Week 16 in the NFL started on Christmas Day with a huge performance by the New Orleans Saints and Alvin Kamara, who became the second running back in league history to rush for six touchdowns in a game. The Saints also clinched the NFC South with a victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed the Detroit Lions a lopsided loss while clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2005.Then, the San Francisco 49ers upset the Arizona Cardinals, who lost control of their own playoff destiny.
All that and more in Week 16‘s biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.
Brian Flores doesn’t care about conventional quarterback decisions or long-term effects. He does what he feels gives his team the best chance to win no matter what, as he showed by benching rookie Tua Tagovailoa for Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 26-25 win over the Raiders. Tagovailoa will remain the starter, but this is the second time Flores has made the bold move to bench his franchise quarterback, and it shows the second-year coach is confident he knows how his team will respond. Now the Dolphins are knocking on the door of their first playoff berth since 2016. Win next Sunday against Buffalo and they’re in. — Cameron Wolfe
Next game: at Bills (1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)
The way the Raiders were officially eliminated from the playoffs was oh so fitting. A blown coverage by Damon Arnette. A “horrific” face mask penalty on the same play by Arden Key. And, despite starting at their 25-yard line with 19 seconds to play and no timeouts to use, the Dolphins were suddenly in field goal range to win the game, and the Raiders were toast. Indeed, after a 6-3 start, the Raiders have lost five of six and probably should have lost at the Jets. The Raiders are 7-8 a year after going 7-9 and head to Denver next week. Derek Carr put up good numbers and had the Raiders in position to win, but he was clearly hobbled as Las Vegas was 0-for-10 on third down. What a depressing second half of the season for Las Vegas.— Paul Gutierrez
Next game: at Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)
If you didn’t believe in 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s head-coaching candidacy, you should now. Playing without Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt and Javon Kinlaw, among others, Saleh’s group found a way to limit Kyler Murray & Co. in an upset victory. Saleh’s defense has been ravaged by injury all season yet somehow has managed to keep the 49ers in most games, even as the offense has turned the ball over repeatedly in recent weeks. The win will hurt San Francisco’s draft positioning but should only bolster Saleh’s case for an available head-coaching position in the coming weeks.— Nick Wagoner
Next game: vs. Seahawks (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)
The Cardinals’ playoffs hopes are beginning to slip away after Saturday’s loss to the 49ers. All Arizona needed to do was win and the Cardinals would’ve stayed in control of their playoff destiny. Instead, they lost, and now have to rely on the Chicago Bears to lose their last two games for Arizona to make the postseason for the first time since 2015. — Josh Weinfuss
Next game: at Rams (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)
Brady helped end the NFL’s second-longest playoff drought by throwing four touchdown passes in a blowout win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday, clinching Tampa Bay’s first playoff berth since 2007. Brady, appearing in his 300th game in the same city where his career began — Detroit, 20 years ago on Thanksgiving Day — led five TD-scoring drives in the first half before giving way to backup Blaine Gabbert in the second half as the team compiled 588 yards of total offense. “It’s just the beginning. Our goal when we started out, especially this year, was just to get in the dance,” coach Bruce Arians said. “And now it’s to win 11 games. And see where we stand and where we’re going, know who we’re playing. Really, really proud.” — Jenna Laine
Next game: vs. Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)
What is there to say, really? It was a horrific loss for the Detroit Lions in score (47-7), in yards allowed (588) and in health (Matthew Stafford missed all but one series with a right ankle injury). This on top of the team going out there without its head coach, defensive coordinator, defensive line coach, linebackers coach and secondary coach, all of whom had to sit due to COVID-19 close contact protocols. It was one of the worst losses in the history of the franchise — and the worst loss at home in the Super Bowl era. “The issue was on offense we couldn’t stay on the field,” receivers coach/acting head coach Robert Prince said. “And on defense we couldn’t get off the field.” — Michael Rothstein
Next game: vs. Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)
Friday’s victory over the Vikings was another emphatic reminder the Saints can win games in a variety of ways. This time, it was Kamara’s NFL-record-tying six TD runs and a team total of 264 rushing yards (New Orleans’ second-highest total since 1986). That was huge on a day when the Saints’ receiving corps and defense were beat up by injuries, and they were playing on a short week. The Saints (11-4) still have an outside chance at the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Regardless, they now get some extra rest before Week 17, with a chance to heal up and peak in January. — Mike Triplett
Next game: at Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)
This is the worst defense the Vikings have had in seven seasons under coach Mike Zimmer, and the rebuild is going to take far longer than expected. Things should be better in 2021, assuming Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter return from injury and Michael Pierce comes back after opting out. The Vikings still need to overhaul the defensive line, particularly a 3-technique, after the unit generated one pressure on Drew Brees and the third-lowest rate (23.2%) of any team this season. “If you look at the playoff game last year and you look at the guys who were playing in that game and the guys who were playing today, it’s completely 100% different,” Zimmer said. — Courtney Cronin
Next game: at Lions (1 p.m. ET, Sunday Jan. 3)