With the playoffs looming, the NFL took centre stage on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with several teams hoping for a holiday miracle.
Week 16 played a role in determining the postseason field. Because the New York Jets lost on Thursday night, the Cincinnati Bengals clinched a playoff spot. The Bengals are the first AFC team to make the playoffs, joining the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Baltimore Ravens clinched a spot with a win, and the Los Angeles Chargers could do the same with a little help this weekend.
The Minnesota Vikings continued to dazzle fans on Saturday with record-breaking performances from Justin Jefferson and Greg Joseph. The win keeps them in contention for the NFC’s top seed, which they share with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The NFC South is still a three-team race after the New Orleans Saints won and the Atlanta Falcons were eliminated with a loss. The Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans both extended their losing streaks as their chances of making the playoffs dwindled.
On Christmas Day, there were three NFL games. In the afternoon, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Miami Dolphins, while the Los Angeles Rams dominated the Denver Broncos and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the nightcap.
Week 16 concludes on Monday night with the Los Angeles Chargers hosting the Indianapolis Colts.
The Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the New York Jets 19-3.
Briefly: The Jaguars won their third game in a row and are now firmly in playoff contention. Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars’ quarterback, was effective against a stingy Jets defence. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 229 yards and rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Evan Engram of the Jaguars led all receivers with 113 yards. The Jets had a difficult night. The offence gained 227 yards and converted two of thirteen third-down opportunities. Fans booed when Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was benched in favour of journeyman Chris Streveler. The Jets have lost four straight games and are now out of the playoff picture.
One notable moment: Engram returned to MetLife Stadium and delivered an outstanding performance. In the second quarter, he hauled in a 36-yard reception that set up a Jaguars field goal.
Atlanta Falcons 17, Baltimore Ravens 9
Briefly: The Baltimore Ravens used their run game to punch their playoff ticket, defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the team’s third game without Lamar Jackson. Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, and Tyler Huntley combined for 184 yards. Huntley finished with 115 yards passing and the day’s lone touchdown, a 6-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson in the second quarter. Desmond Ridder, the Falcons’ quarterback, completed 22 of 33 passes for 218 yards, 96 of which went to rookie Drake London. The wideout was responsible for the day’s lone turnover, a fumble in the second quarter. With the loss, the Falcons are out of the playoff picture.
The Baltimore defence stopped the Falcons on fourth-and-goal at the Ravens’ 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. Tyler Allgeier attempted a shotgun run and was stopped by Isaiah Mack, who had just been signed off the practise squad the day before.
The Carolina Panthers defeated the Detroit Lions 37-23.
Briefly: The Carolina Panthers cooled the red-hot Detroit Lions, snapping their three-game win streak, with the most first-half yards in franchise history. The Panthers, who are still in contention for the NFC South, used five rushers to gain 320 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. D’Onta Foreman had 165 yards and Chuba Hubbard had 125 yards. The Lions’ run game was virtually non-existent, with quarterback Jared Goff leading the way with 15 yards on three carries. He did his job through the air, finishing 25-of-42 for 355 yards and three touchdowns, but the loss dampens the Lions’ playoff chances.
In the second quarter, with the game tied 7-7, Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold faked a handoff and rushed to his left for a 3-yard touchdown. Carolina seized control and never looked back.
The Buffalo Bills defeated the Chicago Bears 35-13.
Briefly: With a victory over the Chicago Bears, the Buffalo Bills clinched the AFC East. Kyler Gordon of the Bears picked off Josh Allen in the second quarter for his second interception in as many games, and the Bills trailed 10-6 at the half. Devin Singletary led Buffalo with 254 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns.
One notable moment: The Bills scored on their first drive of the second half after coming out of the break. Devin Singletary powered forward for a 33-yard touchdown, giving Buffalo complete control of the game.
Cleveland Browns 17, New Orleans Saints 10
Briefly: The Cleveland Browns went scoreless in the second half and surrendered a 10-0 lead to the New Orleans Saints, who remain in contention for the NFC South. Deshaun Watson and Andy Dalton both threw interceptions and went scoreless through the air. In the second quarter, Watson scored on a 12-yard run. Otherwise, the Saints’ 152 rushing yards and touchdowns from Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill were enough to secure the victory.
Deshaun Watson attempted to put his team back ahead after the game was tied at 10-10 after a Taysom Hill touchdown in the third quarter, but was intercepted by Daniel Sorensen at the New Orleans 49-yard line. Sorensen rushed for 36 yards to set up another touchdown for his team.
Seattle Seahawks 24, Kansas City Chiefs 10
Briefly: D.K. Metcalf warmed up without a shirt for the 14-degree day, but his confidence wasn’t enough to overcome the Kansas City Chiefs, who are still vying for the top AFC playoff seed. Patrick Mahomes completed 16 of 28 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with Travis Kelce for 113 yards. Kenneth Walker III had 107 yards rushing for the Seahawks, but quarterback Geno Smith struggled, going 25-of-40 for 215 yards, a touchdown, and an interception as their playoff hopes faded.
After returning from a hamstring injury, Kadarius Toney scored his second touchdown of the season. Patrick Mahomes tossed the ball to the wide receiver from shotgun for the first score of the day. Toney faked a pass before rushing for an 8-yard gain.
The Minnesota Vikings defeated the New York Giants 27-24.
Briefly: The Minnesota Vikings won another thriller against the New York Giants, as kicker Greg Joseph nailed a 61-yard field goal as time expired. Justin Jefferson had a historic day with 12 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown, breaking Randy Moss’ single-season reception yards record and Cris Carter’s franchise-best single-season catches record. Saquon Barkley had 14 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown, but the Vikings improved to 8-1 at home with the Winter Whiteout.
One notable moment: Justin Jefferson had a record-breaking day, but kicker Greg Joseph made his own. He won the game with the longest field goal in Vikings history, a 61-yarder.
New England Patriots 22, Cincinnati Bengals 18
Briefly: With a victory over the New England Patriots, the Cincinnati Bengals extend their winning streak to seven games. Joe Burrow completed 40 of 52 passes for 375 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Tee Higgins caught eight of those passes for 128 yards and one touchdown. Rhamondre Stevenson of the Patriots was held to 30 yards on 13 carries and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter. Nick Folk’s extra points were both missed.
Stevenson powered into a pile of players late in the fourth quarter as the Patriots threatened to score on the Bengals’ 5-yard line. As he was being tackled, he dropped the ball, and BJ Hill landed on it, giving Cincinnati possession.
The Houston Texans defeated the Tennessee Titans 19-14.
Briefly: The Houston Texans defeated the Tennessee Titans on the road, extending Derrick Henry’s five-game losing streak. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was out with an ankle injury, so rookie Malik Willis took over the game, which began an hour late due to a weather delay. Henry was limited to 23 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown, bringing his streak of 200-yard games against the Texans to four. Davis Mills led his team to their second victory of the season, going 17-of-28 for 178 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Washington Commanders 20, San Francisco 49ers 37
Briefly: With a victory over the Washington Commanders, Brock Purdy led the San Francisco 49ers to their eighth straight victory. Taylor Heinicke was benched in the fourth quarter after going 13-of-18 for 166 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble. Carson Wentz took over and had nearly identical stats: 12-of-16 for 123 yards and a touchdown in two drives. Purdy completed 15 of 22 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. George Kittle received both of his scores. Nick Bosa had two sacks, extending his lead as the NFL’s sack leader.
With 11:25 remaining in the game, the 49ers led 27-14, and Heinicke faced second-and-7 at the Washington 22-yard line. He took the snap from the shotgun and threw the ball to running back Brian Robinson, but Jimmie Ward intercepted it. After that, Heinicke’s day was done.
The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 40-34.
Briefly: With a Week 16 victory over NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys exacted revenge. Even without starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Eagles led by 10 points twice in the game. Gardner Minshew took his place and went 24-of-40 for 355 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Dak Prescott, who missed the first game of the season due to injury, led the Cowboys with 27-of-35 passing for 347 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He was sacked six times, but the Eagles’ four turnovers kept Dallas in the game and in contention for the NFC East title.
With 2:19 remaining in the game and trailing by a field goal, Minshew passed the ball to Miles Sanders. Before hitting Carlos Watkins, the running back pinballed between a few Cowboys defenders, and the ball popped out. Players from both teams piled onto it, but Anthony Barr came up with it, snuffing out any remaining Eagles steam.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 13-10.
Briefly: The Steelers honoured the late Franco Harris, who died earlier this week at the age of 72, by retiring his No. 32 jersey at halftime. On the field, the Steelers (7-8) rallied late, scoring a touchdown in the final minute to defeat the Raiders (6-9), who are now on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. The game was played exactly 50 years and one day after Harris hauled in “The Immaculate Reception” against the Silver and Black, which many consider to be the most iconic play in NFL history and gave the Steelers their first playoff victory.
One notable moment: Kenny Pickett’s 14-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens with 46 seconds remaining put the Steelers ahead for the first time Saturday and proved to be the game-winning score.
Miami Dolphins 26, Green Bay Packers 20
Briefly: In a disappointing home loss, the Dolphins turned the ball over three times and third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw three interceptions. Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ quarterback, completed 24 of 38 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown. Green Bay running back A.J. Dillon also scored on the ground. The loss put Miami in jeopardy of making the playoffs; if the New England Patriots beat the Dolphins next week and beat the Bills in Week 18, the Dolphins will be eliminated and the Patriots will be in.
With 9:08 remaining in the first quarter, the Dolphins scored their first touchdown of the game on an 84-yard pass from Tagovailoa to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Denver Broncos 51-14.
Briefly: The Rams were on fire on Sunday, blitzing the Broncos en route to a Christmas Day victory. Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 24 of 28 passes for two touchdowns, while running back Cam Akers scored three times. Denver quarterback Russell Wilson had another bad game, throwing two interceptions in another poor offensive performance for the Broncos, whose normally stout defence let them down in a lopsided Week 16 loss.