The NFL regular season is set to wrap up, just as the world has moved on from 2023. Heading into 2024, 18 teams will be playing their final game of the regular season while 14 will be taking a shot at a Super Bowl LVIII berth.
Week 18 is going to be bittersweet with the postseason incoming. Teams will be preparing for the playoffs and front offices will be making critical decisions on the state of their respective franchises. This is a weird, but exciting time of the year for the NFL as the long winter months approach with Christmas and New Year’s Day in the rearview mirror.
As 17 weeks have past and the end of the year is approaching, here’s one thing we learned from each team after the Week 17 slate of games.
They can run the ball: The way Arizona ran the ball in Sunday’s win over the Eagles is nothing new, if you have been paying attention to the Cardinals in recent weeks. The Cardinals rushed for 221 yards in Sunday’s win over the Eagles, the second time they passed 200 yards rushing in the last three weeks. Arizona leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (174.5) over the last five weeks and is second in yards per carry (5.5). This is with James Conner being the only player on the roster having over 300 rushing yards. The Cardinals’ run scheme works.
Somehow they can win the NFC South: Even with the blowout loss to the Bears Sunday, the Falcons can still win the NFC South. A Buccaneers loss in Week 18 and a win over the Saints gives the Falcons the division and the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs. Atlanta will be going home if Taylor Heinicke stops throwing interceptions (three in Week 17 after an efficient first start back), but who knows who will be quarterback after Desmond Ridder replaced him. Through all this, Atlanta still has a shot.
Offensive is elite with Todd Monken: Baltimore’s offense put up its best game of the season against a Miami defense that allowed just 16.0 points over the last three games. The Ravens put up 56 as Lamar Jackson threw five touchdown passes and scored touchdowns on four of the team’s first five possessions while the team scored on each of its last three possessions. Baltimore is No. 2 in the NFL in scoring offense and No. 4 in yards per game (19th and 16th in those respective categories last year). It also has the No. 1 rushing offense and is seventh in points per possession. The Ravens averaged 37.3 points per game in December. This unit is elite.
Need to win in Week 18: Even though the Bills have won four in a row, they can miss the playoffs altogether with a loss to the Dolphins. A win wraps up the AFC East and a playoff berth for Buffalo, but a loss and a Steelers win (they play a Baltimore team that already has home-field advantage locked up) will eliminate the Bills. Remember, the Texans vs. Colts winner automatically goes to playoffs and loser is out. The Bills offense was out of sync against the Patriots Sunday. That unit has to be better if they want to play the following week.
A lot of work is needed with quarterback and offensive line: The Panthers sealed the No. 1 overall pick with their shutout loss to the Jaguars on Sunday. The problem is they don’t have the pick. Carolina couldn’t block for Bryce Young to save its life, as the offensive line gave up six sacks, eight quarterback hits and 14 pressures in the loss. Young, in turn, was 3 of 9 for 39 yards and an interception under pressure (8.3 passer rating). Carolina couldn’t score and couldn’t protect its own No. 1 overall pick. Story of the Panthers’ season.
The Justin Fields decision will be harder: Good news for the Bears — they wrapped up the No. 1 overall pick by virtue of the Panthers losing and the Cardinals upsetting the Eagles. The “bad” news? The quarterback Chicago has isn’t bad. Fields has completed 60.4% of his passes for 1,213 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions in the six games since he returned (80.9 rating and also has 393 rushing yards and three touchdowns (5.7 yards per carry) in that stretch. The Bears will be tempted to keep Fields and get a monster haul for the No. 1 pick, or trade Fields and have the rights to Caleb Williams. A critical decision looms, and Fields has made it difficult.
Poor run blocking cost them: the Bengals haven’t been a good running team all year, so Joe Mixon getting stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs’ 6-yard line wasn’t a surprise, stopping a seven-minute drive which the Bengals controlled the clock in a 17-13 game. After Mixon was stuffed, the Bengals ran 19 plays for 36 yards — having just one designed run play for two yards. Cincinnati just abandoned the run after Mixon was stopped, a microcosm of why the Bengals have the 32nd-ranked rushing offense.
Joe Flacco second half is something to monitor: The Jets had their fair share of shutting down good quarterbacks this season, yet had no answer for Joe Flacco in the first half. After halftime was a different story, as Flacco went 3 of 7 for 13 yards in the final 30 minutes. Flacco has three interceptions in five games in the second half, having an 80.0 passer rating compared to 98.0 in the first half. Cleveland let New York hang around in the second half when Flacco was shut down. Seems to be the only “concern” with this team right now.
CeeDee Lamb making his case for best WR in NFL: An historic night for Lamb was a huge reason why the Cowboys were able to escape the Lions, as Lamb finished with 13 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown, accounting for a whopping 70.3% of Dallas’ passing yards. Lamb also set the franchise record for receptions (122) and receiving yards (1,651), breaking both feats held by Michael Irvin. Lamb leads the NFL in receptions and is second in yards, playing all 16 games — while being tied for third in touchdown catches (10). Hard to argue against Lamb being the best wideout in the NFL this year.
Jarrett Stidham delivers a win: Sean Payton made the decision to bench Russell Wilson in favor of Stidham, admitting the team badly wanted a win. Stidham finished 20 of 32 for 224 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions (93.8 rating), even though he looked rusty throughout the afternoon. Regardless, Stidham didn’t turn the ball over nor put the offense in harm’s way. That justified Payton’s decision to play Stidham the rest of the year. Will Stidham be QB1 next season? Time will tell.
Dan Campbell doesn’t care: Campbell’s statement in his three seasons in Detroit is taking risks on fourth down and on two-point attempts to win the game. Campbell even called a play to throw the ball to an offensive lineman in the final minute to win a game, which resulted in controversy regarding Taylor Decker reporting as eligible or not. The penalty put Detroit back on the Cowboys’ 7-yard line, and Campbell still went for two! No matter the situation, Campbell is going to go for the win and put a defense on its heels — even if he has to go for two three different times to win a game. The strategy has worked for the Lions before, but it just didn’t this week.
Green Bay Packers
Bo Melton might be best practice squad elevation not named Joe Flacco: This was going to be the best practice squad elevation of the year, but Joe Flacco ignited an offense in Cleveland and saved the Browns season. The wide receiver was a practice squad elevation and had just five catches for 51 yards in his first three games. Getting called up to the active roster Sunday. The 2022 seventh-round pick had six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, leading the team in receiving yards. Melton did most of his damage in the second half (four catches for 65 yards and touchdown), but it was enough to get him signed to the active roster. He was a luxury playmaker for a team that has a lot of them on the roster.
C.J. Stroud set up the win-and-in scenario: The Texans survived the two weeks Stroud missed with a concussion, going 1-1 in those two starts. Fortunately, the Colts and Jaguars weren’t able to pull away from Houston — setting up the winner-take-all game with the Colts for a playoff spot. The Texans are a better team with Stroud under center, as he went 24 of 32 for 213 yards and a touchdown (102.7 rating) in his first game back, dismantling a Titans team they needed to comeback and beat in overtime without Stroud. Other teams let the Texans hang around and may miss the playoffs as a result with Stroud back.
First playoff test was a success: The Colts essentially played a playoff game with the Raiders Sunday, needing a win to set up a win-and-in for Week 18 against the Texans. If the Raiders won, the Colts were in danger of being eliminated from the postseason — instead of entering the final week as the No. 7 seed in the conference with a playoff spot and division title at stake. Sunday wasn’t the prettiest performance, but the Colts built a 14-3 lead and kept it by scoring on all three possessions in the second half (not counting end of game). At this point, wins are all that matters.
Josh Allen is set for first All-Pro season: Allen was a terror against a poor Carolina offensive line Sunday, finishing with three sacks, four quarterback hits and six pressures in the Jaguars’ shutout of the Panthers. Allen is third in the NFL in sacks (16.5), fourth in pressures (88) and fifth in quarterback hits (31). Allen has become one of the top pass rushers in the game in Year 5, having his best season since his rookie year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Big plays returned in a big way: The Chiefs still had the offensive problems that plagued them all season, yet made up for it with big plays. Isiah Pacheco had runs of 35 yards and 37 yards in the first half, and Rashee Rice caught the longest pass for the year for Kansas City (67 yards). Justin Watson even had a 41-yard catch. Patrick mahomes was 1 of 2 on passes that went for 25-plus air yards and has hit on two of his last four attempts. A good sign Kansas City can move the ball down the field heading into the postseason.
Las Vegas Raiders
Davante Adams finally got going: Adams had his best performance in weeks, finishing with 13 catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s loss to the Colts. Not only did Adams tie a season high in catches and have his third 100-yard receiving game, he was targeted 21 times. This was the second time Adams was targeted 20-plus times this year, a positive development after he was targeted just 28 times over the last three weeks. Even though the average yards per target was 6.0, it was still a good sign to feature Adams as the season winds down.
Los Angeles Chargers
The offense needs its stars back for 2024: No Justin Herbert and Mike Williams for significant periods of time hurt this offense throughout the year, and no Keenan Allen this week made the problems worse. The Chargers went 2 of 11 on third down and 0 for 1 in the red zone, having just three plays inside the 20 and only gaining two yards. The Chargers will be shaking up the offense and defense, but having their core pieces back on offense will significantly help this team.
Los Angeles Rams
Kyren Williams is a TD machine, too: Williams has been the catalyst toward the Rams going 5-1 in their last six games, the number of games since he returned from injury. Williams didn’t have 100 rushing yards this week, but scored three touchdowns — giving him five in his last three games. Williams has 1,144 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns on the season — arguably the best running back in the NFL not named Christian McCaffrey. The Rams have a shot in the postseason as long as Williams is healthy.
Still have trouble scoring against winning teams: The Dolphins took away all the good they did last week when they finally beat a team with a winning record, to getting trounced by the Ravens the next week. Miami put up just 19 points against Baltimore, on par with its 18.4 points per game in the five games against teams with a winning record. The Dolphins haven’t scored more than 22 points in those five games. The Dolphins average 35.5 points per game against teams .500 or worse, a telling sign how their offense isn’t good against strong opponents.
QB change didn’t work: The Vikings miss Kirk Cousins desperately, which is why they likely will miss the playoffs. Jaren Hall lasted one half before being replaced, going 5 of 10 for 67 yards and an interception (32.1 rating) as the Vikings had three points and 82 yards on six possessions (not counting end of half). Didn’t take Minnesota long to go back to Nick Mullens, who was benched after having six interceptions in their last two games. The Vikings are damned if they do and damned if they don’t at quarterback, no matter who they play.
New England Patriots
QB is the offseason priority: This has been beaten like a drum since Mac Jones was benched, but Bill Belichick (if he returns) has to get serious competition for Bailey Zappe next year. Zappe threw three interceptions in Sunday’s loss to the Bills, two in the first half (that led to 10 points by the Bills) and the third on the Patriots’ first second-half possession — which was a pick-six. With a top-five pick looming, the Patriots need to draft a young quarterback and groom Zappe as the backup. Or get one of the top veteran options in free agency. Jones aor Zappe can’t enter Week 1 of next year as the starter.
New Orleans Saints
Derek Carr made sure to find the tight ends: On a day which the Saints needed a good performance from Carr, they got one as Carr went 24 of 32 for 197 yards and two touchdowns (111.0 rating), Why was Carr so efficient? The Saints quarterback found Juwan Johnson for 90 yards and a touchdown and Taysom Hill for 30 yards and a touchdowns. The Saints tight ends were targeted 15 times, catching 11 passes for 133 yards and two scores. For one, the Saints offense didn’t beat themselves and New Orleans is still alive in the NFC South race as a result.
New York Giants
The pass offense was significantly better with Tyrod Taylor: This showed in the second half of the Giants loss last week, but Taylor showcased why he should have been the quarterback once he returned from his injury. Taylor was 27 of 41 for 319 yards and a touchdown with an interception (87.3 rating). The 284 passing yards were the highest for the Giants since Week 3 and the 7.8 yards per attempt is the highest since Week 11. This was with five drops by pass catchers. With the season over for a while now, Taylor still has a chance to prove he deserves an opportunity to start next year.
New York Jets
Hard to justify Robert Saleh back: After Woody Johnson said the Jets head coach will be back for 2024, the Jets defense gave up 34 points in the first half as the Browns scored touchdowns on four of seven possessions. Trevor Siemian wasn’t bad in the first half (10 of 14, 124 yards, TD, INT), but the inconsistent offense went fumble, interception, punt, punt, punt after a touchdown on the opening possession. This team needs a healthy Aaron Rodgers, but does it need a head coach that’s 17-33 in his three seasons? That losing culture in New York showed Thursday night.
It’s not the defensive play-caller: The Eagles couldn’t stop the Cardinals on Sunday, giving up points in six of seven possessions. The Cardinals scored 29 points in the second half (haven’t scored more than 29 in a game all year) and scored four touchdowns on four possessions, rushing for 221 yards and totaling 449 yards of offense for the game. This defense was supposed to be better under Matt Patricia, but instead has allowed 26.6 points per game (25th in NFL) and 346.0 yards per game (20th in NFL). The personnel is to blame, not the coach or defensive play-caller.
Mason Rudolph is QB1 for rest of year: The only two 30-point games from the Steelers have come when Rudolph is under center, as he finished 18 of 24 for 274 yards in Sunday’s win over the Seahawks. Rudolph has also made George Pickens a No. 1 wide receiver again, as Pickens had seven catches for 131 yards. Pickens now has 11 catches for 326 yards and two touchdowns in Rudolph’s two starts, averaging 29.6 yards per catch. This offense is rejuvenated under Rudolph, who has earned the right to start the rest of the year — even with Pickett healthy.
San Francisco 49ers
Christian McCaffrey isn’t the only RB who can produce: McCaffrey didn’t get the most carries in Sunday’s win over the Commanders. That honor goes to Elijah Mitchell, who had 17 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown, a third-quarter score that gave the 49ers the double-digit lead they wouldn’t relinquish. McCaffrey left in the fourth quarter with a calf injury, so it was good for Mitchell (who rushed for 963 yards in his rookie year in 2021) to see significant action. McCaffrey’s injury is a serious concern, but the 49ers can still run the ball effectively with Mitchell. They’ll need McCaffrey to win Super Bowl, however.
The playoff destiny is no longer controllable: The Seahawks really blew an opportunity to snatch a playoff spot, needing to win their final two games to snag the No. 7 seed. Instead, Seattle lost to Pittsburgh at home in a game which it allowed 202 rushing yards on the ground. The run defense (30th in yards per game allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed) has failed the Seahawks all year, and now Seattle needs a win and a Green Bay loss to Chicago to make the postseason. The Seahawks controlled their own destiny before Sunday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offense fell flat as Baker Mayfield hot streak ends: The Saints defense had every answer for Mayfield early, as the Buccaneers punted five times and turned the ball over three times on their first eight possessions (not counting end of half). Mayfield threw two interceptions and was 10 of 17 for 89 yards with two interceptions through three quarters (48.4 rating). The Buccaneers couldn’t run the ball either, having 15 carries for 57 yards (3.8 yards per carry) through three quarters. Mayfield and the Buccaneers had no answer for Dennis Allen’s defense, but fortunately Tampa Bay can still win the NFC South with a victory this week.
This team is ready for the offseason: Playing out the string is not in the Titans culture under Mike Vrabel, as the franchise was playoff-eligible every week of the regular season under Vrabel until a few weeks ago. Tennessee was lifeless on Sunday, scoring three points and generating 187 yards of offense. Will Levis was knocked out of the game and Ryan Tannehill couldn’t get them more than three points despite going 16 of 20 for 168 yards (101.7 rating). The Titans went 1 of 12 on third down and averaged 2.5 yards per carry. Tennessee just didn’t look into it on Sunday, especially after Levis was out.
They were cheated out of a Jacoby Brissett start: In a lost season, the Commanders wanted to see what Brissett could do after Sam Howell’s season went off the rails. Instead Howell had to start again because Brissett suffered a hamstring injury in Friday’s practice and was ruled out after taking the starting job. Howell went 17 of 28 for 169 yards, but was 8 of 15 for 69 yards and two interceptions in the second half (26.1 rating). The Commanders know what they have in Howell at this point. Brissett starting won’t matter either with Ron Rivera likely gone, but the front office lost a game’s worth of tape with Brissett’s injury.