The NFL Draft is rarely dominated by teams in contention to lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the upcoming season.

Though trades regularly shuffle the pack, more often than not the draft headlines are made by teams who finished at the wrong end of the regular-season standings in the previous campaign, such is the nature of league's annual selection meeting.

While those franchises with rosters capable of contending to go all the way to the Super Bowl may not be as reliant on the draft as those rebuilding their teams, the selections they make can be critical in providing the potential final piece of what they hope will be a championship-winning puzzle.

Inevitably, not every team expected to contend in April will do so once the season gets under way in September.

Yet we can make educated guesses as to which teams will be in the mix to go deep into the postseason in each conference.

Here Stats Perform has identified four such teams from each conference, with the Cleveland Browns omitted from the list due to the threat of a possible suspension for new starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.

With help from some advanced metrics, we look at what each of these eight teams need to add in the draft to maximise their hopes of standing underneath the confetti in Arizona next February.

NFC

Los Angeles Rams

Identifying draft needs for the Rams is a difficult task not because they don't have any, but because they so often fill their holes by trading away their picks to land superstars.

This year, the Rams don't pick until 104 overall in the third round, not that the Super Bowl champions will mind skipping the first two rounds.

When it finally comes to their turn, the interior of the offensive line stands out as an area of weakness, while the Rams might also be eyeing an edge rusher to help fill the void left by Von Miller, whose stunt-adjusted pass rush win percentage of 43.4 was fifth among edge rushers with at least 100 one-on-one matchups last year.

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners are in a similar position to the Rams in that they don't have a lot of needs, though the urgency is greater for a team that let a fourth-quarter lead slip against Los Angeles in the NFC Championship Game.

Right guard has been a long-standing issue for San Francisco, and the Niners will also need to find a developmental center to replace Alex Mack when he eventually retires. Nebraska's Cam Jurgens is a name to watch there.

San Francisco do not pick until 61st overall in the second round, having traded this year's first-rounder in the package that landed Trey Lance. A defense that ranked first in pass rush win rate could be stacked further by another edge rusher to pair with Nick Bosa, and there is a clear need next to Jimmie Ward at safety.

Of course, what would really make it a successful draft for the Niners would be finally trading Jimmy Garoppolo to secure more picks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There's a theme here, and the theme is that trying to find needs for NFC contenders is tough, especially in the case of the Bucs, who brought back Tom Brady after he quickly got bored with retirement and re-signed a host of free agents many expected to depart.

With Todd Bowles assuming the head coaching reins from Bruce Arians, it's fair to anticipate a focus on the defense from the Bucs, who own the 27th pick in the first round as well as two other top-100 selections.

More beef on the interior of the defensive line is required with Ndamukong Suh as yet not re-signed and, though Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal have signed as safety help to atone for Jordan Whitehead's departure, a rookie who can make a difference down in the box and in coverage would be a welcome addition to the defense.

Green Bay Packers

Now this is more like it. The Packers have one glaring, obvious need and there's no way they can fail to address it, right?

Brian Gutekunst may have a history of eschewing first-round wide receivers but, after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, it would be an extremely bemusing move to risk Aaron Rodgers' wrath and do so again.

Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson... they all must be in the mix here and, with two selections in the first round, the Packers could even double up at the position.

There are other holes. The secondary could use some more quality depth, and an offensive line that ranked 28th in run-block win rate could also be improved, but the Packers' hopes of getting over the hump in 2022 likely rest on their ability to give Rodgers weapons that mitigate the impact of Adams' stunning departure.

AFC

Kansas City Chiefs

After Patrick Mahomes faced the most pressures in a Super Bowl since 2006 in consecutive years (28 in SB LIV, 34 in SB LV), the Chiefs overhauled their offensive line heading into 2021 and were confident they were on course for the title game once again – only for Mahomes' own stunning playoff collapse to end both the team's season and the career of Tyreek Hill in Kansas City.

Hill's departure in a trade to the Miami Dolphins leaves a gaping hole.

New signing Marquez Valdes-Scantling at least offers a downfield option, but that was his sole responsibility with the Packers in 2021, recording a league-high average depth of target of 17.6 yards but making just 26 catches. Valdes-Scantling and fellow recruit JuJu Smith-Schuster, who's coming off shoulder surgery, have just one 1,000-yard season between them; Hill has four.

Thankfully, the Hill deal means the Chiefs have plenty of draft picks – two in each of the first three rounds – and plenty of options at wide receiver, but safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Charvarius Ward must also be replaced just to get Kansas City back to where they started.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a year behind the Chiefs, beaten in the Super Bowl after leaving their quarterback horribly exposed. Joe Burrow faced 23 pressures against the Rams, tied for third-most since 2006.

Like the Chiefs, they quickly set about bolstering their O line in free agency, though there remains a pressing need at left guard. Ted Karras played there for the New England Patriots last year, but is set to move back into center after Trey Hopkins was cut.

That versatility at least gives the Bengals options at either position depending on how the draft plays out, with their first pick not until the end of the first round (31). In fact, given competition at cornerback, edge and/or tight end could also be sought, the Bengals may be flexible throughout.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills are the Super Bowl favourites, and with good reason. They were a coin flip away from beating the Chiefs and would have backed themselves against the Bengals, which might have quelled some of the optimism in Cincinnati channelled above. Buffalo have also added Super Bowl champion Miller to a defense that gave up a league-low 4.57 yards per play.

That's not to say there don't remain areas for improvement, with cornerback an obvious place to start. Tre'Davious White is returning from an ACL tear, and the Bills need a new man opposite him, given the loss of Levi Wallace.

The Bills might also be advised to ease the burden on all-action quarterback Josh Allen with the addition of a reliable running back. Allen ranked third among QBs for rushing yards in 2021 (763) but accounted for 34.5 per cent of his team's total – far and away the greatest share at his position.

Second on the list was former MVP Lamar Jackson (767 yards, 30.9 per cent), who's already showing signs of wear and tear having been tasked with running the Baltimore Ravens' offense.

Los Angeles Chargers

Outside the Packers, the Chargers perhaps have the most obvious positional need of any contender at right tackle – despite their own strong signings so far.

Left tackle Rashawn Slater was their first-round pick in 2021 and earned Pro Bowl recognition in his rookie season. Among offensive tackles with 200 or more pass protection snaps, Slater's stunt-adjusted win percentage of 90.5 ranked third. However, that stood in complete contrast to right tackle Storm Norton, whose 63.0 per cent ranked third-last.

Norton was brought in to play 15 games after a back injury put Bryan Bulaga on injured reserve. Bulaga has now been cut, and the Chargers surely cannot run it back with Norton.

The very best OTs in the draft are unlikely to still be available when the Chargers get to work in the middle of the first round, but it's no surprise to see them widely linked with Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning.

The NFL offseason is as exciting as it has ever been in 2022 – and several of the biggest moves have centred on the AFC West.

This was already one of the deepest divisions in football, headlined by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs but also featuring the 2021 fifth seed Las Vegas Raiders and gunslinging Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in its supporting cast.

But the lineup for next season promises to be even more enticing.

The Raiders have worked to make sure they have not been left behind by the big-spending Chargers, while the Denver Broncos have also made a significant move to climb into contention.

In fact, over the past two weeks, the Chiefs have perhaps been among the big losers – watching on while the rest of their division have been getting busy...

March 8: Russell Wilson (Seahawks to Broncos)

The NFC West was previously the standard-bearer for hugely competitive divisions, but the power shifted as its fourth-placed Seattle Seahawks traded superstar quarterback Wilson to the AFC West's fourth-placed Broncos. With Aaron Rodgers staying with the Green Bay Packers, when a move to Denver had been mooted, a big play for Wilson was vital if the Broncos were to make up a significant gap. The Super Bowl XLVIII champion has ranked fourth for both pass yards per attempt (7.83) and touchdown percentage (6.2) across his NFL career – a significant upgrade on the Broncos' 2021 QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock.

March 10: Khalil Mack (Bears to Chargers)

With Herbert running the offense, the Chargers have moved to improve the other side of the ball – first by trading for edge rusher Mack. A second-round pick in this year's draft was the primary compensation for a six-time Pro Bowler, immediately boosting a unit that ranked 23rd in total defense (360.1 yards per game) and 30th in run defense (138.9) last year. Mack struggled with injuries in his final year with the Chicago Bears but comes in opposite Joey Bosa, who ranks third in the NFL for QB pressures (389) and sixth for sacks (58) since his 2016 debut; Mack is fourth (388) and seventh (57.5) over that same period.

March 14: J.C. Jackson (free agent to Chargers)

As well as draft collateral, the Chargers had salary cap to work with and sent a large chunk of it to cornerback Jackson, allowed to leave by the New England Patriots. Jackson had certainly earned his pay day, leading the NFL in interceptions (25) since debuting in New England in 2018. This playmaking ability was also illustrated by the 26-year-old giving up big plays on only 18.9 per cent of his targets last season, the eighth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

March 15: Randy Gregory (free agent to Broncos)

The Chargers' edge-rushing duo will take some beating, but the Broncos upgraded in that position, too, by giving up to $70million to Gregory, who had been set to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Gregory, who missed almost three full seasons due to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy, had finally established himself as a starter in 2021 with career highs in sacks (six) and QB hits (17) playing opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. The 29-year-old linebacker will now be paired with Bradley Chubb, despite a return to Denver for Von Miller being floated earlier in the month.

March 16: Chandler Jones (free agent to Raiders)

Having seen their division rivals make big moves, the Raiders responded with a $51m offer to Jones, while trading Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for corner Rock Ya-Sin. Ngakoue had 10 sacks and forced two fumbles in his sole season in Las Vegas, but Jones (10.5 and six) topped both figures for the Arizona Cardinals in 2021. In fact, since Jones came into the league with the Patriots in 2012, he leads both categories, with 107.5 sacks and 33 fumbles forced. Although now 32, he shows few signs of slowing.

March 17: Davante Adams (Packers to Raiders)

The most stunning move of the lot followed on Thursday, when Adams' refusal to play for the Packers on the franchise tag led to his trade to the Raiders for a first and a second-round pick in 2022 (22 and 53 overall). The deal suddenly gives Raiders QB Derek Carr arguably the best offensive weapon in the NFL – and one he can go to time and time again, given Adams was targeted on a league-leading 35.4 per cent of his routes in 2021, which yielded career highs in catches (123) and receiving yards (1,553). Fellow wideout Hunter Renfrow may now see less of the ball than in his first 1,000-yard season (1,038), but he should also benefit from the attention Adams inevitably draws. The Raiders already ranked sixth in passing offense (268.6 yards per game).

Former New England Patriots star cornerback J.C. Jackson will suit up for the Los Angeles Chargers going forward after signing a reported five-year deal worth up to $82.5million, with $40m guaranteed.

The Patriots allowed Jackson to walk when they opted to not use the franchise tag to lock him up for one more year.

Over the past three seasons, no player in the NFL has record more interceptions than Jackson's 22. His closest challenger is Xavien Howard (16).

Jackson finished 2021 having allowed a big play on 18.9 per cent of his targets, the eighth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

At 26 years old, Jackson is an elite player at one of the sport's premier positions with seemingly plenty of gas left in the tank, and if the $82.5m figure is accurate, it would place Jackson as one of the six highest-paid cornerbacks in the league based on average annual salary. 

The Chargers are in their prime spending window while exciting quarterback Justin Herbert remains on his rookie contract for the next two seasons.

Herbert is currently making less than $9m per season and is expected to fetch an average annual salary north of $40m when the time comes for his extension, giving the Chargers a two-year window to go all-in surrounding their QB with a championship-level team.

The Chicago Bears are sending defensive end Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers, according to reports.

ESPN's Adam Schefter said the Chargers were expected to send a 2022 second-round draft pick and a 2023 sixth-round draft pick to Chicago in exchange for the six-time Pro Bowler.

Mack has been on the Bears since 2018, recording 12.5 sacks in his first season with the team for a fourth consecutive year in double figures.

Those numbers have tailed off a little since and the 31-year-old only played in seven games in 2021 due to injury.

However, across his Bears career, Mack still ranked as high as 12th league-wide for pressures. He will now line up opposite Joey Bosa, who ranked eighth over the same period.

Mack is also to be reunited with Chargers coach Brandon Staley, who was the Bears' outside linebackers coach in that strong first season in Chicago.

Staley will hope Mack can have a transformative impact for the Chargers' defense, which gave up 27.0 points and 138.9 rushing yards per game last year.

Mike Williams has reportedly agreed a three-year, $60million deal to stay with the Los Angeles Chargers. 

According to ESPN, the wide receiver will sign a contract that includes $40m guaranteed and $28m in the first year. 

Williams, who was drafted seventh overall in 2017 by the Chargers, had been heading for free agency but will be in Los Angeles when he begins his sixth year in the league. 

The wideout had a career-high 1,146 yards on 76 receptions in the 2021 season, the 12th best total in the league. 

The Chargers were expected to give Williams the franchise tag if an agreement could not be reached on a new contract. 

The Las Vegas Raiders sideline discussed settling for a tie before completing their dramatic playoff-clinching win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Concluding an incredible Week 18 in the NFL, the Raiders sealed their first playoff berth since the 2016 season as Daniel Carlson's game-winning field goal settled a 35-32 classic as time expired in overtime.

The kick sent the Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers to the postseason and knocked out the Chargers, who had earlier recovered from 15 points down in the fourth quarter.

A stunning victory for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the Indianapolis Colts earlier on Sunday opened up the possibility of both the Raiders and Chargers settling for a tie in their winner-take-all season finale and sending both to the postseason at the expense of the Steelers.

The topic had been hotly discussed leading up to the game, with Chargers coach Brandon Staley emphatically ruling out such a scenario.

But that possibility suddenly looked likely as the game remained tied in the final minute of the extra period after both teams traded field goals.

There was a final twist, though, as Josh Jacobs' 10-yard run on third down, after a controversial decision by Staley to call a timeout and stop the clock with 38 seconds left, put Carlson in position to boot the Chargers out of the postseason with a 47-yard kick. 

The Raiders acknowledged they had pondered the prospect of settling for a tie as the game progressed and thought the Chargers were doing the same given they had not called timeout on a previous Jacobs run in overtime.

"We were going to take the field goal and try to win it," said Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia.

"But we were certainly talking about it [settling for a tie] on the sideline.

"We ran the ball there [near the end of OT], and they didn't call timeout, so I think they were probably thinking the same thing." 

Bisaccia hailed the Raiders' spirit after the team won their final four games against the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Colts and Chargers by a total of just 12 points.

He said: "We just found a way to have a chance to win at the end and we have been in this situation before.

"Derek Carr has been in two-minute situations before; he's been in four-minute situations before. Our defense has had to come up with stops at the end of the game.

"So you just can't say enough about how this team prepares. I just know they believe in each other when they go out there. They don't blink."

Asked whether the Raiders would have punted or taken a knee on fourth down if Jacobs had not got them into field goal range, Bisaccia said, "I don't know – it didn't happen!" before smiling and leaving his exchange with reporters.

Staley, meanwhile, was left to explain his thinking with the timeout after the Chargers fell agonisingly short.

"We needed to get in the right grouping, we felt like they were going to run the ball, so we wanted to get our best 11 personnel run defense in," said Staley.

"Make that substitution so that we could get a play where we would deepen the field goal."

"I had never been rooting for a tie more in my life,'' added Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who racked up 64 pass attempts, completing 34 for 383 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

"That's the unfortunate part of being so close.''

The Raiders will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card weekend when the Steelers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Carr, who threw for two touchdowns, will finally play in a playoff game for the first time after starting 127 games in the regular season.

"I'm excited, thinking about the next team we play, and then everything hurts," he said.

"It feels cool, it's awesome, but we've got to play a team that already beat us [the Bengals], so it's going to be tough.

"I just have this weird feeling in my heart like, 'The job's not done.' Like my favourite player, Kobe [Bryant], said, 'Job's not done'."

The Las Vegas Raiders sealed their first playoff berth since the 2016 season as Daniel Carlson's game-winning field goal settled a 35-32 classic and sent them and the Pittsburgh Steelers to the postseason and knocked out the Los Angeles Chargers.

A stunning victory for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the Indianapolis Colts earlier on Sunday opened up the possibility of both the Raiders and Chargers settling for a tie in their winner-take-all season finale and sending both to the postseason at the expense of the Steelers.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley emphatically ruled out such a scenario earlier in the week and it appeared as if a stalemate would not be a possibility when the Raiders led by 15 in the fourth quarter.

But Chargers Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert led them back to set up overtime and the game remained tied in the final minute of the extra period after both teams traded field goals.

There was a final twist, though, as Josh Jacobs' 10-yard run on third down, after an inexplicable decision by Staley to call a timeout and stop the clock, put Carlson in position to boot the Chargers out of the postseason, which he did with a 47-yard kick. 

The Raiders will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card weekend when the Steelers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Las Vegas surged into a 10-0 first-quarter lead but a pair of touchdowns from Austin Ekeler flipped things in the Chargers' favour.

A scoring drive that saw the Chargers allow the Raiders to convert on third down and 23 and Las Vegas benefit from a contentious pass interference penalty enabled the hosts to respond through Josh Jacobs' touchdown plunge before half-time.

Staley paid the price for a dubious decision to go for it on fourth down from Los Angeles' own 18-yard line as the Raiders tacked on a third-quarter field goal.

The Chargers' hopes were circling the drain after Hunter Renfrow caught his second touchdown pass and Herbert was intercepted by former Charger Casey Hayward, the Raiders then adding another field goal to make it 29-14.

But Herbert connected on a 23-yard dart to Josh Palmer and succeeded with the subsequent two-point conversion, before leading the Chargers on a Herculean 19-play drive that ended with him hitting Mike Williams for a 12-yard score as time expired to force overtime.

Carlson restored the Raiders' advantage with his leg, only for the Chargers to respond in kind after a drive on which they became the first team in 30 years to convert sixth fourth downs in the same game.

Yet Herbert's remarkable efforts were undone as poor run defense and worse clock management teed up Carlson to end the Chargers' season.

The 18th and final round of the NFL regular season is upon us and there remains plenty of intrigue in a frantic scramble to make it to the playoffs.

Five teams from the AFC are competing for two postseason berths, while one spot is up for grabs in the NFC. 

Away from the Super Bowl picture, there are a number of other intriguing subplots ahead of an action-packed weekend.

Stats Perform previews some of the standout games and the best of the rest.


Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) @ Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)

The winner of this contest is guaranteed a playoff spot, while there is also a scenario whereby a tie could see both advance. Interestingly, six of the previous seven games in Oakland/Las Vegas have been decided by three points or fewer.

The Raiders beat the Colts on a last-second field goal last week to prevail 23-20 – their fifth win of the season by four points or fewer, tied with the Packers and the Titans for the most in the NFL.

Justin Herbert set the single-season passing touchdowns record for the Chargers last week with his 35th of the campaign. He now requires 172 yards this week to also take the passing-yards record.

The Chargers' 34-13 win against the Broncos was their fourth victory in a win while scoring 30 points or more. They have averaged 33.9 points per game in wins this season, second most in the NFL behind the Bills (35.1).

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

The Steelers have won three in a row against the Ravens, with all three of those victories being decided by less than a touchdown, the most recent coming by a 20-19 scoreline last month.

Last week's 12-point win over the Browns was the Steelers' largest of the season, though not since 1969 have they gone a full campaign without winning by at least 13 points.

The Ravens are coming off the back of a 20-19 loss to the Rams, their league-leading eighth game decided by three or fewer points this season – no team in NFL history has had more than nine games decided by three or fewer points.

Najee Harris rushed for 188 of the Steelers' 190 rushing yards against the Browns and accounts for 77.9 per cent of his side's rush yards this season, the highest share of any player in the NFL.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) @ Denver Broncos (7-9)

The Chiefs will be looking to respond to their defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 17 when they take on the Broncos, whom they have defeated in 12 successive meetings – the league's joint-longest active winning streak along with the New England Patriots against the New York Jets.

Despite last week's defeat, the Chiefs have scored at least 30 points in four successive games, which is the longest-running streak in the NFL and one short of their all-time record of five set in 2004 and 2018.

Kansas lead the way in the NFL with 391 first downs this season and, with nine more this weekend, will become the fifth team in the last 70 years with 400 or more first downs in a season.

The Broncos were defeated by the Chargers last time out to ensure a losing season for the fifth straight year, an unwanted run they last went on from 1963 to 1972 with 10 straight losing seasons.

Elsewhere...

The Jaguars require a victory against the Colts to avoid becoming the fourth team in the last 30 years to have consecutive seasons with two or fewer wins. The Colts have lost three games this season by exactly three points – the Seahawks are the only team this season that has failed to win a single game by three or fewer points with more losses in such games (0-5).

The Rams can clinch their third NFC West title in six seasons season since moving back to Los Angeles with victory over the 49ers. However, the Niners have won each of their last five meetings with the Rams.

The Falcons have three successive wins against the Saints in Atlanta and are seeking a fourth in a row for the first time since between 1991 and 1994. Following defeat to the Bills last week, the Falcons have alternated between wins and losses over their last seven games.

The Bills can clinch their second consecutive division title with victory against the Jets, following on from a previous run of 24 straight seasons without finishing top. All 10 of Buffalo's wins this season have come by 12 points or more.

Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley will not countenance a "complicit" tie should such a result benefit both his team and the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

The AFC playoff picture is an intriguing one heading into Week 18 and a favourable result at Allegiant Stadium could take both teams into the postseason.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens, and the Jacksonville Jaguars – fresh from a 50-10 blowout defeat to the New England Patriots – upset the 9-7 Indianapolis Colts, the scenario in Nevada becomes straightforward.

Should those results fall into place, a tie between the Raiders and Chargers would send both to the playoffs at the expense of the other remaining challengers.

However, Staley is not prepared to engage in any such approach regardless of the bigger picture come kickoff.

"That's a pretty loaded scenario," he told The Rich Eisen Show. "That is an all-time coffee shop scenario. I feel like I'm with my buddies at the University of Dayton.

"I think we all respect the game and the NFL shield and the integrity of this game far too much to be complicit in something like that. This game matters too much to too many people, and we want to play our best and be proud of the result one way or another.

"We're going to do everything we can to go win this game, and play the way we're capable of playing. I hope all the fans and everybody who loves the NFL will be proud of the game on Sunday.

"What makes it so special is the competition and the level of integrity and respect that it stands for."

The Chargers and Raiders head into the contest evenly matched, both standing at 9-7 with Las Vegas on a three-game winning streak.

The Arizona Cardinals continued their excellent road form as they edged the Dallas Cowboys 25-22 in a potential-playoff preview with Kyler Murray leading the way on Sunday.

The Cardinals improved their season record to 11-5 and their road record to 8-1, snapping a three-game skid, with Texas-born Murray throwing two touchdowns as he completed 26 of 38 attempts for 263 yards.

The Cowboys had trailed 22-7 at the final charge but stormed back into contention as Dak Prescott threw three TD passes for the game but Murray expertly managed the clock late.

Murray found Antoine Wesley for two TDs including a spectacular catch in the third quarter, while Jonathan Ward made a remarkable helmet catch on a fake punt.

The Cowboys lost Michael Gallup to injury upon his second-quarter receiving touchdown and did not return, not helping their cause.

Prescott, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 226 yards along with 20 rushing yards, found Cedrick Wilson and Amari Cooper for final-quarter TDs to tighten the game but he also had a costly fumble at 22-14.

Chargers snap skid as Williams scores 101-yard return

The Los Angeles Chargers snapped a two-game skid with a 34-13 victory over the Denver Broncos to boost their Wild Card hopes as they improve to a 9-7 record.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw 22 of 31 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns, breaking the franchise record for single-season touchdown passes at 35.

Andre Williams scored a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Austin Ekeler returned to LA's line-up and was important, with 17 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown, along with three receptions for 54 yards.

 

Lance leads 49ers to key win in Wild Card race

Trey Lance stepped in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo and provided two touchdown passes as the San Francisco 49ers won 23-7 over the Houston Texans.

Lance completed 16 of 23 passes for 249 yards with the two TDs and an interception to help the 49ers improve to 9-7 in the NFC Wild Card pursuit.

Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell scored the touchdowns as the 49ers scored 20 second-half points to secure the win.

The Baltimore Ravens are in danger of letting their season get away from them after a four-game losing run and things do not appear to get any easier with the Los Angeles Rams visiting on Sunday.

John Harbaugh's men have a positive recent record against the Rams though, and will need to properly utilise the impressive form of Mark Andrews.

The Indianapolis Colts can clinch their playoff spot with a win against the Las Vegas Raiders, while a potentially fascinating encounter in the race for the playoffs between the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos will take place at SoFi Stadium.

Stats Perform takes a look at the standout statistics ahead of the penultimate week of the NFL's regular season.

Los Angeles Rams (11-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

The Rams have lost four straight games against the Ravens (outscored 120-29 in those games) and are 2-5 all-time against them - Baltimore the only franchise in the league the Rams have never won a road game against (0-3).

Rams running back Sony Michel ran for 131 yards and a touchdown in last week's win against the Minnesota Vikings, two yards from tying a career-high set in 2018 with the New England Patriots. He has 423 yards in his last four games after a combined 305 in his first 11 games.

The Ravens lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 41-21 last week, allowing 525 passing yards, the most in franchise history. They also finished with just 39 rushing yards of their own, their fewest since a franchise-low 11 in 2016.

Andrews had eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown last week. He now has three straight games with at least 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown. He is the only Raven to ever have three such games in a row, and just the second tight end in NFL history (Jimmy Graham in 2013).

Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-6)

The Raiders were 7-2 in their first nine games against the Colts but have gone just 2-6 since then (dating back to 2004). They won 31-24 in their last trip to Indianapolis in 2019 but lost at home the following season.

After beating the Broncos last week, the Raiders have won back-to-back games despite scoring 17 points or fewer in each. It is the first time they have done so since 1991 – those victories came against the Broncos and the Colts.

The Colts beat the Arizona Cardinals 22-16 last week, improving to 8-2 in their last 10 games after starting the season 1-4. Their 31.2 points per game since Week 6 leads the NFL.

Jonathan Taylor had 108 rushing yards in his last outing, his ninth display this season with at least 100 yards – the Colts have won all nine of those games. Indianapolis has not won a game in which he has been held under the century mark this season.

Denver Broncos (7-8) @ Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)

The Broncos beat the Chargers 28-13 in Week 12, their largest win over them since a 23-7 triumph in the 2005 season. Fourteen of the last 21 games between these teams have been decided by one possession (eight points or fewer).

Drew Lock is expected to start at quarterback again after starting his first game of the season last time out. Since the start of 2020, Lock has the lowest completion percentage among the 29 quarterbacks with 500 or more pass attempts (57.6 per cent).

The Chargers allowed 189 rushing yards in a 41-29 loss to the Houston Texans, who entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards per game. The Chargers are allowing 140.3 rushing yards per game, on pace for their worst mark since the 1987 strike season (144.7).

Justin Jackson had a career-high 162 scrimmage yards against the Texans while filling in for Austin Ekeler. He has 261 scrimmage yards in his last two games, which Ekeler has done just once in a two-game span this season (264 yards from Weeks 4-5).

Elsewhere...

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) QB Matt Ryan will look to add to his 3,555 yards thrown overall this season when he faces the Buffalo Bills (9-6). It is his 12th consecutive season with at least 3,500 passing yards. He joins Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady in an exclusive club to achieve the passing milestone in that many straight campaigns.

The Patriots (9-6) have lost at least two December games in each of the last four seasons (3-2 in 2018, 2-3 in 2019, 1-3 in 2020, 1-2 in 2021). New England, who host the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13), have more December losses over the last four seasons (7-10) than in the previous 15 seasons combined (56-9, 2003-2017).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) star Brady is 30-7 as a starter against the New York Jets (4-11) in his career (including postseason). That is the second-most wins by any QB against a single opponent behind only his own record against the Bills (33). Brady is 7-0 in his last seven against the Jets, winning by an average of 23.3 points. 

The Kansas City Chiefs - who can clinch the AFC's top seed if they avoid defeat against the Bengals and the Tennessee Titans lose in Miami - have lost their last five games in Cincinnati, with their last win there coming in September 1984.

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys blew away the Washington Football Team with six first-half touchdowns as they recorded a comprehensive 56-14 win on Sunday.

Prescott completed 28 of 39 passes for 330 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, as the Cowboys reached 50 points for the first time since Super Bowl XXVII in 1993.

The Dallas QB recorded his fourth career game with 300 yards, four passing touchdowns and no interceptions, which is the most by any player in franchise history, going past Tony Romo (three). Prescott remarkably passed for 320 yards by half-time.

The Cowboys also became the first team this season to score in all three facets of the game as they dismantled Washington.

Ezekiel Elliott scored two touchdowns in the first half as the Cowboys opened up a 42-7 half-time lead. Elliott had nine carries for 37 yards and one rushing TD, along with one receiving touchdown.

Dallas had good contributions from receivers Amari Cooper (seven receptions for 85 yards and one TD), Dalton Schultz (eight receptions for 82 yards and one TD) and Malik Turner (three receptions for 82 yards and one TD).

Demarcus Lawrence also scored a TD after intercepting Washington QB's Taylor Heinicke's first-quarter pass with Chauncey Golston cleaning up in the end zone for a touchdown after Corey Clement blocked a punt.

The Cowboys, who have clinched the NFC East division earlier in the day after the Las Vegas Raiders beat the Denver Broncos 17-13, improve to 11-4 while Washington are 6-9.

 

Burrow blows against Lamar-less Ravens

Joe Burrow was in record-breaking form with the fourth most passing yards in a game in NFL history to lead the Cincinnati Bengals won 41-21 over the Baltimore Ravens, who were without Lamar Jackson.

Burrow completed 37 of 46 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, which was a new franchise record for passing yards as the Bengals claimed a major AFC North win to improve to 9-6 ahead of the 8-7 Ravens on a four-game skid.

The Bengals quarterback also becomes the fourth player in NFL history to have 500 pass yards, four pass touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game, joining Derek Carr, Ben Roethlisberger and Y.A. Tittle.

Wide receivers Tee Higgins (12 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns) and Ja'Marr Chase (seven receptions for 125 yards) were excellent against the Ravens whose stand-in QB Josh Johnson had two TD passes.

 

Chiefs clinch AFC West yet again

The Kansas City Chiefs became the first team to ever clinch the AFC West title for six straight seasons after a 36-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw 23 of 30 passes for 258 yards with three TD passes, while Steelers veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger struggled with 23 of 35 passes for 159 yards with one TD and one interception.

Wide receiver Byron Pringle had six receptions for 75 yards with two touchdowns as the Chiefs improved to an unassailable 11-4 record in the AFC West, ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers (8-4) who lost 41-29 to the Houston Texans earlier on Sunday.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is set to miss Sunday's clash with the Houston Texans after being added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said that Ekeler was "day-to-day" having been placed on the list, along with wide receiver Jalen Guyton

The 26-year-old has 1,347 total yards from 235 touches this season with 17 touchdowns (10 rushing and seven receiving).

The Chargers have been hit the recent COVID-19 surge with star linebacker Joey Bosa and defensive back Kemon Hall also on the reserve/COVID-19 list along with several others.

Bosa is unvaccinated and has been added to the reserve/COVID-19 list for a second time.

The Indianapolis Colts have dominated selection for the Pro Bowl with seven players named for the game due to be played on 6 February in Las Vegas for the first time.

Colts' MVP contender running back Jonathan Taylor was among five players confirmed earlier this week but he was joined by six other team-mates as the full NFC and AFC rosters were revealed on Wednesday.

Indianapolis also had center Ryan Kelly, guard Quenton Nelson, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, linebacker Darius Leonard, cornerback Kenny Moore II and special teams long snapper Luke Rhodes all selected, with the Colts enjoying a run of five wins in six games to sit second in the AFC South.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady had already been named earlier this week for a record 15th Pro Bowl, with Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray and Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers joining him as NFC QBs.

The selected AFC quarterbacks were Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert, Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson and Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes.

The Chiefs and Chargers had six players selected in total, while the Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Bucs all had five representatives.

Four rookies were selected in Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.

The NFC and AFC rosters are determined by a vote of the fans, players and coaches.

Travis Kelce was among the first five players named to the 2022 Pro Bowl on Monday but also appeared on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

The Kansas City Chiefs tight end caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Thursday's overtime win against the Los Angeles Chargers.

That was one of two scores as Kelce had a career-high 191 receiving yards on 10 catches.

Only three other players this year have had more receiving yards in a game, while that display ranked joint-seventh among tight ends since 1960.

This level of performance showed why Kelce joined four others, including record-breaking 15-time Pro Bowler Tom Brady, in being recognised as an all-star yet again.

But Kelce's immediate focus is on the Chiefs' push for the number one seed in the AFC.

The 32-year-old's appearance on the COVID list prompted concern, although the player is vaccinated and so will have the opportunity to test out of NFL protocols before Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Kelce was one of a host of NFL players to test positive for coronavirus on Monday – reported to be around 50, a single-day record.

Kansas City's AFC West rivals the Chargers confirmed Joey Bosa was among them and would not return in time to play the Houston Texans in Week 16.

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