Week 17 of the 2021 NFL season featured blowouts by the Bears and Patriots, a three-touchdown game by Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase that fueled an AFC North-clinching win over the Chiefs and a comeback by the Bucs during which Antonio Brown took off his uniform and left the field during the third quarter. Yes, you read that correctly.
Elsewhere in the early games, the Titans clinched the AFC South title, the Rams came back to beat the Ravens, the Bills used a stellar second half to stop the Falcons, the Raiders upset the Colts and the Eagles topped Washington, boosting their NFC playoff hopes.
In the late games, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray kept his perfect record at Cowboys Stadium by beating Dallas. The Chargers, Saints and 49ers kept their playoff hopes alive with victories. And, the Seahawks breezed by the Lions.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with their takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about a team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
Jump to a matchup:
KC-CIN | LAR-BAL | ATL-BUF
LV-IND | MIA-TEN | TB-NYJ
JAX-NE | PHI-WSH | NYG-CHI
DET-SEA | ARI-DAL | CAR-NO
DEN-LAC | HOU-SF
What to know: In an acknowledgment of his uncertain future, Russell Wilson volunteered this week that he hoped this wouldn’t be his final time playing at Lumen Field as a member of the Seahawks. So much would have to fall into place for Seattle to trade the best quarterback in franchise history this offseason, but if this was it, then what a way to go out. In his best performance since returning in Week 10 from finger surgery, Wilson tossed three touchdown passes to DK Metcalf and another to Tyler Lockett on a flip pass. His line of 20 of 29 for 236 yards included at least one misfire, but his accuracy was as good as it’s been since his return – all while wearing a fingerless glove on his throwing hand for much of the game. With Rashaad Penny rushing for a career-high 170 yards and two touchdowns, the Seahawks topped 50 points for the first time since Wilson’s rookie season in 2012 and only the fifth time in franchise history. — Brady Henderson
How badly is Bobby Wagner hurt? Wagner injured his knee on the game’s opening play and was listed as questionable to return but never did. A day before Wilson commented on his own uncertain future, Wagner answered in the affirmative when asked if he wonders if he’ll remain with Seattle beyond 2021 given the $20.35 million he’s set to count against the cap in the final year of his deal. The perennial All-Pro and long-time defensive captain was having one of his most productive seasons at age 31, already breaking his own franchise tackle record with 170. And he had played every defensive snap this season until Sunday. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.7, up from 1.5. Beating up on a two-win Detroit team is inconsequential as far as this season goes, but Wilson’s performance inspires confidence that he can put his finger injury completely behind him.
Next game: at Cardinals (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Detroit Lions finish the 2021 season winless on the road. Quarterback Jared Goff missed the road finale with a knee injury and the Lions struggled with Tim Boyle as the starter. At minimum, the Lions have locked up a top-two pick in the NFL Draft. Detroit just ran into a team that was also trying to salvage some respect from a tough season, but it was one that had more talent. — Eric Woodyard
Where does the emergence of Amon-Ra St. Brown rank among the silver linings this season? It has to be at the top of the list. St. Brown had eight receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks. He added a rushing touchdown to become the first Lions receiver with a rushing touchdown since Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson in 2007. He also tied Johnson with five consecutive games with at least eight receptions, which is the longest streak in Lions history. And his three straight games with a touchdown is tied for the second-longest such streak by a Lions rookie in franchise history. He’s been the constant weapon for Detroit and was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for December. General manager Brad Holmes and the Lions regime have to be happy that the fourth-round pick appears to be a cornerstone for the future. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 3. The Lions couldn’t find a way to handle Rashaad Penny’s rushing or the receiving of DK Metcalf, who had three touchdowns. And with Tim Boyle throwing three interceptions, there wasn’t much hope.
Next game: vs. Packers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Cardinals snapped a three-game losing streak thanks to productive showings from both sides of the ball. The offense played as well as it has in weeks and the defense held a team that put up 56 a week ago to less than half that. The Cardinals’ had focused all week on fixing the small things — penalties, mistakes and missed kicks — and, for the most part, did that Sunday, which is why they left Dallas with their third-straight road win over the Cowboys for the first time since 1961-64. This was the type of game the Cardinals needed with the playoff nearing. — Josh Weinfuss
Are the Cardinals’ late-season issues fixed or was this just an anomaly? They aren’t completely fixed but Sunday’s win showed that the Cardinals could get out of their own way. There were still too many self-inflicted wounds, whether they were penalties or mental errors. However, beating an 11-4 team will do a lot for Arizona’s confidence after losing three in a row and five of their last eight. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 5.2. The Cardinals showed they’re very good on the road, which will be important in the playoffs.
Next game: vs. Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: For all of the folks who believe the Cowboys are front-runners, go ahead and rant. This is the time to gloat after a 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Cowboys had a chance to remain the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win entering the final week of the regular season. Now they are looking like the No. 4 seed and could likely see the Cardinals again the wild-card round. If not them, then the Los Angeles Rams. A week after scoring at will against the Washington Football Team, the Cowboys looked like the same offense that was in a funk for much of the second half of the season. And the defense, which entered with the league lead in takeaways, could not generate one against the Cardinals, who entered on a three-game losing streak. The Cowboys close the season next week against the 9-7 Philadelphia Eagles. They don’t want to enter the playoffs on a losing streak. — Todd Archer
Is the offensive slump back on? The Cowboys did this sort of thing before. A week after losing to the Denver Broncos, they pasted the Atlanta Falcons, 43-3, on Nov. 14. A week after the offense, defense and special teams scored against the Washington Football Team, nothing went well — but especially for the offense. Quarterback Dak Prescott was 24-of-38 for 226 yards and three touchdown passes but had five passed batted at the line of scrimmage, the most of any passer this season. The running game did not help mostly because of four holding penalties (three on offensive linemen). On third downs, the Cowboys were just 3-of-11. Prescott was inaccurate on easy throws for far too long and a fourth-quarter fumble on a scramble ultimately led to more Cardinals points. One game is not a slumpbuster. Until the Cowboys consistently move the ball, they are still an offense stuck in neutral despite what the season-long stats say. — Archer
Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.6, down from 9.3. That’s quite a drop from the 9.3 after last week but why should the confidence be that high? The four-game winning streak against New Orleans, Washington (twice) and the New York Giants came against losing teams with poor quarterback play. With one game left, are the Cowboys more likely to be a one-and-done in the postseason or a threat to make it to the conference title game?
Next game: at Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Once again, the Saints can thank their stellar defense for keeping their playoff hopes alive. (Their most realistic path is a win at Atlanta next week, a 49ers loss in Week 18 and a Vikings loss in either Week 17 or 18). But a playoff berth won’t amount to much if New Orleans (8-8) can’t resuscitate an offense that has scored just one touchdown over the past three weeks. The key will be getting at least a couple of offensive linemen back healthy. The Saints were down to just one starting lineman Sunday because of injuries and COVID-19. They had a total of negative-4 rushing yards in the first half as a result. — Mike Triplett
Any chance the Saints switch from Taysom Hill to Trevor Siemian at quarterback? Doubtful. This wasn’t a very inspiring performance for Hill, who threw for 222 yards and one TD and ran for 45 yards. But once again, he had zero turnovers (just like in New Orleans’ 9-0 victory at Tampa Bay two weeks ago). And it’s hard to knock any QB for struggling behind the Saints’ depleted offensive line. Siemian and rookie Ian Book both have similar horror stories on their tape from this season under similar circumstances. Plus, Hill’s mobility is even more valuable behind a porous offensive line. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, up from 5. As we saw two weeks ago at Tampa Bay, the Saints’ defense is capable of winning a game against a playoff team all on its own — though pairing them with a little more offense would sure help.
Next game: at Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Sam Darnold showed flashes of being the quarterback the Panthers hope he can be during a 9-for-9 passing start, but until the offensive line is fixed, there’s no way to fairly evaluate anybody. That’s not to suggest Darnold can be the answer. He still makes what coach Matt Rhule calls “catastrophic” mistakes, such as his second-quarter fumble. But that was the result of pressure, which influenced most of Darnold’s day. There’s a reason he averaged 0.0 air yards going into the fourth quarter and was sacked seven times. You can’t push the ball downfield when you don’t have time to throw and receivers don’t have time to run routes. That’s been the case most of the season. — David Newton
Will Matt Rhule have to make more staff changes in the offseason? Yes. Maybe most of the offensive staff. The defense looks headed in the right direction under DC Phil Snow, but offensive line coach Pat Meyer and the rest of the offensive staff might follow OC Joe Brady to the unemployment line. To be fair, Meyer wasn’t given top talent to work with. But in order to turn this group around, it likely will take wholesale changes in the staff in addition to an upgrade in talent via free agency and the draft. Rhule at least has to give the impression he’s trying to create change. — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 1, down from 2.6. This needs no further explanation than six straight losses, a stagnant offense and a regular-season finale at defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay.
Next game: at Buccaneers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: All the Chargers needed was a win (along with losses by the Dolphins and Ravens) to get back in the playoff bracket and that was all laid out perfectly for them by the time Sunday’s game with the Broncos started. And now we have a showdown next week between the Chargers and the Raiders for a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs after the Chargers took care of business against Denver. It wasn’t quarterback Justin Herbert’s best game (22-of-31 for 237 yards and two touchdown passes), but it was good enough. He even set a single-season franchise record with his 35th touchdown pass on a 45-yard strike to Mike Williams early in the fourth quarter, breaking Philip Rivers’ mark of 34 in 2008. The Chargers’ win also eliminated the Broncos, Browns and Dolphins. — Shelley Smith
The Chargers beat the Raiders, but can they do it again? They’re coming into the game at nearly full strength, with key players such as running back Austin Ekeler and defensive end Joey Bosa healthy. The Chargers dominated the Raiders in a Week 4 win on Monday night, but the stakes in Vegas are even greater, as the Chargers have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and for only the fourth time since 2009 with a victory. — Smith
Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, up from 6.4. Everyone who matters is back for the Chargers, who will have every chance to put their best foot forward.
Next game: at Raiders (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: The decision on where the Broncos go from here, mostly in regards to the future of coach Vic Fangio, rests solely on whether or not Broncos’ general manager George Paton believes Fangio can fix a Broncos offense that was broken this season. The Broncos consistently moved the ball Sunday when they utilized a multi-tight end look, but they didn’t do that nearly enough against the league’s 29th-ranked run defense and bailed on the run game long before the scoreboard said they should. Toss in two more special-teams gaffes — a muffed punt to waste a quality defensive stand and a Chargers’ kickoff return for a touchdown (which came after an inexplicable illegal formation penalty at the Chargers’ 1-yard line cost Denver a chance at a fourth-down touchdown) — and the Broncos’ season-long recipe for struggles reared its head again. The Broncos were competitive on defense down six starters, but it remains to see what Paton does moving forward. — Jeff Legwold
Does Drew Lock have any future with the Broncos? Lock has had two starts to make an argument to the Broncos and wasn’t helped by a receiving corps that was severely limited by the Broncos’ COVID-19 struggles this week and struggling pass protection. But it’s still hard to imagine a scenario where the Broncos look at Lock’s play and see anything remotely close to an NFL starter. He’s cut back on the turnovers, but the lingering issue continues to be not taking the easy completions when they are available and not throwing the ball away when nothing is open — his sack in the first quarter was just such a play. He continues to flash at times, but the guys who only flash at times usually watch other guys start the games.. — Legwold
Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4. Same poor choices on offense, same plunging confidence rating.
Next game: vs. Chiefs (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: As one might expect from a rookie making his second career NFL start, 49ers quarterback Trey Lance struggled early Sunday against the Texans, but he responded well in the second half to lead San Francisco to the brink of a playoff spot. Lance hadn’t started since Week 5 and his inexperience showed in the opening half and early in the third quarter with a bad interception. But he settled in as the game progressed and hit a big 45-yard touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Lance finished 16-of-23 for 249 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 116.0. — Nick Wagoner
When will QB Jimmy Garoppolo return? The Niners held out hope that Garoppolo would return from the torn ligament in his right thumb all the way up to the weekend. But that never felt realistic, and Lance got the start instead. But the belief in the organization is that sitting Garoppolo on Sunday should give him a chance to return against the Rams. While Lance undoubtedly flashed his vast potential against the Texans, the Niners also appeared to be working with a limited and conservative game plan. If the Niners need to beat the Rams to get into the postseason, they’d almost certainly prefer to do it with Garoppolo, who has won his past five straight starts against Los Angeles. — Wagoner
Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.1, up from 6.8. It wasn’t pretty but the defense carried the freight in a game San Francisco had to have, and now the Niners just have to take care of business next week to return to the postseason.
Next game: at Rams (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Texans’ Week 16 breakout rushing game may have had more to do with the opponent (the Chargers rank 30th against the run) than having a hugely improved running game. The 49ers entered the game ranked 10th in rushing yards allowed and held Houston to 3.2 yards per carry on Sunday. Rex Burkhead, who had a career-high 149 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers, ran for 47 yards on 16 carries in the loss to San Francisco. — Sarah Barshop
Will WR Brandin Cooks be leading the Texans’ offense again in 2022? With seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers, Cooks now has six seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards in his eight seasons. The receiver, who was traded to Houston in 2020, is the Texans’ best skill position player. Will the Texans continue to build around Cooks, or could general manager Nick Caserio trade him as Houston continues its rebuild? — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 1, no change from 1. Even though they lost, the Texans, searching for a third straight win, competed with a team in the playoff hunt for the second week in a row.
Next game: vs. Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: There’s no question Cincinnati’s offensive showing in a last-second win against the Chiefs was the best of the Bengals’ season. This was not the decimated Baltimore defense the Bengals rolled against as quarterback Joe Burrow threw for a franchise-record 525 yards. No, Kansas City was in form and playing like one of the best defenses in the NFL. And when Cincinnati needed points to avoid a blowout, it delivered, highlighted by 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns from Ja’Marr Chase. After several inconsistent weeks throughout the season, Cincinnati’s offense is living up to the preseason hype of being one of the most potent in the NFL. — Ben Baby
What’s the biggest difference with the offense? It has to be Burrow. The second-year quarterback has been masterful the past couple of weeks and made several big-time throws against Kansas City. And just as importantly, he was able to evade pressure or make small gains to keep drives rolling. The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft has been as transformational as advertised. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, up from 7.2. The most complete offensive showing of the season against a very solid Kansas City defense raises the ceiling for this team.
Next game: at Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: It’s difficult to trust the Chiefs defensively. After playing so well during most of their eight-game winning streak, a lot of old problems resurfaced. They missed tackles, committed penalties and broke down in coverage like they hadn’t since early in the season. Kansas City won’t see many opponents with the firepower of the Bengals, but all it takes is one bad game in the playoffs to ruin a season. — Adam Teicher
Has the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed slipped away? It certainly looks that way. The Chiefs need to not only beat the Broncos next week but have the Titans lose to the Texans. They should take care of their business, but expecting Tennessee to lose to Houston is too much to ask. The loss to the Bengals isn’t to blame. It’s the way the Chiefs played for much of the season’s first half. — Teicher
Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.9, down from 9.6. The Chiefs are still formidable, but the play of their defense against the Bengals is a big concern.
Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: Like Week 10 at Washington and Week 15 against the Saints, in which the Bucs were favored to win by 10-plus points, they played down to their opponent and looked flat. Without Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Buccaneers’ defense couldn’t pressure Jets quarterback Zach Wilson. There were numerous coverage busts and players out of their gaps. Despite all that, the Bucs overcame the loss of receiver Antonio Brown and came back from a 14-point deficit — with quarterback Tom Brady hitting receiver Cyril Grayson for the winning 33-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds to go. — Jenna Laine
Did the Bucs do the right thing by cutting Brown? Brown inexplicably removed his jersey and pads, threw his undershirt and gloves into the stands, ran across the field shirtless and went to the locker room in the third quarter and did not return. He said last week that he “wasn’t about drama,” but he created yet another spectacle, just like the fake vaccine card. There’s no denying how remarkably talented Brown is and his impact on the team after a 101-yard performance last week. But with the playoffs looming, it seems the Bucs are better off without him. — Laine
Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, no change from last week. The Bucs have an issue playing down to the level of the opposition, and this may have been their ugliest win of the season … but it’s a win.
Next game: vs. Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
With the Buccaneers and Jets lining up on the field, Antonio Brown rips off his jersey, throws it into the crowd and leaves the field.
What to know: Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson did a lot of growing up in his best overall performance of the year, but he learned a hard lesson that many of his peers have experienced over the past two decades: You’ve got to play 60 great minutes to beat Bucs quarterback Tom Brady. Wilson & Co. went cold, going scoreless on their final four possessions and blowing a 14-point lead. Until then, Wilson provided the best evidence yet that he can become a legitimate franchise quarterback. Facing the defending Super Bowl champs, Wilson (18-for-32, 224 yards) threw one touchdown and directed four long scoring drives. Here’s the wild part: The offense entered the game without five starters and lost two more, including running back Michael Carter, in the game. Undaunted, Wilson played interception-free ball for the fourth straight game. It was good enough to quiet some skeptics, but not good enough to win. — Rich Cimini
How did the Jets blow a 14-point lead against Tom Brady? The Jets took a 24-10 lead in the third quarter, their biggest lead of the season, and they collapsed in crunch time. Coach Robert Saleh’s fourth-down decision with 2:17 left proved costly. On a fourth-and-2 from the Bucs’ 7, Saleh went for the win instead of a field goal that would’ve given them a seven-point lead. The playcall was terrible — a QB sneak that was stuffed. Who tries a QB sneak on fourth-and-2? Saleh probably wanted to make a statement with his bold call, but he should’ve played it safe, considering the Bucs had no timeouts remaining. Naturally, Brady went 93 yards for the game-winning touchdown afterward. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4. The Jets lost in crushing fashion, but they played well for 59 minutes — pretty damn impressive considering they were down 10 starters due to injuries and COVID-19.
Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: As ugly and frustrating as this season has been — this game was a microcosm of said season with the quick start and a 13-3 first-half lead before falling behind — the Raiders’ improbable march to the playoffs remained on track with their last-second 23-20 win at Indianapolis, their fifth walk-off win of the season. Beating the rival Los Angeles Chargers at home next week is all it takes. We’ve been here before. Remember the 2011 finale, when the Raiders fell in Oakland to the Chargers and Hue Jackson melted down? Stay tuned. — Paul Gutierrez
Are the Raiders winning because of Derek Carr, or in spite of him? Um, yes. Look, I have said for years now Carr is not the problem, per se, but wondered if he is the answer, and if you have to ask that question, you might actually have a problem. Again, it was the 29th fourth-quarter comeback win of Carr’s eight-year career. A victory necessitated, in part, because of his two bad interceptions. Such is life with Carr. — Gutierrez
Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6. Let’s move this up a tick because, really, after blowing an early lead and surviving, confidence is growing with their third straight nail-biting win.
Next game: vs. Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Colts’ road to the playoffs now goes through a place where they haven’t won since Andrew Luck was in just his third season in the NFL: Jacksonville. Yes, the Jaguars have been to the playoffs only once since 2008 and are leading the race to grab the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft. But for some reason, the Colts have not won in Jacksonville — or the Jaguars’ second home, London — since 2014. The Colts went into Sunday simply needing to win to lock up their third playoff spot in four seasons under coach Frank Reich. Now they have to handle their business against the Jaguars and potentially need other scenarios to happen in the AFC. — Mike Wells
Can the Colts get to and win in the playoffs with Carson Wentz being inconsistent? That question will linger with Wentz, especially as teams continue to aim to slow down running back Jonathan Taylor. With the exception of his fourth-quarter performance against Arizona in Week 16, Wentz has not put the Colts on his back to deliver a win this season. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 7.5. The Colts blew their opportunity to wrap up a playoff spot on their own field. They only have themselves to blame.
Next game: at Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: For a second consecutive game, the Rams overcame three turnovers produced by quarterback Matthew Stafford to come away with a win. Despite his woes that continued into the third quarter, Stafford led his 42nd career game-winning drive by finding Odell Beckham Jr. for a 7-yard touchdown with just over a minute to play. The Rams have 12 wins and will close out the regular season next Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, who have beaten the Rams in each of their past five meetings. — Lindsey Thiry
How important is Cooper Kupp to the Rams? Kupp, in his fifth year and as a first-time Pro Bowl selection, is making history this season. Kupp caught an 18-yard pass in the second quarter for his 15th touchdown reception of the season, making him the fourth player in NFL history with 100 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns in a single season, joining Randy Moss (2003), Marvin Harrison (2001) and Jerry Rice (1995). In the fourth quarter, Kupp caught a 21-yard pass to earn himself the Rams’ single-season receiving yards record, passing Isaac Bruce’s mark of 1,781 in 1995. — Thiry
Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, no change from last week. A tough win on the road, but the confidence rating can’t move up. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the Rams must get better, more consistent play out of Stafford, who has produced seven turnovers in three games, including back-to-back games with three turnovers each. In the playoffs, they won’t be able to overcome multiple-turnover performances.
Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Matthew Stafford throws a costly pick-six to Chuck Clark as the Ravens take a 7-0 lead versus the Rams.
What to know: The Ravens’ inability to finish will keep them out of the playoffs. Four games in the Ravens’ five-game losing streak were decided by a total of five points. The Ravens, who once had a 91% chance of reaching the playoffs in Week 13, have watched their postseason chances plummet to 8%. Baltimore couldn’t upset the NFC-leading Rams because backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, who filled in for the injured Lamar Jackson (ankle), couldn’t finish drives. The Ravens’ offense failed to score a touchdown in a game for the first time in three years, settling for four field goals from Justin Tucker. Then, the Baltimore defense, which had forced three turnovers, couldn’t make a critical stop late in the fourth quarter, allowing a nine-play, 75-yard game-winning drive. — Jamison Hensley
Who starts at quarterback for the Ravens in the season finale? Jackson was still limping on the sideline during the game, so there might not even be a decision here. Huntley has proved to be a more than capable replacement for Jackson, totaling 248 yards. But he has struggled to finish drives. There’s no quarterback controversy in Baltimore. When Jackson is healthy, he’s the starting quarterback and the future of the franchise. But if he’s not close to full strength, Huntley clearly represents Baltimore’s best chance to win. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 4. The Ravens, who had the AFC’s best record five weeks ago, have lost five games in a row for the first time in coach John Harbaugh’s 14 seasons. Baltimore now needs to beat the Steelers in what looks to be Ben Roethlisberger’s final game and get lots of help elsewhere to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Next game: vs. Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Titans’ defense is working its way toward becoming a championship-caliber unit. Tennessee held the Dolphins to three points and allowed Miami to convert on only three of 12 third-down opportunities. Kevin Byard emphasized the importance of having the pass rush marry the coverage on the back end. That’s exactly what’s happening for Tennessee. The Titans sacked Tua Tagovailoa four times (pushing their season total to 41) and pressured him constantly. Kristian Fulton’s sticky coverage on the back end helped out as well. The acquisition of linebacker Zach Cunningham (six tackles Sunday) has also sparked the Titans’ defense. — Turron Davenport
Do the Titans have an identity on offense? At this point, it is safe to say that Ryan Tannehill dropping back to pass 40 times isn’t the formula for the Titans to win. D’Onta Foreman has gradually emerged as a threat rushing the ball, and he had 26 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown against Miami. The play-action passing game truly opened up because of Foreman’s success on the ground. Even without Derrick Henry, the Titans are an old-school, “grind em out” offense that wears down the opposition. The eventual return of Henry will make the offense even more potent. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8.5. It’s rare when a team is able to dominate on both offense and defense. But that’s what the Titans did in their demolition of the Dolphins. The pass rush has steadily resurfaced now that linebacker Bud Dupree has returned. Tennessee has nine sacks in its last three games with Dupree back in the lineup, and David Long is coming back. Offensively, Foreman has been solid, and the likelihood that Henry will return is more reason for optimism. The Titans are peaking at the right time.
Next game: at Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s play had been shaky for the past two weeks entering Sunday’s game, and it came to a head against the Titans. The NFL’s leader in completion percentage completed just 18 of his 38 passes for 205 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, with at least three other passes slipping through the hands of Titans defenders. His ball security was sloppy as he put the ball on the grass three times, losing one deep in Miami territory. In all, it qualified as Tagovailoa’s worst game of the season considering what was at stake — the Dolphins would have clinched a playoff berth if they won both of their final two games of the season. Now, they’ll need to beat New England in their season finale and get a lot of help in order to avoid a five-year playoff drought. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
What needs to change for Miami on offense moving forward? The conditions were awful Sunday — cold and rainy — and the Dolphins played exactly how one would expect a South Florida team to play in said conditions. This offseason, Miami must prioritize building around Tagovailoa, improving its offensive line and adding playmakers. Tennessee took Jaylen Waddle out of the game and Miami had no answer for it. At the same time, Tagovailoa wilted in a critical game. He must be better moving forward and is partially to blame for the offense’s woes. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, down from 8.7. If Tagovailoa can’t shake his slump, the Dolphins’ offense doesn’t stand a chance against an elite Patriots defense. And if Miami’s defense defends the run next week like it did today, the Patriots will win relatively easily.
Next game: vs. Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Mission accomplished: The Patriots got rookie quarterback Mac Jones back on track, a top priority against the COVID-19-ravaged, two-win Jaguars. Jones was coming off two of his shakiest performances of the season, and this should give him a boost as the Patriots now look ahead to the postseason. Jones went 22-of-30 for 227 yards and three TDs, breaking the Patriots’ franchise record for most TD passes (20) in a season by a rookie (previously held by Jim Plunkett, who had 19 in 1971). Jones was supported by a turnover-driven defense that picked off Jaguars rookie QB Trevor Lawrence three times. So just as Jones got back on track, so too did the Patriots’ defense — albeit against one of the NFL’s worst teams. — Mike Reiss
Can the Patriots reverse their late-season struggles in Miami? December/January games in South Florida haven’t been kind to the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era (2000-present), as the team is 2-7 as a visitor against Miami in those months. Strange things seem to happen in those situations (for example: the “Miracle in Miami” in 2018). Maybe Belichick turns up the heat in the Socios.com Fieldhouse this week to acclimate players to the temperature change they will experience. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 7.1, up from 6.8. The Patriots did what they needed to: pounce on an inferior foe early and improve their all-around fundamental play. Showing they could do that was an important step after back-to-back losses in which they didn’t play their best football.
Next game: at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Damien Harris scores two touchdowns in the first half against the Jaguars.
What to know: The Jaguars have a long, long way to go to just be competitive. Not for a playoff spot or for the AFC South title, but just being able to be competitive in games. This isn’t a great Patriots team (by their standards) and they handed the Jaguars one of their worst losses in franchise history. To be fair, the Jaguars were down five starters because of COVID-19, but would it have really mattered? Regardless of who’s hired as the new head coach, it’s going to take a few years to successfully build around Trevor Lawrence to get the franchise to the point where it legitimately has a chance every week. — Mike DiRocco
Can the Jaguars continue their streak against the Colts and end the season with some momentum? The Jaguars have beaten the Colts the past six times the teams have played in Jacksonville, including the 2020 season opener that turned out to be their only victory that season. The Jaguars had the ball inside Indianapolis territory and were driving for a potential game-winning score before QB Trevor Lawrence was sacked and fumbled with less than a minute to play in a 23-17 loss at Indy earlier this season. The Jaguars had RB James Robinson then, though. But a victory at home to close the season would feel good for a franchise that has been a mess in 2021. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.2, down from 0.7. The Jaguars aren’t putting up much of a fight against some of the league’s worst (Texans, Jets) and better teams (Patriots).
Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Eagles took a giant step toward securing a playoff berth. Entering the day, they had a 91 percent chance of making the postseason with a win — odds that would have dropped to 39 percent with a loss, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It wasn’t pretty — QB Taylor Heinicke opened the game 11-of-11, helping Washington sprint out to a 16-7 halftime lead — but the defense pitched a shutout in the second half and running back Boston Scott scored a pair of touchdowns in Miles Sanders’ absence to fuel the comeback. The Eagles now have 24 rushing TDs this season, their most since 1949. Quarterback Jalen Hurts (six carries, 45 yards) appeared as healthy as he’s ever been since suffering a high ankle sprain against the New York Giants on Nov. 28. Hurts looks good, the Eagles have won six of seven, and their confidence is as high as it has been with the postseason in sight. — Tim McManus
Can they correct their slow starts before the playoffs? The Eagles have been held scoreless in the first quarter in four of their past five games, including the past three straight. They have been outscored 35-7 in the opening frame over that stretch. Philadelphia has still managed to win four in a row, but that was against Washington (twice), the New York Giants and the New York Jets. If they stumble out of the gate against one of the better teams in the NFC, they could face a quick exit. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6. The Eagles have a chance to get to 10 wins in Year 1 under rookie coach Nick Sirianni, who is looking to become the third Eagles head coach to reach the playoffs in his first season with the franchise, joining Chip Kelly in 2013 and Ray Rhodes in 1995, per ESPN Stats & Information. They have already exceeded public expectations, and they’re not done yet.
Next game: vs. Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Washington has enough players remaining to stick close to a team like Philadelphia, and it showed a lot of resiliency to bounce back after a 42-point loss to Dallas. But Washington doesn’t have enough playmakers to beat a good team right now. A lot has to do with injuries or personal situations; five defensive starters were missing Sunday. But even when healthy, the defense wasn’t making enough big plays to be considered elite. That can’t be forgotten. And first-round linebacker Jamin Davis has been relegated to only playing in certain packages. That’s not good. Washington can rightly say it has a depleted roster, but it can’t just rely on those players returning to think things will change in 2022. — John Keim
Are they in better shape than a year ago? During its four-game win streak, Washington clearly looked like a better team than it did in 2020, in part because it was playing better teams (and quarterbacks) and finally had found an identity. But the disappointing part for Washington this season has been the lack of production from key offseason acquisitions such as receiver Curtis Samuel, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Davis and third-round receiver Dyami Brown. Washington still needs a quarterback to build around. It hasn’t found an offensive identity. It feels more like this team has been treading water rather than building upon 2020. Until Washington finds a quarterback, it will have to do a better job hitting on key pickups to contend for a playoff spot. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, down from 4.9. Washington is out of the playoffs, but the reason the rating isn’t lower stems from the final opponent, the New York Giants. Washington plays with grit, but just lacks enough to win.
Next game: at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Bills came away with a victory in an unusual way for this team, with an offense that put together a season-best 233-yard rushing performance. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll adapted to the ground game with quarterback Josh Allen and the passing offense struggling to get going, with Allen throwing three picks. Buffalo finished the day with four rushing scores — two each from Allen and running back Devin Singletary. The running game has struggled for the Bills throughout the season, but Sunday’s performance is a good sign for the playoffs. — Alaina Getzenberg
What should the Bills do at returner going forward? The Bills can’t seem to get the returner position quite right. Isaiah McKenzie was a healthy scratch for two games after a big fumble against the Indianapolis Colts, handing the job over to Marquez Stevenson. But the rookie had a first-quarter fumble against the Falcons that led to a safety. He remained out as the returner for a majority of the game. McKenzie has become a valuable part of the offense as a receiver and Stevenson has shown enough as a returner overall. Don’t mess with it just because the rookie had a bad fumble in the snow. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.2, down from 8.4. Little change here. Despite the game not being the Bills’ best, they came away with a needed double-digit win at home after adapting to the snowy conditions.
Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: This, in many ways, felt like so many Atlanta Falcons games this season. For as undermanned as the franchise has been in 2021 — on Sunday, in part, due to COVID-19 issues — the Falcons showed resiliency. They put pressure on a Bills team headed for the playoffs, but ultimately couldn’t do enough to win. The loss ended the Falcons’ small playoff hopes, but in some ways also offers a glimpse of promise for the future. Atlanta hung in with the Bills, keeping it a one-possession game for most of the contest and picking off quarterback Josh Allen three times. In the first year under coach Arthur Smith, the Falcons were still in the playoff picture in Week 17 and were 7-2 in one-possession games. That is something to build on. The team is still a ways away from competing with the better teams in the NFL, but Sunday showed progress against a playoff team. — Michael Rothstein
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What should the Falcons do in the last week of the season? This is a question that could impact rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Pitts is 59 yards away from breaking a 60-year-old record for rookie receiving yards for a tight end, set by Mike Ditka in 1961. But if the hamstring injury is serious, it wouldn’t be wise to let him chase it. There’s also the question of playing some veterans or seeing what some rookies — perhaps receiver Frank Darby and cornerback Darren Hall, both of whom played Sunday — can do with a full week of preparation. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.8, up from 3.6. The season is essentially over with the playoffs no longer a possibility, but Atlanta might have something brewing under Smith.
Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: In what may have been Matt Nagy’s last home game as coach of the Bears, his team played at a level it hadn’t reached very often during the season. Of course, it helped playing the struggling Giants with Mike Glennon at quarterback. The game was won in the opening minutes after a strip-sack and an interception by the Bears led to 14 early points. They added two field goals and a safety in the final two minutes of the first half and cruised to their sixth win of the season. Robert Quinn also notched a sack in the fourth quarter, breaking Richard Dent’s franchise mark for a single season with 18. — Jesse Rogers
If Justin Fields is healthy enough, should the Bears let him play in the season finale against Minnesota? If Fields is 100%, then the answer is obviously yes, but there’s a good chance he’ll still be hurting at least a little from an ankle injury that has kept him out of action the last couple of weeks. The Bears could always let him start, and if he struggles, they could make a change. But one game of experience shouldn’t outweigh his health — a point Nagy has made several times. — Rogers
Rogers’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, up from 3.0. In a game between two struggling teams, it was the Bears who showed up, just like they did last week in a win over Seattle.
Next game: at Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Imagine playing in an NFL game and essentially knowing you can’t complete passes. That is where the Giants are these days. Mike Glennon behind this offensive line has created an untenable — and embarrassing — situation. The Giants dropped back to pass just four times on 27 plays in the first half. They had minus-16 yards and two turnovers on their four dropbacks. It never got much better. Glennon finished 4-of-11 for 24 yards with two interceptions and two lost fumbles, and he was sacked four times. — Jordan Raanan
Did the Giants quit? I wouldn’t say that. They were down 14-0 just eight minutes into the game because their quarterback fumbled and threw an interception that essentially handed Chicago two touchdowns. The Giants couldn’t go back and legitimately throw a pass because of the state of their offensive line. This isn’t a matter of the players not trying or not knowing their assignments. This is just a bad offense sinking the team. New York’s defense played hard to the end and allowed 249 total yards, which normally would equate to a really good performance. It also allowed just seven points in the second half. — Raanan
Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.8, down from 1.2. And we thought it was impossible for the Giants’ offense to get worse. They keep proving us wrong.
Next game: vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)