Week 17 of the 2021 NFL season is officially in the books. The Buccaneers barely beat the Jets (and lost Antonio Brown in bizarre fashion along the way). Joe Burrow and the Bengals edged the Chiefs in a shootout. The Raiders survived the Colts to add tension to the AFC playoff picture … and that was just a fraction of the action from this week.
But what did we learn about each of the 32 teams in the process? We’re so glad you asked. As Week 18 draws near and the postseason beckons, we take a look below at one thing we took away from each team:
Kyler Murray still makes them a tough out. His improvement was the biggest reason Arizona edged Dallas. With 300-plus total yards and his trademark elusiveness, he’s the reason they can actually feel decent about a playoff run again.
Kyle Pitts is their building block. As in, one of the few. A hamstring injury may or may not keep him out of Week 18, but he topped 1,000 yards for the year against Buffalo — a reminder he’s one of the only long-term weapons in tow.
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Lamar Jackson’s ankle may have been the final straw. (For their 2021 playoff chances.) Tyler Huntley’s production dropped off against L.A. And the disruption of losing Jackson for three straight has just been icing on an injury-riddled cake.
Devin Singletary is their X factor. We all know Josh Allen can make plays when he needs to. But when their run game is working apart from No. 17, this team has the makings of a true contender. It worked against Atlanta.
Matt Rhule is to blame. Not that he isn’t getting his fair share of criticism, but let’s just consider the offense: every QB move he’s made has worsened the club. The O-line investments have been just as shoddy. It all showed (again) vs. the Saints.
Robert Quinn has earned his paycheck. After looking like an expensive reserve in his Bears debut, Quinn continued his tour of havoc against the Giants, logging a franchise-record 18th sack on the season.
Ja’Marr Chase cannot be covered. Of course, that’s not totally true, but try holding him without a huge play for more than a couple series, let alone games. Cincy is going to the playoffs in large part because Joe Burrow keeps chucking it to him.
Kevin Stefanski has issues. His entire offense folded against Pittsburgh on Monday night, and his continued inexplicable commitment to winning with Baker Mayfield’s arm ensured a 2021 sweep at the hands of the Steelers.
Their offense needs to wake up. Yes, they made it close against Arizona, but besides the Washington rout, they’ve been sluggish for a while now. And now Michael Gallup is done. The playoffs could bring trouble.
Vic Fangio is done. The writing has been on the wall, but their situational football remains subpar. So what if Drew Lock is under center because of injury? The foundation hasn’t ever been nearly strong enough under this regime.
The defense is still a sieve. They have a lot of issues to solve (the long-term QB job among them), but man, does Dan Campbell’s “D” need reinforcements. Seattle, which has been in slow-mo aplenty, feasted against them.
The NFC playoffs run through Lambeau. And they have for three years now, thanks to Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur. But they should be even better this time around, with all the rest they’re set to enjoy over the next few weeks.
Brandin Cooks deserves a new home. He’s fared just fine in Houston, but look at all the production he can still offer! He’s been a true No. 1 wideout — and a true, positive constant — for the Texans this year.
They need Carson Wentz to step up. Most of the year, Indy has stayed afloat by letting Wentz play second fiddle to Jonathan Taylor. But what happens when Taylor isn’t dominating? No. 2 must clean up the key throws for a pivotal Week 18.
The offseason can’t come soon enough. Somehow, some way, they make each game a bigger nightmare. Who expected Trevor Lawrence to look anything but totally lost against the Patriots?
The secondary is vulnerable. Maybe the Bengals are just that good throwing the ball (and they are pretty darn good), but Charvarius Ward and Co. will need to shore things up, or else Andy Reid’s offense will be required to score 30-plus.
They’re back to playing tough. How many times have we written them off this year? If Derek Carr can finally get Darren Waller back in Week 18, they’ve got a real shot. They deserve props for sticking with and beating the Colts.
Austin Ekeler is still underrated. His presence in and out of the backfield, in tandem with Justin Jackson, gives Justin Herbert such an invaluable safety valve. He helped headline their huge win over Denver and can power them to the playoffs.
Matthew Stafford is playing with fire. Yes, they’re playoff-bound, but he’s been getting away with quite a few badly off-target throws and, worse, untimely decisions. Fortunately for them, their defense has stayed aggressive.
The win streak amounted to nothing. Except maybe a little pride, because they got destroyed by the Titans with everything on the line. Tua Tagovailoa failed to deliver. Jaylen Waddle disappeared. Lots of questions coming this offseason.
Mike Zimmer’s time is up. Or so it seems. Kirk Cousins’ COVID-related absence didn’t help the coach against Green Bay, but neither did refusing to see what Kellen Mond has to offer, or trusting a porous secondary to hold up against Aaron Rodgers.
Mac Jones is back on track. It helped he got the Jaguars’ defense on Sunday, but still, some of his best throws were true beauties, including a laser touchdown connection with Jakobi Meyers. New England isn’t finished yet.
Dennis Allen has kept them in the hunt. Sean Payton’s offense has suffered too many key injuries/losses, mostly at QB, to be trusted. And yet the defense here has them primed to potentially sneak their way into the playoffs in Week 18.
Joe Judge might be delusional. Preaching about former players calling him up to praise the culture in New York? Excuse me, but since when do on-field results (like the pitiful ones under his watch) not matter at all in the evaluation process?
They’re making progress, but they’re still a long way out. Zach Wilson and Co. actually looked poised to upset Tom Brady for most of Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay. Predictably, they hit road bumps right when they couldn’t afford to, in crunch time.
Jalen Hurts is on his way to returning as QB1 in 2022. It’s been a year of big highs and lows for the young man, but he’s never lost his cool, and he was at his steadiest during the Eagles’ important win over Washington to help clinch a playoff berth.
T.J. Watt is the Defensive Player of the Year. Ben Roethlisberger got all the attention Monday night at Heinz Field, but Watt was an absolute freak off the edge, approaching the all-time single-season sack record. Best wishes to the Ravens in Week 18.
Kyle Shanahan deserves props. Not because the QB situation is fully resolved (it’s not; Jimmy Garoppolo, while more reliable, remains the lower-ceiling starter), but because he continually gets RB1 production from anyone in the backfield.
Rashaad Penny has earned himself a role. It’s been an ugly year for Seattle, especially offensively, but good for Penny, coming back from injury to steal the show down the stretch. He should at least be in contention for starting duties in 2022.
They need peak Tom Brady in the playoffs. Why? Because with Antonio Brown now done for good, their receiving corps is severely hampered. If TB12 is ever gonna turn nobodies into somebodies out wide again, the time is now.
They’re primed to make noise in the playoffs. They’re back to playing the way they want to play, even without Derrick Henry (who might be on his way back). Mike Vrabel was absolutely right: they just don’t die.
Ron Rivera needs to go bold at QB. Because settling for Taylor Heinicke or another Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t cut it in 2022. Heinicke started hot against the Eagles, only to come up short in the red zone and as the game wore on.
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