NFL Stock Watch: Lions make history; Cowboys fall short in critical spots

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With wins on Sunday, the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins are in the playoffs. The Browns are a win away from joining them while the NFC East title appears to be heading back to Philadelphia. The Eagles would be the first repeat winner in that division since 2004. 

It was another wild NFL Sunday, and I’ve got the teams that saw their stock rise and fall on Christmas Eve. 


Detroit Lions

Congratulations to the Lions and their long-suffering fan base. With the Lions’ victory on Sunday against the Vikings, the city of Detroit has its first division title since 1993. It’s been so long that the Lions were in a different division back then, so this is their first NFC North title! 

It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a franchise that has not experienced any sustained success in multiple generations. Dan Campbell was hired before the 2021 season and went 4-19 in his first 23 games. His Lions are 19-6 in their past 25 games. The build started with fortifying their lines and adding weapons on offense. They traded for Jared Goff, and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson molded the offense to Goff’s skill set. This Lions team plays like its coach, with confidence, aggressive and without fear. It’s all paid off with an NFC North title and a legit opportunity to win a home playoff game. 

Dave Helman, Kenny Albert and Jonathan Vilma break down Lions history

Dave Helman, Kenny Albert and Jonathan Vilma break down Lions history

Cleveland Browns

Joe Flacco leading Cleveland to the playoffs was not on the 2023 NFL bingo card. After the Browns throttled the Houston Texans, they are one win away from the postseason. If the Ravens lose to the 49ers on Christmas night, the Browns are even in position to win the AFC North. 

Cleveland’s defense is fantastic, sitting first in DVOA for most of the season. What the team didn’t have for 12 weeks was a consistent offense to match its defense. Enter Joe Flacco, who has led the Browns to three straight wins after losing his first start to the Rams. Flacco has thrown for 1,307 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions in four games. He has done this with both offensive tackles down and some other injuries to the offensive line. 

The Browns have won in different ways in the past month — a wire-to-wire four-point win against the Jaguars, a clunker in which they needed 17 fourth-quarter points to beat the Bears and then this blowout against the Texans. Cleveland will scare any playoff teams because of their defense, and if Flacco can stop giving the ball to the other team, this Browns team is a legit playoff contender. 

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins entered Sunday with 10 wins and not one against a team with a winning record. They leave Sunday with an 11th win over a 10-win Cowboys team and having debunked the criticism that they can’t beat anyone “good.” The Dolphins winning on Sunday without their offensive A-game from should be cause for celebration rather than concern. What makes teams viable for postseason success is the ability to win games multiple ways, as your preferred method of winning could be taken away by the opponent. 

Tua Tagovailoa on Miami’s win over the Cowboys

Tua Tagovailoa on Miami's win over the Cowboys

On Sunday the Dolphins won with defense, which has been underdiscussed since cornerback Jalen Ramsey has returned to the lineup. The 20 points they allowed Sunday is the second-most they’ve allowed on defense since his return to the lineup in Week 8. The Dolphins special teams were money on Sunday, which is also needed in the postseason. Place kicker Jason Sanders was 5-for-5, including the game winner, and punter Jake Bailey averaged 55 yards a punt. This was an all-around team win and should give Miami confidence heading into the postseason. 


Dallas Cowboys

Once again, the Cowboys should not be considered a Super Bowl-caliber team. They beat the Eagles at home three weekends ago and their Super Bowl chances perked our interest. Now they’ve lost two in a row on the road to playoff teams and once again look like they won’t go far in the postseason. 

The Cowboys got blown out by the Bills last weekend. That happens every now and then. It’s the NFL. The Cowboys were coming off a huge home win and were on the road against a desperate Bills team. That can be forgiven. But losing on the road to the Dolphins when you just didn’t play your best is not acceptable. Just like in Dallas’ road loss to Philadelphia earlier this season, you don’t come away from this game thinking the Dolphins were that much better, just that the Cowboys continue to make mistakes in these games. 

Dave Helman, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen break down Cowboys’ loss

Dave Helman, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen break down Cowboys' loss

The Cowboys gave the ball to their oft-used fullback, who fumbled at the one-yard line. The Cowboys’ game plan was once again poor in the red zone. The Cowboys don’t seem to pair their run game with their offensive line strengths. Once again, the Cowboys struggle without left tackle Tyron Smith. Multiple times they failed to block Dolphins edge rusher Bradley Chubb. Needing a stop on the Dolphins’ final drive, they committed a personal foul face mask right away to move the Dolphins closer to kicking the game-winning field goal. 

That’s bad football in an important game. And it just feels like the Cowboys’ way.

Jacksonville Jaguars

This one is simple. The Jaguars are not a good football team right now. They’ve lost four games in a row and most have not been that close. The Jaguars have remained tied at the top of the AFC South for weeks now as their division opponents keep losing with them. Yes, Trevor Lawrence has been beat up and has battled his best to play, but it’s clear they have other issues. The offense and defensive lines aren’t as good this season. The Jaguars’ offensive skill position players haven’t helped Lawrence move the ball this season. It’s just all bad and there’s no guarantee they will make the playoffs with Lawrence’s continued injury issues. 

Nick Mullens

The Vikings benched Josh Dobbs for Mullens in the middle of their 3-0 win over the Las Vegas Raiders three weekends ago. At that moment the Vikings were 7-6 and in prime position to make the wild card if Mullens could provide some stability from the quarterback position. Unfortunately, after two weeks of ball it appears Mullens is only going to provide turnovers, which is something that has plagued the offense this season. 

And Mullens isn’t going to provide “normal” turnovers. Nope. He’s going to throw interceptions into double coverage. He’s going to pay zero attention to where safeties are lurking. He’s going to throw the ball directly to a defender who’s lying on the ground after attempting to sack him. It’s actually entertaining to watch him attempt to run a functional offense. 

Geoff Schwartz is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.

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