NFL Week 17 takeaways: Lessons, big questions for every game

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Sunday, January 1, 2023

Welcome to the New Year and toWeek 17of the 2022 NFL season, as the playoff picture starts becoming clearer.

On Sunday, the New York Giants clinched a postseason berth with a win over the Indianapolis Colts, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneersclinched the NFC South with a win over the Carolina Panthers. With a loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Eagleswere denied the chance to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Check out the Week 17 clinching scenarios here.

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:




Atlanta 20, Arizona 19


What to know: Three games into Desmond Ridder's career as a starter and there are signs of progress, even if he has yet to throw a touchdown pass. On a run-first team, it might be something Atlanta can live with (and he was close to throwing one late Sunday to Cordarrelle Patterson, but it fell incomplete). Ridder's decision-making continues to look solid, and he threw some nice passes, including a deep ball to Damiere Byrd that fell incomplete but could have been called for pass interference. Ridder completed 19 of 26 passes for 170 yards in a win over Arizona, and while it's way too early to truly know if Ridder is the long-term answer, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said it was important for Ridder to win a game.

How many defensive starters will be back in 2023? There's still a bunch of subjectivity to this because of expiring contracts and free agency, so take this as a "should." And that answer is six. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, linebacker Troy Andersen, cornerback A.J. Terrell and safeties Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins all would make sense. So, too, would linebacker Rashaan Evans if the team is able to bring him back in free agency. Other than that? There needs to be an overhaul. -- Michael Rothstein

Next game: vs. Buccaneers


What to know: The Cardinals found they have quality depth at quarterback. David Blough played about as well as could be expected for a quarterback being named the starter on a Friday and playing two days later. Blough looked composed and, for the most part, was productive. Coach Kliff Kingsbury had said this week was about a competition between Blough and Trace McSorley, who started last week. Who performed better would start Week 18. That looks like Blough.

Will Sunday be Kliff Kingsbury's last game as the Cardinals' head coach? It's looking that way, whether it's his decision or the team's. Kingsbury could very well walk away on his own or, if he decides to stick around and try to coach in 2023, it's not unthinkable that team owner Michael Bidwill would fire him and start from scratch. -- Josh Weinfuss

Next game: at 49ers

Jacksonville 31, Houston 3


What to know: The Jaguars can cross off another streak this season: Sunday's victory snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Houston Texans that dated back to 2017. The Jaguars didn't have to win this game to clinch the AFC South title, but there were remote wild-card implications and the Jaguars handled their business and didn't stumble against an inferior team. Now it's winner-take-all in their next game against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field. The Jaguars have won just one AFC title in franchise history (2017) and have made the playoffs just four times since the century began (2005, 2007 and 2014).

What's the key for the defense to continue to play well? Forcing turnovers. The Jaguars have forced nine in the past four games, including four against the Titans in Nashville on Dec. 11. They scored touchdowns on an interception in overtime to beat Dallas and a fumble recovery against the Texans on Sunday. The Jaguars give up an average of 18.7 points per game in matchups in which they've forced a turnover compared to 27.5 points per game in the games they haven't. -- Mike DiRocco

Next game: vs. Titans


What to know: With this loss, the Texans still have the best odds to get the No. 1 pick in the draft. With the Bears also losing Sunday, the Texans hold a half-game lead. If the Texans lose next week against the Indianapolis Colts, they will be locked into the No. 1 pick, but if they win and the Bears lose to the Minnesota Vikings, they will flip spots.

Was Sunday's loss Lovie Smith's last home game as coach? According to ESPN sources, Smith's standing with the Texans to be retained as coach has been shaky. Sunday's loss to the Jaguars was the ugliest home loss all year, as Houston was outscored by 28 points, the biggest margin of defeat this season. The Texans looked lifeless against the Jaguars and the scoreboard reflected that. -- DJ Bien-Aime

Next game: at Colts

Tampa Bay 30, Carolina 24


What to know: Not only did the Bucs punch their ticket to the playoffs for Tom Brady's 14th consecutive postseason appearance, their deep-ball drought and Mike Evans'11-game touchdown drought are over. Evans scored three touchdowns Sunday to help the Bucs overcome not one but two double-digit deficits.

Now that the Bucs are in, who will they face? Brady and the Bucs still have one game remaining at the Atlanta Falcons next week, but their playoff position is solidified no matter what. By winning their division, they will host the wild-card round of the playoffs. Should the Philadelphia Eagles win Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys would be locked into the fifth seed and would visit the Bucs in a rematch from Week 1, when the Bucs won 19-3. Should the Cowboys win the division, the Eagles will play the Bucs in the wild-card round.-- Jenna Laine

Next game: at Falcons


What to know: The loss of Jaycee Horn (broken wrist) last week was likely the biggest reason the Panthers fell short in their quest for the NFC South title. The secondary was woeful without their shutdown corner. Even the most veteran player of the group, CJ Henderson, was dreadful. He was beaten badly on two of Mike Evans' three touchdown catches after Carolina went up 14-0. It was almost like a practice drill for Bucs quarterback Tom Brady as he topped 400 yards passing for the first time this season.

Has interim coach Steve Wilks done enough to become the full-time coach? Failing to win an NFC South title that was for the taking, despite holding a 14-0 lead on Sunday, will hurt. But Wilks has done more than enough to earn the job. Beyond his record (5-6), players love him and openly say they want him to be the next coach. He has made a team many thought would tank at 1-4 competitive in all but one game. If Wilks doesn't get the Carolina job, another team likely will grab him. That could end up embarrassing owner David Tepper. -- David Newton

Next game: at Saints

New Orleans 20, Philadelphia 10


What to know:It took almost the entire season for the Saints finally to play their best football, defeating the Eagles as underdogs thanks to a nearly flawless first-half performance. The Saints had to hang on in the second half after the offense went cold, but cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who hasn't played since Oct. 9, saved the day. Lattimore ran an interception back for a touchdown with less than six minutes remaining to seal the win, reminding everyone how much the Saints have missed his presence. The Saints now have a chance to close out the season with four straight wins, but it's likely too little, too late, after the Buccaneers' win over Carolina on Sunday.

Which Saints team will show up in Week 18 with the playoffs likely impossible? The Saints have been able to hold on to faint playoff hopes all season due to the struggles in the NFC South, but the Buccaneers' win against the Panthers all but eliminated them from the postseason. Only a long shot at the seventh seed (with a lot of help) exists at this point. The Saints are likely playing for pride against the Panthers in their home finale. The Saints can't finish with a winning record but they can end the season on a high note after struggling through Dennis Allen's first season as head coach. Whether or not they show up and play well against the Panthers will say a lot about Allen's ability to motivate the team. So far, the Saints have showed no signs of quitting on Allen. -- Katherine Terrell

Next game: vs. Panthers


What to know: The Eagles are going to have to do this the hard way. They could have clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs with a win in either of the past two weeks, but were unable to get the job done and now face a critical home game against the New York Giants in the regular-season finale. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is expected to be available for that game after missing two weeks with a right shoulder sprain, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

How effective will Hurts be? He practiced for the first time since injuring his shoulder this week, throwing a number of short to intermediate passes with decent velocity in the portion of practice open to the media. The Eagles have viewed this as a relatively minor injury and believe Hurts is in a good spot physically. His return will be all the buzz as Philly gets ready for its biggest game of the year. -- Tim McManus

Next game: vs. Giants

New England 23, Miami 21


What to know: Defense does it again. Led by a seventh defensive score this season -- Kyle Dugger's 39-yard interception return for a touchdown -- the Patriots live to fight another week. Dugger's play gave the Patriots a 16-14 lead in the third quarter and they never trailed again. An 89-yard TD drive by the offense -- maybe its best of the season -- helped seal the result. If the Patriots win next week in Buffalo, they clinch a playoff berth.

Can they beat Buffalo playing this way? Heck, no! It's one thing to do it against backup Dolphins quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson, but Josh Allen represents a whole different level. The Patriots will have to be much more consistent offensively -- complementing the defense -- to have a chance. They need the Mac Jones-led offense that showed up on the 89-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter. -- Mike Reiss

Next game: at Bills


What to know: The Dolphins are not a playoff-caliber team -- and haven't looked like one for more than a month. During this five-game losing streak, we've seen an offense incapable of sustained production no matter who is at quarterback, a defense that can't stop shooting itself in the foot, and a special teams unit that has routinely failed. Even if the Dolphins beat the Jets next week and sneak into the playoffs, they don't appear capable of hanging with the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals. Miami sat in first place in the AFC East entering its Week 11 bye -- my, how times have changed.

Who is most to blame for this collapse? It depends on which version of the Dolphins you believe is the real thing -- the one that won five straight games and looked unbeatable with Tua Tagovailoa under center, or the one that lost five straight and crumbled when adversity hit down the stretch. Coach Mike McDaniel will say it starts with him, and injuries played a factor in several losses. Miami's defense is a shell of its 2021 self, but ultimately, this team failed to counter once opponents began to figure the Dolphins out. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: vs. Jets

Detroit 41, Chicago 10


What to know: The Lions are clinging to hope they can reach the postseason for the first time since 2016. But even though their chances are minimal -- jumping from 16% to 23% after beating Chicago, according to ESPN Analytics -- the longer they play in games with playoff ramifications, the more this season becomes an important learning opportunity for a team on the rise. This is especially true for the younger guys like rookies Aidan Hutchinson (interception, fumble recovery Sunday) and James Houston (3 sacks vs. Bears) and second-year receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (4 receptions, 62 yards), who have never played in important games in December and January.

What has been one of Detroit's bigger offensive surprises? After the 1-6 start, many questioned the decision to trade Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson. But since he left, the tight end production has increased drastically as quarterback Jared Goff has developed connections with Brock Wright -- who scored twice against Chicago -- as well as James Mitchell and Shane Zylstra. The Lions have 12 passing touchdowns to tight ends this season, which is their most this century, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. This was also Detroit's eighth 30-point game this season, passing the 2011 season for the most in franchise history, and a big part of that has been the production of the Lions' tight ends. -- Eric Woodyard

Next game: at Packers


What to know: A true beatdown in every fashion. Chicago lost by 31 points while allowing 504 yards, and Justin Fields completed seven of 21 passes with a 40.8 passer rating against the Lions' 32nd-ranked defense. Outside of Fields' 60-yard scramble in the first quarter, the Bears' offense got outclassed and embarrassed. Chicago never gave its quarterback an opportunity to throw from a moving pocket to mitigate the issues he experienced with his pass protection -- Fields was sacked seven times -- after in-game injuries to Teven Jenkins and Michael Schofield left the Bears down to their third-string right guard.

Why didn't the Bears pull Fields late in the blowout loss? The Bears have been adamant about continuing to play Fields in a lost season because they believe game reps are the most important tool for this offense to grow. That's understandable, but keeping Fields under center late in a blowout was a questionable decision. Jacksonville pulled QB Trevor Lawrence when the Jaguars were on the other side of a Week 17 blowout, so why wouldn't Chicago do the same with its franchise QB? There was nothing to be gained by keeping Fields in this game late, something that should not happen in the season finale against Minnesota if the circumstances play out similarly. -- Courtney Cronin

Next game: vs. Vikings

Kansas City 27, Denver 24


What to know: The Chiefs are no longer in a kicking slump, but they have a kicking problem. After missing on another field goal attempt against the Broncos, the Chiefs are last in the league in field goal percentage (74.2). Holder Tommy Townsend dropped the ball on a PAT attempt. Those four points didn't cost them against the Broncos, but it's a stretch to believe the Chiefs can continue to give away points in the kicking game and consistently beat good teams in the playoffs.

Where would the Chiefs be without Jerick McKinnon? In a lesser place offensively, to be sure. The veteran running back was signed shortly before training camp started but is hardly a role player. He has become an essential part of their passing offense. He had two receiving touchdowns Sunday; since Week 13, he leads all players in the league with six. He has eight this season, tying him with Marshall Faulk and Austin Ekeler as the only running backs with eight receiving touchdowns over the past 30 seasons. -- Adam Teicher

Next game: at Raiders


What to know: Interim coach Jerry Rosburg kept his word, fielding a team that played tough and showed it believed in Russell Wilson. They forced two turnovers, made it difficult on the Chiefs' offense for much of the day, tipped a field goal attempt and looked more composed overall. It was just one game -- and another loss -- but for one afternoon the fruits of some longer meetings, a padded practice and just some consistency on special teams were on display.

Why didn't the Broncos bulk up on offense sooner? It has been a mystery for much of the season. The Broncos finally used the two-tight-end set as their primary grouping. They didn't become a touchdown factory, but they played at the pace and tempo they've played the few times they've been consistently productive this season. Until his fourth-quarter interception, it also kept Wilson in phase, and he was far more diligent at getting the ball to the receivers available in the short and intermediate areas. -- Jeff Legwold

Next game: vs. Chargers

Cleveland 24, Washington 10


What to know: Deshaun Watson had his best game with Cleveland since returning from his 11-game suspension, leading the Browns on three straight touchdown drives in the second half. Watson and the Browns struggled in the first half and trailed 7-3 at halftime after registering just 23 passing yards. But in the second half, Watson tossed three TDs, more than he had his first four games with the Browns combined.

Does Sunday change Cleveland's 2023 outlook? From offense to defense to special teams, the Browns probably played their best half of the season to put the Commanders away. Washington, however, was banged up and was predictably ineffective offensively with Carson Wentz back at quarterback. But capping this performance with another strong one next weekend in Pittsburgh would give the Browns a little momentum heading into the offseason, even with a losing record. -- Jake Trotter

Next game: at Steelers


What to know: Quarterback Carson Wentz did not provide a spark in his first start in more than two months and only delivered questions about his future in Washington. Ron Rivera gambled with the decision to bench Taylor Heinicke, and players talked about how Wentz's arm could help the team. But Wentz didn't surpass 100 yards passing until five minutes remained in the game. He hasn't shown anything to suggest he should be the starter in 2023. Washington could cut him with no cap penalty in the offseason.

Why has Washington fallen so hard? The Commanders were 7-5-1 and in control of their playoff fate. They're 0-3 since and will be eliminated from the playoffs if Green Bay beats Minnesota late Sunday afternoon. This is a disaster of an ending for Rivera's third season, as his team is assured of another non-winning season. Injuries played a factor on defense, but the offensive production was due as much to poor pass protection and inconsistent quarterback play. Going 0-1-1 against the Giants in consecutive games has proved to be costly. -- John Keim

Next game: vs. Cowboys

N.Y. Giants 38, Indianapolis 10


What to know: There shouldn't be any questions about whether Daniel Jones is a legit starting quarterback or whether the Giants should re-sign him this offseason. Jones led them to the playoffs and played his best down the stretch. The impending free agent threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for two more while helping clinch the Giants' first postseason berth since 2016. Jones once again did not commit a turnover. He has only eight over 16 games this season. He also had 91 yards rushing against the Colts, giving him 697 on the season.

How do the Giants handle Week 18 vs. the Eagles? New York is locked into the sixth seed in the NFC. They will likely play either the Vikings or 49ers in the wild-card round. Giants coach Brian Daboll played most of his starters in the preseason, so maybe they play some in a meaningless regular-season finale in Philadelphia. Still, it seems unlikely the Giants will handle it as if they're still fighting for a playoff spot. -- Jordan Raanan

Next game: at Eagles


What to know: It now feels like the Colts are as far away from being in contention as they have been in a long, long time. Even in 2017, when they went 4-12, the impending return of former quarterback Andrew Luck at least offered hope. This team has now been outscored 151-68 in its past four games, giving them an average losing margin of almost three touchdowns. The addition of interim coach Jeff Saturday has done nothing to spark the team, as owner Jim Irsay had hoped. Instead, the Colts are uncompetitive and picking up the pieces on what feels like their worst season since 2011 (2-14).

What has happened to a defense that had been largely solid? The Colts' defense has had some notable recent failures, a disappointing fact for a unit that was rather impressive earlier this season. Minnesota's huge comeback two weeks ago was not only a product of the Indianapolis offense falling apart. It was also the result of the defense failing to prevent big plays and get stops. On Sunday, the Colts allowed 394 yards and 38 points to a Giants team that hadn't broken 30 points in more than two seasons. The Colts allowed 200-plus rushing yards for the third time this season, a fact that is particularly concerning for what has been a very good rushing defense. -- Stephen Holder

Next game: vs. Texans


Dallas 27, Tennessee 13


What to know: The Cowboys don't care much about style points at this point in the season, particularly during a stretch that coach Mike McCarthy has called the most difficult of the year. Playing their third game in 12 days and coming off an emotional win against Philadelphia, the Cowboys were sloppy against Tennessee. They turned the ball over three times, including two interceptions from Dak Prescott. But it was a win, their 12th of the season. For the first time since 1994-95, the Cowboys have posted consecutive 12-win seasons.

Is it time to be worried about the running game? Running back Tony Pollard did not play because of a thigh bruise, but even his presence might not have meant much. The Cowboys had 87 yards on 32 carries. Ezekiel Elliott averaged 1.9 yards per carry (19 carries, 37 yards), but he did have a rushing touchdown in his ninth straight game. The attempts might mean more than the yards, but this is the third straight game the Cowboys have averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry. Center Tyler Biadasz went down with an ankle injury in the second half, which required three moves on the line with Connor McGovern moving to center, Tyler Smith to left guard and Jason Peters to left tackle. -- Todd Archer

Next game: at Commanders


What to know: The Titans found a spark in the passing game fromJosh Dobbs. The sixth-year quarterback made his first career start and showed poise, although he had some early jitters. Dobbs settled down and made some pretty well-placed throws, especially with defenders putting pressure on him. Despite only being with the Titans for eight days, Dobbs worked through his progressions and was decisive with the ball. Dobbs said there are some things that he can learn from his first start, including ball security in the pocket and not trying to force throws, as he did on his lone interception of the day. But his performance was a positive for the Titans.

If the Titans go with Dobbs, does he give them a chance to beat Jacksonville? The ongoing saga for the Titans has been finding a way to make opponents pay for focusing on stopping running back Derrick Henry. A passing game with Dobbs at the helm would add much-needed balance. Dobbs has the ability to be utilized in play-action, RPOs and designed quarterback runs. He has the arm strength and the anticipation to get the ball to most areas of the field with accuracy. That's a plus for the Titans as they travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars for a chance to win their third consecutive AFC South title. -- Turron Davenport

Next game: at Jaguars

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