Every NFL Team's Biggest Subplot for the Rest of 2018November 7, 2018
Every NFL Team's Biggest Subplot for the Rest of 2018
If you look at all 32 NFL teams' 2018 campaigns as 17-chapter books representing each week of the regular season (with some bonus chapters for future playoff teams), we can already discern some storylines for the entire year without reading the second half. For example, a few teams are already looking forward to 2019 after rough first halves. There is no intrigue in the final eight chapters.
The plots for most teams' 2018 seasons are obvious at this point (we'll look at them in brief regardless), but we'll dive deeper into the biggest subplot for each squad, which may not be as visible. These are storylines fans should care most about from now through Week 17.
Obviously, the subplots are all related to the plots in some fashion (e.g., quarterback Blake Bortles' performance and running back Leonard Fournette's health are the keys to the main plot of whether the Jacksonville Jaguars can make the playoffs).
We'll go around the league for all of them.
Plot: The development of rookie quarterback Josh Rosen
Subplot: The progress of the Byron Leftwich-led offense
Like any team on this list, the progress of a rookie quarterback is the main 2018 plot. In the Arizona Cardinals' case, the subplot is the offense around Rosen as a whole.
The Cardinals relieved offensive coordinator Mike McCoy of his duties following a rough 1-6 start in which they averaged the second-fewest points per game.
Quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich took over, and while the offense didn't light up the scoreboard in his debut (an 18-15 win over the San Francisco 49ers), the Cardinals did engineer a game-winning touchdown drive in the last minute.
The play of David Johnson, whom McCoy frequently asked to run up the middle with little success, per football analyst Warren Sharp, is particularly important. The same goes for Leftwich's utilization of Larry Fitzgerald and the development of rookie wideout Christian Kirk.
Plot: The Falcons' playoff push
Subplot: The resurgent defense and whether it's for real
The Atlanta Falcons have been without safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal for most of the year, as that duo suffered season-ending injuries. Linebacker Deion Jones has been out since Week 1 with a foot injury, while defensive tackle Grady Jarrett missed two contests.
The return of Jarrett has coincided with a renewed and strong Falcons defense, which had allowed 34.8 points from Weeks 2 through 6.
Since then, the Falcons held the Giants to six points through three-plus quarters before holding on for a 23-20 victory. A 38-14 road win over the five-win Washington Redskins brought them to .500.
The key is whether this good defensive run can continue, and if so, is it enough to earn an NFC playoff berth? The Falcons are seventh in the NFC—one spot behind the 5-3-1 Minnesota Vikings—and need to keep it up.
Plot: Head coach John Harbaugh's status
Subplot: Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson's performance (if he earns a start)
The Ravens are reeling after three straight losses. The running game has been dormant for most of the year, while the passing attack has been inconsistent.
Their calling card for the better part of their existence (a stingy defense) has been torn up for 59 points in the past two weeks.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that head coach John Harbaugh, who won a Super Bowl with the team in 2012 and has led Baltimore to the playoffs six times since 2008, is on the "hot seat."
That's a situation to monitor moving forward, but if Baltimore is out of the playoff picture within a month, the next question is whether we'll see rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson take over for 11-year veteran Joe Flacco.
The rookie out of Louisville has seen some time (largely on running plays) but deserves a chance to show what he has if Baltimore is mathematically eliminated.
Plot: The health of rookie quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds
Subplot: Allen's and Edmunds' development in midst of lost season
With all due respect to the rest of the Bills, the status of two players is far more important than anything else.
The team's 2018 first-round picks (quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds) were brought in to be Buffalo's centerpieces for a brighter future.
That happier time is not now, as the team is 2-7 and has scored the fewest points per game in the league. Not only that, but Allen (sprained elbow) and Edmunds (concussion) have missed playing time after suffering injuries.
Provided both players are good to go later in the year, the hope is to see improvement from those two. Edmunds looked good as the team's leading tackler before he suffered the concussion, while Allen struggled to hit his receivers (54.0 percent completion rate, five interceptions, two touchdowns).
Still, he has a powerful arm, can make plays with his legs and is just 22 years old. He has plenty of time to develop.
Plot: The Panthers' quest for an NFC South crown and a top-two playoff seed
Subplot: The defense's coverage problems
The 6-2 Panthers are just one game back of the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South and still need to play them twice. Not only is a division crown within reach, but a top-two seed is as well. Even getting the NFC's top honor isn't out of the question with the 8-1 Los Angeles Rams only one game ahead in the loss column.
The offense has been sensational of late, as the team has scored 78 points in its past two games. However, the defense has been leaky at times, most notably against tight ends. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' O.J. Howard just scored twice against them, which stretches the team's touchdown-allowed streak to the position to four games.
Carolina also ranks a so-so 14th in the league in yards per play allowed, and that may need to improve for its stretch run.
Plot: The Bears' quest for an NFC North title (and perhaps a top-two seed)
Subplot: The health of edge-rusher Khalil Mack
The Bears are in the thick of a tough NFC North race with the Vikings breathing down their neck and the Green Bay Packers not too far behind.
Their success in their division-winning endeavor largely depends on the health of edge-rusher Khalil Mack, who had five sacks in his team's first four games and made a tremendous impact during Chicago's 3-1 start.
After a Week 5 bye, Mack suffered an ankle injury in Week 6 and played with it through Week 7. The Bears lost games to the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots during that stretch to drop to 3-3.
Mack, who did not get a sack in either game, was then rested for the team's next two contests (both wins). Head coach Matt Nagy called him "day to day" in a Monday press conference.
The keys are now his return date and whether he gets back to the form he showed in September. If the answers are "soon" and "yes," then the Bears have the slight edge in the NFC North race and could even make a push for a first-round bye.
Plot: The health of star wideout A.J. Green
Subplot: Will the Bengals hold onto a playoff berth?
The 5-3 Bengals are in position for a wild-card berth after missing the playoffs the past two years, but three teams are hot on their heels with four or five victories.
The Bengals may fall behind that pack, however, as the team will be without wideout A.J. Green for some time. Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, "he will not need foot surgery, but (Green) is expected to miss at least two games before doctors re-evaluate his foot injury to determine when he can play again."
Hopefully Green is back after missing two games, but that report doesn't sound particularly promising. If the foot injury lingers deeper into the season (perhaps even into December), the Bengals are at risk of falling below .500, let alone making the playoffs.
The team is already without No. 1 tight end Tyler Eifert, who suffered a season-ending broken ankle. Wideout Tyler Boyd leads the team in receptions with 49, but sans Eifert and Green, the next-leading pass-catcher is tight end C.J. Uzomah, who has 184 receiving yards and two scores.
Ultimately, the Bengals are at significant risk of missing the playoffs.
Plot: The development of quarterback Baker Mayfield
Subplot: The development of the young defensive stars
The Browns relieved head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley from their duties following a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8. The key offseason plot will center on the team's new coaching staff, but until then, the Browns need to focus on developing a sensational young core of talent.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is most important in that regard, but the defense has nine players 26 years old or younger who have made six or more starts.
It's crucial for those players (e.g. defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward) to continue their development, end the year on a high note and look toward a new era beginning in 2019.
Plot: The status of head coach Jason Garrett
Subplot: Even with new wideout Amari Cooper, is the offense a lost cause?
The Dallas Cowboys are one of seven NFL teams scoring fewer than 20 points per game, and they just lost to another team in that group (the Tennessee Titans) at home by two touchdowns.
After the game, team owner Jerry Jones was asked whether he would consider a head coaching change from Jason Garrett, who has led the team since 2010. Garrett has gone 70-58, but he has just one playoff win in seven full years.
Jones said he wouldn't make an in-season switch, although as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk noted, the team owner said the same thing about Wade Phillips in 2010 and moved him three days later.
The key to Garrett's future is the offense. If that unit can turn things around and lead the Cowboys to a playoff berth (they are just two games in back of the first-place Washington Redskins for the NFC East), that could be good enough for Garrett and his staff to stay.
Wideout Amari Cooper did well in his debut (five catches, 58 yards, one touchdown), although the team was shut out after halftime. Improvement is needed quick.
Plot: Will head coach Vance Joseph survive the season?
Subplot: The development of rookie edge-rusher Bradley Chubb
The Broncos are mathematically alive for the playoffs, but they are sitting 13th in the AFC standings. Any realistic postseason chance they had was lost when they fell to the Houston Texans 20-19 on Sunday.
The plot for this season is whether head coach Vance Joseph, who has gone 8-17 in his two-year tenure, will make it through Week 17. General manager and president of football operations John Elway told Andrew Mason of Orange & Blue 760 that the team is sticking with Joseph for now.
Moving forward, the best reason to watch 2018 Broncos football may be to monitor rookie edge-rusher Bradley Chubb, who has been on fire in the past four weeks with 18 tackles, 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He and Von Miller (nine sacks) form the NFL's best pass-rushing duo. Chubb could easily develop into one of the game's best pass-rushers on a yearly basis.
Plot: Will the real Detroit Lions please stand up?
Subplot: The future of the Lions offense after two bad performances and the Golden Tate trade
The Detroit Lions made a pair of confusing moves before the trading deadline. They first looked like they were going to make a playoff push after trading for fantastic run-stopping defensive tackle Damon Harrison, but they then dealt No. 1 wideout Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-rounder.
The moves beg the question: Is this team trying to rebuild or contend? Most notably, where does the offense go from here after the Tate move?
The Lions have struggled recently, scoring just 23 points in their last two games combined. Tate was already gone by the second one, and the game ended with quarterback Matt Stafford being sacked 10 times and throwing for just 199 passing yards versus the Vikings.
Two games with the tough Bears defense and a Vikings rematch don't make for an easy road down the stretch, making one wonder if Detroit is destined for a second-half collapse.
Green Bay Packers
Plot: Will the Packers make a dent in the NFC North race?
Subplot: If not, will head coach Mike McCarthy last through the year?
The Green Bay Packers have an uphill climb to make the playoffs (let alone win the NFC North) after two straight losses to drop them to 3-4-1. They are looking up at the five-win Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings in the division. The latter team holds the last NFC wild-card spot.
Green Bay has suffered a significant number of offensive injuries (e.g. an MCL sprain for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a concussion for wideout Geronimo Allison), but head coach Mike McCarthy may be sitting on a hot seat. He has 6-1 odds from OddsShark to be the next coach fired (or the fourth-best in the NFL), and he has been the subject of much recent criticism.
To his credit, he's won a Super Bowl and has a 62.5 percent winning mark for his career, in addition to nine playoff appearances. But will that resume be good enough if the Packers don't make the playoffs and/or continue their slide?
Plot: Will the Texans win the AFC South and challenge for a top-two seed?
Subplot: How long will their winning streak last?
The 6-3 Texans are riding the high of a six-game winning streak after starting the season 0-3. They are a game-and-a-half clear of the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South race and two-and-a-half ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts.
Houston has an edge on another division crown and playoff appearance, but how hot can this team get? Will the Texans sputter and struggle to finish over .500, or can they push toward a top-two seed by running the table or losing just once?
The latter seems more likely than the former, as Houston's schedule isn't imposing. A three-game home stretch against teams with .500 records or worse is on the horizon. The Texans' only matchup against a winning team is against the 5-3 Washington Redskins this week, who just lost three starters to season-ending injuries and are sans left tackle Trent Williams, who is week to week with a thumb injury.
A 13-3 record isn't impossible to fathom, although something in the lower double digits seems more likely. Still, the Texans could be one of the NFL's stories of the year if they keep rolling.
Plot: Will the Colts go from 1-5 to an AFC playoff berth?
Subplot: Will a young defense be good enough for the stretch run?
The Colts have won two straight after going 1-5 to start the year. A playoff berth isn't out of the question, especially considering the team plays five of its next seven at home.
The offense has been sensational of late with 79 combined points in their past two games, and that's in part because the team is finally getting some key members back from injury (e.g. wideout T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle). If the offensive line protects quarterback Andrew Luck well, the Colts offense should be fine.
The issue is the defense, which has allowed the eighth-most points per game in the league.
Six of the team's starters are 24 years old or younger, so the unit has plenty of time to develop for the future. But can it grow up enough this year to put the Colts in playoff contention? If rookie linebacker and defensive leader Darius Leonard continues his torrid pace (88 tackles, four sacks), they just might.
Plot: Will the Jaguars turn their season around before it's too late?
Subplot 1: The play of quarterback Blake Bortles
Subplot 2: The health of running back Leonard Fournette
After holding a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in the 2018 AFC Championship Game and starting this year 3-1, the Jaguars are now 3-5 and will fall to last place in the AFC South by themselves if they lose to the Colts on Sunday.
The stout defense allows the second-fewest yards per play in the NFL, but the offense ranks in the bottom four in the league in points per game.
Quarterback Blake Bortles has more turnovers than passing touchdowns and is just 30th in the NFL in completion percentage. He'll need to turn his season around quickly for the Jags to have a chance, although the health of running back Leonard Fournette is just as important.
Fournette has missed nearly all season with a hamstring injury but did individual drills Monday. The team needs him badly, as he gained 1,342 scrimmage yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 13 games last year. In conjunction with Bortles, the team needs Fournette out there to keep the season alive.
Kansas City Chiefs
Plot: Will they hang onto the AFC's No. 1 seed?
Subplot: The invincibility of the offense and the potential for a record-breaking season
At 8-1, the Chiefs are ahead of the Patriots by one game in the standings. The Pats have the tiebreaker in hand by virtue of their 43-40 win over the Chiefs, so Kansas City needs to stay a game ahead to avoid falling below them in the standings.
If the Chiefs offense continues its incredible year, that shouldn't be a problem. Kansas City has scored 36.3 points per game, which is first in the NFL. It isn't far behind the 2013 Denver Broncos for the most points per game since the merger (37.9).
The defense is what is at this point: If the Chiefs get to the quarterback (26 sacks in nine games), they can hold their own. If not, they're vulnerable to big passing games from opposing quarterbacks (they rank 20th in passing yards per attempt allowed).
Still, that may not matter if the Chiefs offense continues its remarkable output.
Los Angeles Chargers
Plot: Will the Chargers overtake the Chiefs for the AFC West?
Subplot: Will kicker Michael Badgley finally solve their special teams problems?
The 6-2 Chargers have won five straight games and sit just one game back in the loss column to the first-place Chiefs.
L.A. and Kansas City will face off again in December (the Chiefs beat the Chargers 38-28 in Week 1), but until then, the Bolts must figure out their kicking situation.
A grand total of seven kickers have taken the field for Los Angeles since Week 17 of the 2016 season, and the next man up is Michael Badgley after the Chargers released Caleb Sturgis on Monday.
Sturgis couldn't convert two extra points and a field goal in a 25-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks, bringing his total miss mark to 10 on the season.
Badgley, who made all seven of his extra points and his three field goals when he took over for an injured Sturgis for two games earlier this year, now takes over for good. He has a lot of weight on his shoulders as the team gears up for the second half.
Los Angeles Rams
Plot: Will the Rams get the NFC's No. 1 seed?
Subplot: Will running back Todd Gurley break the all-time NFL touchdown record?
The Rams shouldn't be ashamed after losing 45-35 to the seven-win Saints on the road Sunday. They still have an unstoppable offense and the best defensive player in football (defensive tackle Aaron Donald), who has 10 sacks and 40 tackles.
The Rams have a half-game lead over the Saints for the NFC's No. 1 seed, although New Orleans has the tiebreaker in hand.
Running back Todd Gurley and the Rams' innovative, near-unstoppable offense may prove to the difference in the race here. Gurley is the game's leader in scrimmage yards and touchdowns, and he also has an outside shot to beat ex-Charger running back LaDainian Tomlinson's all-time touchdown record of 31, which was set in 2006.
Gurley has 16 through nine games, so he's a little behind the pace, but he can get there with the help of a few big games.
Plot: Will the Dolphins sneak into the playoffs?
Subplot: The status of quarterback Ryan Tannehill moving forward
The Dolphins are in the midst of a bizarre season with new plot twists and narratives every week.
The team started 3-0 and led the AFC East by two games on September 23, but they proceeded to win just one of their next five. A 13-6 win over the New York Jets on Sunday has capped off a 5-4 effort, putting them in the playoff conversation.
But the subplot here is the health of Ryan Tannehill, who has missed the team's past four games with a shoulder injury.
Cameron Wolfe of ESPN provided from some news on that front via head coach Adam Gase, and it doesn't sound too promising: "News on Ryan Tannehill wasn't great today: Adam Gase said he's still been inconsistent throwing with trainers. Some have been good and others he feels discomfort. Mentioned it's weird. Hope was to get him back right after bye week, but that doesn't sound like a guarantee either."
Miami has a Week 11 bye, so Tannehill's status for the Week 12 matchup with the Colts is in doubt.
The situation is concerning. Hopefully the 30-year-old is back on the field soon.
Plot: Will the Vikings win the NFC North?
Subplot: Is this defense for real now?
The Vikings started the year with an unsightly 1-2-1 record but have won four of their past five games. The defense has been the catalyst for the run, as the Vikings have allowed just 274.8 yards per game during that span.
The team hit its defensive peak in sacking quarterback Matt Stafford 10 times in a win over the Lions, but that defense needs to keep it up when it faces better teams, like the 5-3 Bears twice and the Patriots once.
If the Vikings are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, they may come across other dominant offenses like those of the Rams and Saints, which they have already played this year.
As long as the Vikings pass rush keeps this up, and as long as Harrison Smith continues dominating on a weekly basis (team-leading three interceptions and second with 47 tackles), Minnesota should enjoy a playoff berth and a potentially deep run.
New England Patriots
Plot: Will the Patriots jump over the Chiefs for the No. 1 seed?
Subplot: The health and status of tight end Rob Gronkowski moving forward
The Patriots' win over the Chiefs means that they'll beat Kansas City for the No. 1 seed if the two teams are tied alone atop the conference standings at the end of the year. They do have a manageable schedule down the stretch with only three games against winning teams, but a significant concern is the health of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk has missed two games with injuries this year, and he's clearly gutted out numerous ailments along the way.
The question is whether it may make sense for the Pats to rest Gronk as much as possible so he's good to go for the stretch run. The reality is New England is a clear favorite over the Titans on Sunday and should be against the Jets on November 25 as well.
A December 2 home game with the Vikings will be a tough test, so does it make sense for New England to aim for a December return? We'll see how things play out, but hopefully Gronkowski is back out there soon.
New Orleans Saints
Plot: Will the Saints obtain the NFC's No. 1 seed?
Subplot: Will the struggling pass defense even matter if the offense stays near-invincible?
The Saints are winners of seven straight and just took down the eight-win Rams 45-35. That's a crucial victory for New Orleans, as it now has the tiebreaker over the current NFC No. 1 seed.
Barring significant injuries, there's no reason to worry about the status of the offense, which has been largely dominant all year.
The key is whether the defense can do well enough down the stretch. New Orleans has allowed the fourth-most yards per play, and that mark is third when just considering passing plays. The secondary is vulnerable to any passing attack and has given up 18 touchdowns, tied for the fourth-most in the league.
The Saints may have problems against the hot Panthers offense when they play each other twice in December, although the Carolina defense could encounter difficulties against the Saints offense as well.
New York Giants
Plot: The continued development of the rookie class.
Subplot: Will quarterback Eli Manning sit for Kyle Lauletta?
The New York Giants' season is effectively over after a 1-7 start.
The biggest offseason question will be about the fate of 15-year veteran Manning, who has struggled behind a faltering offensive line. Big Blue has to figure out a long-term solution at the position, so they need to at least see what they have in rookie Lauletta, the team's fourth-round pick.
If he starts a handful of late-season games and impresses a la Jimmy Garoppolo for the 49ers last year, maybe Lauletta is the answer. Or maybe he's not and the team needs to look for some help in the draft.
Regardless, the Giants need to uncover something in this lost season, so they should look to start him soon.
New York Jets
Plot: The development of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
Subplot: The status of the Todd Bowles-led coaching staff, in conjunction with the offense's struggles.
This Jets season focused around rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and his development from Week 1, and rightfully so. The 21-year-old is the current and future face of the franchise, and the team decided to take the training wheels off right away by giving him professional experience.
While Darnold has showed flashes of brilliance, he's struggled alongside an offense that has suffered significant injuries, including a season-ending neck injury to running back Bilal Powell. Darnold has thrown a league-leading 14 interceptions, and the team is 3-6.
Of course, the record can't be put solely on the rookie's shoulders, but Bowles and his staff are on the hot seat, according to Bob Glauber of Newsday. Losers of six of eight games after a 48-17 Week 1 win over the Lions, the Jets have scored 17 or fewer points six times. In an era of offensive explosions, that's not a good sign.
While the playoffs are likely out of reach, the key is whether Darnold and the Jets finish strong. If not, a coaching change may come. Bowles did wonders with the 10-6 2015 team, and his squad fought to a 5-11 2017 season when everyone thought it'd be the worst team in football—but 2018 has gotten ugly fast.
Plot: Will the Raiders complete their tank job and secure the No. 1 overall pick in the draft?
Subplot: What will the fallout be?
The Raiders traded their top offensive and defensive players (wideout Amari Cooper and linebacker Khalil Mack) within the span of two months and just released their leading pass-rusher (linebacker Bruce Irvin).
The Silver and Black are 1-7 and lost 34-3 to a 49ers team that had just one win in its first eight games.
It seems clear the Raiders' strategy is to tank for the No. 1 overall pick and rebuild for the future, but losing by 31 points to a one-win team signals big problems. The word "quit" was thrown around liberally in the last week, making one wonder how the team will survive the second half of the season.
Head coach Jon Gruden has a 10-year, $100 million contract and likely isn't headed anywhere any time soon, but there's a chance we haven't seen rock bottom yet.
Plot: Can the Eagles win the NFC East?
Subplot: Wide receiver Golden Tate's impact on the offense.
The Eagles may be the NFC East favorites even though the Redskins are a game better. The Skins lost three starters to season-ending injuries Sunday, and the Eagles just traded for Tate, who has 44 catches for 517 yards and three touchdowns.
The 30-year-old should provide a huge boost to the Eagles offense, which can now throw Tate, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor at defenses alongside the dynamic tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
Tate in particular gives quarterback Carson Wentz a security blanket close to the line of scrimmage, as the ex-Notre Dame star making his living taking short passes and dominating with yards after the catch.
Plot: Can the Steelers obtain a top-two seed in the AFC playoffs?
Subplot: Is this hot defense for real?
The 5-2-1 Steelers are leaving their AFC North rivals covered in dust thanks to a four-game winning streak. The Bengals and Ravens are struggling, with the Bengals 1-2 in their last three games and the Ravens dropping their past three. The 2-6-1 Browns are out of the playoff picture.
The Steelers defense has been the catalyst for this run. Its most impressive performance came against the Falcons in a 41-17 Week 5 win, holding star wideout Julio Jones to five catches and 62 yards. Pittsburgh has held each of its last four opponents to 21 points or fewer.
The Steelers have significant tests to come versus the Chargers and Patriots, and those will go a long way toward deciding their playoff fate. If the defense keeps up this run, a top-two seed could be on the horizon. If not, then Pittsburgh may fall back in the playoff race.
San Francisco 49ers
Plot: Can the 49ers finish strong like last year?
Subplot: Will we see more Nick Mullens magic?
The 49ers have been crushed by injuries and have no realistic hope for the playoffs. But they play tough every game, as they showed in a 34-3 win over the Raiders on Thursday. Second-year quarterback Nick Mullens was the star in his first career start, throwing for three touchdowns.
Mullens will get the call yet again Monday versus the Giants. Will he lead the team on a hot streak much like Jimmy Garoppolo did last season?
Mullens isn't the long-term answer at quarterback with Garoppolo signed to a five-year deal, but perhaps he can parlay this opportunity into a starting job elsewhere.
Plot: Can the Seahawks sneak into the NFC playoffs?
Subplot: Can a run-heavy offense succeed via the pass if needed?
The Seahawks are the only NFL team to run more than it passes this year. That strategy has worked well on occasions, like when Chris Carson rushed for 105 yards on 25 carries in a 28-14 road win over the Lions in Week 8.
The Hawks can't always go that route, however, and that showed Sunday when they were forced to play from behind in a 25-17 loss to the Chargers on Sunday.
Seattle does have plenty of passing-game talent (e.g., quarterback Russell Wilson, wideouts Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin), but that has not been the modus operandi this year.
If a team punches the Hawks in the mouth (perhaps the high-scoring Rams on Sunday), can the Seahawks dig out of a multiple-score hole? They almost did so versus the Bolts, but after trailing by 15 midway through the fourth quarter, they ran out of time with their last-gasp drive inside the Chargers' 10-yard line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Plot: Will head coach Dirk Koetter last the rest of the season?
Subplot: What will the Bucs do at quarterback for the remainder of 2018?
The Bucs are a complete mess, as exemplified by the ongoing saga at quarterback.
Jameis Winston (10 interceptions in four games) doesn't look like the long-term answer. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sensational when spelling Winston (17 touchdowns in six games), but at 35 years old, he isn't the long-term answer either.
What will they do for the rest of the year? If Fitzpatrick throws three first-half picks Sunday, will Winston take over? And if 3-5 Tampa Bay is out of the playoff picture by December, will it go with Winston to see if he can turn things around?
The Bucs have significant season-long and long-term questions at quarterback and defensive issues, which means the front office and Koetter are on the hot seat.
Plot: Can the Titans make an AFC South push?
Subplot No. 1: The play of the Marcus Mariota-led offense.
Subplot No. 2: What will the team do about struggling cornerback Malcolm Butler?
The Titans have a shot at the AFC South title, as they are just 1.5 games behind the Texans. There are two concerns, however.
First, the Titans offense isn't particularly efficient or explosive, and that reared its head during a three-game stretch when the team scored just 31 points. The key is whether Monday's four-touchdown evening versus the Cowboys was for real.
Second, Butler has struggled since arriving from New England to the point that he's been the nearest defender on six passing touchdowns this year, per NFL Next Gen Stats (via ESPN Stats & Info). That's the second-most in the NFL behind Marcus Peters.
The Titans need to figure out at least one of those problems to have a chance at the division. Otherwise, they could be on their way to another year floating around .500 and hoping for a wild card.
Plot: Can Washington win a mediocre-at-best NFC East?
Subplot: How will the Skins fare after three season-ending injuries Sunday?
Washington must find a way to press on after guards Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao suffered season-ending injuries in addition to wideout Paul Richardson Jr.
Washington's best offensive unit was its line, but in addition to the aforementioned injuries, left tackle Trent Williams suffered a thumb injury and could be out for the rest of November, per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com.
The offense already ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in yards per play, but with these injuries, how will the team be able to hang on to the NFC East? A defense that has been largely good but got torched in a 38-14 loss to the Falcons must lead the way.