Happy New Year and welcome to the Tuesday edition of the Pick Six newsletter!
My New Year’s resolution was to drink less coffee, and it’s already off to a rough start. I think I’m already on my ninth cup today. That can’t be good for my health.
Since we didn’t have a newsletter yesterday, we’ll be doing a lot of our normal Monday things today: We’ve got grades for every team from Week 17, we’ve got some winners and losers and we’ll be unveiling Pete Prisco’s latest Power Rankings.
Also, we’ll be breaking down the playoff picture, because at this point in the season, that’s the only thing that really matters.
As always, here’s your weekly reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the Pick Six newsletter. To get your friends to sign up, all you have to do is click here and then share this link with them. Getting your friends signed up is a great way to help them start 2024 off on the right foot.
1. Today’s show: Biggest questions after Week 17
If I fall asleep while writing the newsletter today, it’s because I haven’t slept in 36 hours. First, I recorded a podcast on Sunday night with Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson, then I decided to celebrate the New Year by staying up all night. I only have myself to blame for that.
Anyway, the three of us touched on our 10 biggest takeaways from Week 17. Here are a few of the biggest questions that we tried to answer:
- Who are you worried about more in the playoffs: Eagles or Chiefs? For me, the answer here is the Eagles. They’ve lost four of their past five games, their defense is falling apart, their offense is out of sync and they all seem to be turning on each other. After watching them lose to the Cardinals, I feel like they could lose to anyone and I would not be shocked at all to see them get knocked out in the wild-card round this year.
- Will the Buccaneers choke away the NFC South? The Buccaneers had a chance to clinch the NFC South in Week 17, but they blew it with a loss to the Saints. Although they looked horrible in that game, I don’t think there’s any way they choke away the division, and that’s mostly because they get to face the worst team in the NFL on Sunday: The Carolina Panthers. To clinch the division, they just have to beat Carolina. If they were playing anyone else, I might be worried, but I feel like they can beat the Panthers.
- Who’s more likely to make the playoffs: Steelers or Seahawks? The Steelers beat the Seahawks on Sunday, which is a win that now has both of these teams on the cusp of elimination. For the Seahawks to make the playoffs, they have to beat the Cardinals in Week 18 and the Packers have to lose to the Bears. For the Steelers to get in, they have to beat the Ravens, combined with a loss by either the Bills (vs. Dolphins) or Jaguars (vs. Titans). If I had to bet on one of these teams making the playoffs, I’d take the Seahawks and that’s because I could certainly see the Packers slipping up against a Bears team that has won four of its past five games.
To check out the rest of our takeaways from Week 17, be sure to click here so you can listen to the entire episode of the podcast. You can also watch the episode on YouTube here.
2. Week 17 grades: Ravens earn an ‘A+’ for blowout win over Dolphins
Every week I team up with four of my colleagues here at CBSSports.com to hand out grades, and this week, the Ravens aced their test.
Here’s a look at the grades from two notable games that were played in Week 17:
Ravens 56-19 over Dolphins (Click here for full-game stats, analysis)
- Dolphins takeaway: “Sunday couldn’t have been worse for the Dolphins. They were embarrassed despite having a shot at taking control of the AFC’s top seed, and they had multiple key injuries on top of the insulting performance. Tua Tagovailoa tweaked his left shoulder while sliding down to avoid a hit on a late fourth-down scramble with the game already out of reach. The team’s best pass rusher, Bradley Chubb, suffered a leg injury late in the fourth quarter that required him to be carted off when the game was well out of hand. The Dolphins couldn’t be in worse shape entering a winner-take-all matchup with the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East division title.” — Garrett Podell. Grade: F
- Ravens takeaway: “Lamar Jackson was literally perfect. He threw for 321 passing yards and a career-high five passing touchdowns for a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the third such game of his career. The Baltimore defense forced three takeaways, two interceptions of Tua Tagovailoa as well as a fumble recovery on a bad pitch by Miami late in the game. Jackson and the Ravens put about as strong of an exclamation as they possibly could in securing the AFC’s top seed. If they can maintain anything close to the type of rhythm they showed on Sunday, they’ll be in for a deep run this postseason.” — Garrett Podell. Grade: A+
Chiefs 25-17 over Bengals (Click here for full-game stats)
- Bengals takeaway: The Bengals showed a spark in the first half, but that spark disappeared during a second half where the Bengals got beat badly on both sides of the ball. Over the final two quarters, the Bengals managed just 80 yards of offense, and their biggest problem was that the offensive line couldn’t protect Jake Browning, who got sacked six times, with five of those coming in the second half. The defense wasn’t much better during a second half where the Chiefs didn’t punt a single time on their final four possessions. The Bengals played well enough to win in the first half, but their second-half collapse means they’re now eliminated from playoff contention. Grade: C
- Chiefs takeaway: The Chiefs offense might not be firing on all cylinders just yet, but if this team proved one thing Sunday, it’s that they can win games with their defense and special teams (Harrison Butker kicked six field goals). The Chiefs’ pass-rush absolutely terrorized Jake Browning with six sacks, including two by Justin Reid. The secondary clamped down on Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, who combined for just 60 yards, including only 17 in the second half. The offense still doesn’t look perfect, but Andy Reid is probably thrilled with what he saw in this game. Isiah Pacheco brought the rushing attack alive with 130 yards on 18 carries. And Patrick Mahomes seems to have a new favorite receiver in Rashee Rice, who caught five passes for 127 yards. The Chiefs have struggled at times this year, but the bottom line is that they’re now in the playoffs, and this team is always dangerous in the postseason. Grade: B
You can see.
3. NFL Week 17 winners and losers: Bears might have a franchise QB in Justin Fields
You can’t have a week of NFL action without having winners and losers, so we have some winners and losers.
Cody Benjamin came up with this week’s list, which you can check out below.
- Justin Fields’ future. “He was nearly flawless against an underrated Atlanta defense in Week 17, topping 300 total yards to lead one of the Bears’ most convincing wins of the year. It’s not hard to see this kid still has the talent to be a difference-maker. And if the Bears don’t buy it, someone else will.”
- Lamar Jackson’s MVP case. “Jackson was lights out in a critical battle over the AFC’s top playoff seed with the Dolphins. His effortless five-score game put Miami to shame, solidifying Baltimore as a title contender, plus himself as this year’s most simultaneously dynamic and efficient quarterback.”
- Nick Sirianni and the Eagles’ coaching staff. “If ever there were a time for the slumping Birds to get right ahead of the playoffs, it should’ve been at home against Jonathan Gannon’s Cardinals, who took Lincoln Financial Field with a half-sick Kyler Murray and a lineup full of spare parts. Instead, Sirianni and Brian Johnson got too cute down the stretch, and Matt Patricia’s defense looked helpless besides a first-half pick-six. There’s really no world where the 2023 Eagles should be surrendering 35 points to the 2023 Cardinals. Philly needs to wake up fast.”
- The Florida teams. “The Jaguars won, so they’re excused. But the others? With a clear shot to clinch the NFC South against the mercurial Saints, Baker Mayfield and Todd Bowles and basically all of the Buccaneers’ core leaders flopped, making Week 18’s rematch with the Panthers all-important. Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins, meanwhile, couldn’t keep up with Baltimore to prove they’re ready for a deep playoff push.”
If you want to see Cody’s full list of winners and losers,.
4. NFL playoff picture heading into Week 18
With the NFL now heading into the final week of the regular season, now seems like a good time to break down the playoff picture, so that’s what we’re going to do today.
Here’s a look at the top-seven teams from each conference:
(* = clinched playoff berth)
1.* Ravens (AFC North leader, 13-3)
2.* Dolphins (AFC East leader, 11-5)
3.* Chiefs (AFC West leader, 10-6)
4. Jaguars (AFC South leader, 9-7)
5.* Browns (11-5)
6. Bills (10-6)
7. Colts (9-7)
First teams out (in order): Texans (9-7), Steelers (9-7)
Heading into Week 18, four of the seven playoff spots have been clinched and three of the seeds have been clinched with the Ravens locked into the one-spot, the Chiefs at three and the Browns getting the five-seed. As of right now, there are three teams facing a “win-and-you’re-in” situation in Week 18: Colts, Texans, Bills.
The Colts and Texans are facing each other on Saturday night, and barring a tie, the loser will be out of the playoffs. As for the Bills, they’ll be facing the Dolphins in the final game of the regular season on Sunday night. If the Jaguars (vs. Titans) and Steelers (vs. Ravens) both win this week, then the Bills will be facing a situation where they get the two-seed with a win, but they’ll miss the playoffs completely with a loss.
The Steelers have a more complicated path to the playoffs and if you want to see their scenarios, you.
1.* 49ers (NFC West leader, 12-4)
2.* Cowboys (NFC East leader, 11-5)
3.* Lions (NFC North leader, 11-5)
4. Buccaneers (NFC South leader, 8-8)
5.* Eagles (11-5)
6.* Rams (9-7)
7. Packers (8-8)
First teams out (in order): Seahawks (8-8), Saints (8-8), Vikings (7-9), Falcons (7-9)
Although five playoff spots have been clinched in the NFC, six of the seven seeds are still up in the air. The only one that’s been clinched so far is the the top seed, which belongs to a 49ers team that will now be getting a first-round bye. The Cowboys can clinch the two-seed with a win over the Commanders on Sunday. If that happens, then the Lions will be locked into the No. 3 seed no matter what happens in their game against the Vikings.
The NFC South should have some major drama this weekend: The Buccaneers will clinch the division with a win over the Panthers, but if they choke, then the division crown will go to the winner of the Falcons-Saints game.
At the bottom of the playoff standings, the Packers will get in if they beat the Bears in Week 18, but if they lose, that will open the door for the Seahawks, Vikings or Saints to steal the final wild-card spot (The Seahawks would have the easiest path as they’d get in with a win over the Cardinals combined with a Packers loss).
If you want a full breakdown of the playoff standings,.
5. Prisco’s Power Rankings heading into Week 18
Welcome to Pete Prisco’s first Power Rankings of 2024 and let me just say, they are looking quite different than they did at the end of 2023 aka last week. Prisco has three new teams in his top five and since you’re now probably wondering who those teams are, let’s check it out.
Here’s a look at Prisco’s top five:
- Ravens (Same as last week)
- 49ers (up one spot from last week)
- Cowboys (up six spots from last week)
- Bills (up two spots from last week)
- Browns (up two spots from last week)
Dropped out: Dolphins, Lions, Eagles
I’m not going to spoil the rest of the Power Rankings here, but I am going to give you a few nuggets. Here’s what has changed since Prisco’s last Power Rankings:
- The biggest jump this week went to the Cowboys. After watching them earn a controversial victory over the Lions on Saturday, Prisco decided to reward them by moving them up six spots from ninth to third. The Packers and Saints also moved up six spots with Green Bay going from 20th to 14th while the Saints moved from 22nd to 16th.
- In the AFC, it doesn’t seem that Prisco was overly impressed with anyone this week. The biggest jump by any AFC team was just two spots and we saw four different teams pull that off (Bills, Browns, Texans, Steelers).
- The biggest drop this week went to the Seahawks. After getting dominated by the Steelers on Sunday during a 30-23 loss, Prisco dropped Seattle a total of six spots from 13th down to 19th. Going into Week 17, the Seahawks were in control of their playoff fate, but that’s no longer the case. If they want to get in, they’ll need a win against the Cardinals in Week 18, plus some help.
- Now, let’s talk about the worst team in the NFL. The 2-14 Panthers have been dead last in Prisco’s rankings since October, and I think they might have finally clinched last place after getting SHUT OUT by the Jaguars on Sunday. Apparently, David Tepper is not happy about how bad his team is because he appeared to throw a drink at an opposing fan on Sunday (You can see the clip here).
If you want to know where your favorite team ended up in Prisco’s Week 18 Power Rankings, can do that on Twitter by clicking here. I argue with him all the time about everything.. If you want to argue with Prisco over his rankings, you
6. Extra points: Rams make change at kicker
It was a busy holiday weekend in the NFL, and since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you.
- Rams bring back their old kicker. After nine games with Lucas Havrisik, the Rams have , Brett Maher. Maher played in the first seven games of the season, but was dumped after hitting just 73.9% of his field goals. Havrisik was let go because he was struggling with both his field goals (75%) and his extra points (86.4%).
- Bradley Chubb done for the year. The Dolphins defense took a huge hit this week with the loss of Bradley Chubb. The of Miami’s 56-19 loss to the Ravens. It’s a devastating loss, especially considering Chubb probably shouldn’t have even been playing considering the injury came with three minutes left in a game that Dolphins were trailing by 30.
- Steelers sticking with Mason Rudolph. For the third straight week, the Steelers will be rolling with the hot hand at quarterback. Mike Tomlin announced Monday that Rudolph will be starting on Saturday against the Ravens. Rudolph is 2-0 this year and he has shot some life into a Steelers’ offense that had struggled for most of the season.
- Lions to play starters in Week 18. One of the biggest decisions a playoff coach has to decide in Week 18 is whether to play their starters. For Lions coach Dan Campbell, there is no question: The Lions starters will be playing. The Lions are currently the third-seed in the NFC and they can only move up to the two-spot if they beat the Vikings PLUS the Cowboys and Eagles both lose. Dallas is playing the Commanders while the Eagles are playing the Giants.
- Christian McCaffrey not playing in Week 18. Speaking of resting your starters, the 49ers running back won’t be playing in Week 18 as he deals with a mild calf strain. This is a no-brainer for the 49ers. They need McCaffrey fully healthy for the playoffs and by letting him rest, that means his calf will have three weeks to heal before he has to play again.