By Matt Youmans
VSiN Senior Editor
Almost running the table was not good enough. After two months of brilliance, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are buried.
Funerals are a time to reflect. With all but one game of the NFL season in the books, this is an occasion to step back, take a breath and celebrate the memories from 2016.
The best game of the NFL playoffs is a unanimous decision. It’s doubtful the Super Bowl will top the drama of the Packers’ 34-31 win at Dallas on Jan. 15.
On third-and-20 with 12 seconds left, Rodgers rolled left and threw a 36-yard strike to Jared Cook, who dragged his toes on the sideline before falling out of bounds. In trotted Mason Crosby, who kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired to send Green Bay to the NFC Championship game.
The top-seeded Cowboys’ remarkable season was dust in the wind. The underdog Packers won their eighth straight game to keep alive Rodgers’ run-the-table prediction from late November.
Of course, the Packers were pounded the next week in Atlanta, setting the table for the Falcons’ Super Bowl showdown with New England on Feb. 5.
When the season started, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was serving a four-game suspension. Will it end with Brady winning his fifth Super Bowl?
In honor of the retired David Letterman, here’s another Top 10 list. Of the 256 regular-season games, these were the most memorable betting moments:
10. Derek Carr became a star and a Most Valuable Player candidate in Week 8. The Oakland quarterback tossed his fourth touchdown on his 59th pass attempt in a 30-24 overtime victory at Tampa Bay. A phenomenal performance by Carr propelled the Raiders to 5-0 on the road.
On fourth-and-4 at the Buccaneers’ 41-yard line, Carr threw a bullet to Seth Roberts, who broke a tackle and raced to the end zone to finally settle a pick’em game. The Raiders prevailed despite committing an NFL-record 23 penalties for 200 yards.
9. On a sunny Sunday in San Diego, a series of lightning bolts struck the choking Chargers in Week 4. With a big lead, the football in his hands and less than seven minutes on the clock, Philip Rivers seemed headed for certain victory. What could possibly go wrong?
Melvin Gordon fumbled on first down. Four plays later, Drew Brees tossed a fourth-down touchdown pass to pull the Saints within six points. Travis Benjamin fumbled on first down. Seven plays later, fullback John Kuhn barrelled over the goal line to put New Orleans on top 35-34 with 1:57 remaining. After a Rivers interception, the Chargers, 4-point favorites, watched a 13-point lead disappear in a stunning defeat.
8. By winning the Relocation Bowl in Week 15, the Raiders clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 14 years. But the result was a fiasco for bookmakers. Oakland opened minus-3 and closed minus-2½ in its 19-16 win in San Diego. The line pinballed, so no bettors should have lost with the favorite covering and the underdog pushing.
Sebastian Janikowksi kicked a 44-yard field goal for Oakland’s cover with 2:40 left. Rivers threw an interception in a fitting ending for the Chargers, who were soon headed to Los Angeles. The Raiders seemed headed for Las Vegas.
7. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott outdueled Rodgers and the Packers in a 30-16 landslide at Lambeau Field in Week 6. Prescott passed for three touchdowns, and rookie Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 157 yards to lead the Cowboys, who were 5-point underdogs.
The betting public backed the Packers. An out-of-rhythm Rodgers threw an interception, lost a fumble and heard boos on his home field.
6. A coin flip and a touchdown decided an overtime game in Dallas, and the result was a bad beat for Philadelphia bettors. The Cowboys covered as 5-point favorites in a 29-23 victory over the Eagles in Week 8.
Dallas, which trailed by 10 early in the fourth quarter, took advantage of several Eagles errors to stage an unlikely comeback. After winning the OT coin toss, the Cowboys drove 75 yards to win on Prescott’s 5-yard pass to wide-open tight end Jason Witten.
5. A risky roll of the dice by coach Jack Del Rio set the tone for the Raiders’ season in Week 1. After a touchdown pass by Carr, Del Rio decided to signal for a 2-point conversion attempt with Oakland trailing by one and 47 seconds remaining. Carr connected with Michael Crabtree on a perfectly executed pass and catch to cap a 35-34 win at New Orleans.
But the outcome was not quite decided. The Saints, who opened as 1-point favorites and closed minus-3 because of sharp action, still had a shot. It was a long shot. As time expired, Wil Lutz’s field goal try from 61 yards started drifting left and narrowly missed, triggering a near-riot by Raiders backers in Las Vegas books.
4. Brady was facing a deficit and a clock that was winding down. In a Super Bowl rematch from February 2015, the Patriots and Seahawks were again at the 1-yard line in the final minute in Week 10.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll already had made another bizarre decision. But this time, Brady blew it, falling on a third-down quarterback sneak and throwing an incompletion to end it. The Seahawks, 7½-point underdogs, lived to tell about their scary trip to New England by surviving with a 31-24 win. Russell Wilson, a goat in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, played hero this time by hitting Doug Baldwin for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 4:24 remaining. Carroll mysteriously called for a 2-point conversion that failed. After some questionable play-calling by the Patriots near the goal line, Brady and Bill Belichick were the losers.
3. In another Week 10 thriller, the Cowboys made a bold statement by beating the Steelers 35-30 at Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger was at his best, passing for 408 yards and three touchdowns, including a go-ahead strike to Antonio Brown with 42 seconds left.
For no apparent reason, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin called for a 2-point conversion attempt that failed after the game’s first touchdown. The Steelers chased that point all day, ending 0-for-4 on 2-point tries, and their 30-29 lead quickly disappeared. Under pressure, Prescott led the deciding drive, capped by Elliott’s 32-yard touchdown sprint with 9 seconds remaining. The Cowboys, who closed as 3-point underdogs, improved to 8-1 straight up and 8-0-1 against the spread.
2. In a wild finish in Week 12, Cairo Santos hit a 34-yard field goal that ricocheted in off the left upright as time expired to give Kansas City, a 3½-point underdog, a 30-27 overtime win at Denver.
Alex Smith’s touchdown pass and 2-point conversion pass with 12 seconds left tied the score at 24 to force OT and put it over the total of 40. Broncos coach coach Gary Kubiak was the goat after opting for a 62-yard field goal try with 1:08 to go in overtime. The Chiefs went on to win the game and the AFC West title, and Kubiak went into retirement.
1. The last game of the regular season was arguably the best, at least for favorite-and-over bettors. The Packers, backed by the public as 3½-point favorites, won their sixth straight game and took the NFC North title with a 31-24 win at Detroit. Rodgers rallied Green Bay from a 14-7 halftime deficit.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford stole a page from Rodgers’ book by tossing a 35-yard Hail Mary for a not-so-meaningless touchdown in the final seconds. The score went over the total of 50½ to trigger a roar from the crowds in Las Vegas books.