While Sunday’s biggest games did not supply much late-game drama, a few brought dominant quarterback performances. Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, and Dak Prescott put up big numbers for their squads on a day that saw some movement in the playoff races. Here are the Week 16 grades from around the NFL.
1 of 30
Multi-city defensive implosion buries WFT
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
This franchise’s two-year run as the Washington Football Team (6-9) will be remembered fondly, for on-field reasons. Alex Smith’s comeback and the Chase Young-powered defensive resurgence making the 2020 squad the first 2-7 team to rally to the playoffs will stick with fans. This week, however, represented a step back. After the Eagles offensive line cleared huge lanes Tuesday against a shorthanded WFT team, Dak Prescott sliced up a healthier Washington secondary Sunday. This led to the team’s Alabama-to-D.C. D-line duo — Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne — fighting on the sideline during an island game. Time to regroup for a gutty but overmatched outfit.
WASHINGTON GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
2 of 30
Dak’s reawakening strengthens top-heavy NFC
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas’ defensive bastions continued to show elite form, but Dak Prescott‘s first half obviously took precedence. The slumping QB ripped Washington for 322 first-half passing yards — an NFL first half-high this season — and lifted the Cowboys (11-4) to their most points in a regular-season game since 1980. Washington frustrated Dak in the rivals’ Week 14 meeting, intercepting two passes during a sluggish period for the high-profile passer. But he made the NFL pay for its recent run of Sunday night mismatches, exiting early in a rivalry demolition. Though the 2016 squad’s O-line was better, this is the Cowboys’ most well-rounded team in the Dak era.
COWBOYS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
3 of 30
Josh Allen’s Pro Bowl snub now looks worse
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
While Pro Bowl selections receive considerable attention, obvious snubs appear annually. Lamar Jackson being invited over Allen looked bad Sunday in Foxborough when the Bills’ superstar dual-threat restored the AFC East’s 2020s order. Allen did everything for Buffalo, accounting for 378 yards and extending drives despite missing Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis. Allen converted three fourth downs on Bills scoring drives and turned 5-foot-8 gadget cog, Isaiah McKenzie, into a 100-yard receiver. Leading the first no-punt game against Bill Belichick’s Patriots, Allen has the Bills (9-6) poised for back-to-back AFC East titles for the first time since 1991.
BILLS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)
4 of 30
Permitted to pass this time, Mac Jones falters
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Jones still may edge Ja’Marr Chase for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he did not deliver in the Patriots’ biggest two games thus far. Belichick taking the ball out of the talented QB’s hands in Buffalo preceded Jones’ 14-for-32 performance — a season-low completion rate — with two INTs in Foxborough. The Pats (9-6) went 1-for-10 on third downs, kneecapping them in a game against a more talented passer. New England’s defense did not hold up, either, with its past two games calling into question this ahead-of-schedule contender’s viability to make a deep playoff run.
PATRIOTS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)
5 of 30
Injury-wrecked Ravens defense finally collapses
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Already down Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens lost top remaining cornerback Anthony Averett in Cincinnati. The Bengals unloaded on a wounded team that has largely controlled this rivalry, amassing 575 yards — by far the most the Ravens have ever allowed. Oddly, injury-prone Tavon Young was the last corner regular standing. Neither that nor NFL journeyman icon Josh Johnson’s stunningly competent outing mattered. The Ravens (8-7) have lost four straight for just the second time in John Harbaugh’s tenure. With Lamar Jackson not exactly thriving pre-injury, the Ravens will have an uphill battle to beat the Rams and save their season.
RAVENS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Rams (Sun.)
6 of 30
Burrow’s historic day separates Bengals from rivals
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY NETWORK
After a tough day in Denver, Joe Burrow threw for the fourth-most yards in NFL history. His 525-yard showing trails only Norm Van Brocklin (554), Warren Moon, and Matt Schaub (both 527). Burrow took full advantage of the Ravens’ depleted secondary, and his top two receivers — Chase and Tee Higgins — became the first two under-23 duo to pass 1,000 yards in a season. Burrow’s Ravens dominance changed the AFC North. The Bengals (9-6) have flaws (the O-line, for one) and might be a year away from true Super Bowl contention, but Burrow’s quick ACL recovery puts them in the division’s most stable position long-term. That is a rarity.
BENGALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)
7 of 30
Chiefs reveal sizable gap between Steelers, title contenders
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
Trapped in the crosshairs of the Chiefs’ defensive surge, Ben Roethlisberger put together a pitiful performance that revealed the gap between the Steelers and the championship-level tier. Big Ben needed garbage time to reach 4.5 yards per attempt. The Steelers (7-7-1) could not stop an oft-contained Chiefs auxiliary receiver stable, with Joe Haden following up his banner outing by allowing two touchdowns. With games against Cleveland and Baltimore, Pittsburgh is not yet cooked. Cincinnati’s schedule is tough. But this would be a flimsy 4 seed if the cards did fall that way.
STEELERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Browns (Mon.)
8 of 30
Supporting cast comes through in scary Chiefs romp
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
The more the Chiefs offense displays, the worse the prospects look for the rest of the AFC preventing them from a third straight Super Bowl. Rivals could long rely on Patrick Mahomes‘ less-than-dominant form as a path through Kansas City. Such a journey keeps looking more treacherous. Down Travis Kelce and with Tyreek Hill contributing little, Mahomes fed Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman. The lesser-used wideouts combined for three TDs. Both contributed crafty RAC maneuvers in this offense’s third straight productive game. The Titans are the only team left that can realistically prevent the Chiefs (11-4) from a fourth straight playoff bye.
CHIEFS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)
9 of 30
Chargers’ maddening unreliability reaches new level
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
This team falling short of the playoffs would be a vicious near-miss, but the Chargers have only themselves to blame. So close to taking the AFC West lead and facing a softer homestretch schedule than the Chiefs, the Bolts are now on the outside of playoff brackets after a mystifying loss. Without the unvaccinated Joey Bosa and Mike Williams, the Bolts (8-7) gave up 189 rushing yards to a terrible Texans team and saw Justin Herbert throw two INTs. Bringing a high-variance squad into January, the Chargers still have the talent to scare anyone in the AFC — though, run defense has been a persistent problem. This team also could finish 8-9 and it would not surprise.
CHARGERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
The Texans’ odd pre-rebuild backfield featured Mark Ingram, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, and Burkhead this season. Behind a bad O-line, this evolving veteran crew did little of note through 14 games. Sunday, Burkhead enjoyed his most productive game since his early-2010s Nebraska days. Entering the game 1-for-96 in 100-yard rushing days as a pro, the 31-year-old back gouged the Chargers for 149 — a career-high by a cool 30 yards — and two TDs. The ex-Bengals and Patriots role player is now the starter for this strangely built Texans team. Kudos to you deep-leaguers who fired up Rex in your semifinal matchups.
TEXANS GRADE: A | NEXT: at 49ers (Sun.)
11 of 30
Rams’ generational D-tackle seals another win
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Stafford did not play well, throwing three INTs. The Vikings enjoyed two very short fields but still could not seriously threaten the Rams (11-4). Aaron Donald was a key reason why. Perhaps the only non- Tom Brady active player with a plausible case to be labeled a top-10 all-time NFLer if he retired today, Donald made it tough for Minnesota to establish a consistent offense. The soon-to-be seven-time first-team All-Pro totaled three tackles for loss, three-run stuffs, and eight pressures. He closed the effort with a final-drive sack-strip. No one has won four Defensive Player of the Year awards. Leading a Rams team back atop the NFC West, Donald will make it close.
RAMS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)
12 of 30
Another big-spot loss for Mike Zimmer‘s Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Barr intercepted Stafford twice inside the Rams’ 15-yard line, but the Vikings still trailed by 10 points late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, Kirk Cousins has proven incapable of winning enough big games to make Mike Zimmer’s defense relevant in the grand scheme. And Zimmer’s defense is not what it was during the late 2010s. Sunday marked the Vikes’ 12th consecutive one-score game, tying the 1989 Chargers and 2015 Ravens. The Vikings, who are 6-6 in those tilts, will finish better than those teams. But unless Zimmer can complete a sweep over the Packers next week, ownership has likely seen enough from the crusty defensive tactician.
VIKINGS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)
13 of 30
Broncos rookie GM faces critical decision
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Broncos entered Sunday 6-0 in games in which they forced more than one turnover. They caused three in Las Vegas but still lost. While Denver’s run defense buckled, its own ground attack sputtered after a strong run of performances. The Drew Lock-led offense’s 158 yards. That is the team’s third-worst total in the past 25 years. Fangio struggles with game management but gives Denver’s defense weekly edges against QBs. He has endured several bad losses but has never deployed an above-average passer in a game in three years. GM George Paton’s decision is tougher than it appears. Clearer Broncos offseason upgrade mandates exist at QB and OC.
BRONCOS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)
14 of 30
Josh Jacobs comes through to save Raiders’ season
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Shelby Harris and Bradley Chubb made big plays to keep the Broncos in the game, but the Raiders’ O-line won out in the second half. Jacobs did little early but smashed through Denver’s front seven for a season-high 127 rushing yards. This has been Jacobs’ worst season, with Las Vegas’ young O-line playing a key role. Two-for-two in 1,000-yard slates, the former first-round pick will finish well shy of that benchmark this year. But his crucial gains kept the Raiders (8-7) alive. The Raiders need Darren Waller back if they want to beat both the Colts and Chargers, but given what this team has endured, it is an achievement they remain in the race.
RAIDERS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)
15 of 30
Bucs pass rush smothers lifeless Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Shaq Barrett collected his 10th sack this season when Sunday’s game was still in doubt; then his supporting cast poured it on. The Buccaneers (11-4) posted seven sacks — matching their most in a 21st-century game — and Barrett collected just one. William Gholston led the way with 2.5, and Vita Vea — assister of other sacks and wrecker of Panther interior blockers — added his career-high fourth this season. The nose tackle disruptor will be paid very well next year. The Bucs’ Saints loss will likely keep them from the NFC’s bye, but with the Cardinals sinking, Tampa Bay’s present No. 4 slot does not look too bad.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
16 of 30
After Saints get to Tom Brady, Panthers D-line fails
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Carolina’s disastrous season has still included bright spots. Edge-rushing duo Haason Reddick and Brian Burns (20 combined sacks) may be the brightest. Neither could beat the Bucs’ top-tier tackle tandem. The Panthers (5-10) did not sack Brady and hit him just once, allowing the QB legend more time to locate some new targets after Chris Godwin and Mike Evans’ injuries. Excepting the Saints’ four-sack effort, teams failing to hit Brady has been a frequent occurrence this season. Matt Rhule also compared NFL team-building timelines to rap-game ascents, if Panthers fans needed more bad takeaways from this season.
PANTHERS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Saints (Sun.)
17 of 30
Joe Judge benefiting from Giants’ quick firings
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Giants (4-11) lost 34-10 to the Eagles and likely will finish 4-13. But they will hold two top-eight draft choices in 2022. A report surfaced Sunday indicating the team will not make Joe Judge its third straight two-and-done coach. Judge does not call plays, limiting his value, and is overseeing the most irrelevant Giants span in a while. Judge seeing a third season makes some sense; injury misfortune has clouded his two years. Daniel Jones making it to Year 4 as Big Blue’s starter would be quite the achievement, given his work to date. Giants fans can eye the draft, but the Judge-Jones cornerstone duo makes future success tough to see.
GIANTS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)
18 of 30
Eagles linebackers run wild in blowout
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Eagles’ top linebackers are each ex-undrafted free agents. One of those, Alex Singleton, spent four years on practice squads before making his debut. Singleton and T.J. Edwards combined for 28 tackles Sunday. Saquon Barkley finished with 15 carries for 32 yards, with Edwards’ 16 stops helping muzzle the one-time star-in-training. Singleton finished off the Jake Fromm– and Mike Glennon-limited Giants with a pick-six, and Pro Football Focus has Edwards as a top-15 off-ball ‘backer. Production at this spot is a welcome sight for the Birds, who struggled here for a bit. The Eagles (8-7) have gone from 2-5 to controlling their playoff destiny.
EAGLES GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Washington (Sun.)
19 of 30
Lions identify wide receiver keeper
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The Lions do not know who their long-term QB will be, but they have identified a receiver option for the passer to be named later. After Detroit came into training camp with stopgaps Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams penciled in to be starters, Amon-Ra St. Brown will exit 2021 as the team’s wideout centerpiece. St. Brown has strung together four straight games of at least eight catches and 70 yards. The fourth-round rookie hauled in nine passes for 91 and a TD Sunday. The USC alum producing with Tim Boyle is certainly notable, as winning is not essential for this year’s Lions. Finding future starters is.
LIONS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Sun.)
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
After waiting behind De’Vondre Campbell for two years, Oluokun has been a name frequently called by announcers this season. The fourth-year linebacker enjoyed his fourth season’s biggest moment Sunday, intercepting Tim Boyle near the goal line to seal an Atlanta win. Oluokun posted a game-high 14 tackles and deflected a pass, but his read on Boyle keeps the Falcons going in their unlikely quest for an NFC wild-card spot. Oluokun’s 166 tackles trail only Bobby Wagner (170) this season. The Falcons (7-8) refuse to bow out and saw help come their way from elsewhere. Winning next week’s do-or-die game will be more challenging.
FALCONS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
This uneven Bears quarterback season did not involve Foles until Sunday when Andy Dalton and Justin Fields injuries summoned the former Super Bowl MVP out of the shadows. While this late-season depth chart climb features much lower stakes than Foles’ Philly years, he delivered for the 5-10 Bears. Chicago’s usual third-stringer threw for 250 yards and orchestrated a game-winning drive. Jimmy Graham’s box-out and Damiere Byrd’s slick two-point game-winner aided Foles, but he played mistake-free to set it up. Foles is under contract through 2022, but this snow outing could double as a reasonable audition for a bridge job elsewhere.
BEARS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Rashaad Penny‘s late-season surge is back on, with the injury-prone pick surging for 135 yards. But Russell Wilson was less effective (16-for-27, 181 yards). The run-oriented Carroll already frustrated his quarterback into a de facto trade request earlier this year; is this relationship worth salvaging after the pair’s first double-digit loss season? Of note: Carroll signed an extension last year. That deal runs through 2025. Seattle’s short- and long-term situation does not look great, and Wilson lost trade value this year. But would ownership really can Carroll with so much time left on his contract? That will surely be discussed, but this was a 12-4 team a year ago.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)
23 of 30
Jaguars’ running back situation suddenly looks grim
Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union/USA TODAY NETWORK
Had James Robinson’s cart-off sequence not occurred, the Lions could well have moved back into 2022’s No. 1 draft slot. But the Jaguars (2-13), whose 2021 No. 1 overall pick has thrown one TD pass since Halloween, lost one of the league’s top young running backs to an Achilles tear. Robinson joins first-round rookie Travis Etienne as uncertain players exiting the year, with the latter missing the season because of a Lisfranc injury. This is a crushing blow for Robinson, who set an undrafted-rookie scrimmage yards record (1,414) in 2020. He will have to impress a third coaching staff in three years come 2022 as well.
JAGUARS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Patriots (Sun.)
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com/USA TODAY NETWORK
As expected, the Lawrence-Zach Wilson duel did not feature gaudy aerial numbers. Both QBs are wrapping up miserable years in bad situations. Lawrence did top Wilson 280-102 through the air, but Wilson’s 52-yard TD run and Berrios’ 102-yard kick-return touchdown made the difference for the Jets (4-11). About the last receiver standing for the Jets, Berrios has shown flashes (366 receiving yards) while contributing for a team down Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Jamison Crowder. If nothing else, the Jets should re-sign the free-agent-to-be as a returner/niche weapon for Wilson. It will not cost much to do so.
JETS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Buccaneers (Sun.)
25 of 30
Carson Wentz stabilizing career, with obvious catch
Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY NETWORK
The Colts beat a 10-win team on the road without four starting O-linemen and their best defensive player. Wentz made big throws, to a receiving corps that has needed at least one more weapon all season, to put the Colts (9-6) up two scores late. But the Colts are about to walk a tightrope the Vikings, Ravens, and Packers will. Wentz’s unvaccinated status has never mattered more, with the Omicron variant spreading wildly throughout the NFL. Wentz’s availability will be a daily talking point in Indianapolis since he could also miss time as a close contact. Missing a playoff game because of COVID-19 would overshadow the strides Wentz made this season.
COLTS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)
26 of 30
Cardinals’ fall increases appeal of NFC’s No. 4 seed
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
After losing to a Colts team featuring Jonathan Taylor and little else on offense, the Cardinals are careening toward lame-duck status. After losing five of seven to end the 2020 season, Arizona has lost its past three. Suddenly, the loser of a Cowboys-Rams-Buccaneers tiebreaker would be in an enviable position if the Cardinals booked the NFC’s No. 5 seed. With ESPN reporting DeAndre Hopkins is out until the conference championship round, Kliff Kingsbury’s squad appears out of answers. Facing the Cards would be an easier task than encountering a 49ers team moving toward the No. 6 slot. If the Packers win next week, other contenders’ Week 18 strategies will be interesting.
CARDINALS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Cowboys (Sun.)
27 of 30
Can Browns stay the course at quarterback?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Baker Mayfield‘s regression now includes a four-INT game, which came after his COVID-19 contraction cost the Browns a winnable Raiders matchup. Not-crazy math gives the Browns a chance, despite their COVID-altered week. FiveThirtyEight.com gives Cleveland (7-8) an 11% chance to make the playoffs. But the Browns would be non-threats against the AFC’s best. Mayfield is due a light QB salary ($18.9 million guaranteed) next year, would stand to be healthy, and almost certainly have a better receiving corps. A return to his 2020 form could reignite the Browns unless a regime that did not draft him has seen too much.
BROWNS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Steelers (Mon.)
28 of 30
Packers getting by with backup-filled O-line
Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/USA TODAY NETWORK
New Year’s Eve will be a year since David Bakhtiari‘s ACL tear. This is a rather long recovery for the All-Pro left tackle. The Packers have been without him and Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins, who is done for the season. But right tackle Billy Turner and center Josh Myers missed Week 16 as well. Aaron Rodgers‘ MVP case is nearly sewn up, and his production despite Green Bay’s optimal O-line missing four starters is going overlooked. Bakhtiari, Turner, and Myers are not ruled out for the season, but as the Packers (12-3) keep skating past AFC North teams, it is hard to see them surviving without some of their up-front horses in the playoffs.
PACKERS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)
29 of 30
Cornerbacks continue to test 49ers
Andrew Nelles/Tennessean.com/USA TODAY NETWORK
With Richard Sherman battling an off-field issue and injuries this year, the 49ers did not have much for in-house options for their outside cornerback spots. The team needed to do more than it did. Signed off the street days before Week 1, Josh Norman looks mostly like he has since that fluky 2015 contract year. Norman, 34, gave up four catches for 60 yards Thursday — including A.J. Brown’s TD. In a small sample size, third-round rookie Ambry Thomas has been worse, yielding a near-perfect passer rating on 19 targets. Emmanuel Moseley’s return cannot come soon enough, but the 49ers (8-7) will be vulnerable in coverage regardless.
49ERS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Brown is one of the NFL’s toughest covers, and he showed why Thursday. The 49ers had no answer for the Titans’ top target, who kept moving chains during an 11-catch, 145-yard night. Julio Jones has proven he can no longer be trusted, leaving Brown as Tennessee’s only true aerial threat. This setup will be more problematic against better secondaries, but seeing Brown bounce back after his latest ailment was a great sign for the 10-5 Titans’ hopes. Once Derrick Henry re-emerges either in Week 18 or in the team’s playoff opener, the equation changes again. Brown and Henry’s returns apply extra pressure on the Chiefs to win out.
TITANS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sun.)