Welcome to the Fifth Quarter, the only NFL recap column you’ll ever need. It’s the only one to provide a full day’s supply of Vitamin C, after all. Here’s what was going on around the rest of the league while you were selfishly focused on your home team and your fantasy players.
Sixteen weeks, 239 games, and here we are: the end of the regular season. For most of the year, it was fairly predictable over in the NFC, with the Seahawks, Saints and 49ers standing as the best three teams in the conference and among the best in the league. But this is the NFL, and if you thought everything would settle into place nicely, well, you must be new here.
With one Monday night game and a regular-season week remaining, both the 49ers and the Saints find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs. It's a remote possibility, sure, but it's out there ... and given the recent spate of upset losses in the NFL, you probably shouldn't go betting the kids' college funds on the predictable outcome. Both teams are now in a fight with the suddenly hot Arizona Cardinals (I know, we can't believe it either) for two playoff spots.
Let's break it down. It all begins Monday night, with the 49ers facing the Atlanta Falcons in presumably the final game at Candlestick Park. Now, in most instances this year, you and ten of your friends could hang 28 points and 300 yards on the Falcons. And, yes, San Francisco is favored by 10, and any time you get into double digits you're looking at a likely flea-bitten dog of a game.
Still. It could happen. San Francisco could lose. If that happens, the 49ers will find themselves facing, yep, the Cardinals with the playoff berth on the line. If San Francisco wins on Monday night, the 49ers clinch a playoff berth, and then our eyes turn to New Orleans.
The Saints could win the NFC South, or they could end up out of the playoffs. New Orleans is facing Tampa Bay in Week 17, while Carolina, the Saints' rival for the division crown, takes on Atlanta. (Falcons fans wanted their team to make an impact on the postseason this year. Perhaps they should have been more specific in their wishes.) Should the Saints lose and the Cardinals win, well, the Saints go marching on into the offseason, to coin a phrase. Again, not likely ... but possible.
Bottom line: one of three very good teams is going to miss the playoffs while an at-best-woeful NFC North and a potentially mediocre NFC East team play on. Fair? Nope. That's why we predict Arizona will draft a petition to jump to the NFC North, college-football-style, in 2014.
Running down the biggest stories of Week 16. We'll try not to catch you offsides.
• The Romo Narrative and The Cam Narrative take flight. You know both the prevailing "narratives" — a word we're growing to hate this season — surrounding Tony Romo and Cam Newton: Nonclutch! Letting the team down! Me-first! When the game's biggest, they're smallest! Consider, for instance, Peter King's midgame Cam tweet:
Has Cam Newton made a play today? One?
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) December 22, 2013
Newton, of course, proceeded to lead the Panthers on a magnificent game-winning drive at almost the exact same time Romo was saving the Cowboys' season. What does this mean for The Narrative? Nothing. We'll all believe what we want to believe about both guys, even if they win five Super Bowls apiece. Still, good for them that both managed to hold off the wolves for another week.
• Ark weather. We love the idea of a Super Bowl in the snow. But what about a Super Bowl in torrential, biblical rain? Absofreakinglutely:
• Football overload. This week marked the first week of the season without Thursday Night Football, and even though the games were generally awful, they were comforting, like that old t-shirt with the mysterious stains that you really should have thrown out three moves ago. So when it was gone — the game, not the t-shirt — we felt a twinge of sadness and regret. The season is nearing its end. But that means we're now just a week away from FOOTBALLPALOOZA, where all 32 teams are in action on the same day. Strap in. It'll be a delight.
• All the touchdowns. For those of you for whom the Red Zone Channel is just too slow, here we present every touchdown from Sunday's games. Not included: the Eagles-Bears game, in which the Eagles hung 73 TDs on poor Chicago:
• Monkey riding a dog. This really needs no explanation.
We demand that halftime entertainment for every game henceforth. Make it happen, Mr. Goodell.
In which we recap every game in seven words. Ready ... go!
Buffalo 19, Miami 0. One week after beating Patriots, Fins flop.
Carolina 17, New Orleans 13. Cam's quieting doubters drive by winning drive.
Cincinnati 42, Minnesota 14. Andy Dalton's a four-touchdown ginger stud.
Denver 37, Houston 13. Not much longer now, Houston. Almost over.
Tennessee 20, Jacksonville 16. Played because it was on the schedule.
Indianapolis 23, Kansas City 7. Chiefs have lots to worry about ahead.
New York Jets 24, Cleveland 13. Jets stave off Rex's ouster a bit.
St. Louis 23, Tampa Bay 13. Rams can't wait for RG3 draft pick.
Dallas 24, Washington 23. Romo/Washington: resistable force vs. movable object.
New York Giants 23, Detroit 20. Hurts bad enough to inspire Bob Seger.
Arizona 17, Seattle 10. Cardinals cracked code to win in Seattle!
New England 41, Baltimore 7. You wouldn't like Brady when he's angry.
Pittsburgh 38, Green Bay 31. Set up just like Rodgers wants it.
San Diego 26, Oakland 13. Chargers still alive? Wait, is that right?
Philadelphia 54, Chicago 11. Suddenly, Eagles looking like a scary team.
Atlanta at San Francisco. Final game for historic, unloved Candlestick Park.
Champ: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers. In just his second year in the league, Kuechly has become the kind of field-tilting monster that makes defensive coordinators salivate. (Never a pretty sight.) In Sunday's game against New Orleans, one of the most crucial in Panthers history, Kuechly recorded 24 tackles. Dude probably tackled the Saints' team bus on the way to the airport, too. You're going to be hearing a lot more about him in the coming weeks.
Chump: Jay Cutler and the Bears defense. Oh, it was laid out so perfectly for Chicago. Everything had gone right for the Bears earlier in the day, giving them the opportunity to blaze into the postseason with a win against a team that had absolutely no need to win. (Philadelphia would be facing Dallas for the NFC title regardless of what happened Sunday.) The Bears and Cutler didn't just stink, they polluted the air around Philadelphia for miles around ... and if you know Philadelphia, that's an achievement. (Joke, Philly. Joke. Don't spit in my cheesesteak.) Anyway, Cutler set the franchise record for passing yardage and then threw a pick-six on the very next play, which is about as Cutlerrific as you can get.
Would you look at that? We knew Tom Brady was cozy with the refs! I mean, he's snuggling up to one of 'em right there! Gotta give this fan his proper respect; that's a long long LONG way to go to prove how much you loathe Brady. Or maybe he's dressing up like Wendy from Wendy's — not the new readheaded one who apparently dates guys with an unnatural burger fetish, but the original model. Must've been a long walk back to the car in that outfit after the game.
Got your own quality tailgate/party/fan photos? Hit us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share.
There's plenty of good writing every day on the NFL. Here are a few choice reads to keep you busy while there's no football. Because the other alternatives are talking to your family or doing chores, and nobody wants that. (Send us your favorite words of the week.)
• Punters are not defenseless, and they'd like it if you didn't refer to them that way. (Yahoo Sports)
• Kansas City's Dunta Robinson called out his own team; did he expose them as frauds? (Yahoo Sports)
• Enough talk about traumatic brain injury in the NFL; it's time for action. But what action could that possibly, realistically be? (Sports On Earth)
• What really went wrong with RG3 this season? (Grantland)
• Which teams are in the best salary cap situations, and which are in the worst heading into 2014? Good news for Oakland fans, bad news for Cowboys fans. (CBS Sportsline)
Each week, we’ll make a random Super Bowl pick based on trends, stats or general nonquantifiable gut feelings. One of these weeks, we’ll be right. Probably right after both conference championships.
Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia. Are we adding these teams just to cover our butts with playoff picks once the Super Bowl is set? You bet. Is this matchup going to happen? There's almost no way in hell. But could it happen? Absolutely. These two teams combined for nearly 100 points this week (against the NFC North, but still) and if everything breaks their way, they could find themselves in the Super Bowl, Ravens-in-2012 style. Of course, they'll have to go through Denver, New England, Seattle, San Francisco, et cetera, but let's be honest: are you sure that won't happen?
Super Bowl picks, full season: Denver 5x, Seattle 4.5x, New England 4x, New Orleans 3.5x, Kansas City 2x, Carolina 2x, San Francisco 2x, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Philadelphia.
And that's a wrap for this week's edition of Fifth Quarter. Got a question? Comment? Concern? Rant? Hit me up at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee. We’ll run your words here or in Thursday’s weekly letters column. For now, enjoy the week. It's not long 'til more football!