Let’s get ready for Week 18! That still feels weird to type. Normally, the NFL regular season would be finished and the remaining 12 (now 14 teams) would be preparing for the playoffs. Instead, we have another full slate of action with some major playoff implications.
Before we get there though, let’s look back at Week 17. It was a stunner. Two teams reached 50 points, Antonio Brown left during the middle a game that the Buccaneers nearly lost to the Jets and the Titans somehow reclaimed the top spot in the AFC. Let’s get into everything that happened and how these teams stack up heading into this final week of the regular season.
1. Green Bay Packers: 13-3 (Last Week: 1)
Won 37-10 vs. Minnesota
Green Bay finally shut down Dalvin Cook. The Vikings running back managed a meager 13 yards on nine rushes. Things were so lopsided, Jordan Love got into the game. There are still small areas where the Packers can undoubtedly improve. They settled for field goals early in the game, with both coming from the red zone. Slow starts against quarterbacks other than Sean Mannion could prove to be the difference when the season is on the line in the postseason.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 12-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 28-24 at New York
Did something happen to the Buccaneers this week? Antonio Brown’s stunning exit overshadowed a lackluster performance, rescued by Tom Brady’s last-minute heroics. For those pointing to this game and Brown’s departure as to why Tampa Bay is in trouble, I wouldn’t be so sure. Brady has won Super Bowls with less talent around him. This defense should get stronger as it gets healthier and there are still plenty of receiving options, highlighted by Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski. The Jets played really well. The Buccaneers didn’t. Tampa still won.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: 10-6 (Last Week: 8)
Won 34-31 vs. Kansas City
Cincinnati is hitting its stride in these final few weeks of the regular season. This was a massive statement victory for the Bengals. Joe Burrow looks incredible and his connection with Ja’Marr Chase is paying dividends. The defense had a rough start, but bounced back to hold the Chiefs to just three points in the second half. This does not make the Bengals a Super Bowl favorite, especially with them likely needing to go on the road to Kansas City or Tennessee in order to reach the big game. Far from impossible, but a tough task nonetheless.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 34-31 at Cincinnati
The streak is over and Kansas City got a wake-up call. Andy Reid pointed out the team’s inability to hold their first half lead. It is a bit concerning, with many of the early-season woes that plagued the defense popping up once again. Ja’Marr Chase ran rampant through the secondary, racking up 266 yards and three touchdowns. What’s more, the Chiefs lost their hold on the No. 1 seed in the AFC, meaning they could have to play an extra playoff game and travel to Tennessee in order to return to the Super Bowl. There is a lot on the line in Week 18.
5. Los Angeles Rams: 11-5 (Last Week: 3)
Won 20-19 at Baltimore
Goodness, it is really hard to trust this team right now. Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions, including a pick-six. Sure, he rebounded and led the team on a fourth-quarter game-winning drive. It should not have been needed though. Baltimore is incredibly banged up on both sides of the ball. Joe Burrow shredded this same secondary for 525 yards. This does not bode well for the Rams’ chances at making a deep playoff run. At the same time, L.A. is still in line to win the division in Week 18.
6. Arizona Cardinals: 11-5 (Last Week: 7)
Won 25-22 at Dallas
What second-half fade? Arizona bucked the trend it established last season and seemed to be headed again this year with a crucial win in Dallas. The Cardinals shut down the Cowboys’ run game, holding them to just 2.6 yards per carry. Arizona’s own offense was nothing special, but did enough to get the job done. Antoine Wesley stepped up with a pair of touchdown catches. He seems poised to bridge the gap until DeAndre Hopkins returns. If the Cardinals can get healthy, they are going to be tough to beat in the postseason.
7. Dallas Cowboys: 11-5 (Last Week: 4)
Lost 25-22 vs. Arizona
Seems like that 56-point outburst was just a fluke. The Cowboys continue to struggle offensively and will not have to forge on without Michael Gallup, who reportedly suffered a torn ACL in the loss on Sunday. Dak Prescott played really well, but he was asked to do too much in the absence of a reliable ground game. A costly fumble by Prescott was likely the difference in the game, as Dallas’ defense failed to generate any turnovers. All is not lost, but this is a significant blow.
8. Buffalo Bills: 10-6 (Last Week: 9)
Won 29-15 vs. Atlanta
Josh Allen turned in one of his worst performances in years, but the Bills finally found a successful ground game to lead the way. Devin Singletary’s 110 yards and two touchdowns helped take the sting out of Allen’s three interceptions. He added 81 yards and two rushing touchdowns of his own, but Buffalo will certainly need more for its passing game in the playoffs. Thankfully, the defense stepped up five sacks as well and clinched a third straight playoff berth.
9. Tennessee Titans: 11-5 (Last Week: 11)
Won 34-3 vs. Miami
The Titans have very quietly continued to win and reclaimed their No. 1 seed in the AFC following the Chiefs’ loss against the Bengals. This win was a dominant one as well. D’Onta Foreman rumbled for 132 yards and a score, while Dontrell Hilliard added 45 yards and a touchdown of his own. If Tennessee can hold off Houston to secure the top spot in the conference, it would secure home field advantage and a first-round bye. That would be crucial in letting Derrick Henry heal up for a potential postseason run. If he looks anything like his early-season form, look out.
10. Indianapolis Colts: 9-7 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 23-20 vs. Las Vegas
A costly loss for the Colts puts them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Carson Wentz had a fairly underwhelming performance as the offense sputtered down the stretch. The defense did its job for the most part, producing two interceptions. However, an inability to contain Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones ultimately cost them the game. Thankfully, the Jaguars are all that stand between the Colts and a return to the postseason, but this takes a lot of wind out of Indianapolis’ sails.
11. New England Patriots: 10-6 (Last Week: 10)
Won 50-10 vs. Jacksonville
If this is not a testament to how much better the Patriots are as a franchise than the Jaguars, then I don’t know what is. Mac Jones was nothing shy of spectacular, which stood out in stark juxtaposition to his fellow rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Jones had plenty of help, whereas Lawrence essentially had none. New England racked up 181 yards and four rushing touchdowns, while the defense came up with three interceptions. The Pats bounced back in a big way following a deflating loss to the Bills, but now they need to continue to build that momentum heading into the postseason, especially with a chance to win the AFC East.
12. San Francisco 49ers: 9-7 (Last Week: 13)
Won 23-7 vs. Houston
Trey Lance flashed his immense potential, but it is clear that this team’s best chance to win is with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. At least for now. Lance struggled for much of the first half, but finally came alive in the second half with a pair of touchdowns. Elijah Mitchell led the way on the ground with 119 yards while the defense clamped down on Davis Mills. Despite the positive result, the path to the playoffs is still far from clear. San Francisco controls its own fate, but needs to beat Los Angeles, who needs a win to secure the NFC West title, in order to lock up a postseason spot. A loss opens the door for the Saints to keep the 49ers out.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: 9-7 (Last Week: 14)
Won 34-13 vs. Denver
Los Angeles turned it around after falling flat on its face in Week 16. It wasn’t the prettiest game ever from the offense. The Chargers managed just three yards per carry, but Justin Herbert took care of the football and the offensive line kept him clean. On defense, L.A. bent but rarely broke. They kept Denver out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. This sets up a huge showdown with the Raiders in Week 18. The winner earns a playoff berth.
14. Las Vegas Raiders: 9-7 (Last Week: 17)
Won 23-20 at Indianapolis
Drama continues to follow this team, on and off the field. The Raiders pulled off a dramatic victory over the Colts, kicking a last-second field goal. Unfortunately, rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge early Monday morning. Considering everything Las Vegas has already dealt with this season, this might not phase the locker room at all, but it comes just two months after Henry Ruggs’ deadly DUI crash. Needless to say, it is another distraction for a team that is in the mix to reach the playoffs.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7 (Last Week: 16)
Won 20-16 at Washington
Philly continued its expectation-defying season by earning a playoff spot. It was far from the most convincing victory for the Eagles, but they made just enough plays to squeeze past Washington. Jalen Hurts is winning over many of his critics in the midst of this late-season surge. Philadelphia is clearly playing with house money. However, it might be best to keep expectations low. The Eagles are 0-6 against teams with a winning record this season.
16. Baltimore Ravens: 8-8 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 20-19 vs. Los Angeles
Baltimore nearly pulled off a huge upset that would have put them in the driver seat to earn a playoff spot. Chuck Clark sparked a banged up secondary with an early pick-six, but the Ravens never managed to get into a groove offensively, never finding the end zone. Four field goals gave them a lead, but the decimated defense could not hold it in the closing minutes. Somehow, the Ravens still have a chance to make the playoffs, but they need a ton of help.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-7-1 (Last Week: 18)
Won 26-14 vs. Cleveland
Big Ben closed out his time at Heinz Field with an incredibly ugly win. The future Hall of Fame quarterback enjoyed a nice send off and leaves behind a legendary legacy on the field and a checkered past off it. What the Steelers do from here is very much unknown. Pittsburgh still has a chance at the postseason, but the path to getting there feels very unlikely. The Colts would need to lose to the Jaguars and the Raiders and Chargers cannot end in a tie. Stranger things have happened, but the Steelers also need to beat the Ravens. After such an emotional win, they feel primed for a let down.
18. Miami Dolphins: 8-8 (Last Week: 15)
Lost 34-3 at Tennessee
Put a fork in them. Miami rode a seven-game win streak to the cusp of the postseason, but Ryan Tannehill and Tennessee put a stop to all of that. Tua Tagovailoa was awful behind a porous offensive line that gave up four sacks. The Dolphins’ run defense was also horrendous, giving up 198 yards on five yards per carry. Brian Flores has had Miami in the mix twice now, but he needs to find a way to get this team over the hump. It starts with protecting Tagovailoa and shoring up that front seven.
19. New Orleans Saints: 8-8 (Last Week: 22)
Won 18-10 vs. Carolina
The Saints aren’t done yet. In fact, New Orleans has a pretty reasonable path to that final wildcard spot. If the 49ers lose to the Rams, the Saints can claim the seventh playoff position with a win over the Falcons. Considering all the injuries this team has dealt with this season, most notably at quarterback, this would be an impressive feat. Before we get ahead of ourselves though, Atlanta won the first game between these two teams this season. New Orleans still has a job to do.
20. Cleveland Browns 7-9 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 26-14 at Pittsburgh
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a worse performance by an offensive line. Considering that many viewed Cleveland’s front five as one of the best units in the league heading into the season, this was a really surprising collapse. Baker Mayfield was sacked nine times, taking a total of 11 hits. Those would be impressive numbers for a defense over a three game stretch. The Browns have a lot of soul searching to do this offseason. There is a ton of buzz that Baker could be on his way out. Consider this a pivotal few months for this franchise.
21. Minnesota Vikings: 7-9 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 37-10 at Green Bay
Sean Mannion had no chance. The Packers finally tamed Dalvin Cook, holding him to 13 yards on nine carries. The only way the Vikings were going to win this game was with a big performance from Cook. When that didn’t come, Minnesota’s hopes looked bleak. One meaningless game at the end of the season should not dictate what comes next for this team, but a loss to the divisional-rival Bears could cost Mike Zimmer his job. Questions will certainly be asked about Kirk Cousins’ future as well. There is no way he returns on his current contract. Cutting him before June 1 will save $45 million in cap space. This could be the start of a rebuild for Minnesota.
22. Denver Broncos: 7-9 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 34-13 at Los Angeles
Denver’s midseason surge appeared to take a lot of pressure off Vic Fangio as the Broncos flirted with playoff contention. Three straight losses knocked them down a peg and ended hopes of reaching the postseason for the first time since their 2015 Super Bowl run. It is clear the team needs to figure out its future at quarterback. As good as Patrick Surtain II has looked, it is hard to wonder what Denver’s outlook would be like had it taken Justin Fields or Mac Jones instead.
23. Chicago Bears: 6-10 (Last Week: 25)
Won 29-3 vs. New York
This won’t save Matt Nagy’s job, but it certainly points to a brighter future in Chicago. At the very least, it shows the importance of the Bears’ depth at quarterback. Both teams were without their starters due to injury. Andy Dalton is clearly a step up from Mike Glennon. It helped that the defense put together a dominant performance, holding New York to -6 passing yards to go along with four forced turnovers and a safety. Glennon had a QBR of zero. The Bears can overtake the Vikings in the standings with a win on Sunday.
24. Washington: 6-10 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 20-16 vs. Washington
This was a much more competitive showing than the drubbing Washington took a week ago. However, it is clear that this team is already focused on its future with the front office announcing it will unveil a new team name on February 2. It is fair to wonder about the future though without a clear plan at quarterback and some massive regression on the defensive side of the ball. Ron Rivera is going to be facing a lot more pressure to fix things in 2022.
25. Atlanta Falcons: 7-9 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 29-15 at Buffalo
On one hand, the Falcons intercepted Josh Allen three times and held him without a passing touchdown. That feels like a formula to beat the Bills, especially given their well-documented struggles to run the ball. Well, Buffalo racked up 233 yards rushing and four scores. So much for that narrative. Matt Ryan had another lackluster game, failing to top 200 yards passing while taking five sacks and losing a fumble. It is unclear the direction this team is headed right now.
26. Seattle Seahawks: 5-11 (Last Week: 27)
Won 51-29 vs. Detroit
Russ is finally cooking again. It is way too little too late for Seattle, but it was a good sign that Wilson is finally nearing full strength again. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Three went to D.K. Metcalf en route to a 50-point performance. Rashaad Penny’s emergence has been significant as well, 170 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Lions are far from a good benchmark to measure yourself against, but executing at a high level is never a bad thing.
27. Houston Texans: 4-12 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 23-7 at San Francisco
The win streak is over and the optimism for the Davis Mills-led offense is clearly dampened. Houston stood strong early, holding San Francisco to just three points in the first half. Unfortunately, the Texans only managed seven points themselves. If we are being honest though, this team has been playing with house money all year long. There were no expectations for this team with a massive hole at quarterback given Deshaun Watson’s legal issues and trade demands. Not to mention a first-time head coach. At least the Texans can finally start to rebuild after paying the price for the ill-advised Laremy Tunsil trade.
28. New York Jets: 4-12 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 28-24 vs. Tampa Bay
What a brutal way to lose a game. It was all too familiar for Jets fans, knowing all too well that Tom Brady was going to engineer a game-winning drive as soon as that head-scratching fourth-down attempt failed. Still, there are a lot of positives to take away, even in a loss. Zach Wilson played the best game of his young career. The combination of Austin Walter, Michael Carter and Ty Johnson moved the ball well against a stout Buccaneers run defense. Plus, it seems like the Jets might have their No. 2 and No. 3 corners on the roster in Bryce Hall and Michael Carter II. This might have honestly been the best-case scenario, as the Jets still preserve their high draft pick with the confidence-inspiring loss.
29. Carolina Panthers: 5-11 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 18-10 at New Orleans
How did this offense fall apart so quickly? Sure, injuries played a significant role, but Sam Darnold looked like a capable starting quarterback to open the season. Now he looks like a deer in the headlights behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Panthers are also incredibly undisciplined, tallying the eighth-most penalties and second most drops in the NFL. It raises some questions about Matt Rhule’s future. He should get another year to try to turn this around, but this is a critical offseason for Carolina.
30. Detroit Lions: 2-13-1 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 51-29 at Seattle
Just in case anyone needed reminding, the Lions need a lot of help on defense. Russell Wilson carved up their secondary and the front seven were bowled over by Rashaad Penny. Starting Tim Boyle likely didn’t help matters much. He did toss two touchdowns, but he also had three interceptions. On the bright side, Amon-Ra St. Brown looks fantastic!
31. New York Giants: 4-12 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 29-3 at Chicago
It is getting harder and harder to understand how Joe Judge is still the head coach of the Giants. He seems to have lost the locker room, he is constantly clashing with the media and the team’s play on the field does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. This was one of the worst offensive showings I can remember, at least from a passing perspective. Saquon Barkley did account for 100 yards on the ground, but that was rendered meaningless by the negative passing yards posted by the offense. It feels like this team desperately needs to clean house.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-14 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 50-10 at New England
Seriously, how did this team beat the Bills? At least Trevor Lawrence finally threw a touchdown pass. Unfortunately, he also threw three more interceptions, bringing his season total to 17. This team desperately needs to get this coaching hire right this offseason and find a way to surround its franchise quarterback with more talent, fast.