The Buffalo Bills (12-3) entered the week atop of the conference standings, but they need a win Monday at Cincinnati to keep pace after the Kansas City Chiefs improved to 13-3 with a 27-24 win Sunday against Denver.
The Bills control their fate for the moment, but that all changes if the reigning AFC champion Bengals can spring the upset.
Cincinnati (11-4) is a 1-point underdog, but Joe Burrow and company still have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed — and a first-round bye in the NFL playoffs — if they can win out and the Chiefs stumble next weekend in Las Vegas.
Mahomes on Bills-Bengals: "You try not to be too invested in it... As a fan of the game you like to watch 2 great football teams going against each other."— Harold R. Kuntz (@HaroldRKuntz3) January 1, 2023
What surprised you most from the early games Sunday?
Graham: Clinchin’ ain’t easy. Minshew Mania hasn’t carried over to the Eagles, who are wobbling without Jalen Hurts, and still need a win to lock up the NFC’s top seed and got ambushed at home by the Saints. The Broncos decided to keep making things difficult for the Chiefs, but that didn’t do Nathaniel Hackett any good Sunday afternoon. If only the Broncos could face the AFC West kings every week. Then Hackett might look qualified enough not to fire last week. The Broncos scored a season-high 28 points against the Chiefs on Dec. 11 and then scored their second-highest total Sunday, this time under interim coach Jerry Rosburg. The Broncos still didn’t win, but they somewhat resembled the team national TV executives scheduled for, like, seven prime-time games every month. Speaking of, the Chiefs’ victory puts that much pressure on Monday night’s matchup between the Bills and the Bengals, who’ve each beaten the Chiefs but need to catch them for the tiebreaker to matter.
offensive pass interference on Broncos Courtland Sutton wow pic.twitter.com/QaFUN1WXu7— Ted Buddwell (@TedBuddy8) January 1, 2023
Interim head coach Jerry Rosburg, when asked about the game, smirked slightly before giving the ultimate diplomatic response.
“Okay, so I’m the interim head coach, right, but I know how the NFL office works when ti comes to coaches criticizing the officials,” he said before briefly expressing admiration for the crew that worked the game while pointing out the difficulty in officiating the matchup. “But it doesn’t mean I can’t have my disagreements. What’s the word... ‘unfortunate’, perhaps. There was an unfortunate (call) during the game I disagree with.”
Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was less diplomatic and more directly to the point, simply expressing, “That ain’t no pass interference.”
Mahomes eclipsed 5,000 yards passing in a season for the second time in his career on Sunday during the Chiefs’ 27-24 win over the Denver Broncos, joining Tom Brady and Drew Brees as the only players in NFL chronicle to achieve the feat in multiple years.
Needing 280 yards on Sunday to join the 5K club for a second time, Mahomes connected with Blake Bell for a 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Broncos to get to the milestone.
Mahomes previously surpassed 5,000 yards in his 2018 breakout Associated Press NFL MVP season, and putting himself in such exclusive company certainly won’t hinder his campaign for a second career MVP.
Next Gen stat of the day: Patrick Mahomes completed 21 of 26 passes for 281 yards and a TD versus zone coverage (5 for 11, 29 yards, 2 TDs, INT versus man coverage).
NFL Research: Patrick Mahomes is the third player in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons, joining Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
The Broncos had Kansas City on the ropes in this game, but the problem for Denver is that Patrick Mahomes seems to thrive when he’s on the ropes. Although Mahomes struggled with his accuracy at times, he still managed to throw for 328 yards and three touchdowns with two of those going to Jerick McKinnon. The Chiefs weren’t overly impressive on either side of the ball. Defensively, they struggled to stop the Broncos at times, but they also came up with some clutch plays including four sacks and a fourth-quarter interception. This really feels like a game where Kansas City played to the level of its opponent and the good news for the Chiefs (13-3) is that thanks to the win, they’re still very much alive for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.
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Faced with an elimination game Sunday against a Minnesota Vikings team that dominated them in the season opener, the Packers stepped up in all phases of the game to force a win-and-in game against Detroit on Jan. 8 — but none more so than the much-maligned defense. With the rest of the unit forcing Kirk Cousins into three interceptions and a lost fumble during the 41-17 win, cornerback Jaire Alexander honed in on proving his provocative claim that Justin Jefferson’s nine-catch, 184-yard game for two scores in Week 1 was indeed a “fluke.”
“I was able to follow him,” Alexander told Tracy Wolfson during the CBS postgame. “I was able to go to his side all game. I’m the type of person, I’m going to match intensity, so that’s what I did all night. Hats off to him. He’s still on my top three receivers. He’s still a great receiver. But I’m confident in myself and I said what I said, and I meant what I said.”
The Steelers will host the Browns in a game Pittsburgh needs to win in order to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Steelers also need a Jets win in Miami and a Patriots loss in Buffalo in order to have a shot at the postseason. Pittsburgh fell to Cleveland when the two teams first met back in Week 3.
Baltimore will travel to Cincinnati for a game that will surely impact the AFC playoff seedings. The game may determine who wins the AFC North if Cincinnati is unable to defeat Buffalo on Monday night. Regardless, the Ravens have already clinched their spot in the playoffs.
“It stings,” White said. “It’s tough. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s all of the above. You can use any adjective you want to use to describe it.”
The Jets were 7-4 after a 31-10 rout of the Chicago Bears on Nov. 27, seemingly headed toward a slump-busting playoff appearance. Undermined by a cold offense and quarterback instability, they now are in the midst of perhaps the worst late-season nose dive in team history. The last time they lost this many in a row after the 10th game was 1996, their infamous 1-15 season.
“No one is hurting more than the people in the locker room, especially me,” coach Robert Saleh said. “At the same time, I know it’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel, but there are a lot of really cool things to look at for this season. But right now it stings big time.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub: We’ve talked about it all season. Now it’s officially time to panic about Kansas City’s third phase. We’re seeing chronic mistakes like fumbled punt returns, botched snaps (or holds) and missed (or partially blocked) kicks. Whether it’s the kicker, the holder, the returner or the coaching, the issues haven’t gone away — and they clearly haven’t been addressed properly. Mistakes can be overcome against inferior opponents. But against opponents like the Cincinnati Bengals or Buffalo Bills, that won’t be nearly as easy. Does anyone have faith that the kicking and return games will be part of the reason the Chiefs win in the postseason? For all of the accolades Toub has rightfully received — and for all of the roster spots dedicated to special teams — it’s clearly a flaw in 2022. Unfortunately, it’s one that could prove fatal in the playoffs.
Following Sunday’s game, the former Purdue Boilermaker discussed his recent dominance — crediting Chiefs defensive line coaches Joe Cullen and Terry Bradden for helping to improve his finishing and second effort.
“I feel like I was good from an individual perspective,” Karlaftis said of the season’s early chapters. “[I] felt like I was getting there [but] just missing my layups a lot. So in practice — with Coach Cullen and Coach Bradden — [we’re] just working on finishing a lot.”
The extra work has also involved continuing the play even when unsuccessful against first blocks, which has benefitted the rookie when opposing quarterbacks have held on to the ball too long.
“A lot of sacks that come for guys around the league are on a second effort, on a counter,” he observed. “So we’ve been working that nonstop [and] watching extra film.”