Week 16 takeaways: Wins keep race for AFC 6-seed alive

The Patriots and Cowboys locked up their respective division titles, the Eagles remained alive in the NFC and wins by the Ravens, Colts and Titans leave us with a fight for the final AFC wild-card spot next Sunday.

All that and more in Week 16’s biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.

Jump to a matchup:
HOU-PHI | NYG-IND | BUF-NE | TB-DAL
ATL-CAR | MIN-DET | GB-NYJ | CIN-CLE
JAX-MIA | CHI-SF | LAR-ARI | PIT-NO
WSH-TEN | BAL-LAC


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The legend of Nick Foles grows. In likely his last home game in an Eagles uniform, Foles threw for 471 yards and four touchdowns, and he recovered from a Jadeveon Clowney helmet to the chest to engineer the winning drive over the Texans. The Eagles still have life entering Week 17 against Washington, needing a victory and a Vikings loss to make the playoffs. — Tim McManus

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Nick Foles shows off his arm strength as he heaves an 87-yard pass to Nelson Agholor for an Eagles touchdown.

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The Texans squandered a great performance by quarterback Deshaun Watson when the defense allowed the Eagles to connect on a winning field goal. Watson brought the Texans back from a 13-point deficit. Houston’s loss gives New England the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye, but they did clinch a playoff spot with Pittsburgh’s loss. The Texans need to regroup as they head back home in need of a win over the Jaguars in the season finale to capture the AFC South. — Turron Davenport


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The Colts have gone from 1-5 to on the brink of making the playoffs for the first time since 2014 after Andrew Luck led his 21st game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime since he entered the NFL. The Colts would win the AFC South with a victory over the Titans and a Houston loss to Jacksonville in Week 17. “It was hard to look forward to the playoffs when you start off 1-5,” Colts receiver Chester Rogers said. “At that point you’re trying to get one game at a time. It feels good to be playing for something in this last game.” — Mike Wells

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Eli Manning had one of his better games of the season. “Heck of a job,” coach Pat Shurmur said after Manning threw for 309 yards on 25-of-33 passing with a touchdown and interception. It came without Odell Beckham Jr. for the third consecutive game and it complicates the decision about Manning’s future. He’s been up and down this year, but there have been signs in the second half of the season that may convince the Giants he should return for one more year. — Jordan Raanan


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If the Patriots need to turn to the running game to win in the playoffs, Sunday’s performance against a solid Bills defense should inspire some confidence. When you total 179 rushing yards at the half, that’s decisive. As it turns out, the running game was needed because quarterback Tom Brady and the passing offense looked out of sync for extended stretches, sparking questions of how deep of a playoff run the team might be able to make. The Patriots can wrap up a first-round bye with a win over the Jets next Sunday. — Mike Reiss

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The end of the LeSean McCoy era in Buffalo seems to be close. McCoy was benched for the start of Sunday’s loss to the Patriots because of a “situation” with coach Sean McDermott, McCoy said after the game. He rushed six times for nine yards, continuing his career-worst season. The Bills could save $6.4 million of McCoy’s $9 million cap number if they trade or release him before the start of the next season, when he will be 31. — Mike Rodak


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The Cowboys clinched their second NFC East title in three years, but the message after the win over the Buccaneers, even as championship T-shirts and hats were passed out, was obvious: “It’s great to win our division and make the playoffs,” Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin said, “but this team has got a lot more football left and I think guys really believe it. It’s been a great group to play with all year, and I think everyone is on the same page that we’re not done yet.” — Todd Archer

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Dallas’ defense comes up with a fumble return for a touchdown, another fumble recovery and a big fourth-down stop in a win over Tampa Bay.

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The Bucs dropped to 5-10 with one game remaining, and now the best they can do is one more win than last year. This year also marks seven double-digit-losing seasons over the past 10 for the Bucs. They now have to decide on the future of coach Dirk Koetter, as well as whether they will give QB Jameis Winston a contract extension. — Jenna Laine


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The Falcons have the potential to have two or three explosive plays every game with as many weapons as they have on offense. On Sunday, Matt Ryan found rookie Calvin Ridley for a 75-yard touchdown and Mohamed Sanu for a 44-yard score. Then there was Brian Hill‘s 60-yard run. A core of Ryan, Julio Jones, Ridley, Sanu and Austin Hooper should give defenses fits next year and beyond as the Falcons try to get back on track. — Vaughn McClure

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Carolina’s playoff chances are zero, so the biggest question left to be answered is what are the odds coach Ron Rivera is kept another year by new owner David Tepper. Those inside the organization believe Rivera is safe. Whether he will or will not be back, Rivera said, is a question, “I don’t know the answer to.” One answer is clear: If the Panthers (6-9) lose their finale at New Orleans, they will become the first team to go from 6-2 to 6-10 since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978. — David Newton


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Everything the Vikings have been working for this season comes down to Week 17. After the red-hot Eagles beat the Texans, the Vikings will now need to beat the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on the final Sunday of the regular season to lock up their spot in the playoffs. “Win and in,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “That’s how it is. I’m OK with that.” — Courtney Cronin

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Kirk Cousins overcomes a slow start and throws three touchdown passes in the Vikings’ win over the Lions.

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Under first-year coach Matt Patricia, the Lions suffered the franchise’s first double-digit-loss season since 2012. At 5-10, a lot of players are at a loss for reasons why the season fell apart. Mercifully for Detroit, next week’s game against Green Bay ends a season the team and its fans would probably like to forget. — Michael Rothstein


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Aaron Rodgers‘ teammates raved about the quarterback’s toughness and grit in a meaningless game but weren’t surprised by it. Rodgers’ message: “That it matters.” And he played like it with two rushing touchdowns, another run for a 2-point conversion and 442 yards passing in the Packers’ overtime win at the Jets. — Rob Demovsky

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The overtime loss reinforced two themes that have emerged in recent weeks. First, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has a bright future, as he delivered a third consecutive strong performance. Second, it’s time to make a coaching change. Under Todd Bowles, the Jets are an undisciplined team that melts in crunch time. They’ve lost 11 games for the third consecutive year, and Bowles will be gone as soon as the season is over. — Rich Cimini


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The win over the Bengals ensures the Browns will not finish last in the AFC North for the first time in seven years. They also are at or above .500 at this point of the season for the first time since 2007. All signs bode well for an exciting 2019 season in Cleveland. — Pat McManamon

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The Bengals have secured last place in the AFC North and certainly look the part of a last-place team after winning only one division game. The Browns essentially were mocking the Bengals in both of their wins over them this year, and the Bengals admitted they didn’t come out with a sense of urgency. Cincinnati needs to make sweeping changes, or it might find itself on the outside looking in once again during the 2019 season. — Katherine Terrell


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Sunday’s victory should put to rest any thought that the Jaguars had quit on the season, especially defensively. The Jaguars held Miami to 183 yards, sacked Ryan Tannehill three times and returned an interception for a touchdown. But the victory hurts the Jaguars’ draft standing. They need to earn the highest spot they can in order to have their pick of the quarterbacks — and they dropped from fifth to eighth following the win. — Mike DiRocco

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Telvin Smith picks off Ryan Tannehill and goes 32 yards to the house to put the Jaguars up 17-7.

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The Dolphins missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season and no one should feel comfortable about their standing in the organization. The Dolphins put out what coach Adam Gase called an “awful” and “terrible” offensive showing in their elimination loss to the Jaguars. As Miami looks toward the offseason, owner Stephen Ross will soon decide who stays and who goes. — Cameron Wolfe


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The victory over San Francisco ensures the Bears of at least the No. 3 seed in the NFC. But Chicago still has a shot at a first-round bye if it beats Minnesota next week and the Rams lose to the 49ers. The Bears don’t have much postseason experience on their roster, but these important games will help make them battled-tested come January. — Jeff Dickerson

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The 49ers’ hard-fought loss to the Bears served the dual purpose of showing the Niners can go toe-to-toe with a tough, physical playoff team while also maintaining position to draft in the top five. Obviously, the Niners would prefer a win, but this is the kind of loss that can give them something to build on while also not jeopardizing future assets. — Nick Wagoner


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No Todd Gurley, no problem — at least in the Rams’ victory on Sunday against the struggling Cardinals. Gurley sat out because of inflammation in his left knee, but C.J. Anderson, whom the Rams signed only five days earlier, rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown to help the Rams break out of their two-game slump. Anderson’s proven reliability as a backup could serve the Rams well as they prepare for a regular-season finale against the 49ers and for the playoffs. — Lindsey Thiry

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The Cardinals finished their home schedule 1-7, the first time since they won just one game at home since they moved to Arizona in 1988. But Sunday was another example of how far this team has fallen. They gave up 269 rushing yards, which coach Steve Wilks called “just horrendous.” Their leading rusher was Josh Rosen, who was forced to scramble often because of a patchwork offensive line (49 yards). He threw for just 87 yards on 12-of-23 passing while surviving four sacks. Bring on 2019. — Josh Weinfuss


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As the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Saints won’t have to leave home again unless they advance to the Super Bowl in Atlanta. Drew Brees (27-of-39, 326 yards, TD) looked like his old self in Sunday’s come-from-behind victory over Pittsburgh. Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara were explosive. And the return of wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. also provided a big boost. — Mike Triplett

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The Steelers showed they are capable of knocking off any team, driving to beat the Saints in the final seconds before a costly turnover. The passing game was dynamic, and the defense challenged Brees. But this inspired effort wasn’t on display all season, and that’s why they sit at 8-6-1 and suddenly have dimming playoff hopes. “Anybody can beat anybody or lose to anybody — we figured that out this year pretty easily,” guard David DeCastro said. — Jeremy Fowler


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The Titans kept their playoff hopes alive, but it may have come at a cost. Quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered a stinger injury and didn’t return for the second half. The formula remained the same for Tennessee with Derrick Henry being the key on offense when it mattered and the defense shutting down the Redskins. The Titans are confident in Blaine Gabbert if Mariota is unable to play. — Turron Davenport

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With the playoffs no longer possible, the Redskins must start answering tough questions moving forward. There hasn’t been much smoke at this point about firing coach Jay Gruden. They must decide if team president Bruce Allen will remain in that role. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky could be on the hottest seat, though that doesn’t mean the organization was happy with safety D.J. Swearinger‘s postgame comments ripping him. It wasn’t. The Redskins also have to wait and see how QB Alex Smith recovers from his devastating leg injury. No doubt, the Redskins face an interesting offseason. — John Keim


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Baltimore got the attention of the NFL by flying cross country on a short week and upsetting the league’s hottest team — and it now sits atop the AFC North. Now the Ravens have to beat the Browns at home next Sunday to end a three-year playoff drought. They entered their bye with a 4-5 record and on a three-game losing streak, but are 5-1 since Lamar Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback. With Jackson, the Ravens have a new offensive identity as well as new hope. “We can play with anyone … and everyone sees it now,” Jackson said. — Jamison Hensley

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The Chargers likely will be the No. 5 seed and have to go on the road in the postseason after their loss to the Ravens. However, not playing at StubHub Center has been a good thing for the Chargers, who are 7-0 outside of Los Angeles this season. Still, a win over the Ravens would have given the Chargers a prime opportunity to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Philip Rivers could not create enough magic at the end of the game to overcome another poor start. — Eric D. Williams

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