Dallas Cowboys Insider
With all due respect to the NFL teams still scrapping for a spot, can we skip to the playoffs already?
Monday Night Football locked up the ninth spot, as the L.A. Chargers claimed an AFC wild card berth. With five spots still available, there’s plenty left to play for in the final two weeks. Even still, it’s hard not to look ahead to the postseason after what we’ve seen in recent weeks.
The Cowboys and Eagles just played a December classic, which left us all hoping for a third game between the two. The 49ers have rolled over four straight playoff contenders, which leaves you hankering to watch them play against the league’s elite. Most of the AFC’s top quarterbacks — Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson — are assured their teams will get at least one playoff game. Ultimately, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Trevor Lawrence might join the fray, too.
As wide-open as the league has looked all season, things just might ratchet up in the postseason. So while there’s a lot to look forward to in Week 17 — Bills at Bengals, anyone? — it feels perfectly reasonable to be counting the days until the playoffs.
Until then, here’s where things stand with two games to play.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-2): Are you surprised the Eagles stay right where they were after a thrilling loss in Dallas? The vaunted secondary got cooked and injuries are starting to take a toll. But the bottom line is that Philly went on the road and took a playoff team down to the wire without their starting quarterback. Maybe there are no moral victories in the NFL, but it’s hard to feel significantly worse about the Birds after that performance.
2. Buffalo Bills (12-3): We’ve done a lot of handwringing about the Bills, only for them to reel off six straight wins and sit atop the AFC. It’s fair to point out that Josh Allen struggled a bit in the win against the Bears, but a dominant defense is pulling plenty of weight to compensate. This is a complete team.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4): The Bengals were well on their way to a statement road win in Foxborough. A few mistakes later, they were holding on for dear life in a nail biter. Credit the defense for making sure Joe Burrow’s miscues didn’t bite them. Hopefully the loss of La’el Collins for the season doesn’t make life too difficult on Cincinnati’s offensive line.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (12-3): Do you realize that the class of the AFC — the Bills, Bengals and Chiefs — have only lost one combined game since mid-November? And that one loss was the Chiefs’ loss in Cincinnati. This is shaping up to be a memorable January on the AFC side of the bracket.
Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes shines with three TDs in dominating victory over Seahawks
The Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes couldn’t be stopped as he accounted for three TDs in an emphatic victory.
5. San Francisco 49ers (11-4): It’s only logical to assume a team starting a rookie quarterback has a ceiling — but we sure haven’t seen it yet. The Niners are destroying teams by an average score of 32-14 since Brock Purdy stepped in for Jimmy Garoppolo, and the combination of their run game and their defense makes it very easy to believe this is a sustainable model of success.
6. Dallas Cowboys (11-4): On one hand, let’s not overreact to a tight win against a team missing its starting quarterback. But on the other hand, Jalen Hurts doesn’t play defense. Even allowing for a first quarter pick-six, Dak Prescott dismantled Philly’s secondary in surgical fashion. The Cowboys’ continued struggles to rush the passer are concerning, but this offense will give them a chance in any game.
7. Minnesota Vikings (12-3): There needs to be an award named after this Vikings team — arguably the most chaotic team in NFL history. Saturday’s walkoff win against the Giants was Minnesota’s 15th game, and an absurd 11 of them have come down to the final possession. This must have felt like nothing compared to last week’s insane comeback. Who can say what it means for the playoffs, but no one in the league will have been more battle-hardened by this season.
8. L.A. Chargers (9-6): The details of Monday night’s win in Indianapolis were forgettable, but the result will be worth remembering. With a third straight win, the Bolts have secured a playoff spot for the first time in Justin Herbert’s career. The challenge now will be building on it, but this is a step in the right direction and something worth celebrating.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8): Not an inspiring performance, though it did come against one of the league’s best defenses — and in the cold rain, at that. Most importantly, it was a win. And thanks to some help from Houston, the Jags now control the AFC South race. They can’t afford a slipup against the Texans, though. Remember, one of Houston’s two wins this season came against Jacksonville.
10. Baltimore Ravens (10-5): To be clear: it has been ugly. But the Ravens lost Lamar Jackson early against Denver, and they’ve managed to go 3-1 in that time span. That’s largely due to a defense that’s given up just 11 points per game in that stretch. They’re not going anywhere unless Jackson can get healthy enough to play, but let’s issue credit where it’s due for giving themselves a chance.
11. Detroit Lions (7-8): It feels very Lionsy to come up so short in such a big spot, just after becoming the talk of the league. The offense honestly played well enough, but surrendering 320 rushing yards is going to write the story of the game pretty much every time. Detroit still has playoff hopes, but they feel slim.
12. New York Giants (8-6-1): It speaks to the Giants’ early success that they’ve only won once in their last six attempts, and they still have a 90% chance of making the postseason. If they win just one of the next two, they’re in. Not a bad place to be for a team that looked to be a few years away, though we can still acknowledge that this group is going to be hard-pressed to compete with any of the NFC’s true contenders.
13. Green Bay Packers (7-8): Are we buying in, or is it too soon? The Packers’ defense hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in three weeks, and bullying Tua Tagovailoa on Christmas was the most impressive performance to date. If they’re actually getting hot, the Packers’ offense is playing efficiently enough to make them a pain to face.
14. Miami Dolphins (8-7): The Dolphins still control their playoff outlook, but it’s hard to feel much confidence after this meltdown. Not a banner day for the defense, and obviously, three fourth-quarter interceptions from Tua Tagovailoa are going to be talked about for a long time. Missing the playoffs after an 8-3 start would be beyond unacceptable, so there’s no time to linger on the disappointment.
Tua throws three picks in loss to Packers; do Dolphins have a Tua problem?
Nick Wright says the Miami Dolphins have a Tua Tagovailoa problem after he threw three picks in Week 16’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
15. Washington Commanders (7-7-1): With Seattle and Detroit both losing at the same time, getting dog-walked by San Francisco matters a lot less to the Commanders’ playoff odds. Still, it’s going to be interesting to watch Carson Wentz try to guide this team to the postseason if he does in fact remain the starter.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8): Can the Bucs just play like they’re trailing by multiple possessions in the fourth quarter all the time? Is that too simplistic? It’s a hilarious trend at this point, but it’s obvious how much better this offense is when playing without a script. The defense is solid. Even slightly better consistency on offense would make this a tough team to deal with.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8): How cool and how fitting to get a big win against a classic rival in honor of Franco Harris — and on the anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, no less? But as tempting as it might be to chalk this up to an emotional moment, don’t discount the way the Steelers have rounded into playing sound, if not overly attractive football over the last month.
18. Carolina Panthers (6-9): Every time you try to write a narrative about the Panthers, they turn things upside down. Just as quickly as a disappointing loss to Pittsburgh forced you to bail off the bandwagon, they put together an incredible performance against one of the league’s hottest teams. The defense is straight-up good. If the offense can continue to produce solid results, the playoffs are (somehow!) not impossible.
19. New York Jets (7-8): It sure feels like we watched the end of the Zach Wilson Era after less than two full seasons. It was a three-point performance that got him benched a month ago, and now we’ve come full circle with another one. It’s a shame, because this is easily a playoff team with even average quarterback play. Mike White’s return to action this week gives them a chance to make a late run.
Zach Wilson booed by Jets fans, benched during third quarter in loss vs. Jaguars
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was booed multiple times and had 92 passing yards and an interception before he was benched for backup quarterback Chris Streveler.
20. Seattle Seahawks (7-8): The NFC wildcard race is remarkable. There are two open spots behind the Dallas Cowboys, and it doesn’t feel like any of the five teams chasing it are very deserving — or perhaps even capable of grabbing one. The Seahawks have two winnable games remaining, but the way they got bullied in Kansas City on Saturday emphasized how far apart they are from the league’s elite.
21. Cleveland Browns (6-9): It’s hard to come up with true takeaways from a game played in sub-zero temperatures, other than that this team should have been good enough to win a home game against these unremarkable Saints. Two years is a lot of time missed for Deshaun Watson, but after a certain point it starts to become alarming how awful a $230 million quarterback looks. They’re only 2-2 since he returned, but every single moment has felt like a chore to watch.
22. New England Patriots (7-8): Much like their division rivals in New Jersey, the Patriots are an offense away from being a pretty damn good team. To be fair to the Jets, they’re only missing a quarterback, whereas New England needs much more. It’s still tough to see the Pats’ defense and special teams do so much for them while their offense flounders more often than not.
23. New Orleans Saints (6-9): Imagine the Panthers with less star power, and this might be your team. The injuries and roster depth suggest the Saints shouldn’t be capable of doing this — and if they were slightly more consistent, they might be leading the division. It feels unlikely they can beat Philadelphia to keep their playoff hopes alive. Then again, that’d be a very Saints thing to do.
24. L.A. Rams (5-10): It doesn’t matter how far south the season has gone, or how much of a bummer it is to be out of the playoffs. You know it’s got to feel good to hang 50 points on Christmas Day. Baker Mayfield has played three games with the Rams and looked fantastic in two of them. That’s an interesting storyline for a team that would otherwise be an afterthought.
Baker Mayfield and the Rams blow out Russell Wilson and the Broncos
Baker Mayfield threw only four incompletions in the Los Angeles Rams’ 51-14 win over the Denver Broncos. On the other side, Russell Wilson struggled throwing three interceptions and completed 15 of 27 passes for just over 200 yards. Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe go through what happened.
25. Atlanta Falcons (5-10): It’s too soon to say how good Desmond Ridder is, but it’s fair to note that the Falcons’ offense isn’t very explosive with the rookie at the helm. Ridder averaged 6.6 yards per attempt against Baltimore — which technically was an improvement from 3.7 yards per attempt the week before. No worries, though. The playoffs are out of the question at this point, so just keep gathering as much data as possible about what the young guy can do.
26. Tennessee Titans (7-8): This run of play flies in the face of everything we’ve learned about the Titans over the past few years. To be fair to them, they have been decimated by injury. It’s still hard to see a team that has been so tough and so sound for so long struggling this way.
27. Las Vegas Raiders (6-9): It feels like such a Raiders specialty to find ways to lose games like this. They were inexplicably shut out, 24-0, by the Saints back in October. Their other eight losses have come by a combined 30 points — an average of just four points per loss. Clearly, this isn’t an awful team. But they damn sure don’t know how to finish.
28. Chicago Bears (3-13): All of a sudden, the No. 1 overall pick is in play! Of course, the Bears would love to get a win at some point. It’s literally been two months since they felt that rush. But like we keep saying, the real focus in Chicago should be maximizing this opportunity to put a much better supporting cast around Justin Fields in 2023.
29. Houston Texans (2-12-1): This has been coming for a month or more, and it’s got to feel good for the Texans to finally put it together. And if you’re finally going to steal a win at the tail end of a disaster season, why not do it against a division rival that’s fighting for the division crown? Can they keep it going against Jacksonville? And if they do, could that cost them Bryce Young?
30. Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1): Whatever dreams you had of Nick Foles pulling off another miracle resurgence were dashed quickly, as he was picked off twice inside the first 10 minutes of the game. It says something pretty amazing that the Colts aren’t considered the most disappointing team in the league this year.
31. Arizona Cardinals (4-11): Give the Cardinals credit for their grit. It’s hard to win in this league with your backup quarterback, let alone a practice-squad guy making his first career start. Largely thanks to an inspired defensive effort, the Cards were in position to get a shocking upset. They might not have sealed the deal, but at least it was an effort they can take some pride in.
32. Denver Broncos (4-11): Don’t bother putting this team in a bag of rice. Throw the whole thing away and get the new model. Who knows what the 2023 Denver Broncos look like, or who they’re coached by. But it’s hardly surprising that Nathaniel Hackett is out after a 51-14 drubbing in L.A. — the most embarrassing result of one of the most embarrassing seasons in modern memory.
Top stories from FOX Sports:
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter @davidhelman_.
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more