-sack ended Carolina's third series and gave N.O. some momentum soon thereafter with a FG. From there, four of Carolina's next seven drives ended in a three-and-out; three of those ended in negative yardage. The stifling effort eventually led to a rattled Sam Darnold tossing a game-ending INT into traffic with less than a minute to go, giving the Saints a desperate boost as they look to sneak into the playoffs.
  2. More of the same in Carolina. As if things couldn't get worse for the Panthers, Sunday marked another stale offensive showing in a season jam-packed with duds. Their early 10-0 lead would soon be erased as Darnold and Co. were unable until the game's end to generate any short of offense. Those struggles began after the Saints got on the board with a field goal following Williams' big play. The second-half box score produced an unfavorable sight for Carolina: four three-and-outs, a missed FG and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson's game-sealing pick. For what it's worth, the Panthers D again presented a tough challenge -- as it has throughout the season -- but that matters little for a team that's now lost six straight games and heads into another offseason looking for answers at numerous positions.
  3. Can the Saints survive in spite of their offense? Things have been particularly rough for the Saints' offense as of late, as they've looked to stay afloat despite their ever-changing situation under center. Making his return from a one-game stint on the COVID list, Taysom Hill wasted no time getting back to his dual-threat ways, finishing 17 of 28 for 222 yards and a TD to go with a game-high 45 rushing yards. Alvin Kamara (100 scrimmage yards) recorded that score on a 12-yard catch-and-run in the fourth to give the Saints a decisive eight-point lead. The play also ended a brutal TD drought that lasted 173:18 of game time and spanned 11 quarters. If the Saints are to keep their playoff hopes alive, it's going to be on Hill and the offense to find ways to better complement their defense; next week's finale against the Falcons will be their last chance to do so.

Next Gen stat of the game: Taysom Hill completed 8 of 11 passes for 137 yards and a TD against the blitz.

NFL Research: Cameron Jordan's 3.5 sacks were the second-most he's had in a game in his career (4.0, Week 13, 2019).

Seattle Seahawks
2021 · 6-10-0
Detroit Lions
2021 · 2-13-1

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Seattle offense explodes in home finale. If this was the final home game of the Russell Wilson-Pete Carroll era, they went out with a bang. Wilson carved up the Lions defense, particularly in the red zone, tossing four TDs, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt and netting a 133.3 passer rating. After a three-and-out to start the game, Seattle's offense scored on nine consecutive drives, including five straight TD possessions in the second and third quarters. Wilson force-fed DK Metcalf in the red zone, finding the big-bodied receiver for three TDs, which included several perfect strikes from the QB. With Seattle's ground game gobbling up 265 yards and the offense punching it in through the air, it was a Carroll fever dream. If it's the final home game for this Seahawks era, it was certainly a show.
  2. Rashaad Penny finally living up to his hype. The former first-round pick continued his hot streak to end the season. The running back bullied the Lions for a career-high 170 rushing yards on 25 carries with two TDs. Penny averaged a whopping 6.8 yards per carry, logging five rushes for 10-plus yards and three for more than 20. The oft-injured back proved that, when healthy, he owns the power to run through arm tackles, subtle shiftiness to put defenders on ice and speed to the edge. Sunday marked the third time in four games that Penny has surpassed the 135-plus-yard mark. A free agent this offseason, Penny has proven he can be dynamic if he can finally stay healthy.
  3. Amon-Ra St. Brown continues impressive rookie campaign. The fourth-round receiver WAS the Lions offense for the early stages. St. Brown has shown a knack for getting open, great hands, and bullishness after the catch. The wideout scored the Lions' first 15 points of the game. He took a handoff from the backfield on third down and plowed his way for a TD to put the struggling Lions on the board. Combining toughness after the catch and stellar route-running, the rookie has been a shining light in a mostly dreary Detroit season. On Sunday, he caught eight passes for 111 yards and a TD from backup QB Tim Boyle and added two rushes for 23 yards and another score. The Lions need to add more weapons in the offseason, but the rookie proved he's a playmaker despite the adverse surroundings.

Next Gen stat of the game: Rashaad Penny generated 75 rush yards over expected on his 170 yards.

NFL Research: The Seahawks had their first game with a player with three-plus receiving TDs (DK Metcalf) and a player with two-plus rushing TDs (Rashaad Penny) in the same game since Daryl Turner and Curt Warner did so in Week 2, 1985, in a 49-35 win over the Chargers.

Los Angeles Rams
2021 · 12-4-0
Baltimore Ravens
2021 · 8-8-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. A Matthew Stafford turnaround made all the difference. Los Angeles overcame a lot in this one -- namely three Stafford turnovers against a defense that's struggled all year to force them -- to escape with victory on a late comeback. Stafford was plainly off his game in the first half, tossing a pair of interceptions, including a pick-six to Chuck Clark to open the scoring. From that point on, Baltimore parlayed a balanced offense with Stafford's miscues to hold the lead throughout the game until the 60th minute, by which time Stafford's play was vastly more impressive. The Rams QB completed 14 of 14 passes in the second half for 162 yards, capping the comeback with back-to-back completions to Odell Beckham that converted a fourth down in the red zone, then dispatched the Ravens with a short TD throw on a quick out to seal the win -- and perhaps, at the same time, seal Baltimore's fate; the Ravens now have lost five in a row to fall to 8-8 on the season.
  2. The Rams pass rush made its mark. Los Angeles piled up five sacks and seven quarterback hits, rendering the Ravens in some difficult down-and-distance situations with pressure from both inside and outside. Baltimore was still able to move the ball and maintain a lead for the majority of the game thanks to QB Tyler Huntley's elusiveness and a running game that generated 165 yards. But Huntley got harassed in some key moments, including on the final drive when Von Miller dropped him for a sack as the Ravens were trying to get into field goal range for a potential game-winning kick by Justin Tucker. It was Miller's second sack of the day. Another sack forced the Ravens to take three second-half points when they desperately needed seven. Aaron Donald added half a sack and six quarterback pressures. Pass protection has been problematic in Baltimore all season, and the Rams took full advantage.
  3. The Ravens' defense was much improved. With a healthier lineup and, no doubt, some added determination, the Ravens defense rebounded from last week's franchise-record allowance of 575 yards. Although the unit couldn't get a late stop to secure the win, the Ravens played a physical brand of football with a sense of urgency and a determined edge befitting a team desperate to turn its season around in time to reach the postseason. Clark spearheaded that effort with a pair of interceptions in the first half. A Tyus Bowser strip sack on the opening drive of the second half killed another strong scoring opportunity for Los Angeles. Stafford ended up with a 300-yard day, but it didn't come easy. Ultimately, the Ravens gave up 20 points to a team averaging nearly 28, and needed more from their offense to finish the job.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Rams' win probability jumped from 15.0 to 62.7 on Beckham's fourth-and-5 reception (+47.7) on the Rams' final drive, then from 62.7 to 98.4 on his TD on the next offensive play (+35.7). That's a combined jump of 83.4% across two straight offensive plays by Beckham.

NFL Research: Rams WR Cooper Kupp, with 95 receiving yards, climbed to No. 5 all-time in the Super Bowl era for single-season receiving yards. He passed Isaac Bruce (1,781) and now has 1,829, along with the Rams' single-season team record.

Chicago Bears
2021 · 6-10-0
New York Giants
2021 · 4-12-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Bears defense dominates punchless Giants. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai's unit controlled the game from start to finish. Trevis Gipson ripped down Mike Glennon on the first play of the game for a sack-fumble, and the rout was on. The Bears forced back-to-back turnovers to start the game, allowing Chicago to take a 14-0 lead. Desai's D made the Giants look like amateurs. Chicago caused four turnovers, a safety and four sacks and allowed just 13 first downs and 151 total yards. Questions surround the Bears staff as we hit Week 18, but there is no question Desai has proven this year he's a good coordinator even with injuries that have plagued Chicago.
  2. Giants offense remains offensive to viewers. Big Blue's passing offense was nonexistent, even in a blowout. Glennon was inept from the start, looking like a bird who got lost heading south for the winter. The veteran QB completed just 4 of 11 passes for a piddling 24 yards, took four sacks, threw two interceptions, fumbled four times (losing two) and earned a 5.3 passer rating. Five. Point. Three. Even when he tried to throw, most of the QB's pass attempts weren't close to being completed. Glennon was so putrid the Giants didn't even bother trying to pass late in a blowout. It's telling that Saquon Barkley earned his first 100-yard game of the season (102 yards on 21 attempts) without a gain longer than 10 yards. The offensive line was woeful once again, with Nate Solder playing the role of the turnstile. It's hard to imagine an offense being more incompetent than the Giants were Sunday in Chicago.
  3. Darnell Mooney continues to make plays. It's been a lost year for the Bears offense, but Mooney has been a bright spot. The second-year receiver makes big plays for his QBs. Mooney caught seven of 13 passes for 69 yards, including a gorgeous toe-tapping TD in the back of the end zone early. He could be in for a big season in 2022 if Chicago improves the offense. The Bears offense didn't have to do much Sunday as its defense gave it short fields often, but it was the type of attack Matt Nagy prefers to deploy, leaning on David Montgomery (64 yards on 22 carries, 2 TDs) and getting just enough from Andy Dalton to move the chains through the air.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Bears compiled a 53.3 QB pressure rate on 15 Mike Glennon dropbacks.

NFL Research: Robert Quinn broke the Bears' single-season sack record with 18.0 on the season, passing Richard Dent's mark of 17.5 set in 1984.

Cincinnati Bengals
2021 · 10-6-0
Kansas City Chiefs
2021 · 11-5-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The rest of the league better get used to Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase. The dynamite young tandem dominated Sunday, teaming up for 11 completions for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the three scores came via explosive plays, with Chase racking up 141 yards between two receiving touchdowns and singlehandedly getting the Bengals back in a game that once saw the Chiefs hold a 14-point lead. Burrow and Chase weren't just good on scoring plays, either. Facing second-and-8 late in the fourth quarter, Burrow hit Chase down the sideline for an acrobatic catch over Charvarius Ward for a gain of 35. And the most important play helped extend a drive that appeared to be fizzling, with Burrow tossing one up to Chase down the same sideline over Ward for a gain of 30 on third-and-27. That completion allowed Cincinnati to drain the remaining clock, and after a wild couple of fourth-down attempts, Cincinnati ended up kicking a game-winning field goal to cap a 15-play, 79-yard drive that ate up the last 6:01 and ended Kansas City's eight-game winning streak. These two aren't going anywhere but up, and the rest of the NFL would be wise to prepare accordingly.
  2. Resiliency -- amid madness -- earned the Bengals a division title. Cincinnati's season has been filled with ups and downs, with highs coming via blowout wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and lows coming via inexplicable losses to New York, Chicago and Cleveland. None of that matters now that the Bengals are division champions, earning an incredibly sweet triumph over the Chiefs on Sunday. The question now: Just how much did it cost? Zac Taylor got aggressive not once, but twice, opting to go for it in a 31-31 game inside the final minute. Chaos ensued, with offsetting penalties wiping out the first fourth-down attempt, and another flag buying the Bengals a fresh set of downs from the 1. The cost, though, came via an apparent injury suffered by Burrow on the second fourth-down attempt, forcing Brandon Allen to kneel it once and then spike the ball to stop the clock in time to kick the game-winning field goal. Cincinnati will celebrate the AFC North crown that was certainly deserved, but will also wait nervously to learn the severity of Burrow's injury. If it ends up being significant, we'll all wonder if it was worth it when Cincinnati could have kicked a field goal without risking injury.
  3. Kansas City needs to learn from this game tape, and then burn it. The Chiefs had rattled off eight straight wins by playing complementary football, turning around a once-porous defense and finding their stride offensively. It looked to be more of the same early Sunday, but as the game progressed, it grew uglier for the Chiefs' secondary. Rashad Fenton was flagged for untimely pass interference calls twice, and Ward was repeatedly victimized by Chase, while the Chiefs also failed to prevent key completions to Tyler Boyd. An illegal use of hands (to the face) penalty on L'Jarius Sneed ended up dooming the Chiefs, capping an ugly day for their defense, which gave up 475 yards of total offense and blew a 28-14 lead. It's teaching tape, and then it'll be tape to forget for the Chiefs, who simply can't afford to play defense like this in the postseason.

Next Gen stat of the game: Joe Burrow completed 18 of 22 passes outside the numbers for 361 yards and four touchdowns Sunday. The 361 yards were the most yards gained by a quarterback on passes outside the numbers in the Next Gen Stats era (dating back to 2016).

NFL Research: Ja'Marr Chase set a rookie record for most receiving yards in a game (266) and now has the most receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era (1,429).

Las Vegas Raiders
2021 · 9-7-0
Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 9-7-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Derek Carr did it again, leading another game-winning drive to keep Raiders postseason hopes alive. Facing a third-and-10 near midfield in a tie game with 54 seconds left, Carr avoided a sack and found Hunter Renfrow downfield for a 24-yard strike to set up Daniel Carlson's game-winning score. Carr played big late after the Raiders lost the lead, leading to a 10-point fourth quarter that got the Raiders to 9-7. The QB's pocket movement was sublime, as he avoided several sacks that could have sunk the Raiders. Instead, on key third downs, Carr avoided pressure and found outlets. Renfrow continued to play magnificently in high-leverage situations, providing Carr a go-to target on third and fourth down. On the drive preceding the game-winner, the QB hit Renfrow on fourth down for a TD on a gorgeous route from the receiver. The Carr-Renfrow mindmeld remains one of the best in the NFL. Carr threw two INTs on the day, but when the Raiders needed the QB to keep their season alive, he came through in the clutch.
  2. Colts start slow and limp to finish. Frank Reich's club is going to be kicking itself for missed opportunities. Indy gained just 53 total yards on its first four drives, as Carson Wentz completed one of his first five attempts. Outside of the end-of-half drive and opening series of the third quarter -- which ended on a lucky TD pass from Wentz deep that could have been picked -- Indy couldn't consistently move the ball against the Raiders. Wentz looked like a QB who hadn't practiced all week after going on the reserve/COVID-19 list, missing passes and making a few questionable decisions. The Colts' offense couldn't take advantage of the defense's takeaways (zero points off two INTs). Indy got conservative on the final offensive possession after getting into field goal range, allowing Carr time to win the game. Going just 3 of 11 on third down with three three-and-outs and generating just 262 total yards isn't going to get it done against playoff teams.
  3. Raiders stay in hunt for wild card spot. With the win, the Raiders remained in play for one of the final postseason spots. A three-way tie at 9-7 with the Colts and Chargers has the Raiders currently in the No. 8 seed. Vegas briefly leapfrogged Indy after the win, but with L.A. blowing out Denver later in the day, the three-way tiebreakers favor Indy (No. 6 seed) and Chargers (No. 7 seed). Left for dead in early December after getting waylaid by the Chiefs, Vegas -- led by Carr's late-game heroics -- has won three straight games to keep its postseason hope alive. For weeks, Carr has talked about just needing a chance to get to the postseason. With a matchup against the Chargers in Week 18, Carr has given his club a shot.

Next Gen stat of the game: Derek Carr went 12 of 12 for 100 yards on quick passes; 19 of 19 for 138 yards on passes of fewer than 10 air yards; and 5 of 12 for 117 yards, a TD, 2 INT on passes of 10+ air yards.

NFL Research: Jonathan Taylor scored a 1-yard rushing TD at the end of the first half (his 20th scrimmage TD of the season). Taylor (age 22) became the youngest player in NFL history with 2,000-plus scrimmage yards and 20-plus TD in a single season (HOFer Eric Dickerson was the previous youngest at age 23 in 1983).

Tennessee Titans
2021 · 11-5-0
Miami Dolphins
2021 · 8-8-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. The Titans just keep finding ways to get the job done without Derrick Henry in the backfield. While it isn't always pretty, it's impressive nonetheless. This week, Tennessee marched on -- and took its division crown -- by snapping the Dolphins' seven-game win streak with a suffocating defensive effort and another strong outing from D'Onta Foreman (26 for 132 yards, touchdown). The club entered the game averaging nearly 10 fewer points per game since Henry's Week 8 injury -- a startling drop-off -- yet has grinded for a 5-3 record without him. A big part of that was maintaining an offensive identity that has continued to run the ball effectively. With Henry now potentially on the brink of returning, things are looking up in Tennessee.
  2. This was not Tua Tagovailoa's day. From a pass attempt that slipped out of his hand for a lost fumble, to a muffed snap exchange, to a variety of errant passes, Tagovailoa never looked comfortable in a steady Nashville rain. He nearly threw interceptions on back-to-back passes near the end of the half, followed by an incompletion thrown behind DeVante Parker. He'd been hot of late, but that came to a crashing halt on Sunday, as he finished 18 of 38 for 205 yards, an interception, three fumbles and an all-around forgettable afternoon. Parker embodied the offense's frustration in picking up a 15-yard penalty -- and by the look of it, he had a right to be upset -- in complaining about a no-call for defensive pass interference.
  3. Brett Kern was a weapon. Yes, the Titans punter. Compounding the Dolphins' offensive woes was the punting of Kern, who averaged 44 yards on four punts with a long of 52. Beyond the distance, Kern pinned the Dolphins deep with impressive placement, allowing his coverage unit to down three of his punts at the Miami 14-yard line, the Miami 7, and the Miami 2. Field position mattered in this one, at least until it became a rout. Tennessee forced a three-and-out following one of Kern's punts, resulting in a Titans drive start at the Miami 46, setting up the first touchdown of the game. Miami's offense was behind the sticks, and the eight ball, all day.

Next Gen stat of the game: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill was blitzed on a whopping 68.4% of his dropbacks, completing 7 of 12 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown on those plays.

NFL Research: The Titans clinched back-to-back division titles for the first time since the 1960-62 Houston Oilers won three straight AFL East titles.

New England Patriots
2021 · 10-6-0
Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 · 2-14-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Mac Jones' slump is over. The rookie quarterback had a quiet December, struggling in losses to the Bills and Colts after attempting just three passes in an earlier win over Buffalo. That undermined the legitimacy of his Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy, much less his ability to lead the Patriots in the playoffs. It's hard to put too much (any?) stock into lighting up the Jaguars, but a positive performance was critical for Jones nonetheless. He was more aggressive than he's been in most games and distributed the ball well to seven different receivers. His willingness to mix in downfield shots and make good reads on underneath throws kept Jacksonville's defense off balance. It all served as a nice tune-up as the most important part of the season awaits.
  2. The Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL. Jacksonville hasn't locked up the No. 1 pick just yet -- a loss next week versus the Colts, or a Lions tie or win versus the Packers will take care of that -- but its play on the field is a bigger indictment. The Jaguars allowed New England to gain 32 first downs and hold possession for nearly 37 minutes of game time. For at least the sixth time this season, they simply weren't competitive. That's not supposed to happen on a regular basis in the parity-driven NFL. Jacksonville has already been outscored by 219 points this year, which would be the worst point differential since 2010. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw three more interceptions and looks like a shell of the player he was at Clemson, his struggles only amplifying since Urban Meyer was dismissed. This Jags season can't end soon enough.
  3. Happy New Year, Kristian Wilkerson. Before Sunday, the Patriots wideout had played a grand total of nine offensive snaps over two seasons. Wilkerson had made a living on their practice squad. His role might change a bit after Week 17. With 2019 first-rounder N'Keal Harry a healthy scratch, Wilkerson caught his first four targets for 42 yards, which included a pair of touchdowns. The Southeast Missouri State product nearly caught a third score on a beautifully thrown 43-yard pass from Jones, but couldn't hang on as a Jaguars defender smacked him in the head upon the ball's arrival. That didn't take anything away from the first extended appearance for the former undrafted free agent. Maybe playing Wilkerson more was one of Bill Belichick's New Year's resolutions.

Next Gen stat of the game: Mac Jones was 11 of 15 for 102 yards and two touchdowns on passes outside the numbers.

NFL Research: Bill Belichick tied Hall of Famer Don Shula's record for 10-win seasons with 20. This is Belichick's 27th season as an NFL head coach, a role Shula served in for 33 seasons.

Buffalo Bills
2021 · 10-6-0
Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 7-9-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The Josh Allen roller coaster was a wild one Sunday. Allen got the Bills on the board via two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter, then became a turnover machine, ending Buffalo's next three possessions with interceptions. Buffalo's greatest strength Sunday proved to be an ability to overcome giveaways, allowing Atlanta to turn the takeaways into 10 points, but crucially preventing the Falcons from producing points off Allen's third interception. With snow on the field and more falling, Buffalo wisely turned to the run at a rate as high as we've seen all season, with Devin Singletary rushing 23 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Add in Allen's 15 carries for 81 yards and two scores, and you have a throwback win for the usually air-reliant Bills. Thankfully, they didn't need to rely on Allen's arm to prevent an upset loss.
  2. Atlanta fought hard, but fighting isn't enough to beat a team like Buffalo. The Falcons aren't exactly loaded with talent, but they've been a scrappy bunch that has been able to pull out upset wins from time to time. It appeared to be a possibility Sunday when the Falcons finished the first half with two statement drives, covering 80 yards in five plays on a touchdown march, then gaining 50 yards in just 1:06 to kick a go-ahead field goal heading into halftime. The problem, though, ended up being easy to see: The Falcons couldn't sustain such magic, failing to turn Allen's third interception into points before watching the Bills turn to the ground game, grinding out 13:54 of game clock on two touchdown drives capped by Singletary scores. The loss of Kyle Pitts to injury undercut any hopes of being able to respond in the second half, and Atlanta gained just 77 total yards in the final two quarters, with 67 coming on the Falcons' final, fruitless possession. Pitts is good (and a good start), but Atlanta needs to upgrade offensively this offseason. Grit simply isn't enough to win in the NFL.
  3. It's better to get a wacky, sloppy game out of the way now than in the playoffs. Buffalo began Sunday's affair by forcing a punt, then botching the recovery badly enough to result in a safety and a 2-0 deficit. Three Allen turnovers only complicated matters, and the seven penalties accepted against Buffalo for 47 yards certainly didn't help. The Bills need to clean things up, and weather can't be a legitimate excuse for a team expecting to play in inclement conditions in the Snow Belt of western New York. Against a better team, the Bills might have lost Sunday. They'll play better opponents soon, and they'll have to be cleaner if they hope to make a deep run.

Next Gen stat of the game: Josh Allen completed 7 of 18 passes for 75 yards, three interceptions and a 12.3 passer rating on passes with more than 2.5 seconds to throw. He was 3 for 8 for 26 yards and an interception on throws attempted on the run.

NFL Research: Josh Allen is the first player with two-plus rushing TDs and three-plus interceptions in a game since Cam Newton in Week 11, 2011 at Detroit. Allen is the first player to hit each of those marks in a win since Drew Brees in Week 7, 2009 at Miami.

Philadelphia Eagles
2021 · 9-7-0

Jelani Scott's takeaways:

  1. Well-rounded attack powers Eagles to win. With Jalen Hurts (214 yards, 17-of-26 passing) efficiently and effectively leading the offense and Josh Sweat (1.5 sacks, two PDs, two QB hits) powering a hungry pass rush, Philly weathered Washington's best shots to eke out a tough road victory. Rodney McLeod's game-sealing INT dealt the final blow but the play only tells half the story. The Eagles defense surrendered 16 first-half points, but rallied to hold Washington scoreless in the second, forcing two punts and a turnover on downs prior to the pick. This allowed Hurts, Boston Scott and Dallas Goedert (six receptions for 71 yards) to control the game en route to scores on four of their last six drives. Scott (86 scrimmage yards) and Hurts connected on a nearly botched pitch on fourth-and-1 for Scott's second TD. For a team that ranks worst in the league on fourth down, a 3-of-4 day on that down is proof that Philly understood the assignment. And now, the Eagles are one step closer to making it back to the postseason.
  2. Close loss a double-edged sword for WFT. Having your playoff hopes erased in a loss to a division rival is a tough pill to swallow, but Washington should find solace in knowing it put up a fight until the last moments. Taylor Heinicke's sharp first half (14 of 17, 170 yards), combined with a productive run game (68 rushing yards, TD), propelled the Football Team to a 16-7 halftime lead. A Philly TD to begin the second half cut the lead to two, and Washington would end up wilting under the Eagles' relentless pressure. After taking one sack to begin the game, Heinicke took two in the third quarter, which resulted in punts deep in WFT territory. Watching the D let the lead slip forced the offense to go away from the run and look to Heinicke to deliver. A 6-of-10 stretch on the final drive suggested the unit recaptured its magic. But, rather than pull off a storybook win, Heinicke's 11th attempt from the PHI 10 landed in McLeod's hands. And just like that, another trying season in Landover is officially over as it relates to the playoffs.
  3. Eagles fly into postseason. For the last few weeks, the Eagles have played like a team hellbent on making the postseason. That trend continued on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to their win, the Eagles ended up clinching a wild-card spot following the Packers' win over the Vikings on Sunday night. Don't look now, but the Eagles have slowly but surely turned into a group that strikes fear into the hearts of any team with postseason aspirations.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Eagles had three players with four or more QB pressures: Fletcher Cox (five), Josh Sweat (five) and Javon Hargrave (four).

NFL Research: The Eagles have rushed for 100 or more yards in 11 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL (T-6th longest streak in franchise history).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 · 12-4-0
New York Jets
2021 · 4-12-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Next Buc up is a winning formula. One mark of a great team is winning when not playing its best, especially on the road. The Buccaneers haven't consistently looked like a formidable contender in the second half of the season, but they keep coming out on top. By rallying from their biggest deficit of the season and New York's biggest lead of the season (14 points), the Bucs still have an outside shot at the No. 2 seed in the NFC. More importantly, they continue to adapt to evolving lineups on both sides of the ball. For all the offseason talk about bringing back all its starters from its Super Bowl team, Tampa Bay has won six of its last seven despite the loss of several key players. Linebackers Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson were among Sunday's unheralded stars. They'll need similar contributions from others who aren't already in the spotlight to make another deep playoff run.
  2. Zach Wilson is improving. Is Robert Saleh? After dropping another close game -- this is the Jets' fifth loss by one possession -- they can take solace that their rookie QB is maturing. He's been making better decisions, smarter throws and bigger plays in the final weeks of his first year. Such progress isn't a given for young signal-callers, even first-rounders. But his head coach hasn't quite kept pace. Saleh, protecting a four-point lead late in the fourth, opted to go for a fourth-and-2 inside the 10. That aggressiveness, especially for a team with such little stakes at this juncture of the season, can be appreciated. But the ensuing QB sneak failed, with Saleh lamenting afterward that the staff didn't properly communicate to Wilson to hand the ball to Braxton Berrios no matter the defensive front. Saleh's defense didn't hold up from there, allowing the game-winning TD drive. A week ago, New York came a yard from blowing a late lead to the lowly Jaguars, who essentially beat themselves by mismanaging their own final sequence in the red zone. These aren't the only instances of late-game struggles for Saleh, who's appeared to build a better foundation for the Jets otherwise.
  3. Goodbye, A.B. It was vexing to see Antonio Brown saunter off the field in the middle of the game, in the middle of a Buccaneers offensive drive, sans helmet, jersey and pads. You just don't see players publicly quit on their team like that. Watching Tom Brady rally his team from a 14-point deficit without Brown was poetic. Nothing was learned about Brady, of course. He's been doing this for decades. But to seamlessly incorporate Cyril Grayson, who had eight career targets heading into Week 17, with half of those coming last week, on the fly and hit him with the game-winning touchdown says it all. The Bucs don't need Brown -- they confirmed after the game he's being released -- and they probably never did.

Next Gen stat of the game: Tom Brady completed 17 of 20 passes for 127 yards, 2 TDs on quick passes.

NFL Research: Tom Brady has won each of his last 12 starts vs rookie QBs. The last rookie starting QB to beat Brady was Geno Smith in Week 7, 2013 with the Jets (NYJ won 30-27 at home).

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