NFL Week 16 Takeaways: Biggest Takeaways from 2022 Christmas Eve Games
As the bitter cold gripped several cities across the United States and impacted several games on the Week 16 Christmas Eve slate, a quarterback rose to the occasion and looks like the favorite to win NFL MVP.
In the early kickoff games, we didn't just see battles between ground attacks in frigid temperatures. The Kansas City Chiefs cruised to victory thanks to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who's played exceptional football this season. He didn't compile eye-popping numbers, but he essentially kept his team in the mix for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings found another incredible way to win against a playoff contender. While they're flawed on defense, the team put together a complete performance on Saturday.
With Saturday's results, we're set to see at least two big-time battles for division crowns in the final two weeks of the season.
Let's go though some key takeaways from the Christmas Eve contests with a look ahead toward the playoffs and an early projection for the league's most prestige regular-season award.
Rookie Tandem Keeps Steelers' Playoff Hopes Alive on Emotional Night
On the night that the Pittsburgh Steelers retired the late Franco Harris' No. 32, they saw a glimpse of what their future may look like for years to come in a 13-10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Steelers didn't make it into the red zone until their final offensive drive, but they made it count. Rookie first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett connected with first-year wideout George Pickens on a 14-yard touchdown pass to cap a 10-play, 76-yard drive. On the ensuing possession, Cameron Sutton picked off Derek Carr, who threw three interceptions on the night.
Both teams had a sloppy performance in frigid temperatures, but Pickett had a highlight drive with several passes to running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth to keep the Steelers alive in the hunt for an AFC wild-card spot.
Pickett went 26-of-39 passing for 244 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The Steelers missed two field goals, but in the end, their rookie signal-caller led them to victory.
On the opposing sideline, Carr went 16-of-30 passing for 174 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions with a 42.2 passer rating. Though tight end Foster Moreau deserves some criticism for one of those interceptions, the Raiders' signal-caller had a poor performance and overthrew a number of passes. In frosty conditions, the Steelers had a better showing from their quarterback who finished with an 81.6 passer rating.
As Pickett learns to play the position on the pro level, the Steelers offense could make significant strides with Diontae Johnson, Freiermuth and Pickens on the perimeter along with Harris in the backfield.
Patrick Mahomes Is the Clear-Cut Front-Runner for League MVP
Patrick Mahomes played a role in all three of the Kansas City Chiefs' touchdowns in a 24-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks. He went 16-of-28 passing for 224 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for eight yards and a score. After his touchdown on the ground, fans at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium chanted "MVP!"
While Mahomes didn't light up the stat sheet, he tacked on decent passing numbers as the league leader in yards and touchdowns through the air going into Week 16. With Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (sprained shoulder) uncertain to play for the remainder of the season, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Chiefs signal-caller should be in the pole position for league MVP honors.
Though the Chiefs locked up the AFC West title last week, they can still claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so Mahomes will continue to accumulate passing numbers against the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders in the final two weeks of the season. In his first meeting against those teams, he threw for seven touchdowns and three interceptions combined.
Mahomes could become a two-time NFL MVP.
Bengals, Bills Win Turnover-Filled Games Ahead of Playoff-Caliber Week 17 Matchup
Three teams have a chance to claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC. While the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Seattle Seahawks with few bumps in the road, the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills had sloppy wins on Saturday.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Bills pulled away from the Chicago Bears to win 35-13, but quarterback Josh Allen threw two interceptions and wideout Gabe Davis lost a fumble in Bears territory.
Allen threw two interceptions in three consecutive games between Weeks 8 and 10, so his turnovers can come and go. The Bills need him to take care of the football against a Super Bowl-contending team that's forced five turnovers in its last two games. Buffalo cannot afford to give quarterback Joe Burrow more possessions.
Speaking of Burrow, he scorched the New England Patriots' ninth-ranked pass defense in the first half, but the Bengals signal-caller cooled off after halftime and finished with 375 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Cincinnati didn't score in the second half of the contest and wideout Ja'Marr Chase had a costly fumble in the fourth quarter. Still, the Bengals won 22-18.
The Bengals will host the Bills in the final Monday Night Football matchup of the regular season. In the event that the Bills lose, the Chiefs will take over the top spot in the AFC if they beat the Denver Broncos in Week 17. The Bengals would slip into the No. 1 slot with a win and a Kansas City loss because the Bengals beat the Chiefs in Week 13.
We're sure to see some fireworks in a big-time AFC matchup with the No. 1 seed up for grabs.
Panthers Are Playing Their Best Before Crucial NFC South Battle with Buccaneers
Don't write the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in as the NFC South division winners yet. Whether the Buccaneers win, lose or tie with the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas, they could fall out of first place in the division with a loss to the Carolina Panthers next weekend.
Keep in mind that the Panthers dominated the Buccaneers 21-3 in Week 7. Now, they're coming off arguably their best game of the season, knocking off the red-hot Detroit Lions 37-23. Carolina controlled the contest with its ground attack, rushing for 320 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries. Running backs D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard ran for 125-plus yards apiece.
Since the Panthers fired Matt Rhule, interim head coach Steve Wilks has led this team to a 5-5 record. With a run-first offensive formula and a solid defense, Carolina could find its way into the playoffs.
As the Panthers look to maintain momentum from a quality victory, the Buccaneers will stumble into their Christmas Day game with the Cardinals as losers in three of their last four outings.
With a 17-10 win over the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, the New Orleans Saints kept their division title hopes alive. Carolina will likely need to beat Tampa Bay (in Week 17) and New Orleans (in Week 18) for the top spot in the NFC South.
Vikings Seem Destined for a Deep Playoff Run
In consecutive weeks, the Minnesota Vikings have won in dramatic fashion. Last week, the Vikings overcame a 33-point first-half deficit to beat the Indianapolis Colts in overtime, and they topped the New York Giants with a game-winning 61-yard field goal in a seesaw battle on Saturday.
In the final seconds of regulation, Greg Joseph made the career-long field goal to give the Vikings an exhilarating 27-24 victory at home.
Even though Joseph made the play of the game with his leg, the Vikings' heavily criticized defense and special teams unit deserve some credit for this win as well. Minnesota forced two turnovers on its side of the field and blocked a punt that set up the offense on a short field for a touchdown drive, and those were key plays that helped it overcome New York's 445-353 total yards advantage.
Sure, Kirk Cousins threw for three touchdowns, T.J. Hockenson caught 13 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns and Justin Jefferson captured the team's receiving yards record for a single season with 133 receiving yards and a touchdown, but Minnesota won Saturday's outing with solid play in all three phases of the game.
Already set to host a first-round postseason contest, the Vikings may be a team primed for a deep playoff run with a shot to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 57.
Titans' Loss Sets Up AFC South Title Showdown with Jaguars in Week 18
The Tennessee Titans dropped their fifth consecutive game, losing 19-14 at home to the Houston Texans, who have the league's worst record (2-12-1).
Since Week 12, the Titans have gone into a complete funk. On top of that, they'll probably have to finish out the 2022 season without their starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, who underwent surgery on his ankle this week and is "unlikely" to return for the playoffs, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
On Saturday, rookie third-rounder Malik Willis made his third start in place of Tannehill and went 14-of-23 passing for 99 yards and two interceptions. He also rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown. However, unlike Week 8, Willis couldn't manage the offense in a winning effort over the Texans. The first-year signal-caller threw interceptions on the Titans' final two drives of the game.
Looking ahead, the Titans have a tough matchup with the Dallas Cowboys on a short turnaround in Week 17 and then they'll play the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat them in Week 14.
As of right now, the Jaguars are the better squad, winning four of their previous five games with a quarterback in Trevor Lawrence who has a hot hand, throwing for 13 touchdowns and just one interception since Week 10.
Tennessee won back-to-back AFC South titles heading into the 2022 campaign, but Jacksonville may be ready to change the guard in the division.
49ers Are the NFL's Hottest Team with Third-String QB Brock Purdy
Who saw this coming? No one.
Going into Week 17, the San Francisco 49ers have the league's longest win streak, which stands at eight games. Even more impressive, Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an ankle injury in Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins, but rookie seventh-round quarterback Brock Purdy has helped lead San Francisco to four consecutive wins by an average margin of about 17.3 points.
Since Purdy took over for Garoppolo, he's thrown for eight touchdowns (two in each of the previous four games) and two interceptions with a rushing score. The first-year signal-caller has completed at least 65.4 percent of his passes in all of those contests.
Of course, Purdy has had support from a top-10 ground attack that's racked up at least 121 yards in four straight outings and a stout defense that hasn't allowed more than 20 points in a game since Week 7.
With that said, a team typically struggles with a backup quarterback, let alone a third-stringer, but the 49ers haven't skipped a beat with Purdy and one of the NFL's most complete rosters. They're ready for postseason action.
Despite Eagles' Loss, Gardner Minshew Can Lead Them to NFC's No. 1 Seed
In a 40-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles came up short in a chance to clinch the NFC's No. 1 seed, but Gardner Minshew played well enough to give his team a shot to win. He went 24-of-40 passing for 355 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, lost a fumble and rushed for a touchdown.
Minshew made mistakes with three turnovers, but the Eagles defense gave up 40 points, which is the most that unit has allowed in a single game this season.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Jalen Hurts may sit out again next week because of a sprained shoulder. If that's the case, Minshew is capable of leading the Eagles to a win for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, assuming he takes better care of the football.
In the final two weeks of the season, the Eagles will host the New Orleans Saints, who came into Saturday's games with the 22nd-ranked scoring offense, and the New York Giants, whom they beat 48-22 in Week 14.
Regardless of Minshew's play, Philadelphia cannot allow opposing offenses to go up and down the field and put immense pressure on a banged-up starting quarterback or his backup.
Ron Rivera's QB Decision Won't Make or Break Commanders' Playoff Push
The Washington Commanders benched Taylor Heinicke after he threw an interception in the four quarter of Saturday's 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Heinicke went 13-of-18 passing for 166 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and lost a fumble. In relief duty, Carson Wentz completed 12 out of 16 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Following the game, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera didn't name a starting quarterback for Week 17, which leaves a somewhat critical decision to make for the final two games.
Washington will finish the season as hosts to the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys. At 7-7-1, they must focus on winning out with the Seattle Seahawks (7-8) and Detroit Lions (7-8) on their heels and the Green Bay Packers (6-8) still alive for a wild-card spot.
After a Week 6 win over the Chicago Bears, Washington placed Wentz on injured reserve, and he underwent surgery on his finger. Meanwhile, Heinicke helped lead the Commanders to five wins in eight games (5-2-1).
Following back-to-back losses, Rivera may try to spark the offense with another quarterback switcheroo, but he should be careful with that thought. Before Wentz went on injured reserve, Washington scored 17 points or fewer in four consecutive games and had a 2-4 record.
Nevertheless, regardless of who starts under center, the Commanders should rely on their 11th-ranked ground attack. Coming into Week 16, their next two opponents, the Browns and Cowboys, tied for 24th in rushing yards allowed per contest.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.