Schmuck: Patriots and Bills clinch playoff berths, Steelers have life and more takeaways from NFL Week 15

From a Baltimore perspective, it might have been nice to see the Cincinnati Bengals surprise the New England Patriots on Sunday and help shore up the No. 1 AFC playoff seed for the Ravens, but that was never going to happen.

For one thing, the Bengals and Patriots don’t live in the same competitive neighborhood, which was evident by the big betting line and proven by the Pats’ lopsided 34-13 victory at Paul Brown Stadium. For another, it’s tough for anybody to compete with Bill Belichick’s unorthodox advance scouting techniques.


So, the Patriots (11-3) clinched their 11th consecutive playoff appearance and can wrap up their 11th straight AFC East championship with a victory over the Buffalo Bills next week, which is a testament to the greatest coach/quarterback combination in NFL history and the fact that they get to play in professional football’s equivalent of the Powder Puff Division.

The victory over the Bengals kept New England mathematically alive for the No. 1 playoff seed, but that would require the Patriots to win their final two games and the Ravens to lose their last two. The Chiefs and/or the Bills also could — at least theoretically — finish with the same record as the Ravens, but it’s a week too early to lay out all the tie-breaker scenarios.

If the Ravens beat the Browns next Sunday, none of that matters.

Bills 17, Steelers 10: The Bills prevailed on Sunday night in what might have been the most consequential game of the day. The Bills needed to win to lock up a playoff berth and the Steelers needed to win to stay on what has been an amazing, unexpected two-month roll after starting the season 1-4 and losing future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

It wasn’t a pretty game. Both offenses struggled. Both teams turned the ball over. Both teams played very aggressive defense. And both teams still could be headed for the postseason.

The Steelers fell to 8-6, but they’re still tied with the Titans for the second AFC wild-card berth with a winnable game next week against the Jets before coming to Baltimore for a Week 17 showdown with the Ravens that might be very important for both teams.

Texans 24, Titans 21: The Texans have been hard to figure since they got squashed by the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 11. They bounced back to defeat the AFC South rival Colts and do the Ravens a solid by knocking off the Patriots, but you had to wonder what was up when they lost badly to the Broncos last week.

Well, when it really mattered Sunday, when they traveled to Nashville to face a hot Tennessee Titans team that was right alongside them in the standings, they stepped back up and took over sole possession of first place. They’ll play the Titans again in Week 17, so nothing is settled yet.

Chiefs 23, Broncos 3: Well, the weather outside was frightening, but the opposition wasn’t. The Broncos are playing out the string and rookie quarterback Drew Lock was understandably unprepared to play against one of the best teams in the league in a driving snowstorm at Arrowhead Stadium.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was not bothered at all by the elements and kept his team in position for a playoff bye if either the Ravens or Patriots take a dive in their final two games of the regular season.

Cowboys 44, Rams 21: The Rams were nice enough to clear up the NFC playoff picture considerably by falling completely apart in Dallas. The Cowboys, who have been stumbling around in the dark for the last few weeks, suddenly woke up and delivered the dominant performance that owner Jerry Jones has been publicly pleading for the past few weeks.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was all but unstoppable, rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns and leaving the Rams defense bruised and confused. Jared Goff and the LA offense were simply overwhelmed.

The lopsided victory set up an NFC East showdown between the Cowboys (7-7) and Eagles (7-7) next week in Dallas that likely will determine which .500 team will get to play in January.

The loss left the Rams in very bad playoff shape and allowed the 49ers, Packers and Seahawks to punch their tickets to the postseason, but it wasn’t a happy Sunday in San Francisco. The 49ers lost their grip on the No. 1 NFC playoff seed with their stunning home loss to the Atlanta Falcons.


Jaguars 20, Raiders 16: Though nobody was terribly worried about the Raiders crashing the postseason, they exited the stage in Oakland with an ugly come-from-ahead loss to a slumping Jaguars team that traveled coast-to-coast with absolutely nothing to play for.

The Raiders have played their last game in the Bay Area. They’re scheduled to move into Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Good luck with that.


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