NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With multiple playoff spots up for grabs on Sunday, this turned into a week where the contenders were separated from the pretenders. 

One team that definitely qualifies as a pretender is the Washington Commanders, who saw their playoff chances go down the drain after losing to the Browns. Although the Commanders won't be in the playoffs, the three other NFC East teams will. We already saw the Eagles and Cowboys clinch spots earlier this season and on Sunday, the Giants joined them thanks to their win over the Colts

Of course, you can't have an NFL postseason without Tom Brady and he'll be headed to the playoffs for the 14th straight season after his Buccaneers clinched the NFC South title with a win over the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs beat the Panthers 30-24 after digging themselves out of a 14-0 hole. 

So what kind of grade do you get for making a 14-point comeback with the division title on the line? Let's get to the Week 17 grades and find out. If you're looking for a deeper dive on the Cowboys' 27-13 win over the Titans that was played Thursday, you can check that out here.

Tampa Bay 30-24 over Carolina 

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times ... maybe we should consider changing up our defense. Mike Evans burned Keith Taylor and C.J. Henderson for three total touchdowns in man coverage, while the Panthers offense struggled in the second half. Carolina (6-10) had a 14-0 lead in what was virtually its Super Bowl, and blew it. That's tough.
The Buccaneers did not have a perfect outing on Sunday, but they eventually settled in and delivered their best offensive performance of the season. Tom Brady threw for 432 yards and three touchdowns, Mike Evans caught 10 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns and Chris Godwin had 120 receiving yards on nine catches. This is the kind of outing you want to have before the playoffs. The Buccaneers (8-8) are now guaranteed a home game in the wild card round even if they finish the season with a losing record. 

Panthers-Buccaneers grades by Jordan Dajani (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

N.Y. Giants 38-10 over Indianapolis

The Colts (4-11-1) might have finally given up on the season. They got outclassed in every way you can possibly get outclassed by another team. Nick Foles threw a pick-six in the first half that gave the Giants a 24-3 lead, and at the point, the route was on. When you're as bad as the Colts are, you have to take some risks to win, but Jeff Saturday refused to do that. In the first quarter, he called for a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Giants' 5-yard line on a play where Indy probably should have gone for it. This was just a disaster of a game for a team that's now been outscored 58-13 over the past two weeks. 
To clinch a playoff berth, all the Giants (9-6-1) had to do was beat the Colts on Sunday and Daniel Jones made sure that happened. Not only did Jones throw two touchdown passes, but he also rushed for two more while finishing the day as the Giants' leading rusher with 91 yards. Jones' four touchdowns were more than enough, but the defense also decided to tack on a score with a Landon Collins pick-six. This was the type of win that will give the Giants some confidence going forward and make them feel like they might be able to do some damage in the playoffs. 

Colts-Giants grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Cleveland 24-10 over Washington

With their playoff hopes gone, the Browns (7-9) had nothing to play for Sunday, but someone apparently forgot to tell them that because Cleveland absolutely dominated the game. The defense got off to a hot start with two interceptions and a fourth-down stop on Washington's first three possessions, which set the tone for the day. The Browns offense, which had been struggling over the past few weeks, finally showed some signs of life. Not only did Nick Chubb rush for 104 yards, but Amari Cooper went off, catching three passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Deshaun Watson only completed 9 of 18 passes, but he made the most of those nine completions with three touchdowns and 169 yards. 
With their playoff hopes on the line, the Commanders (7-8-1) turned to Carson Wentz on Sunday and that decision totally backfired. Wentz was a disaster, throwing three interceptions, including two that came on Washington's first three possessions. With Wentz playing so badly, the Commanders needed their defense to step up, but that didn't happen either as Washington gave up three offensive touchdowns to a Browns offense that had not scored more than one in any game since Deshaun Watson's return from suspension in Week 12. 

Browns-Commanders grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Detroit 41-10 over Chicago

The Bears (3-13) have Justin Fields, but they don't really have anything else. Fields did his best to carry the Bears in this game and that worked for about one quarter, but then the Bears completely fell apart. Fields got no help from an offensive line that let him get sacked seven times and he got no help from a defense that surrendered more than 500 yards of total offense to the Lions. The Bears have had some ugly losses this season, but this one might have been the ugliest. 
The Lions needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive and they responded by destroying the Bears. Jamal Williams led a rushing attack that streamrolled the Bears defense for 265 yards on the ground, which was the Lions' highest rushing total for Detroit since 1991. The Lions passing game was almost as good as their rushing attack with Jared Goff throwing three touchdown passes. Not to be outdone, the Lions defense beat up Justin Fields, sacking the Bears QB seven times. The Lions also came away with three turnovers in what was arguably the team's best all-around performance of the season. If the Lions (8-8) can sneak into the playoffs, they could be a dangerous team. 

Bears-Lions grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Jacksonville 31-3 over Houston

The Jaguars didn't bench their starters in this game, but if they had, they probably would have still won by at least three touchdowns. That's how much better the Jags were in this game. The defense came out on fire: On the Texans' first six possessions, they didn't reach Jacksonville territory a single time and the Jags returned a fumble for a touchdown during that span. Offensively, the Jags weren't flashy, but they did come up with several big plays, including a 62-yard TD run by Travis Etienne. At 8-8, the Jags are now just one win away from hosting a wild card game and based on the way they're playing, this should be a team that no one wants to face. 
At this point, every loss is a moral victory for the Texans (2-13-1) because every loss brings them one step closer to clinching the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. That's about the only positive you can say about Houston in this game. 

Jaguars-Texans grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Atlanta 20-19 over Arizona

When you're down to your fourth starting QB of the season, no one really expects you to win, but the Cardinals still almost stole this game thanks to an impressive game from David Blough (222 yards, one TD), who had only been on the roster for 18 days before making this start. The Cardinals (4-12) might have won this game if they didn't suffer a special teams meltdown. Not only did they surrender a blocked punt in the first half -- that the Falcons later turned into a touchdown --  but Matt Prater also missed a 43-yard field goal in the second half. The Cardinals defense also gave up a game-winning drive over the final five minutes of the game. The upside for Kliff Kingsbury is that his team hasn't given up on him, but the downside is that the front office is likely going to reevaluate everything after what has been a lost season for Arizona. 
The Falcons weren't dominant in this game, but they did come up with several monstrous plays that allowed them to win. The biggest play was a blocked punt by Richie Grant with under two minutes left to play in the first half. The block set up a Cordarrelle Patterson TD one play later that allowed the Falcons to take a 14-10 lead into the half. In the second half, the Falcons offense, which was nonfunctional in the third quarter, ended up getting two big scoring drives in the fourth quarter. The Falcons (6-10) struggled in the red zone, they didn't even total 300 yards, but they came up with the big plays when they needed them. 

Cardinals-Falcons grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Kansas City 27-24 over Denver

Maybe Nathaniel Hackett was holding back the Broncos (4-12). In their first game since firing Hackett, Denver had one of its best offensive games of the season, but it still wasn't enough. Russell Wilson played arguably his best game of the season with 249 total yards and three total touchdowns (two rush, one pass). On the other hand, maybe the problems weren't due to Hackett, because the Broncos had their normal problems: Wilson still struggled at times (he threw and interception) and the offensive line still couldn't protect him (he got sacked four times). When you've played as bad as the Broncos have this season, this game can almost be considered a moral victory.  
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. 

Broncos-Chiefs grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

New Orleans 20-10 over Philadelphia

The Saints defense shut down the Eagles offense in the first half, holding Philadelphia to four straight three-and-outs to build a 13-0 lead. New Orleans had just one offensive touchdown in the game -- and that came on the scripted drive of 15 plays for 75 yards that took 8:58 off the clock. New Orleans (7-9) has won three in a row, but the Saints saved their best defensive performances of the year for too late in the year as they are eliminated from the NFC South race. Rashid Shaheed continues to be a big-play option for an offense that needs it and the defense is clearly better with Marshon Lattimore on the field than off it. This was a big win for New Orleans, even if its season ends next week. 
The offense was putrid to start the game, going four straight possessions with three-and-outs to start. Gardner Minshew missed plenty of throws, failed to convert a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter, and threw a pick-six to Marshon Lattimore that essentially sealed the win. The Eagles (13-3) can still clinch the NFC East and home field next week -- and they will have Jalen Hurts back (he was sorely missed in this game). James Bradberry said it best after the game -- they would have preferred to wrap things up this week. 

Saints-Eagles grades by Jeff Kerr (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

New England 23-21 over Miami

The Dolphins (8-8) are being graded on a curve here with Tua Tagovailoa in concussion protocol and not playing today. Miami's offense appeared to be moving early in the second half with Teddy Bridgewater, but it essentially shut down after his injury on the pick-six. Their secondary appeared to be mostly out of position as the unit was called for a number of penalties when Mac Jones threw deep passes. A once promising season appears to be going to waste as they've now lost five in a row after an 8-3 start.
The Patriots defense won the day with two interceptions, including the go-ahead six in the third quarter by Kyle Dugger. They also had key sacks on multiple Dolphins third downs. Mac Jones had an average day throwing the ball, but average is better than what the Patriots offense had been the last five weeks. At 8-8, the Pats are now in control of their playoff chances entering Week 18.

Dolphins-Patriots grades by Garrett Podell (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

San Francisco 37-34 in OT over Las Vegas

The 49ers have been so dominant over the past two months that they haven't really been tested, but they got a serious test on Sunday and they passed it ... but just barely. The 49ers offense bailed out a defense that had one of its worst games of the season. The offensive fireworks came courtesy of Christian McCaffrey (193 total yards, 1 TD) and Brandon Aiyuk. The 49ers receiver finished with 101 yards and the wild part is that 81 of those came in the fourth quarter. Brock Purdy also proved that he can lead a comeback as he trailed by double digits for the first time since taking over the starting job. Although it wasn't a banner night for the defense, the unit did come up with some big plays, including Tashaun Gipson's OT interception that set up Robbie Gould's game-winning kick. The 49ers got a major scare, but they showed that they're resilient and that should come in handy come playoff time.  
Josh McDaniels made the bold decision to bench Derek Carr this week and he now looks like a genius after what Jarrett Stidham did to the NFL's top-ranked defense. A big reason the Raiders were able to take this game to overtime was thanks to Stidham, who threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns. He wasn't perfect -- he threw two interceptions -- but he did help the Raiders pile up 500 yards of offense against a 49ers defense that was surrendering the fewest yards per game heading into Week 17. Davante Adams (153 receiving yards, two touchdowns) made several highlight-reel catches, including a 45-yarder with under two minutes left that helped the Raiders force OT (You can see the play here). No one knows if the benching of Carr will work out in the long run, but McDaniels might have just proved that the Raiders will be better off going forward with a QB who understands how to run his offense. 

49ers-Raiders grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

L.A. Chargers 31-10 over L.A. Rams

Whatever magic Baker Mayfield has seems to have run out for the Rams. In the battle of L.A., the Rams kept things close in the first half, but then the offense forgot to show up for the second half. The Rams only crossed the 50-yard once during the second half and that drive ended with a lost fumble by Mayfield. 
The Chargers got off to a slow start in this game with zero points in the first quarter, but after that, they absolutely dominated. Offensively, the Chargers were able to move the ball at will, especially on the ground as Austin Ekeler was nearly unstoppable, rushing for 122 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries (That's a wildly impressive 12.2 yards per carry). Justin Herbert seems a lot more comfortable with both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams  in the lineup. The Chargers (10-6) are getting healthy at the right time and they're getting hot at the right time, especially their defense, which has now given up an average of just 11 points per game during the team's current four-game winning streak. This feels like a team that could make some noise in the playoffs. 

Rams-Chargers grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Green Bay 41-17 over Minnesota

Somehow this doesn't feel that surprising. Destiny clings to Minnesota whenever the Vikings play equal or lesser opponents, but put them on a big stage in a big spot against a big-time competitor and, well, everything crumbles. Kirk Cousins tried to rifle his team out of trouble early, but with Justin Jefferson consistently struggling to separate against Jaire Alexander and only T.J. Hockenson occasionally finding space over the middle of the field, they just never had anywhere to go. It didn't help that Greg Joseph missed a pair of kicks early and the special teams also faltered on a kick-return TD. They may be headed for a home playoff game, but how can they be trusted?
Not much needs to be said here, right? Aaron Rodgers is the big name in these matchups, and yet he was, like, reason No. 8 why the Packers blew out the Vikings in a must-win matchup. Joe Barry's defense absolutely wrecked Kevin O'Connell's attack: Jaire Alexander not only lived up to but exceeded his own pregame hype against Justin Jefferson, and the rest of the secondary feasted on tight-window Kirk Cousins throws. Meanwhile, Aaron Jones ran loose with steadily open lanes, Mason Crosby drilled a clutch kick in the cold and, well, this team looks like an actual challenger in the NFC going into Week 18.

Vikings-Packers grades by Cody Benjamin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Seattle 23-6 over N.Y. Jets

New York's offense looked inept for most of the game, against a Seattle defense that had not exactly been a stingy defense throughout this season. The Jets defense was pretty good for the most part, but got hit with a couple of splash plays that proved to be crushing. But ultimately, the Jets saw their playoff hopes dashed and kept open the longest playoff drought in the NFL: They haven't made the postseason since 2010.
Seattle kept its playoff hopes alive for another week. If the Seahawks can beat the Rams, all they need is for the Lions to beat the Packers, and they can grab the No. 7 seed in the NFC. They got it done with a few big plays from Kenneth Walker and DeeJay Dallas, plus timely turnovers forced by Quandre Diggs and Mike Jackson. It was a full team effort. Geno Smith also was able to get revenge on the team that drafted him with two touchdown passes. 

Jets-Seahawks grades by Jared Dubin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)

Pittsburgh 16-13 over Baltimore

The Steelers defense kept Pittsburgh in this game and then Kenny Pickett went out and won it. With the Ravens leading 13-9 and the Steelers needing a TD, the rookie QB didn't blink. With the game on the line, Picket went 5 of 6 for 64 yards on Pittsburgh's game-winning drive, which included throwing a game-winning TD pass to Najee Harris. It was fitting that Harris caught the game-winning TD because he had been carrying the Steelers offense up until that point with 111 yards on 22 carries. The Steelers playoff chances were hanging by a thread going into Week 17, but now they suddenly have a very real path to the postseason (Beat the Browns in Week 18 combined with a Bills win over New England and a Jets win over the Dolphins). 
Lamar Jackson missed his fourth straight game and once again, the Ravens struggled without him. Mark Andrews (nine catches for 100 yard) and J.K. Dobbins (93 rushing yards) combined for 80% of the Ravens' offensive output and outside of those two, Baltimore did nothing. The Ravens defense did a solid job of slowing down the Steelers for the better part of three quarters, but the unit wilted in the fourth quarter, surrendering two separate scoring drives that went for at least 80 yards. The Ravens defense has been playing well, but with the offense struggling, there's just been no margin for error. The Ravens better hope Jackson is back for the playoffs, because it's hard to imagine this team winning any games without him.

Steelers-Ravens grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)