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AFC overreactions: Chiefs clinch top seed, but is there room for concern?
SportsPulse: The playoffs in the AFC will go through Kansas City, but that doesn’t seem as daunting as it once did. USA TODAY Sports’ Mackenzie Salmon breaks down the biggest story lines from Week 16 in the AFC.
The 32 things we learned from Week 16 of the 2020 NFL season:
1. For the first time in its 101-season history, the NFL staged at least one game on every day of the week. That’s obviously a function of pandemic-related reschedulings, including a pair of contests that wound up being played on Tuesdays and another on a Wednesday. The Christmas matchup between the Vikings and Saints, which was set when the schedule was released in the spring, made Friday the final day to get a game in 2020.
2. Sunday ended with four AFC teams, each with a 10-5 record, vying for the conference’s three wild-card spots. The Dolphins, Ravens and Browns will advance to the playoffs with wins in Week 17. The Colts need help. The AFC South-leading Titans are also 10-5 and in danger of staying home with a Week 17 loss to Houston.
3. The Chiefs’ bid for the first Super Bowl repeat since the 2003-2004 Patriots got a boost when Kansas City clinched the AFC’s bye and home-field advantage. However QB Patrick Mahomes and this offense would be well served to re-establish some rhythm in Week 17 given their lackluster showing in a 17-14 triumph over Atlanta.
4. Silver lining? At least Kansas City knows it can prevail in tight games, its seven-game winning streak in contests decided by six or fewer points the longest in league history.
5. However you can’t ask for much more from K.C.’s Travis Kelce, who may be having the greatest season ever by a tight end. Sunday, he became the first man at his position to exceed 1,400 receiving yards in a campaign while erasing George Kittle’s previous record for yards in a season (1,377 in 2018) by a tight end.
5a. Kelce is also the first tight end with multiple 100-catch seasons and now owns a career-high 105 grabs – third best from the position and most ever by a Chiefs player, regardless of where they line up. Kelce would need 12 grabs in Week 17 to eclipse Zach Ertz’s two-year-old record.
6. Mahomes threw an INT in a goal-to-go situation for the first time in his career. Prior to that, playoffs included, he had 50 TD passes in goal-to-go scenarios.
PLAYOFF PICTURE:Chiefs clinch AFC’s No. 1 seed, Seahawks take NFC West
7. Speaking of records, bravo to Chargers QB Justin Herbert, whose 28th TD pass set the record for rookie passers as he overtook Baker Mayfield. Herbert also became the fourth rookie to surpass 4,000 passing yards. He needs 341 more in Week 17 to break Andrew Luck’s freshman record of 4,374 yards, set in 2012.
8. Bolts WR Mike Williams caught five balls Sunday – four from Herbert and a game-clinching interception of Denver’s Drew Lock on the final play of L.A.’s 19-16 win.
9. Credit the defense of the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks, which projected as one of the worst in league history earlier this season. But this group has surged, partially coinciding with S Jamal Adams’ return to health, holding four of Seattle’s last five opponents to fewer than 300 yards — and none of those five foes has managed more than 17 points.
10. Aaron Rodgers just about wrapped up his third MVP Sunday night … as Pack came within a win of clinching NFC’s No. 1 seed.
11. Meanwhile, Carson Wentz isn’t the only quarterback drafted in 2016 who’s fallen on hard times. Jared Goff’s unsightly play – exacerbated by Sunday’s thumb injury – has just about dragged the Rams out of the playoff picture. However given the parameters of his contract, L.A. is likely stuck with Goff through at least the 2022 season.
12. Ben Roethlisberger outdueled Philip Rivers on Sunday – and the finally anointed AFC North champion Steelers overcame the Colts – meaning Big Ben is now a collective 7-4 against Rivers and Eli Manning, his 2004 draftmates.
13. The last time Indianapolis beat Pittsburgh without Peyton Manning? Try 1984.
14. In case you had more important things to do on Christmas Day, Saints RB Alvin Kamara became the first player in more than nine decades to rush for six TDs, making his fantasy GMs across the land – at least the ones who were still playing in Week 16 – rejoice with newly won trophies.
15. Broomer Sooner? Oklahoma’s former quarterbacks – Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts – got swept this weekend, and none of their teams could really afford a loss. Hurts’ Eagles are the only NFC East club now eliminated from playoff contention.
16. To sum up the NFC East … if Washington and Dallas wind up tied at 7-9 after Week 17, the Football Team goes to the playoffs. If the Cowboys, WFT and Giants all land at 6-10, then New York advances. Dallas needs to beat the Giants and have the Eagles upend Washington if the Cowboys are to slip through.
17. Credit the Dallas defense with forcing at least three turnovers per game during its three-game winning streak, the first time the Cowboys have managed that since 2014.
18. Carolina’s win at Washington means all five head coaches hired this offseason have led their new teams to at least five wins.
19. But as relatively well as the Panthers have played for newbie coach Matt Rhule, quite a bit of enduring respect for Ron Rivera, Carolina’s HC from 2011 to 2019.
20. Jacksonville’s loss and the Jets’ win clinched the No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft for the Jaguars, a selection almost sure to be spent on Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. The Jags have picked No. 2 overall three times – OT Tony Boselli (1995), LB Kevin Hardy (1996) and OT Luke Joeckel (2013) – but never first.
21. Deshaun Watson became the first Texans quarterback to pass for 30 TDs.
22. Tom Brady became the first Buccaneers quarterback to pass for 36 TDs. TB12 also has the Patriots’ single-season record (50 in 2007).
23. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson scored on an 81-yard pass from Hurts, Jackson’s fifth TD of at least 80 yards in his career – tying an NFL record.
23a. Jackson averaged 81 yards per catch Sunday. Gaudy.
24. Terrible time for the Browns – COVID-19 issues stripped them of their top receivers, all placed in quarantine Saturday – to rush for a season-low 45 yards in their loss to the Jets. Cleveland is apparently determined to (maybe) end its playoff drought in dramatic fashion next week against the rival Steelers.
24a. And talk about a pair of woebegone franchises failing to help one another. Cleveland would have been playoff bound by beating the Jets, who would still be alive for the Lawrence pick had they lost to the Browns. Welp.
24b. With the Buccaneers clinching their first playoff berth since 2007, the Browns (2002) and Jets (2010) currently own the longest playoff absences in the league.
25. Going back to the 2021 draft, Miami is currently slotted to pick third overall since they own the Texans’ selection by virtue of the 2019 trade that sent LT Laremy Tunsil to Houston.
26. The Ravens’ top-ranked ground game has churned out at least 230 yards on five occasions this season. Not a team you really want to see in January.
26a. Baltimore’s 38-game regular-season streak with at least 100 rushing yards is the second-longest in NFL history.
27. WR DeAndre Hopkins has 111 receptions in his first year with Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald is in his 17th season with the Cardinals, and has hit the century mark five times, but lost his single-season standard (109) to Nuk.
28. Saints QB Drew Brees became the first pro quarterback, including those pesky guys from the Canadian Football League, to surpass 80,000 passing yards. Brees bypassed former Canadian star Anthony Calvillo (79,816 career yards) in Week 15 as the all-time leading passer in major North American leagues.
28a. Unfortunately for Brees, his streak of 46 consecutive games – longest in the Super Bowl era – without serving up multiple interceptions was snapped.
29. Jets RB Frank Gore became the third player in league history to cross the 16,000-yard rushing threshold, joining Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.
30. The 49ers are 1-0 as the visiting team in Arizona this season … but 0-2 as the home team.
31. Remarkable weekend for the Bears, who are one win from completing a resurrection that would end in a wild-card berth if they beat the Packers at Soldier Field in Week 17.
31a. Chicago can become the third team to make the playoffs despite enduring a six-game losing streak during the season.
31b. Da Bears beat the Jaguars 41-17, marking the fourth consecutive game Chicago has scored at least 30 points – something that last happened when George Halas was the coach in 1965.
32. Finally, speaking of the Bears and Kittle – he returned to the San Francisco lineup Saturday after missing nearly two months with a foot injury – the Niners’ gregarious tight end issued the weekend’s most light-hearted moment after his team’s upset win in the desert, one that damaged the Cardinals’ playoff hopes while bolstering Chicago’s. “I did grow up a Bears fan, and the fact that we helped the Bears a little bit just made me a little happier. Da Bears!” said Kittle, who could be heard exclaiming after he walked off his postgame podium, “Da Bears. I (expletive) love the Bears.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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