By Steve Silverman
The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers both had brutally tough assignments in Week 16. The Ravens had to go to Los Angeles to play the Chargers, while the Steelers went to New Orleans. The Ravens played their best game of the season and upset Los Angeles, but Pittsburgh gave up a late touchdown and lost to the Saints. As a result, Baltimore is in first place in the AFC North, and the Steelers need help to make the playoffs.
Washington Redskins: C+. The Redskins battled hard in a game with their fourth-string quarterback, but they were unable to make key plays when the game was on the line in the second half. Josh Johnson did a nice job in passing for 153 yards and a touchdown, while resurgent Adrian Peterson had 119 yards, but the Redskins could not stop Tennessee when they needed to.
Tennessee Titans: B. At this stage of the season, it’s not about style points. It’s about getting the job done and coming away with the win. The Titans did that as Blaine Gabbert came on in relief of Marcus Mariota and did a solid job by completing 7-of-11 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. The Titans and Colts will meet in Week 17 for a spot in the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens: A-. The Ravens had one of the toughest assignments of the season as they had to play the powerful Chargers on the road. The Baltimore defense was sensational in slowing down the Chargers’ offense. Rookie Lamar Jackson continue to make key plays and his 67-yard TD pass in the third quarter to tight end Mark Andrews was a thing of beauty and indicative of Jackson’s progress.
Los Angeles Chargers: C. The Chargers have played brilliant football this season, and they came home for a vital game that could have helped them in their chase for the AFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the conference. While the Chargers played hard, their vaunted offense was clearly beaten by the Ravens and they blew their opportunity.
Cincinnati Bengals: D+. The Bengals showed some fight against their cross-state rivals, but the bottom line is that they lost both games in their season series to the Cleveland Browns. That’s the brutal reality of a team that has regularly disappointed its fans throughout the Marvin Lewis era.
Cleveland Browns: A-. The win over the Bengals mean the Browns have a .500 record with one week to go in the regular season. Rookie Baker Mayfield continues to make solid progress, as he threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns. Mayfield clearly enjoys beating the Bengals and that will endear him even further to Cleveland fans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C+. The Bucs played one of their better games on the road against the Cowboys, as they bounced back after a poor opening period to stay within reach. Quarterback Jameis Winston threw for 336 yards and a touchdown, but he also had a costly fumble that the Cowboys turned into a touchdown.
Dallas Cowboys: C+ The Cowboys clinched the NFC East title with this win. They jumped out to an early lead but they could not put the Bucs away, and that’s not a great sign for their chances in the postseason. Dak Prescott threw for just 161 yards despite completing 20-of-25 passes. The Cowboys are locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings: B+. The Vikings have had a rather uneven season, considering they were the preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the postseason. They are coming off one of their strongest performances, as they overcame an early 9-0 deficit to win going away by a 27-9 margin. Kirk Cousins overcame a slow start and threw three TD passes.
Detroit Lions: C. The Lions looked like they were prepared to ruin the Vikings clinching party, but once they ran into a little adversity their chances to win disappeared. After giving up an end-of-first-half Hail Mary, the Lions offered no resistance in the second half. Not a good sign for head coach Matt Patricia.
New York Giants: B-. The Giants dominated this game early on and they were able to jump off to a 14-0 lead on a team that shut out the Cowboys the week before. They fought hard for 60 minutes and Eli Manning was able to have a productive game even though star rookie Saquon Barkley was held to 43 yards.
Indianapolis Colts: B+. The Colts were not at their best, but they did what they had to in order to win the game. Andrew Luck rallied the team as he has been doing all season, and he threw for 357 yards and two touchdowns. Luck threw the winning TD pass to Chester Rogers with 55 seconds left to keep the Colts in the playoff race.
Jacksonville Jaguars: B. A rare solid game from the Jaguars. The defense basically shut down the Dolphins when they needed a win to stay alive. If the Jaguars had played this kind of shut-down defense more often – they held Miami to 208 total yards – the script of this season would have been dramatically different.
Miami Dolphins: D. The Dolphins played one of their worst games when they needed it most. After scoring an early first-quarter touchdown, Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense was sleepwalking throughout the rest of the game. Once again, the Dolphins can do no better than finish at .500.
Buffalo Bills: C. The Bills didn’t have much of a chance to win this game against a New England team that needed to win in order to clinch the AFC East, but Josh Allen continued to show improvement as he threw for 217 yards and a touchdown late in the game.
New England Patriots: B. The Patriots had themselves a very lucky game as they not only won and earned the AFC East crown, they also got help as the Eagles defeated the Houston Texans. That allowed the Patriots to move back into the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff structure. If they can retain that position, they will once again have a bye in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Despite those factors, the Patriots are not playing like a championship team this season as the passing game is struggling.
Green Bay Packers: B-. The Packers won a road game for the first time this season as they made a dramatic comeback to beat the Jets. Aaron Rodgers had a signature game with two passing TDs, two rushing TDs and a two-point conversion. However, it is too little and too late for Green Bay, a team that was eliminated from playoff contention last week.
New York Jets: C. The Jets came out like they were determined to win as they jumped all over the Packers. They had a 35-20 lead but could not hold on to it. Sam Darnold had perhaps his best game of the year as he threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, but the Jets were unable to finish the job once again.
Houston Texans: C-. When the Texans finish their 2018 season, they may point to this game as their biggest regret. They mounted a tremendous comeback behind Deshaun Watson that gave the Texans a 30-29 lead, but they could not stop the Eagles from mounting the game-winning FG drive. The Texans surrendered their status as the No. 2 seed in the AFC to the Patriots as a result of the defeat.
Philadelphia Eagles: B+. Nick Foles is coming through under pressure and he clearly does everything he can to help the Eagles win on an every-week basis. Foles threw for 471 yards and four touchdowns, and he was superb on the game-winning drive in the final moments of the fourth quarter.
Atlanta Falcons: B. The Bengals were huge 14.5-point underdogs and were not expected to provide much opposition to the razor-sharp Chargers, but the Bengals showed some fight for the first time in weeks. Running back Joe Mixon scored a late touchdown that allowed the Bengals to get within two points but the two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful
Carolina Panthers: D. The Chargers pulled an escape act as they were pushed to the limit by the struggling Bengals. With a huge game coming up Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers were apparently looking ahead to that game. However, they got the win as Philip Rivers threw for 220 yards and a touchdown.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B-. The Steelers played a fine game and had the Saints on the ropes late in the fourth quarter, but they could not stop Drew Brees at the end. As a result, they have fallen to second place in the AFC North, and they need to beat the Bengals next week and the Ravens need to lose to the Browns to make the playoffs. (A flukish tie between the Colts and Titans would also help them if they beat the Bengals.)
New Orleans Saints: A-. The Saints were pushed to the limit by a desperate Steelers team and they were on the brink of losing at home. Instead, Brees led a game-winning TD drive at the end of the fourth quarter, enabling the Saints to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Saints will have homefield advantage in every postseason game until they get to the Super Bowl.
L.A. Rams: B+. The Rams needed to get back on track after losses to the Bears and Eagles, and they did just that against the Cardinals. The Rams were the beneficiaries of a 167-yard effort by backup running back C.J. Anderson, and they cruised to the easy win. Los Angeles can clinch the No. 2 spot in the NFC playoffs with a home win over the 49ers in Week 17.
Arizona Cardinals: C-. The Cardinals just don’t have the weapons to compete with a focused winning team. The offense is inept at this point, as the Rams held rookie quarterback Josh Rosen to 87 passing yards.
Chicago Bears: B. The Bears took care of business on the road, and they can be no worse than the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Chicago had lost earlier road games to teams like Miami and the Giants, so there was no guarantee of winning in San Francisco. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky kept his cool and threw for 246 yards and a touchdown.
San Francisco 49ers: C+. The Niners saw their brief winning streak come to an end as they could not overcome the Bears’ hard-hitting defense. While they kept the game close, the Bears were not going to let the 49ers come through at the end of the game.
Kansas City Chiefs: C. The Chiefs once again had a chance to clinch the AFC West and the No. 1 seed, and the Kansas City offense and quarterback Patrick Mahomes once again put on a thrilling show. Unfortunately for head coach Andy Reid, the defense could not stop the Seahawks when it mattered and they dropped their second game in a row.
Seattle Seahawks: A-. The Seahawks continue to show their toughness and their talent. Instead of being overwhelmed by Kansas City’s offensive talent, Russell Wilson matched Mahomes big play for big play. The Seahawks played much stronger defense, won the game and clinched a wild-card spot.