NFL Week 17: What We Learned

The Green Bay Packers secured the top seed in the N.F.C. playoffs, while making an excellent argument for Aaron Rodgers as the N.F.L.’s most valuable player. The Buffalo Bills got the No. 2 seed in the A.F.C., while effectively ending the Miami Dolphins’ season. And the Cleveland Browns, after 17 seasons that ended in frustration, are back in the playoffs. It was an exciting Sunday even by Week 17 standards, and the playoff field was nearly finalized heading into the nightcap between Washington and Philadelphia.

Here’s what we learned:

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Buffalo Bills (13-3), 1 p.m., CBS

The Colts only qualified for the playoffs because the Bills throttled the Miami Dolphins. Now they have to travel to Orchard Park, N.Y. for their own turn against the Bills’ well-rounded juggernaut.

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4), 4:40 p.m., Fox

The Rams are desperate to get Jared Goff back at quarterback following the surgery he had on the thumb of his throwing hand. John Wolford did a nice job filling in for Goff on Sunday against the Cardinals, but he’s not a solution on the road in Seattle.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at Giants or Washington, 8:15 p.m., NBC

Home teams always need to be taken seriously in the playoffs, even if it’s a sub-.500 N.F.C. East champion that only got here because every division gets a playoff team.

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5), 1:05 p.m., ESPN and ABC

With powerful running games and quarterbacks who can take advantage of a stacked box to stretch the field, these teams are more similar than you might guess.

Chicago Bears (8-8) at New Orleans Saints (12-4), 4:40 p.m., CBS, Nickelodeon and Prime Video

Chicago should be thankful for the N.F.C. East, as without that division’s ineptitude, people would probably be focusing on the Bears making the playoffs without a winning record.

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4), 8:15 p.m., NBC

Cleveland was able to hold on for a win over Pittsburgh this week in Cleveland, but next week’s game in Pittsburgh could look significantly different with Ben Roethlisberger back under center for the Steelers.

*Except when it takes more.

Browns 24, Steelers 22 It came in a game in which Pittsburgh played without the defensive stalwarts Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, but Cleveland still impressed on the ground, racking up 192 yards on 31 carries, letting the team’s biggest strength carry it to the playoffs.

Bills 56, Dolphins 26 Miami was hopeful that Tua Tagovailoa could take care of things himself, since Ryan Fitzpatrick — the N.F.L.’s equivalent of an ace relief pitcher — was placed on the Covid-19 reserve list. It didn’t work out. While Tagovailoa threw for 361 yards and a touchdown, the rookie was also intercepted three times, including a pick-six, and never mounted much of a challenge to Buffalo’s dominance on both sides of the ball.

Packers 35, Bears 16 The beeping sound you hear is Chicago backing into the playoffs. The Bears came into the day with control of their own fate, but needed help to earn a wild card after quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was largely ineffective and running back David Montgomery was limited to 3.1 yards a carry.

Colts 28, Jaguars 14 Indianapolis appeared to be teetering on the edge of a second consecutive brutal second-half collapse, but some terrific play by the team’s defense, and Jonathan Taylor’s 45-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, powered the Colts to victory. Taylor entered the season as a backup to Marlon Mack, but his 253 yards rushing and two touchdowns on Sunday gave him 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns in a terrific rookie year.

Titans 41, Texans 38 There were plenty of good things to say about Tennessee after it clinched a hard-won A.F.C. South title, but Houston’s players could hold their heads up high after a terrific second half by quarterback Deshaun Watson made the division rival Titans fight for it.

Buccaneers 44, Falcons 27 Antonio Brown (11 catches, 138 yards, two touchdowns) and Chris Godwin (5-133-2) both had terrific games for Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers will be holding their collective breath awaiting an update on the health of wide receiver Mike Evans, who injured his knee on an incomplete pass in the end zone. Evans had 46 yards receiving before the injury, giving him 1,006 for the season — he is the first N.F.L. wide receiver to have 1,000 or more yards in each of his first seven seasons.

Ravens 38, Bengals 3 J.K. Dobbins showed off why many people believe he is Baltimore’s top running back going forward, rumbling for 160 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries. But Lamar Jackson was nearly as effective, rushing for 97 yards on 11 carries, which left him with 1,005 for the season. He now owns the No. 1 and No. 3 rushing seasons by a quarterback in N.F.L. history.

Seahawks 26, 49ers 23 San Francisco was leading by 9-6 after three quarters, but Russell Wilson took over in the fourth, throwing two touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett. Alex Collins ran in a score as well and the game would not have been as close if not for a garbage-time score by San Francisco’s Jeff Wilson Jr.

Saints 33, Panthers 7 Covid-19 protocols led to New Orleans being without nearly all of its running backs, but that did not slow the team down in the slightest. Ty Montgomery, who plays some wide receiver but also has experience at running back, filled in admirably, carrying the ball 18 times for 105 yards. That, combined with Drew Brees’s three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown from Taysom Hill, was more than enough against Carolina.

Rams 18, Cardinals 7 It might not work in the playoffs, but Los Angeles was able to end Arizona’s season with an offense led by quarterback John Wolford, who came into the day with zero career passing attempts and left it with 231 yards passing, a team-leading 56 yards rushing and his first career victory.

Giants 23, Cowboys 19 In what may be the perfect encapsulation of the N.F.C. East this season, the Giants’ victory came down to running back Wayne Gallman recovering his own fumble in the closing minutes, just two plays removed from Dallas’ Andy Dalton virtually handing Big Blue the win with an interception.

Vikings 37, Lions 35 Justin Jefferson recorded 133 yards receiving, which put him at 1,400 for the season. He broke Randy Moss’s franchise record for a rookie receiver, and finished less than 100 short of the 1,473 Bill Groman had for the A.F.L.’s Houston Oilers in 1960.

Minnesota’s skill players were undoubtedly happy to pad their statistics, but they should keep in mind that Detroit’s defense was so bad this season that it allowed 6,716 total yards and 519 points, breaking franchise records set during the Lions’ winless season in 2008.

Chargers 38, Chiefs 21 It came against Kansas City’s backups, but Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was awfully impressive in throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns in a win that has the potential to save Coach Anthony Lynn’s job. Herbert was not even expected to start this season, but after being forced into duty in Week 2, he finished with 4,336 yards passing and a rookie record 31 passing touchdowns.

Raiders 32, Broncos 31 This game did not have any playoff implications, and it was often fairly ugly, but it had plenty to offer. Denver took a late lead with a 92-yard touchdown pass from Drew Lock to Jerry Jeudy. Las Vegas took it back with a 1-yard Josh Jacobs touchdown run and a 2-point conversion with just 24 seconds remaining. After swings like that, the game finished in the only logical way: Maxx Crosby of the Raiders blocked Brandon McManus’s attempt at what would have been a 63-yard game-winning field goal.

Patriots 28, Jets 14 In what was Coach Adam Gase’s last game with the club, and might be Sam Darnold’s last as its starting quarterback, the Jets went into the fourth quarter tied, 14-14, and then fell apart, allowing Cam Newton to throw a pair of game-sealing touchdown passes. New England came into the day with an N.F.L.-low eight touchdown passes this season, but managed four — including one by a wide receiver — against the Jets.

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