Never overlook the Ryan Malletts or wounded Falcons – NFL talking points

After a crazy and consequential Week 16 in the NFL, Kevin Jeffers takes a look at where the league landscape lies after its penultimate Sunday.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett warms up before his team beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL on Sunday. Nick Wass / AP / December 27, 2015
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After a crazy and consequential Week 16 in the NFL, Kevin Jeffers takes a look at where the league landscape lies after its penultimate Sunday.

Steelers let it slip

You cannot just lose to a Ryan Mallet-led team and expect to get away with it. The Steelers did, and now their season is hanging by a thread.

Only a couple months ago, Mallett was an ineffective wash-up who was released by the Houston Texans following several bad starts and a bizarre incident where he missed a team flight.

On Sunday, in emergency duty for a long-dead Ravens squad, he went from wash-up to spoiler and may have shaped the play-off picture by leading Baltimore to a shocking 20-17 win over the post-season-hopeful Steelers.

The loss was an inexcusable one for Pittsburgh. The Kansas City Chiefs have claimed one of two available AFC Wild Card spots, and the New York Jets now occupy the second following their overtime win over the New England Patriots.

The Steelers now need a Week 17 win plus a Jets loss to get in.

Not impossible, but it is proof how you can never overlook the Ryan Malletts of the league.

The ‘72 Dolphins are safe

Leave it to a dead-in-the-water Atlanta team to ruin history.

The Atlanta Falcons ended the Carolina Panthers’ incredible undefeated stretch that went back to last December, meaning that for the 43rd straight season there will not be an unbeaten team to match that legendary 17-0 Miami Dolphins squad.

Not only that, but Carolina now has no excuse to rest their players in Week 17. The top seed in the NFC — and home-field advantage — is still up for grabs between the now-14-1 Panthers and the red-hot 13-2 Arizona Cardinals, who destroyed the Green Bay Packers at home on Sunday.

NFC invites sent

It was not all good for Atlanta as the Minnesota Vikings’ drubbing of the New York Giants meant the six NFC play-off teams are set. Seattle is safely in, even with their loss to the St Louis Rams, as are division winners Carolina, Washington and Arizona. Green Bay and Minnesota are both guaranteed spots, and will play each other in the final week to determine the champion of the NFC North.

AFC not as clear

Kansas City’s 10th-straight win clinched at least a Wild Card berth with division hopes still alive, and either the Jets or Steelers can win the last spot.

In the league-worst AFC South, it is down to the Brandon Weeden-led Houston Texans or the Matt Hasselbeck/Charlie Whitehurst/Some Other Guy-led Indianapolis Colts to determine the division title and No 4 play-off seed.

The Texans have a clear advantage as the Colts need a Week 17 win, a Houston loss and several other games to all break their way and ensure the sixth tie-breaker, strength of schedule. That is not good.

Captain Kirk

Few picked Washington to win the NFC East, especially after benching former Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III.

But his replacement, Kirk Cousins, has made the team look smart. His four touchdown passes against the Philadelphia Eagles helped them clinch the division and a surprising play-off berth.

Cousins has been fantastic of late. His 99.2-quarterback rating is seventh among quarterbacks with at least 220 pass attempts.

He has basically guaranteed himself a long-term extention, not to mention Griffin’s ouster, this off-season.

kjeffers@thenational.ae

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