Alright football fans, 17 weeks of the NFL season are almost at a close. One week is left to determine multiple playoff seeds, from the top of both conferences down to the No. 7 seeds. What did I like or dislike from the weekend? Here’s my week 17 stock report.
NFC Playoff Picture
The NFC playoff picture is clear. Eagles, 49ers or Cowboys can be the one seed at best, with the Eagles and Cowboys into the five seed at worst. The Vikings are locked into either the second or third seed, with the Bucs winning the NFC South and locking down the four seed. After the Giants dominated the Colts, they clinched a wild-card spot and the sixth seed. Brian Daboll and the rest of the Giants coaching staff deserve awards for their work this season. Remember, the week before the season started when the Giants general manager asked the Big Blue fan base to not hold this season against the new front office because their talent level wasn’t competitive enough? Nonetheless, the Giants are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
After the Packers, Lions and Seahawks all routed their opponents Sunday, all three teams sit at 8-8 heading into week 18. Just a month ago, I was one of the chorus of people who speculated the Packers should bench Aaron Rodgers to see a month of Jordan Love. Now, they are a win away from the postseason. The Packers host the Lions and own the tiebreaker against the Seahawks. They win on Sunday and they are the seventh seed. If the Packers don’t win, the Seahawks are on deck. The Lions have an uphill battle to secure that final wild-card spot. They need a road win over the Packers, plus a Rams upset in Seattle. While only one of these teams will finish the season in the playoffs, they all deserve a hat tip for their seasons. The Lions and Seahawks are in rebuilds/retools. They were not expected to be here. And while the Packers were the heavy favorite to win the NFC North, their ability to keep fighting this season after a poor three months is commendable.
Quarterbacks we stopped believing in
I mentioned the remarkable turnaround the Packers have seen this season after starting 4-8. Plenty of folks, including myself, counted out Aaron Rodgers and openly discussed whether it’s time to bench him or not. Now the Packers are a win away from the playoffs.
I don’t think Mac Jones is a good quarterback. However, he’s playing with an offensive guided by Matt Patricia, who wasn’t even good at coaching defense, which is the side of the ball he’s coached his entire career. The Patriots don’t have the best weapons for Jones. Yet, after Patriots fans were booing him and openly rooting for Bailey Zappe to return to the lineup as Jones’ replacement at quarterback, the Patriots are one win away from making the playoffs in back-to-back years. Jones is part of that success.
Tom Brady has been a lesser version of himself this season. He hasn’t seemed as comfortable in the pocket. He has missed on more throws than ever before. He looks unhappy. However, when the Bucs needed him most, he played his best game of the season. In the Bucs’ win-and-in game against the Panthers on Sunday, Brady was 34 of 45 for 432 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs played their best ball of the season in the second half and have won the division in back-to-back years, a first in franchise history.
Tom Brady scores FOUR touchdowns as Buccaneers clinch the NFC South
Tom Brady had himself a day in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 30-24 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
NFL draft hopefuls light it up
It’s never too early to look ahead to the NFL draft and the top two quarterback prospects, likely to both be drafted in the top five, put on a show this weekend in the CFP. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman winner, was fantastic against the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday. He’s clearly got all the goods. His arm talent is visible. His mobility is special. His poise is top of the class. However, NFL general managers will be worried about his size. He’s under six feet and 200 pounds. There’s a poor history of quarterbacks in his size range having the type of success you’d hope from a top draft pick. However, it’s hard to deny he’s got all the tangibles you’d want in the first pick.
Ohio State’s CJ Stroud saved his best game for the best defense he’s faced in two seasons as the starting quarterback. Stroud was electric using his legs to create plays, both in the pass and run. It was the best he looked using all his physical traits. At times, it seemed he was hesitant to play this way and I believe it hurt his draft profile. However, now scouts will need to add this final game to the puzzle and not overthink Stroud like scouts did with fellow Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Fields ended his final season at Ohio State as the clear second-best quarterback coming out of college but throughout the draft process got dropped down. I hope the talent evaluators in these NFL buildings do not make the same mistake. Stroud is the second-best quarterback in this draft.
Good news, Vikings fans. The team remains a perfect 11-0 in one-score games this season. That’s about the only positive to take away from the Vikings’ stinker of a performance in Green Bay on Sunday afternoon. The Packers won 41-17, and the score was only that close because the Packers pulled their starters after going up 41-3. The Packers scored on defense, special teams, along with three offensive touchdowns. I just don’t know how the last month of the season should give us any confidence in the Vikings come playoff time. They are currently 25th in overall team efficiency. There’s nothing they do particularly well. They lost the Cowboys, needed a 33-point comeback to beat the Colts, a 61-yard field goal to beat the Giants and then were blown out by the Packers. I don’t know why you’d believe in them in the postseason.
The Eagles are most likely getting the one seed in the NFC, a bye week, and will be the favorite to make the Super Bowl. However, the vibes don’t feel great in Philadelphia right now. Jalen Hurts, who was the front-runner for the MVP just two weeks ago, missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury. The Eagles didn’t miss him that much in game one, but surely missed him Sunday against the Saints. They are 0-2 in those two games. The Eagles are without right tackle Lane Johnson, a huge bummer for this offense. This is a step below losing a quarterback. He’s a team leader and a heck of a player. Josh Sweat left the game today with a neck injury that fortunately doesn’t appear that serious.
Beyond the injury concerns, the defense just hasn’t played as well lately, and that should be concerning. The Cowboys did whatever they wanted two weekends ago and the Saints, who are not an offensive juggernaut, were able to control the tempo of this game with their offense.
Marshon Lattimore seals win over Eagles with clutch INT
The Saints held the Eagles to just 313 total yards and Marshon Lattimore’s pick-6 late in the fourth quarter sealed the victory.
Now, the Eagles just need a win against the Giants next weekend for that No. 1 seed and all is well. However, two weeks ago it appeared they had an easy path to the one seed. Now it’s less easy, and I don’t like the vibes.
Kansas City Chiefs special teams
It’s not good, and it’s going to cost the Chiefs a playoff game. For years the Chiefs had outstanding special teams. It was something they could count on for success. Those days are long gone. It’s a huge liability. The Chiefs cannot find someone to just catch a punt without muffing it or fumbling it back to the opponent. Among the many reasons the Chiefs lost to the Colts earlier this season was a muffed punt that led to a quick Indy touchdown. They added another two muffed punts, one against the Rams and 49ers. And then Sunday, a fumble on a punt return gave the Broncos’ dead offense a short field to convert a quick touchdown. The Chiefs just need someone to catch the football, hand it to the official, and then let Patrick Mahomes go to work.
The Chiefs also enjoy an unreliable place kicker at the moment, with Harrison Butker well below his career average for made field goals. Butker has also missed three extra points, with those always appearing to be an issue for him. These are points the Chiefs can not afford to lose in a playoff contest.
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Geoff Schwartz 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. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
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