The postseason is just days away, and the 12 teams are locked in.
The playoffs are all about momentum, and teams that generally do well are trending upward when January hits. On the offensive side of the ball, the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, who both hold byes this weekend, are matchup nightmares for any defense. But not all offenses are working seamlessly right now.
Here are four offenses that are most concerning heading into the playoffs:
1) Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys' offense was firing on all cylinders after Amari Cooper's arrival via trade in October. The former Oakland Raider seemed to be the answer, providing a boost to both the pass and ground games; from Week 9 through Week 14, the Cowboys ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards, eighth in rushing yards and fourth in total offense. And in that span, Cooper was averaging 8.8 targets, 6.7 catches, 107 yards and a touchdown per game. But he's cooled off exponentially the last three weeks with just 83 yards on 23 targets. Dallas' rankings in that span dropped accordingly, to 15th in passing yards, 28th in rushing yards and 20th in total offense. The Cowboys still have one of the best running backs in football in Ezekiel Elliott and an improving defense, which are major keys to postseason success. But at some point, Dallas will look to its quarterback to go above and beyond the Xs and Os in a crucial situation, and this is where my biggest concern lies. Dak Prescott has been so inconsistent all season that I don't know if we're going to see the guy who threw a game-winning dart to Cole Beasley on Sunday or the one who flounders in big moments. We won't have to wait long to find out. I wouldn't be surprised if, during the second game of Wild Card Weekend, Seattle loads the box, takes away Cooper and puts the pressure on Prescott to keep up with Russell Wilson and Co.
2) Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have the opposite problem. They have a quarterback who can make plays pretty consistently when called upon -- if Nick Folescouldn't, Philly wouldn't have won the Super Bowl or sneaked into this year's postseason. (It's worth noting that Foles left Sunday's contest with bruised ribs, but he is currently on track to startagainst the Bears on Sunday.) The Eagles are missing two things they had last season, though: a good ground attack and a consistent defense. In 2017, the Eagles' third-ranked run game allowed Foles to succeed on run-pass options, yet they haven't been nearly as successful in 2018 because the ground game ranks 28th. Without a solid run game, the defending champs will struggle -- this deficiency could ultimately be their downfall.
3) Los Angeles Chargers:Philip Rivers was an MVP candidate a few weeks ago, but his play has dropped dramatically since Week 15; he's thrown six INTs in the last three games after throwing as many in his first 13 games of the season. He's not making great decisions right now, and mistakes can permeate a team quickly, especially in high-pressure situations like the playoffs. Not to mention, it's clear that running back Melvin Gordon still isn't 100 percent after missing multiple games with a knee injury -- and the Chargers are heading on the road to play a Ravens team that started the offense's "meh" streak a few weeks ago.
4) Houston Texans:Deshaun Watson has too much on his plate, working behind an offensive line that has royally struggled in pass protection. He's been sacked a league-high 62 times (and at least four times in 10 different games this season). Per Elias, there were only six other quarterbacks in NFL history who were sacked at least as many times as Watson in 2018. I was one of them (sacked 76 times in 2002), so I know how hard it is to play the position when you're getting hit all the time. For me, it's frustrating that the Texans have this same problem 16 years later. Watson did a good job creating when plays broke down in the regular season, but he won't be able to do nearly the same amount of damage against playoff-caliber defenses. DeAndre Hopkins has been unreal and Lamar Miller's return helps, but if current trends hold, Houston's poor pass protection will prevent the Texans from going deep in the playoffs. Bill O'Brien must find a way to keep his franchise QB upright.
Each week in the 2018 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Wild Card Week pecking order is below.
Mahomes didn't waste time in his first year as an NFL starter, setting record after record. On Sunday, he became the seventh player in NFL history to throw for at least 5,000 yards in a season. He set multiple franchise marks this season, including in passing yards (5,097), passing TDs (50), completions (383), passer rating (113.8) and 300-yard games (10). There's no question in my mind about who should be this year's league MVP.
Although Brees was inactive against the Panthers on Sunday, he finished the season as an MVP candidate after posting career-best marks in completion percentage (74.4), TD-to-INT ratio (32:5) and passer rating (115.7), and tying his finest won-loss record (13-2).
The Gurley hype has faded in December, with a knee injury keeping him out of the final two games, but that doesn't take away from what he accomplished this season. In 14 games, he had 256 carries for 1,251 yards and 17 rushing TDs, plus 59 catches for 580 receiving yards and four receiving TDs. That's 21 scrimmage TDs.
With the AFC South title on the line Sunday, Hopkins showed out and had a career-high 12 receptions for 147 yards to help the Texans win the division and pick up momentum heading into Wild Card Weekend. Hopkins set an NFL record with 528 receptions in his first six NFL seasons, passing Antonio Brown (526).
For the second time in his career, Jones finished at the top of the wide receiver ranks, leading the league with 1,677 receiving yards this season. Jones' production was one of the bright spots for the Falcons in a trying year.
McCaffrey was used very little in Carolina's season finale, getting just five touches for 40 scrimmage yards. On top of becoming the third player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 100 receptions in the same season, McCaffrey was just 35 scrimmage yards short of 2,000 for the season.
Zeke did not play in Week 17 and still led the league in rushing yards (1,434) for the second time in his three-year career. He also ranks first in the league in carries (304) and touches (381), and he's second in scrimmage yards (2,001).
As mentioned in the intro, Rivers has struggled his last three times out, throwing half of his 12 INTs this season in that span. Despite rocky play late in the season, Rivers has had one of the best campaigns of his career, one definitely worthy of a top-10 spot in this list.
Barkley had one of the best seasons in history by a rookie running back, finishing with 2,028 scrimmage yards (tied for third all-time among rookies) and 91 receptions (first all-time among rookie running backs). He did all this with a mediocre (at best) offensive line. Imagine what Barkley will do if the Giants improve up front.
For a time on Sunday, Kelce held the NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season (1,336), with the mark later broken by San Francisco's George Kittle (1,377). Kelce did break franchise records for receiving yards and receptions (103) by a tight end that were previously set by Tony Gonzalez, a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2019.
Thomas finished the season with career and franchise highs in receptions (125) and receiving yards (1,405). He's been a great player since coming into the league in 2016, but he finally got league-wide recognition this season.
Hill finished fourth in the league with 1,479 receiving yards this season and had a career-high 12 touchdown receptions. He keeps getting better with every passing season, and I can't wait to watch the Mahomes-Hill connection for years to come.
Luck's 39 passing touchdowns this season are second-most in the NFL, behind only Mahomes (50). The Colts made a point to shore up their offensive line, run game and defense, and Luck's impressive play has only bettered the team this season. With Luck playing well, Indy could do some major damage in the postseason.
Kamara racked up 12 scrimmage touchdowns in the first eight games of the season, but then his production dipped significantly -- he only had six the rest of the way. He should become the feature back for New Orleans next season after what he did for the Saints during Mark Ingram's suspension. Plus, Ingram is a free agent next year.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: There were a lot of firsts this season for Rodgers, who ended the year by exiting Sunday's game against the Lions with a concussion, but they weren't necessarily good. The 2018 campaign marked the most losses by Rodgers (nine) in a regular season since 2008 (his first year as a starter), and he threw the fewest TD passes (25) in any season in which he played at least 10 games. The thing that keeps him on this list is his record-setting streak for most consecutive passes without an interception (402) between Week 4 and Week 15.
Jared Goff, QB, Rams: Thankfully, Goff turned things around heading into the playoffs, posting a four-touchdown day against the 49ers. He had a career season in several categories (364 completions, 64.9 completion percentage, 4,688 passing yards, 32 passing touchdowns) and has gained the experience to lead the Rams to a postseason win.
George Kittle, TE, 49ers: Kittle surprised throughout the 2018 season and went out with a bang. On Sunday, he hauled in a career-high nine receptions for 149 yards and a TD, and he set the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season with 1,377.
Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: He had 86 receptions for a career-best 1,524 receiving yards (17.7 yards per catch) this season. There is a lot of change coming to Tampa this offseason, but Evans will remain a huge offensive centerpiece.