A winner: Chiefs vs Saints, with Brees back to face Mahomes
A December rite in the NFL, along with Christmas, Hanukkah, and meaningless games for the Jets, Bengals, and Lions, is the release of playoff scenarios.
These scenarios get less complicated as the league gets deeper into the month. Suffice it to say, eight of the top teams can win something this weekend.
The main focus is of course on two of the clubs that are already in the playoffs: the defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City (12: 1) in New Orleans (10: 3).
Kansas City owns the AFC West Crown and takes first place in the AFC with one win plus losses from Pittsburgh and Buffalo. With just one goodbye for this season's playoffs, that's huge.
New Orleans takes NFC South with a Buccaneers win or loss. The race for the conference number 1 is tight, the Packers one game ahead of the Saints, the Rams and Seahawks one game behind.
Drew Brees will be active after missing four games with broken ribs and a collapsed lung, leading to a fascinating matchup with Patrick Mahomes.
"You want to play against the great quarterbacks you saw growing up and who you looked up to and how they played the game," Mahomes said before the Saints announced Brees' return on Friday.
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill is a player to watch. He is tied for the NFL leadership on touchdowns at 14.
In the meantime, Brees has to do without the star-wide recipient Michael Thomas, who has had a tough season after winning the "Offensive Player of the Year 2019" award. He was excluded from the game with an ankle injury. Thomas had played two games after several injuries, in which he had left 100 yards in the last four games - with Taysom Hill at the quarterback.
The action started on Thursday evening with a little more football. Rookie Justin Herbert completed a 53 yard pass for Jalen Guyton, who set up Herbert's touchdown sneak from inside the 1 when the Los Angeles Chargers won 30-27 in Las Vegas. The chargers (5-9) had lost nine in a row within the AFC West.
Las Vegas (7-7) had scored a field goal in the only other possession of the extra time.
Bills 48, Denver 19
The Bills took their first AFC East title since 1995 on Saturday. Their previous 11-win season was in 1999.
Josh Allen threw two touchdowns and ran two more. The Bills (11-3) scored two goals in 17 seconds in the third quarter, icing their fourth straight win, officially ending the New England Patriots' eleven-year tenure at the top of the division.
The Broncos (5-9) lost their fourth straight season for the first time in 10 consecutive campaigns under 500 from 1963-72. They were also the first team to go five years without the playoffs after a Super Bowl title
Packer 24, Panther 16
The Packers, currently on the NFC, had a great first half and then held out. Aaron Jones rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown, Aaron Rodgers threw for a season low of 143 yards but produced a touchdown pass - his 40th of the season - and a touchdown run for the Packers. Rodgers is the first player in NFL history to throw at least 40 touchdown passes in three different seasons. He had 45 during his 2011 MVP campaign and 40 in 2016.
Green Bay (11-3) won his fourth straight and took a half-game lead over New Orleans (10-3) in the race for the NFC's best record. The Packers own the tiebreaker.
The Panthers (4-10) have lost eight of their last nine games.
Seattle (9-4) in Washington (6-7)
The Seahawks will reach a playoff place with a win or a tie for the eighth time in nine seasons. What happens inside the 20-yard line could be telling: Seattle's red zone offense is the second best in the league with a success rate of 74.5%, and Washington's defense in the red zone is second best at 50%.
Every team has a dangerous defender who can swing too. Seahawks Safety Jamal Adams has 8 1-2 sacks, most in one season with a defensive back, since sacks became official status in 1982. Washington End Chase Young, number 2 in the draft, leads rookies with 5 1- to 2 sacks. Last week against San Francisco he had a sack, a forced fumble, and a 47 yard fumble return for a TD.
New England (6-7) in Miami (8-5)
A defeat means no playoffs for New England as there is a run over eleven seasons. Of course, Tom Brady is now playing in Tampa Bay.
One of Miami's strong points is takeaway. The Dolphins streak, with at least one forced turnover in 19 consecutive games, is the longest in the NFL. Miami ranks at the top of the NFL with 25 takeaways and second in the revenue gap with plus-10. Xavien Howard's nine interceptions are the most in one season in the NFL since Chicago's Tim Jennings had nine in 2012. Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson is second with seven interceptions.
Tampa Bay (8-5) in Atlanta (4-9)
A great matchup for Brady as the Bucs try to overcome a 13 year playoff drought, the second longest string in the NFL behind Cleveland. You need a win and an unlikely connection between Minnesota and Chicago. Brady is 6-0 and has thrown for 1,908 yards and 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions in six career starts against the Falcons, all with New England. That includes the performance of 466 yards on the Super Bowl comeback four seasons ago.
With outstanding recipient Julio Jones unable to stay healthy, Calvin Ridley of Atlanta has stepped up. He had eight catches for 124 yards and one touchdown last week. His six 100-yard games are tied for the NFL leadership.
"It's always difficult when you miss a great player, there's no question about that," said QB Matt Ryan of Jones. `` When he's out there, he's a differentiator for us. ''
Detroit (5-8) in Tennessee (9-4)
Tennessee takes a playoff spot with a win and a loss in Baltimore, or by winning and losing the Dolphins and the Browns winning.
Derrick Henry, whose Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson compared to Jim Brown, ran for a season high of 215 yards and scored two TDs against Jacksonville. He is the first player to play four career games with at least 200 yards of rushing and two or more TD runs.
Detroit has lost to Tennessee five times in a row, and CB Jeff Okudah, number 3 in the draft, had surgery to repair a groin injury at the end of the season.
Jacksonville (1-12) in Baltimore (8-5)
Look here for a focus.
The Ravens have run at least 100 meters in 36 consecutive games, seven less than the NFL record Pittsburgh set in 1974-77. Baltimore lies an average of 173.8 meters on the ground and has exceeded 200 meters in each of the last two games. QB Lamar Jackson leads the NFL with an average of 6.3 yards per carry and ranks 10th in the league with 793 yards of rushing.
In Jacksonville's dire season, including losing its last 12 games, James Robinson becomes the fourth uncovered rookie in NFL history to rush 1,000 yards. He leads all rookies this season in scrimmage yards (1,361), rushing yards (1,035), rushing attempts (224), first downs (65) and rushing TDs (seven).
Houston (4-9) in Indianapolis (9-4)
Philip Rivers keeps reaching milestones. He has 417 career touchdown passes and takes three to put Dan Marino in fifth place. Rivers would also make his 238th career start, placing Tony Gonzalez at # 8 on the league's all-time list.
While the Colts are right on the postseason mix, the Texans are one of the NFL's biggest flops. Particularly embarrassing was last week's 36-7 against Chicago's incompetent offense.
New York Jets (0-13) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
Did someone say mismatch? Invoke the Rule of Grace?
The NFL's best defense - that would be the Rams - faces the NFL's worst offensive. The Rams are also frontrunners in the league in defending passes, and the Jets are last in defensive passports, a main reason they appear to be heading for their third 0-16 season in NFL history.
Additional incentive for the hosts: Los Angeles wins a place in the playoffs with a win.
Pittsburgh (11-2) in Cincinnati (2-10-1) Monday night
The only salvation for this prime time matter is that the Steelers can secure the AFC North title if Cleveland loses or Pittsburgh wins. Pittsburgh has dominated the series, winning 11 in a row and 14 in the last 15. The Steelers drive a series of 70 games with at least one sack, an NFL record.
Probably the only reason for this matchup on a Monday evening in December was the presence of Bengal's QB Joe Burrow. Sorry he will be absent with a torn knee.
Cleveland (9-4) at New York Giants (5-8)
The Browns are 3-0 against NFC East teams this season and are 9-4 for the first time since 1994. With another win, the Browns achieve their highest overall victory since their rebirth in 1999. In 2007 they went 10: 6 in the lead. For the first time since 1968 they have scored more than 40 points in consecutive games, but Cleveland has allowed 82 points in the last two games.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones was constrained by a thigh problem last week and is now struggling with ankle problems. Another loss for New York could destroy all post-season hopes, even in this weak league.
Philadelphia (4-8-1) in Arizona (7-6)
Former Sooners QBs Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts are there.
Hurts won his first career start last week, replacing Carson Wentz and leading a surprise over New Orleans. He's got to take care of Haason Reddick. The Cardinals had eight sacks in their win over the Giants last weekend and Reddick set a franchise record with five sacks. Philly turned in 53 bags, but Hurts was not caught by the Saints.
Murray has also led the Cardinals to a 3-0 record against NFC East and won those games 94-32.
San Francisco (5-8) in Dallas (4-9)
Under the original NFL schedule, this was Sunday night's game. It shows how far these teams have fallen that the league brought it to the afternoon. America's team?
With one more loss, San Francisco will become the second team in the last 13 seasons to end with a record loss in the season after losing the Super Bowl. Carolina went 6-10 in 2016.
The Cowboys have allowed a league high of 400 points (30.8 per game), 36 less than the franchise record set 10 years ago. The seven points admitted against Cincinnati last week were the fewest since a 31-6 win over Miami in week 3 last season.
Chicago (6-7) in Minnesota (6-7)
Yes, both teams are alive in the playoff race? I am not sure if anyone deserves this.
The bears and vikings occupy eighth place in the NFC, one game behind Arizona for last place on the wildcard. Chicago has won its last two games in Minnesota. The last time the Bears had three straight wins against the Vikings was 1983-85.
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