We made it. We’re coming down the home stretch and the finish line is in sight. In what was one of the weirdest, wildest years in recent memory for the NFL, we survived. Minus a few head coaches, that is. Lucky for us though, just because it was weird doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. Playoff seeding came down to the final play of the final game of the regular season – how’s that entertainment? Let’s recap the final week of the year.
Buffalo Bills 22, New York Jets 17
You had one job, New York, one job: win and you’re in. But they didn’t. In a blustery, January game in Buffalo, the conditions made everything but running the ball difficult. Unfortunately for the Jets, they couldn’t move the ball very well all day, minus one long run by Chris Ivory. Trailing in the fourth quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick was desperate to save the Jets season and ended up throwing an interception on each of their final three drives – sealing the victory for Buffalo as Rex Ryan played spoiler for the Jets in 2015.
Miami Dolphins 20, New England Patriots 10
This was supposed to be a no-brainer, right? For perhaps the first time all year, the Miami defense looked formidable and if you couple that with New England’s offensive struggles and injuries, this is what you get. Tom Brady suffered a sprained ankle when Ndamukong Suh fell on his legs and the Patriots suffered a bruised ego as this loss knocked them out of the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Luckily for the Patriots, they still earned a bye and will have two weeks to rest up and plan their revenge.
New Orleans Saints 20, Atlanta Falcons 17
I’m going to be honest: I have no idea whether the Falcons are good, bad or mediocre. There’s just no way to tell. One week after knocking off the undefeated Panthers, they couldn’t score on the pitiful Saints’ defense and lost. The Falcons outgained Brees and the Saints through the air and on the ground but a pair of costly turnovers sealed their fate. Matt Ryan threw an interception with less than two minutes to go in the game and the rest is history as it led to New Orleans’ game-winning field goal.
Detroit Lions 24, Chicago Bears 20
With nothing to play for other than pride and jobs for next season, these NFC North rivals took the field. Well, the Bears didn’t really come out until the second half, but physically, they were there. The Lions took a 10-0 lead into the locker room before the Bears came storming back with 20 second half points of their own. Unfortunately for Chicago, they let Detroit score twice in the second half as well and were unable to complete their valiant comeback. Better luck next year.
Philadelphia Eagles 35, New York Giants 30
Talk about nothing to play for. If these teams didn’t play in the NFC East, they may have gone winless in 2015. That’s how bad they were. Since it was a head to head matchup, someone had to come away with a victory. In their first game without Chip Kelly in 3 years, the Eagles stumbled their way to a win as DeMarco Murray took his first touch 50+ yards for a touchdown. Add in former Giant Walter Thurmond’s big pick six in the third quarter and there you have it – the essential story of the Giants’ 2015 season.
Washington Redskins 34, Dallas Cowboys 23
This one was basically a practice for Washington as they prepared for their first round playoff matchup. Kirk Cousins came out red hot and tossed three first quarter touchdowns en route to setting the franchise record for passing yards in a season. Cousins was rested in the second half as the Redskins coasted to victory in their final game of the 2015 season. Kellen Moore had his best game as a pro for the Cowboys, throwing for 435 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 INTs on 33 of 48 passing. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch the Cowboys until next September.
Indianapolis Colts 30, Tennessee Titans 24
Another matchup of bad division rivals. The Colts had not been 100% percent eliminated from the playoffs yet, though they needed an actual miracle, so they desperately needed a W in this one. Tennessee was really just playing for draft position, although they did make it look respectable. The Colts lead the way through three quarters, 27-17 on the backs of Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley (yours truly was next up on their depth chart… so close) and even though the Titans pulled to within three points with a DGB touchdown in the fourth, the Colts held on for the win, but did not make the playoffs. That would have been hard to watch anyway.
Cincinnati Bengals 24, Baltimore Ravens 16
Let’s pick this one up at half time. The Ravens lead 9-7 and the football world is wondering: ARE THE RAVENS GOING TO DO IT AGAIN?! No, they’re not. But it looked like it in the first half. The Bengals eventually woke up and outscored Baltimore 17-7 in the second half in an effort to earn a first round bye in the playoffs. And they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling Peyton Manning… More on that later.
Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Cleveland Browns 12
Thanks to their loss to the Ravens last week, the Steelers had to win this game against the Browns. Not normally a big deal, but on top of that, they needed the Jets to lose – so there was a lot riding on this game. Cleveland kept it close going into the half, down just five points. In true Browns fashion though, they took the pressure of Pittsburgh and collapsed in the second half while the Steelers waltzed their way to victory. The Jets ultimately lost in Buffalo, allowing Pittsburgh to sneak into the playoffs despite their gaffe last week.
Houston Texans 30, Jacksonville Jaguars 6
Houston got their “starting” quarterback back just in time. Brian Hoyer returned to the field in time for a tune-up game against Jacksonville/division clinching win. This game was never close. The Texans came out and handled their business from the first snap of the game and led 20-3 at halftime. They coasted to victory in the second half and secured their AFC South championship – hey, somebody had to win it. The win put Houston into the playoffs and their reward is the blistering hot Kansas City Chiefs. Good luck.
Kansas City Chiefs 23, Oakland Raiders 17
The Chiefs completed their epic regular season run and won their tenth game in a row. The Raiders didn’t make it easy on them, but their stingy defense held tough as they earned victory number eleven and made their run for the AFC West title – which would come down to Denver’s game. Kansas City sacked the Raiders’ Derek Carr six times on their way to the playoffs this week, including once on the final drive of the game to seal the win.
Denver Broncos 27, San Diego Chargers 20
Finally, the game everyone was waiting for – or so it seemed. Denver held the fate of many teams on Sunday afternoon. Early on, it looked like San Diego was going to decide that fate – they created five turnovers against Brock Osweiler and the Denver offense in the first half. However, they only came away with six points. In the second half, Peyton Manning took the reins of the Bronco offense and steered them to victory. The team looked inspired compared the first half and they locked down the #1 seed in the AFC and home field advantage with the W.
Carolina Panthers 38, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10
It didn’t take long for Carolina to rebound from their first loss of the season last week. The Panthers put the boots to the Bucs on Sunday, early and often. They dropped twenty-four points on Tampa in the second quarter alone which was more than double what the Bucs would score all game. The win cemented Carolina’s grasp on the #1 seed in the NFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks 36, Arizona Cardinals 6
What a difference a week makes. Last week, Seattle lost to the lowly Rams while Arizona thrashed the Packers. It appears the tides have turned – for a week at least. The Cardinals were completely demolished by Seattle as both teams prepare for the playoffs. Just a week after scoring thirty-eight points, the Cardinals couldn’t even get to double-digits against Seattle. The win builds some big momentum for Seattle as they head into the tournament and they expect to get Marshawn Lynch back next week, too. Look out, NFC.
San Francisco 49ers 19, St. Louis Rams 16
See first line above. So you’re telling me that the Rams can beat the Seattle Seahawks and lead the entire game… but they can’t manage a win against the 49ers? I think this sums up the 2015 NFL season pretty well. Just when you think you’ve finally got it all figured out, you don’t. St. Louis even had the lead early in this game, but slowly bled out as San Francisco kicked their way to victory, three points at a time. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch either of these teams the rest of the year.
Minnesota Vikings 20, Green Bay Packers 13
And finally, the grand finale. Both teams had already clinched a spot in the playoffs, but this matchup would determine who won the division and who played who in the playoffs. Anyone who watched this one, got a hell of a game that closed out the 2015 regular season in terrific fashion. The game went back and forth all night and just when the Vikings began to pull away in the second half, Green Bay charged back with ten fourth quarter points. It came down to the very last play as Aaron Rodgers once again launched a Hail Mary pass towards the end zone. But this time, it fell short and Minnesota took the division.
Well, that wraps up a crazy ride in the 2015 regular season – but fret not, there is more to come. The NFL playoffs start next week and the matchups and times have already been posted. I’ll catch you guys next week to recap the Wildcard Round!