• Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

NFL 2023 Week 17: Biggest questions, risers and takeaways


Week 17 of the NFL season started Thursday night with Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco continuing his hot streak in another Browns win. The Dallas Cowboys held on after some controversy for a key win over the Detroit Lions in a battle of two of the NFC’s best Saturday night.

On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the Baltimore Ravens clinched the AFC’s No. 1 seed and the Chicago Bears clinched the No. 1 pick (from Carolina) in the 2024 NFL draft.

Mason Rudolph helped keep the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ playoff hopes alive with a win, and the Kansas City Chiefs clinched their eighth straight AFC West title.

On Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers blew out the Minnesota Vikings to push closer to an NFC playoff spot.

Our NFL Nation reporters reacted to all the action, answering lingering questions coming out of each game and picking out who — or what — is rising and falling for every team. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:


Are the Packers a playoff team? Almost. And if they play like this one more time they will be. All they have to do is beat the Bears in the regular-season finale and they’re in; no other help necessary. Considering coach Matt LaFleur has never lost to the Bears as Packers coach, the outlook appears good, especially the way Jordan Love (three touchdown passes to boost his season total to 30), Jayden Reed (two touchdown catches), Aaron Jones (a second straight 100-yard game) and the offense have been humming.

Stock up after the win: Packers’ pass rush. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry went with a blitz-heavy game plan to try to rattle Vikings rookie quarterback Jaren Hall, sending at least one extra rusher on half of his dropbacks, which resulted in a pair of a sacks and an interception before the Vikings pulled Hall for Nick Mullens at halftime.

Stock down after the win: Samori Toure. The chest injury that ended Jayden Reed‘s night in the second half meant Toure replaced him as the punt returner. He muffed a fourth-quarter punt that the Vikings recovered at the Packers’ 7-yard line and turned into their only touchdown of the game. — Rob Demovsky

Next game: vs. Bears, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


What happened to the Vikings’ defense? From the top, it should be pointed out that the Vikings were playing without several key starters, including outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum (eight sacks) and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (three interceptions). But the Packers simply toyed with the Vikings all night. Their receivers found wide-open holes in the Vikings’ zone defense — Love’s touchdown passes went to receivers who averaged 3.1 yards of separation — and tailback Aaron Jones (120 yards) found open holes throughout. More than anything, this game showed that no scheme — including one as creative as defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ — can overcome the type of personnel deficit the Vikings brought Sunday night to U.S. Bank Stadium.

Stock up after the loss: QB Kirk Cousins. On an otherwise miserable night top to bottom, Cousins fired up the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd by ripping off his shirt — revealing a series of “Kirko” chains around his neck — and leading them in a pregame SKOL chant before everything went downhill.

Stock down after the loss: QB Jaren Hall. Making his second career start, Hall looked like he was in over his head as he committed almost as many turnovers (two) as the number of points he led the offense to (three). — Kevin Seifert

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


Did the Broncos find the “spark” they were hoping for in benching QB Russell Wilson? Yes and no. Coach Sean Payton said that Wilson was benched because the team’s offense needed a boost and that Jarrett Stidham gave the Broncos the best chance to get “win No. 8.” To that end, the Broncos did get a tackle-breaking, catch-and-run 54-yard touchdown from receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (his career-long TD) and a 41-yard catch-and-run from receiver Jerry Jeudy later in the first half. But overall, Stidham had 129 passing yards on his other 18 completions as the Broncos didn’t really feast on a Chargers defense that came in ranked 30th against the pass, 29th in total defense and tied for 25th in scoring defense. Stidham gets another week — in the finale against the Raiders — to stake an early claim on the job in 2024.

Stock up after the win: RB Jaleel McLaughlin. Payton had expressed concern about McLaughlin’s ability in pass protection in some personnel groupings, but he had 10 touches (seven carries, three receptions) in the first three quarters and was averaging 6 yards a carry. His explosiveness adds something to the offense if the Broncos use him in a bigger variety of down-and-distance situations.

Stock down after the win: RB Javonte Williams. His recovery from last season’s knee injury was remarkable and one of the bright spots of the Broncos’ offseason. But he hasn’t averaged at least 4 yards a carry in a game since the Broncos’ Oct. 29 win over the Green Bay Packers. He averaged 3.0 yards per carry Sunday. — Jeff Legwold

Next game: at Raiders, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


Will WR Keenan Allen and DE Joey Bosa play again this season? Allen has missed the past three games with a heel injury, and Bosa has missed six with a foot sprain. With a new head coach and general manager set to lead the Chargers next season and both players having cap hits over $30 million in 2024, there’s a chance Bosa or Allen could be playing elsewhere. Allen is having one of the best seasons of his career, having already secured the franchise record for receptions in a season (108). Bosa, meanwhile, had 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the three games before his injury. The Chargers’ Week 18 game could serve as a final audition for the Chargers’ yet-to-be-hired new leadership — and the rest of the NFL.

Stock up after the loss: OLB Khalil Mack. With a sack in the first quarter, Mack became the 19th player to reach 100 sacks in his first 10 seasons since individual sacks became an official stat in 1982. It also gave Mack 16 sacks on the year, a career high. He has been the Chargers’ most consistent player.

Stock down after the loss: RB Austin Ekeler. This has been an arduous season for Ekeler, who is hoping to secure a significant deal when he hits free agency after this season. On Sunday, he lost his fourth fumble, the most in any season of his career. Ekeler, who has the second most receptions in a season in Chargers history, didn’t have a reception until the 8:18 mark in the fourth quarter. — Kris Rhim

Next game: vs. Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


After clinching the AFC West, how should the Chiefs approach Week 18? While it might be tempting to play their offensive stars to give the Chiefs a chance to fix the unit’s many issues, it could be a better idea to give quarterback Patrick Mahomes and others the week off to reset. This season has been a grind, and a week off will give them a better chance at playoff success than playing against the Chargers.

Stock up after the win: RB Isiah Pacheco. Pacheco provided a spark that had been missing in the offense with 165 yards and a touchdown on 18 rushing attempts and seven receptions.

Stock down after the win: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He is the latest Chiefs wideout with a case of the drops. Valdes-Scantling dropped a third-down pass in the first half and couldn’t grab a ball deep down the left sideline in the second half. — Adam Teicher

Next game: at Chargers, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


Did big plays cost the Bengals a playoff berth? It’s hard to argue against it. Coming into Sunday, the Cincinnati defense had allowed the most plays of 20 or more yards. Kansas City, a team that had struggled to create big plays, had six Sunday, totaling a whopping 225 yards. Earlier in the week, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said a team can’t win games giving up that kind of yardage. The root cause must be addressed for this to be a playoff team next season.

Stock up after the loss: RB Joe Mixon. There was not a lot to choose from for Cincinnati, but Mixon had a touchdown and 87 total yards from scrimmage in the loss.

Stock down after the loss: The linebackers. Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson combined for two solo tackles, both of which were Wilson’s. That’s not the kind of production the Bengals need from the duo. — Ben Baby

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



Broncos thwart Chargers’ fake punt attempt

The Chargers try to get tricky with a fake punt, but Nick Niemann fumbles the ball and the Broncos take over on downs.


With a playoff berth on the line, will Mason Rudolph start against the Ravens? Rudolph has the hot hand. The win against Seattle was all about the ground game, but Rudolph helped open things up by throwing the deep ball. His biggest throws came in the most crucial moments — like the 42-yard throw to a wide-open Diontae Johnson in the third quarter to set up a Najee Harris go-ahead touchdown on the next play. Rudolph showed poise and confidence in the pocket and finished 18-of-24 for 274 yards with no turnovers. The offense also recorded a season-high 468 yards. Kenny Pickett, though, will be a month removed from TightRope surgery by the time the Steelers take the field in Baltimore. Before Sunday’s game in Seattle, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told the team website that he wanted to give Rudolph an opportunity to build on his performance against the Bengals. He more than did that against the Seahawks, but will Tomlin give him another chance to keep stacking?

Stock up after the win: Running backs. Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for 145 rushing yards in the first half — the most rushing yards by the Steelers in a half since 2016. Harris also had the second multi-touchdown game of his career while also gaining 122 yards on 27 carries.

Stock down after the win: The secondary. Yes, that group has been ravaged by injuries, with its top four safeties missing Sunday’s game. But although he bounced back in the fourth quarter, rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. struggled early against receiver DK Metcalf (five catches, 106 yards), and the group had trouble defending TE Noah Fant, who had five catches for 59 yards. — Brooke Pryor

Next game: at Ravens, 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday


Is Seattle bound for another early-round playoff exit? The Seahawks didn’t necessarily need to beat Pittsburgh to earn a wild-card berth, although they could’ve assured themselves of one by winning their final two games. But even if they do qualify, they don’t look like a team capable of making any noise in the postseason — especially given how important run defense tends to be in January. Facing an 8-7 team with a backup quarterback and a minus-34 point differential, the Seahawks got pushed around in their own building, which is not the type of performance that inspires confidence that they can hang with better opponents in the playoffs.

Stock up after the loss: WR DK Metcalf. Metcalf led Seattle with 106 receiving yards on five catches (eight targets), including a 33-yard reception that set up the team’s first touchdown.

Stock down after the loss: The run defense. It was no mystery that Pittsburgh would persistently try to run the ball, and the Seahawks still couldn’t stop it, allowing 197 yards on 40 carries to Steelers running backs. — Brady Henderson

Next game: at Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday



MNF booth breaks down controversial flag on Lions’ 2-point attempt

Troy Aikman, Joe Buck and John Parry try to make sense of the penalty on the Lions during their 2-point try during the loss to the Cowboys.


Why can’t the Bears put teams away? Chicago carried a 21-7 lead into halftime, then thundered out of the gate in the third quarter when Justin Fields hit DJ Moore for a 28-yard gain (one of five catches he made over 20 yards) and Khalil Herbert ripped off a big run, only for Chicago to end the drive with a field goal. The offense struggled to get in a rhythm, and the Bears let a listless Falcons team hang around until late in the game. Fields said the issues with the offense starting fast and stalling stem from a lack of execution and “a little bit of complacency.” That’s been a theme, even in wins, for Chicago, which found out late in the fourth quarter that it had clinched the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

Stock up after the win: WR DJ Moore. Every catch the Bears’ No. 1 wide receiver made against Atlanta was more impressive than his last. Moore recorded his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season and reached a new single-season career high in receiving yards (1,300) and receiving yards per game (81.3).

Stock down after the win: WR Tyler Scott. The rookie wide receiver had plenty of opportunities to capitalize on an expanded role with Darnell Mooney (concussion) sidelined. Scott received two of his five targets in the end zone. On his first, he couldn’t come down with two feet in bounds in the back of the end zone, which led the Bears to kick a field goal. On his second, Scott couldn’t haul in a 33-yard pass that would’ve been a touchdown. — Courtney Cronin

Next game: at Packers, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


Did the Falcons (still in the NFC South race) show anything that suggests they can win next week? In a year in which inconsistency has been the theme, it’s nearly impossible to predict whether we’ll see the Atlanta team that dominated the Colts or the one that no-showed against the Bears and Panthers. On a promising note, the Falcons played well against the Saints, their Week 18 opponent, earlier this season, holding New Orleans without a touchdown and gaining 396 yards of offense. Can they do that again? The Falcons have a chance, especially since they’ve typically played well when there has been intense outside criticism. It’s reasonable to think there’s more coming this week.

Stock up after the loss: LB Kaden Elliss. Elliss was a rare bright spot on a defense that struggled against Chicago quarterback Justin Fields all day — notching 9 tackles, 1 sack and 1 tackle for loss.

Stock down after the loss: Coach Arthur Smith. Smith’s playcalling felt off from the game’s first series, when a direct snap to Bijan Robinson failed miserably and thwarted a drive — portending a day in which four of five possessions in the second and third quarters went for three plays or fewer. Those drives resulted in punts or turnovers, and Atlanta never seemed fully in it once it faced a double-digit deficit. — Michael Rothstein

Next game: at Saints, 1 p.m. ET Sunday


Will the Saints make the playoffs? The Saints played their best football of the season when they needed to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Now they’ll have to do it one more time with a win against the Falcons, with some help needed from other teams, as well. New Orleans doesn’t control its own destiny, but the Saints said before the game that they’re already in a playoff mindset because a loss will eliminate them from playoff contention.

Stock up after the win: TE Juwan Johnson. Johnson had a career-best eight catches for 90 yards and scored a touchdown, reinstating the connection he and quarterback Derek Carr showed in training camp.

Stock down after the win: CB Paulson Adebo. It wasn’t easy to find any “stock down” candidates after a big win, but Adebo allowed a few big catches by Bucs wideout Mike Evans and had an illegal contact penalty called against him on third down. — Katherine Terrell

Next game: vs. Falcons, 1 p.m. ET Sunday


How does this loss impact the Bucs’ playoff chances? Tampa Bay squandered a chance at locking up the division title at home, coming out flat on both sides of the ball, with quarterback Baker Mayfield missing the mark through the air with two interceptions, bobbled passes by the receivers, no pressure on opposing quarterback Derek Carr and zero takeaways on defense. The Bucs still have a 73% chance to win their division if they win next week’s game at the Carolina Panthers, according to ESPN Analytics. If they lose, however, they have just a 0.1% chance to make the playoffs.

Stock up after the loss: CB Zyon McCollum. McCollum was in for a concussed Carlton Davis III and spent the majority of the game lined up against WR Chris Olave, while CB Jamel Dean lined up against WR Rashid Shaheed. Olave caught 3-of-6 targets for 26 yards while Shaheed had just two catches on three targets for 14 yards.

Stock down after the loss: Preparation. Mayfield’s inaccuracy led to two picks; RB Rachaad White lost a fumble; WR Mike Evans was targeted four times despite Marshon Lattimore‘s absence; safety Dee Delaney struggled against Juwan Johnson; and several costly penalties cost the Bucs a chance to lock up a division title. Even punter Jake Camarda had a bad game, averaging 41.4 yards per punt. — Jenna Laine

Next game: at Panthers, 1 p.m. ET Sunday



Chiefs clinch AFC West after holding off Bengals in final minutes

The Chiefs break up Jake Browning’s pass with just over a minute remaining to hold off the Bengals and clinch the AFC West.


Did Lamar Jackson wrap up the NFL MVP award? It sure looks that way. Jackson, the betting favorite for NFL MVP entering this game, threw five touchdown passes and recorded a perfect passer rating (158.3) to lead the Ravens to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the AFC North title. Jackson is the best player on the NFL’s best team, and he carried a banged-up Baltimore team Sunday with 321 yards passing and his first five-TD game since his 2019 MVP season.

Stock up after the win: RB Justice Hill. He caught Jackson’s first touchdown pass to a running back since Week 8 of last season, scoring on a 20-yard wheel route. He also set up a second touchdown with a 78-yard kickoff return to open the second half.

Stock down after the win: Injuries to the secondary. The Ravens were playing all five of their healthy defensive backs for most of the second half. Baltimore entered the game without two starters — safety Kyle Hamilton (knee) and cornerback Brandon Stephens (ankle) — and then watched cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf) and defensive back Daryl Worley (head) leave the game. — Jamison Hensley

Next game: vs. Steelers, 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday


How big of a concern is a lopsided loss ahead of the playoffs? You never want to get blown out, but the Dolphins lost in every facet of the game Sunday to a Ravens team that clearly looks like the best in the NFL. The concern is not the fact that Miami lost another road game to a good team — it’s that Miami will likely have to go through this Ravens team if it wants to reach the Super Bowl. This loss doesn’t make the Dolphins a bad team; it does, however, establish a clear hierarchy in the AFC.

Stock up after the loss: RB De’Von Achane. Starting in place of Raheem Mostert, the rookie recorded 137 total yards and a touchdown in what should be a preview of his role in the 2024 season — when he’s the Dolphins’ starting running back.

Stock down after the loss: The secondary. Lamar Jackson hit wide-open receivers throughout the day as the Dolphins blew coverage after coverage and Jackson made them pay. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: vs. Bills, 8:20 p.m. ET



Baker Mayfield throws 2nd INT vs. Saints

Jonathan Abram undercuts Baker Mayfield’s throw to pick him off.


Do the Colts have enough offensive firepower to compete in the playoffs? The Colts have been consistently inconsistent on offense, but they show just enough flashes to convince one that they can make a play when needed. On Sunday, we saw it several times. There was Alec Pierce‘s 58-yard touchdown on a savvy playcall from coach Shane Steichen, with the Colts dialing up a shot play in a third-and-1 situation. Later, the running game came through with some tough, game-sealing yards. The Colts don’t exactly have a lethal offense, but the combination of strong playcalling and timely playmaking could be enough to make them a threat if they advance to the postseason. This win over the Raiders boosted Indy’s playoff odds to 63%.

Stock up after the win: Running backs. They had a strong day, despite Jonathan Taylor being in and out of the lineup with an apparent injury. Taylor played sparingly in the second half, but when he did, he was particularly efficient. His 96 yards on 21 carries was a season high.

Stock down after the win: The secondary. It was an up-and-down day for the secondary, which played without its top two members (CB Kenny Moore II had a back injury, and S Julian Blackmon was placed on injured reserve last week for a shoulder injury). The Colts yielded a season high in passing yards for Raiders QB Aidan O’Connell (299 yards). — Stephen Holder

Next game: vs. Texans, 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday


Did Antonio Pierce lose his grip on claiming the permanent gig? True, the Raiders officially were eliminated from the playoff race with the flat 23-20 loss at the Colts that dropped Las Vegas’ record to 7-9. And yes, Pierce has changed the culture going 4-4 as the interim coach. But this loss, as well as the 3-0 defeat to the Vikings in Week 14, hurt his case as much as the wins over the Chargers and Chiefs helped him. In short, it’s a wash for now. Up next, another division rival in the Broncos and rampant Jim Harbaugh coaching rumors.

Stock up after the loss: RB Zamir White. The second-year back, making his third straight start in place of injured All-Pro Josh Jacobs (quad), made the most of his touches. He rushed for 71 yards on 20 carries and caught a career-best five passes for a career-high 35 yards.

Stock down after the loss: CB Jack Jones. After pick-sixes in consecutive weeks, Jones committed two penalties on the Colts’ game-sealing drive — a pass interference for pushing the receiver on a ball thrown out of bounds and being offside on a 50-yard field goal that missed (the Colts then made the ensuing 45-yarder). — Paul Gutierrez

Next game: vs. Broncos, 4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday


Will kicker woes doom the Rams? The Rams have an 86% chance to make the playoffs with one game to go, but whether they can make a run during the postseason might depend on what they do at kicker. Lucas Havrisik missed two extra points Sunday, and the Rams barely escaped with a one-point win. Coach Sean McVay has said they like Havrisik, but his missed kicks Sunday might lead to a change. Los Angeles has missed 15 combined field goals and extra points, the most of any team this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

Stock up after the win: The tandem of RB Kyren Williams and WR Puka Nacua. Williams had a career-high three rushing touchdowns and Nacua added five catches for 118 yards to lead the offense. Nacua had his seventh game this season with at least 100 receiving yards, tied for the second most by a rookie in NFL history.

Stock down after the win: The secondary. Allowing explosive plays has been an issue for the Rams this season, and it was again when Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton caught an 80-yard pass for a touchdown in the third quarter. — Sarah Barshop

Next game: at 49ers, 4:25 p.m. ET Saturday


What are the Giants looking at in terms of draft position? This was a disappointing game for the Giants, unless you’re a fan who mainly cares about how this impacts the draft. Sunday’s result nearly assures the Giants will now select in the top five. New York came into the game in the fifth spot, and ESPN Analytics had it at 72.8% to finishing in the top five. That will only rise after Sunday’s loss. There is a chance the Giants can catch the Commanders or Patriots to move up even higher, depending on next week’s results.

Stock up after the loss: WR Wan’Dale Robinson. This is the second time in the past four games the Giants have found ways to get the ball into his hands, aside from as a pass-catcher. Robinson rushed for a 24-yard touchdown on an end-around in the second quarter and finished with six catches for 55 yards.

Stock down after the loss: CB Adoree’ Jackson. It was a struggle for the veteran corner once again vs. the Rams. His missed tackle led to Puka Nacua‘s 80-yard catch and run in the third quarter, and he allowed five catches for 118 yards on 10 targets in the game. — Jordan Raanan

Next game: vs. Eagles, 4:25 p.m. ET Saturday



Zay Flowers brings home a 75-yard TD catch from Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson heaves a soaring 75-yard pass to Zay Flowers, who makes the catch and scores the touchdown.


Are offensive inconsistencies a concern heading into next week’s showdown for the AFC East title? There’s good reason for concern as this was a sloppy performance. Quarterback Josh Allen had one of his worst passing games of the season (15-of-30, 169 yards, 1 interception) and was frequently just off on his connection with receivers. The offense had only one drive of more than nine plays and only once had a drive longer than 50 yards. With a big challenge to come, Buffalo has to put together a more complete offensive performance against the Miami Dolphins.

Stock up after the win: CB Rasul Douglas. Acquiring him at the trade deadline has turned into quite a move for the Bills. The cornerback recorded two interceptions versus the Patriots and defended a pass that led to a pick by defensive tackle Ed Oliver. In eight games with Buffalo, he now has four interceptions — the most by a Bills defender this season.

Stock down after the win: The red zone offense. This game should not have been as close as it was, considering the Patriots committed four turnovers in the first half. The Bills settled for two field goals inside the 20-yard line in the first quarter, allowing New England to stay in the game. Their 2-for-5 performance in the red zone epitomized the Bills’ offensive inconsistencies. — Alaina Getzenberg

Next game: at Dolphins, 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday


How significant have turnovers been in a disappointing season? The loss to the Bills was a microcosm of the entire season, as the Patriots (four first-half turnovers, one of which was a pick-six) are primed to finish with a negative turnover differential for the first time since the 2005 season. Their 17 straight seasons with a positive turnover differential was the longest streak since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Patriots are minus-10 on the season, with 17 takeaways and 27 giveaways.

Stock up after the loss: KR Jalen Reagor. A 98-yard return to open the game — the first for the Patriots since the 2018 season (Cordarrelle Patterson) — got the game off to a strong start. But Reagor also could have been in the stock down category as a WR for a miscommunication when QB Bailey Zappe expected him to run a slant route that led to a 40-yard INT return.

Stock down after the loss: Zappe’s ball security. After playing turnover-free in a Week 15 win, Zappe was shaky early in the game and seemed to be forcing the ball on the first two of his three INTs before he settled into more of a rhythm. — Mike Reiss

Next game: vs. Jets, 1 p.m. ET Sunday



Matthew Stafford fires a strike to Cooper Kupp for a Rams TD

Cooper Kupp gathers the dime from Matthew Stafford to reclaim the lead for the Rams.


Have the Cardinals found their offensive rhythm? It sure seems that way. Although they didn’t find the end zone in the first half, they scored touchdowns on their first four drives of the second half and outscored the Eagles 29-10 in the final two quarters — including the game-winning touchdown by running back James Conner with 32 seconds left. Arizona’s offense clicked on all cylinders in the second half and gained 449 yards over the entire game, but the question remains: Can it continue next week?

Stock up after the win: QB Kyler Murray. He played perhaps his best game of the season, which has consisted of just seven games for him after he returned from an ACL tear he suffered last season. Murray was 25-of-31 passing (80.7%) for 232 yards and three touchdowns to lead Arizona to the upset victory, playing near-perfect football over the last two quarters with just one incomplete pass.

Stock down after the win: The Cardinals’ cornerbacks. They struggled all game to keep the Eagles’ receivers at bay, failing to turn their heads at critical moments while Arizona’s defense gave up 184 passing yards. — Josh Weinfuss

Next game: at Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


Is this Eagles team capable of another Super Bowl run? That feels like a stretch at the moment. The Eagles could have used a blowout win over the Cardinals to give them the sense they were clicking into gear ahead of the postseason. Instead, the defense faltered in the second half, the offense got conservative in the wrong moment during a key fourth-quarter drive, and Philadelphia was handed a serious setback to its chances of securing a top seed in the NFC playoffs. If the Cowboys win in Week 18, the Eagles will likely be on the road for the duration of the playoffs — a bad development for a group that feels like it’s on shaky ground.

Stock up after the loss: WR Julio Jones. He caught a pair of touchdown passes — his first two-TD performance since Week 6 of the 2020 season, when he was a member of the Falcons. At 34, Jones is the oldest Eagles player with two receiving touchdowns in a game since Irving Fryar in 1997.

Stock down after the loss: The run defense. Long considered a strength of the team, the rush defense had yielded 115 yards on average in its previous three games. It got worse against the Cardinals, who gained 221. Conner’s 128-yard total is the most the Eagles have surrendered to an individual rusher all season. — Tim McManus

Next game: at Giants, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday



Josh Allen uses the tush push for a TD

Josh Allen scores the Bills touchdown as he gets some help from his running back on the tush push.


Can C.J. Stroud lead the Texans back to the playoffs? The Texans’ offense, which was averaging 23 points with Stroud under center, looked similar to how it looked before Stroud missed two games. In Stroud’s first game back (concussion), he threw for 213 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 102.7. It can be simple for the Texans: If they win in Indianapolis next week, they are in. Stroud threw for 384 yards the last time he played the Colts, but they still came up short.

Stock up after the win: WR Nico Collins. He led Houston with seven catches for 80 yards and continues to show why he’s the team’s No. 1 option.

Stock down after the win: Red zone offense. The Texans went 1-for-3 and had to settle for field goals. — DJ Bien-Aime

Next game: at Colts, 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday


Will the Titans show up in the finale? They certainly didn’t show up Sunday, having already been eliminated from the playoff picture. Starting quarterback Will Levis left with an injury in the second quarter after being sacked on a play — a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown. The play was a microcosm of the protection issues for the Titans. Ryan Tannehill replaced Levis, but he was sacked five times — giving the Texans six on the day.

Stock up after the loss: Tannehill. He didn’t put up points, but he came in and showed he can still play at 35. The opening-day starter completed his first 10 passes and went 16-of-20 for 168 yards.

Stock down after the loss: Running game. The Titans averaged 2.5 yards per carry as the offense failed to get going in all phases. — ESPN staff

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


How significant is it that the 49ers clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed? Very significant. Sunday’s win, paired with the Eagles’ loss to the Cardinals, wrapped up the top seed and a first-round playoff bye. That’s no small thing given that the Niners’ gas tank seems to be running low — especially on defense. And although they still managed to beat Washington, the juggernaut of a few weeks ago has disappeared. A chance to rest banged-up players such as running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive tackle Arik Armstead the next two weeks is critical to their chances to make a deep postseason run.

Stock up after the win: RB Elijah Mitchell. Injuries have plagued Mitchell his whole career and limited him to 10 games this season. But with McCaffrey battling a calf injury, Mitchell got into a rhythm Sunday and finished with 81 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown.

Stock down after the win: Red zone offense. The Niners entered Sunday second in the league in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown on 65.6% of those trips, but they struggled against the Commanders, finishing three-of-six for the day. — Nick Wagoner

Next game: vs. Rams, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


How did Sam Howell respond to an odd week? Howell was benched Wednesday but then started when Jacoby Brissett (hamstring) couldn’t. For the first half, Howell responded well, completing 9 of 13 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. He looked confident. However, in the second half a major issue resurfaced: turnovers. He was intercepted at the 49ers’ 2-yard line making a throw under duress. On the next drive he was intercepted again, failing to see a defender. It’s been his downfall.

Stock up after the loss: RB Brian Robinson Jr. He was underused this season and, in flashes, showed Sunday why he can be a help in the future, with 44 yards rushing on 4.8 per carry, plus 32 yards receiving.

Stock down after the loss: Run defense. The linebackers did not help, but neither did the front as San Francisco gashed the Commanders, finishing with 184 yards and averaging 4.7 per carry. — John Keim

Next game: vs. Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday



Eagles’ Sydney Brown gets 99-yard pick-six

Sydney Brown returns Kyler Murray’s interception for a 99-yard pick-six for the Eagles.


Did the Jaguars get right by ending their four-game losing streak? The Jaguars kept stressing they were hurting themselves during their four-game skid, and the numbers somewhat bear that out: a league-high 10 turnovers, minus-5 in turnover differential and 24 penalties. They didn’t turn the ball over and were penalized once for 15 yards against the Panthers. Even though it came against the worst team in the league, it’s an encouraging sign for a team that seemed to be in a free fall after an 8-3 start.

Stock up after the win: LB Josh Allen. He needed one sack to tie Calais Campbell‘s single-season franchise record of 14.5. He got three and now has 16.5. Allen’s performance was part of a season-high six sacks by the Jaguars.

Stock down after the win: The red zone offense: The Jaguars scored a touchdown on one of five red zone trips. Coach Doug Pederson likely would have been more aggressive on some of those fourth downs had Trevor Lawrence been on the field, but 1-for-5 won’t cut it when they’re playing for the AFC South title in Tennessee next week. — Mike DiRocco

Next game: at Titans, 1 p.m. ET Sunday


Should quarterback Bryce Young‘s wish list for 2024 start with the offensive line? No doubt. Young was sacked six times Sunday by a defense ranked 27th entering the game, giving him 59 for the season. He has seen pressure from everywhere. Outside of right tackle Taylor Moton and right guard Austin Corbett (on season-ending IR with a knee injury for the second straight year) everyone else’s job is in jeopardy. No quarterback could be effective behind this group.

Stock up after the loss: LB Brian Burns. The edge rusher had his first sack after going four straight games without one and continued to show that second effort, chasing down players for tackles (eight overall) on a day when he left in the first half with a knee injury.

Stock down after the loss: LT Ikem Ekwonu. He was beaten for two sacks on Young in the first half to give him 18 on the season, which is the most by any player regardless of position in the NFL, per ESPN Analytics/NFL Next Gen Stats. — David Newton

Next game: vs. Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET Sunday



Purdy avoids sack, rolls right, then finds Aiyuk for TD

Brock Purdy avoids the sack and spins out of the pocket, then looks downfield and finds an open Brandon Aiyuk for a touchdown.



Does this win mean anything for the Cowboys? It’s certainly better than losing a third straight game. The Cowboys have never made a Super Bowl in a season with a three-game losing streak. This was the definition of what Mike McCarthy calls complementary football. The defense came up with key stops in the fourth quarter after Dallas took a second-half lead. The offense — mainly CeeDee Lamb — was able to do just enough, especially in the critical moments. The Cowboys close the regular season next week at Washington. Winning on the road is a must.

Stock up after the win: WR Brandin Cooks. In a game in which Lamb set the Cowboys’ single-season records for catches and receiving yards, breaking marks held by Michael Irvin since 1995, it was Cooks who came up big for Dallas in the clutch. On the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, Cooks had a 21-yard grab on third-and-4 against the blitz and scored the touchdown five plays later. It was his seventh score of the season and second straight go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.

Stock down after the win: RB Tony Pollard. There wasn’t a lot of room for Pollard to run for a good portion of the game, and he was able to pick up some tough yards in the second half. But he also had a key drop on the opening possession of the third quarter that could have broken the game open for Dallas. Instead, it was forced to punt and had to slog through a difficult evening. — Todd Archer

Next game: at Commanders, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday


How much will this loss hurt their playoff seeding? Detroit came into this game having already clinched a playoff spot and the NFC North with a shot at reaching the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Lions are guaranteed at least the No. 3 seed, but with a win, they would have been in the No. 1 spot heading into Sunday with a half-game lead. Now, it’ll be tough to get the top spot, home-field advantage and a first-round bye, but wilder things have happened.

Stock up after the loss: CB Ifeatu Melifonwu. The reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week snagged another interception in the first quarter and has continued to find a groove after being inserted into the starting lineup in Week 14.

Stock down after the loss: Third-down efficiency. Although the Lions were aggressive on fourth down, they went just 4-for-13 on third downs. — Eric Woodyard

Next game: vs. Vikings, 1 p.m. ET Sunday



Travis Etienne Jr. scores 62-yard rushing TD for Jaguars

Travis Etienne Jr. takes the pitch for a 62-yard touchdown against the Panthers.



Can anyone slow down Joe Flacco? Evidently not. Coming into Thursday, Flacco was already leading the NFL in passing (1,307 yards) dating back to Week 13, when he took over at quarterback. And that was before he threw for 296 yards in the first half, the most in any half of his career, against one of the NFL’s top pass defenses. The way Flacco is slinging it, to go along with their dominant defense, the Browns could be a difficult out for anyone in the playoffs.

Stock up after the win: TE David Njoku. He had 113 receiving yards in the first quarter and is proving he is one of the top receiving threats at his position.

Stock down after the win: Browns WR corps. The Browns were already without wideout Amari Cooper (heel), and then they lost their other key receiver, Elijah Moore, to a head injury during the game. — Jake Trotter

Next game: at Bengals, 1 p.m. ET Sunday


Do the Jets need to tweak their defense in the offseason? This is supposed to be the strength of the team — a “championship-caliber defense,” coach Robert Saleh likes to say — but it got embarrassed by Joe Flacco & Co. Does this mean it needs to be overhauled? No, this was an outlier — it’s still a solid defense — but the Jets were exposed in the middle of the field. Their linebackers and safeties were torched in pass coverage. They need a playmaking safety.

Stock up after the loss: RB Breece Hall. He went over 100 yards from scrimmage for the second week in a row, finishing with 126 and a touchdown. The Jets need more players like Hall.

Stock down after the loss: LB C.J. Mosley. He’s not at his best when playing in space, and he got lit up by tight end David Njoku. Mosley allowed three receptions for 75 yards as the nearest defender, per Next Gen Stats. — Rich Cimini

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


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