Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

NFL essentials from Week 16: Playoff herd thinned

The playoff teams in the AFC are set and the NFC only has two teams currently outside the playoffs that can still make it in. Plus, the big plays and big players that made it happen in NFL Week 16.

Several teams clinched playoff berths this week and others improved their status in the playoffs after having previously clinched.

In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys (12-2) have checkmarks in all four playoff categories, clinching a playoff spot, the NFC East division title, a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, despite not playing their Week 16 game until Monday night. The division title and homefield advantage happened Thursday night when the Giants lost.

The Atlanta Falcons (10-5), who beat the Carolina Panthers 33-16, locked up the NFC South with Saturday’s win and with losses by Tampa Bay and New Orleans and therefore won the NFC South. 

The New York Giants (10-5), despite losing to Philadelphia on Thursday night, clinched a playoff berth with Tampa Bay’s loss. 

The Detroit Lions (9-5), who play Dallas on Monday night, would secure a playoff berth with a win, but they will have to wait until Week 17 to decide the NFC North title when they play the Packers on Sunday night.

The Green Bay Packers (9-6) are currently the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs but would need a win on Sunday night take the NFC North title from the leading Lions. The Packers would need some help from other teams playing earlier to make the playoffs if they lose to the Lions.

The Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1) have clinched the NFC West and a playoff spot, despite losing 34-31 to the Arizona Cardinals.

In the AFC, the New England Patriots (13-2) have clinched the AFC East, a playoff spot and a first-round bye with a 41-3 drubbing of the New York Jets. But the Patriots have yet to secure homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

The one team that can catch the Patriots for the top spot in the AFC is the Oakland Raiders (12-3), who beat Indianapolis 33-25. The Raiders have already clinched a playoff spot, but the AFC West is still up for grabs.

That’s because the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) eliminated the Denver Broncos from the playoffs with a 33-10 win on Sunday night. The Chiefs have a playoff spot secured, but they would need a win in Week 17 and an Oakland Raiders loss to win the AFC West and jump up from their currently projected fifth seed to the second seed.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) won the AFC North with a 31-27 last-minute win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday to secure a spot in the playoffs. The Steelers are currently the third seed in the AFC.

The fourth seed belongs to the Houston Texans (9-6), who beat the Cincinnati 12-10 to win the AFC South and secure a playoff spot.

The Miami Dolphins (10-5) have secured a spot in the playoffs with a 34-31 win over Buffalo, meaning all six teams in the AFC playoffs are set with jockeying for seeding all that is left.

So the current order of things in the playoffs is as follows in the AFC: 1) New England; 2) Oakland; 3) Pittsburgh; 4) Houston; 5) Kansas City; 6) Miami.

In the NFC, the current order is this: 1) Dallas; 2) Atlanta; 3) Detroit; 4) Seattle; 5) New York Giants; 6) Green Bay.

Either Detroit or Green Bay could be knocked from the top six in the NFC, with the Washington Redskins (8-6-1) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7) will hoping to making their way into the playoffs with wins in Week 17 and getting some help.

ESSENTIALS FROM WEEK 16

  • The Raiders lost QB Derek Carr with a broken leg when he was sacked late in Oakland’s win, but Carr finished the season with 575 passing plays with only six interceptions and 16 sacks, giving him a rate of 26.1 dropbacks per sack or interception, which is third-best among passing qualifiers since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sport Bureau (Steve Walsh, 28.7 in 1991 with New Orleans; and Kerry Collins, 28.2 in 2008 with Tennessee).
  • With New England’s blowout win over the New York Jets, the Patriots have put together their sixth season with at least 13 wins, tying the Broncos for second-most seasons with at least 13 wins at six seasons apiece. Only San Francisco (nine) has more such seasons.
  • Bill Belichick got his 200th career regular-season victory with New England, becoming the fifth head coach in NFL history to reach 200 regular-season wins with a franchise, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers George Halas (318 with Chicago), Don Shula (257 with Miami), Tom Landry (250 with Dallas) and Curly Lambeau (209 with Green Bay).
  • When Matt Ryan connected with Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea for their first touchdown catches, it marked the 12th and 13th different players to catch a touchdown pass from Ryan this season, the most in a single season in NFL history.
  • Miami running back Jay Ajayi had 206 yards rushing on Saturday, making him the fourth player in NFL history with three games of at least 200 yards rushing in a single season, joining Hall of Famers Earl Campbell (four in 1980) and O.J. Simpson (three in 1973) and Tiki Barber (three in 2005).
  • Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers now has 4,128 yards passing, giving him six career seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards and passing Brett Favre (five) for the most in franchise history.
  • Rodgers also had a 13 rushing yards and a touchdown on Saturday against Minnesota, bringing his career rushing total to 2,502 yards. Rodgers, who has 36,527 career passing yards, joins John Elway (51,475 passing, 3,407 rushing) Fran Tarkenton (47,003 passing, 3,674 rushing) and Donovan McNabb (37,276 passing, 3,469 rushing) as the only players in NFL history with at least 35,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards in a career.
  • Rodgers’ favorite target, Jordy Nelson, had nine receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 14 touchdown receptions this season. He now has three seasons with at least 13 touchdown catches in his career, tying Hall of Famers Lance Alworth, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison for the fourth-most in NFL history. Only Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (eight), Terrell Owens (seven) and Randy Moss (six) have more such seasons in NFL history.
  • Washington QB Kirk Cousins set the single-season franchise record with 4,630 yards passing and has four rushing touch?downs this season. He is the second player in NFL history to have at least 4,000 passing yards and four or more rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons, joining Aaron Rodgers (2008-09).
  • The Chiefs used explosive plays to eliminate the Broncos from the playoffs. Tyreek Hill had a 70-yard touchdown run and Travis Kelce had an 80-yard touchdown reception as part of the three touchdowns the Chiefs scored in the first quarter. Kansas City became the first team in 71 years (Cleveland Rams, 1945) to score rushing and passing touchdowns of at least 70 yards in the first quarter of the same game. Hill also became the second rookie in NFL history with rushing touchdowns of 60 yards or longer in consecutive games, joining Lenny Moore (Baltimore Colts, 1956), according to Elias.  
  • The Chiefs also crossed up the Broncos with a late touchdown pass from DT Dontari Poe to Demetrius Harris, the first time a player has recorded a sack and a touchdown pass in the same season since sacks became an official statistic 35 years ago.
  • Pittsburgh’s game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown with 9 seconds to play was the first home game in the last 70 years in which the Steelers have rallied to win after falling behind in the final 2 minutes of the fourth quarter, according to Elias.
  • Carolina TE Greg Olsen now has 1,051 receiving yards this season, becoming the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving.
  • Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson had 136 scrimmage yards and three rushing touchdowns in the win against Seattle, giving Johnson multiple touchdowns in 11 career games, tying Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James for the most such games in a player’s first two seasons in NFL history.
  • Johnson also joined Barry Sanders as the only players in NFL history to record 15 consecutive games with at least 100 scrimmage yards in a single season. Johnson would break the record if he did it again in Week 17.
  • With 1,233 rushing yards and 841 receiving yards this season, Johnson is also the fourth different player in NFL history with at least 1,200 rushing yards and 800 receiving yards in the same season, joining Marshall Faulk (1998-2000), Le’Veon Bell (2014) and Steven Jackson (2006).
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