By Around the NFL staff
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They’re not dead yet! With just five weeks to go in the 2016 regular season, teams are making their final playoff pushes, avoiding catastrophe in the process.
The AFC East contenders — Buffalo and Miami — both narrowly escaped home defeats to the Jaguarsand 49ers, respectively, two teams that are slated to have top-five draft picks. In the NFC South, the Falcons and Saints went ahead early and stayed ahead against the underperforming Cardinals and Rams. The Titans steered clear of disaster in the Windy City, keeping pace with the struggling Texans.
The postseason picture is clearing up. Here’s what we’ve learned from Week 12.
1. Derek Carr was at the head of the roller coaster the Oakland faithful collectively rode on Sunday. The quarterback led an offensive attack that had the Raiders ahead 24-7 at half, then suffered a gruesome right hand injury that knocked him out of the game for a series and sparked a Carolina response of 25 unanswered points. But Carr, wearing a glove on the injured hand and receiving snaps exclusively out of the shotgun, didn’t wilt, leading a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Clive Walford to tie the game at 32. He captained another drive that saw two acrobatic grabs from Michael Crabtree and ended five yards short of the end zone. We went from “business as usual Raiders,” to the injury-induced fall of Carr, back to another thrilling win for Oakland. The Raiders have made their living with heart-stopping victories this season. Why, on Sunday against the struggling but reigning NFC champions, should it have been any different?
2. What an odd day for Cam Newton. He had a roughing the passer penalty go his way for the first time since 2014, and had completed just nine passes midway through the fourth for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Two passes accounted for 132 yards and both of the scores. Carolina morphed into a deep strike offense with little else to offer. It burned the Panthers in the end, when they needed just eight yards to be in Graham Gano‘s range for a game-tying field goal, but had a well-placed pass glance off Greg Olsen‘s hands on third down and Newton was sacked on fourth down by Khalil Mack.
3. Speaking of Mack, what a game for the linebacker. He finished with six tackles, the game-sealing sack, a fumble recovery on the play and an interception he returned for a touchdown just before halftime. The pick added to the early energy the Raiders had built in their favor, cutting off an attempted screen and waltzing into the end zone with the football for his first career score. As he has been for much of his career, he was a force off the edge, causing problems for Trai Turner and Mike Remmers.
— Nick Shook
1. Miami was a team that leaned heavily on the run to turn things around earlier in the season, but even against the league’s worst rush defense, it was all about the pass for the Dolphins on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill had perhaps his best game of the season through three and a half quarters, connecting with Dion Sims, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker (we’ll get to him later) and even Leonte Carroo before stalling out and almost surrendering a 17-point lead. It makes that hefty contract Tannehill plays under look like a better decision for a Miami team that doesn’t destroy opponents, but consistently comes away a winner.
2. It seems that with each week, Parker looks more and more like the first-round selection the Dolphins thought they were getting in 2015. For the second straight week, he made an absurd catch that was overturned upon further review. In fact, he made two of those, but the pesky sideline negated both. Parker finished with just three grabs for 64 yards and was shut out of the end zone, but he continues to trend upward and could very well be the star target Tannehill has lacked in Miami so far in his career.
3. The Niners might be the second-worst team in the NFL, but they sure didn’t play like it Sunday. They took an early lead on a Carlos Hyde touchdown reception and remained competitive throughout, even battling back from a 31-14 deficit to come up two yards short of tying the game at the end of regulation. Colin Kaepernick had one of his better games of the season, tossing three touchdowns, extending plays with his feet and almost leading a comeback drive inside the final minute of play. It wasn’t enough for San Francisco, which lacked a sense of urgency when down multiple scores later in the fourth, but can serve as something to build on moving forward.
— Nick Shook