The Detroit Lions finally don't have a dilemma for a change.
A few weeks ago it seemed obvious that the Lions would use that pick on a quarterback. Now it's not a sure thing.
Since two rough games against the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys, Jared Goff has been excellent. Over the past seven games he has thrown for 1,769 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception. He has a 104.6 passer rating over that time. His 97.9 passer rating for the season ranks seventh in the NFL. In a league that has seen many teams struggle to find any answer at quarterback or suffer through the option they have, Goff has been at least in the top half of the league, and that's being conservative.
Back to that classic Detroit offseason of choices. When the Lions brought on Goff, they were mostly taking on just salary so the Rams could get Matthew Stafford. Goff has been better than a temporary option. Goff just turned 28. He is a former first overall pick of the draft, and made two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl with the Rams. Goff is not singularly great but this season is reminiscent of his best years with the Rams. With good talent and good coaching around him, you can win with Goff at quarterback. You just can't ask him to do it all, and the Lions should be pretty good around the quarterback position for a while.
But does Goff's hot streak mean the Lions pass on a quarterback in next year's draft? Everyone is aware that Goff's ceiling is limited and Detroit will have more exciting yet unproven options. Ohio State's C.J. Stroud could fall to the Lions. Kentucky's Will Levis seems like a good bet to be available, as long as the Rams don't win a lot down the stretch. If the Lions believe in the talent of Stroud, Levis or anyone else in that range, it could be a big mistake to put all their faith in Goff and pass a top QB prospect.
In 2020, the Lions screwed up. They didn't make a strong decision on Stafford's future. They drafted Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah third overall, passing on Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. They traded Stafford a year later. They blew it. Will the Lions have the same regret passing on a top quarterback in 2023? Those chances don't come along often if you're not a bad team, and the Lions hope to not have another top-10 pick for a while.
There's also Goff's contract. The Lions could get out of it after this season with 2023 salary-cap savings of about $20 million. Goff's cap hit in 2023 is $30.65 million and in 2023 it's $31.65 million. That's not excessive for a quarterback (his 2023 hit is projected to be 11th most among QBs at the moment) but it's significant. It complicates things.
Here's what the Lions have to decide next offseason: Would you rather have Goff at a cap hit of more than $30 million and a much-needed future star for the defense like Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, Alabama defensive end Will Anderson Jr. or Clemson's Myles Murphy, or a young, unknown quarterback with more theoretical upside than Goff and about $20 million in extra cap space for 2023? Also there would be a lot of cap flexibility over the new QB's rookie deal. Goff could also stick around for another year as a bridge quarterback, though that is expensive. If the Lions choose the Goff/defensive lineman route and Goff regresses next season, it would be another massive regret to go with the Tagovailoa/Herbert mistake.
Goff's play is a reason the Lions have jumped back into the playoff race. They've rebounded from a 1-6 start to win five of six, with the one loss coming in the final seconds to the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. But Goff's play has also complicated what happens next.
It's not the worst place to be. The Lions will likely get either a stud defensive foundation piece to go alongside 2022 first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson, or a quarterback they hope stars for them over the next decade. That doesn't mean the decision is easy.
Here are the power rankings after Week 14 of the NFL season:
32. Houston Texans (1-11-1, Last Week: 32)
A win over the Cowboys would have made the Texans' season a lot brighter. It would have given that team's fans something to feel good about. Blowing it by screwing up a goal-to-go situation and then giving up a 98-yard touchdown drive to lose in the final minute just makes a miserable season worse. Oh well, at least the Texans are closer to the first overall draft pick.
31. Denver Broncos (3-10, LW: 31)
There is an odd amount of optimism in Colorado over the Broncos' loss Sunday. They came back to make it interesting after trailing the Chiefs 27-0, and Denver's offense showed signs of life before Russell Wilson's scary concussion. But it shows how low the bar is for the 2022 Broncos that Sunday's performance is a highlight.
30. Chicago Bears (3-10, LW: 30)
The Bears' next two opponents: Eagles and Bills. Justin Fields needs to be tested to gauge what he needs to work on next offseason, and those will be two significant tests.
29. Los Angeles Rams (4-9, LW: 29)
Baker Mayfield leading that comeback win, less than 48 hours after he landed in Los Angeles, was one of the best moments of the NFL season. It certainly was a shining light in a horrible season for the Rams. And the Rams didn't have to worry about the win messing with where they'll pick in the first round next year.
28. Arizona Cardinals (4-9, LW: 25)
The injury to Kyler Murray makes a bad season worse for the Cardinals. Now they have to start worrying if Murray will be ready for the start of next season, which is the last thing that franchise needed.
27. Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1, LW: 27)
It's not too early to wonder what happens next with the Colts' coaching situation. Team owner Jim Irsay was very excited to make Jeff Saturday his interim head coach. Does that mean he gets the full-time job after some sham interviews to satisfy the Rooney Rule? Does Saturday need to win a few games down the stretch? Will someone talk Irsay out of making Saturday the full-time coach? It's hard to say when it comes to Irsay.
26. New Orleans Saints (4-9, LW: 26)
The one thing the Saints can still chase this season (they're still mathematically not out of the playoff race, but come on) is getting Chris Olave the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Olave has 60 catches for 887 yards and the race is still close. If Olave has some big games down the stretch he can take the award.
25. Atlanta Falcons (5-8, LW: 23)
Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder gets the start, and it's a smart move. The offense had fallen apart with Marcus Mariota. Maybe Ridder adds something. If he doesn't, at least the Falcons tried to salvage the season before it's done. It was time.
24. Las Vegas Raiders (5-8, LW: 21)
That collapse against the Rams had countless mistakes and almost all of them can be traced back to coaching. After the game the Raiders cut guard John Simpson, who played 93 percent of the snaps Thursday. I was unaware that Simpson was responsible for the Raiders playing press coverage on the final drive of the game when the Rams had no timeouts.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8, LW: 20)
There should be plenty of questions over how rookie Kenny Pickett was put in the concussion protocol after he was allowed to play another series following a big hit. Everyone saw the sack from Roquan Smith; it's not like there was some hidden hit. Mike Tomlin didn't have many answers after the game, saying, “I don’t know about the sequence or the details regarding the sequence.” The concussion protocol is never going to be perfect, but it needs to be better than what we saw in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
22. Carolina Panthers (5-8, LW: 28)
The Panthers' upset win at Seattle combined with the Buccaneers' loss at the 49ers makes things tighter in the NFC South. Carolina already beat the Buccaneers once this season, and they play again on Jan. 1. The Panthers' other three remaining games (vs. Steelers, vs. Lions, at Saints) could produce a win or two. The Panthers could still steal the NFC South if they finish the sweep of the Bucs in a few weeks.
21. Cleveland Browns (5-8, LW: 19)
What happened to the Browns' defense? It looked like Cleveland was building on that side of the ball, but there are no playmakers aside from Myles Garrett. Garrett has 12 sacks and nobody else on the Browns has more than 2.5. No Browns defender other than Garrett has more than four quarterback hits, which is hard to believe given the attention Garrett demands. Nobody on the Browns has more than one interception all season. Garrett and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have two forced fumbles, and nobody else has more than one. How can an entire defense — Garrett excepted, of course — be this bad at making any impact plays?
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, LW: 18)
The Buccaneers are a bad team. The offense is a mess. The defense is usually good but it was picked apart by Brock Purdy and the 49ers on Sunday. The Bucs are still the favorites to win the NFC South but look at their upcoming schedule: vs. Bengals, at Cardinals, vs. Panthers, at Falcons. If Tampa Bay loses to the Panthers on Jan. 1, there's a chance they blow an easy path to win one of the worst divisions in NFL history.
19. Green Bay Packers (5-8, LW: 22)
I hate to play the "if the Packers win out they can make the playoffs" game. You can maybe talk yourself into the schedule not being impossible — vs. Rams, at Dolphins, vs. Vikings, vs. Lions — but there are a lot of potential losses and more important, the Packers aren't the caliber of team to win four straight games.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8, LW: 24)
Trevor Lawrence is on a roll. Over the Jaguars' past five games he has 1,362 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has had a 106.1 rating in four of those five games. There are still consistency concerns, but that's probably overblown because he hasn't had a sustained stretch like this. Lawrence might already be a star. Based on the past five games, it looks like he has arrived.
17. New York Giants (7-5-1, LW: 14)
Saquon Barkley's first nine games: 198 carries for 931 yards (4.7 yards per carry), 29 catches for 197 receiving yards (6.8 yards per catch). Barkley's past four games: 50 carries for 152 yards (2.9 yards per rush) and 13 catches for 64 receiving yards (4.9 yards per catch). Barkley's drop hasn't been all his fault, but it's not the best news for him as he approaches free agency. And Barkley's production falling is the biggest reason the Giants' offense is struggling.
16. Seattle Seahawks (7-6, LW: 11)
Geno Smith pressed a bit but he's not atop the Seahawks' list of issues. The run game has disappeared, the offensive line isn't playing great and the defense is getting pushed around. People want to blame Smith because they can't believe he's emerging out of nowhere as a good quarterback, and that's unfair.
15. Washington Commanders (7-5-1, LW: 15)
The Commanders play the Giants on Sunday night and it's practically a playoff game. The winner will have a huge edge to get an NFC wild-card spot. The Commanders have to feel good about their chances to win that home game, especially off a bye.
14. Tennessee Titans (7-6, LW: 12)
Derrick Henry had just 2 yards on three second-half carries after rushing for 119 in the first half. The Titans aren't going to win like that. The Titans' next two opponents are the Chargers and Texans, two of the worst run defenses in the NFL, so Henry will have a chance to put up some big numbers.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6, LW: 17)
Another week in which the Chargers had the biggest change in their playoff odds at Football Outsiders. After beating the Dolphins, they have a 46.6% chance to make it heading into the Patriots-Cardinals game on Monday night. That's a 21.3% improvement from last week, the biggest shift in the NFL. The Chargers, and particularly head coach Brandon Staley and quarterback Justin Herbert, need to take advantage and make it to the playoffs.
12. New England Patriots (7-6, LW: 13)
This is not a great Patriots team. But Bill Belichick is still really good at getting the most out of the talent on hand. If the season ended now, the Patriots would be a playoff team.
11. Detroit Lions (6-7, LW: 16)
It'll be a shame if the Lions don't make the playoffs. They're currently better than the Commanders, Seahawks or Giants, the three teams ahead of Detroit for the final two wild-card spots. The Lions have no excuses for a putrid 1-6 start that put them in this hole. But they're playing really well now, and have been for six weeks.
10. New York Jets (7-6, LW: 10)
The Jets keep losing players. If defensive tackle Quinnen Williams misses time with a calf injury that's a huge blow. He'd probably be an All-Pro if the voting happened today. Receiver Corey Davis and quarterback Mike White were banged up in the game too. Injuries are piling up for the Jets.
9. Miami Dolphins (8-5, LW: 8)
It's OK to say Tua Tagovailoa looked terrible on Sunday night and not have it be a referendum on his worth as an NFL player. Good players have bad games. But Sunday night was really bad. You won't see many competent quarterbacks with a stat line of 3-of-17 for 25 yards, like Tagovailoa had in third quarter. The person on the spot, maybe even more than Tagovailoa, is head coach Mike McDaniel. After a great start this season, McDaniel has to adjust to how the Dolphins are being defended the past two games.
8. Baltimore Ravens (9-4, LW: 9)
Sunday's win over the Steelers was ugly. Why would the Ravens care? Winning on the road against an improving Steelers team, when Baltimore was down to its third-string quarterback, is impressive. The Ravens ran the ball well, played good defense and got out of Pittsburgh with a physical win that keeps them even with the Bengals in the division. That's not bad.
7. Minnesota Vikings (10-3, LW: 6)
The Vikings are an oddity, a 10-3 team with a negative point differential and pretty much every other negative advanced stat you can think of. I still don't believe the Vikings are bad. They're just not as good as your typical 10-3 team. What is concerning is the defense. Minnesota has given up at least 400 yards in five straight games. That will cost the Vikings in the playoffs if they don't clean it up.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4, LW: 5)
Trey Hendrickson broke his wrist Sunday and played through it in the fourth quarter, according to NFL Media. He'll miss a few weeks and that's bad news for a Bengals team that is tied for first place in the AFC North. Hendrickson, a Pro Bowler last season, is second on the Bengals with six sacks.
5. San Francisco 49ers (9-4, LW: 7)
The Brock Purdy story is tremendous. It's hard to believe that a third-string rookie quarterback taken with the last pick of the draft could lead a team to a Super Bowl, but in the past two weeks the 49ers look the part of a title team. Maybe Purdy will be exposed in an adverse situation — on the road, when the 49ers fall behind, in a tense playoff game, and so forth — but maybe this is an awesome all-time story we're seeing unfold. It's certainly making the 49ers must-watch TV the rest of the way.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3, LW: 3)
Let's not start picking apart Patrick Mahomes. Sure, he threw three interceptions against Denver. He also had 352 yards and three touchdowns and the Chiefs won. Let's not forget that Mahomes lost Tyreek Hill, who will be an All-Pro this season and has a chance to break the NFL's single-season receiving yards record, yet leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. And the Chiefs are 10-3. Nothing against Jalen Hurts, but Mahomes still should be the MVP favorite, even as the odds flipped in Hurts' favor.
3. Dallas Cowboys (10-3, LW: 2)
I'll give the Cowboys a pass, to some extent. Dallas didn't seem to take the Texans seriously enough and it almost cost them a win. That happens, whether we like it or not. Still, Dallas needs to make sure that some issues weren't exposed in that ugly win.
2. Buffalo Bills (10-3, LW: 4)
The Bills don't want to see the Jets in the playoffs. The Bills have 20 first downs in every non-Jets game, and had 19 and 14 against the Jets. Buffalo has gained 326 yards in all games that weren't against the Jets, and had 317 and 232 against New York. That defense gives the Bills problems. Getting the win on Sunday despite not being able to move the ball was huge.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-1, LW: 1)
The Eagles might be peaking. Also, tight end Dallas Goedert could return from injury as soon as this week. Safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and pass rusher Robert Quinn are eligible to return before the end of the season as well. This has the look of a dream season.