Sixteen games down, and the 49ers’ playoff fate remains up in the air.
Trey Lance rebounded from his rocky first half Sunday to lead San Francisco to a 23-7 win over the Houston Texans and keep the 49ers’ playoff fate in their own hands. It turns out a shaky 90 minutes of football doesn’t make you a bust. Who knew?
Now, the 49ers have to win Sunday or hope for a New Orleans Saints loss to punch their playoff ticket. The good news? Kyle Shanahan’s punching bag Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams are on deck. The bad news? It’s unclear if Lance is ready to face a pass rush of that caliber.
Elsewhere, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase roasted the Chiefs to claim the AFC North title and the Raiders stunned the Colts to set up a win-and-in Week 18 game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers. In New York, Antonio Brown ended his NFL career on his terms, ripping off his pads in the middle of the game before catching an Uber to NYC as the Bucs mounted a comeback vs. the Jets.
Can’t say we didn’t warn you, Bruce.
With the final week of the regular season finally in sight, here’s where every team stands in the power rankings:
32. New York Giants (4-12): The Jags have Trevor Lawrence. The Jets have Zach Wilson and Robert Saleh. The Giants only have Joe Judge’s propaganda machine. Don’t worry, Giants fans, improvements are being made in areas that don’t translate to wins on Sundays. Whatever the hell that means.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14): Urban Meyer was the best and worst thing to happen to Trevor Lawrence. He took the heat off the rookie in Year 1, but Lawrence must show improvements in Year 2. It has been an ugly first season for the next John Elway.
30. Detroit Lions (2-13-1): Dan Campbell can’t be serious about Jared Goff potentially being the long-term answer at QB, right? Right?!
29. New York Jets (4-12): The only QBs with higher PFF grades than Zach Wilson over the last three weeks go by the names Herbert, Burrow, Mahomes, Rodgers, Brady, Allen, and Prescott. Pretty, pretty good.
28. Houston Texans (4-12): Good for the Texans for giving David Culley another season. It would be nice to see what he can do with an actual NFL roster. Texans never quit on him.
27. Carolina Panther (5-11): Remember when Matt Rhule was the NFL’s next great head coach? Things change fast when the losses pile up. It’s OK, he’ll find a cushy college landing spot after he’s jettisoned following the 2022 season.
26. Chicago Bears (6-10): Mike Glennon turned in one of the truly worst QB performances in recent memory Sunday against the Bears. That’s the guy Ryan Pace gave $45 million ($18 guaranteed) four years ago. Don’t put that on the resume when it gets updated.
25. Seattle Seahawks (6-10): Russell Wilson might be declining, but it shouldn’t matter for teams like the Giants, Broncos, Saints, and Steelers. However, I’m still not sold that Wilson has it in him to force his way out of the PNW.
24. Washington Football Team (6-10): Dan Snyder needs to give both his roster and stadium a massive facelift after part of the stands collapsed as Jalen Hurts was exiting the field Sunday. Everything in D.C. is a mess.
23. Atlanta Falcons (7-9): When Matt Ryan is getting flagged for taunting, it’s time to reevaluate the rule.
22. Denver Broncos (7-9): The Broncos posted a losing season for the fifth straight season and will miss the postseason for the sixth consecutive year. We’re a long way from the days of John Elway and Terrell Davis. Hell, the Bronco Faithful would probably take Jay Cutler and Tatum Bell at this point.
21. Minnesota Vikings (7-9): Kirk Cousins’ decision to not get vaccinated and instead incase himself in plastic didn’t work, and he cost his team a chance at the playoffs as a result. That’s $35 million well spent for the “leader” of your football team.
20. Cleveland Browns (7-8): “At Home With Baker Mayfield” gets an extended run time to start the year as the Browns were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday. Big decisions are on the horizon in Cleveland.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): The Dolphins played a real quarterback for the first time in over a month, and the results were as expected as Ryan Tannehill eliminated Miami from playoff contention. Until next year, ‘Fins.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1): After watching Antonio Brown self-combust again, can we retroactively give Mike Tomlin five straight Coach of the Year awards for having relatively drama-free teams with Brown and Le’Veon Bell?
17. New Orleans Saints (8-8): Has Netflix contacted Kevin James about reprising his role as Sean Payton in a movie about the 2021 Saints making the playoffs without a legitimate option at QB for the final 11 weeks? Better get on it, execs.
16. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): The Ravens have lost four games by two or fewer points this season. Couple that with the plague of injuries they have suffered, and you have an unfortunate recipe to miss the playoffs.
15. Indianapolis Colts (9-7): Carson Wentz felt “sluggish” after testing positive for COVID and played poorly in a must-win game after missing a week of practice. The Colts QB might not see the correlation, but actions have consequences. Both for him and the Colts.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (9-7): Daniel Carlson has won the Raiders four games with his right leg this season. Ice water runs through his veins.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7): The Eagles clinched a playoff berth and still will have three first-round picks in April’s draft. Best of both worlds for the City of Brotherly Love.
12. 49ers (9-7): Trey Lance looked like a guy who hasn’t played a lot of quarterback in his life Sunday. There were good moments and bad. Imagine what he might look like had he been getting regular snaps.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7): Justin Herbert set the Chargers’ single-season record for touchdown passes Sunday in just his second season. Pretty impressive, considering Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers both wore the lightning bolt in their Hall of Fame careers.
10. Dallas Cowboys (11-5): Pummeling the WFT didn’t fix the Cowboys’ offense. They can’t run it, and Dak Prescott continues to be shaky. They are out of time to fix things.
9. New England Patriots (10-6): It feels like we’re headed for Patriots-Bills Part Three in the Wild Card Round. Don’t hate it.
8. Buffalo Bills (10-6): Josh Allen followed up his tour de force performance vs. the Patriots by throwing for just 120 yards and three interceptions. The fact that it was still enough to beat and cover vs. the Falcons says more about Atlanta than it does the Bills.
7. Arizona Cardinals (11-5): Kyler Murray is now 9-0 in his football career at AT&T Stadium. Bad news for a Cowboys team that the Cardinals are projected to face in the Wild Card Round.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4): Add Bruce Arians to the list of people Antonio Brown has made a fool of with Sunday’s likely career-ending tantrum. It says a lot about the NFL that Brown’s episode, and not the violence he committed against women, will be the final nail in his football coffin. Quitting on your team is the cardinal sin in the league.
5. Tennessee Titans (11-5): The Titans are on track to be the worst No. 1 seed by DVOA in history. But if Derrick Henry returns in two weeks, they have as good a shot as anyone to come out of the conference.
4. Los Angeles Rams (12-4): Legitimate Super Bowl contenders shouldn’t need a last-second touchdown to beat a depleted Ravens team. The Rams have been shaky for the last six weeks, and now they finish the season against their own personal boogeyman -- Kyle Shanahan. That’s not ideal as Sean McVay’s team looks to get right before the postseason.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Joe Burrow’s “eff it, Ja’Marr is down there somewhere” offense torched the Chiefs and delivered a division title to Cincinnati. It’s a new era in the AFC North.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): The Chiefs were due for a loss, and it took a historic performance from Ja’Marr Chase for the Bengals to pull it off. They aren’t as lethal as they have been, but it would be foolish to bet against them in the postseason.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3): Green Bay’s defense has some issues, but I’m not sure there’s any team in the NFC that can exploit their weaknesses. Everything is coming up Rodgers.