Close games and great comeback victories, new teams making the playoffs and winning divisions, consistent teams excelling once again, records falling, young players making their mark and so much more.
The 2016 season had it all, including a fantastic finish.
Week 17 came right down to the wire as two division titles the AFC West and NFC North were decided on the season's final day. Sunday's excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season's final day, a tradition instituted in 2010.
Six of the NFL's eight divisions featured new champions in 2016, the most in a season since 2011.
The 2016 season featured many exciting games with close finishes, as 57 percent were decided by one score 146 of 256 games were decided by eight or fewer points, the most of any season in NFL history.
Each of the 12 teams still in Super Bowl LI contention can look back at the wild ride that was the 2016 regular season and appreciate how challenging the road to the playoffs was.
The DALLAS COWBOYS (13-3), led by rookie quarterback DAK PRESCOTT and rookie running back EZEKIEL ELLIOTT, wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the first time since 2007.
"It is a whole new season now," says Prescott of advancing to the postseason after finishing with the top record in the NFC. "Everything you do from this point on is really how you get looked at at the end of the year. So that is important to us, looking forward and playing a long time in this postseason."
Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before. Six teams that missed the postseason in 2015 ATLANTA (11-5), DALLAS (13-3), DETROIT (9-7), MIAMI (10-6), the NEW YORK GIANTS (11-5) and OAKLAND (12-4) accomplished the feat this year.
"It's so much fun when you get a playoff game at home in front of your own crowd and the energy that kind of comes along with that," says Atlanta head coach DAN QUINN, who helped guide the Falcons to the NFC South title. "It's a byproduct of winning your division, where you're guaranteed a home game. And then if you have a chance to go past that where better things can happen, then you go from there. It's a significant thing and a really cool experience."
The 2016 season also proved that consistency is difficult, but not impossible, to maintain in the NFL. The NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS won their eighth consecutive AFC East division title (2009-present), surpassing the 1973-79 Rams for the most consecutive division championships in NFL history. The Patriots, who finished with a 14-2 record, tied the 2003-09 Colts as the only teams in NFL history with at least 12 wins in seven consecutive seasons.
The PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-5) earned the 600th regular-season victory in franchise history this season, becoming the fourth franchise is NFL history to reach 600 wins. The Steelers (601) joined the Chicago Bears (744), Green Bay Packers (730) and New York Giants (684) as the only franchises with at least 600 regular-season victories.
The NFL is never short on surprises, and that leads to the excitement we witnessed in 2016:
Games continued to be close, as more than half of all games were decided by one score.
GAMES DECIDED BY ONE SCORE
POINTS GAMES PCT.
8 or Fewer 146 of 256 57.0%
7 or Fewer 135 of 256 52.7%
This season, 146 of 256 games (57.0 percent) were decided by eight or fewer points, the most of any season in NFL history.
SEASON MOST GAMES DECIDED BY EIGHT OR FEWER POINTS
In 2016, 135 of 256 games (52.7 percent) were decided by seven or fewer points, also the most of any season in NFL history.
SEASON MOST GAMES DECIDED BY SEVEN OR FEWER POINTS
Seventy-two percent of games (184 of 256) were within eight points in the fourth quarter, the highest percentage since the institution of the two-point conversion in 1994.
The 184 games are the most of any season in NFL history.
SEASON MOST GAMES WITHIN ONE SCORE IN FOURTH QUARTER
170 of the season's 256 games (66.4 percent) were within seven points in the fourth quarter, the most of any season in NFL history.
SEASON MOST GAMES WITHIN ONE SCORE IN FOURTH QUARTER
Games continued to have a flare for the dramatic, as tight contests frequently came down to the wire.
In 2016, the average margin of victory was 10.23 points per game, the third-smallest margin in NFL history and the lowest figure since 1935 (10.08 points per game).
The lowest single-season margins of victory in NFL history:
SEASON MARGIN OF VICTORY
There were 72 games won by teams that trailed in the fourth quarter in 2016, the most such games in a season in NFL history, surpassing the previous high of 70 in 1989.
SEASON GAMES WON AFTER TRAILING IN 4TH QUARTER
The DETROIT LIONS won eight games when trailing in the fourth quarter in 2016, the most in a single season in NFL history.
The teams with the most wins after trailing in the fourth quarter in a single season in NFL history:
SEASON TEAM GAMES WON AFTER TRAILING IN 4TH QUARTER
2016 Detroit 8
2009 Indianapolis 7
--- Many Tied 6
The DALLAS COWBOYS clinched the NFC East division title, which marked the 13th time in the past 14 seasons that one or more teams went from last or tied for last place to a division championship the following year.
The teams to go from "worst-to-first" in their division since 2003:
SEASON TEAM RECORD PRIOR SEASON RECORD
2003 Carolina 11-5 7-9
2003 Kansas City 13-3 8-8*
2004 Atlanta 11-5 5-11
2004 San Diego 12-4 4-12*
2005 Chicago 11-5 5-11
2005 New York Giants 11-5 6-10*
2005 Tampa Bay 11-5 5-11
2006 Baltimore 13-3 6-10*
2006 New Orleans 10-6 3-13
2006 Philadelphia 10-6 6-10
2007 Tampa Bay 9-7 4-12
2008 Miami 11-5 1-15
2009 New Orleans** 13-3 8-8
2010 Kansas City 10-6 4-12
2011 Denver 8-8 4-12
2011 Houston 10-6 6-10*
2012 Washington 10-6 5-11
2013 Carolina 12-4 7-9*
2013 Philadelphia 10-6 4-12
2015 Washington 9-7 4-12
2016 Dallas 13-3 4-12
* Tied for last place
** Won Super Bowl
The NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS captured their eighth consecutive division title, the longest streak in NFL history, breaking a tie with the 1973-79 Los Angeles Rams (seven). The Patriots are the only team in NFL history to win 13 division titles in a 14-year span.
A total of 11,661 points were scored during the 2016 season, the third-highest total all-time (11,985 points in 2013 and 11,680 points in 2015). Games averaged 45.55 points per game, the third-highest average since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and trailing only the 46.82 points per game average in 2013 and the 45.63 average in 2015. In all, 1,306 total touchdowns were scored, also the third-most all-time.
Nine teams scored at least 400 points this season Atlanta (540), New Orleans (469), New England (441), Green Bay (432), Dallas (421), Arizona (418), Oakland (416), Indianapolis (411) and San Diego (410) tying the 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015 seasons for the second-most all-time. Those nine teams combined for a .601 winning percentage and five qualified for the playoffs.
NFL QBs put together a historically proficient and prolific year in 2016.
The league-wide completion percentage (63.0) tied the previous record set in 2015, while the league-wide passer rating (89.3) ranked second behind only the 2015 season (90.2). There were 786 touchdown passes thrown in 2016, the fourth-highest total in NFL history.
The league-wide interception percentage of 2.3 percent was the lowest of any season in NFL history, surpassing the previous mark of 2.4 in 2015.
Games averaged 700.8 total net yards per game, the second-best mark in NFL annals (705.3 in 2015). Explosive passing offenses fueled that trend, with an average of 483.0 net passing yards per game, the second-highest total all-time (487.6 in 2015).
There were 57 individual performances with three touchdown passes without an interception in 2016, the third-highest of any season in NFL history (59 in 2015, 58 in 2014).
New England quarterback TOM BRADY (205) surpassed PEYTON MANNING (200) as the all-time wins leader (including playoffs) in NFL history.
Brady finished the regular season with 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions, recording the highest touchdown/interception ratio in NFL history.
Quarterbacks DREW BREES of New Orleans and TOM BRADY of New England both climbed higher on the all-time list for career passing yards. Brees ranks third all-time in passing yards (66,111), while Brady ranks fourth (61,582), as both players surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (61,361) during the 2016 season. Only PEYTON MANNING (71,940) and Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE (71,838) have more career passing yards.
The New York Giants' ELI MANNING (320), San Diego's PHILIP RIVERS (314) and Pittsburgh's BEN ROETHLISBERGER (301) each reached 300 career passing touchdowns during the season, becoming the eighth, ninth and tenth quarterbacks in NFL history, respectively, to reach the mark.
Atlanta quarterback MATT RYAN recorded a 117.1 passer rating in 2016, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history.
New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards in 2016, the fourth-highest passing yardage total in league history. Brees is the first player to lead the league in passing yards seven times, extending his NFL record.
Brees (2008, 2011-13, 2016) has five of the nine individual 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history and is the only quarterback in league history to pass for at least 5,000 yards in multiple seasons.
Brees, who has 53,763 passing yards in his 11 seasons with the Saints, is the sixth quarterback to pass for 50,000 yards with one team.
Brees had two 400-yard passing games in 2016. In 16 seasons, Brees has 15 career 400-yard passing games, surpassing PEYTON MANNING (14) for the most such games in NFL history.
Brees had a league-leading 10 300-yard passing games in 2016 and his 106 career 300-yard passing games are the most in NFL history.
Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS led the NFL with 40 passing touchdowns in 2016. Rodgers, who passed for 45 touchdowns in 2011, became the fourth player in NFL history with at least 40 touchdown passes in multiple seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (two), PEYTON MANNING (two) and DREW BREES (two).
Brees ranked third in the NFL with 37 touchdown passes, joining TOM BRADY (four), Manning (four) and Rodgers (four) as the only players in NFL history with at least 35 touchdown passes in four different seasons.
Brees has passed for at least 30 touchdowns in nine consecutive seasons, extending his NFL-record streak.
Detroit quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD led the Lions on eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in 2016, the most such drives by a quarterback in a single season since 1970.
Tampa Bay quarterback JAMEIS WINSTON had 4,090 passing yards and became the first player in NFL history with at least 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons.
Winston (50) is one of only five quarterbacks to pass for at least 50 touchdowns over his first two seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (68), DEREK CARR (53), PEYTON MANNING (52) and RUSSELL WILSON (52).
Minnesota quarterback SAM BRADFORD completed 395 of 552 attempts for an NFL-record 71.6 completion percentage, surpassing DREW BREES' record of 71.2 percent in 2011.
Dallas rookie quarterback DAK PRESCOTT passed for 3,667 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions for a 104.9 rating in 2016. Prescott joined TOM BRADY (2010, 2016) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 3,500 passing yards and fewer than five interceptions in a season and is the first rookie in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
RUSHING & RECEIVING
Several running backs enjoyed historic seasons in 2016:
Seven players registered at least 10 rushing touchdowns in 2016 New England's LE GARRETTE BLOUNT (18), Arizona's DAVID JOHNSON (16), Dallas' EZEKIEL ELLIOTT (15), Buffalo's LE SEAN MC COY (13), Oakland's LATAVIUS MURRAY (12), Atlanta's DEVONTA FREEMAN (11) and San Diego's MELVIN GORDON (10).
Twelve players registered at least 1,000 rushing yards this season Elliott (1,631), Chicago's JORDAN HOWARD (1,313), Tennessee's DE MARCO MURRAY (1,287), Miami's JAY AJAYI (1,272), Pittsburgh's LE'VEON BELL (1,268), McCoy (1,267), Johnson (1,239), Blount (1,161), Freeman (1,079), Houston's LAMAR MILLER (1,073), New Orleans' MARK INGRAM (1,043) and Indianapolis' FRANK GORE (1,025).
Dallas running back EZEKIEL ELLIOTT led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards this season, becoming the fifth rookie since 1970 to lead the league in rushing yards and the first since EDGERRIN JAMES (1,553 yards) in 1999.
Elliott had 1,994 scrimmage yards (1,631 rushing, 363 receiving) this season, the third-highest total by a rookie in NFL history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON (2,212 in 1983) and James (2,139 in 1999).
Indianapolis running back FRANK GORE (13,065) became the eighth player in NFL history to reach 13,000 career rushing yards.
Gore, who had 1,025 rushing yards this season, became the fifth player in NFL history with at least nine seasons of 1,000 rushing yards, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers EMMITT SMITH (11), CURTIS MARTIN (10), WALTER PAYTON (10) and BARRY SANDERS (10).
Three players registered at least 100 receptions in 2016 Arizona's LARRY FITZGERALD (107), Pittsburgh's ANTONIO BROWN (106) and the New York Giants' ODELL BECKHAM JR. (101).
Six players recorded at least 1,200 receiving yards in 2016 Indianapolis' T.Y. HILTON (1,448), Atlanta' JULIO JONES (1,409), Beckham (1,367), Tampa Bay's MIKE EVANS (1,321), Brown (1,284), and Green Bay's JORDY NELSON (1,257).
Five players had at least 10 touchdown catches in 2016 Nelson (14), Green Bay's DAVANTE ADAMS (12), Brown (12), Evans (12) and Beckham (10).
Arizona wide receiver LARRY FITZGERALD led the NFL with 107 catches and at 33 years, 123 days old, became the oldest player to lead the league in receptions since Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (34 years, 71 days) in 1996.
Fitzgerald has four career seasons with at least 100 catches, trailing only BRANDON MARSHALL (six), ANDRE JOHNSON (five) and WES WELKER (five) all-time.
Pittsburgh wide receiver ANTONIO BROWN ranked second in the NFL with 106 catches this season and has 481 receptions over the past four seasons, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON (469 from 1999-2002) for the most catches in any four-year span in NFL history.
Brown has four consecutive seasons with at least 100 catches, tying Harrison (four from 1999-2002) for the most consecutive 100-catch seasons in NFL history.
Wide receivers LARRY FITZGERALD of Arizona and ANQUAN BOLDIN of Detroit each played in their 200th career games in Week 16. Fitzgerald (1,116) has the most career receptions in a player's first 200 games in NFL history, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (1,115).
Boldin had 1,067 career receptions through 200 career games, the fourth-highest total in NFL history. The only players with more are Fitzgerald (1,116), Rice (1,115) and Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON (1,102).
Boldin had 67 catches this season, the 14th consecutive season he has caught 50+ passes since entering the league in 2003. That is the longest streak to begin a career in NFL history.
Fitzgerald, who recorded his 13th consecutive season with 50+ catches, has the second-longest such streak to begin a career.
New York Giants wide receiver ODELL BECKHAM JR. finished third in the NFL with a career-high 101 catches. Beckham has 288 receptions through his first three seasons, tied with Miami's JARVIS LANDRY for the most through a player's first three seasons in NFL history.
Beckham has 4,122 receiving yards through his first three seasons and is one of only two players in NFL history to record at least 4,000 receiving yards in his first three seasons (RANDY MOSS, 4,163 from 1998-2000).
Beckham and Landry are the only two players in NFL history with at least 80 catches in each of their first three seasons in the NFL.
Baltimore wide receiver STEVE SMITH SR., who has 1,031 career catches, became the 14th player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career receptions.
Smith (14,731) climbed to seventh place in NFL history in receiving yards, while Arizona's LARRY FITZGERALD (14,389) moved into ninth place all-time.
San Diego tight end ANTONIO GATES had seven receiving touchdowns in 2016 and has 111 career touchdown catches, tying TONY GONZALEZ for the most by a tight end in NFL history.
Gates brought his career receiving yards total to 11,192, becoming the third tight end in NFL history to reach 11,000 career receiving yards, joining Gonzalez (15,127) and JASON WITTEN (11,888).
Carolina tight end GREG OLSEN, who had 1,073 receiving yards this season, became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards.
Arizona running back DAVID JOHNSON led the league with 2,118 scrimmage yards (1,239 rushing, 879 receiving) and became the fourth different player with at least 1,200 rushing yards and 800 receiving yards in a single season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer MARSHALL FAULK (1998-2000), STEVEN JACKSON (2006) and LE'VEON BELL (2014).
Johnson recorded at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first 15 games this season, becoming the first player in NFL history to start a season with 15 consecutive games with 100+ scrimmage yards.
Johnson tied Pro Football Hall of Famer BARRY SANDERS (15) as the only players in NFL history to record 15 consecutive games with at least 100 scrimmage yards in a single season.
Indianapolis running back FRANK GORE, who has 13,065 rushing yards and 414 receptions in his career, became the fifth player in NFL history with at least 13,000 rushing yards and 400 receptions. Gore joined Pro Football Hall of Famers CURTIS MARTIN, WALTER PAYTON and EMMITT SMITH and LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON as the only players to accomplish the feat.
Gore had 1,302 scrimmage yards (1,025 rushing, 277 receiving) this season, becoming the first player in NFL history to record at least 1,200 scrimmage yards in 11 consecutive seasons.
Philadelphia's DARREN SPROLES had two receiving touchdowns in 2016, bringing his career total to 30 touchdown catches. Sproles is the only player in NFL history with at least 30 receiving touchdowns (30), 20 rushing touchdowns (22) and five punt-return touchdowns (seven).
Kansas City rookie wide receiver-return specialist TYREEK HILL became the first player since Pro Football Hall of Famer GALE SAYERS in 1965 to have a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown and kickoff-return touchdown in the same game in the Chiefs' Week 12 overtime victory at Denver.
Hill is the only player in NFL history to record at least three receiving touchdowns (six), three rushing touchdowns (three) and three total kick-return touchdowns (three) in a single season.
Indianapolis kicker ADAM VINATIERI converted 43 consecutive field-goal attempts dating back to 2015, the longest streak in NFL history, surpassing MIKE VANDERJAGT's previous record of 42.
With 125 points this season, Vinatieri became the only player in NFL history to score 100+ points in 19 different seasons.
Oakland kicker SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI, who has converted 55 career 50+ yard field goals, surpassed Jason Hanson (52) for the most 50-yard field goals in NFL history.
Baltimore kicker JUSTIN TUCKER converted 10 50+ yard field goals in 2016, tying BLAIR WALSH (10) for the most 50-yard field goals in a single season in NFL history.
Tucker converted 38 of 39 field goal attempts (97.4 percent) in 2016, the third-highest single-season field-goal percentage in NFL history (minimum 20 attempts). Only GARY ANDERSON (35 of 35 in 1998) and MIKE VANDERJAGT (37 of 37 in 2003) have higher single-season field-goal percentages.
With all that offense, defenses were heard from as well. Four of the top five NFL teams in scoring defense qualified for the playoffs New England (15.6), the New York Giants (17.8), Seattle (18.3) and Dallas (19.1). Those four clubs had a combined winning percentage of .758.
Four of the top five teams in turnover margin advanced to the postseason and won at least 10 games each Kansas City (+16), Oakland (+16), New England (+12) and Atlanta (+11). Those four clubs had a combined .766 winning percentage.
Green Bay linebacker JULIUS PEPPERS had 7.5 sacks and climbed to fifth place on the NFL's all-time sack leaderboard with 143.5 career sacks. Denver linebacker DE MARCUS WARE had four sacks and has 138.5 sacks in his career, the eighth-most in the NFL since the statistic became official in 1982.
Kansas City safety ERIC BERRY became the first player to return an interception for both a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the same game in the Chiefs' Week 13 win at Atlanta.
Berry intercepted a two-point conversion attempt and returned it for the go-ahead score with 4:32 remaining in the fourth quarter in the Chiefs' 29-28 victory over the Falcons, marking the first game-winning defensive two-point conversion scored when his team was trailing since the rule was adopted in 2015. He also added a 37-yard interception-return touchdown in the contest.
The Arizona Cardinals (MARKUS GOLDEN, 12.5; CHANDLER JONES, 11) and Seattle Seahawks (CLIFF AVRIL, 11.5; FRANK CLARK, 10) were the only teams with two players who each had double-digit sacks.
New York Giants cornerback DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE (six) and safety LANDON COLLINS (five) were the only pair of NFL teammates with at least five interceptions in 2016.
Atlanta linebacker VIC BEASLEY JR. led the NFL with 15.5 sacks and tied for the league lead with six forced fumbles in 2016, becoming the first player in franchise history to record at least 15 sacks and five forced fumbles in a single season.
New York Giants defensive end JASON PIERRE-PAUL became the first player with at least three sacks and a fumble-return touchdown of at least 40 yards in the same game since 1982, the first year individual sacks became an official statistic, when he registered a career-high three sacks and a 43-yard fumble-return touchdown in the Giants' Week 12 victory at Cleveland.
Oakland defensive end KHALIL MACK recorded at least one sack in eight consecutive games in 2016, tying for the sixth-longest streak in the NFL since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.
Mack was the only player in the NFL this season with at least 10 sacks (11) and an interception-return touchdown.
Dallas quarterback DAK PRESCOTT completed 311 of 459 passes (67.8 percent) for 3,667 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions for a 104.9 passer rating, the highest single-season passer rating by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
Prescott's 0.9 interception percentage is the lowest by a rookie quarterback in NFL history (minimum 200 passing attempts). The rookie began his career with 176 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, surpassing TOM BRADY (162) for the most pass attempts without an interception to start a career.
Prescott helped guide the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, tying BEN ROETHLISBERGER (13 in 2004) for the most wins by a rookie starting quarterback in NFL history.
Dallas running back EZEKIEL ELLIOTT led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards this season, the third-highest single-season total by a rookie running in NFL history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON (1,808 in 1983) and GEORGE ROGERS (1,674 in 1981).
Elliott had five games with at least 125 rushing yards, trailing only Dickerson (seven in 1983) for the most ever by a rookie.
Dallas became the only team in NFL history to have a rookie pass for 20 touchdowns (Prescott, 23) and a rookie rush for 15 touchdowns (Elliott, 15) in the same season.
Chicago rookie running back JORDAN HOWARD finished second in the NFL with 1,313 rushing yards in 2016. Elliott and Howard became the first pair of rookies to finish first and second in the league in rushing yards since PAUL ROBINSON (1,023) and ROBERT HOLMES (866) of the AFL in 1968.
Philadelphia quarterback CARSON WENTZ became the first rookie since 1970 to start and win his team's first three games to begin a season without throwing an interception.
Wentz, who had 379 completions this season, set the NFL record for the most completions by a rookie, surpassing SAM BRADFORD (354 in 2010).
Kansas City rookie wide receiver-return specialist TYREEK HILL had six receiving touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, two punt-return touchdowns and one kick-return touchdown in 2016, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer GALE SAYERS (1965) as the only players in NFL history to have at least five receiving touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, a kick-return touchdown and a punt-return touchdown in the same season.
Houston wide receiver WILL FULLER had a five-yard touchdown catch and a 67-yard punt-return touchdown in the Texans' Week 4 win over Tennessee, becoming the fourth rookie in the past 15 years to record both a touchdown catch and a punt-return touchdown in the same game.
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