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This chaotic NFL season augurs the most wide-open playoffs in years | NFL

If the NFL hoped to maintain extra groups in the playoff hunt longer by increasing the common season from 17 weeks to 18, nicely, mission completed. Week 16’s slate of video games is almost accomplished, but a lot stays unsettled, notably in the nonetheless wide-open AFC. If there’s one crew that’s taken benefit of their state of affairs, it might be the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs, who’re presently the solely crew in the convention assured a playoff spot.

It looks like ages in the past, however it was solely late October when the preseason favorites in critical bother. After a demoralizing 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs had stumbled from the gate with a perplexing 3-4 report. Since then, nonetheless, they’ve rattled off eight straight victories and look to be in nice form to make their third straight Tremendous Bowl.

Whereas earlier Chiefs groups had been well-known for outscoring opponents, this Kansas Metropolis crew has discovered a extra sustainable mannequin of success, as their Patrick Mahomes-driven offense is now balanced by what has grow to be one of the league’s best defenses. It’s to the level, the place the Chiefs simply dealt with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday regardless of being with out all-world tight finish Travis Kelce, who was on the crew’s Covid-19 checklist.

With Sunday’s 36-10 victory over the Steelers, Kansas Metropolis turned the first crew in the AFC to clinch their division, partly because of the New England Patriots’ personal reversal of fortune over in the East. On prime of that, they’re one sport forward of the Tennessee Titans for the convention’s prime seed.

Coincidentally sufficient, the Chiefs’ Tremendous Bowl LV opponents additionally clinched their division on Sunday. The 11-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have received the NFC South for the first time since 2007. Even earlier than the season started, it felt like a rematch between these two squads was doubtlessly in the playing cards and it hasn’t regarded extra doable than it does now.

Nonetheless, given how comparatively aggressive the NFC has been this yr, the Chiefs have a clearer path to a championship than the Bucs. Tampa Bay’s report appears to be like sterling, however they’re lacking key parts of their offense: operating again Leonard Fournette and huge receiver Mike Evans each suffered hamstring strains whereas receiver Chris Godwin is out for the foreseeable future because of a torn ACL. On prime of this. linebacker Shaq Barrett strained his MCL throughout Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers.

Rhamondre Stevenson
Rhamondre Stevenson of the New England Patriots carries the ball as Jordan Poyer of the Buffalo Payments defends in the third quarter of the Sunday’s sport. {Photograph}: Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Photos

In the meantime, their competitors looms. Regardless of his latest heel flip, reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers hasn’t forgotten the right way to play soccer: he has helped lead the 12-3 Inexperienced Bay Packers to the greatest report in the league. The Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys – each of whom additionally clinched a playoff berth on Sunday – have equivalent 11-4 data, and LA holds a tiebreaker over Tampa Bay. In the meantime, proper now, the Chiefs are the solely AFC crew that is aware of its season will final past Week 18.

These are, nonetheless, solely regular-season data. Whereas rewards like a bye week and home-field benefit present big dividends come the playoffs, they don’t assure something in a single-game elimination format. Take a look at the defending world champions, who got here into final postseason as a wild-card crew and nonetheless went on to finagle a victory over extraordinarily proficient opponents.

This brings us again to the chaos of the 2021 NFL season. At no level has a crew regarded invulnerable and – with the apparent exception of the season’s bottom-feeders (the Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars) – each crew has appeared able to placing collectively a successful streak. It hasn’t helped that groups have needed to piece collectively pandemic-ravaged lively rosters as they frequently lose gamers to Covid-19 and the surrounding protocols.

When the postseason comes, it’s not set in stone that earlier outcomes will dictate future success or failure. Proper now, the Chiefs regarded primed to make their third straight Tremendous Bowl look, but when there’s one lesson to remove from this yr it’s to not learn an excessive amount of into the present NFL panorama.

Video of the week

Perhaps issues can be higher for the Jets if they only performed the Jacksonville Jaguars each sport. Not solely did the much-maligned Zach Wilson go off on a 54-yard landing run, however the Jaguars allowed a 102-yard kickoff return to Braxton Berrios.

In any case, it was a uncommon entertaining win for the Jets, who beat Jacksonville 26-21, which meant it was a day-after-Christmas miracle for the waitress who received Jets tickets from Wilson as a tip.

MVP of the week

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals. His 299 passing yards had been the most a quarterback picked up in the first half of an NFL sport all season. He ended throwing for 525 whole yards and 4 touchdowns, and not using a single interception. What are you able to say? The dude really loves playing against the Baltimore Ravens.

OK, it didn’t harm Burrow or his receivers that the Ravens’ protection has been decimated by sickness and accidents, however that’s not sufficient to clarify the sophomore signal-caller’s utter dominance. Baltimore’s accidents weren’t simply restricted to the defensive finish of the sport, they had been with out each of its quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson and Taylor Huntley. So, the very well-traveled Josh Johnson ended up beginning for Baltimore on Sunday and whereas he threw two touchdowns himself, it clearly wasn’t sufficient for the Ravens, who had been overwhelmed 41-21.

Stat of the week

1940. That was the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers went 5 straight video games and not using a first-half landing. Whereas the Steelers received two of these 5 video games, they’re nonetheless in nice hazard of dropping out of the postseason combine after their blowout loss to the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs. At this charge, we’d see the finish of Ben Roethlisberger’s profession ahead of we anticipated.

Quote of the week

“Soccer apart, sorry, however I’m doing a narrative about New Yr’s resolutions and I used to be simply questioning should you had any you needed to share along with your followers and our readers?” – a reporter to New England Patriots head coach Invoice Belichick following his crew’s 33-21 loss to the Buffalo Payments

Infamously, Belichick’s skilled demeanor is such that when he uncharacteristically issued an apology for his remedy of the media final week, it was a massive local news story. If there ever was not a time to throw up a softball, human curiosity query to him, it was not after his crew’s most unlucky lack of the common season. The 9-6 Patriots have now misplaced their final two video games whereas the Payments have received their final two and – identical to that – issues are all tied up on the prime of the AFC East. If Buffalo win out, they may win the division that New England might have clinched.

Provided that he simply witnessed Josh Allen completely slice by the vaunted Patriots protection, it’s comprehensible that the coach replied “not proper now”. Relating to soccer, the complete crew’s decision must be to not fall out of the wild-card standings. In any case, all of that is excellent news for the 7-7 Miami Dolphins, whose playoff hopes stay alive heading into Monday evening’s sport in opposition to the New Orleans Saints.

Elsewhere round the league

The NFL tried to crowd into the NBA’s gimmick by giving us a pair of Christmas Day video games. In the first, the Inexperienced Bay Packers confronted the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions in the first half, every one among which finally resulted in an Aaron Rodgers landing. The Browns made a strong comeback try however the sport basically ended on – what else? – a fourth Mayfield interception. The Packers received 24-22 whereas the Browns are compelled to spend one other week speculating about Mayfield’s close to and long-term future with the franchise.

On Saturday’s second sport, the Arizona Cardinals continued their inexplicable late-season slide, falling to the Indianapolis Colts 22-16. In the sport, operating again Jonathan Taylor did not report a landing however he continued his personal MVP marketing campaign by placing collectively a 108-yard speeding efficiency in entrance of a depleted offensive line.

The Detroit Lions saved their dropping methods alive with a 20-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that dropped their report to 2-12-1. Comically, that one tie continues to be their undoing in their quest for the primary choose in subsequent yr’s draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ beforehand mentioned loss to the New York Jets dropped their report to 2-13, the league’s general worst.

The quarterback cavalcade continues in Carolina as Sam Darnold has returned to exchange fan favourite Cam Newton, who as soon as once more struggled after making a formidable season debut. As a substitute of selecting one, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule determined as a substitute to rotate the pair relying on the in-game state of affairs. As famous earlier, this time round it resulted in a 32-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rhule’s sticking along with his platoon technique, nonetheless.

“I imagine it’s 1000% working,” a defiant Rhule said after the game, “I simply know no person can see it and I apologize. As I inform our crew all the time, it took Jay Z seven years.” Jay Z was unavailable for remark.

With their 30-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the 11-4 Los Angeles Rams secured a playoff berth regardless of three interceptions from quarterback Matthew Stafford. As Baker Mayfield might inform you, it’s the fourth INT that actually places a nail in your crew’s coffin.

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