Essentials from Sunday: Clinchers, catalysts

Three AFC teams clinched their division titles. Sunday brought out the best in a few receivers and the worst in a couple of big-name quarterbacks.

While many races in the NFC remain up for grabs, three teams in the AFC clinched their respective division titles on Sunday – the Denver Broncos in the West, the Indianapolis Colts in the South and the New England Patriots in the East with their wins on Sunday.

The Patriots have won six consecutive AFC East titles (2009-2014), tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Only the Los Angeles Rams (seven, 1973-79) posted a longer streak. The Patriots also had a five-season streak of winning the AFC East from 2003-2007 and are now the first team in NFL history to win 11 division championships in a 12-year span.

The Broncos’ 22-10 win over San Diego made it 12 consecutive divisional road wins for them, tying the San Francisco 49ers (12 from 1987-90) for the longest such streak in NFL history. The last time the Broncos lost an AFC West road game was Dec. 19, 2010 (39-23 loss at Oakland).

The Colts won the AFC South as Andrew Luck became one of two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to guide his team to at least 10 regular-season wins in each of his first three NFL seasons. Russell Wilson joined him in that category with the Seattle Seahawks.

But in the Colts game, Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt sacked Luck twice, giving Watt eight sacks in six games against Luck, twice as many as any other player facing Luck, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Wilson led the Seahawks to a 17-7 win over San Francisco, and Wilson’s 34 wins and 21 home victories are the most in the Super Bowl era in a quarterback’s first three seasons. Wilson was aided by a stingy defense as the Seahawks became only the second team since 1980 to hold the 49ers to 10 points or fewer in a two-game season series, according to Elias (they Seahawks beat the 49ers 19-3 on Thanksgiving).

In the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals (11-3) clinched at least a playoff spot after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. The Cardinals beat the St. Louis Rams 12-6 on Thursday night and tied a franchise record with their 11th win.

Other Sunday snippets:

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. continued his incredible rookie season. The New York Giants receiver had 12 catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants’ 24-13 win over the Washington Redskins, making Beckham the first rookie in NFL history with at least 12 catches, 140 receiving yards and three touchdown catches in a game. He is also the first rookie in NFL history to have three games with at least 10 catches.

    Over the past seven games, Beckham has 61 catches for 866 yards and six touchdowns. His 61 catches are the most by a rookie in a seven-game span and his 866 receiving yards are the second-most by a rookie over a seven-game span (Bill Groman had 920 yards during a seven-game stretch in 1960). Beckham has 90 receiving yards in seven consecutive games, extending his NFL-record streak for a rookie. Overall, Beckham has 71 catches for 972 yards, tied for the 13th in the NFL, and nine touchdowns, tied for 11th in the NFL. His 97.2-yard average per game is fourth in the NFL this season.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 115 catches and became only the fourth player in NFL history with consecutive 110-catch seasons – Jerry Rice (1994-95), Cris Carter (1994-95) and Wes Welker (2007-2009 and 2011-12) were the others.
    Brown’s 115 receptions are the most in Steelers history and he has two more games to add to that total. The NFL record is 143 catches by Marvin Harrison in 2002.

  • Broncos QB Peyton Manning had 233 yards passing in the Broncos’ division-clinching win over the San Diego Chargers, giving Manning 4,143 passing yards this season, his NFL-record 14th season with at least 4,000 yards.

  • Two other big-name quarterbacks struggled mightily. Aaron Rodgers had one of the worst games of his career. He completed only 17 of 42 passes in the Green Bay Packers’ 21-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills, with his 25 incomplete passes the most in his career. He threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, the first time he has thrown multiple interceptions without a touchdown pass. Since 2000, only one visiting quarterback at Ralph Wilson Stadium in December or January has exceeded 300 yards – Tom Brady had 329 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in 2005. In the last 15 years, Bills opponents at Ralph Wilson Stadium have thrown more interceptions (33) than touchdowns passes (24) in January and December.

  • At least Rodgers’ day went better than Johnny Manziel’s in his first start. The Cleveland Browns were blown out 30-0 by the Cincinnati Bengals, the worst shutout loss in a quarterback’s first start since … another Cleveland quarterback, Spergon Wynn, suffered a 48-0 loss at Jacksonville in 2000, according to Elias. Manziel threw for 80 yards and had two interceptions. The last QB to throw at least two interceptions and have fewer than 100 yards in his first start was Alex Smith in 2005.

    Sources: NFL and Elias Sports Bureau.

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