Top Takeaways from Sunday’s Week 15 NFL action

Derek Carr Raiders final home game
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Bay Area took center stage around the NFL world on Sunday. For two vastly different reasons. The San Francisco 49ers backed their way into a playoff spot following a horrible home loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Over in Oakland, the Raiders played their final home game in Northern California before relocating to Las Vegas. It was a downright ugly scene after the Raiders blew a late-game lead against the Jaguars.

Sunday’s action culminated in the Buffalo Bills defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers to clinch a rare playoff spot.

These are among the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 15 NFL action.

Cowboys make major statement

A lot has been made of the Cowboys struggling against good teams this season. Heck, Jason Garrett and Co. entered Sunday’s action having lost seven of their past 10 games. In desperate need of a win against a streaking Rams team, no one really gave the Boys much of a chance here.

Pretty much from the get, they proved all the naysayers wrong. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard dominated to the tune of 303 total yards. Dak Prescott vastly outplayed Jared Goff. The end result was a resounding 44-21 win and first place in the NFC East heading into a huge Week 16 outing against the Eagles.

Browns hit new low in loss to the Cardinals

The Cleveland Browns are toast. Absolute toast. Sunday’s disastrous 38-24 loss to the previously three-win Arizona Cardinals brought this to an entirely new level. Frustration boiled over on the sidelines.

Baker Mayfield was outplayed by rookie Kyler Murray. The Browns could not stop Kenyan Drake, allowing the former Dolphins back to score four touchdowns. By virtue of this loss, Cleveland moved to 6-8 and became the only NFL team not to post a winning record in the decade. They’re also going to be watching the playoffs from home for the 17th straight season.

Patriots ride dominating defense to another win

Tom Brady doesn’t need to be great. The six-time Super Bowl champion hasn’t been great all season. Despite this, New England entered Sunday’s game against the one-win Bengals with a 10-3 record. With Brady only tossing the rock for 128 yards while completing about half of his passes, the Patriots’ defense stood up once again.

That included two interceptions from star corner Stephon Gilmore, one of which was returned for a touchdown. All said, New England picked off Andy Dalton four times in the 34-13 win. We’ll see soon enough if a lackluster offense can withstand better teams once the playoffs start. But at 11-3, the Pats are now in good position to earn a first-round bye.

Despite win, Seahawks don’t look great

Seattle was able to take advantage of a mistake-prone young quarterback in that of Kyle Allen Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. That included three interceptions. However, the Seahawks continued to struggle against lesser opponents.

Up 30-10 in the fourth quarter, Pete Carroll’s squad allowed two consecutive Panthers touchdowns to pull the game to within 30-24. Seattle ultimately needed to gain a first down on its final possession to hold off a Panthers squad that has now lost six consecutive games. Despite boasting a 11-3 record, the Seahawks don’t have the looks of a top-end title contender. Whether that changes moving forward remains to be seen.

Jameis Winston gives Buccaneers reason for optimism

It could be false hope. We’ve seen this story over and over again throughout his five-year career. Winston follows up brutal performances with an outing that makes him look like a legit franchise quarterback.

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Lions, Winston had put up 26 touchdowns compared to 23 interceptions on the season. He was at the top of his game against Detroit, tallying north of 300 passing yards in the first half alone. When all was said and done, Winston completed 28-of-42 passes for 458 yards with four touchdowns in the 38-17 win. Whether this means Winston has a future in Tampa remains to be seen. But it’s not a bad thing heading into free agency. That’s for sure.

Eli Manning has his moment

In what will likely be his final start in New Jersey as a member of the Giants, two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning went out on top. While Manning did throw three interceptions, he did enough to help the Giants end a nine-game losing streak, besting the Miami Dolphins by the score of 36-20.

This game meant nothing outside of draft positioning. In fact, the win hurt New York from that standpoint.

Even then, Manning’s final game at the Meadowlands was everything he could have asked for. That included a special moment after the win. Manning might be the butt of jokes around the NFL, but he’s been an all-time great quarterback for the Giants. Seeing this era come to an end with a win had to feel good for the potential future Hall of Famer.

Ugly scene unfolds in Oakland

That’s it for the Oakland Raiders. They just finished up their final home game in Northern California before relocating to Las Vegas next season. It was about as ugly as it gets, too.

Oakland dominated for the better part of four quarters, only to see Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew lead a late-game comeback. As this was taking place, Raiders fans were heard booing their team and seen throwing stuff on to the field. It’s the NFL’s worst nightmare. A decades-long tradition of football in Oakland going up in flames as the old Oakland Coliseum hosted its final Raiders game ever.

Texans take stranglehold on AFC South

The Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans close out their regular season playing twice over the final three weeks. Both teams entered Week 15 at 8-5 and tied for the top spot in the AFC South. In reality, this was a must win for Tennessee at home.

In what was a hard-fought battle, Houston came out on top by the score of 24-21. It included a questionable call against the Texans that led to a Titans touchdown in the fourth quarter. Despite this, Deshaun Watson was able to lead the Texans to a narrow win and a 9-5 mark on the season. Meanwhile, the Titans fall into a practical tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the final wild card spot in the AFC.

Eagles avert disaster

Philadelphia found itself down 14-10 to the three-win Washington Redskins in D.C. on Sunday heading to the half. At 6-7 on the season, it looked like disaster was going to strike for head coach Doug Pederson and Co.

That’s when Carson Wentz stepped up en route to leading the Eagles to 20 fourth quarter points. This included two separate touchdown drives of 75 yards in the final stanza. Wentz came up big time when the injury-plagued Eagles needed him the most. It now sets the stage for a do-or-die game against the Cowboys next week.

Rams implode in Big D

The defending NFC champs entered Sunday’s game against the Cowboys on a roll. The hope here was that Los Angeles could continue its hot streak and remain very much alive in the NFC Playoff race.

That did not happen. Dallas offered up an onslaught of epic proportions early, taking a 28-7 lead at the half. It was pretty much over from there. The Rams could not stop Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard (248 combined rushing yards) on the ground. The end result was an ugly 44-21 loss and pretty much an end to Los Angeles’ playoff aspirations. One more loss from the Rams or another Vikings win would eliminate Sean McVay and Co. from contention.

49ers sleep walk into playoff berth

The San Francisco 49ers are not celebrating after clinching their first playoff appearance since the 2013 season. They have themselves and one Julio Jones to thank for that. Coming off the toughest four-game stretch in NFL history, San Francisco overlooked a Falcons team that has been playing good football over the past month or so.

When all was said and done at Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco fell by the score of 29-22. The 49ers’ injury-depleted defense could not hold a two-score lead. And once Jones inched his way into the end zone as time expired in the fourth quarter, San Franciso dropped from the top overall seed to the No. 5 spot. Thankfully, Dallas’ win over the Rams clinched Kyle Shanahan’s squad a playoff spot.

Bills clinch rare playoff spot

We have to give Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott a ton of credit. He entered the season on the hot seat and has helped navigate his team to legit playoff contention.

That was taken to a whole new level Sunday night against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Riding what has been a stingy defense, Buffalo came out on top by the score of 17-10 on national television.

This win clinched a rare playoff appearance for the 10-4 Bills, who still have a shot at unseating the New England Patriots in the AFC East. Just a brilliant season from this long downtrodden organization in Western New York. Job well done, Mr. McDermott.