The NFL season has hit the home stretch, as eight teams have clinched playoff spots, while 16 teams still have an opportunity to take one of the six spots still available. The race to the finish line should be one of the most exciting playoff chases in recent memory.
The league has seen the most games decided by six points or less through the first 16 weeks of all-time, as well as the most games being within one score (eight points) in the fourth quarter through the first 16 weeks in NFL history. While there aren't many dominant teams, there are a lot of them on the same tier in the contending pyramid -- resulting in some exciting finishes.
With two weeks left to play in the regular season, here's one thing we learned about each team in Week 16.
DeAndre Hopkins is ineffective with Trace McSorley at QB: Hopkins was targeted 10 times by the Cardinals' third-string quarterback, but had a measly one catch for four yards. McSorley and Hopkins don't work together much in practice, but Hopkins was essentially ineffective in the passing game in a Cardinals offense that was limited to begin with.
Greg Dortch had 10 catches for 98 yards on 11 targets. It made sense he had a big game due to his reps with McSorley on the second and third team. Hopkins has 15 catches for 143 yards and no touchdowns in his last three games.
Drake London is more productive with Desmond Ridder: London did have a fumble on Saturday (his third of the year), but the numbers have improved in Ridder's two starts. After having seven catches for 96 yards against the Ravens, London has 14 catches for 166 yards in his two games with Ridder.
The Falcons may be eliminated from the playoffs, yet Ridder finding London as ofter as he does is a very encouraging sign.
Red zone woes continue: The Ravens continue to find ways to not score touchdowns in the red zone, as Justin Tucker connected on three field goals from 27 yards or less in Saturday's win over Atlanta. Baltimore was 1 of 4 in the red zone, and has scored touchdowns just twice in its last nine red zone trips.
Of course all those games are Tyler Huntley starts. Baltimore wasn't much better in the red zone in Lamar Jackson's last two starts prior to his injury, going just 3 of 6. Now a playoff team, these red zone woes must get corrected.
With The First Pick Newsletter
With The First Pick Newsletter
Prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft with the day’s big stories + mock drafts, big board updates and more.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Best rushing performance of the year an encouraging sign: Saturday's game against the Bears was played in frigid temperatures, the kind of weather the Bills will likely be seeing if Buffalo wraps up home-field advantage. The Bills rushed for 254 yards in the victory, the most in a game since December 2016.
Devin Singletary rushed for 106 yards and 8.8 yards per carry and James Cook rushed for 99 yards while averaging 9.0 yards per carry. The Bills averaged 8.2 yards per carry on the day, production they'll need to go to the Super Bowl.
Buffalo is averaging 160.4 rushing yards the last five games.
Sam Darnold may have won the starting job for 2023: Lost in the shuffle of the Panthers' 320 yards on the ground is the franchise record 570 yards of offense -- with Darnold at quarterback. Darnold completed 15 of 22 passes for 250 yards with a touchdown and a 121.4 passer rating (highest with Panthers) in Saturday's win, another efficient outing for a team that has a shot at a playoff berth.
Darnold has completed 61.4% of his passes for 759 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions in his four starts (104.3 rating), with Carolina going 3-1 in those starts. The Panthers are a ground-and-pound team, but Carolina has found a game manager in Darnold who is helping them win games. Darnold may be the starter come the start of next year.
Khalil Herbert surprisingly ineffective in his return: With the Bears having numerous injuries on offense and playing in frigid temperatures on Saturday, Herbert seemed primed for a big rushing day in his return from injured reserve. Instead, he finished with just six carries for seven yards while the Justin Fields had seven carries for 11 yards.
Sure, the Bills have a good run defense, but Herbert averaged just 1.2 yards per carry. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry coming into the game, making Saturday's performance even more surprising.
Run game has sputtered in crucial stretch: As the Bengals fight for home-field advantage -- and the AFC North title -- their run game has been a major problem over the last two games. Cincinnati had just 73 rushing yards in Saturday's win, and the Bengals are averaging 63 rushing yards per game over the past two contests.
During this stretch, the Bengals are averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. The run game was ineffective late in New England, allowing the Patriots to almost seal a win away this week. Having La'el Collins out won't help matters, but the rushing attack has to be better in the final two games and the playoffs.
Is this team really better with Deshaun Watson? Watson was bad in Saturday's loss, completing 15 of 31 passes for 135 yards with a rushing touchdown and an interception -- his third in four games with the team. There have been four games this season where a quarterback had 20 attempts, completed less than 55% of his passes, didn't throw a touchdown pass, and threw an interception -- Watson is responsible for two of them.
The Browns, now eliminated from the playoffs, were supposed to have a better offense with Watson at quarterback. The Browns have just three offensive touchdowns in four games with Watson, who has completed 57.7% of his passes for 703 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Let's see if Watson is better in 2023, but his return has been very disappointing.
Takeaways made up for a below-average performance from the defense: The Eagles scored 27 points and racked up 442 yards with a backup quarterback against the Cowboys defense, but Dallas deserves credit for forcing uncharacteristic mistakes by a Philadelphia offense that doesn't make them.
Dallas finished with four takeaways in Saturday's win, including an interception and a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter that played a massive role in the comeback. The Cowboys lead the league in takeaways (30) and turnover differential (plus-12), thanks to the playmakers on their defense that have a knack for finding the football.
Even on a poor day by the defense, they made the plays necessary to win a crucial game. They need those takeaways if the defense is going to continue playing subpar.
Russell Wilson is officially lost: Wilson may have had his worst game as a professional, finishing just 15 of 27 for 214 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in a 51-14 loss to a 4-10 team. The game started ugly, as Wilson just heaved a pass up the sideline to a well-covered Courtland Sutton, marking the beginning of a day where he seemed lost in decision-making and getting his team together.
His first two interceptions were head-scratching moments, and Wilson's offensive line didn't seem to care what he had to say. The Broncos are stuck with Wilson, and his head coach won't be an excuse for poor play next year after Nathaniel Hackett was fired.
This team was badly outcoached in a must-win game: For all the good Dan Campbell has done with the Lions, this was a poor performance against an interim head coach in Steve Wilks. The Panthers had every answer for what Campbell and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson tried to throw at them.
Detroit just didn't seem to think Carolina would run the ball against a bottom-10 run defense. The Lions looked putrid against a team they should have beaten (at least on paper). The No. 7 seed was in Detroit's grasp, but it wasn't grabbed.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers still appears 'off': Rodgers didn't have his best game in Sunday's win over the Dolphins, finishing 24 of 38 for 238 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Packers quarterback missed missed Christian Watson on a fourth-and-2 pass that would have resulted in a touchdown and his interception was a poor deep ball intended for Allen Lazard.
Rodgers has uncharacteristically not played at a MVP level this year, even with the emergence of Watson and the new reliance of the run game. The Packers will need Rodgers to get back to that level to win their final two games.
Defensive takeaways have made them more competitive: The Texans were finally able to seal the deal after coming close to upsetting the Cowboys and Chiefs over the last two weeks, but how has team stayed in these ball games in the first place? Houston has eight takeaways over the past three games after having just six over the previous seven contests.
The takeaways are why that 30th ranked scoring defense has an opportunity to win football games and play up to the talent level over the past few games. Takeaways are the equalizer and the Texans are proving it.
The defensive front has been a quiet strength: For as much of a mess as the Colts are, their defensive front has been performing all year. Indianapolis had four sacks, seven quarterback hits, and racked up 10 pressures in Monday's loss to the Chargers.
The defense has 43 sacks on the year, the most in a season since 2013. Not bad for a unit that has no one with double-digit sacks on the season.
Evan Engram resurrected in Jacksonville: As Trevor Lawrence is developing into an elite quarterback in his second season, Engram is quietly becoming his favorite target. Engram finished with seven catches for 113 yards in Thursday's win, just two games after hauling in 11 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Titans.
Over the last three games, Engram has 26 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns (13.0 yards per catch). He has a career-high in receiving yards and is just seven yards from passing Kyle Brady for the most receiving yards by a tight end in a season in Jaguars history. Not bad for year one in Jacksonville (and hopefully more in store).
Kansas City Chiefs
Steve Spagnuolo may have found a way for the pass defense to shine: Head coach Andy Reid revealed after Saturday's win that the Chiefs' defensive coordinator had cornerback L'Jarius Sneed shadow the Seahawks' top receiver, which worked out very well for Kansas City's defense.
DK Metcalf did finish with seven catches for 81 yards, but Seattle had just 200 passing yards on the day. Sneed allowed six catches for 74 yards and a 70.1 passer rating when targeted, a strong sign for what may be in store for the Chiefs defense in January. Allowing just 10 points to a top-10 offense is nothing to scoff at.
Las Vegas Raiders
The end may be near for Derek Carr: Carr's tenure with the Raiders may be coming no an end, especially after his three interception performance in frigid Pittsburgh on Saturday. Carr leads the NFL with 14 interceptions and has thrown 28 over the past two years.
The Raiders are 6-9 and are essentially out of the playoff race in what has been a disastrous season for Carr. His 60.8% completion rate is the lowest since his rookie season and the 86.3 passer rating is Carr's lowest since 2014 (also his rookie year).
The Carr experiment has lasted nine seasons -- with no playoff wins. Perhaps the Raiders will move on this offseason.
Los Angeles Chargers
Keenan Allen is getting hot at the right time: Allen finished with 11 catches for 104 yards in Monday's win, the first time all seaosn Allen has finished with over 100 yards. The Chargers are getting their best receiver going at the right time of the season, as Allen has 37 catches for 370 yards and and a touchdown over his last four games.
The Chargers need Allen if they are going to make a playoff run (going to playoffs for first time since 2018). Allen returning to a Pro Bowl level is critical for Justin Herbert's success.
Los Angeles Rams
Bobby Wagner can still play: Perhaps Wagner was fired up to face Russell Wilson, but the six-time All-Pro linebacker had a sack and picked off his former teammate as they faced off against each other for the first time. There's seemingly no bad blood between Wagner and Wilson, yet Wagner appeared to prove a point with eight tackles, a sack, and an interception.
Wagner has a career-high six sacks to go with 126 tackles and two interceptions (the first time he's had multiple interceptions in a season since 2017). The Rams may have made plenty of bad moves this year, but signing Wagner wasn't one of them.
This team still doesn't run the ball enough: Mike McDaniel needs to practice what he preaches when he says he needs to run the ball more, because the Dolphins simply aren't doing that. The Dolphins ran the ball just 18 times, but gained 82 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry in Sunday's loss.
Miami throws 62.21% of the time, fifth-most in the NFL. With Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert as the running backs, that percentage is too high. Perhaps Tua Tagovailoa being sidelined with another concussion will change McDaniel's perspective over the final two games.
The pass defense remains a concern: This is worth repeating every week, but the Vikings' pass defense allows the most passing yards (281.4 per game) in the NFL and is 29th in net yards per attempt (7.0). This pass defense allowed Daniel Jones to complete 71.4% of his passes, throw for 334 yards, and average 8.0 yards per attempt.
Jones had his best game of the year, but the Vikings allowed him to have his way on the simplest of plays. If Jones can be highly productive against the Vikings, what will the elite quarterbacks do against them? This problem isn't going away, no matter what the overall record is.
New England Patriots
Matt Patricia finally realized Kendrick Bourne exists: Perhaps it took four months for Patricia to get over his reported offseason issues with Bourne, but the Patriots wideout had a season-high six catches for 100 yards in Saturday's loss. Bourne had just eight targets in the three games prior, but had nine in Week 16.
Not included in those catches is a 29-yard run on an end around. Bourne's touchdown catch brought the Patriots to within 10 points in the second half and was a vital part in New England's offense coming alive late in the game. Bourne has been too productive of a player the last two seasons to be as ineffective has he's been this season.
New Orleans Saints
The passing game missed Chris Olave: The extreme cold in Cleveland on Saturday resulted in Andy Dalton throwing just 15 passes, but getting the ball to a star player like Olave, who missed the game due to injury, would have made his life a lot easier. Saints wide receivers had just four catches for 41 yards -- and that was all from undrafted free agent Rashid Shaheed.
Dalton (8 of 15 for 92 yards and an interception) just didn't have anyone to throw to at wide receiver. The Saints better hope Olave is back against the Eagles.
New York Giants
Covering tight ends is a problem: T.J. Hockenson had his way against the Giants defense, catching 13 passes (on 15 targets) for 109 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings made it a priority to get the ball to Hockenson throughout the game, knowing how much New York struggles covering the tight end.
The Giants have allowed 79 catches for 857 yards and six touchdowns to opposing tight ends this year, with all those stats ranking in the bottom nine in the NFL. This has been a problem all year and any team with a good tight end will exploit that weakness.
New York Jets
It's over for Zach Wilson: The Jets may not even give Wilson another shot to resurrect his career in New York -- that's how bad he was Thursday night. Wilson was 9 of 18 for 92 yards and an interceptions in rainy conditions (to say the least) before he was benched for Chris Streveler -- a practice squad elevation!
The Jets offense was actually better when Streveler was in there. The offense has been better with Streveler, Mike White, and Joe Flacco than Wilson over the last two years. The end is near for Wilson in New York.
Lane Johnson's injury is massive: Johnson is arguably the most important piece to the Eagles offense -- and that includes Jalen Hurts. The Eagles right tackle left Saturday's game with an abdominal injury and will miss the rest of the regular season.
How good has Johnson been? He hasn't allowed a sack since Week 11 of the 2020 season, which is the longest streak in NFL history. He hasn't allowed a quarterback hits since Week 7 of the 2021 season. Johnson has allowed just two pressures in his last seven games (for context, Johnson's replacement -- Jack Driscoll -- allowed one pressure in 11 snaps filling in for him).
The Eagles should get Johnson back for the playoffs, but this is a huge loss for the offense.
Kenny Pickett has the clutch gene in him: Pickett's final drive is why the Steelers still have a shot at the playoffs with two games to go -- in a rebuilding year. Pickett finished 7 of 9 for 73 yards on the final drive, which includes the game-winning touchdown to George Pickens with 46 seconds left to give Pittsburgh a well-deserved win.
The fourth quarter and overtime numbers aren't great for Pickett (one touchdown, five interceptions, 64.2 rating), but he was 11 of 15 for 112 yards and a touchdown (116.5 passer rating) in the fourth quarter Saturday. The Steelers got Pickett's best when they needed it most. The future may be very bright for Pickett if he keeps developing.
San Francisco 49ers
The offensive line shined against a tough test: San Francisco deserves a ton of credit for holding Washington's defensive front in check Saturday, as the offensive line was credited with allowing just one sack and three pressures on the day.
Trent Williams didn't allow a single pressure in 26 pass-blocking snaps while Spencer Burford allowed just one sack and one pressure in the win. The biggest aspect was keeping Brock Purdy upright, which is why he's been as efficient as he's been in those three starts. If the offense keeps Purdy from under duress, the 49ers will be a huge problem in the postseason.
Offensive line needs help this offseason: The loss to Kansas City wasn't a banner day for Seattle's young offensive line, as the Seahawks allowed three sacks and 15 pressures. Phil Haynes allowed five pressures and a sack as the main culprit. Haynes and Stone Forsythe -- who filled on for tackle Abraham Lucas -- combined to allow eight pressures and 12 beats. This was on just 49 pass-blocking snaps combined between the two.
Seattle needs better depth on the offensive line and better play on the interior this offseason. The pressures on Geno Smith have been a problem over the past month.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady and Mike Evans have no chemistry right now: How did we get to this point with one of the best touchdown scorers in football? Evans doesn't have a touchdown reception in the past 11 games -- this is a player who had 75 touchdown catches in his first eight seasons!
Evans was targeted eight times in Sunday's win, but had just three catches for 29 yards. Evans has been targeted 39 times in his last five games, but has just 18 catches. Brady couldn't get a completion to Evans in the second half last week and struggled to connect with him this week. Evans is too good a player to be this ineffective.
Derrick Henry has fumbling issues: Henry finished with 23 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's loss, yet the only weapon in the Titans offense has been significantly costing his team with the fumbles this season. Henry has six fumbles on the season and four in the last three games (five in the last five) -- all losses by the Titans.
Henry has still been great this seaosn, even if he hasn't been dominant like he was from 2019 through 2021. The fumbles have played a role in that. This is an issue he has to get corrected for that Week 18 showdown with Jacksonville.
This team needs a quarterback in 2023: Shocking right? The Commanders moved on from Taylor Heinicke during Saturday's loss to the Commanders, benching him in the fourth quarter for Carson Wentz. The Commanders will go with Wentz in Week 17 -- barring a shocking change of heart from Rivera -- but they'll need a new quarterback next year afetr already benching Wentz this year.
Heinicke fumbled three times in his last two games and has six interceptions and seven fumbles in his nine starts. Wentz has six interceptions and six fumbles in his seven games. Both turn the football over way too much for the Commanders to reach their potential. They'll have to go with someone else after this year, but Wentz appears to be the guy for the rest of this season.