NFL Week 17 takeaways: What ails the Eagles? What should Bears do with draft’s No. 1 pick?


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After Week 17 in the NFL began with wins by the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys, the drama continued Sunday with 14 games, including 10 in the early window.

The San Francisco 49ers (NFC) and Baltimore Ravens (AFC) wrapped up the top seeds in their conferences with wins, and other squads jockeyed for spots or better positions in the 14-team field. After Sunday, there’s just one more week to get the job done.

The Athletic NFL writers Mike Jones, Ted Nguyen and Dan Pompei share their thoughts on Sunday’s biggest developments.

The Ravens locked up the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a 56-19 win over the Miami Dolphins behind an MVP-worthy performance from quarterback Lamar Jackson. After Sunday’s win and last week’s victory over the 49ers, is there anything to quibble about with Baltimore’s game?

The Ravens are a complete team and are doing everything at a high level. That includes playing with consistency. They manhandled the Dolphins — one of football’s best — even though they were coming off an emotional victory on the road and playing on a short week. They are handling challenge after challenge. The only potential danger for this team appears to be peaking too soon. Their defense is as good as any, and it comes up with sacks and takeaways. Offensively, they make chunk plays and come through in the clutch. Defenses can play Jackson exactly the way they intend to and still get torched. So far they have overcome injuries remarkably. What they are doing is a testament to the organization, the scouting and the coaching as well as the players. The vision laid out by general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh is being executed. DeCosta should get strong consideration for executive of the year and Harbaugh should get strong consideration for coach of the year.

Jones: The Ravens offense would be entirely different if Jackson were to get hurt, and their chances of contending would drop dramatically. Yes, they do still have that outstanding defense. And Tyler Huntley has shown he can keep an eye on things in place of Jackson. But this team isn’t a Super Bowl contender without No. 8. That’s the only weakness I can find, but it’s really nitpicking, especially since Jackson seems to be choosing his spots more wisely this year to ensure he keeps injury risks to a minimum.

Nguyen: This Ravens team is so well coached. Defensively, it shut down the Dolphins screen game and dropped perfectly into the spots Miami likes to attack in its play-action game. Offensively, what really stands out is how much the offense has improved around Jackson from a talent and schematic perspective. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken was scheming receivers wide open and, of course, Jackson made plays, too. He threw a strike to Isaiah Likely with a pass rusher around his legs on fourth-and-6, and Likely made an incredible one-handed catch and finished in the end zone. Naysayers used Jackson’s stats to make a case against his worthiness for MVP, but after throwing for five touchdowns Sunday, it’s getting harder and harder to find reasons not to give it to him. His passing and rushing touchdown total is now 29.

The Ravens don’t have a glaring weakness, other than perhaps lacking a true superstar at pass catcher. Sunday’s win was their seventh in double digits against a team with a winning record.

The Philadelphia Eagles struggled all day and then lost 35-31 to what had been a three-win Arizona Cardinals team. Philadelphia has dropped from the NFC’s No. 2 to the No. 5 seed. Can the Eagles fix whatever ails them in time for another extended postseason run?

I don’t know that the Eagles can find the cure for their ills, because even they don’t fully understand why they can’t get their groove back. Players, coaches, front office officials … they’re all a bit miffed. This might be something mental, because the Eagles certainly have all of the talent necessary to contend. Is it a delayed Super Bowl hangover? After opening the year 10-1, the Eagles looked immune to the traditional struggles that often plague the reigning Super Bowl runner-up. But now, they’re not only out of the running for the NFC’s top seed, but also they might not even win the NFC East. They can’t get right on either side of the ball, and they lack that instinct necessary to make a deep playoff run.

Nguyen: They just don’t have enough talent in their secondary to stop teams consistently. The Cardinals were without Marquise Brown and still lit them up. It has been an issue all season, and their defensive coordinator change from Sean Desai to Matt Patricia hasn’t and isn’t going to mask that issue. Offensively, the Eagles are fine, but they are inconsistent and they’re stale schematically. They’re sound, but they don’t do anything new and their game plans don’t change much week to week. There’s a chance they will unveil some new offensive wrinkles in the postseason, but they’ll have to win shootouts.

Pompei: It is one thing to lose to the 49ers, Cowboys or Seattle Seahawks. It’s another to lose to the Cardinals. And it’s something else to lose to all four teams in a five-game stretch. The Eagles were a really good team for the first 12 weeks of the season, probably the best in football. They aren’t anymore. They are still dangerous enough to beat a team or two in the playoffs because they know how to win and have plenty of talent. But they are struggling on multiple fronts, which leads to the suspicion there is too much to fix and not enough time. In their last six games, they are giving up an average of 31.5 points per game. They’ve already hit the nuclear button by having Patricia take over for Desai. What else can they do?
The Bills (10-6) and Dolphins (11-5) will play each other for the AFC East division title in Week 18 after Buffalo’s win at the New England Patriots and Miami’s loss to Baltimore. Who will win next weekend’s game and why?

These appear to be teams headed in opposite directions — the Bills ascending and the Dolphins descending — and that might be proved true in the postseason. But the Dolphins can bounce back from a tough game against the Ravens and avenge their earlier loss to the Bills if they have some luck with their long injury list. It won’t be easy, though. They will need to come up with takeaways on defense and make big plays on offense. If the Dolphins can play against the Bills the way they did against the Cowboys two weeks ago, they can head into the playoffs with a feel-good win.

Nguyen: The Dolphins are getting hit by injuries at the wrong time. Jaylen Waddle might not play against the Bills because of a high ankle sprain that kept him out of Week 17. Tyreek Hill isn’t 100 percent from a high ankle sprain he suffered earlier in the season. It also looks like Miami might have lost Bradley Chubb for the season.

The Bills suffered a lot of injuries earlier in the season, but they appear to have adjusted and they’re starting to find their groove at the right time. They’ve won four straight and might have found a real run game to aid Josh Allen. The offense had a tough game against the Patriots, but New England has been playing lights-out defensively lately. The Bills will take the AFC East and be the team no one wants to compete against in the AFC playoffs.

Jones: I’ll go with Buffalo. The Bills have the momentum, and in the second half of the season (and since firing Ken Dorsey), their offense has recommitted to the run game and a more physical brand of football. The Dolphins have an explosive offense and talented defense. They’re led by a highly creative, offense-minded coach, Mike McDaniel, and a well-respected defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio. However, they’ve consistently struggled against more physical teams. Last week against Dallas was the first time they won ugly. Then, they reverted to form this week against Baltimore and got bullied on both sides of the ball.

The Bills already throttled the Dolphins 48-20 earlier this season, and now they’re really rolling. Buffalo will complete its rebound from 11th in the AFC and out of the playoff picture to clinching its fourth straight AFC East title.

The Kansas City Chiefs survived a tough fight against the Cincinnati Bengals to win 25-17, clinching a playoff berth and the AFC West division title. Other than beating the Los Angeles Chargers, what does Kansas City need to do in the regular-season finale to enter the playoffs feeling confident about its chances?

Finding a way to score more touchdowns would help. The Chiefs were 1-for-3 in the red zone Sunday and needed six field goals to make that 25-17 win possible. So, though the win and playoff-clincher feels good, Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs know they still have work to do. Getting 127 receiving yards from Rashee Rice was great, as were the 130 rushing yards from Isiah Pacheco, but to thrive in the playoffs, the Chiefs have to score more touchdowns.

Nguyen: They need to have a huge rushing game against a porous Chargers rush defense. Pacheco was electric Sunday. If it weren’t for several dropped passes, the score would have been lopsided, but I don’t think the Chiefs will be able to solve their receiver issues this season. They need to lean on this run game and trust their defense. Against the Chargers, they need to build confidence in their offensive line’s ability to physically own the line of scrimmage. Mahomes can still spark this team when he needs to, but he just doesn’t have the help he needs on the perimeter to do it as often as he did in the past.

Pompei: What made the Chiefs great in 2022 was their ability to impose their will on opponents. That has been mostly missing this season. They have evolved — or devolved — into a team that usually can win by taking advantage of opponents’ failings and mistakes. What would help them most heading into the playoffs is a game in which they can do whatever it is they set out to do — especially the offense. Getting Travis Kelce going would be nice. He hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game since October, and the Chiefs really don’t have a chance of winning the Super Bowl without Kelce’s being a dominant force.

The Bears clinched the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft for the second straight year thanks to the Carolina Panthers’ loss and the Cardinals’ win. What is the best move for Chicago with the top pick this year?

I’ve been a Justin Fields truther since Chicago made him the No. 11 pick in 2021. He’s legitimately made some strides this season as a passer and has cut down on the negative plays (sacks and turnovers) while still making the spectacular plays with his legs. He still has room to grow, and the Bears will have to decide whether they want to be patient with him with a potential new contract looming or use their top pick to draft a new cost-controlled quarterback. From the outside looking in, I’d try to trade that pick for a haul and build around Fields. He desperately needs a new offensive coordinator, though.

However: I would totally understand if the Bears opted to trade Fields and draft another quarterback. They are in a good position and have a lot of options. How they handle this muddy road ahead will determine what kind of team they will be for the next decade. Good luck.

Jones: Keep Fields, draft Marvin Harrison Jr. and hire a new offensive coordinator who has the innovative skills necessary to maximize Fields’ talents and keep him headed in the right direction. Fields remains a work in progress, and he’s still a bit of a roller coaster. But he’s shown enough flashes in this second half of the season to spark optimism. A game-changing talent like Harrison and an upgrade from Luke Getsy at offensive coordinator could have a similar impact for Fields as the Hill and McDaniel arrivals did for Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. Caleb Williams and Drake Maye are talented and intriguing prospects. But Fields is also a special talent. I say stick with him and keep doing everything possible to help him grow.

Pompei: If the Bears believe they can draft someone who can be an elite, top-five quarterback in the game, they need to commit to that and move on from Fields. Down the stretch, Fields has played pretty well — he had a nice game against the Atlanta Falcons. So he has not made this an easy call. But the decision is more about the evaluation of Williams, Maye, Bo Nix, Jayden Daniels, J.J. McCarthy and Michael Penix Jr. If Ryan Poles — or whoever is making the call — believes one or more of those quarterbacks can eventually have All-Pro potential, the decision is easy. Retaining Fields also would involve a contract extension and financial sacrifices for other parts of the roster. A rookie quarterback and a rookie contract would enable the Bears to build their best team.