By Steve Silverman
(WBBM-TV/CBS Local) The Chicago Bears are NFC North champions for the first time since 2010. After years of sitting in the cellar, they have built a dominant defense and an opportunistic offense. Rookie head coach Matt Nagy has built a team that has a chance to make a lot of noise in the postseason.
Thursday Night Game
Los Angeles Chargers: A-. The Chargers found themselves down by 14 points late in the fourth quarter, but there was no quit in the Philip Rivers-led offense or the defense when it needed to make key plays. Los Angeles scored two late touchdowns, and won the game when head coach Anthony Lynn decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion. Mike Williams, who had scored three previous TDs (two receiving, one rushing), broke wide open and caught the winning points.
Kansas City Chiefs: C+. The Chiefs played excellent football well into the fourth quarter, but with a chance to finish off the Chargers in the AFC West and the lay claim to the top seed in the conference, the game slipped away. With a tough road game at Seattle next week, the Chiefs may rue this loss.
Houston Texans: B-. The Texans have issues. Even though they bounced back from their Week 14 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Texans did not play well against a team that has struggled the majority of the season. J.J. Watt and the defense came through at the end of the game for the win, but Bill O’Brien has more work to do with this team.
N.Y. Jets: C+. The Jets had a chance to win at the end of the game, and they were not able to come through with the winning drive. A fourth-quarter, fourth-down failure kept the Jets and Sam Darnold from marching down the field and scoring the winning touchdown. The Jets showed some toughness on defense, but did not do enough to win the game.
Cleveland Browns: B+. The Browns are starting to open eyes around the league because they picked up a key victory in one of the toughest places to play in the league. Baker Mayfield gets better every week and fellow rookie Nick Chubb is proving to be a first-rate ball carrier. The defense comes to play every week, and Jabrill Peppers came through with a late sack of Case Keenum to clinch the game.
Denver Broncos: C. The Broncos fought hard and landed counter-punches throughout the game, but they could not contain the Cleveland ground game at the most crucial point. The Denver offense was good, but unable to come though when the game was on the line.
Washington Redskins: A-. After injuries had knocked out quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, the Redskins looked dead in the water when they had to turn to Mark Sanchez. However, when Jay Gruden made the move to quarterback Josh Johnson, the Redskins woke up and picked up a road win that has revitalized this team.
Jacksonville Jaguars: D. The Jaguars get their usual grade this year, and this may have been their most disappointing loss. How could this team not beat the Josh Johnson-led Redskins in their home stadium? Head coach Doug Marrone has had a brutal season.
Miami Dolphins: C-. The Dolphins were unable to capitalize on their Week 14 miracle win over the Patriots. While they closed to 21-17 early in the third quarter they disappeared in the fourth, leading to a lopsided loss.
Minnesota Vikings: B+. The Vikings have had an up-and-down season, but perhaps they turned a corner in the 41-17 win over the Dolphins. Minnesota finally showed the offensive balance that head coach Mike Zimmer has wanted to see all season. Dalvin Cook ran for 136 yards and two scores, and he can be a dangerous player from this point forward.
Tennessee Titans: B. The Titans have had several admirable moments during the season, and this was one of them. They blanked the Giants and received a super effort from running back Derrick Henry, who ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
New York Giants: D. The Giants showed that their recent hot streak was nothing but an illusion. When forced to play an opponent that has playoff aspirations, they couldn’t respond. The Titans shut down super rookie running back Saquon Barkley (31 yards on 14 carries), and the rest of the Giants had little to offer.
Arizona Cardinals: C-. This was another one-sided loss on the road for the shaky Cardinals, and that’s the way this team has played all season. The defense lacks speed and big-play ability, while rookie quarterback Josh Rosen is not ready to produce on a consistent basis. Rosen threw two more interceptions in this game, and he’s going to have to be much better next season.
Atlanta Falcons: B. The Falcons showed they could string touchdowns together and put some distance between themselves and their opponent. However, it’s just too little and too late, as this team threw away their opportunities when it mattered. A win over the Cardinals in Week 15 means little at this point.
Oakland Raiders: C-. The Raiders had played a couple of solid games against the Chiefs (close loss) and Steelers (victory), but they were flat against a team that had displayed little character during the past six weeks. It’s unlikely the Raiders will show much fight in the season’s final two games.
Cincinnati Bengals: A-. This game should not make a difference to the way the Bengals look at this season. They have wasted yet another opportunity and while backup quarterback Jeff Driskel showed heart in leading this team to a win over the Raiders, this team needs a complete overhaul. Marvin Lewis has not been the answer at head coach for many years and he needs to go.
Detroit Lions: C. The Lions were able to build a lead over a struggling team on the road, but like most games this year, they were unable to sustain their effort and come up with the victory. Rookie head coach Matt Patricia is far from a finished product and he has much to learn if the Lions are going to become a competitive team in 2019.
Buffalo Bills: B. The Bills are starting to make some progress, and it begins with athletic quarterback Josh Allen. While he has been primarily a running quarterback this season, he turned things around Sunday with a 204-yard passing effort in the win over the Lions. His 42-yard fourth-quarter TD pass to Robert Foster gave the Bills a lead they would not relinquish.
Tampa Bay Buccaneer: C-. The Bucs played about as well as they could against a motivated opponent fighting for a playoff spot. They showed some fight and character, and Mike Evans had a big game with four receptions for 121 yards, but the Bucs did not have an answer for Lamar Jackson.
Baltimore Ravens: B+. The Ravens continue to fight and they pulled out a tough win against the Bucs. If they can beat the Chargers in Week 16 and close the year with a win over the Browns, they will make the playoffs as either a wild-card team or the AFC North champions.
Green Bay Packers: C. The Packers did what they usually do when they go on the road. They lost, which has been par for the course all season. Green Bay normally owns the Bears in Chicago, having won eight straight games in the Windy City. However, this may represent the dawn of a new era as the tough Chicago defense punished Aaron Rodgers throughout.
Chicago Bears: A-. It was a magical day for the Bears, as they beat their ancient rivals and won the NFC North Division title. The backbone of the team is its relentless defense, but Mitchell Trubisky makes enough plays – with his legs and his arm – to keep opponents off balance. The Bears have a shot at gaining the No. 2 seed and a bye in the NFC playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys: C. The streaking Cowboys were stopped cold by an equally hot team in the Colts. The Dallas offense was held in check, but the Cowboys still have a one-game lead in the NFC East with two winnable games (vs. Tampa Bay, at N.Y. Giants) remaining.
Indianapolis Colts: A-. The Colts are playing sensational football for rookie head coach Frank Reich. Running back Marlon Mack keyed the offense with 139 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense basically shut down Ezekiel Elliott. The Colts are formidable at this point, but they may have started their rally too late and they may not make the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks: D+. The Seahawks have been playing some hard-hitting football in beating teams like Carolina, Green Bay and Minnesota, and they should not have had a problem with the 49ers. A win would have given the Seahawks a spot in the playoffs as a wild-card team, but they let the game slip through their grasp.
San Francisco 49ers: B+. Any time the Niners win a game this year, it’s a good thing for the future because it indicates that this undermanned unit is not about to quit. The Seahawks have much better personnel, but backup quarterback Nick Mullens drove them to the win by passing for 275 yards and holding it together against the Seahawks’ nasty defense.
New England Patriots: C. The Pats are still a near-certainty to win the AFC East – one win in their last two games or one Miami loss will do the trick – but this team is not what it has been in the past. Tom Brady is starting to show his age, and Rob Gronkowski can’t dominate at this point. The Pats are undefeated at home, but they have lost five games on the road. The Steelers gave them openings, but this is no longer a stellar team.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B+. The Steelers put an end to their three-game losing streak as they were more desperate and hungry than the Patriots. Jaylen Samuels had rushed for 59 yards this season, but he torched New England for 142 rushing yards and he helped take the pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger. The win allowed the Steelers to hold onto first place in the AFC North.
Philadelphia Eagles: B+. The Eagles have played mistake-riddled football throughout the majority of the season and they found themselves teetering on the brink of extinction against the heavily favored Rams. However, Philadelphia rallied behind backup quarterback Nick Foles and won the game. The defending Super Bowl champions have a chance to save their season.
Los Angeles Rams: C-. The Rams have dropped two games in a row. A week after blaming their troubles on the cold weather in Chicago, they lost at home to the wounded Eagles. Los Angeles trailed by 17 through three quarters before cutting the deficit to seven points, but Jared Goff overthrew the potential tying touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
Monday Night Game
New Orleans Saints: B+. The Saints continue to win games, and they are on track to finish as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. However, while the Saints were on top of their game in October and November, they are no longer breaking the 40-point barrier with regularity. The Saints need to find their offensive stride if they are going to win the NFC championship and get to the Super Bowl.
Carolina Panthers: D. The Panthers are finished, as far as the playoffs are concerned. A season that started so brightly has turned into a disaster. Quarterback Cam Newton simply could not play the position the way head coach Ron Rivera expected, as his passes lacked zip and accuracy, and he was not able to dominate with his enthusiasm. The Panthers had their chances, but they let the game slip away in the second half.