After week 16, nobody in the AFC north is guaranteed anything and two quarterbacks in the NFC are showing why they're two of the best in the league as the Packers and Lions easily do away with their opponents.
St. Louis Rams 0
Pittsburgh Steelers 27
This was essentially a bye week for the Steelers. Quarterback Charlie Batch (15/22, 208 yards)got the start with Ben Roethlisberger battling a high ankle sprain, and the way the running game and the defense was dominating, the Steelers didn't need their hobbled star QB. Pittsburgh ran for 169 total yards and three touchdowns by three different backs including rookie John Clay who on the first rush of his career ran in a ten yard touchdown. Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall had the other two TDs for the black and gold. Wide receiver Antonio Brown set a Steelers record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,048, breaking former running back Barry Foster's mark of 2,034 set back in 1992. Receiver Hines Ward had four catches for 32 yards but those four grabs leaves him needing only five more receptions to have 1,000 on his career. Ward is already the all-time franchise leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns. The Pittsburgh defense recorded it's second shut out this season, aided by two missed field goals by the Rams' Josh Brown. St. Louis running back Steven Jackson earned his 7th consecutive season rushing for over 1,000 yards after running for 103 on the day, Jackson is only the 7th player in the last seven seasons to run for over 100 yards against the Steelers' defense.
With the win, the Steelers are now 11-4 and still locked in a tie for first in the division with the Ravens. Pittsburgh has clinched at least the #5 spot in the playoffs and still have a chance at a bye and possibly the #1 spot in the playoffs if they beat the Browns and the Ravens and Patriots lose next week.
Arizona Cardinals 16
Cincinnati Bengals 23
The Bengals' offense did just enough to squeek out this win as the running game racked up 165 yards on 34 carries. Quarterback Andy Dalton had two touchdown throws on the day including one to Jerome Simpson that went 19 yards ending in a play that made Simpson head over heels (literally) as he front flipped over a defender into the end zone. The Bengals' defense looked stout forcing three interceptions on the day but in the fourth quarter the Cardinals made it interesting, scoring 16 points in the final frame before a last chance fourth down pass near the end zone fell to the turf sealing the victory for Cincinnati.
The win puts the Bengals in a position to clinch the final playff spot next week against the Ravens. If the Bengals lose and if the Jets, Titans, or both Broncos and Raiders win, the Bengals would need to rely on tie-breakers to get into the playoffs to face the Texans in the first round.
Cleveland Browns 14
Baltimore Ravens 20
How the Ravens continue to win with the bare minimum is astounding right now. Baltimore gained only 284 total yards but it was enough to barely pull out a win against the punch-less Browns. Joe Flacco was under 50% passing on the day but had two touchdowns to Ed Dixon and Ray Rice. Rice added 135 all-purpose yards on the day and continued to prove that when the ball is in his hands, the Ravens look like a competent offense. Cleveland's Peyton Hillis had 112 yards rushing against the Ravens defense, this raises a bit of a red flag because if the Ravens can't be dominant on defense they can't continue to be mediocre on offense.
This win keeps Baltimore in the driver's seat in the division race, a win next week or a Pittsburgh loss clinches the division and a bye week for Baltimore.
Another loss for the Browns drops them to 4-11 and positioning for the 4th-6th pick in the 2012 draft.
Minnesota Vikings 33
Washington Redskins 26
The Vikings just got Adrian Peterson back last week and on back to back plays Minnesota lost him and quarterback Christian Ponder to injuries. Backup running back Toby Gerhart continues to impress, rushing for 109 yards on only 11 carries while quarterback Joe Webb subbed in for Ponder and scored 3 touchdowns on the day (2 passing, 1 rushing). The Vikings running attack gained 241 total yards on the ground.
Peterson reportedly tore his ACL and MCL in his knee after getting hit on that knee by the helmet of a Redskins' defender, it is unclear at this point how long the injury will keep him out, but there is the possibility that he could miss all of the 2012 pre-season and maybe (though unlikely) the season opener.
The win does snap a six game losing skid for the Vikings, but their record still has them in position for the #3 overall pick in next year's draft.
Chicago Bears 21
Green Bay Packers 35
Sometimes a loss can be a good thing for a team. A week removed from an abysmal performance by the Packers in their week 15 loss to the Chiefs, Green Bay's offense came out on a mission. Led by superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers (21/29, 283 yards, 5TD), the Packer offense looked dominant on almost all fronts. The running game still looks underwhelming (81 yards led by Ryan Grant's 44) but luckily the Packers don't need to be strong on the ground when Rodgers is as dominant as he was on sunday. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson had six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns leading all receivers while James Jones also added a pair of touchdowns. Green Bay's defense continues to be the weak link on this team, allowing 441 yards of offense including 199 yards on the ground, but added to their +20 turnover margin on the season adding two interceptions. The Bears once again looked mediocre without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, though running back Khalil Bell may be playing his way into the #2 spot next year after running for 121 yards in this game.
With the win the Packers improve to 14-1 and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The loss drops the Bears to 7-8 and are in line for between the12th and 16th pick in the draft.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The Packers have gained 5932 total yards while giving up 6010 total yards. This should worry Packer fans going into the playoffs since normally a team with fewer yards gained than yards given up doesn't even make the playoffs. If Green Bay doesn't continue to capitalize on mistakes, the post-season could be short for the Pack.
Game of the Week
San Diego Chargers 10
Detroit Lions 38
No, this isn't your normal close game of the week that was decided by a last second drive. This whooping gets my game of the week because it clinches a playoff spot for the Detroit Lions for the first time since 1999. Matthew Stafford continues to be the hot hand for the Lions, completing 29/36 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns including 102 yards and one TD to stud receiver Charles Johnson. The Lion's defense looked dominant early before the Chargers went into come back mode and starting throwing the ball all over the field (Phillip Rivers threw 53 times in this game), the defense did force two interceptions including a 4 yard touchdown return by Cliff Avril.
Detroit clinched the top wildcard spot in the NFC with this win, right now it looks like they'll face the winner of the Giants-Cowboys game next weekend. It may be interesting to see how this team plays in week 17 against the Packers with both offenses looking dominant in week 16
Offensive Player of the Week
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay, QB) – 21/29, 283 yards, 5 TD
Rodgers' 5 TD edges out Matthew Stafford fot the OPOTW, he'll need to keep up numbers like this if the Packers expect to repeat as champs.
Defensive Player(s) of the Week
Pittsburgh Steelers defense – Shut out the St. Louis Rams
No stand out defensive performances plus their second shut out on the season gives the Pittsburgh defense the DPOTW.
Green Bay Packers 14-1 (clinched homefield advantage throughout playoffs)
Detroit Lions 10-5 (#5 spot in the NFC)
Chicago Bears 7-8
Minnesota Vikings 3-12
Baltimore Ravens 11-4 (#2 seed in AFC)
Pittsburgh Steelers 11-4 (#5 seed in AFC)
Cincinnati Bengals 9-6 (#6 seed in the AFC)
Cleveland Browns 4-11
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS