Over in the U.S, Christmas brought a moveable feast of sport, including 11 NFL games on Christmas day (Australia) and the 5 NBA games of Christmas (Boxing Day Australia). The hardest part was continuing to find excuses to sneak off to the other room for a look.
First to the NFL, which was really heating up on Christmas, with 5 out of the 8 divisions up for grabs, 8 out of 12 play off spots up for grabs and teams with clinching scenarios including the Patriots, Falcons, Packers and the Lions and Cowboys (set to play each other on Boxing day in the U.S – 27th here. Dallas won that one 42-21 and, at 13 and 2, are first seed in the NFC). High stakes with the play offs around the corner in early January.
On the menu for Christmas (in Australia)
Dolphins at Bills (Dolphins still a chance of making the post-season with a win and a Denver loss)
Falcons at Panthers (Falcons hoping for a Seattle slip and a shot at NFC second seed)
Redskins at Bears (Redskins still an outside chance at playoffs)
Chargers at Browns (Cleveland desperately trying to avoid going 0-16)
Vikings at Packers (Packers playing for NFC North title)
Jets at Patriots (Pats eyeing first seed AFC)
Cardinals at Seahawks (Seattle eyeing second seed NFC)
Buccaneers at Saints (A Bucs loss would mean the Falcons are champions of the NFC south and the NY Giants are in the Playoffs for the first time since 2011, at number 5 seed.)
Colts at Raiders (Raiders still a chance first seed AFC. If Indianapolis win their last two and Houston lose their last two, the Colts can win the AFC South).
Titans at Jaguars (Not much to see here…)
49ers at Rams (… or here. A clash of bottom two teams in NFC west).
Here’s how it played out and how the picture presently looks:
Greenbay QB Aaron Rogers continued his stellar year, spinning out of the scrimmage and running in a 20-yard touch down. He also threw 4 touchdown passes as the Packers beat the Vikings 38-25. Green Bay is locked in a dogfight with Detroit for the NFC North title and they will play each other in a season finale in Michigan (2-January 12:30pm AEST), winner takes all.
Miami and Buffalo were tied at 21 each and sent their game into overtime. With only 51 seconds left, a 27-yard Dolphin field goal finally split them and it gave Miami a chance to continue into the post-season if Denver were to lose the next day (they did) Miami 34, Buffalo 31.
Washington, still a chance for a play off spot if they keep winning, did their part by defeating Chicago 41-21 and in the process eliminated both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints from the play off race. The Redskins need to win their last game – against the NY Giants in Maryland – and will need help with other results to make it.
In Cleveland, a 45-yard field goal attempt by San Diego Chargers’ kicker Josh Lambo drifted wide and Cleveland fans fear of a winless season ended on Christmas eve with a 20-17 win – it was the Browns’ first win in 377 days and the ripple was felt as far as San Francisco who, temporarily at least, jump into the number one pick for next years’ draft.
Already Division Champions Seattle faced a must win game against Arizona to clinch the number 2 seed in the NFC. Seattle were the only team undefeated at home in the NFL this year (7-0 coming into this one), but the Cardinals were on the board early and then won the defensive battle with 3 early sacks of Russell Wilson (and 5 in the first half). Seattle turned to Steven Hauschka for a 45-yard field goal attempt, only to see it blocked by the hand of Rodney Gunter.
Luck was further against the Seahawks – already missing free safety Earl Thomas with a season-ending injury – when their other safety Cam Chancellor limped off with an ankle problem. Sensing vulnerability, Cardinals Quarterback Carson Palmer threw long to wide receiver J.J Nelson for a deep touchdown – an 80- yard play that was the Cardinals longest from scrimmage this year.
Notwithstanding all of that happened early, 3 points missed and 6 conceded were big plays. A 14-3 Arizona lead was decisive. In the second half, a revitalized Seahawks gained 297-yards, 4 touchdowns and 28 points but it was the same old story – just falling short in catch up footy (and their defense conceding 20 in the 4th didn’t help). Arizona 35, Seattle 31. The Cardinals can’t make the play offs but were happy to play the Grinch that stole Seattle’s Christmas.
Seattle was overtaken by Atlanta in the race for the 2nd seed in the NFC (which earns a first round bye in the play offs) when Atlanta saw off Carolina 33-16. A perfectly weighted Matt Ryan throw to Perkins was a fast start and then a spinning, agile Ryan found D.J Tialavea in the end zone for their second. The Falcons have been offensively efficient all year and Ryan is a great Quarterback. If they can account for their bitter rival New Orleans at the Georgia Dome (2-January 8:25am AEST), they will lock up second seed.
It was a blow out in Foxborough, as the New England Patriots (13 and 2) picked off interceptions and then Brady made scoring look effortless (214 yards and 3 touchdowns). The Pats were assisted by turnovers, but overall were a class above the struggling Jets – Patriots 42, Jets 3.
If the Raiders lost, the Patriots would have taken the AFC’s top seed on Christmas (I still think they ultimately will), but the Raiders 33-25 win over the Colts kept them in the hunt (Raiders – 12 and 3) and scuttled the Colts’ play off hopes. This game was bust open in the 3rd by a brilliant 22-yard running touchdown by Raiders Running Back, DeAndré Washington, who then backed it up with another minutes later (finished with 99 yards on 12 carries).
The New Orleans Saints defeated the Tamp Bay Buccaneers 31-24, putting a dent in the Bucs playoff aspirations. Apparently Bucs now need eight results to fall their way to make it.
And in the other games, the Jaguars defeated the Titans 38-17 and the 49’ers came from 21-7 behind to sneak past the Rams, on 2-point conversion run in by Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, 22-21.
There were a couple of games played on Christmas Day (U.S – Boxing Day here) with the Steelers defeating the Ravens 31-27 after a brilliant play – with 9 seconds left – from Wide Receiver Antonio Brown who caught Roethlisberger’s throw only to be held up by Ravens inches short of the line. But Brown had great awareness to reach over, with ball in hand, into end zone space for the touchdown. The reach gave the Steelers the AFC North title on Christmas. The Ravens are eliminated.
And Kansas City beat Denver 33-10 and last year’s Super Bowl champs fell out of this year’s playoffs. KC still in it.
There’s still plenty to be decided in the final round, but I think the playoffs will go through New England and Dallas and they will meet in the Super Bowl. The Steelers, with Roethlisberger, are one to watch. They may have the Quarterback-defence combo to go to New England and win and Green Bay is getting hot. Super Bowl 51 is in Houston this year, which offers home state, at least, for the Cowboys.
The Spurs were home for the holidays against the Bulls in San Antonio and got out to a 20-point lead, lost it and regained it, ultimately winning 119-100. LaMarcus Aldridge had 33 points and 9 rebounds and Wade had 24 for Chicago.
The Cavs fell behind by 14 and Lebron was on the bench during the 4th quarter, but Cleveland had the depth, confidence and momentum to come back and beat Golden State, 109-108, in a Christmas cracker. The Cavs outscored the Warriors 29-14 in the final 9:30 of the match. Kyrie Irving was inspired with 25 points and the Cavs went to him for the final shot. Lebron James (31points) called Irving ‘Big Time’ and said the shot was never in doubt. Kevin Durant was rolling for the Warriors with 36 points.
Durant’s old team, the Oklahoma City had a happy Christmas with their 19th win of the season (and 11 of last 15) defeating Minnesota 112-100. Russell Westbrook was the star 31 points, 15 assists 7 rebounds and he is on track to average a ‘triple-double’ in a season (points, rebounds and assists). Apparently only one man has done the triple-double before in NBA history (Oscar Robertson in 1961/62).
In the L.A derby, the Lakers finally got the Clippers 111-102, snapping an 11-game losing streak to their hometown rivals. The Clippers had a few outs, including Blake Griffin, with a knee injury and the Lakers were more even with seven players in double-digits.
Finally the improving Celtics won a Christmas match up in New York against the Knicks, 119-114. A late 16-3 run by the Knicks tied it up and had the Garden jumping, before Boston Point guard Marcus Smart took the air out of the building with a 3-pointer. Thomas had 27 for Boston (including 8-points in the 4th quarter), ‘Mello Anthony had 29 and Rose 25 for the Knicks.