I'm offering up an abbreviated version of this column today given that it is still the Christmas holidays and I have not quite said farewell to some of the symptoms of Covid-19. But I just had to check in with you all after what was an NFL Sunday I will never forget.
I had worked every Sunday show for 10 years on Sky Sports but was isolating as the Week 16 action unfolded. But in order to avoid a serious case of FOMO, I worked seven and a half hours from my kitchen. Game breaks were filled with frantic family dashes to the kettle and the fridge. I also managed to do a little bit of washing up while Kansas City were hammering Pittsburgh.
Oh, and provided updates on another wild night across the NFL.
While it was a memorable evening for yours truly, the same has to be said for Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. With Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott in an aggressive mood all night long, he put a big divisional game against the New England Patriots on the shoulders of his star man.
And Allen delivered in leading Buffalo to 33-21 win, throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 64 on the ground. He was at his theatrical best and it was enough to move Buffalo back into first place in the AFC East.
With home games against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets to come, the Bills look in great shape to take a division that appeared to be slipping from their grasp. And their formula for the remainder of the year is crystal clear – give Josh Allen as many chances as possible to do his thing.
Joe Burrow… Cincinnati's young quarterback was unstoppable in Sunday night's 41-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens. In moving the Bengals into top spot in the AFC North, Burrow threw for 525 yards (fourth-most in NFL history) and four touchdowns. When they get rolling with Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd at receiver, and Burrow in this kind of form, the Bengals are hard to stop. It's the Kansas City Chiefs and their stingy defense up next.
The Indianapolis Colts… No one is going to want to play Frank Reich's team when the AFC playoffs roll around. As each hour passed on Christmas Day, another key member of the Indianapolis Colts seemed to be added to the Covid list. And yet they went on the road and defeated the Arizona Cardinals behind some excellent play from Carson Wentz and another big Jonathan Taylor day. That's eight wins from their last 10 now.
Odell Beckham Jr… The Rams struggled at times when throwing the ball against Minnesota during Sunday's 30-23 win – their fourth in a row. But they did see OBJ catch another touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford – his fourth in six games with the Rams. He only reeled in seven touchdown grabs in 29 games with the Cleveland Browns. The Rams need their stars to shine and OBJ is playing his part.
The Arizona Cardinals… The Cards were the first NFL team to 10 wins this season but they are now riding a three-game losing streak. Arizona did, in fact, qualify for the playoffs on Sunday as they were handed a route via San Francisco and Minnesota losses. There is much to fix before the postseason because, just like last year, this pleasant surprise of a team appears to be running out of steam.
The Los Angeles Chargers… I can accept the Chargers dropping a Week 15 game to the Chiefs, especially as they pushed KC hard and the contest was decided in overtime. But a 41-29 loss to Houston is a bitter pill to swallow. But this is the Covid lottery we are dealing with now as the Chargers were without Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams and Joey Bosa. That's a lot of talent.
The Fast Five…
- The Chiefs were brutally efficient against Pittsburgh in recording their eighth win in a row. Patrick Mahomes and the offense were surgical before taking their foot off the gas, but the defense continues to be the big story. In their eight-win run, the Chiefs have allowed 103 points – that's an average of 12.8 per game.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians may have threatened to cut Antonio Brown for faking a Covid vaccination card, but the reality is that this controversial player is needed with Chris Godwin gone for the year and Mike Evans out until at least the playoffs. Tom Brady threw in Brown's direction 15 times in a 32-6 win over Carolina that gave Tampa their first division title since 2007. Brown hauled in 10 of those passes for 101 yards.
- The Dallas Cowboys locked up the NFC East before playing their Sunday Night Football game against Washington. So, I said on Sky Sports that this contest was about Dak Prescott finding some form ahead of the playoffs. The quarterback responded in a big way as he threw for 330 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a stunning 56-14 thrashing.
- Let's go back to Thursday night and the Tennessee Titans win over the San Francisco 49ers. I continue to be mightily impressed with Mike Vrabel's side. We keep writing them off and they sit second in the AFC playoff seedings with a 10-5 mark. The return from injury of A.J. Brown was huge and Derrick Henry could also be back for the playoffs. Dangerous.
- I have to give some credit to Houston for their big win over the depleted Chargers on Sunday night. This beleaguered team keeps rising up every now and then. Davis Mills is an intriguing prospect at quarterback but it's not just youngsters being asked to contribute. Rex Burkhead rushed for 149 yards and two scores.
Fact of the Week
Five teams clinched playoff berths in Week 16. The AFC booked its first playoff contestant as Kansas City won the AFC West, while Arizona, Dallas, LA Rams and Tampa Bay joined the already-in Green Bay Packers. Carolina, the New York Giants and Seattle were eliminated from playoff contention meaning, with two weeks to go, 24 teams remain alive in the race for the playoffs – that's the second-most in NFL history this late into a campaign.
You want to know how wacky this AFC playoff race has become? The Baltimore Ravens were blown out in a 41-21 beatdown at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, dropping their fourth in a row. And yet that result was enough to move the Ravens back into one of the AFC's seven playoff spots. This really is shaping up to be a very weird and entertaining season indeed. It's easier to just sit back and enjoy the ride rather than worry too much about all the permutations.