A rich handful of half-baked teams are miles removed from this year's playoff picture.
It's tempting to cast them off into the godless sea -- catch you next September -- while zoning in on the squads still angling for January play.
Every one of these clubs, though, are laced with veterans and young starters still fighting to put two more weeks of solid play on tape. Not just for their own vain delights, but because the team-building process begins the minute these hobby-horse operations are shotgunned into the netherworld of the offseason.
While late-December football opens the door for franchises to shut down aching veterans, Sunday's slate offers the chance for role players, embattled coaches and aging talent to make one last case to stick around.
Here's our list of who finds themselves on a critical audition in Week 16:
1) Niners quarterback Nick Mullens vs. the Bears: Kyle Shanahan's reputation as a quarterback nurturer has only grown with the play of Mullens, the second-year passer who helped San Francisco take down the Seahawks for the first time in half a decade. His game requires more polish, but Mullins has averaged 340.3 yards per tilt over his past three starts at a meaty 9.3 yards per attempt with a 5:2 touchdown-to-pick ratio.
This comes after Shanahan milked solid play out of C.J. Beathard following Jimmy Garoppolo's season-ending knee injury. Mullens seemingly has cemented the No. 2 job for good, but I wonder if the Niners -- set for years to come with Jimmy G -- might pinpoint one interested quarterback-needy team willing to pay a draft pick for this intriguing young arm. Either way, these final two games matter for a player who floated in obscurity two months ago.
2) Dolphins passer Ryan Tannehill vs. the Jaguars: I can't blame Tannehill for Miami's hideous performance against the Vikings. He spent the game running for his life behind an open-barn-door line that allowed the Vikings to punish the quarterback for an outrageous nine sacks. Coming into Sunday, Tannehill was completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. Dolphins fans donning rose-colored glasses still pitch him as a promising starter, but Miami brass expressed legitimate interest in Baker Mayfield leading up to last year's draft.
The question is whether Adam Gase -- assuming he returns to South Beach -- still sees Tannehill as the answer. He's due a relatively affordable $18.7 million next season and $19-plus million in 2020. Durability has been a concern and so has the lack of starry moments where he hoists the team on his shoulders and drags them to glory. He's a perfectly acceptable middle-of-the-roader, but is that even remotely acceptable in today's NFL?
Amid whispers that new owner David Tepper might be compelled to move on, Rivera on Tuesday admitted he hates answering questions about his up-in-the-air future, saying, per ESPN's David Newton: "Absolutely, because I don't know. I've been through it a couple of times my first two seasons. But at the end of the day it comes down to one person [Tepper], and that's the only one that knows."
The annual coaching carousel is typically laced with one or two surprise dismissals, but the Panthers better be certain they can find someone better if they hit the ejector seat on the hyper-experienced Rivera. If Carolina cuts the cord, look for another team to pounce.
Brought to Cleveland by the previous regime, Collins is a pricey piece of this Browns defense, costing the front office $10 million next season and $12 million in 2020. The tea leaves suggest a new home by next September.
Marrone oversaw one of the AFC's edgiest, most watchable teams a year ago. One year later, he's the convenient fall guy for a brain trust that came into September with a massively risky plan under center. Blake Bortles-or-bust predictably busted, leaving this onetime Super Bowl hopeful to spin down the drain.
It always seemed the Bortles extension was hoisted upon Marrone -- he wasn't driving that train -- but such is life for an NFL coach who lacks organizational power. The next question is whether football czar Tom Coughlin will simply step in and take the role for himself.
6) Miami wideout DeVante Parker vs. the Jaguars: Along with the future of Tannehill, the Dolphins must decide how to proceed with the underwhelming wideout they made the 14th overall pick in 2015. Due a non-guaranteed $9.4 million next season under his fifth-year option, Parker has logged one 100-yard game over the past two seasons and only one outing above 50 yards in 2018.
Parker's agent fried the Fins for making the receiver a surprise inactive ahead of the trade deadline while Miami was actively shopping him. They never found a partner, but if Gase sticks around, it's hard to imagine Parker still hanging around heading into next season.
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