Just when you think you have the NFL figured out, Week 16 happens.
Four playoff-bound teams lost Sunday, and three of those losses were ugly.
The Falcons ended the Panthers’ quest for perfection with a 20-13 win at Atlanta. The Rams stunned the Seahawks 23-17 in Seattle.
The Patriots lost 26-20 in overtime to the Jets. The Packers laid a big egg, falling 38-8 at Arizona.
Are those defeats a warning sign for any of these NFL heavyweights?
Here’s a ranking of the level of concern for each of these teams heading into the playoffs.
The Panthers have the least to worry about among this quartet of Week 16 upset victims.
The Falcons did the Panthers (14-1) a couple of favors. They removed the pressure to go unbeaten and forced the Panthers to play their starters next week because they still haven’t clinched the top seed in the playoffs. If the Panthers beat the Buccaneers at home next week, they’ll secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Panthers starters could have healed some bumps and bruises by sitting out next week and then having a first-round playoff bye, but the Panthers got away with blowing a 28-point lead against the Giants last week and needed a wake-up call.
That’s just what they got.
The Panthers also need Jonathan Stewart. It seems likely he’ll be ready for the playoffs, which will make the Panthers hard to beat.
Ron Rivera says if Jonathan Stewart gets another week or two off, he’s comfortable with that.
— Joe Person (@josephperson) December 22, 2015
If Bill Belichick really wanted to kick the ball at the start of overtime, the Patriots’ biggest concern should be their coach’s sanity. Matthew Slater sure didn’t look like he wanted to kick the ball after the coin toss.
Matthew Slater says coach instructed Patriots to kick off at start of overtime. The only confusion was which direction they were kicking. — Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 27, 2015
Regardless of the Patriots’ decision, this loss isn’t particularly alarming. It was a road division game against a team fighting for its playoff life. The Patriots (12-3) have another road game against a division foe next week, but it’s against a Dolphins team that’s pretty much mailed it in. All the Patriots have to do is beat Miami (5-10) to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Patriots were without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They could have both of them back for the playoffs.
Along with those possible reinforcements on offense, the Patriots head into the postseason with the league’s seventh-ranked defense. Belichick would love another shot at Brock Osweiler and the Broncos, and even if Andy Dalton is back it’s hard to see the Bengals beating the Patriots considering their playoff record.
The Rams poked a hole in the Seahawks’ seemingly impenetrable home-field advantage on Sunday. The only teams that had won at Seattle since 2012 were the Cardinals in 2013, the Cowboys in 2014 and the Panthers and Cardinals this season. The only one of those teams that didn’t make the playoffs were the Cardinals in 2013, but they were still 10-6.
So this is the weakest opponent the Seahawks have lost to at home since 2011. The 12th Man won’t be much help in the playoffs because the Seahawks (9-6) will have to go on the road to reach their third straight Super Bowl. Still, a team that loses to Case Keenum at home won’t strike much fear in the hearts of playoff opponents. The Seahawks’ pass protection problems resurfaced. Russell Wilson was sacked four times and has been taken down 44 times this season.
Christine Michael, who seemed to be the savior of the Seahawks’ rushing offense last week, ran the ball six times for six yards Sunday. Wilson ran the ball six times for 39 yards, but the Seahawks still averaged only 2.7 yards per carry. The Seahawks could have Marshawn Lynch back for the playoffs, according to NFL.com. Without him, they can forget about defending their conference title.
Carroll says RB Marshawn Lynch is doing well. There is no timetable on his return.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 23, 2015
The Packers (10-5) were humbled by an elite Cardinals team. Their offense is ranked 24th in the NFL and their passing offense is ranked 26th. Eddie Lacy has just 724 rushing yards after running for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.
Much of the problem is due to a banged-up offensive line. The Packers were without left tackle David Bakhtiari Sunday and other linemen are playing hurt.
The last time the Packers looked like a team that could do any damage in the playoffs was Week 11, when they won 30-13 at Minnesota. They get the Vikings at home Sunday night. The winner of that game will take the NFC North, earn the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and play a wild-card game at home.
That wouldn’t necessarily fix the Packers’ problems. In their last three home games, they’ve lost to the Lions and Bears and beaten a Tony Romo-less Cowboys team. They don’t seem like a very daunting playoff opponent.