NFL Teams Poised to Play Spoiler over the Final 3 Weeks of 2022

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2022

NFL Teams Poised to Play Spoiler over the Final 3 Weeks of 2022

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    Steelers edge T.J. Watt
    Steelers edge T.J. WattDavid J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    For many NFL teams, the 2022 playoff race has already begun to heat up. For others, though, it's largely time to look ahead to the 2023 offseason.

    Of course, even teams with no shot at the playoffs this year still have to finish out the 2022 schedule. Some will undoubtedly be jockeying for draft positioning, but some of them will relish the chance to play spoiler.

    We saw the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans nearly pull it off over the weekend, and the Jacksonville Jaguars did spoil things for the Dallas Cowboys with a stunning overtime victory on Sunday. Dallas will have to wait another week to secure a postseason ticket.

    As of Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings have clinched playoff berths. However, multiple postseason spots are up for grabs, and both the AFC and NFC No. 1 seeds are up for grabs. Those spots won't be decided by the teams vying for them alone. The opposition—regardless of its record—can still throw a proverbial wrench into playoff hopefuls' plans.

    Here, we'll examine seven teams that are poised to play the role of spoiler over the final three weeks. We'll dive into why they can pull off a surprising upset or two and which games they should be circling for that spoiler opportunity.

    Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Falcons QB Desmond Ridder
    Falcons QB Desmond RidderDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Technically, the Atlanta Falcons remain in play for the NFC South title. However, Atlanta's decision to turn to rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder—a decision that was announced before previous starter Marcus Mariota decided to undergo season-ending surgery—suggests that Atlanta is looking ahead.

    However, this doesn't mean that the Falcons won't wreck the playoff plans of the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Baltimore is on the schedule for Week 16, while the Buccaneers will visit Atlanta for the season finale.

    The Falcons can potentially beat both playoff hopefuls by utilizing their creative and physical running attack. Atlanta's ability to move the ball on the ground—it came into Week 15 ranked fourth in rushing and fifth in yards per carry—has confounded several opponents this season.

    Atlanta beat the Seattle Seahawks, who are clinging on to fading playoff hopes, back in Week 3. In Week 6, the Falcons rocked the newly crowned NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers in a 28-14 blowout.

    Ridder, who threw for 97 yards and logged 38 rushing yards in Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, can play the same game manager role that Mariota did during Atlanta's earlier upset victories.

    With the tandem of Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier capable of chewing up yards on the ground—the Falcons have topped 100 rushing yards in every game but one this season—no team is truly safe from the upset against Atlanta.

Chicago Bears

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    Bears QB Justin Fields
    Bears QB Justin FieldsMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bears aren't a particularly talented team. They lack reliable weapons on the offensive side of the ball and feature a lackluster defense that was further weakened at the trade deadline.

    Chicago's defense—which came into Week 15 ranked 30th in points allowed—lost Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn in midseason trades.

    However, the Bears do have a rising star in quarterback Justin Fields, and that makes them a threat. Fields and his superb dual-threat ability will keep Chicago in games.

    The Bears have already beaten San Francisco and the New England Patriots this season while losing to the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins by a combined four points in Weeks 9 and 10.

    Fields and the Bears gave the Eagles everything they could handle on Sunday. Fields finished with 152 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and 95 rushing yards in a five-point loss. In the process, he delivered only the fourth 1,000-yard rushing season by a quarterback in league history.

    Over the final three weeks, Chicago has a rematch with the Lions and games against the Bills and Vikings.

    While Buffalo and Minnesota have clinched playoff berths, both are still in play for their respective conference's No. 1 seeds. The Vikings need a lot of help—specifically, they need the Eagles to lose out while going undefeated—but the Bills are in a very tight race atop the AFC.

    While Chicago shouldn't be favored in any of its remaining contests, it will have the potential to pull off an upset as long as Fields remains healthy. That could have a massive impact on the playoff seeding of both conferences.

Denver Broncos

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    Broncos WR Courtland Sutton
    Broncos WR Courtland SuttonGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Things have not gone as expected for the Denver Broncos. Denver was supposed to be a contender after trading for quarterback Russell Wilson, but Wilson has not provided the offensive spark the Broncos were hoping to get.

    In Week 15, Wilson sat despite clearing concussion protocol.

    "As an organization, we decided to give [Wilson] another week to get ready so he's ready to go for the Los Angeles Rams," Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said, per ESPN's Jeff Legwold.

    While the Broncos offense—which ranked dead-last in scoring before dropping 24 points behind quarterback Brett Rypien on Sunday—won't scare many teams, Denver's defense should. Even after trading pass-rusher Bradley Chubb at the deadline, the Broncos boast a formidable defense.

    Coming into Week 15, the Broncos ranked seventh in total defense and fourth in points allowed. That side of the ball has allowed the Broncos to hang in games against playoff-caliber teams like the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens.

    Next week's opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, is out of the playoff mix. However, Denver will finish the season against Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers, who are still vying for a playoff spot.

    The Broncos were within a touchdown of upsetting the Chiefs in Week 14, and they took the Chargers to overtime in their first meeting of 2022. Neither team should view Denver as an easy win.

    With Kansas City fighting for the AFC's No. 1 seed and the Chargers vying for a wild-card spot, the Broncos could derail the postseason plans of not one but two division rivals.

Green Bay Packers

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    Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
    Packers QB Aaron RodgersMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    At 5-8, the Green Bay Packers have an incredibly slim shot at making the postseason. If they fail to get past the Rams on Monday night, their playoff dreams will be over.

    However, the Packers have three prime opportunities to play spoiler down the stretch. They'll finish the season by visiting the Miami Dolphins and hosting the Vikings and Lions. As previously mentioned, the Vikings still have an outside chance of claiming the NFC's No. 1 seed.

    The Lions are trying to stay alive in the wild-card race, while the Dolphins are trying to keep a wild-card slot.

    Can the Packers knock off any of these three playoff-caliber squads? It's possible, even if Green Bay hasn't played like a contender often this season.

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been uncharacteristically average in 2022 (92.4 passer rating), while Green Bay's defense has also underwhelmed. The Packers came into Week 15 ranked 23rd in scoring and 20th in points allowed.

    Still, we've seen the occasional glimpse of greatness from Rodgers this season, notably in a Week 10 upset of the Cowboys. He should have standout rookie receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs together and healthy down the stretch—which hasn't happened often this season.

    According to The Athletic's Mark Schneidman, Doubs and Watson have played just 70 snaps together in 2022.

    Rodgers has also been playing through a thumb injury and should be healthier coming out of the Week 14 bye. If he can find some of the magic he showed as the 2020 and 2021 MVP—and the defense can find some semblance of respectability—Green Bay could alter the postseason plans of three different franchises.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence
    Jaguars QB Trevor LawrenceJustin Ford/Getty Images

    The Jaguars might not be ready to contend just yet, but they're still alive at 6-8 and they've shown a ton of growth in 2022.

    Jacksonville's young defense, headlined by rookies Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd, plays fast and aggressively. It has only notched 23 sacks but has logged an impressive 22 turnovers on the season.

    2021 first overall pick Trevor Lawrence, meanwhile, has begun to morph into a true franchise quarterback. He came into Sunday with 20 touchdown passes, just six interceptions and a 95.4 passer rating.

    Lawrence had a mostly great game against the Cowboys on Sunday, though it was marred by a late fumble with the Jags driving for a potential game-winning score late in regulation. Lawrence still finished with 318 passing yards and four touchdowns and engineered a field-goal drive that sent the game to extra time.

    This combination has made the Jags a team that can beat playoff-caliber opponents, with their overtime win over Dallas serving as the latest example. Jacksonville also knocked off the Ravens in Week 12 and steamrolled the Tennessee Titans in Week 14.

    Tennessee is on Jacksonville's slate for Week 18. While the Titans may have the NFC South clinched by then and won't be in the running for the AFC's No. 1 seed, Jacksonville can potentially cement Tennessee's spot as the lowest-seeded division champion.

    In Week 16, the Jags can potentially crush the fading playoff hopes of the New York Jets, who fell to 7-7 on Sunday.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Rams QB Baker Mayfield
    Rams QB Baker MayfieldKevin Sabitus/Getty Images

    The Rams have been arguably the biggest disappointment in the NFL this season. The defending Super Bowl champions have stumbled to a 4-9 record and are without injured stars Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald and Matthew Stafford.

    Instead of battling for another championship, the Rams have been fighting just to field a competitive team. Players like Ben Skowronek and recent addition Baker Mayfield have become offensive centerpieces.

    Yet, as the Rams showed in Week 14, they can still find ways to win games. Despite joining the team just two days earlier, Mayfield engineered a penalty-assisted 98-yard game-winning drive in less than two minutes to beat the Las Vegas Raiders.

    Credit Mayfield for quickly adapting to his new offense, and credit head coach Sean McVay for making that transition easy.

    That win all but ended the Raiders' playoff hopes in 2022, and the Rams will have another chance to shatter some postseason dreams on Monday night. L.A. will visit the Packers, who are clinging on to the dimmest of playoff hopes at 5-8.

    The Packers can be spoilers themselves, but as of Monday, they're still alive for a wild-card spot. Los Angeles can change Green Bay's role with a win.

    The Rams could also potentially end the playoff hopes of the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, who they will play over the final two weeks.

    Both the Chargers (7-6) and Seahawks (7-7) are still afloat in their respective conference's wild-card races. Either or both could be knocked out if Mayfield and the Rams recreate the magic they found late against Las Vegas.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin
    Steelers head coach Mike TomlinKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Never count out the Pittsburgh Steelers as long as Mike Tomlin is head coach. Pittsburgh had never experienced a losing season under Tomlin before the 2022 campaign. Sunday's win keeps that streak alive for at least one more week.

    Tomlin continues to have Pittsburgh playing hard despite having only a small chance of reaching the postseason.

    While Pittsburgh's defense (ranked 22nd overall through Week 14) isn't terrific, it features legitimate game-changers in T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The offense has weapons in the likes of Najee Harris, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth and Diontae Johnson.

    The Steelers also have a rising young quarterback in rookie Kenny Pickett, though Pickett missed Week 15 with his second concussion of 2022. The Steelers, though, did manage to knock off the Carolina Panthers with Mitch Trubisky under center.

    Pittsburgh might drive the hypothetical dagger into the dwindling playoff hopes of the 6-8 Cleveland Browns in the season finale, but its biggest chance to play spoiler will come in Week 17.

    That's the week in which Pittsburgh will visit the rival Ravens, who are trying to keep pace with the Cincinnati Bengals atop the AFC North. Baltimore lost to the Browns on Saturday and may need to win out to have any chance of claiming a division title.

    The Ravens and Bengals will play in Week 18, but Pittsburgh could potentially make that a meaningless game for Cincinnati as it pertains to the divisional race—Cincinnati still has a shot at the AFC's top seed.

    The Ravens didn't have star quarterback Lamar Jackson when Baltimore and Pittsburgh clashed in Week 14, but the Steelers played most of that game without Pickett. They lost by a mere two points.

    The quarterback situations for both teams will undoubtedly play a factor in Week 17. Regardless, the Steelers will have a prime opportunity to get a little revenge and possibly end Baltimore's hope of hosting a wild-card game.