On the last Monday morning before Christmas, some NFL teams woke up to find their playoff dreams coming true — and others were handed a stocking full of coal in Week 15.
It started on Thursday night, when the Seattle Seahawks would have put former head coach Jeff Fisher out of his misery if Fisher hadn’t already been put out of his misery. Instead, interim head coach John Fassel got put… um, into his misery with a 24-3 defeat.
Suh & Wake just killed Bryce Petty pic.twitter.com/G60Pel44Hn
— Eric (@EricElizondo8) December 18, 2016
Our first Saturday Night Football of the season looked like a decent matchup at the beginning of the year: The Miami Dolphins at the New York Jets, a divisional rivalry between two teams both likely to be on the bubble at this point. Instead, we got a Dolphins defense nearly murdering Jets backup quarterback Bryce Petty, and Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore dominating what’s supposed to be a good Jets defense.
In the battle of the birds, the team with something to play for (the Baltimore Ravens) managed to beat the team playing for pride (Philadelphia Eagles), in an ugly 27-26 home win where neither quarterback completed more than 53 percent of his passes. It wasn’t much prettier in Buffalo, where the Bills pushed the Cleveland Browns one game closer to 0-16:
— VICE Sports (@VICESports) December 18, 2016
The Cincinnati Bengals continued their surprising trend of beating bad teams and playing good teams close, running up a 20-6 lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then they allowed four Steelers field goals and, finally, the go-ahead touchdown. The 24-20 final score ended the Bengals’ shot at revenge for last season, and their tiny mathematical shot at making the playoffs this season.
#DraftTwitter legend Tom Savage got his chance to shine against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The all-but-forgotten former sixth-round pick came in and led the Texans to a 21-20 comeback win. Apparently, that was the last straw for Jags general manager Dave Caldwell. He fired head coach Gus Bradley almost immediately after the game:
#Jaguars have fired Gus Bradley.
— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) December 18, 2016
The Indianapolis Colts shocked the Minnesota Vikings, routing them 34-6 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Atlanta Falcons did not at all shock the San Francisco 49ers, laying an entirely expected 41-13 beatdown on them.
In New Jersey, it was a showdown between fourth-quarter specialist Matthew Stafford and fourth-quarter specialist Odell Beckham, Jr., a showdown the gunslinger didn’t win. The Lions were held to six points on the game, while Beckham go-go-Gadget-arm’d his way to the game-sealing touchdown:
— TAB (@tabcomau) December 18, 2016
It turns out there is a country for old men: It’s called University of Phoenix Stadium. Quarterbacks Drew Brees and Carson Palmer (combined age: 73) completed 65 of of 88 passes for 707 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. But in the end, the young, speedy legs of Saints wideout Brandin Cooks barely outpaced Palmer’s flock of targets. Cooks’ seven catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns led the Saints to a 48-41 win, keeping the Saints mathematically alive in the NFC.
In what could have been the biggest game of the year, but was instead both A) a predictably ugly, low-scoring game and B) a predictable New England Patriots victory, the Patriots went into Denver and won 16-3. Doing so, they clinched a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) December 18, 2016
In a cold-weather contest between two conservative offenses, Tennessee/Kansas City was also predictably low-scoring. But the result — a 19-17 upset by Tennessee — kept the Titans’ playoff hopes alive and bumped the Chiefs out of position for the AFC’s No. 2 seed.
The two teams vying for the next opportunity to relocate faced off in San Diego: The hometown Chargers, who are all but certain to be finding a new hometown the offseason, and the Oakland Raiders — who will probably have a bigger Los Angeles following than the Chargers next year, even if the Chargers move to L.A.
The two teams alternated scores all the way into the fourth quarter, where Sebastian Janikowski’s third and fourth field goals sealed a 19-16 Raiders win — and put Oakland back in position for a first-round bye.
Jameis is PICKED!
— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2016
It doesn’t always happen this way, but the NFL did in fact save the best for last: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys played a high-stakes Sunday Night Football thriller. Despite Dak Prescott silencing doubters with a mistake-free 32-of-36 performance, Jameis Winston’s grip-it-and-rip-it approach somehow led to both three interceptions and a 20-17 fourth-quarter lead.
But Dak’s mechanically efficient ankle-biting—and kicker Dan Bailey’s mechanically reliable accuracy — led to three unanswered field goals in the fourth quarter, and a massive 26-20 win. The Cowboys didn’t just make winning the NFC South that much harder for the Bucs, they came one week closer to clinching the NFC East.