NFL Week 14 takeaways: What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Week 14of the 2021 NFL seasonfeatured some massive blowouts in the early window, including a 48-9 victory for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs over the Raiders. The Seahawks' offense got a spark from running backRashaad Pennyand dropped 33 points on the Texans, while the Titans got an important victory in their bid for the AFC's top seed, shutting out the Jaguars at home. The Saints also beat the Jets by three touchdowns on the road.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered an ankle injury, as Baltimore lost to Cleveland despite a late push. Dallas' defense made big plays to help it narrowly beat Washington and bring a division title a little closer, and the Falcons beat the Panthers, who used both Cam Newton and P.J. Walker at quarterback.

And on Thursday night, a game that once seemed like a blowout became a lot closer late in the fourth quarter -- but the Vikings ultimately held on to beat the Steelers and keep their playoff hopes alive.

In the late games, the Chargers handled the Giants to set up a Thursday night showdown with the Chiefs. The Broncos, emotional after the death of former wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, beat the Lions. Both the 49ers and Buccaneers won in overtime to stay in the thick of the playoff race.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating -- a 0-10 grade of how they feel about a team's outlook coming out of the week. Let's get to it.

Jump to a matchup:





Los Angeles Rams 30, Arizona 23


What to know: After a disastrous month of November that left plenty of doubt about whether Los Angeles' made-for-Super-Bowl roster was in fact Super Bowl worthy, the Rams proved Monday night they deserve to be considered among teams capable of making a deep playoff run. And they did it without four key starters who were placed on the reserve/COVID list over the weekend and into Monday afternoon: cornerback Jalen Ramsey, tight end Tyler Higbee, running back Darrell Henderson and right tackle Rob Havenstein. With the win, the Rams improved to 9-4 and are one game behind the 10-3 Cardinals for first place in the NFC West.-- Lindsey Thiry

Is the Rams' COVID-19 situation under control? Five players, including role playing cornerback Dont'e Deayon, are currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and plenty of uncertainty looms. Rams coach Sean McVay expressed concern not only about the possibility of a continued outbreak, but also about players who were sidelined yet asymptomatic, as well as the possibility of a false-positive test.-- Thiry

Thiry's confidence rating (0-10): 8.2, up from 7.2. It's a big jump, but earned given the Rams defeated the best team in the NFL, did so with five players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, were without starting center Brian Allen who was inactive due to a knee injury, and performed outstanding on offense and defense, while kicker Matt Gay proved reliable from long range.

Next game:vs. Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: Even though quarterback Kyler Murray produced 444 total yards, it wasn't enough to overcome two interceptions, zero takeaways, a dominant performance by the Rams' Aaron Donald and, at times, an ugly offensive showing. The Cardinals continued to struggle at home, losing their third game on their own field this season, and they did so by not getting their key offensive pieces -- outside of A.J. Green, who had seven catches for 102 yards -- involved. -- Josh Weinfuss

Will Arizona's home woes be an issue for them down the stretch and in the playoffs? If the Cardinals can't figure out a way to win at home, then yes. Arizona just doesn't play well at home and there isn't an explanation for it from players or coaches. If they don't fix it, Arizona could be looking at a wild-card exit, should they host a first-round game.-- Weinfuss

Weinfuss' confidence rating (0-10): 7.9, down from 8.8. Arizona still had a chance to win at the end, but losing at home, yet again, is a major reason for concern.

Next game: at Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Green Bay 45, Chicago 30


What to know:The Packers have a problem with the special teams. It didn't cost them on Sunday against Chicago, but if they don't get it fixed, it might end up being the downfall of their season. By itself, Jakeem Grant's 97-yard punt return for a Bears touchdown was bad enough. Before that, Grant had a 42-yard punt return and Khalil Herbert a 41-yard kickoff return. Also throw in a Packers kickoff by Mason Crosby that went out of bounds as well as Green Bay kickoff returner Malik Taylor touching a ball before it went out at the 5-yard line. All of that happened in the first half, and it doesn't included a muffed punt return by Packers rookie Amari Rodgers that got wiped out by a Bears penalty and a botched onside kick late in the fourth. If the heat wasn't on first-year special teams coordinator Mo Drayton before, it surely is now.-- Rob Demovsky

Can the Packers survive any more offensive line injuries?It's hard to imagine they can. When they lost right tackle Billy Turner to a left knee injury in the second quarter on Sunday, it left them with only one of their preferred starters. And that starter, rookie right guard Royce Newman, has been the weak link of their line. There's still hope that left tackle David Bakhtiari will play this season, but he hasn't seen game action since his tearing his ACL on Dec. 31. There is similar hope for center Josh Myers. But with Elgton Jenkins out of the season because of an ACL injury, it's getting thin.-- Demovsky

Demovsky's confidence rating (0-10): 8, no change from 8. The Packers can win in so many ways. As long as their special teams doesn't cost them and the injuries don't become too much to overcome, they've got a legit chance to win it all.

Next game:at Ravens (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know:In his first game back from an injury to his ribs, Justin Fields put together a strong first half in which he went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers. The rookie quarterback helped Chicago jump out to a 10-0 start and showed growth after throwing a pick-six, connecting with Damiere Byrd for a 54-yard touchdown pass on Chicago's next series. Fields threw for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter then tapered off in the third quarter (1-of-4 for 5 yards), before rallying again in the fourth. Despite the loss, Chicago's offense looked the best it has in a while against one of the NFC's top defenses, and Fields has plenty to build on over the final four games.-- Courtney Cronin

Can Fields and the offense keep this momentum going?Chicago's offense looked less anemic than usual, scoring a season-high 30 points. The O-line only allowed Fields to be sacked twice, and although rookie Teven Jenkins had a rough outing -- earning four penalties in place of injured left tackle Jason Peters -- the experience he gained is a plus for the future. Jakeem Granthas carved out an important role for himself on special teams, where he recorded the NFL's first punt return for a score this season (as a slot receiver also) on Sunday, and the Bears should continue to get him involved often when they face the league's second-worst scoring defense (Minnesota) next week.-- Cronin

Dickerson's confidence rating (0-10): 4, up from 3.5. Chicago showed it can hang tough with one of the best teams in the NFC for a half. The Bears will be in action again next Monday, when they host a Minnesota team that hasn't won all that often at Soldier Field.

Next game: vs. Vikings (Dec. 20, 8:15 p.m. ET)

Tampa Bay 33, Buffalo 27


What to know: Despite a lackluster second half in which they allowed the Bills to erase a 21-point halftime lead, the Bucs managed to hold on in overtime against the NFL's top-ranked defense to improve to 10-3. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman took a short pass 58 yards for a touchdown, giving Tampa Bay back-to-back 10-win seasons for the second time in franchise history. The Bucs' defense -- unable to get off the field in several games this season, limited the Bills to 2-for-13 on third down, while their pass rush sacked quarterbackJosh Allenthree times and their secondary confused him. But they surrendered 100 yards to Allen on the ground and gave up three touchdowns and a field goal in the second half, while the offense mustered three points in the second half of regulation, with too many missed connections. -- Jenna Laine

How does today's game impact the Bucs' playoff picture? The Bucs were unable to clinch the NFC South title Sunday as they needed both the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers to lose or tie (the Saints defeated the Jets 30-9). A win against the Saints next week would clinch the division. As far as playoff seeding, because of the Packers' late kickoff against the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals' Monday night game against the Rams, the Bucs won't know if they've moved into the second seed until later, but they took care of their own business. -- Laine

Laine's confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, no change from 8.5. The Bucs have had issues this year with taking their foot off the gas. This was another example of it, but against a good, playoff-caliber team.

Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: Despite quarterback Josh Allen's second-half heroics, Buffalo was unable to come away with a win in overtime thanks to a inconsistent defensive effort and poor line play early in the game. The Bills staged an impressive comeback, holding Tampa to three points and scoring 24 in the last two quarters, but the defense was unable to hang on in overtime. Allen finished with more than 100 rushing yards for the third time in his career and became the first player in Bills history with at least 250 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a single game, per ESPN Stats & Information. Buffalo's lack of size on the defensive line showed against the Bucs, especially with defensive tackle Star Lotulelei not playing because of a toe injury. On the other side of the ball, Allen had little time to throw early and was often forced to make bad decisions because of the pressure. -- Alaina Getzenberg

After losing two straight for the first time this season, where do the Bills go from here? Luckily for the Bills, the remaining slate features one opponent with a winning record -- the AFC East-leading New England Patriots. The rest of the schedule includes the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets -- all winnable games at home. A murky AFC playoff picture keeps the Bills well within the postseason race even with the close loss, but there is little room for error. -- Getzenberg

Getzenberg's confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, down from 7.5. The Bills came up just short after a 24-point comeback to force overtime, showing a late competitive effort that this team has been missing as of late, but it was not enough to get a win against a top team.

Next game: vs. Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 23


What to know: The 49ers should qualify for the NFC playoffs, and anything short of that would qualify as a disappointment. Sunday's win in Cincinnati wasn't particularly impressive other than San Francisco's ability to step out of the way and let the Bengals make myriad mistakes -- and not return the favor while tight end George Kittle dominated. But style points never matter, especially in December. At 7-6, the 49ers sit in the sixth spot in the NFC playoffs with a winnable home game next week against Atlanta. Sure, there's a big cluster of teams lurking behind them, but the Niners have tiebreakers against the likes of Minnesota and Philadelphia. Given the lack of great teams in the bottom of the NFC playoff chase, 10 wins figures to be more than enough to get in, and nine should also do the trick. -- Nick Wagoner

How significant is the injury to linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair? Al-Shaair has been one of the Niners' most improved players and emerged as an emotional leader for a defense that has gotten better as the season has gone along. But he departed late in Sunday's game because of an elbow injury and did not return. At the time he left, Al-Shaair had 11 tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss. Given that fellow weakside linebacker Dre Greenlaw is battling a core muscle injury, the Niners could again find themselves short-handed at linebacker down the home stretch if Al-Shaair misses significant time. -- Wagoner

Wagoner's confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 6. The Niners found a way to win ugly on the road, and they're well-positioned to make the postseason. But there are still many flaws here that make it hard to believe they can achieve much more than that.

Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: The pressure is back on the Bengals and third-year coach Zac Taylor. With back-to-back losses, Cincinnati put more pressure on itself to make the playoffs. Sunday's loss to the 49ers featured costly turnovers, poor offense and some defensive mistakes. Cincinnati has little to no room for error in its final four games if it wants to make the playoffs. -- Ben Baby

What's holding this team back? More than anything, it's the offense. The Bengals have had their moments throughout the season. But Sunday's game highlighted Cincinnati's offensive inconsistency that has plagued the team the entire season. Given all the resources invested on that side of the ball, the issues are puzzling. -- Baby

Baby's confidence rating (0-10): 5, down from 6.2. Another lackluster performance certainly hints that the Bengals won't have the endurance to snag a playoff berth.

Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Denver 31, Detroit 10


What to know: After Friday's practice, Broncos coach Vic Fangio said the team would be "ready to pay tribute'' to former wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who was found dead in his Georgia home this week. Ten players on the Broncos' roster and more than 40 in the organization were with the team during Thomas' career. The Broncos opened the game by sending just 10 players onto the field for their first play as a way of acknowledging Thomas, and his No. 88 was painted on the field. Despite the emotional day, the Broncos kept their composure with a solid front-to-back effort on both sides of the ball. Now at 7-6, they remain in the AFC's playoff race with a pivotal home game against the Cincinnati Bengals next. -- Jeff Legwold

Will the Broncos' coaches keep Sunday in mind moving forward? The numbers continue to tell the tale this season: When the Broncos play with patience in the run game and use play-action in the passing game, they are a far more difficult offense to deal with. The Broncos are 6-1 when they get at least 28 carries for running backs Javonte Williams andMelvin Gordon III. And when they do that, they've also been effective in the passing game with more room to throw down the field. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater passed for 179 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions. -- Legwold

Legwold's confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 5. They show some playoff worthiness when they stick to what they do best, but until they show a willingness to keep it up, judgement has to be reserved.

Next game: vs. Bengals (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: Even before kickoff, the Detroit Lions were facing an uphill battle with key playmakers T.J. Hockenson (hand) andD'Andre Swift(shoulder) both ruled out in addition to six other players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this past week. Coming off its first win of the season, Detroit couldn't recreate that same magic during its loss to the Broncos with quarterback Jared Goff throwing for one yard in the first quarter. -- Eric Woodyard

Should the Lions consider shutting down running back D'Andre Swift for the remainder of the season?The Lions were officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday and continue to strengthen their chances of selecting first in the 2022 NFL draft. Although Lions coach Dan Campbell says they "still have hope in Swift" and haven't considered shutting him down for the rest of the season, it might be smart to let their best offensive player heal. One of the bright spots in Swift's absence against Denver wasCraig Reynolds, who rushed for 83 yards on 11 carries -- including a 35-yard rush in the second quarter. -- Woodyard

Woodyard's confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 3. As injuries and illness continue to rise within the team, the production continues to dip.

Next game: vs. Cardinals (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

L.A. Chargers 37, N.Y. Giants 21


What to know: Despite not having star receiver Keenan Allen, the Chargers picked up a second consecutive win for the first time since early October. Backup receiver Joshua Palmer and second-string running back Justin Jackson both stepped up when needed, receiver Mike Williams played well again and receiver Jalen Guyton caught a big touchdown pass from Justin Herbert at the end of the first half. It all added up to an important win to keep pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West before the teams play Thursday night game at SoFi Stadium. -- Shelley Smith

Can the Chargers get healthy in time to face the Chiefs? Allen and safety Derwin James Jr. missed Sunday's game, and running back Austin Ekeler went out in the third quarter with an injury to his left ankle. The Chargers believe in their methods and approach, but having players such as Allen, James and Ekeler active would make their job easier against the Chiefs. -- Smith

Smith's confidence rating (0-10): 7, no change from last week. Jackson and Joshua Kelley look ready to share the spotlight at running back and might need to if Ekeler's ankle keeps him out of Thursday's game.

Next game: vs. Chiefs (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Giants (4-9) couldn't stop Justin Herbert and the Chargers. Los Angeles had 289 total yards and 18 first downs ... in the first half alone. Herbert sat in the pocket most of the afternoon and was hardly threatened. It only magnified the Giants' need for an edge rusher and more pass-rushing help in general. When they've played some of the league's best quarterbacks (Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Herbert), they've barely been able to provide any resistance. Those five QBs combined to complete 68% of their passes for an average of 282 yards with 13 touchdown passes and four interceptions. And five wins against the Giants. -- Jordan Raanan

Is coach Joe Judge's job in jeopardy? It's all but a lock that general manager Dave Gettleman will be gone (or forced into retirement) after this season. Judge's future isn't quite as certain. He's expected to keep his job, barring a late-season meltdown. Clearly games like Sunday's demolition won't help. Will it only get worse next week at home vs. the Dallas Cowboys? It can't, for Judge's sake. The Giants desperately want to keep their coach. They like the way he has commanded the locker room and some of the changes that have been made. They don't want to keep changing coaches after two seasons. But at some point, there have to be results on the field. The Giants have to show something these final few weeks. -- Raanan

Raanan's confidence rating (0-10): 2.8, down from 3.4. This was a bad team with Daniel Jones. They're really bad without him.

Next game: vs. Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Dallas 27, Washington 20


What to know: Well, coach Mike McCarthy was right -- the Cowboys beat the Washington Football Team. He probably didn't envision the way it played out. The Cowboys went from dominating -- leading 24-0 at halftime and 27-8 entering the fourth quarter -- to holding on for dear life in a 27-20 victory. A stagnant offense nearly let down a dominating defense. Quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted twice, including one that was returned for a touchdown to cut the game to one score. The Cowboys were without left tackle Tyron Smith because of an ankle injury and right tackleLa'el Collinsbecause of an ejection. The defense had to carry the day. Defensive endRandy Gregory's sack and forced fumble of WFT quarterback Kyle Allen with 2:24 to play was as needed as Gregory's first-quarter interception of Taylor Heinicke that turned into a Cowboys' touchdown. LinebackerMicah Parsons' sack/fumble of Heinicke led toDorance Armstrong's 37-yard return for a touchdown. The Cowboys had two other takeaways, giving them 27 on the season, which ranks second in the NFL. Perhaps not as convincing as they would prefer, but the 9-4 Cowboys are 3-0 in the NFC East and in prime position to claim the division title with four games to play. -- Todd Archer

Can the Cowboys be a contender with this offense? The easy answer is no. The running game was better but not explosive, especially with the absence of Tony Pollard. Prescott had two interceptions and a case could be made three other passes could have been picked. There isn't any rhythm to the offense going on more than a month now. They scored one touchdown on six red zone trips vs. Washington, and that was one part of the offense that remained serviceable during this lull. The Cowboys have four games to find a solution. If they want to be taken seriously, it had better happen quickly. -- Archer

Archer's confidence rating (0-10): 8.7, up from 8.4. It might have bumped up to 9.0 if the offense was able to have just a decent day. Even with the defense playing at a higher level than anybody could have expected, this team needs the offense to function at a high level. The Cowboys are good enough to win the division, but more is expected.

Next game: at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Washington's defense did what it could to make the game interesting late. But Washington's offensive flaws were exposed. The unit lacks the firepower to win any other way than with a strong rushing attack. Nobody felt that more than quarterbackTaylor Heinicke, who played his worst game and eventually left in the fourth quarter because of a knee injury. He was off target on multiple throws. When Washington ponders its QB situation this offseason, it will remember this game. Heinicke played well during the four-game win streak and Sunday wasn't all on him. Heinicke has played much better, but to maximize him, Washington needs a strong run game so it doesn't rest on Heinicke's arm. -- John Keim

Is Washington too banged up? The team has been banged up for a while, but it's gotten worse and now it's worth wondering what it has left for the final four games. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin left Sunday's game because of a concussion. Running back J.D. McKissic missed the last two games with a concussion. The team is already without tight end Logan Thomas and its top three centers. And its top three healthy defensive ends missed Sunday's game because of COVID-19. It's possible it'll have two --James Smith-Williamsand Casey Toohill -- back next week. Washington's resiliency has been a big key to it getting back into playoff contention. It still holds a playoff spot. But to hang on to it, it'll need some players back -- and it can't afford to lose anymore. -- Keim

Keim's confidence rating (0-10): 6.3, down from 6.6. It's not about anything other than health with Washington, and it keeps losing key players. At some point, the attrition makes too big a difference.

Next game: at Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Seattle 33, Houston 13


What to know: Rashaad Penny made a strong case to be the Seahawks' lead running back for the rest of the season, provided he can stay healthy. In the best performance of his career, Penny ripped off touchdown runs of 32 and 47 yards en route to 137 rushing yards. He started, even though Alex Collins was back from his one-game absence, and led Seattle's running backs with 17 touches. Choosing Penny 27th overall over Nick Chubb in 2018 was and will remain one of the most regrettable personnel decisions the Seahawks have made under coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, with Penny suffering one injury after another. Penny had a nice showing last week with 62 yards on 11 touches. He's the Seahawks' most explosive back and is starting to look like their best -- if he can stay healthy. -- Brady Henderson

Is quarterback Russell Wilson all the way back? Wilson's starting to look like himself as opposed to the version who struggled with accuracy and made a few bad decisions in his return from finger surgery. He missed a couple of more throws Sunday, including one that was behind DK Metcalf on a quick slant near the goal line. But it was nothing like the head-scratching misfires that marred his first three games back. Wilson (17-of-28, 260 yards) connected with Tyler Lockett on some vintage plays, including a 55-yard moon ball for the first of his two touchdown passes and a few other well-placed balls to Lockett on the sideline. His decision-making was also good, often taking what was there as opposed to forcing deep throws. If Wilson is truly back, that would be the best reason to think the Seahawks can make something of their final four games, even though their playoff chances are still slim. ESPN's Football Power Index has them at 3% after the win. -- Henderson

Henderson's confidence rating (0-10): 3.4, up from 3. Beating up on a two-win team doesn't tell us much, but another solid performance from Wilson and Penny's emergence are worth something.

Next game: at Rams (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: Quarterback Davis Mills might be an improvement over Tyrod Taylor, but the Texans' offense still isn't good enough. Mills completed his first 14 pass attempts against the Seahawks, the most consecutive passes completed to start a game by a rookie since at least 1991 and the most by any player in Texans history. But after his strong start, Mills completed 19 of his next 35 passes and the Texans did not score in the second half. The brightest spot in the loss was kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, who set a franchise record with a 61-yard field goal to end the first half. His previous long was 55 yards. -- Sarah Barshop

After injuries and another poor rushing performance, what does this mean for Texans' options at RB? The Texans' running game took another hit on Sunday after Rex Burkhead left the game because of a groin injury. After David Johnson was added to the COVID-19 list on Sunday morning, Royce Freeman was Houston's only healthy running back. Freeman, claimed by the Texans last month, ran for 15 yards on 11 carries and the team averaged 2.5 yards per rush. If Burkhead's injury is serious enough to keep him out for Sunday in Jacksonville, the Texans will have to find another option to add to the group that ranks last this season in Football Outsiders' DVOA. -- Barshop

Barshop's confidence rating (0-10): 0.4, down from 0.6. Even against a Seahawks team that came into the game with four wins, the Texans lost by 20 points.

Next game: at Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Cleveland 24, Baltimore 22


What to know: The up-and-down Browns jumped back into the AFC North race with a ragged victory over the division-leading Ravens. After dominating the first three quarters, the Browns nearly blew a 21-point lead. But Cleveland's defense came through with a final fourth-down stop to put the Ravens away. Cleveland is now one game behind the Ravens, with its playoff hopes very much alive. -- Jake Trotter

Will the Browns' offense ever turn the corner? Dating back to Oct. 10, Cleveland has surpassed 17 points once. Subtract Myles Garrett's defensive touchdown Sunday and -- once again -- the Browns failed to top 17 points, a big reason Baltimore was able to hang around without Lamar Jackson. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was sharper coming off a week of rest, and the Browns did have their moments offensively. But unless this offense can reach another level, Cleveland's playoff push seems primed to ultimately fall short. -- Trotter

Trotter's confidence rating (0-10): 6.1, up from 4.9. The war of attrition in the AFC North is beginning to favor the Browns.

Next game: vs. Raiders (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET)


What to know: Quarterback Tyler Huntley isn't Lamar Jackson, but he doesn't flinch. It would've been easy for the Ravens to fold when Jackson left early in the second quarter with a right ankle injury. But Huntley nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback, throwing for 270 yards and running for 45 yards. This was the first time since Nov. 7 that Baltimore scored over 20 points. -- Jamison Hensley

Is the Ravens' season in jeopardy? The severity of Jackson's ankle injury was unknown by the end of the game, and Baltimore still has a 46% chance of winning the AFC North, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. But if Jackson is sidelined for a period of time, or even less than full strength, the Ravens will have a tough time winning games. Baltimore faces one of the toughest end-of-season schedules with games at home against the Green Bay Packers, at the Cincinnati Bengals and home against the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens have been overachievers all season despite 23 players being on injured reserve at some point this season. Two weeks ago, the Ravens had the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But it's difficult to see Baltimore making a run to the playoffs without Jackson. -- Hensley

Hensley's confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 7.5. The Ravens probably need at least two more victories to secure a playoff spot. With an injured Jackson, Baltimore might be favored in only one of its remaining four games.

Next game: vs. Packers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

New Orleans 30, N.Y. Jets 9


What to know: Thank goodness for Alvin Kamara. The Saints running back returned from a four-game absence to provide some desperately needed juice with 145 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. The passing offense was still pretty lackluster, but the defense was great, as New Orleans stopped a five-game losing streak to keep faint playoff hopes alive. The Saints (6-7) will face an enormous challenge next Sunday night at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but could be favored in their final three games after that. -- Mike Triplett

How tight isTaysom Hill's grip on the starting QB job? It probably didn't get any tighter or looser Sunday -- even though he did put a nice exclamation point on the victory with his 44-yard touchdown run in the final minutes and finished with 73 rushing yards and two rushing TDs. Hill, who is playing through a mallet finger injury on his right throwing hand, was good enough as a passer in this matchup, completing 15 of 21 passes for 175 yards with zero turnovers. But it was a fairly uninspiring performance against the NFL's worst-ranked defense. The Saints will need more of a spark in that area down the stretch. -- Triplett

Triplett's confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, up from 4.1. The passing offense remains a concern, but the Saints are getting healthier. They also should have their full starting 11 back on their defense by next week. Don't sleep on how good that unit can be.

Next game: at Buccaneers (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know:QuarterbackZach Wilson's up-and-down rookie season (mostly down) went in the wrong direction in Sunday's 30-9 loss to the Saints. He was bad. His accuracy was awful, as he completed only 19 of 42 passes for 202 yards. Some of that was concession yardage; he had only 86 yards after three quarters. The big irony? It was his first complete game without an interception. The Jets wanted to see the No. 2 overall pick build on last week's encouraging performance, but he was out of sync from start to finish. He didn't complete a pass to a starting outside wide receiver for the first 55 minutes. One of them, Denzel Mims, got benched because of two dumb penalties. Because of injuries, Wilson was surrounded by backups at every skill position. The Jets' leading receivers, Elijah Moore and Corey Davis, were out. This game could've been called "The Replacements." One of them, running back Ty Johnson, dropped three passes in the first quarter alone. So, no, Wilson didn't get much help. Transcendent players can rise above that. Clearly, Wilson isn't close to being that kind of player. -- Rich Cimini

Are the Jets closer to being a playoff team than last year? Technically, yes. (Sarcastic pause.) The Jets were officially eliminated with the loss. A year ago, they were eliminated on Nov. 20, the first team in 2020 to meet that fate. So that's progress, right? OK, enough wisecracks. Here's the grim reality: The Jets' playoff drought (longest active slump in the league) is now 11 seasons, tied for the longest in franchise history. They previously missed the playoffs in their post-Super Bowl years, from 1970 to 1980. In some ways, this is worse because this is the era of parity, with free agency and quick fixes. For the Jets, there are no quick fixes. -- Cimini

Cimini's confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 2.5. The Jets were mathematically eliminated, extending the league's longest active playoff drought to 11 years. Folks, it's as bad as it has ever been.

Next game: at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Kansas City 48, Las Vegas 9


What to know: The Chiefs had the perfect lead-up to their biggest game of the season by blowing out the Raiders. They had a relatively stress-free game heading into Thursday night's showdown with the Chargers, who beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in September. The Chiefs were able to get many of their key players out of the game well before its end. That should allow them to be as rested as possible during the short week. The Chiefs will also go in with plenty of momentum, as the win over the Raiders was their sixth straight. -- Adam Teicher

Can the Chiefs win out and get the AFC's top playoff seed? If they play like they did against the Raiders, they will. Patrick Mahomes and the offense came to life while the Chiefs' defense continued to control the game. The bigger mystery is whether finishing 13-4 would earn them the No. 1 seed. The Chiefs would need at least one loss by the Titans and Patriots for that scenario to happen. -- Teicher

Teicher's confidence rating (0-10): 9.1, up from 8. A blowout win does nothing to drop the confidence level, even if it was against the Raiders.

Next game: at Chargers (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: That's a wrap. Sure, the Raiders are still mathematically alive when it comes to the playoff race, but let's be real: Las Vegas has not been the same since its bye week. The Raiders, who started 5-2, are now 6-7 after falling 48-9 in a game they trailed 35-0 ... in the first half. The Raiders became the first team to lose four fumbles in a game this season, including one by Josh Jacobs that was returned for a TD on the first snap of the game. All that's left for the Raiders to play for is pride, and based on how little of it they showed against the Chiefs, not even that is a sure thing. -- Paul Gutierrez

Did anyone on the Raiders' roster show up? Yes, Hunter Renfrow. With tight end Darren Waller missing his second straight game since suffering back and knee injuries on Thanksgiving, the most unassuming Raider had the biggest day. Renfrow had a career-best 13 catches for 117 yards and a TD. -- Gutierrez

Gutierrez's confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, down from 5.5. A complete overhaul, with everyone from GM Mike Mayock to interim coach Rich Bisaccia to quarterback Derek Carr on notice, is in the offing after the Raiders' worst loss to Kansas City in the 62-year rivalry (edging their 42-7 loss to the Chiefs in 1964).

Next game: at Browns (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET)

Atlanta 29, Carolina 21


What to know: Coach Arthur Smith has been saying for weeks the Falcons wanted to be playing meaningful football in December -- and here in Charlotte, in the middle of the month, was a chance to do exactly that. Win, and Atlanta would remain in the conversation for a postseason bid. The Falcons did what they have done best this season: Win on the road; and ensured they'll keep playing games that give them a shot at the postseason. It doesn't get easier, as the Falcons head to San Francisco next week.-- Michael Rothstein

Is the Falcons' run game legitimate? At this point, you can say yes. For the first time since 2018, Atlanta has topped 100 yards rushing in three straight games (129 yards Sunday) -- once again led by 58 yards from perhaps the NFL's most improved player, Cordarrelle Patterson. The difference this week was the balance the Falcons showed in the run game. The past two weeks, Mike Davis has looked more like the back the team signed him to be, including 86 yards from scrimmage Sunday. Qadree Ollison, finally signed to the 53-man roster Saturday, also found a role with limited carries. Combined, it seems like the three have become what Smith has been looking for throughout his first season: a multifaceted rushing attack that can cause opponents stress. -- Rothstein

Rothstein's confidence rating (0-10): 4, up from 3.6. Avenge a loss from earlier this season, continue to win on the road, and Atlanta, somehow, remains a possibility for the playoffs.

Next game: at 49ers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: Carolina isn't a playoff team, and Cam Newton isn't the quarterback for the future. The Panthers have been in the playoff discussion because the NFC is a mess, but the talent isn't there. Newton was a great feel-good story for a week, but he's 0-3 as the starter and has lost 11 straight with the Panthers. To be fair, the talent around him isn't good. And at 32, Newton can't carry a team anymore. -- David Newton

Is coach Matt Rhule officially on the hot seat? Three straight losses (five straight at home) and two wins in the past 10 isn't good for job security, particularly with a tough remaining schedule. Rhule replaced offensive coordinator Joe Brady, trying to fix one problem, but the Panthers continued to struggle. While it seems Rhule is safe until 2022, if the Panthers lose out and finish 5-12 after a 3-0 start, he might be on a very short leash with owner David Tepper. This team needed to show improvement, and hasn't. -- Newton

Newton's confidence rating (0-10): 3.8, down from 4.4. The schedule (at Buffalo, vs. Tampa Bay, at New Orleans and at Tampa Bay) isn't conducive to winning for a team that has won only twice in 10 games.

Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Tennessee 20, Jacksonville 0


What to know: The Titans got back to the positive side in the turnover column, and it was no coincidence they won the game. The defense intercepted Trevor Lawrence four times, the most he has been picked off in a game so far. Although they got only three points off the takeaways, Tennessee managed to keep possession. That's something they weren't able to do in their two-game losing streak, when they had a total of nine turnovers. -- Turron Davenport

Can a healthy Julio Jones eventually emerge as a threat in the passing game? Jones played 32 snaps (50%) for the Titans. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill found Jones on four out of six targets for 33 yards. They did attempt to get Jones the football on a deep post off play-action. But the pass rush knocked Tannehill off his spot, causing him to come off his read to Jones. Jones reached 18.9 mph on the play, which was his fastest speed of the game. At this point, it seems doubtful that Jones will emerge as the dominant threat that he once was with the Falcons. -- Davenport

Davenport's confidence rating (0-10): 8, up from 7.5. The Titans did what they were supposed to do by disposing of a lifeless Jaguars team. The pass rush reemerged and helped create two of Tennessee's four interceptions. The offense managed to move the ball pretty well but still lacks a dominant playmaker. The eventual return of wide receiver A.J. Brown and gradual improvement of Jones' health should help down the stretch.

Next game: at Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Jaguars' offense has been abysmal over the past six games -- and somehow it was worse Sunday. The offensive line struggled in pass protection (DT Jeffery Simmons abused the interior) and committed five penalties (three on Andrew Norwell), the receivers had two drops (one of which bounced offLaviska Shenault's hands and was intercepted) and the Jaguars managed just 8 yards rushing with two minutes to play. No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence threw a career-high four interceptions. Oh, and at one point, Shenault and Laquon Treadwell ran into each other while running routes. The end result: the fourth shutout loss in franchise history and the first since a 41-0 beating in Seattle in Week 5 of 2009. -- Mike DiRocco

Would Lawrence benefit from sitting? There's no doubt Lawrence's development has stalled, and he has regressed in some areas. He's also taking a beating every week, holding on to the ball too long at times, and forcing throws, though part of that is because he's trying to get something going on offense. But first-year coach Urban Meyer might lose the team (if he hasn't already) if he puts Lawrence on the bench, and he remains the Jaguars' best chance to win. -- DiRocco

DiRocco's confidence rating (0-10): 0.5, no change from last week. The offense seems to get worse every week, there's Meyer controversy seemingly every week and there's no fixes in sight for either.

Next game: vs. Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Minnesota 36, Pittsburgh 28


What to know: The Vikings narrowly escaped after nearly blowing a 29-0 third-quarter lead. Minnesota did what it always does by putting together one really good half of football, only to throw it away with penalties (11) and poor execution (Kirk Cousins threw two second-half interceptions and the Vikings' defense gave up 20 unanswered points). Had Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods not broken up a terrific tight-window throw by Ben Roethlisberger to Pat Freiermuth on the final play of the game, we could be talking about the embarrassment of Minnesota allowing the largest regular-season comeback in NFL history, and possibly the beginning of a coaching search. -- Courtney Cronin

Are the playoffs still attainable? They are according to ESPN's FPI, which gives Minnesota a 32.3% chance to make the postseason. The Vikings play the 4-8 Bears twice in their final four games, so that should help, although the Lions proved no opponent should be taken for granted. The Vikings' inability to close out games could doom them against the good teams they have left (the Rams and Packers). The Vikings probably need to win three of their next four to get into the playoffs with a 9-8 record. They're currently a half-game behind San Francisco for the No. 7 seed, and the 49ers own the tiebreaker. -- Cronin

Cronin's confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4. Soldier Field is a house of horrors for Minnesota. The Vikings have won three games there since Zimmer took over in 2014 and have another prime-time game in Week 15 on Monday Night Football.

Next game: at Bears (Monday, Dec. 20, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Steelers lost the battle up front on both sides of the ball, and it had major consequences. Dalvin Cook ran amok, racking up 205 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings finished with 5.1 yards per rush before contact, marking only the fourth time in the past 10 seasons the Steelers have allowed that many yards before contact. After Thursday's game, the Steelers have the worst rushing defense in the league, and defensive linemanCameron Heywardsaid it felt like Groundhog Day. -- Brooke Pryor

Can the Steelers make the playoffs?Their chances to make the playoffs dropped from 19% to 10% after the loss, according to ESPN's FPI. The Steelers' season has been dominated by their Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies. The offense comes alive only once it finds itself at a significant deficit and goes into its no-huddle look, and it often hurts itself with unforced errors and penalties (see: Chase Claypool's Thursday night roller coaster). Meanwhile, the defense hasn't been physical enough to stop anyone consistently. Playing well in the third and fourth quarters isn't enough. The Steelers can't make the playoffs if they can't play four quarters of smart, efficient football. Right now, they haven't shown they can do that. -- Pryor

Pryor's confidence rating (0-10): 2.3, down from 3.5. Despite another fourth-quarter rally, the momentum from their win against the Baltimore Ravens was erased Thursday night, and the outlook for the final four games is bleak.

Next game: vs. Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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