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There's still a lot at stake heading into the final week of the NFL regular season


Believe it or not, we have reached the final week of the NFL regular season. The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are headed into the weekend with the best records and are top seeds going into the playoffs. Yet there is still a lot at stake this weekend for other teams. Let's get into all of it with Lindsay Jones, senior NFL editor at The Ringer. Welcome.

LINDSAY JONES: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

SUMMERS: So Lindsay, I live in Baltimore, and it's impossible to walk down the street without hearing how great the Baltimore Ravens are. But they really were great, arguably the best team this year. Tell us a little bit about what makes the Ravens so good right now.

JONES: Well, it all starts with Lamar Jackson, their star quarterback, who is almost certainly going to win his second League MVP award. That won't be announced until February, but he is by far the leading candidate right now, especially because of what he and the Ravens were able to do late in the regular season. And the thing that's been most exciting to watch about the Ravens this year is, look. We all know that Lamar Jackson is one of the best athletes in the NFL. He is one of the most dynamic players when he gets the football in his hands. But they made a change at offensive coordinator going into this season and really have finally built, like, a very diverse offensive system that really highlights his skills as a passer and then also takes advantage of the running skills that we already knew he had. And they've added a whole bunch of really good skill position players around him. So they've been really fun to watch, and they're going to be an awesome team who's hard to beat in the playoffs.

SUMMERS: I mean, the Ravens and the 49ers, as we mentioned - they've locked things up. They know their fate. But this is a hugely consequential weekend for a lot of other teams. Give us some of your top picks for must-watch games over this last weekend.

JONES: Yeah. I mean, it's a really interesting slate because I think there are five playoff slots that have - that are really up for grabs right now. There's a couple division titles that are still up for grabs, so I'll give you one game for each night. So on Saturday, we're going to have a game between the Colts and the Texans, who are two teams who really exceeded expectations this year. I don't think if you'd have asked anybody back in August - if you said that the Texans and the Colts would be playing for playoff spots come January - that just wasn't something that was really in the cards for either of these teams. But whoever wins that game on Saturday is going to be in the postseason. We'll have to wait until Sunday to know if they've won their division or if they'll be in as a wild card. C.J. Stroud, the quarterback for the Texans, probably is going to win offensive rookie of the year. He's really just been a revelation.

And then it's the Sunday night game. It is the Bills against the Dolphins, so much at stake - the AFC East title. You know there's a possibility that the Bills could win that game, be the AFC's champions. Or they could lose that game, and then, depending on some of the other results on Sunday, they could be out completely, which is wild because they're a team that has better Super Bowl odds than a lot of teams in the field. And there's also a chance that they miss the playoffs entirely.

SUMMERS: Is there any team that is not going to be in the playoffs, not moving on into the postseason, that surprises you, that you would have expected to see there this season?

JONES: Yeah. I mean, I think if the Bills don't get in, that's going to be the - you know, the big one. And then I think over in the NFC, the Seahawks have been somewhat of a disappointment late in the season. They were a playoff team last year with really big expectations coming into the season. And there is definitely still a chance that they make it, that they get one of the wild-card spots. But they're going to need to win and then also get some help in their final game of the season.

SUMMERS: Well, one team that we know won't have to be worrying about the officiating is the New England Patriots. They have really struggled this season, and there is no chance they're headed to the playoffs. And legendary head coach Bill Belichick has been under so much heat all season. Do you think this might be his last weekend there on the Patriots sideline?

JONES: Yeah. I mean, it really has felt like it has been building to that all season where - you know, there have been multiple moments this year where we've kind of had to ask ourselves, like, is this rock bottom for the Patriots? And then, in many ways, it's gotten worse. As you said, they're not going to make the playoffs. They're in position to either pick second or third in the draft next year. And this is a franchise that has been absolutely trending in the wrong way. Bill Belichick will go down as the greatest coach of all time. The legacy that he built in New England, all of the Super Bowls that they won - none of that stuff can be undone. He deserves all of those accolades for sure. But I think when a team has bottomed out the way that the Patriots have, this is the - potentially, the time that you hit that reset. Really, you know, Robert Kraft has to ask himself, what does he want the next 10 years of Patriots football to look like, and is this the right time to move on?

SUMMERS: Lindsay Jones, senior NFL editor at The Ringer. Lindsay, thank you.

JONES: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OLYMPIANS' "SIRENS OF JUPITER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kathyrn Fox
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.