That is it! The playoff contenders have been decided and we can all look forward to the wildcard round next week. Who were the top performers in the final week of the regular season though?
Coach Rex Ryan got revenge on the side he was sacked by as his Buffalo Bills team defeated the New York Jets 22-17. Pittsburgh’s 28-12 win at Cleveland consequently meant the Jets had to say goodbye to their playoff hopes.
Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor certainly enjoyed a better day than his opposite, Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Taylor finished 18 of 28 with 182 passing yards and scored an impressive 18 yard rushing touchdown.
Coach Ryan’s defence gave Fitzpatrick a tough time, giving him a nightmare end to the game- intercepting him on every one of the Jets’ final three possessions. Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin intercepted a 14 yard pass intended for Jets receiver Eric Decker in the early stages of the 4th quarter before a hit just after the two minute warning by defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on Fitzpatrick resulted in linebacker Manny Lawson intercepting the ball.
To pile on the misery for Fitzpatrick and the Jets, who needed a touchdown in the final quarter to secure a playoff spot, Buffalo linebacker A.J Tarpley made an interception with just 11 seconds to go.
The quick start to the game by the Bills was crucial, limiting the Jets to just 9 yards over their first four possessions. The Bills finished with a better third down efficiency, converting 9 out of 20, compared to the Jets who only made the ground on 3 out of 11 attempts.
Defensive end J.J Watt was back to his very best as he played without a cast for the first time since breaking his wrist on December 9. He put in a stand out performance as his Houston Texans side secured the AFC South title for the first time since 2012 with a 30-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Watt made 3 sacks to join former Eagles, Packers and Panthers defensive end Reggie White as the only people to make 15 sacks in 3 years of their first 5 years in the NFL. He took his season tally to 17 ½ sacks, however he wasn’t the only star of the Texans defence as linebacker Whitney Mercilus made 3 ½ sacks, taking his own tally to 12 for the season.
The Texans finished having had possession of the ball for over ten minutes longer than the Jaguars, while they also recorded a total of 25 first downs compared to Jacksonville’s 11.
Much like in the Bills victory against the Jets, it was a tail of two quarterbacks with Miami’s Ryan Tannehill finishing 25 for 38 for 350 yards and 2 touchdown passes. Compare that to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who finished 12 for 21 for a season low 134 yards. He also ended the game with zero touchdown passes for the first time this season. Brady took a bruising as he was sacked twice and hit at least 6 times, before eventually being taken off with 5 minutes of the game remaining in order to keep him safe ahead of the post-season.
Rookie Dolphins receiver Devonte Parker also played his part, ending the game with a season high with 5 catches for 106 yards as well as scoring the game’s first touchdown after receiving Tannehill’s 15 yard pass just before half time.
A good end to a disappointing season for the Miami Dolphins.
The Seahawks came out on top in an all NFC West match up as they humbled the Arizona Cardinals with a 36-6 win. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson carried the team on his shoulders for parts as he threw three touchdown passes in the 2nd quarter, eventually helping his side to a 30-6 lead at half time.
Wilson finished 19 for 28 for 197 yards and became the first Seahawks quarterback to throw for more than 4000 yards in a season. Rookie receiver Tyler Lockett also set a team record as he returned four punts for 139 yards in the first half.
Running back Christine Michael also made 102 yards from 17 rushes, including a 44 yarder on the team’s first drive. The Seahawks dominated from start to finish, stopping the Cardinals on their first drive before making 88 yards from 12 plays- leading to their first touchdown.
Coach Pete Carroll will have been impressed with his team’s clinical performance on the road, showing them in good shape ahead of the playoffs.
The electrifying Antonio Brown made 13 catches for 187 yards and one touchdown as the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Brown 28-12 to make it into the AFC playoffs at the expense of the New York Yets.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from his two interceptions and three sacks in the week 16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens as he completed 24 out of 36 passes for 349 yards and 3 touchdowns.
While the Steelers offence rallied, so did the defence- sacking Cleveland’s replacement quarterback Austin Davis a huge 7 times. The only negative for the Steelers was the ankle injury to running back DeAngelo Williams in the first half.
The Cincinnati Bengals will now host the Steelers in what could prove to be a tight AFC wildcard meeting. Pittsburgh previously beat the Bengals 33-20 in week 14, having also lost 16-10 to the Bengals back in week 8.