The Kansas City Chiefs are the heavy favorite to win a Super Bowl. They clinched the No. 1 seed and the AFC’s lone bye on Sunday. Picking anyone else to win it all right now is trying too hard to be different.
That doesn’t mean the Chiefs are unbeatable. Had the Atlanta Falcons held onto an interception or make a field goal Sunday, they were in position to win at Kansas City.
The popular thought the past few weeks, especially after the collapse of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is that the Chiefs can’t be beat this season. That’s not how the NFL works. The 2007 New England Patriots were beatable. So were the 1990 San Francisco 49ers. And the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, 2011 Green Bay Packers, 1968 Baltimore Colts … great teams lose in the playoffs all the time.
We saw again Sunday that the Chiefs aren’t above that. The Falcons are a bad team. They entered Sunday’s game 4-10 and didn’t have Julio Jones. And yet, the Falcons had a great shot at an upset. The Falcons were tied 7-7 going into the fourth quarter and Atlanta took a 14-10 lead in the final minutes. Had rookie A.J. Terrell held onto an interception in the end zone with 2:01 to go, the Falcons likely would have won. Instead, Patrick Mahomes hit Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown with 1:55 left to give the Chiefs the lead. The Falcons had a chance to send the game to overtime in the final seconds, but Younghoe Koo’s field-goal attempt went wide right. The Chiefs escaped with a 17-14 win. They did not look very good against a team that is nowhere near the playoff race.
Maybe it’s just a flat spot for the Chiefs, who knew they were very likely to get the No. 1 seed eventually. But it’s not like they haven’t been tested by other teams.
The Las Vegas Raiders beat them in Kansas City and came very close for the regular-season sweep. The Chiefs needed overtime to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2. Before Sunday, they had six straight games decided by one possession. They won them all, but most of those games could have gone either way. Sunday was the seventh game in a row that they squeezed out a win in a one-possession game.
Don’t forget that the AFC is loaded. The Steelers were once 11-0, and their second-half rally Sunday showed they are still a capable team. The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans could play a ball-control style that could shorten the game and keep the Chiefs’ offense on the sideline. Most people probably didn’t realize the Titans had more points than the Chiefs this season, through 15 weeks. The Buffalo Bills have shown they can play at a very high level. If the Baltimore Ravens get in and Lamar Jackson continues his late-season hot streak, they’re not an easy matchup for anyone.
The Chiefs are the best pick to win the Super Bowl. They’re a fantastic team. Mahomes is great, and they have a lot of talent around him. But Kansas City is beatable. If the Falcons almost did it, plenty of good NFL teams can, too.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 16:
Justin Herbert, Rookie of the Year: Herbert’s season is somehow getting better.
Herbert became the third Chargers quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards (joining Philip Rivers and Dan Fouts), set the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes and had his third straight game-winning drive to beat the Denver Broncos.
The Chargers probably shouldn’t have been in a position to need a game-winning drive, but it’s the Chargers. The Broncos came back to tie the game, 16-16, but Herbert led the Chargers down for a go-ahead field goal in the final minute. They held on to win 19-16 with receiver Mike Williams picking off a Hail Mary pass on the final play.
No disrespect to Justin Jefferson, but Herbert is going to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has had a great season. The Chargers have had a miserable season, but there is hope for the future.
Pete Carroll: Early this season, the Seahawks were on pace to give up the most passing yards in NFL history.
The defense has improved a lot, and on Sunday it held the Rams without a touchdown in a 20-9 win.
The Seahawks are NFC West champs and the defense is a big reason. Nobody expected that to be the case about halfway through this season. The Seahawks’ defensive improvement has been remarkable. While a trade for defensive end Carlos Dunlap has helped, an improvement like that doesn’t come without some great coaching. Carroll and his staff deserve a lot of credit for that.
Seattle will be hosting a playoff game. And the defense might give the Seahawks a chance to make a playoff run.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The New York Jets can’t even tank right.
There won’t be any drama over the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes in Week 17. The Jaguars are on the clock. They clinched the first pick on Sunday. They are a game behind the Jets in the standings and own the tiebreaker.
The Jets’ win over the Cleveland Browns, who lost practically all their receivers due to COVID-19 tests and close contacts, coupled with the Jaguars’ loss to Chicago means Jacksonville is assured of having the NFL’s worst record. Assuming Lawrence leaves Clemson after this season and the Jaguars don’t lose their minds, they’ll be picking one of the most hyped prospects in years.
The Jaguars didn’t look like they’d be in this spot a little more than a week ago. But the Jets upset the Los Angeles Rams, then beat the Browns, and that opened the door for the Jaguars to land a pick that gives the franchise a lot of hope for the future. Poor Jets fans.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers: When the Steelers trailed 24-7 in the third quarter, you could hear the angst from Pittsburgh. The Steelers, once 11-0, looked like they were on their way to a fourth straight loss.
The Steelers managed to hold that off for another week, and even clinch an AFC North title.
Pittsburgh isn’t the same team that won 11 straight, but it had a massive comeback against a very good Colts team, winning 28-24 by scoring 21 unanswered points. Ben Roethlisberger, who has been ripped the past few weeks, had a 342-yard game with three touchdown passes. The Colts drove into Steelers territory in the last two minutes, but Pittsburgh got a fourth-down stop when Philip Rivers’ pass to Zach Pascal was incomplete.
The Steelers have plenty to work on, but at least they stopped the bleeding. And won a division title.
Chicago Bears, with an assist from the 49ers: The Bears’ season has been crazy. They started 5-1. Then they lost six in a row and #FireEveryone became a rallying cry. Nobody was thinking about the playoffs then.
Suddenly, the Bears are very much alive. When the Arizona Cardinals were upset by the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday, the Bears suddenly were in control of their playoff future. Two wins and they were in. The Bears took care of the first part of that Sunday in a win over the Jaguars. The Bears have scored 30 points or more in four straight games for the first time since 1965. Mitchell Trubisky has made a case to get another season as the team’s quarterback. Wild times.
The Bears finish by hosting the Packers next week. That’s not an easy win. When the Bears lost their sixth in a row, nobody would have turned down a win-and-in scenario for Week 17.
Brandon Allen: You can have a long, lucrative career as a backup quarterback.
Allen presumably still wants to be an NFL starter, but if nothing else, he put some very good things on film Sunday for future employers who would trust him as a backup. Allen looked sharp for the Cincinnati Bengals in a 37-31 win against the Houston Texans on Sunday. He was 29-of-37 for 371 yards and two touchdowns. The Texans’ defense is bad, but that’s still a nice line for Allen.
Allen has played well at times when pressed into action as a starter, first with the Denver Broncos last season and then with the Joe Burrow-less Bengals this season. Allen is 28 and waited a long time for his shot. He has done enough to show he belongs on a roster somewhere for a while.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles were in surprisingly good position to win the NFC East. They needed a depleted Washington to lose, and that happened on Sunday. Philadelphia also needed to win, and that would have set up an NFC East championship game against WFT in Week 17.
The Eagles failed to beat the Dallas Cowboys, which keeps the Cowboys alive for the NFC East title and eliminates Philadelphia. The 37-17 loss a fitting end to another underachieving season from Doug Peterson and his team.
The Eagles have a lot of questions to answer in the offseason. The quarterback conundrum will get most of the attention. But there are a lot of issues from the top down that need to be addressed too.
Dwayne Haskins Jr.: Ron Rivera probably wishes he’d have just started Taylor Heinicke.
Washington bended after Haskins was video taped attending a party – he denied being at a strip club – without a mask after last week’s loss. He was stripped of his captaincy and fined, but still started Sunday because Washington had a chance to win the NFC East.
Haskins gave Washington no chance to beat the Carolina Panthers. He put up a 36.9 passer rating, with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 20-13 loss. He was bad, and it looked worse after Heinicke came in during the fourth quarter and played better than Haskins did. Rivera would have been better off benching Haskins at the beginning of the week and being done with it. At least he’d have felt better about that decision.
Haskins’ Washington career is looking like a dead end. It’s too early to give up on him, but the 2019 first-round pick hasn’t shown much on the field and this past week might be a final straw. He was a big reason Washington didn’t clinch a division title on Sunday, too.
Cleveland Browns: We knew before the season started that COVID-19 was going to unfairly hit some teams. The Browns were the latest to catch some terrible breaks.
The Browns had practically no receivers on Sunday. Due to positive tests and close contacts, the Browns were down their top four receivers for a game against the New York Jets that they would normally have won easily. Instead, they lost 23-16.
When NFL Network’s Red Zone Channel showed a Browns catch, host Andrew Siciliano admitted he had no idea the name of the receiver who just caught it. It was too late in the week for the Browns to fully change the game plan either. The Jets could sell out to stop the run and did just that. It was a very difficult position, and the Browns didn’t overcome it.
Cleveland battled but two big turnovers in the fourth quarter, including one on a Baker Mayfield quarterback sneak in the final two minutes, ended their hopes of a win.
Instead of beating a Jets team that was challenging an 0-16 season a couple weeks ago, the Browns still haven’t clinched a playoff spot. It would be crushing for Browns fans to start 10-4, then have their offense decimated due to COVID-19 issues before a loss to the Jets, and then lose a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since 2002.
Keeping the Baltimore Ravens out of the playoffs: It seemed like the Las Vegas Raiders’ ridiculous loss to the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night was going to be a problem for the Ravens, who are playing very well but still need help to get into the playoffs.
Some help arrived Sunday.
The Ravens also could have been helped by the Browns or Colts on Sunday. The Colts lost at Pittsburgh after holding a big lead and the Browns, with their COVID-19 issues, were upset by the Jets. Buckle up for a fun Week 17 tracking the AFC’s wild-card spots.
The rest of the AFC wouldn’t mind if it’s the Dolphins in the No. 7 spot. The Ravens are looking good down the stretch, with a resurgent Lamar Jackson. They blasted the New York Giants, 27-13, on Sunday. Baltimore looks like a team that is peaking late. While everyone has piled on the Ravens and their struggles this season, they’re a team that went 14-2 last season and still has a ton of talent.
If other AFC contenders were hopeful that the Raiders’ loss on Saturday would help keep the Ravens out of the playoff field, Sunday didn’t help.
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