NFL Week 16 takeaways: Lessons, big questions for every game

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Welcome to Week 16of the 2022 NFL season and a holiday weekend of football.

On Thursday, the Jacksonville Jaguars continued their quest for the AFC South title by beating the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. On Saturday, the Buffalo Billswon their third straight AFC East title with a triumph over the Chicago Bearscombined with a New England Patriots loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. And with a win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Baltimore Ravens secured a playoff bid. The Minnesota Vikings won another one-score game -- their NFL-record 11th of the season -- and the Kansas City Chiefs proved too much for the Seattle Seahawks.

The late Saturday contests saw the Dallas Cowboys stay alive in the NFC East with a comeback victory over the Philadelphia Eaglesand the San Francisco 49ers win their eighth straight by besting the Washington Commanders. In the Saturday night game, the Las Vegas Raiders allowed another lead to slip away, as the Pittsburgh Steelers honored the late Franco Harris with a fourth-quarter rally on a frigid night in the Steel City.

Sunday got rolling with a big comeback win for theGreen Bay Packers over the Miami Dolphinsvia three late-game interceptions. Next, the Denver Broncos lost in disastrous fashion on the road against the Los Angeles Rams. And lastly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady defeated the Arizona Cardinals in overtime in what was signal-callerTrace McSorley's first start.

The Los Angeles Chargers took care of their business Monday night as the defense registered seven sacks in a rout of the Indianapolis Colts.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the biggest takeaways and lingering questions off this week's matchups and look ahead to what's next. Let's get to it.

Jump to a matchup:






L.A. Chargers 20, Indianapolis 3


What to know: The Chargers watched over the weekend as the Jets, Patriots and Raiders all lost, setting the scenario in motion that a victory would clinch a playoff berth. Void of a postseason appearance since 2018, the Bolts took no chances as the defense continued at a dominant pace set over the past few games, even as the offense turned in an uneven performance. The Chargers secured a playoff berth.

Can the Chargers put together all three phases? Looking at the offense here, which once carried the Chargers to victories but now is relying on the defense to do so. Two games remain before the playoffs, enough time to attempt to solve some of their woes. Over the past two games, quarterback Justin Herbert has not passed for a touchdown, while the lack of a consistent run game -- despite the presence of Austin Ekeler -- remains problematic. -- Lindsey Thiry

Next game: vs. Rams (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Colts' offensive struggles continued, with Indianapolis' results unchanged despite making its third quarterback change of the season. The Colts started Nick Foles -- their third starting QB this season -- but his performance made no discernible difference. Foles finished 17 of 29 for for 143 passing yards and three interceptions. His accuracy, or lack thereof, was extremely problematic and was likely due in part to his lack of experience working with the first-team receivers and tight ends. Foles had been limited to mostly working with the scout-team offense since the preseason, spending the previous games behind one or both of Matt Ryan and Sam Ehlinger.

Should the Colts go back to Ehlinger given the state of their season? The Colts have clearly moved on from Ryan for good after benching him for the second time this season. And after Foles' performance Monday, it's fair to ask whether there is any point in continuing to play the 33-year-old quarterback. The veteran QB likely has no future with the club, and the Colts are eliminated from playoff contention. Ehlinger started two games earlier this season and isn't currently viewed as a long-term option at starting quarterback. But the Colts could benefit from seeing more of him to continue their evaluation of the second-year prospect drafted in the sixth round in 2021. -- Stephen Holder

Next game: at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Tampa Bay 19, Arizona 16


What to know: After trailing the Cardinals on the road 16-6 in the fourth quarter, quarterback Tom Brady and the Buccaneers were able to keep their playoff hopes alive. A fumble recovery by Tampa Bay defensive endWilliam Gholston at the 4:49 mark in the fourth with the Bucs trailing by three allowed Brady to orchestrate a tying drive to send it into overtime, then kickerRyan Succophit a 40-yard winner.

What does the Bucs' playoff picture look like now? A victory over the Carolina Panthersin Week 17 would clinch the NFC South division and hand the Bucs a home game in the first round of the playoffs. But because the Bucs defeated Arizona, it's no longer a must-win game for them. If they don't prevail when they host Carolina on Sunday, they'd need to beat the Atlanta Falcons on the road in the season finale, and the Panthers would need to lose at the New Orleans Saints. -- Jenna Laine

Next game: vs. Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Cardinals were so close to pulling out their first win in four weeks -- and behind a third-string quarterback, Trace McSorley, making his first NFL start -- but their offensive struggles were too much to overcome, including the costly fumble in the fourth quarter.

Will the Cardinals win either of their last two games? With road games against the Atlanta Falconsand then the San Francisco 49ers, a 1-1 split is possible, but it wouldn't be surprising if they went 0-2 and finished the season at 4-13. -- Josh Weinfuss

Next game: at Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

L.A. Rams 51, Denver 14


What to know: Running back Cam Akers has played his way into a bigger role in 2023. Akers, who spent nearly a month away from the team earlier this season while the Rams tried to trade him, now has five rushing touchdowns in his past four games. Akers registered 147 total yards against the Broncos: 118 rushing yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns and two catches for 29 yards. Akers finishes the month of December with six rushing touchdowns, the most in the NFL. He had three rushing TDs in his first 23 career games combined. The Rams really like rookie running back Kyren Williams, but Akers has been the one to make an impact down the stretch.

Will Baker Mayfield be backing up Matthew Stafford next season? If Mayfield plays this well in the Rams' final two games, maybe not. While the coaching staff has been impressed by Mayfield in the short time he has been in Los Angeles, this stretch might earn him a chance to start elsewhere. Mayfield completed 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against the Broncos. His 85.7% completion rate was the second-highest mark in a game in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. -- Sarah Barshop

Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: Quarterback Russell Wilson arrived in March with so many expectations and his own declaration of his hope to win "multiple Super Bowls." Well, 15 games into a lost season, it's clear Wilson must do more critical soul-searching than any other player or any coach in Denver. His decision-making looks flawed -- he had three passes intercepted Sunday -- he seems hesitant to let the ball go and continues to pass up completions in favor of risky throws down the field. Wilson has to get to work if he wants the team to be better.

What now for coach Nathaniel Hackett? Broncos co-owner and CEO Greg Penner hasn't spoken publicly about Hackett and the coaching staff since the team's midseason trip to London when he emphasized that effort would matter over the second half of the season. Hackett has seemed to find a way to keep his team fighting, even in losses. But Sunday's performance changed things plenty. The Broncos imploded, looking ill-prepared and uninterested. Losses like the one to the Rams crank up the thermostat on a hot seat. Now, a trip to Kansas City next Sunday awaits. -- Jeff Legwold

Next game: at Chiefs (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

Green Bay 26, Miami 20


What to know: Maybe the Packers' defense isn't as bad as everyone thought. After allowing 20 points in the first half and letting Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throw the ball wherever he wanted, D-coordinator Joe Barry's unit finally figured things out. The Packers came up with interceptions on three straight drives in the fourth quarter -- by Jaire Alexander, De'Vondre Campbell and the clincher by Rasul Douglas -- to help pull off a comeback win and keep their playoff chances very much alive. They still need to win their last two games -- both at home, against the Vikings and Lions -- and get a little help, but the vibe around this team has completely changed over the past month. From a 4-8 record and seemingly going nowhere, the Packers are now 7-8 and seemingly a different team than they were even a month ago.

What happens if wide receiver Christian Watson's hip injury keeps him out? Watson was en route to another big game on Sunday with six catches in the first half before a hip injury ended his day. It didn't seem to hamper the Packers in the second half. Fellow rookie wideoutRomeo Doubs looks like he is ready for a bigger role. Plus, tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan both made big plays in the second half. -- Rob Demovsky

Next game: vs. Vikings (Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: It's a team game, but Tua Tagovailoa is going to shoulder most of the blame for this loss; that's what happens when you throw three interceptions in the fourth quarter. Tagovailoa said his second interception was the result of poor communication, but the other two were just poor throws. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel called the performance "uncharacteristic," and Tagovailoa's body of work in 2022 backs up that statement. However, the QB's play when it mattered most on Sunday cost the Dolphins a win. It's difficult to overcome multiple turnovers, and Miami has now lost five of the six games in which it has turned the ball over multiple times.

Are the Dolphins too reliant on explosive plays? Jaylen Waddle's 84-yard touchdown and Tyreek Hill's 52-yard reception were great -- but Miami didn't sustain any scoring drives without the aid of either an explosive play or positive starting field position. It's a microcosm of the Dolphins' play during their four-game losing streak, in which they've put together two touchdown drives without an explosive play. Those types of plays are absolutely part of the game and must be accounted for, but opponents will happily surrender those if they know you're incapable of sustaining a drive otherwise. The Dolphins have two weeks to figure out how to do so or they risk limping into the playoffs -- or missing them altogether. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: at Patriots (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

Pittsburgh 13, Las Vegas 10


What to know:On an emotional night when the Steelers retired Franco Harris' No. 32 jersey days after the legendary running back's death, Pittsburgh matched the magnitude of the moment. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett had trouble moving the ball consistently but went 10 plays and 76 yards for the winning touchdown, culminating with a 14-yard catch by George Pickensin the final minute. The Steelers picked off Derek Carr three times, including on Las Vegas' final drive, to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Could another winning season really be in the cards?Sitting at 3-7 after a loss to the Bengals on Nov. 20, the notion of coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers avoiding their first losing season together seemed highly unlikely. With four wins in their past five games, the possibility is no longer such a long shot. Pittsburgh (7-8) will be an underdog at the Ravens next week, but Baltimore is facing continued uncertainty at quarterback, and the rivals played a 16-14 barn burner two weeks ago. Clear that hurdle and an 8-8 Pittsburgh team would need only to defeat the last-place Browns (6-9) at home to get to 9-8 -- and maybe even sneak into the playoffs if it got a lot of help. -- ESPN staff

Next game: at Ravens (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Sure, the Raiders technically remain alive in the playoff race at 6-9, but a Dolphins win or tie Sunday against the Packers coupled with a Chargers win or tie Monday night against the Colts will eliminate Las Vegas from the postseason chase. Blowing another seven-plus-point halftime lead -- the Raiders' record fifth such loss of the season -- was the nail in the proverbial coffin.

When might it be time to hit the reset button, then?As soon as the Raiders are officially eliminated. And yes, that might mean Las Vegas seeing what it has in Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, after Derek Carr was picked off three times in the second half at Pittsburgh. With so many rumors floating around that Las Vegas has already decided to move on from the franchise's all-time passing leader, it might behoove the Raiders to get a jump start, as touchy and sensitive as it might be. -- Paul Gutierrez

Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Dallas 40, Philadelphia 34


What to know: The Cowboys were able to overcome two 10-point deficits to keep their slim division title hopes alive. A defense that was picked apart -- the Eagles did not punt -- came up with back-to-back takeaways late in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys are 11-4 and will be no worse than the fifth seed in the postseason, but they'll need the Eagles to lose out to have any aspirations of a division crown. A third meeting between these teams in the playoffs would be something else.

Can the Cowboys find their pass rush? The Cowboys need to if they are going to do anything in the playoffs. They recorded four sacks of Jalen Hurts when they met in October and had at least three in nine of their first 11 games -- but Dallas had one sack the previous two weeks and zero on Saturday. Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong have to figure something out because the secondary, which has been hit by injuries, can't hold up forever. When the Cowboys brought pressure against Gardner Minshew, they didn't get home. -- Todd Archer

Next game: at Titans (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Eagles let a golden opportunity slip away. They held the lead over Dallas for the majority of the game and had a chance to secure the division and the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs before being derailed by costly turnovers down the stretch. The good news is they have two more regular-season games and need to win one to lock up the top playoff position in the NFC. Their home game on New Year's Day against the Saints just got a whole lot more interesting.

Will quarterback Jalen Hurts play against New Orleans? Hurts' status for Week 17 against the Saints was uncertain entering Saturday, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter, as Hurts recovers from what doctors are calling a sternoclavicular (SC) joint sprain in his throwing shoulder. The Eagles wanted to see how this weekend played out in the NFC playoff race and how Hurts' shoulder responds to rest and treatment before determining whether the MVP candidate can play. Still needing a win to secure the top seed in the playoffs, there will be plenty of intrigue around Hurts' availability. -- Tim McManus

Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

San Francisco 37, Washington 20


What to know: The Niners can do no worse than the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, but they said they won't take their foot off the gas because the No. 2 seed is in reach. While the 49ers didn't get help from the Vikings on Saturday, they are a game behind them for the second spot and need to tie Minnesota in the standings to possibly host at least two postseason games. As long as that's the case, expect San Francisco to keep pushing.

Is Nick Bosa the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year? If he isn't, he should be. Bosa added two more sacks and a forced fumble Saturday to get to a career-high 17.5 sacks on the season, tied for second most in franchise history. Nothing against Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons, who also is having an outstanding season, but Bosa has been the most consistently dominant force on the best defense in the NFL. -- Nick Wagoner

Next game: at Raiders (Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: Washington's offense moved the ball under quarterback Taylor Heinicke, but the red zone issues and turnovers over the past three games have killed them. That's why Carson Wentz replaced Heinicke on Saturday, and it's why the Commanders likely will stick with Wentz over the final two games. The 49ers blitzed Wentz often, but he made quicker decisions and knew where to go with the ball. If he is indeed more comfortable, his arm can open up the field for a Commanders offense needing a jolt.

How does this loss impact Washington's playoff chances? No harm, no foul. With Detroit and Seattle losing, the Commanders remain in the seventh and final playoff spot. They need to win their final two games -- at home against Cleveland and Dallas -- to stay in the postseason. The Browns have been eliminated from the playoffs and struggle versus the run, while the Cowboys might end up resting their starters. Washington must take advantage; if not, it becomes a wasted season. -- John Keim

Next game: vs. Browns (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

Houston 19, Tennessee 14


What to know: The Texans earned their second win by containing Derrick Henry. The last time the Texans faced Henry, he ran for 219 yards en route to a 17-10 win in Week 8. But during their second matchup, the Texans' run defense contained Henry, even though the raw numbers might say otherwise. Henry finished with 126 yards rushing on 23 carries, but outside of a 48-yard touchdown run, the Texans held him to 3.5 yards per rush on every other carry. Overall, the Texans' defense held the Titans to 14 points and 272 yards and forced three turnovers. It was one of the team's best defensive performances of the year.

With how the Texans have looked in the past three games, does that take the heat off coach Lovie Smith? The Texans have played the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Titans down to the wire. Those teams are competing for playoff spots, and the Texans had a chance to win all three of those games and closed the deal against the Titans. The team hasn't quit on Lovie Smith even though it has lost 12 of 15 games. Will that help save Smith's job? The team is showing life, and it's plausible it could carry this momentum into the 2023 season. -- DJ Bien-Aime

Next game: vs. Jaguars (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Denico Autry's value was proved beyond the stat sheet, as he had two quarterback pressures that nearly generated two interceptions. Autry also had pass breakups at the line of scrimmage on plays that could have gone for big gains if the Texans quarterback was able to get the passes off. Despite missing the past four games, Autry leads the Titans in sacks after getting his eighth of the season. But in the end, the Titans' pass defense faltered after a Derrick Henry fumble in the fourth quarter. Davis Mills completed all four of his pass attempts for 69 yards, including the game-sealing touchdown.

Can the Titans be expected to challenge the Jaguars for the AFC South title? The Titans' offense has shown little to no life over the past five games, even with the Jaguars rapidly closing the gap atop the AFC South. The second-half scoring woes have been a theme all season and it resurfaced Saturday. Tennessee was averaging a league-worst 5.5-point average in the second half entering this week. The search for contributions from the wide receiver position seems to be mission impossible. The Titans haven't had a pass-catcher post 100 receiving yards in five games. Meanwhile, Jacksonville has a three-game win streak and took over sole possession of the AFC South. -- Turron Davenport

Next game: vs. Cowboys (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

Cincinnati 22, New England 18


What to know: The Bengals survived a massive gut check in a win over the New England Patriots. Cincinnati was on the brink of blowing a 22-0 lead before the defense intervened. Bengals safety Vonn Bell forced a fumble that Cincinnati recovered, which allowed the Bengals to avoid the second-biggest blown lead in franchise history. Cincinnati stays within striking distance of the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but for the second straight week, it won despite an inconsistent effort.

Should the run game be a concern? After a good stretch in the middle of the season, Cincinnati's run game has sputtered the past two weeks. Against New England, the Bengals averaged 3.0 yards per rushing attempt. Cincinnati's ground struggles also prevented it from being able to ice the game away as things got close. It's a part of the offense that has to be better as the Bengals prepare for a postseason run. -- Ben Baby

Next game: vs. Bills (Monday, Jan. 2, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: What a dagger -- for the second week in a row. The Patriots had roared back from a 22-0 halftime deficit and appeared primed to go ahead when running back Rhamondre Stevenson lost a fumble at the Bengals' 8-yard line with 55 seconds remaining. At 7-8, the Patriots are still technically alive for the playoffs, but what hope is there when they keep shooting themselves in the foot?

What are coach Bill Belichick's plans with the offense? There are two games remaining, but everything seems secondary to how Belichick plans to address the offense in the big picture. The Patriots had 70 total yards of offense at halftime, and while there were signs of life in the second half, this is not a sustainable formula. So it's a balance between doing whatever it takes to win the final two games (home against Miami, on the road against Buffalo) to stay alive but also acknowledging the offense needs a major fix. -- Mike Reiss

Next game: vs. Dolphins (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

Minnesota 27, N.Y. Giants 24


What to know: What? You thought a close game involving the Vikings would end any other way? Minnesota is now 11-0 in one-possession games after Greg Joseph's 61-yard field goal won this one at the buzzer. The win gave the Vikings their 12th victory of the season, only the second time a Vikings team has won at least 12 in the past 13 years. This win was especially notable given the stakes: The Giants were playing to clinch a postseason spot, while the Vikings are playing for playoff seeding. Speaking of seeding, the Vikings will maintain their lead over the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC's No. 2 seed.

Should we go back to being worried about the Vikings' defense? The Giants' underpowered offense rolled for 445 yards, including 334 through the air from quarterback Daniel Jones, a reminder the Vikings have hardly fixed their season-long defensive struggles. But like many of their previous games, the Vikings mitigated the damage with two takeaways -- a forced fumble by linebackerBrian Asamoah IIand an interception by cornerback Patrick Peterson. Their special teams also blocked a punt, giving the offense a short field to score a touchdown, but the defensive concerns remain. -- Kevin Seifert

Next game: at Packers (Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: This was a missed opportunity. The Giants had a playoff berth in their grasp in the fourth quarter. ButCor'Dale Flottlet an interception slip through his hands, Daniel Jones threw an interception, Richie James had a crucial drop and they had a punt blocked with under five minutes remaining. These are the kinds of plays that playoff teams can't make. It all added up to a loss on a 61-yard field goal as time expired.

Is next week vs. Indianapolis a must-win game? Pretty much. The Giants host the Indianapolis Colts on New Year's Day. On paper, this is the easiest of their remaining games. New York would be playing with fire if it went into their finale needing to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia. The Giants would much rather win next week in front of their home fans and not leave anything in doubt. -- Jordan Raanan

Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

New Orleans 17, Cleveland 10


What to know: The Saints didn't make it easy on a brutally cold day, but they did keep their playoff hopes alive, improving to 6-9 with a win over Cleveland. After trying to do everything but use Taysom Hill for most of the first half, they finally capitalized on running Hill -- who had nine carries for 54 yards and a touchdown -- and a late interception by Deshaun Watson to squeak out a win in the elements.

Can the Saints sustain their momentum against the Eagles next week? The Saints won back-to-back games for the first time all season and stayed alive in the NFC South race. But their biggest challenge comes next week in Philadelphia. The Saints could be facing the Eagles without quarterback Jalen Hurts. A win in Philly would also go a long way for first-year head coach Dennis Allen, who wasn't able to generate momentum for most of the season. -- Katherine Terrell

Next game: at Eagles (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Browns were eliminated from the playoff conversation after quarterbackDeshaun Watson's would-be game-tying TD drive came up short. From the Saints' 15-yard line, Watson had two potential TD passes bounce off the hands of Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku. But then Watson took a sack on fourth down, sealing a second straight losing season in Cleveland.

What now for the Browns? Cleveland now has no shot to make the playoffs, rendering the final two games on the road against Washington and Pittsburgh meaningless. Getting more game reps for Watson will be Cleveland's priority. After that, the Browns will be playing for pride in their final two games for a second consecutive year. -- Jake Trotter

Next game: at Commanders (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

Buffalo 35, Chicago 13


What to know: The Bills' defense had an impressive performance, limiting the Bears' league-leading rushing attack (came into Week 16 averaging 186.9 yards per game) to 91 yards and getting out of tough situations with limited points allowed. After allowing 188 yards on the ground to the Dolphins last week, the Bills' defense gave up 3.0 yards per carry. It was an important test for a defense that has struggled against the run at times. With the win, the Bills clinch the AFC East.

Can Josh Allen curtail the questionable decisions that have led to turnovers? Allen threw his first interceptions since Thanksgiving, finishing with two on the day -- his fifth multi-interception game. A league-high four of his interceptions have been thrown into the end zone. Too often, Allen isn't connecting with the open receiver in the middle of the field, instead looking for the big play downfield and trying to get the ball to certain receivers. Poor decisions against better defenses will have an impact as the Bills march toward the postseason. -- Alaina Getzenberg

Next game: at Bengals (Monday, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Bears couldn't run the ball, nor could they stifle Buffalo's rushing attack. Devin Singletary (106 rushing yards, TD) and James Cook (99 rushing yards, TD) carved through Chicago's defense, with the Bills rushing for 254 yards (8.2 yards per rush) as a team. Offensively, Justin Fields posed no threat throwing (3.6 yards per pass attempt, excluding a 44-yard pass to Velus Jones Jr.) or running the ball. One week after becoming the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Fields rushed seven times for 11 yards.

How can the Bears fight offensive regression? The Bears had three takeaways (two interceptions and a fumble recovery) for the second straight week but scored three points off turnovers. Chicago had two drives that began in Buffalo territory at the 38- and 18-yard lines, respectively, and settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. After putting together an opening drive that resulted in 74 yards and four first downs, the Bears had 12 straight drives in which they could not generate multiple first downs. Averaging 3.7 yards per play is no recipe for winning games. -- Courtney Cronin

Next game: at Lions (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

Carolina 37, Detroit 23


What to know: The formula for the Panthers (6-9) to win the NFC South is simple: run. They reestablished their dominance up front after being limited to 21 yards on the ground against the Pittsburgh Steelers, rushing for franchise records of 321 yards, 240 in the first half. They also had a team-record 571 total yards. They've won three of their past four, and in each they have 185 yards or more rushing. This sets up a showdown next week at Tampa Bay (6-8) for control of the South. Win that one and the following week at New Orleans, and Carolina wins the division.

Can Carolina keep up the ground dominance against Tampa Bay?Probably. Carolina rushed for 173 yards in a 21-3 win against the Bucs earlier this season. Tampa Bay ranks only 17th against the run and gave up 209 yards a few weeks ago against San Francisco. There's really no reason to think the Panthers can't keep this up the last two games. They had 145 yards rushing against the Saints, who rank 23rd against the rush, earlier this year. -- David Newton

Next game: at Bucs (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Lions' run defense was atrocious. Detroit entered as one of the hottest teams in the league, winning six of their past seven games, but couldn't adjust to the Carolina rushing attack -- allowing the Panthers to set a franchise record of 240 rushing yards in the first half and 320 overall. Carolina also set a franchise record for most total yards with 570. One silver lining was Shane Zylstra's three receiving touchdowns, including one late in the fourth quarter to narrow the deficit to 34-20.

How important is a strong finish? The Lions laid an egg against the Panthers; there's no denying it. But on a positive note, they've accomplished more than many thought they would this season and have a 13% chance to reach the postseason, according to ESPN Analytics. But even if the Lions don't make the playoffs, they need to be better than they were Saturday over the last two games to build on positive momentum heading into the offseason. -- Eric Woodyard

Next game: vs. Bears (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)

Kansas City 24, Seattle 10


What to know: This is the kind of game the Chiefs haven't played very often recently but need to repeat going forward, particularly in the playoffs against better competition. They didn't commit a turnover for the first time in 10 games, didn't miss any field goals or PATs and committed few penalties other than on a Seahawks field goal drive in the second quarter. The Chiefs had been helping their opponents with their own mistakes but cleaned up some key areas against Seattle.

Does Harrison Butker's perfect day mean he's over his slump? Butker made all three of his PATs and his only field goal attempt, but it's premature to say all is good with the Chiefs' kicking game. He will be asked to make kicks more difficult than three PATs and a 47-yard field goal. It's a start, though, and should give him and the Chiefs some confidence going forward. -- Adam Teicher

Next game: vs. Broncos (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: It's been all too evident during the Seahawks' recent slide how badly they need to upgrade the front seven of their defense and the interior of their O-line. That was again obvious as they suffered their fifth loss in six games. The story wasn't Patrick Mahomes lighting up their defense. It was how much more time he had in the pocket than Geno Smith. The Seahawks' inept run defense tightened up, but their lone sack of Mahomes came late in the third quarter and they finished with three QB hits. On offense, they need to get better at guard and center.

Are the Seahawks' playoff hopes dead? They don't look like a team capable of making noise in the playoffs, but their hopes of sneaking in are very much alive. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, their chances of earning one of the NFC's two wild-card berths dropped from 35% to 30% with this loss. They're still on the Commanders' and Giants' heels and have two winnable games remaining, at home against the Jets and Rams. They'd get a big boost if Tyler Lockett can return this week from his hand surgery and if Ryan Neal can get back from his knee injury. Neal's absence left the Seahawks down to their third options at strong safety, making for a brutal matchup against Travis Kelce. That plus the weather -- at 12 degrees, it was the second-coldest game in Seahawks history -- meant this was a game they wouldn't have won even when they were rolling at 6-3. -- Brady Henderson

Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Baltimore 17, Atlanta 9


What to know: The Ravens are in the playoffs despite another rough game for the Lamar Jackson-less offense. Baltimore secured a postseason berth for the fourth time in five years, but the offense continues to sputter with backup quarterback Tyler Huntley. Baltimore can run the ball with the best of them, but this offense can't finish its drives. The offensive players are visibly frustrated when walking off the field. The Ravens were 1-of-4 in the red zone (one touchdown and three field goals) against a Falcons defense that ranked 22nd in red zone efficiency (allowing TDs 59.2% of the time) -- which is why this wasn't a blowout. In three games without Jackson, Baltimore has managed two touchdowns.

When is Lamar Jackson returning? Jackson missed his third straight game because of a sprained knee after many thought he would be back for this contest. Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn't given any update on Jackson after initially saying he was "week-to-week" earlier this month. This was expected to be a one- to three-week injury, which means Jackson should be ready soon. It would provide a boost for this slumping offense if he could return to the practice field for the first time since getting hurt on Dec. 4. If the Ravens are going to make a run in the postseason, they need Jackson healthy and at the top of his game. -- Jamison Hensley

Next game: vs. Steelers (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Falcons' postseason hopes were possible because they play in a bad division. But the reality for Atlantais that ifeverything isn't perfect, it will struggle to win, and that's not a surprise for a team in the midst of a rebuild. There are players to feel good about, notably cornerstones in defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, cornerbackA.J. Terrelland offensive guard Chris Lindstrom, along with rookie wide receiver Drake London and running back Tyler Allgeier. But this is a team with a long way to go for sustained success. This season has shown it.

Where did Desmond Ridder show improvement? Start No. 2 went better for Ridder -- although it was another slow beginning, with a rough first two drives that included a fumbled snap and a bad sack taken. Once the quarterback found the rhythm of the game, there were signs of potential. He once again had a strong connection with London -- his most targeted pass-catcher (nine targets, seven catches, 96 yards) -- and while there were some off-target throws, Ridder often put his receiver in positions to make plays. Ridder also showed he could make throws all over the field and again didn't have operational issues. There are a lot of questions, but there was some tangible growth in a 22 of 33, 218-yard day with no touchdowns and no interceptions. -- Michael Rothstein

Next game: vs. Cardinals (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


Jacksonville 19, N.Y. Jets 3


What to know: The Jaguars have snapped a lot of streaks this season -- most notably a 20-game losing streak to NFC teams and an 18-game road losing streak -- and they added another one to the list Thursday night. This was the Jaguars' first victory in a road prime-time game in the regular season since beating Pittsburgh in Three Rivers Stadium on Nov. 19, 2000. That it was an ugly win in the rain and wind is irrelevant. "You find a way to win, and that's bottom line," receiver Christian Kirk said.

Are the Jaguars headed for the AFC South title? It sure looks that way. They're tied with the Titans after winning their third game in a row. The Titans have lost five in a row and QB Ryan Tannehill is likely out for the season, meaning rookie Malik Willis takes over. Right now, the Jaguars are playing the best football of any team in the division. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is playing at a high level, and the defense has forced eight turnovers in the past three games. If the Jaguars are a game behind or tied with the Titans heading into Week 18, the regular-season finale against the Titans in Jacksonville will decide the division. -- Mike DiRocco

Next game: at Texans (Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Coach Robert Saleh delivered a strong commentary on his faith in embattled QB Zach Wilson, replacing him with former practice-squad player Chris Streveler late in the third quarter -- in a virtual must-win game, no less. Wilson was actually outplayed by Streveler in what might have been the unofficial end to the Wilson era. Once again, the Jets are staring into the quarterback abyss, only two years removed from using the second overall pick on Wilson. It's an organizational failure to the highest degree.

What happened to the Jets in December? They began the month at 7-4, seemingly a shoo-in for the playoffs. A four-game losing streak -- the longest in 32 games under Saleh -- has crushed their playoff hopes. The quarterback instability (from Wilson to Mike White to Wilson to Streveler) has taken a huge toll. In retrospect, their postseason dreams were shattered the moment White's ribs were fractured in Week 14. -- Rich Cimini

Next game: at Seahawks (Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:05 p.m. ET)

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