The NFL is approaching the final week of the season, with a lot at stake. Week 16 was WILD -- the field of teams eligible to make the 12-team postseason was whittled down to 15. That might seem like it could result in a calm Week 17, but the reality of the situation is there's still LOTS of movement left that can go down in terms of the seeding.
Let's look at the five most important people for Week 17 coming out of yesterday's action. For a full recap of what happened in Week 16, make sure and listen to Monday's Pick Six Podcast -- our daily NFL podcast, we're not even taking a break for Christmas day! -- below or subscribe right here.
Not that I need an excuse to write about Mayfield again (last week I made the extended case why he should be named Offensive Rookie of the Year over Saquon Barkley and I stand by it after the Browns won their fifth game in six tries Sunday) but he really is the most important person in the NFL in Week 17. The Browns are eliminated from the NFL playoff picture, but Baker is heading to Baltimore to play the Ravens in a game that will decide the fate of at least two teams.
With the Steelers' loss to the Saints on Sunday, Pittsburgh cannot get in the playoffs as a wild-card team unless the Titans and Colts tie in Nashville. That's not happening. Frank Reich already proved he won't let it and both teams can't get in with a tie. So the Steelers need one man to do one thing that's only been done four times since 1999: Mayfield has to lead the Browns into Baltimore and beat the Ravens.
There's reason to believe it could happen, mainly because Mayfield has been so good this year. He lit up the Bengals twice, giving the Browns the same number of wins (two) against Hue Jackson as they had with Hue Jackson. Mayfield showed up Hue multiple times, declining to shake his hand in enthusiastic fashion after the first matchup and then spending about 30 seconds or so staring at Hue on the sideline Sunday, smiling, then running away, then turning around, then smiling some more.
People are thrilled about this and people are upset about this, obviously. Personally I love it. Baker didn't like how things went with Hue, thinks Hue acted in ways not commiserate with being an NFL head coach and he's making it his mission to torment him. Hue was fired by the Browns so he's got the right to take any job he wants, but it's understandable why Baker and the rest of the Browns players would be miffed at seeing Hue on the opposing team's sideline.
You get the sense Hue is out there trying to do what's best for Hue a lot of the times and may or may not be more interested in playing office politics than actually worrying about coaching and the Bengals thing really just confirms that even more.
Cincy would be, in my opinion, insane to hire Hue. Not because of that stuff or because of his record but because they're basically inviting Mayfield to beat them twice a year for the long-term future.
In the short term, Baker matters more than anyone because he will basically decide who reps the division in the playoffs. Go into Baltimore and beat a tough defense and the Steelers are in. Go in and get handled by a really good Ravens squad and Baltimore advances.
The Titans and the Colts are playing on Sunday in Nashville with a lot on the line and there's a pretty good chance that Marcus Mariota could end up missing the game. Tennessee's quarterback in a must-win game on Sunday night might very well be BLAINE FREAKING GABBERT.
Henry's the former Heisman Trophy winner who was drafted in the second round by the Titans only to spend a pretty good chunk of his career being fairly unproductive. Henry hasn't been bad, but he's just never dominated the way we expected ... until the last three weeks. Henry has been a MONSTER since Week 13 of this season, helping win multiple fantasy titles and finding himself in the top 10 of all running backs for yards this season. He had 474 yards and five touchdowns through the first 14 weeks of the season. He's now at 966 yards and 12 (!) touchdowns.
These splits are incredible:
If Mariota is out -- and you can make a case he's more important because of his health situation -- then Henry needs to be more of the second guy than the first to beat the Colts, a well-coached team that has morphed into a physical and dangerous team on both sides of the ball.
Andrew Luck is the great equalizer here too, of course. Luck did more Luck things on Sunday in Week 16, dragging the Colts back from a tough spot to a thrilling, last-second victory over the Giants. Lose that game and Indy's playoff hopes go up in smoke. Win that game and you get a winner-take-all match against Blaine Gabbert.
3. Sam Darnold
Much like Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold is standing up on a top of a building spraying a depressed fanbase with a fire hose filled with pure, uncut hope. Darnold's dealing for the Jets lately, averaging 254 yards per game with six touchdowns and one interception while completing 66 percent of his passes. He did it against mostly good defenses, beating the Bills and narrowly losing to the Texans and Packers.
Now Darnold gets to try and really slay the dragon: he draws Bill Belichick and the Patriots in Week 17. Belichick owns rookie quarterbacks over his career, especially at home. First-year starters/rookie quarterbacks are an astounding 0-12 in Foxborough since Belichick took over. Belichick's made a career out of chewing up and spitting out the AFC East competition and now Darnold hopes he can swing the narrative.
If he does, the Texans are massive winners, because a Houston victory and a Patriots loss would give Houston the AFC South title and the No. 2 seed, along with a first-round bye, in the playoffs.
This would be a huge win for everyone in the AFC. The Patriots have never made it to the Super Bowl without having a first-round bye, and it's become readily apparent that both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski would benefit physically from an extra week away from football. Brady has been downright bad the last few weeks. In his last eight games, Brady has completed 63 percent of his passes, thrown for 278 yards per game and has nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Over his last four games, Brady is completing 65 percent of his passes, averaging 269 yards per game with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He doesn't look like an MVP candidate right now, the way he did to close out the 2017 season.
This will probably look stupid when the Patriots are snuffing out Darnold and the Jets and waltzing to a 17-point win next week, but there's some "ruin the Patriots season" and/or "changing of the guard" potential drama here.
4. Matt Nagy
What will the Bears do against the Vikings? The NFL schedule maximizes competitiveness in Week 17 and the Bears are still competing: with their win over the 49ers, Chicago is within striking distance of the Rams to grab a first-round bye. That would be a big plus for a defense battling some injuries, not to mention the prep angle for a playoff opponent with Mitchell Trubisky. Securing it is unlikely, though. The Rams, who will probably be without Todd Gurley for Week 17, are playing the 49ers on the road. Win there and they lock in an extra week of rest for their superstar running back, not to mention prep of their own. Sean McVay will have his guys ready.
So Nagy has to walk a tightrope here. Does he try and give guys like Akiem Hicks, who left with an injury against SF on Sunday, more time off, knowing the Bears are likely playing in the first round of the playoffs? Or does he go all out on the road against the Vikings, a division opponent facing a win-and-in situation against Chicago?
There's no easy answer here, especially with the Bears probably playing either the Vikings -- if Minnesota wins -- or Philadelphia -- if Minnesota loses and the Eagles beat Washington -- in the first round of the playoffs. We once saw Marvin Lewis do this in 2009 and it backfired stupendously. With the Bengals clinched, he sat his guys against the Jets in Week 17, let the Jets win 37-0, then had to play the Jets in the playoffs and promptly lost in the first round.
Nagy rested all of his guys in the preseason and Andy Reid, his mentor, has a history of sitting guys late. It wouldn't be shocking at all if anyone and everyone who was even the slightest bit banged up was out for this game and if anyone who played executed a pretty vanilla game plan. Trubisky probably won't be running read option stuff all day and Tarik Cohen won't be throwing passes.
5. Nick Foles
Saint Nick is coming to town alright -- the Eagles quarterback morphed into the nicest version possible of himself over the last several weeks, reminding everyone of Philly's Super Bowl run from last year with his MVP-caliber play. Foles was legendary on Sunday against the Texans, breaking Donovan McNabb's Eagles record for most passing yards in a single game, throwing for 471 yards and four touchdowns. Foles averaged 9.6 yards per attempt on 49 passes, which is just wild to think about.
He was laser locked into Zach Ertz, finding the tight end for a late score to take the lead and then finding him again in order to set up a game-winning Jake Elliott field goal. The Eagles are on the operating table right now, but they don't control their own destiny. It's the aforementioned Nagy who will decide whether or not they ultimately end up in the postseason. But Foles' presence might be enough to warrant sitting Trubisky and a bunch of starters.
Does anyone really want to play Foles and the Eagles offense right now? Doug Pederson looks more comfortable calling plays for Foles than he did for Wentz and even with everyone else injured, Darren Sproles, a 35-year-old diminutive back who everyone thought would retire several years ago, is piling up games with 100+ yards from scrimmage. This is wild stuff.
Invite Foles and the Eagles to your playoff party at your own risk. He'll steal your cookies, drink your milk and leave all his dogs at your house.