Was it just bluster when Aaron Rodgers told us that after falling to 4-6 that the Packers were “coming together” and would “run the table” and even win the NFC North? Whatever it was, it turned out to be prophetic. Rodgers finished with a team record 401 pass completions, and his 40 TD passes led the NFL; in his last seven games, he threw 18 TD passes and 0 interceptions. In my mind, Rodgers should be a front-runner for NFL MVP. And he has a chance to prove it next week against the Giants, who beat the Packers in the divisional round in 2011 as the defending Super Bowl champions saw their 15-1 season go embarrassingly down the drain.
Meanwhile, in losing 31-24 (only “close” because of a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game), the Lions once more proved that they were “lucky” this season even to win nine games, with so many of their games decided by a touchdown or less. I don’t think that Matthew Stafford had an MVP-caliber season, and with a career 87 passer rating, he still isn’t anywhere near “elite” status. The Lions did win 8 of 9, of which seven of those wins were decided by a total of 28 points. The remainder of the season, the Lions were 1-6. As the sixth-seed, they will play the Seahawks; make that 1-7.
Meanwhile, in other games that mattered:
Giants 19 Redskins 10 With a victory, the Redskins would have clinched a playoff berth; with this loss, they are out of the playoffs. Kirk Cousins threw two critical interceptions in Giant’s territory that foiled the Redskin’s once promising season. Cousins finished the season with 4,917 yards passing, but the Redskins were only 1-5-1 in games that Cousins threw for at least 300 yards.
Broncos 24 Raiders 6 The defending Super Bowl champions failed to make the playoffs, but the news can’t be much better for the 12-4 Raiders, who already lost Derek Carr for the remainder of the season, and the only silver-lining to backup Matt McGloin going down in the second quarter is that rookie and third-stringer Connor Cook looked a lot less “rusty” than he did. On the other hand, the Raiders—like the Bengals last season—look to be the unfavored wild card team next week despite a 12-4 record.
Chiefs 37 Chargers 27 Maybe the Chargers were cursed because Melvin Gordon was not allowed to play and pick-up his 1,000 yards rushing, which he was only three yards short. After all, he was injured trying to recover a Philip Rivers fumble. As for the Chiefs, thanks to the Raiders loss they win the AFC West. Alex Smith had season bests in pass completions and yards, but only 15 TD passes. Smith continues to be a quarterback who either has to be kept on a tight leash, or is too afraid of making mistakes to perform beyond the middle-tier of NFL quarterbacks. This means that for the Chiefs to advance far in the playoffs, they are going to have to do so in spite of him, not because of him.
Seahawks 25 49ers 23 Not that this game actually “mattered,” since the Seahawks won their division long ago, and kept losing critical games like they didn’t want to win at least a first round bye. Are they missing Earl Thomas on defense? Yes. Are they going to be forced to depend on Russell Wilson’s “arm” to win in the playoffs, now that Thomas Rawls has demonstrated that he can’t create the kind of ground attack they supposedly base their offense on? Yes, but is that likely? Wilson had career bests in pass completions and yards, but threw for only 21 TD passes in 546 pass attempts, far less impressive than last season’s 34 in 483 attempts.
Falcons 38 Saints 32 With this victory—which they almost threw away—the Falcons win a first-round bye in the playoffs. Matt Ryan had by far his best season, his first with a QB rating of 100 or better. And once more, despite putting up big numbers, the Saints’ Drew Brees failed to overcome mediocre defensive play. Brees broke his own NFL record for pass completions in a season (471), and threw for 5,000 yards or more for the fifth time.
Steelers 27 Browns 24 With Ben Roethlisberger sitting this game out, the Browns had an “opportunity” to win this game, but thanks to bonehead plays like intercepting a pass and then just before returning it for an apparent touchdown having the ball punched out of one’s hand, which gave the ball right back to the other team and allowing them to march 80 yards for a touchdown. And then there was the play in overtime when the Browns marched all the way down to the 2-yard line before a minus-14 yard pass completion, preventing a game-ending touchdown. Perhaps the Browns were trying not to win this game, despite the fact that the number one draft pick is for one of poorest quarterback classes in history.
Patriots 35 Dolphins 14 With an NFL best 14-2 record, the Patriots do seem like the cream of this season’s crop, even more so than the Cowboys. The Patriots are so arrogant, and with Tom Brady an unabashed Donald Trump supporter, I hope that they face plant against some team in the coming weeks, although that may be wishful thinking.
Buccaneers 17 Panthers 16 Last season, the Panthers were 15-1 and Super Bowl bound; this season, they are 6-10 and Toilet Bowl bound, and Cam Newton couldn’t care less, probably (I’m not buying that “courageous” stuff—more like “crybaby”). Newton barely completed fifty percent of his passes and had a career low QB rating, just a few notches above Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick—and below Blake Bortles.