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NFL playoff picture: Biggest winners and losers from Week 16's Saturday/Sunday games

The NFL's scheduling elves have given us a full Christmas Day of games around which to celebrate, and they saved the blockbuster game of Week 16, and maybe for the season, for Christmas night. After the presents have been opened and the feast eaten, we can concentrate as the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers stage a showdown of No. 1 seeds.

Christmas Eve -- and even Christmas Eve Eve -- provided plenty of action, though, and a whole lot of playoff movement. Those games, and the winners and losers who emerged on Christmas Eve, were a good reminder that while the Ravens and 49ers are on top right now, staying there all the way to Las Vegas won't be easy.

To all a good night? It depends if you're a winner or loser.


Just two years removed from 3-13-1, the Lions are division champions for the first time in 30 years. They are the biggest winners this week. The offense was powerful, with a balanced running and passing attack. And while the defense yielded 390 yards to the Vikings, it also intercepted Nick Mullens four times and sacked him four times. The Lions have to tighten up the defense before the playoffs, but no postseason opponent is going to feel comfortable being the visitor at what is going to be a raucous and roaring Ford Field. 

Baker Mayfield
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB
Joe Flacco
Cleveland Browns · QB

The forgotten quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield is playing on a one-year contract, a stopgap for what was supposed to be Tampa’s rebuilding season. Joe Flacco was sitting on the couch when a desperate Browns team called. Both have been far better than anybody imagined -- Mayfield has done nothing short of reviving his career after starting last season with the Panthers, getting benched, getting released and then playing well in a short stint with the Rams -- and after big victories Sunday, both have their teams firmly in the playoff field, with the Bucs at the top of the NFC South and Browns the fifth seed in the AFC. Mayfield is almost certainly going to get a lucrative long-term deal after the season, and Flacco will be back on the sofa only if he wants to be, more than a decade after the peak of his career. In a season that has placed a premium on evaluation of available quarterbacks, Mayfield and Flacco have been home runs. 

Montana to Rice. Brady to Moss. Flacco to Cooper?! Flacco and Amari Cooper, who had 11 receptions for a franchise-record 265 receiving yards and two touchdowns, carved up the Houston Texans’ defense and solidified the Browns’ hold on the AFC’s fifth seed. Flacco is the Browns’ fourth quarterback this season and, on Sunday, looked like their best, including the games Deshaun Watson played this season. With Flacco’s big arm, the Browns are now a dynamic downfield passing team. Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry have put on a clinic in managing adversity and adaptation, a particularly important skill in the year of the backup quarterback. 

It wasn’t as clean a performance as they’d have liked, and the offense was more muted than it had been during their recent revival, but the Bills’ come-from-behind victory over the Chargers on Saturday night kept them in control of their playoff lives. They vaulted all the way from the ninth seed to the sixth as the day started Sunday and kept the pressure on the Dolphins to keep winning. Regardless of any other outcomes, if the Bills beat the Patriots and Dolphins in their final two games, they will be in the playoffs for a fifth straight season and an incredibly dangerous opponent. Just as important, in recovering from multiple errors to finally dispatch the Chargers, the Bills won a game that they might have lost earlier in the season. 

Their come-from-behind victory over the Tennessee Titans -- with the winning touchdown scored with less than a minute remaining -- was the second Seahawks victory in a row and it put them into the seventh seed in the NFC playoff field. Last week, the Seahawks snapped a four-game losing streak. Now, they have two winnable games ahead, at home against the Steelers and at Arizona to finish the season. 


Zac Taylor called Saturday night’s 34-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers humbling. It was also devastating to the Bengals’ post-Burrow postseason hopes. They plummeted all the way from the sixth seed to out of the AFC playoff field and they are 0-5 in the AFC North. They finish out with games at Kansas City and against Cleveland, both of whom will likely be playing for playoff positioning. This loss felt like the death knell for the Bengals -- backup quarterback Jake Browning, who had gotten better and better during a three-game winning streak, came back to Earth with three interceptions and some poor game management, and the Bengals were simply out-muscled and out-physicaled. 

The Cowboys are still going to the playoffs, despite their last-second loss to the Miami Dolphins, who clinched a playoff spot with the victory. But Sunday's loss makes it much more likely that the Cowboys will not overtake the Philadelphia Eagles (who play the New York Giants on Monday) for the NFC East title, and will have to go on the road as a wild-card team. The Cowboys are 3-5 on the road this season, where they average 21.5 points per game, and 7-0 at home, where they are averaging nearly 40 points per game. Against the Dolphins, penalties were again a problem -- the Cowboys were penalized six times, including a face-mask penalty that kickstarted the Dolphins’ game-winning drive -- and the defense could not get a stop to preserve the win. The Cowboys host the Lions next week to finish the most grueling stretch of their schedule, and their offense could use a get-right performance as they gear up for the postseason.

Talk about a backdoor win. The Jaguars lost their fourth straight when they were smashed by the Bucs, and Trevor Lawrence is battered. But the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts also lost Sunday, so the Jaguars lost no ground in the AFC South and still are most likely to emerge as division champion. And they play the two-win Carolina Panthers next week. Still, the Jaguars are playing their worst football of the season -- they ran for just 37 yards against the Bucs, and Lawrence was intercepted twice -- and if they don’t dramatically course correct, a brief playoff appearance seems likely. 

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