Our NFL Nation reporters react with their 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.
What to know: There’s no question Cincinnati’s offensive showing in a last-second win against the Chiefs was the best of the Bengals’ season. This was not the decimated Baltimore defense the Bengals rolled against as quarterback Joe Burrow threw for a franchise-record 525 yards. No, Kansas City was in form and playing like one of the best defenses in the NFL. And when Cincinnati needed points to avoid a blowout, it delivered, highlighted by 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns from Ja’Marr Chase. After several inconsistent weeks throughout the season, Cincinnati’s offense is living up to the preseason hype of being one of the most potent in the NFL. — Ben Baby
What’s the biggest difference with the offense? It has to be Burrow. The second-year quarterback has been masterful the last couple of weeks and made several big-time throws against Kansas City. And just as importantly, he was able to evade pressure or make small gains to keep drives rolling. The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft has been as transformational as advertised. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, up from 7.2. The most complete offensive showing of the season against a very solid Kansas City defense raises the ceiling for this team.
Next game: at Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: It’s difficult to trust the Chiefs defensively. After playing so well during most of their eight-game winning streak, a lot of old problems resurfaced. They missed tackles, committed penalties and broke down in coverage like they hadn’t since early in the season. Kansas City won’t see many opponents with the firepower of the Bengals, but all it takes is one bad game in the playoffs to ruin a season. — Adam Teicher
Has the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed slipped away? It certainly looks that way. The Chiefs need not only to beat the Broncos next week but have the Titans lose to the Texans. They should take care of their business but expecting Tennessee to lose to Houston is too much. The loss to the Bengals isn’t to blame. It’s the way the Chiefs played for much of the season’s first half. — Teicher
Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.9, down from 9.6. The Chiefs are still formidable but the play of their defense against the Bengals is a big concern.
Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: Like Week 10 at Washington and Week 15 against the Saints, where the Bucs were favored to win by 10-plus points, they played down to their opponent and looked flat. Without Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Buccaneers defense couldn’t pressure Jets quarterback Zach Wilson. There were numerous coverage busts and players out of their gaps. Despite all that, the Bucs overcame the loss of receiver Antonio Brown and came back from a 14-point deficit — with quarterback Tom Brady hitting receiver Cyril Grayson for the winning 33-yard touchdown with 22 seconds to go. — Jenna Laine
Did the Bucs do the right thing by cutting Brown? Brown inexplicably removed his jersey and pads, threw his undershirt and gloves into the stands, ran across the field shirtless and went to the locker room in the third quarter and did not return. He said last week he “wasn’t about drama,” but he created yet another spectacle, just like the fake vaccine card. There’s no denying how remarkably talented Brown is and his impact on the team after a 101-yard performance last week. We also don’t have all the answers with a player with a history of documented mental health issues. But with the playoffs looming, can the Bucs really afford to keep him around? — Laine
Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, no change from 7.5. The Bucs have an issue playing down to their opponent and this may have been their ugliest win of the season…but it’s a win.
Next game: vs. Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
With the Buccaneers and Jets lining up on the field, Antonio Brown rips off his jersey, throws it into the crowd and leaves the field.
What to know: Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson did a lot of growing up in his best overall performance of the year, but he learned a hard lesson that many of his peers have experienced over the last two decades: You’ve got to play 60 great minutes to beat Bucs quarterback Tom Brady. Wilson & Co. went cold, going scoreless on their final four possessions and blowing a 14-point lead. Until then, Wilson provided the best evidence yet that he can become a legitimate franchise quarterback. Facing the defending Super Bowl champs, Wilson (18-for-32, 224 yards) threw one touchdown and directed four long scoring drives. Here’s the crazy part: The offense entered the game without five starters and lost two more, including running back Michael Carter, in the game. Undaunted, Wilson played interception-free ball for the fourth straight game. It was good enough to quiet some skeptics, but not good enough to win. — Rich Cimini
How did the Jets blow a 14-point lead against Tom Brady? The Jets took a 24-10 lead in the third quarter, their biggest lead of the season, and they collapsed in crunch time. Coach Robert Saleh’s fourth-down decision with 2:17 left proved costly. On a fourth-and-2 from the Bucs’ 7, Saleh went for the win instead of a field goal that would’ve given them a seven-point lead. The playcall was terrible — a QB sneak that was stuffed. Who tries a QB sneak on fourth-and-2? Saleh probably wanted to make a statement with his bold call, but he should’ve played it safe, considering the Bucs had no timeouts remaining. Naturally, Brady went 93 yards for the game-winning touchdown. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4. The Jets lost in crushing fashion, but they played well for 59 minutes — pretty damn impressive considering they were down 10 starters due to injuries and COVID-19.
Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: As ugly and frustrating as this season has been – this game was a microcosm of said season with the quick start and a 13-3 first-half lead before falling behind – the Raiders’ improbable march to the playoffs remained on track with the last-second, 23-20 win at Indianapolis, their fifth walk-off win of the season. Beating the rival Los Angeles Chargers at home next week is all it takes. We’ve been here before. Remember the 2011 finale, when the Raiders fell in Oakland to the Chargers and Hue Jackson melted down? Stay tuned. — Paul Gutierrez
Are the Raiders winning because of Derek Carr, or in spite of him? Um, yes. Look, I have said for years now Carr is not the problem, per se, but wondered if he is the answer, and if you have to ask that question, you might actually have a problem. Again, it was the 29th fourth-quarter comeback win of Carr’s eight-year career. A victory necessitated, in part, because of his two bad interceptions. Such is life with Carr. — Gutierrez
Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6. Let’s move this up a tick because, really, after blowing an early lead and surviving, confidence is growing with their third straight nail-biting win.
Next game: vs. Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Colts’ road to the playoffs now goes through a place they haven’t won at since Andrew Luck was just in his third season in the NFL: Jacksonville. Yes, the Jaguars have only been to the playoffs once since 2008 and are leading the race to grab the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft. But for some reason, the Colts have not won in Jacksonville — or the Jaguars’ second home, London — since 2014. The Colts went into Sunday simply needing to win to lock up their third playoff spot in four seasons under head coach Frank Reich. Now they have to handle their business against the Jaguars and potentially need other scenarios to happen in the AFC. — Mike Wells
Can the Colts get to and win in the playoffs with Carson Wentz being inconsistent? That question will linger with Wentz, especially as teams continue to aim to slow down running back Jonathan Taylor. With the exception of his fourth-quarter performance against Arizona in Week 16, you can’t say that Wentz has put the Colts on his back to get a win this season. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 7.5. The Colts blew their opportunity to wrap up a playoff spot on their own field. They only have themselves to blame.
Next game: at Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: For a second consecutive game, the Rams overcame three turnovers produced by quarterback Matthew Stafford to come away with a win. Despite his woes into the third quarter, Stafford led his 42nd career game-winning drive by finding Odell Beckham Jr. for a 7-yard touchdown with just over a minute to play. The Rams have 12 wins and will close out the regular season next Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, who they’ve lost five straight against. — Lindsey Thiry
How important is Cooper Kupp to the Rams? Kupp, in his fifth season and as a first-time Pro Bowl selection, is making history this season. Kupp caught an 18-yard pass for a touchdown in the second quarter for his 15th touchdown reception of the season, making him the fourth player in NFL history with 100 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns in a single season. Kupp joins the company of Randy Moss (2003), Marvin Harrison (2001) and Jerry Rice (1995). In the fourth quarter, Kupp caught a 21-yard pass to earn himself the Rams single-season receiving yards record, passing Isaac Bruce’s mark of 1,781 receiving yards in 1995. — Thiry
Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, no change from 9. A tough win on the road, but the confidence rating can’t move up. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, they must get better, more consistent play out of Stafford, who has produced seven turnovers in three games, including back-to-back games with three turnovers each. In the playoffs, they won’t be able to overcome multi-turnover performances.
Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Matthew Stafford throws a costly pick-6 to Chuck Clark as the Ravens take a 7-0 lead versus the Rams.
What to know: The Ravens’ inability to finish will keep them out of the playoffs. In Baltimore’s five-game losing streak, the Ravens lost four times in games decided by a total of five points. The Ravens, who once had a 91% chance of reaching the playoffs in Week 13, have watched their postseason chances plummet to 8%. Baltimore couldn’t upset the NFC-leading Rams because backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, who filled in for the injured Lamar Jackson (ankle), couldn’t finish drives. The Ravens offense didn’t score a touchdown for the first in three years, settling for four field goals from Justin Tucker. Then, the Baltimore defense, which had forced three turnovers, couldn’t make the critical stop late in the fourth quarter, allowing a nine-play, 75-yard winning drive. — Jamison Hensley
Who starts at quarterback for Ravens in season finale? Jackson was still limping on the sideline during the game, so there might not even be a decision here. Huntley has proven to a more than capable replacement for Jackson, totaling 248 yards. But he has struggled to finish drives. The Ravens were held without an offensive touchdown for the first time since 2018 at Cleveland. There’s no quarterback controversy in Baltimore. When Jackson is healthy, he’s the starting quarterback and the future of the franchise. But, if he’s not close to full strength, Huntley clearly represents Baltimore’s best chance at reaching the playoffs. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 4. The Ravens, who had the AFC’s best record five weeks ago, have lost five games in a row for the first time in coach John Harbaugh’s 14 seasons. Baltimore now needs to beat the Steelers in what looks to be Ben Roethlisberger‘s final game and get lots of help elsewhere to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Next game: vs. Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Titans defense is working its way towards a championship-level unit. Tennessee held the Dolphins to three points and allowed Miami to convert on only three out of 12 third-down opportunities. Kevin Byard emphasized the importance of having the pass rush marry the coverage on the back end. That’s exactly what’s happening for Tennessee. The Titans sacked Tua Tagovailoa four times pushing their season total to 41. Tennessee pressured Tagovailoa constantly. Kristian Fulton‘s sticky coverage on the back end helped out as well. The acquisition of linebacker Zach Cunningham (six tackles Sunday) has sparked the Titans’ defense as well. — Turron Davenport
Do the Titans have an identity on offense? At this point, it is safe to say that Ryan Tannehill dropping back to pass 40 times isn’t the formula for the Titans to win. D’Onta Foreman has gradually emerged as a threat rushing the ball. Foreman rushed 26 times for 132 yards and a touchdown against Miami. The play-action passing game truly opened up because of Foreman’s success on the ground. Even without Derrick Henry, the Titans are an old-school, ‘grind em out’ offense that constantly wears down the opponent. The eventual return of Henry will make the offense even more potent. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8.5. It’s rare when a team is able to dominate on both offense and defense. But that’s what the Titans did in their demolition of the Dolphins. The pass rush has steadily resurfaced now that linebacker Bud Dupree has returned. Tennessee has nine sacks in their last three games with Dupree back in the lineup, and David Long is coming back. Offensively, Foreman has been solid, and the likelihood that Henry will return is more reason for optimism. The Titans are peaking at the right time.
Next game: at Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa‘s play had been shaky for the past two weeks entering Sunday’s game and came to a head against the Titans. The NFL’s leader in completion percentage completed just 50% of his 30 passes for 186 yards no touchdowns and an interception, with at least three other passes slipping through the hands of Titans defenders. His ball security was sloppy as he put the ball on the grass three times, losing one deep in Miami’s territory. In all, it qualified as Tagovailoa’s worst game of the season considering what was at stake — the Dolphins would have clinched a playoff berth if they won both of their final two games of the season. Now, they’ll need to beat New England in their season-finale and get a lot of help in order to avoid a fve-season playoff drought. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
What needs to change for Miami on offense moving forward? The conditions were awful Sunday — cold and rainy — and the Dolphins played exactly how one would expect a South Florida team to play in said conditions. This offseason, Miami must prioritize building around Tagovailoa, improving its offensive line and adding playmakers. Tennessee took Jaylen Waddle out of the game and Miami had no answer for it. At the same time, Tagovailoa wilted in a critical game — he must be better moving forward and is not absolved of all blame for this offense’s woes. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, down from 8.7. If Tagovailoa can’t shake his slump, the Dolphins’ offense doesn’t stand a chance against an elite Patriots defense. And if Miami’s defense defends the run next week like it did today, the Patriots will win relatively easily.
Next game: vs. Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Mission accomplished: The Patriots got rookie quarterback Mac Jones back on track, a top priority against the COVID-ravaged two-win Jaguars. Jones was coming off two of his shakiest performances of the season and this should give him a boost as the Patriots now look ahead to the postseason. Jones finished 22-of-30 for 227 yards and three TDs, breaking the Patriots’ franchise record for most TD passes in a season by a rookie (20; previously by Jim Plunkett, who had 19 in 1971). Jones was supported by a turnover-driven defense, which picked off Jaguars rookie QB Trevor Lawrence three times. So just as Jones got back on track, so too did the Patriots’ defense — albeit against one of the NFL’s worst teams. — Mike Reiss
Can the Patriots reverse their late-season struggles in Miami? December/January games in South Florida haven’t been kind to the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era (2000-present), as the team is 2-7 as a visitor against Miami in those months. Strange things seem to happen in those situations (e.g. the “Miracle in Miami” in 2018). Maybe Belichick turns up the heat in the Socios.com Fieldhouse this week to acclimate players to the climate change they will experience. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 7.1, up from 6.8. The Patriots did what they needed to: Pounce on an inferior foe early and improve their all-around fundamental play. Showing they could do that was an important step after back-to-back losses in which they didn’t play their best football.
Next game: at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Damien Harris scores two touchdowns in the first half against the Jaguars.
What to know: The Jaguars have a long, long way to go to just be competitive. Not for a playoff spot or for the AFC South title, but just being able to be competitive in games. This isn’t a great Patriots team (by their standards) and they handed the Jaguars one of the worst losses in franchise history. To be fair, the Jaguars were down five starters because of COVID, but would it have really mattered? Regardless of who’s hired as the new head coach, it’s going to take a few years to successfully build around Trevor Lawrence to get the franchise to the point where they legitimately have a chance every week. — Mike DiRocco
Can the Jaguars continue their streak against the Colts and end the season with some momentum? The Jaguars have beaten the Colts the past six times the teams have played in Jacksonville, including the 2020 season opener that turned out to be their only victory that season. The Jaguars had the ball inside Indianapolis territory and were driving for a potential game-winning score before QB Trevor Lawrence was sacked and fumbled with less than a minute to play in a 23-17 loss at Indy earlier this season. The Jaguars had RB James Robinson then, though. But a victory at home to close the season would feel good for a franchise that has been a mess in 2021. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.2, down from 0.7. The Jaguars aren’t putting up much of a fight against some of the league’s worst (Texans, Jets) and better teams (Patriots).
Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Eagles took a giant step towards securing a playoff berth. Entering the day, they had a 91 percent chance of making the postseason with a win — odds that would have dropped to 39 percent with a loss, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It wasn’t pretty — QB Taylor Heinicke opened the game 11-of-11, helping Washington sprint out to a 16-7 halftime lead — but the defense pitched a shutout in the second half and running back Boston Scott scored a pair of touchdowns in Miles Sanders’ absence to fuel the comeback. The Eagles now have 24 rushing TDs this season, their most since 1949. Quarterback Jalen Hurts (six carries, 45 yards) looked the healthiest he’s been since suffering a high ankle sprain against the New York Giants on November 28. Hurts looks good, the Eagles have won six of seven, and their confidence is as high as it has been with the postseason in sight. — Tim McManus
Can they correct their slow starts before the start of the playoffs? The Eagles have been held scoreless in the first quarter in four of their past five games, including the past three straight. They have been outscored 35-7 in the opening frame over that stretch. Philadelphia has still managed to win four in a row, but that was against Washington (twice), the New York Giants and the New York Jets. If they stumble out of the gates against one of the better teams in the NFC, they could face a quick exit. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6. The Eagles have a chance to get to 10 wins in Year 1 under rookie coach Nick Sirianni, who is looking to become the third Eagles head coach to reach the playoffs in his first season with the franchise, joining Chip Kelly in 2013 and Ray Rhodes in 1995, per ESPN Stats & Information. They have already exceeded public expectations, and they’re not done yet.
Next game: vs. Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Washington has enough players remaining to stick close to a team like Philadelphia, and Washington showed a lot of resiliency to bounce back after a 42-point loss to Dallas. But Washington doesn’t have enough playmakers to beat a good team right now. A lot has to do with injuries or personal situations; five defensive starters were missing Sunday. But even when healthy, the defense wasn’t making enough big plays to elevate be considered elite. That can’t be forgotten. And first-round linebacker Jamin Davis has been relegated to only playing in certain packages. That’s not good. Washington can rightly say it has a depleted roster, but it can’t just rely on those players returning to think things will change in 2022. — John Keim
Are they in better shape than a year ago? During the four-game win streak Washington clearly looked like a better team than it did in 2020, in part because it was playing better teams (and quarterbacks) and finally had found an identity. But the disappointing part for Washington this season has been the lack of production from key offseason acquisitions such as receiver Curtis Samuel, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Davis and third-round receiver Dyami Brown. Washington still needs a quarterback to build around. It hasn’t found an offensive identity. It feels more like Washington has been treading water rather than building upon 2020. Until they find a quarterback, they will have to do a better job hitting on key pickups to contend for a playoff spot. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, down from 4.9. Washington is out of the playoffs, but the reason the rating isn’t lower stems from the final opponent, the New York Giants. Washington plays with grit, but just lacks enough to win.
Next game: at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Bills came away with a victory in an unusual way for this team with the offense lead by a season-best 233-yard rushing performance. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll adapted to the ground game with quarterback Josh Allen and the passing offense struggling to get going, with Allen throwing three picks. Buffalo finished the day with four rushing scores – two each from Allen and running back Devin Singletary. The running game has struggled for the Bills throughout the season, but Sunday’s performance is a good sign for the playoffs. — Alaina Getzenberg
What should the Bills do at returner going forward? The Bills can’t seem to get the returner position quite right. Isaiah McKenzie was a healthy scratch for two games after a big fumble against the Indianapolis Colts, giving the job over to Marquez Stevenson. But the rookie had a first quarter fumble against the Falcons that led to a safety. He remained out as the returner for a majority of the game. McKenzie has become a valuable part of the offense as a receiver and Stevenson has shown enough as a returner overall. Don’t mess with it because of a rookie’s bad fumble in the snow. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.2, down from 8.4. Little change here. Despite the game not being the Bills’ best, they came away with a needed double-digit win at home after adapting to the snowy conditions.
Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: This, in many ways, felt like so many Atlanta Falcons games this season. For as undermanned as the franchise has been in 2021 – on Sunday, in part, due to COVID-19 issues – the Falcons showed resiliency. They put pressure on a Bills team headed for the playoffs, but ultimately couldn’t do enough to win. The loss ended the Falcons’ small playoff hopes, but in some ways also offers a glimpse of promise for the future. Atlanta hung in with the Bills – kept it a one-possession game for most of the contest and picked off quarterback Josh Allen three times. In the first year under head coach Arthur Smith, the Falcons were still in the playoff picture in Week 17 and were 7-2 in one-possession games — that is something to build on. The team is still a ways away from competing with the better teams in the NFL, but Sunday showed progress against a playoff team. — Michael Rothstein
What should the Falcons do in the last week of the season? This is a question that could impact rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Pitts is 59 yards away from breaking a 60-year-old record for rookie receiving yards for a tight end, set by Mike Ditka in 1961. But if the hamstring injury has any seriousness, it wouldn’t be wise to let him chase it. There’s also the question of playing some veterans or seeing what some rookies — perhaps receiver Frank Darby and cornerback Darren Hall, both of whom played Sunday — can do with a full week of preparation. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.8, up from 3.6. The season is essentially over with playoffs no longer a possibility, but Atlanta might have something brewing under Smith.
Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: In what may have been Matt Nagy’s last home game as head coach of the Bears, his team played at a level it hadn’t reached very often during the season. Of course, it helped playing the struggling Giants with Mike Glennon at quarterback. The game was won in the opening minutes after a strip-sack and an interception by the Bears led to 14 early points. They added two field goals and a safety in the final two minutes of the first half and cruised to their sixth win of the season. Robert Quinn also notched a sack in the fourth quarter, breaking Richard Dent’s franchise mark for a single season with 18. — Jesse Rogers
If Justin Fields is healthy enough, should the Bears let him play in the season finale against Minnesota? If Fields is 100%, then the answer is obviously yes, but there’s a good chance he’ll still be hurting at least a little from an ankle injury that has kept him out of action the last couple of weeks. The Bears could always let him start, and if he struggles, they could make a change. But one game of experience shouldn’t outweigh his health — a point Nagy has made several times. — Rogers
Rogers’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.5 up from 3.0. In a game between two struggling teams, it was the Bears who showed up, just like they did last week in a win over Seattle.
Next game: at Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Imagine playing in an NFL game and essentially knowing you can’t throw or complete passes. That is where the Giants are at these days. Mike Glennon behind their offensive line has created an untenable – and embarrassing – situation. The Giants dropped back to pass just four times on 27 plays in the first half. They had minus-16 yards and two turnovers on their four dropbacks. It never got much better. Glennon finished 4-of-11 passing for 24 yards with two interceptions and two lost fumbles. He was sacked four times. — Jordan Raanan
Did the Giants quit? Wouldn’t call it that. They were down 14-0 just eight minutes into the game because their quarterback fumbled and threw an interception that essentially handed Chicago two touchdowns. The Giants couldn’t go back and legitimately throw a pass because of the state of their offensive line. This isn’t the players not trying or not knowing their assignments. This is just a bad offense sinking the team. New York’s defense played hard to the end and allowed 249 total yards, which normally would equate to a really good defensive performance. They also allowed just seven points in the second half. — Raanan
Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.5, up from 1.2. And we thought it was impossible for the Giants offense to get worse. They keep proving us wrong.
Next game: vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)