NFL Week 16 Studs and Duds

It was 70 degrees at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where the first wintry Super Bowl is scheduled to be held in just 42 days. The insanity drove me to wonder just what the NFL will do if -- by God -- unseasonably warm weather corrupts the championship! What will we do? Is there a makeup date if it gets too hot? OH MY LORD!!!

Yes, Week 16 drove me a bit batty and perhaps you as well. We got a clearer view of the 2013 playoff picture, but not before another round of finishes that featured equal parts intrigue, stupidity and competitiveness. Let's take a closer look at some of the highs and lows we experienced:


1. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers linebackers: Quarterback Cam Newton will get plenty of deserved credit for leading the fourth-quarter drive that gave the Panthers a playoff-clinching victory over the New Orleans Saints. But Kuechly and Davis kept the Panthers in the game in the 58 or so minutes before then. According to press box statistics, the pair combined for 38 tackles -- including 24 by Kuechly. They each intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and their play kept the Panthers close while their own offense struggled. (The Panthers are the first team in two years to win a game without converting a single third down, according to ESPN Stats & Information.) The Saints ran 81 plays and held possession for 38 minutes, 48 seconds, a disparity that Kuechly and Davis went a long way in helping to achieve. Further review could alter the precise tackle totals, but anyone who watched knows that both players were all over the field.

2. Responding to a loss, New England Patriots: Really good teams do exactly what the Patriots have pulled off this season. They have won the next game after all four of their losses, by definition avoiding anything close to a slump or losing streak. The most recent example was Sunday's 41-7 pounding of the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots have rebounded in each case against teams with winning records: the Ravens (8-7), Denver Broncos (12-3), Miami Dolphins (8-7) and Saints (10-5). What does that mean for the Patriots' chances to win the Super Bowl? That's a tricky question. Obviously, it takes only one loss to be eliminated from the field. But the Patriots' relatively consistent results during the regular season elevate the chance that they will avoid a dud performance in the postseason.

3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos quarterback: Yes, Manning broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a regular season Sunday, an accomplishment that has seemed inevitable since he threw seven in Week 1. (His four against the Houston Texans brought the season total to 51.) But as it turned out, the Broncos needed those scores to ensure a victory over the Texans and, along with it, the AFC West title. The Broncos were locked in a tight 16-13 game when the fourth quarter began, after which Manning responded with three touchdown passes to account for the final 37-13 score. Next up for Manning: Breaking Brett Favre's career record of 508 touchdown passes. Manning is at 487 -- and counting.

4. Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator: With the Cardinals' season on the line, Bowles drew up a defensive scheme that held the Seattle Seahawks to their worst offensive performance at home this season. The Seahawks managed 192 yards and 10 first downs, and converted only two of 13 third downs. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked four times, throwing for a career-low 108 yards, and running back Marshawn Lynch was limited to 11 yards in the second half. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has an offensive background, but one of the best things he did in his first season is hire Bowles and maintain the Cardinals' defensive advantage. The Cardinals did the unthinkable Sunday: They went to Seattle and out-hit the Seahawks. That's why they're still in the NFC playoff mix as we approach Week 17.

5. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback: Dalton has had a streaky season, but the Bengals can rest assured that he is approaching the playoffs on a strong note. He has thrown nine touchdowns in his past three games without committing a turnover, and Sunday he threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns to clinch a playoff spot with a 42-14 victory over the admittedly hapless Minnesota Vikings. Dalton has sparked as much discussion as any other quarterback in the NFL this season, but the bottom line is he has led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his three seasons. Compare that to the Vikings, who passed on Dalton in the 2011 draft and almost certainly will be looking for another quarterback three years later.

6. Philadelphia Eagles: Nothing that happened Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field had any impact on the Eagles' postseason hopes. Because of earlier results, the Eagles knew by late afternoon that no matter the outcome of their game against the Chicago Bears, they would need to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East and advance to the playoffs. So it's worth wondering how much to read into their 54-11 shellacking of the Bears. Did the Eagles romp because they were playing a carefree, meaningless game? Would they have played the same way if it carried the pressure of a postseason berth? It was only one week ago, after all, that the Eagles were absorbing a 18-point loss to the Vikings. Because it's the holiday season, I'll give the Eagles the benefit of the doubt.


1. This season, Part 1: A single play in the Bengals' victory over the Vikings offered a microcosm of what the 2013 season has been like for many of us. Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson had several steps on two Bengals defenders on a deep route, but quarterback Matt Cassel underthrew him. As Simpson slowed down, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick collided violently with him and shoved Simpson to the ground with his right forearm. The ball bounced off the top of Kirkpatrick's helmet and finally into the gut of an equally oblivious George Iloka for an interception. So there you have it -- bad quarterback play, a missed pass interference call, poor ball awareness by an out-of-control defender and ultimately a turnover that was in no way forced. All in one handy play!

2. This season, Part 2: Bad decisions, inexplicable mistakes and debatable officiating calls marred the end of yet another game -- this time at Lambeau Field. All of the following happened after the 2-minute warning. Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn fumbled at his own 17-yard line while trying to convert a third down in a tie game. The Packers then committed encroachment on a Pittsburgh Steelers field goal attempt, providing a first down. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin decided against running down the clock and kicking the game-winning field goal, instead taking the touchdown the Packers were more than willing to give him. The Packers got themselves in position to tie the game, but a false start on the goal line forced a 10-second runoff and left the Packers with the ability to run only one play in the final 20 seconds of the game. (A sequence that included, of course, a questionable loss of three or four seconds after the false start penalty.) For our sanity's sake, we won't even get into another instance of the dreaded "illegal bat" penalty.

3. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions coach: The Lions were 6-3 through Week 10 this season, competing in a division against three teams whose starting quarterbacks were injured. Since then, the Lions are 1-5 and have tossed away the biggest gift any NFL team received this season. Sunday's home loss to the New York Giants eliminated the Lions from playoff contention in a year in which they should have clinched the NFC North weeks ago. That collapse should tell Lions ownership everything they need to know about Schwartz and his program, which will have missed the playoffs in four of five years. Schwartz helped make the franchise competitive after it bottomed out at 0-16 in 2008, but five years is a fair amount of time to elevate it to the next level. Schwartz has failed to do so. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday that Schwartz's contract has $12 million remaining. So if the Lions bring him back in 2014, we'll know it's solely because the Ford family doesn't want to pay the buyout.

4. Robert Griffin III trade, Washington Redskins: It has come to this. If the Redskins lose their season finale at the New York Giants and the Houston Texans win at Tennessee, the Redskins likely will have to ship the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 draft to the St. Louis Rams. That's right. The Redskins and Texans would finish with identical 3-13 records, but it looks like the Texans wouldn't overcome the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker. (We'll see the official standings Monday morning.) The Rams own the Redskins' first-round pick in 2014 as final payment for the 2012 trade that allowed the Redskins to select Griffin -- who, as is fitting for this season, spent his second consecutive game Sunday as a healthy deactivation.