The 32 things we learned from Week 16 of the 2019 NFL season:
1. Saturday games > Sunday games, which were a letdown — at least in terms of enjoyable contests loaded with broader meaning, after an exciting trio of matchups kicked off the weekend.
2. That said, hats off to also-rans like the Giants, Redskins, Bengals, Dolphins and others. The aforementioned quartet had nothing to play for but pride — in fact, losing actually meant better position in the 2020 draft — but NFL players are nothing if not prideful. Some exciting football from what projected to be dog games at first blush.
2a. And kudos to the Jets, Julio Jones, Arizona and many others who showed professionalism when it’s almost time to pack it up. Let’s not accuse any NFL team of tanking again. That’s the purview of the NBA and Major League Baseball.
3. Cincinnati scored 23 unanswered points in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter to force overtime at Miami … only to lose to the Dolphins. The No. 1 pick of the 2020 draft now belongs to the Bengals … and we’re so glad that LSU’s Joe Burrow is such a proud Ohioan.
3a. In case you were wondering, Dan Wilkinson (1994), Ki-Jana Carter (1995) and Carson Palmer (2003) were all drafted first overall by the Bengals. None experienced a playoff win with Cincinnati.
4. Public service announcement: With fantasy football over and most of the NFL’s divisions and wild cards clinched, you’ve got the option of partying late next Saturday night … or, um, running errands Sunday. Not much to see in Week 17 until the 49ers and Seahawks tee it up for the “Sunday Night Football” finale to cap the regular season. The NFC West crown will be at stake, and home-field advantage might be as well.
5. Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens (and their 12 Pro Bowlers, which ties a record). The two-time Super Bowl champions are the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time in their 24-season history.
6. Must have been tough for fans in Cleveland watch their “former” team continue to have so much success … and especially against their current “team.” The Browns’ playoff drought officially extended to 17 seasons, longest in the league.
7. The Rams were also knocked from postseason contention, the fifth team in the last decade to participate in a Super Bowl but not reach the playoffs in the subsequent campaign. Hangovers are real.
8. The Ravens may very well need the next two weeks off (they host the Steelers in Week 17) after QB Lamar Jackson, RB Mark Ingram, CB Marcus Peters and others absorbed a physical toll.
9. However even if Jackson doesn’t play in the regular-season finale, his MVP résumé accrued more bullet points Sunday. His 36 TD passes are a new Ravens single-season standard (and most ever by a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback). Jackson is now the first player in league history to pass for 3,000 yards while rushing for 1,000. He’s now topped 100 rushing yards in five games (most by a QB in the Super Bowl era) and is the first quarterback to surpass 1,200 in a season. And he’s had a major hand in extending Baltimore’s club record win streak to 11. Jackson and Ingram are the seventh teammates to rush for 1,000 yards.
9a. Baltimore also topped 3,000 rushing yards as a team and needs 93 more to break the all-time record held by the 1978 Patriots (3,165).
10. Speaking of the MVP “race,” has Seahawks QB Russell Wilson — he did replace Matt Hasselbeck as Seattle’s all-time leading passer Sunday — been overtaken by Saints WR Michael Thomas in the stretch drive?
11. Bravo to Thomas, who caught 12 balls Sunday to boost his season total to 145, two more than the single-season record Marvin Harrison set in 2002. Now how far does Thomas push it in Week 17? Surely to 150 grabs and maybe even to 160.
11a. Thomas’ 270 catches (!!!) over a two-year span are also a new record.
11b. Thomas’ 5,475 career receiving yards have surpassed Randy Moss’ mark for most in a player’s first four NFL seasons.
12. And bravo to Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, whose 109 receptions mark a new single-season record for running backs … after McCaffrey reset the bar at 107 just a year ago. McCaffrey is the only back in league history to hit the century mark twice.
12a. “Run CMC” is now up to a league-best 2,294 yards from scrimmage, 10th best all time and 216 away from breaking Chris Johnson’s mark.
13. And the parity rolls on. For the 30th consecutive year, the playoffs will feature at least four teams — San Francisco, Green Bay, Minnesota and Buffalo so far — that didn’t qualify in the previous season.
14. But some things never change. The Patriots have now won the AFC East a record 11 times in a row. In fact, all four of the AFC’s division winners (Ravens, Texans, Chiefs) repeated in 2019.
15. Maybe the NFL really should strip automatic home games from division winners — if for no other reason than to make the ramifications of season-ending games even more compelling. Woulda helped next week’s lineup.
16. Overnighting 53-plus lumps of coal to Dallas. The Cowboys entered Sunday with the healthier, more talented team and needed only beat the battered Eagles to get into the playoffs. Alas, Dak Prescott, Zeke Elliott, Amari Cooper, Tank Lawrence, Byron Jones, Jason Witten, Jason Garrett et al. came up smallest in their season’s biggest moment.
16a. Conversely, give the Eagles all the credit in the world for limping within a win of their third consecutive playoff trip under Doug Pederson.
16b. And, yes, this narrative will be completely rewritten in seven days if Dallas knocks off the Redskins and the Eagles get ambushed by the Giants.
17. Patrick Mahomes, drafted eight spots after Mitch Trubisky in 2017, just had to tell the Bears “I told you so.” Love it.
18. You were warned that the Seahawks were significantly flawed — and I, too, love saying “I told you so” … even at Christmastime. Wink.
18a. That said, losing both of your top running backs is tough blow for any team to surmount.
18b. And from the silver linings playbook, maybe the fifth-seeded Seahawks are better off hitting the road, where they’re 7-1 this season, for the playoffs. They’ve been aces historically at CenturyLink Field in postseason, but are just 4-3 there in 2019.
19. Brilliant move by the Titans to sit RB Derrick Henry and his tender hamstring. It was a blow to fantasy owners, but Tennessee’s brain trust understood an inter-conference win over the Saints didn’t help them on the tiebreaker front. But a rested Henry in Week 17 could be the difference for a team that goes into the playoff field with a win at Houston.
20. Saints RB Alvin Kamara hadn’t scored since Week 3 but doubled his season TD total Sunday by finding the end zone twice in Nashville.
20a. I know you don’t care about my fantasy team, but I dragged Kamara and Saints TE Jared Cook all the way to my semifinals — while Thomas and K Wil Lutz dragged the rest of my team … only to lose. Naturally, those dudes combined for five TDs in Week 16, which would have meant a third USA TODAY Sports “ship” for ol’ Nate. Siiiggghhh.
20b. And for those of you who won fantasy championships while riding Andy Dalton or DeAndre Washington or Ryan Fitzpatrick or Daniel Jones or Steven Sims Jr. or Mike Gesicki … just know that no one out here in the real world has any respect for you.
20c. But if you jumped on the Kenyan Drake train all the way to a fantasy ring … props. (And what a season-ending flurry by Drake, who’s probably made himself a lot of money after escaping Miami.)
20d. Nice to see Saquon Barkley pile up a Giants single-game record 279 yards from scrimmage … but, through no fault of Barkley’s, he’d already killed nearly every fantasy team he was supposed to anchor this season.
21. The Raiders won’t play another home game in Oakland, but they can miraculously still give their fans a playoff trip. Basically, all the Silver & Black need is to finish in a four-way tie at 8-8 with the Colts, Steelers and Titans at the conclusion of Week 17.
22. Meet Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones, your NFC defensive player of the week for Week 16. I mean, four sacks in the upset of Seattle? Now up to 19 sacks, one of the league’s more unheralded star defenders pretty much put his second sack title in the last three seasons on ice.
22a. Jones’ second four-sack performance of the year also allowed him to break his own single-season club record.
23. Le’Veon Bell didn’t kill the Steelers on Sunday, but Duck Hodges (6 INTs last two games) did, much to Mike Tomlin’s chagrin. And current Jets Bell and assistant Hines Ward will have a very merry Christmas at their former club’s expense.
24. Tom Brady’s 539th TD pass tied him with Peyton Manning for second all time behind Drew Brees, who’s suddenly pulling away (544) now that he’s healthy. But Brady has spread his scoring strikes among 76 teammates, a feat unmatched.
25. After Brady’s teammate, CB Stephon Gilmore, was burned Saturday for his first TD of the year by Buffalo WR Smokey Brown, Bills Pro Bowl CB Tre’Davious White has now been targeted the most times (83) in 2019 without surrendering a score, per PFF.
26. Rooting for Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston to serve up his seventh pick-six of the season in Week 17. Any record is nice, right?
27. In case you were wondering why Will Grier fell to the third round of the draft … Unfair, I know, to assess a guy off one start, but you really have to wonder what the Panthers’ plan at quarterback will be in 2020.
27a. But it wasn’t Grier’s fault that the Colts’ Nyheim Hines took two punts to the house (one from 84 yards away and another from 71), something no player had done in seven years.
28. The Rams’ Tyler Higbee became just the fourth tight end in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to notch at least 100 receiving yards in four straight games.
29. Apparently no one in the Jaguars locker room was yelling, “Win one for Tom.”
30.Happy Holidays, Vernon Butler. You, sir, are a prince.
31. Bummer for Redskins QB Dwayne Haskins, who was having the best game of his rookie season (12-for-15 for 133 yards and a pair of TDs) before an ankle injury prematurely ended his day.
31a. Speaking of Washington, still can’t believe interim head coach Bill Callahan didn’t go for two points and the win after the ‘Skins scored a TD with 29 seconds left in regulation. But Callahan opted for a game-tying PAT … the final point of the Redskins’ overtime loss to the Giants.
32. Finally, some serious stocking stuffers before you go: Six players weighing at least 300 pounds have scored TDs this season.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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