Bob Donman/USA TODAY

NFL essentials from Sunday: Clinching in high gear

The NFL playoff picture came into greater focus on Sunday and the record-setting performance keep coming on individual levels.

With two weeks to play in the regular season (plus the Week 15 Monday night game), the playoff picture is becoming much clearer.

The New England Patriots earned a first-round bye and clinched the AFC East with a 16-3 win over last season’s Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos. It was the Patriots’ eighth consecutive division title, now the longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots are also the only team to win 13 division titles in a 14-year span. The only thing the Patriots haven’t clinched yet is homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but at 12-2 they have a one-game lead over the Oakland Raiders as the first seed in the AFC.

The Raiders secured a playoff berth with their 19-16 win over the San Diego Chargers.

In the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks clinched the NFC West and therefore a playoff spot with a 24-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

With a 19-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Kansas City Chiefs failed to clinch a playoff spot in Week 15.

The Dallas Cowboys had already clinched a playoff spot, but, despite another win to move to 12-2, they didn’t clinch the NFC East or even a first-round bye yet because the New York Giants also won, moving them to 10-4. In the Cowboys’ win Sunday night, rookie QB Dak Prescott completed 32 of 36 passes (88.9 percent), the second-highest completion percentage in NFL history by a player throwing at least 30 passes in the game, according to the Elias Sport Bureau. Rick Gannon was at 89.5 percent, going 34-for-38 against Denver in 2002.


  • A couple of young players came up with NFL firsts. Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson became the first player in NFL history to begin a season with 14 straight games with at least 100 scrimmage yards. He had 108 scrimmage yards against the New Orleans Saints. Johnson also tied Marcus Allen for the second-longest streak of games with 100 or more scrimmage yards at any point in a single season. Only Barry Sanders, with 15 such games in 1997, had a longer streak in a single season.
  • Johnson now has 21 rushing touchdowns, eight receiving touchdowns and a kickoff-return touchdown, making him and Gale Sayers the only players in NFL history with at least 20 rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and a kickoff-return touchdown in a player’s first two seasons.
  • Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. became the first player in NFL history to record at least 80 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving in a player’s first three seasons. After 64 yards and a touchdown in a 17-6 win over the Detroit Lions, Beckham now has 85 catches for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He is one of three players in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches in each of his first three seasons, joining John Jefferson (1978-1980) and Randy Moss (1998-2000).
  • The older players were making their marks, too. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were each playing in their 200th games. Fitzgerald surpassed Jerry Rice for the most receptions in a player’s first 200 games. Rice had 1,115 catches and Fitzgerald now has one more. Boldin became fourth on that list with 1,067 catches in his first 200 games, with Marvin Harrison (1,102) the third player ahead of Boldin.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown became the player with the most catches in any four-year span in NFL history, as he now has 471 catches since the start of 2013. Harrison had 469 catches from 1999-2002.
  • New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees continued his assault on the record books. Brees tied Tom Brady for the most career games (21) with at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions, as Brees threw for 389 yards, four TDs and no INTs in the Saints’ 48-41 win over Arizona.
  • It’s probably the first time Houston Texans QB Tom Savage has been compared to Brett Favre, but Savage on Sunday and Favre in 1992 are the only two players to substitute in at quarterback and pass for more than 250 yards without throwing an interception, according to Elias. Favre did it in 1992 and then started the following week … and the next 296 consecutive games.
  • The Green Bay PackersTy Montgomery rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the Packers’ 30-27 win at Chicago, becoming the second Packer to rush for at least 150 yards and two touchdowns in a game against the Bears, joining Ahman Green (Sept. 29, 2003). The most-played rivalry in NFL history is now stalemated with a 93-93-6 series record, the first time the series has been tied since 1933 (11-11-4).
  • Steelers kicker Chris Boswell became only the second player in NFL history with as many as five field goals of 40 yards or longer in a game. He kicked six field goals in Pittsburgh’s 24-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Packers kicker Mason Crosby had five of 40 or more against Minnesota last season.


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