Thank you for continuing to read, this has been a difficult week with all the information needed to write the end of the season and final week recaps. If you haven't read parts 1 and 2, I strongly suggest looking at them because there are some awesome numbers and great players included in them. We will finally find out who took the last spot in the AFC playoffs, and the playoff schedule for this week is at the end.
Cleveland Browns 7 - Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Three of Cleveland's four wins this season, were earned from week 3 to week 5, they proceeded to win one more game, in week 9, and dropped everything else. They had a carousel of quarterbacks, going from Brandon Weeden, to Brian Hoyer, back to Weeden, and they finished the season with Jason Campbell. Worse for this offense, however, was the complete lack of a running game. The Browns had five running backs with at least 20 carries on the season, and they combined for 1,383 yards, on 348 attempts, with a grand total of four touchdowns scored. The touchdowns were split between Edwin Baker and Willis McGahee, who had two each. McGahee was the leading rusher, technically, carrying the ball 138 times for 377 yards, and a paltry 2.7 yards per carry average. The most effective runner, however, would be none other than the great Chris Ogbannaya, who gained 4.7 yards per carry, but he couldn't get into the end zone and only carried the ball 49 times for 240 yards. Baker, the second year back, has already been a part of four teams in his short career, but he was given his first carries when he made it to Cleveland. He was the starter for the final two games of the season, rushing for 69 yards on 18 carries against Pittsburgh, and finishing with 171 yards on 43 rushes in his three games.
Hoyer was hurt after playing well in his first three starts, and Campbell ended up starting the majority of games for Cleveland. None of the three quarterbacks completed even 60 percent of their passes, and Campbell was 180 for 317 with 2,015 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The finale against the Steelers essentially summarized Campbell's whole season, as he completed 23 of his 41 passes, for 240 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The turmoil at quarterback didn't seem to affect receiver Josh Gordon, or tight end Jordan Cameron, as both young players had break-out seasons this year. Gordon missed the first two games of the season serving a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and in those first two games Cameron blew up, and never looked back. Cameron finished the season with 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, including three scores in Cleveland's first win of the season against Minnesota. Gordon gained more than 200 yards in two straight games this season, the first player to do so in NFL history, and he ended the season with 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns, in only 14 games.
Cleveland is sending five players to the Pro Bowl, including Gordon and Cameron, and Joe Haden, Alex Mack, and Joe Thomas are heading to Hawaii. Haden is the best player on a defense that is, if nothing else, stout. Cleveland's defense was 23rd in points allowed, but they were ninth in yards allowed. The Browns were hurt on defense by short fields. Their defenders didn't put up any outrageous stats, but they were solid players, and it's a young defense. Haden was second with four interceptions, to Tashaun Gipson, who had five and a return for a touchdown.
Rookie Barkevious Mingo had five sacks on the season with limited snaps. D'Qwell Jackson is the only defensive player that is 30 or older. Rob Chudzinski was fired as head coach, after just one season.
Pittsburgh needed to win for a chance to make the playoffs, but they also needed a bunch of losses to help them out. They took care of their side, although if they had played better earlier in the season they wouldn't have needed the help to start with, but the Chargers didn't coöperate. Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions in the season finale, but Le'Veon Bell and a defense that forced two turnovers themselves, helped to bail him out. Bell, the rookie running back out of Michigan State, immediately solidified a running game that couldn't do anything in the first part of the season. Bell was on the PUP list (physically unable to play), and couldn't return to the team until Week 6. He didn't gain a lot of yards in his first start, but he scored two touchdowns in the loss to Minnesota. Bell had a good season in his first year, although he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, he did score eight touchdowns in 10 games, and rushed for 860 yards, which is good for the most yards by a Pittsburgh running back since 2011.
Antonio Brown had a huge year, in his first season as the Steelers' number one receiver. He caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns. Brown also threatened teams as a return man, scoring a touchdown on a punt return, and gaining 409 yards on 32 returns. Veteran Jerricho Cotchery led Pittsburgh in receiving touchdowns, hauling in 10 scores on his 46 receptions. The Steelers' offensive line is very young, and they seemed to have come together towards the end of the season. In order for the running game, and Roethlisberger to improve, the line must play better. When the season began there was a lot of talk about Roethlisberger and offensive coördinator Todd Haley being at odds, and the possibility of Haley being fired. Roethlisberger, though, had one of the best seasons as a passer that he's had in his career. He threw 584 passes and completed 375 of them for 4,261 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
On defense the Steelers showed their age on multiple occasions. They have begun to get a little bit younger, with the additions of players such as Jason Worilds, Cameron Heyward, Javier Jones, among others, but the main pieces of the defense are getting up there in age, most notably Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, and Ike Taylor. They played well for most of the season, and finished 14th in points allowed, but they didn't get the turnovers that are expected from a Dick LeBeau defense. Polamalu still flew around everywhere, picking the ball off twice, and returning for a touchdown, recorded two sacks, and forced five fumbles, recovering one. Lawrence Timmons is a great inside linebacker, he got to the quarterback three times, and picked off two passes. Jason Worilds led the team with eight sacks, while starting the most games of his career with 11.
Washington Redskins 6 - New York Giants 20
Battle of the two worst teams, in the NFC's worst division. The Redskins are showcasing Kirk Cousins, most likely to push for a trade in the off-season. Cousins did not put on a great show in Week 17. He completed only 19 of his 49 passes for 169 yards and threw two interceptions. Cousins played in five games, with three starts, and he threw seven interceptions to four touchdowns, completing just 81 of his 155 passes for 854 yards. Robert Griffin III was slightly more successful, but while the Redskins were very good at moving down the field this season, they were terrible at getting the ball in the end zone. Griffin threw 456 passes, completed 274 of them, and threw 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, gaining 3,203 yards through the air. Griffin ran the ball 40 fewer times than in his rookie year, and scored zero touchdowns rushing this season. Alfred Morris had a solid year at running back, and he rushed for seven touchdowns, while gaining 1,275 yards on 276 carries. Pierre Garcon broke Art Monk's record of 106 catches in a single year, all the way back in 1984, by catching 113 passes for 1,346 yards, but he only scored five times. Washington was ninth in the NFL in yards gained, but 23rd in points scored, and the defense gave up over 100 more points than the Redskins scored.
The offense also turned the ball over 34 times, and forced the defense to consistently need to hold up on a short field. Brian Orakpo was the star of the defense, recording 11 sacks, and besting his career best of 10 set in his rookie year, and returning his one interception for a touchdown. Orakpo will be a free agent this off-season. Ryan Kerrigan had eight sacks, and DeAngelo Hall continues his mostly overrated career with four interceptions on the season, two of which he scored on. Mike Shanahan was fired almost immediately, even though it's been reported that it would cost around $13 million to buy out the final year of his contract.
The Giants put together a four game winning streak, after starting the year 0-6, but that streak was nothing but false hope for fans of the team. They would ultimately win seven games for the season, but two of those wins were against the hapless Redskins, and the Lions gave them the win in Week 16. New York looked bad in almost every facet of the game this season. Even playing the Redskins in Week 17, they couldn't make plays on offense, and seemed intent on losing the game. Except for Jerrel Jernigan, who ripped off two runs for 57 yards and a touchdown, and caught six passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Jernigan ended the season with two straight weeks catching six passes and scoring a touchdown, previously he hadn't scored in his career, and he had only caught more than three passes once, when he caught seven passes in Week 15. Victor Cruz was the Giants best receiver this year, but that's almost just by a technicality. He only caught four touchdown passes, with 73 total catches for 998 yards. Reuben Randle caught six touchdown passes, to lead the Giants in touchdowns. Eli Manning was harassed by the pass rush most games this season, which contributed largely to the Giants' inability to make plays. The line couldn't block for the run either, and only one running back gained four or more yards per carry,
Brandon Jacobs carried the ball 58 times for 238 yards and four touchdowns. André Brown had the most carries with 139, but he only scored three touchdowns and gained 492 yards. The lack of a running game made things worse for Manning and the passing attack. Manning was sacked 39 times, but he led the league with 27 interceptions, only threw 18 touchdowns and completed just 317 of his 551 attempts for 3,818 yards.
New York's defense couldn't overcome the turnovers by the offense, but they managed to finish 18th in points allowed. Trumaine McBride picked off Cousins both times, which were McBride's only interceptions of the season. Justin Tuck had 11 sacks, but six of those 11 sacks came in two games against the Redskins. Antrel Rolle was probably the most consistent player for the Giants this season, he had six interceptions, and recovered a fumble, while getting to the quarterback twice and recording 77 tackles.
Denver Broncos 34 - Oakland Raiders 14
Passing touchdown record one week, passing yards record the week after, total points scored in a season, what else can the Broncos offense do? In the season finale, the Broncos didn't have much to worry about. The worst that could happen to them in the playoffs would be second seed, and the Raiders aren't exactly world beaters. Instead of taking it easy, however, Peyton Manning completed 25 of 28 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns. Manning ended the season with 55 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, completing 450 of 659 passes for 5, 477 yards. In an NFL that makes passing easier, and harder to play defense, Manning took full advantage, putting together, statistically, one of the best season's a quarterback has ever had. He received lots of help from his receivers, with four players catching 10 or more touchdowns, and five players with at least 60 receptions.
Knowshon Moreno was finally healthy, and he broke out in a big way. Moreno was one of the five players with 60 catches, catching exactly 60 passes for 548 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 241 times for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns, for what was easily the best season of his career. Third year tight end Julius Thomas, was on fire, pulling in 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. After stealing Wes Welker from the Patriots, Manning threw 10 touchdowns to him, and Welker gained 778 yards on 73 receptions. Although he seemed like an afterthought in most games, Eric Decker had his second straight 1,000 yard season with 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns, including a four touchdown game against Kansas City in Week 12. After a breakout season in 2012, Demaryius Thomas continued to show why he's one of the best young receivers in the NFL, catching 92 passes for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns. In Week 17, Thomas added to his totals, catching two touchdowns and six passes for 113 yards.
Denver's offensive line not only opened huge holes for Moreno, they kept defenses off of Manning. Manning was sacked only 18 times for the season, and was rarely under significant pressure. The line lost Ryan Clady early in the season, and fifth year pro, Chris Clark, stepped in at left tackle and performed admirably in Clady's place.
Denver's defense wasn't very good at keeping opponents out of the end zone, of course when the offense is scoring the points they were, you don't have to worry as much about keeping other teams out. They did have some positives come out of it as players like second year linebacker Danny Trevathan showed the ability to make big plays in the this league. Watching Trevathan was exciting because of his athleticism. He moved around the field quickly and forcefully, coming away with 84 total tackles, three interceptions (one of which should have been a touchdown, but he unfathomably dropped it before he made it into the end zone), two sacks, while forcing three fumbles. Von Miller missed the first six games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and was lost for the season after just nine starts, when he tore his ACL against the Houston Texans. Shaun Phillips came over from San Diego, and he racked up 10 sacks, to make up for what was lost with Miller. The Broncos were also without Champ Bailey, who battled with a hamstring injury all season, but they have some young talent in the secondary with Chris Harris, Kayvon Webster, and Duke Ihenacho.
Terrelle Pryor's agent was inexplicably angry that Pryor was going to start in Week 17, but Pryor did start, and statistically didn't have a terrible game. He completed 21 of 38 passes, for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Pryor lost his starting job to Matt McGloin for most of the season. Neither quarterback was very efficient, or successful. Both quarterbacks completed less than 60 percent of their passes, and Pryor barely edged out McGloin with 1,798 yards passing, while McGloin threw eight touchdowns and eight picks, and Pryor threw seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Pryor had a very good season, for a quarterback, on the ground, scoring two touchdowns on 83 carries for 576 yards, which was almost 200 more than Darren McFadden had on the season. Rashad Jennings was the leading rusher, starting in place of the of-injured McFadden, carrying the ball 163 times for 733 yards and six touchdowns. The leading receiver was Rod Streater with a grand total of 60 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns. The Raiders' offensive line was mediocre at best, although they were without the incumbent starting left tackle, as well as his replacement for most of the season. Oakland actually recorded three sacks in the game, including one by LaMarr Houston for his sixth of the season, and Sio Moore had one to raise his total to 4.5 sacks in his rookie year.
St. Louis Rams 9 - Seattle Seahawks 27
The Rams were looking to end the season on a high note, since Week 10 they had been 4-2 with a blowout win over the AFC South champion Colts, in Indianapolis, and they beat the New Orleans Saints. They went into Week 17 with a two-game winning streak, and ran into the brick wall that is the Seahawks defense. Zac Stacy, the surprising rookie running back, rushed for only 15 yards on 15 carries. Stacy averaged just 3.9 yards per carry on the season, but he brought credibility, excitement, and consistency to a running game, that wasn't producing much in the way of yards, or points. He scored more touchdowns on the ground, with seven, than the entire team had last season (five), and he rushed for 973 yards in his rookie year.
Sam Bradford was injured, for most of the season, but in the seven games he played, Bradford threw only four interceptions, and 14 touchdowns. He completed 60.7 percent of his 262 attempts, for 1,687 yards. Many people talk about getting a new quarterback in St. Louis, but I don't think that's a very good idea because Bradford is a good player and he has shown improvement as his career has progressed. Kellen Clemens started nine games in replacement of Bradford, and while Clemens showed he is a serviceable back up, he made too many mistakes. He threw only eight touchdowns to seven interceptions, and he completed 59 percent of his passes (which is, admittedly, not far off of Bradford's 60.7), for 1,673 yards. Clemens benefited from the late emergence of rookie receiver Tavon Austin. Drafted high because of his ridiculous athleticism and speed, Austin had trouble getting on the field early in the season, but once he started getting the ball, big plays followed. With only three starts on the season, Austin had more catches than anyone other than Jared Cook, although that should be taken with a grain of salt because Austin only caught 40 passes, but he did have four receiving touchdowns, including an 81 yard touchdown on a crossing route against the Colts (he also had a 98 yard punt return for a touchdown, and a 57 yard touchdown catch in that game), and totaled 418 yards on the season. Austin added a 65 yard rushing touchdown, for a total of six touchdowns this year.
The most impressive part of the Rams' season was easily their defense. Robert Quinn has established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the league with a 19 sack season, with seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. Chris Long played well on the other side, with 8.5 sacks of his own, two fumbles recovered and a touchdown. My recommendation for the Rams in the draft is Jadeveon Clowney (assuming that he won't bring his tendency to play lazily to the NFL) because with him, Quinn, and Long rushing the passer, they could be a nightmare for quarterbacks. Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree led the team with 95 tackles, and he forced six fumbles, and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown. Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are great young corner backs, who can only benefit from adding another pass rusher. St. Louis finished 13th in points allowed and forced 29 turnovers.
Seattle, has, the most dominant defense in the NFL, and I'd be willing to say that it's one of the most dominant I've ever seen. In the new offensive minded NFL, the Seahawks allowed only 14.4 points per game, and only gave up more than 30 points once, in a loss to the Colts. They forced 39 turnovers, and in spite of the rules making it more difficult to play defense, particularly against the pass, they gave up only 10 passing touchdowns and 2,752 yards through the air, while teams only completed 59 percent of their passes. Even after losing their second corner back, Brandon Browner, to a year-long suspension, the Seahawks were almost impossible to beat through the air, or on the ground. The addition of players like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, who recorded 8.5 and eight sacks, respectively, helped to solidify their defensive line, particularly against the run. Earl Thomas is, in my opinion, the best safety in the NFL. His speed allows him to make plays that no other safety can even get to, and he hits incredibly hard, especially considering he was thought of as being too small to play safety. He is all over the field every game, and that resulted in five interceptions, two forced fumbles, and 75 tackles (50 of which were solo). If Thomas is the best safety, Richard Sherman is easily the best corner in the NFL. Sherman is at his best in man coverage, especially when he is pressing the receiver, but he can play any coverage as well as, or better than, any other corner back in the NFL. He led the NFL this season eight interceptions, one of which was a touchdown, and he also recovered two fumbles, even though according to , he only was targeted 58 times. Byron Maxwell had a great season, filling in for Browner.
The best part of the Seahawks defense, to me, is they basically fly in the face of what the NFL is trying to accomplish with rules changes. They dominate with coverage and physical play, having more coverage sacks than quick rush sacks (that's not a documented fact, but it certainly seems to have legitimacy). Bruce Irvin was moved to outside linebacker, and makes a great team with K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner.
On offense Seattle has more explosion than they have in a couple of years, but they aren't all the way there. Marshawn Lynch had 301 carries for 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he just flat-out runs hard. Lynch is rarely going to be tackled by one defender and he even more rarely falls backward. Russell Wilson second season was actually very similar to his rookie year. He completed 257 of 407 passes for 3,357 yards with 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. Wilson is very good at keeping plays alive, but he is also more likely to end up finding an open receiver as he's moving around, than to just take off because he can't find someone to throw to. Three players caught five touchdown passes, but Golden Tate was the leading receiver for Seattle this season. Tate caught 64 passes for 898 yards, and pissed people off everywhere with his trash talking. The Seahawks defense is well-known for their constant chattering, particularly Sherman, and I love how much they talk because they always back it up.
Kansas City Chiefs 24 - San Diego Chargers 27
And now for the game that would ultimately decide the sixth seed in the AFC. The Chiefs didn't have anything to play for in this one because they couldn't alter their playoff spot was going to be the same, win or loss, and they sat many of their starters, including Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith, Tamba Hali, and Dontari Poe. Even with the starters on the bench, Kansas City almost pulled out the win, which would have put Pittsburgh in the playoffs. If Ryan Succop hits a field goal with time winding down, the Chiefs would have won the game, but he missed (and the referees apparently missed that San Diego had too many players overloaded to one side of the line, which would have been a penalty and re-kick), and the Chargers won in overtime.
Chase Daniel wasn't exactly an All-Pro in this game, but he did complete 21 of his 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown, with no turnovers. Knile Davis also had a good game, the rookie rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. The Chiefs were sixth in points scored, and fifth in points allowed this season, but the team was carried by its defense. In the Chiefs' five losses, they let up 27 plus points (they also gave up 31 points to the Raiders, but that was in a game that Kansas City scored 56 points, due, in large part, to Charles scoring five touchdowns), and in 10 of their 11 wins, they allowed no more than 20 points.
Derek Johnson, played one of the most complete seasons of his career with 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, two fumbles recovered, and 95 tackles. Eric Berry is completely healed from his ACL injury a couple of years ago, and is lined up to challenge Earl Thomas for best safety. Berry had three interceptions this season, returning two of them for touchdowns, recorded 3.5 sacks, and was used as the primary cover man against some of the best tight ends the Chiefs faced. He can do it all as a safety, and he has the size to play in the box and cover bigger tight ends. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali both had 11 sacks on the season, although Houston missed the last five games of the season, and Hali battled injury the last half of the year. When they are both on the field, it is tough to give your quarterback time to throw.
Charles was the primary threat on offense, rushing for 1,287 yards on 259 carries, with 12 touchdowns, but he also caught 70 passes for 693 yards and seven touchdowns. Charles has a legitimate case for MVP this season. Anthony Sherman, Kansas City's fullback, deserves a lot of credit, along with the offensive line, for the holes they opened up to give Charles room to run. Alex Smith played incredibly efficient football for the Chiefs, which is an underrated quality in quarterbacks. Smith threw 23 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions, completing 308 of his 508 pass attempts for 3,313 yards. Andy Reid did a masterful job of turning this team around from last year's miserable 2-14 season, but most of the players were already here, he just got them to play to their potential.
San Diego almost gave the playoffs away to a bunch of back ups, but that doesn't mean they will be a push over either. Ryan Mathews has run better than previous years, which has been helped by him finally being healthy. Against the Chiefs he had 144 yards on 24 carries. He played in all 16 games for the first time in his career, and scored six touchdowns on 285 carries for 1,255 yards. When the Chargers signed Danny Woodhead away from the Patriots, I'm not sure if they expected the production they ultimately received. Woodhead was second on the team with 76 receptions, and he scored six touchdowns, gaining 605 yards. Woodhead can be a bit of a match up nightmare because he is a smaller player with speed, and can get lost coming out of the backfield.
Rookie receiver Keenan Allen exploded on the scene for San Diego, gaining 1,046 yards in his first season and catching eight touchdowns with 71 total receptions. Allen was thrown into a larger role when Malcolm Floyd went down with a neck injury in just the second game of the season. Allen responded, and he was the primary punt returner for the Chargers, although he did muff multiple punts this season. Veteran Antonio Gates played slightly below his normal level, but he still led the team with 77 catches, gaining 872 yards and scoring four touchdowns.
Phillip Rivers bounced back from a couple of down seasons to complete 69.5 percent of his 544 passes for 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Rivers is a great quarterback, in spite of an unorthodox throwing motion, and he is loud on the field. He's always talking, which is something many quarterbacks stay away from, and many fans and "experts" frown upon.
San Diego's defense was unexpectedly stingy, as far as points allowed is concerned, giving up 21.75 points per game, good for 11th in the league. Eric Weddle seems to have become the leader of the defense, if not the best player they have. He led the team in tackles, from his free safety position, and two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Embattled rookie linebacker Manti Te'o wasn't extraordinary, but he was solid in his 12 starts, and has set himself up for improvement over the next few years. San Diego has a host of young talent on their defense, including Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes who recorded 5.5 and five sacks, respectively, from their defensive end positions in the Chargers 3-4 scheme. San Diego may have slid into the sixth spot in the AFC playoffs, but they have won their last four games, and they have played good football on both sides of the ball.
This weekend's playoff schedule:
Things will kick off this Saturday at 4:35 PM EST, on NBC,
#4 Indianapolis Colts vs. #5 Kansas City Chiefs.
The second game on Saturday will be aired on Fox at 8:10 PM EST,
#3 Philadelphia Eagles vs. #6 New Orleans Saints.
Sunday's games begin at 1:05 PM EST on CBS with,
#3 Cincinnati Bengals vs. #6 San Diego Chargers.
Last but not least, at 4:40 PM EST on Fox,
#4 Green Bay Packers vs. #5 San Francisco 49ers.
Everyone enjoy your Wild Card Weekend because there will be some awesome football played! Thank you for reading this long recap, and for sticking with me the last half of the season, there is a lot more coming up and I hope y'all continue coming back to check things out! Don't forget to register and comment!