By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and on Monday night, the offense of the Cleveland Browns put forth one of the most discouraging performances of the season in an ugly loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, the Browns entered Monday night’s game with seemingly zero interest in actually winning the game. Though he was let down by his offensive line and multiple drops by his receivers, Baker Mayfield’s performance was laughably inept. The Browns already announced Mayfield would not play in the final game. With the victory, the Steelers improved to 8-7-1, clinging to life in the AFC playoff picture.
Pittsburgh’s playoff odds are slim, but the Steelers remain alive for a postseason berth, though it will take some help from the Jacksonville Jaguars and a win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson appears to be trending toward playing through a nagging ankle injury that has kept him sidelined the past few weeks. Baltimore enters Week 18 in the same situation as Pittsburgh: in need of a season-ending victory and a dash of good fortune from across the NFL. However, defeating the Steelers will be a much easier proposition with Jackson at the helm of the team’s offense.
Jacksonville’s game against the Indianapolis Colts will be a must-watch affair for fans of the Chargers, Raiders, Steelers, and Ravens. Given the state of the Jaguars, it likely won’t register as worth a view for actual Jacksonville fans, however. With an improbable upset over the Colts, the AFC Wild Card picture would be wild. Pittsburgh needs to win, for the Colts to beat Jacksonville, and the Raiders versus Chargers to end in anything other than a tie. Simple enough. Baltimore, on the other hand, needs a win, the Colts to beat Jacksonville, Vegas to beat the Chargers, and New England to defeat the Dolphins. Simple? No. Plausible? Yes.
Though the Cowboys have locked up the top spot in the NFC East, Dallas remains in play for seeding heading into this Sunday’s matchup against the Eagles. The Cowboys are in desperate need of a sign of consistency from the team’s offense, and it will be a more challenging task following Michael Gallup’s season-ending injury. On a touchdown grab in Sunday’s eventual loss to the Cardinals, Gallup suffered a torn ACL. Gallup is an overlooked part of Dallas’s offense, and his loss will be a massive negative for the Cowboys in the postseason. Dak Prescott has struggled at times during the season’s second half, and a return to form will be much more difficult without one of the team’s best playmakers.
While Dallas will be without Gallup for the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans appear poised to welcome superstar running back Derrick Henry back to the field. Out since suffering a foot injury in Week 8, Henry is expected to return to practice this week. With the Titans sitting atop the AFC heading into a season-ending date with the Houston Texans, Henry is looking to have the benefit of an extra week of rest before Tennessee’s opening playoff game. The Titans have been winning despite its offense at times since Henry’s injury. Adding him back for the playoffs boasts game-changing potential for Tennessee. The rest of the AFC is on notice.
A few weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appeared poised to enter the postseason geared up for another Super Bowl run. With a solid defense, Tom Brady under center behind a solid offensive line, and a stable of playmakers at Brady’s disposal, there was an argument to be made that Tampa Bay was the team to beat in the NFL. The trajectory changed when Chris Godwin was lost to a season-ending injury a few weeks ago, and now the team’s offense is loaded with uncertainty following Antonio Brown’s outburst on the sidelines on Sunday. The Bucs are likely to continue to integrate Cyril Grayson on the outside alongside Mike Evans while hoping Tyler Johnson manages to make an impact in Godwin’s place in the slot.