With their 47-7 win over the Lions on Saturday, the Buccaneers claimed a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. However, their slim NFC South title hopes had already become obsolete by the time they took the field in Detroit on the day after Christmas. That’s because the Saints clinched the division for the fourth straight season with their win on Christmas Day, assuring the Bucs—at best—the NFC’s No. 5 seed.
At 10-5, Tampa Bay actually could finish with the same overall record as New Orleans. All it would take is a win over the Falcons in Week 17 combined with a Saints loss to the Panthers. It’s the two head-to-head losses at the hands of their rival that could be the Bucs’ undoing, but as Bruce Arians has said since Saturday’s game, his team has gotten to the dance. From here, anything can happen.
It’s Wednesday. You know what that means. Before we move on to next week or the playoffs, it’s time for a look at what went down around the NFC South in Week 16.
New Orleans Saints (11-4)
The Saints took down the Vikings on Christmas Day to clinch the NFC South title, winning 52-33 inside the Superdome. Minnesota hung around early, with New Orleans taking a 14-7 lead into the second quarter. The home team built on that lead and went up 24-14 by halftime before the visitors came back and made it a 31-27 ball game heading into the final 15 minutes. But from there, it was all Saints. A 21-6 run to close the game left no doubt, giving New Orleans its 11th win of the season. The Saints lost the turnover battle 2-0, yet they still outgained the Vikings 583-364.
Alvin Kamara made all the difference for New Orleans, rushing 22 times for 155 yards and six touchdowns, tying the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a single game. He could’ve had seven, but Taysom Hill got a carry at the one in the fourth quarter and found the end zone. Drew Brees completed 19 of his 26 passes in the game for 311 yards, but he was intercepted twice. It wasn’t a marquee day for the vaunted Saints defense, which allowed 291 yards and three touchdowns to Kirk Cousins, as well as 73 rushing yards and a touchdown to Dalvin Cook. New Orleans did total two sacks and nine quarterback hits in the victory, however. The Saints need a win and some help in Week 17 to clinch the NFC’s lone first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Up Next: at Carolina Panthers (5-10)
Carolina Panthers (5-10)
The Panthers played spoiler in the nation’s capital on Sunday, beating the Washington Football Team 20-13 to keep them from winning the NFC East for another week at least. A fumble recovery by Brandon Zylstra in the end zone gave Carolina a 6-0 lead in the first quarter before the visitors added 13 more in the second quarter to take a 20-0 lead just before halftime. A field goal cut it to 20-3 heading into the locker room, but Matt Rhule’s defense held strong enough in the second half to finish off the victory. Despite being outgained 386-280, the Panthers won the turnover battle 4-2. Two of those turnovers were interceptions thrown by Dwayne Haskins, with Tahir Whitehead and Tre Boston both getting one. Zylstra recovered one of Washington’s fumbles, while Jermaine Carter picked up the other.
Teddy Bridgewater lost a fumble and threw an interception, but he did enough to earn the Panthers their fifth win. He completed 19 of his 28 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, connecting five times with Curtis Samuel for 105 yards. Samuel was also Carolina’s leading rusher, totaling 52 yards on just seven carries. Plus, in addition to forcing four turnovers, the Panther defense totaled three sacks and eight quarterback hits. Marquis Haynes, Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos picked up the team’s sacks. Carolina also stood tall in the red zone, forcing Washington to go 0-for-2 inside the 20-yard line.
Up Next: vs. New Orleans Saints (11-4)
Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
The Falcons played the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs to a weird game in Kansas City on Sunday, nearly pulling off the upset before falling 17-14. After a scoreless first quarter, Matt Ryan and Hayden Hurst connected for a five-yard pass with 3:35 left in the second to get the scoring started. A Patrick Mahomes-to-Travis Kelce touchdown 30 seconds before halftime tied things, but Atlanta’s defense continued to stifle Kansas City’s potent offense, holding it scoreless in the third quarter. The Falcons even took a 14-10 lead with 4:33 to go thanks to a five-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Laquon Treadwell, but the Chiefs responded. Mahomes found Demarcus Robinson for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:55 left to take a 17-14 lead. Atlanta’s offense gave the team a shot to tie the game late, but a rare Younghoe Koo miss—from 39 yards out—sealed the win for the Chiefs and gave them the AFC’s top seed for the playoffs.
Ryan outplayed Mahomes in the game, completing 27 of his 35 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns. The MVP-worthy Mahomes was held to just 278 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-44 passing, plus he threw an interception. Calvin Ridley had another monster game for Atlanta, catching five passes for 130 yards. Before Foyesade Oluokun intercepted Mahomes in the third quarter, Keanu Neal intercepted Sammy Watkins on a trick play in the second quarter. It wasn’t the performance the Chiefs expected when hosting the four-win Falcons, who played well but ultimately couldn’t get the job done.
Up Next: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5)