Which head coaches could be fired (or leave)??Who will win the NFC South? What are the matchups with the biggest playoff implications?
NFL Nation reporters identify the most important storylines to monitor over the final two weeks of the season.
Potentially ending their 17-year playoff drought
The Bills' 8-6 record matches their two best records through 14 games since 2000. They missed the playoffs the two other years they started 8-6 — in 2004 and 2014 — but Buffalo can end the longest active playoff drought among the four North American major leagues if they finish 9-7 and get some help. It would be a weight off the shoulders of a city burdened by losing. — Mike Rodak
Kenyan Drake positioning himself as the primary back in 2018
The second-year running back has a chance to solidify the position in Miami with a strong finish. He looks like starter material, with two 100-yard games in three starts. With Miami out of the playoff hunt, it needs to find out which players the team can count on next year. — James Walker
Next week's rematch with the Bills
How will the second meeting of the season play out as it relates to the Bills defense seeing Rob Gronkowski on the field for the first time since the tight end's late hit on cornerback? Tre'Davious White? Gronkowski was suspended one game by the league, and White had relayed the following text message to ESPN analyst Ryan Clark about Gronkowski: "The whole hood want 'em." — Mike Reiss
Todd Bowles' job status
The coach's record over three seasons is 20-26, and the team has dropped seven of its past nine games. Bowles has only one year left on his contract, so ownership must make a decision on his future: Either extend him or let him go. Despite the record, the feeling around the team is that Bowles is squeezing as much as he can out of this young, rebuilding squad. — Rich Cimini
Earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2014
The Ravens' path to the postseason is a clear and favorable one. Baltimore has to beat the struggling Colts and Bengals at home to clinch a wild-card berth. It would be disastrous if the Ravens failed to do so. Indianapolis and Cincinnati have an 8-20 record and both lost their respective games by a combined score of 59-20 over the weekend. "I love it. Bring it on," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "Every game is a playoff game from here on out, and we want to win." – – Jamison Hensley
Where do the Bengals go after Marvin Lewis?
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Lewis plans to leave the Bengals after the season, and although Lewis denied making any decision, it seems impossible now that he and the team would renew his contract in 2018. So now Cincinnati must figure out how to pull itself together to end the season on a positive note after two straight blowout losses. The front office also needs to begin a coaching search, its first since before the 2003 season. — Katherine Terrell
Trying to avoid an 0-16 finish
The Browns have to point to Christmas Eve in Chicago for their first victory of 2017. The Bears have four wins, and the Steelers' loss to the Patriots means Pittsburgh probably will have a lot to play for when the Browns meet them in the season finale, which means the Browns' matchup with the Bears could be their best chance to avoid 0-16. — Pat McManamon
Earning a first-round bye
The Steelers' two-week blueprint is very simple: Beat Houston and Cleveland, clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC and earn a bye. Sunday's loss to New England takes Pittsburgh's hopes for home-field advantage out of its hands. But at 11-3, the Steelers are still well-positioned for a postseason run. "We have a lot of football ahead of us — two games and a guaranteed football game," defensive end? Cameron Heyward?said. "Now we have to go on a four-game winning streak from here." — Jeremy Fowler
Will Bill O'Brien return in 2018?
After this season, O'Brien has just one more remaining on the five-year contract he signed in 2014. Last week, he said he expects to return next season, but his agent has not heard from the Texans' front office about a contract extension. He added on Monday that he "will never quit as the head football coach of the Houston Texans. Ever." The team is unlikely to let him coach with just one season remaining. The Texans are 4-10 this season, but have lost several key players to injury. — Sarah Barshop
Chuck Pagano's job status
Team owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard haven't addressed Pagano's future, but there hasn't been any indication that the coach will be back for a seventh season. It started back in January when Irsay would only say that Pagano would be the coach in 2017 despite his being under contract through the 2019 season. The Colts (3-11) were expected to struggle this season — their third straight of missing the playoffs — but Pagano has severely hurt his chances to be retained by being a poor second-half coach. The Colts are 3-6 when leading at halftime this season. They're going to finish with their worst record since going 2-14 in 2011. — Mike Wells
The chance to earn their first home playoff game in nearly 20 years
The Jaguars clinched their first postseason berth since 2007 with Sunday's win over Houston and now have a two-game lead over Tennessee in the AFC South with two games remaining. The last time the Jaguars had a home playoff game was 1999, when they edged out Tennessee to win what was then the AFC Central. Jacksonville plays at San Francisco and Tennessee to close out the season. — Mike DiRocco
Can the Titans stop their late-season collapse and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008?
It's not looking promising after suffering back-to-back road losses to the Cardinals and 49ers. The Titans go back home to finish the season against the hot and playoff-bound Rams and Jaguars. Wide receiver Rishard Matthews said this is the time when we see who wants it and what pride this team will show down the stretch. They'll need everything they can get. — Cameron Wolfe
What to do at quarterback
Same as it ever was. What has happened at QB this season will continue to be the most discussed item as the team closes out its second consecutive playoff miss. With Trevor Siemian on injured reserve, the Broncos have to decide how much they want to play Paxton Lynch. They feel they need to get a look at their 2016 first-round pick, but the team has also finally found some equilibrium on offense with two consecutive wins with Siemian and Brock Osweiler behind center. Lynch has played in one game this season and struggled mightily in it before he was injured. The Broncos have said the team would do what it takes to get wins and play the players "who can help us get wins,'' as coach Vance Joseph put it, as well as wanting to get at least a glimpse at Lynch. So, if Lynch plays, the pressure for him to perform might be highest in his own locker room, which is filled with players who still want to prove the eight-game losing streak didn't represent what the team could do. — Jeff Legwold
Clinching the AFC West next week to buy time to rest for key players
The Chiefs need just one win in their last two games to clinch the division. Once in the postseason, the Chiefs won't get a first-round bye. They'll most likely be the AFC's fourth seed. But by beating the Dolphins next Sunday, the Chiefs can guarantee that the following week's game against the Broncos won't matter in the standings. So the Chiefs would be able to make the Denver game a de facto bye week for some key players if they handle their business against Miami. They would be able to get some rest for running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, quarterback
Finishing with a winning record — whether they make the playoffs or not
On the brink of elimination after losing to Kansas City, how the Chargers respond over the next two weeks will be critical. Even if they do not reach the postseason, winning the final two games and finishing at 9-7 with a winning record in the first year of coach Anthony Lynn bodes well for next season. — Eric D. Williams
Job status of first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing
Under Downing, the Raiders offense has gone from No. 6 last season, when Bill Musgrave was calling plays, to No. 19 this year. Of course, Derek Carr has regressed greatly, so you have to wonder if Downing's playcalling has made Carr look bad, or if an injured Carr — who broke bones in his back in Week 4 — has neutered Downing's big-playcalling ability? Chicken or the egg … or something. — Paul Gutierrez
How ready is Ezekiel Elliott?
Elliott missed six games because of a suspension. His first practice back will come Wednesday, when the Cowboys turn their attention to the Seahawks. Elliott was on pace for more than 1,500 yards before his suspension kicked in eight games into the season, and he had more than 90 yards rushing and five of his seven touchdowns in his past four games. The Cowboys have not been shy in giving Elliott a lot of work and they won't be shy relying on him even after such a long break. — Todd Archer
Getting ready to fill the general manager and head coach openings
The season is long over. The Giants are just playing out the string. The last two weeks — especially since they don't seem inclined to play rookie quarterback Davis Webb — are all about the peripheral things: Who will they interview in the meantime for the GM job? Who are they looking at to be the new head coach? Will they get the second pick in the NFL draft? That's what these final few weeks are about for the Giants. — Jordan Raanan
Can the defense get back on track?
Dominant for much of the season, Jim Schwartz's unit has fallen off over the past few weeks and yielded over 500 yards and 29 points to the lowly Giants on Sunday. The Eagles need to get back to form before playoffs. — Tim McManus
Are these Kirk Cousins' final two games in Washington?
There aren't any storylines for Washington that top this one — over the next two games and into the offseason. The inability to sign the quarterback to a long-term deal means this situation will again come to a head. — John Keim
How Mitchell Trubisky finishes the year
The Bears will never turn it around unless Trubisky develops into a true franchise quarterback. The rookie has played well on occasion, but he — along with Chicago's entire offense — struggled mightily on Saturday. The Bears would feel much better about the direction of the franchise if Trubisky thrives in the final two weeks against Cleveland and Minnesota. — Jeff Dickerson
Jim Caldwell's future with the team
Detroit is still in the playoff hunt — needing to win out and get some help — and how the Lions play over the final two weeks of the season could go a long way in determining whether Caldwell remains with the club for the 2018 season. This has been a major point of conversation throughout December after back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Baltimore coincided with a report that Caldwell's "multiyear" extension only was guaranteed for next year. The most interesting scenario would be if the Lions win out and miss the playoffs due to tiebreakers, and how general manager Bob Quinn would handle that. — Michael Rothstein
Deciding whether? Aaron Rodgers?plays and evaluating the defense
In the short term, there's the decision to play or sit Rodgers if the Packers are eliminated from playoff consideration on Monday night. But in the big picture, coach Mike McCarthy also has to evaluate all aspects of his defense. That includes defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose unit has once again underperformed. It's possible Capers is coaching for his future. — Rob Demovsky
Whether they can snag the No. 1 seed in the NFC
The top seed is still within reach. Minnesota would need to beat the Packers on the road and the Bears at home on New Year's Eve, as well as have Philadelphia lose to the Raiders and Cowboys in back-to-back weeks — but that's the only scenario in which the No. 1 seed is still in play, because the Vikings are not eligible to win a tiebreaker with the Eagles. If they just worry about controlling their own destiny the rest of the way and win out, the Vikings will finish as the No. 2 (where they're currently slated after winning the NFC North on in Week 15) and secure a first-round bye. Because they won their division, they won't fall any lower than a No. 4 seed in the playoffs, which would mean they'd face one of the wild-card teams in the first round. — Courtney Cronin
Will the Falcons claim the NFC South title for the second year in a row?
It's possible with three consecutive wins to end the season, starting with Monday night's game in Tampa Bay. A 3-0 finish over the Bucs, Saints and Panthers would bring their season record to 11-5 and 5-1 in the division. It would mean a season sweep of the Saints and a 1-1 record against the Panthers, who already have two losses to the Saints in division play. The Falcons finished last season with a four-game winning streak, had an 11-5 record and earned the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye. Could it be a repeat? — Vaughn McClure
Whether the Panthers can win the NFC South
The Panthers still have a chance to win the division for the fourth time in five years if they win out and New Orleans loses a game — the best chance would be next week, when the Saints face the Falcons. The reason the Panthers have a chance is quarterback Newton is starting to play at a high level. He has thrown 11 touchdowns to only one interception in the past six games, including four touchdowns in Sunday's win over Green Bay. He's doing the kind of things he did during his 2015 MVP season. — David Newton
Next week's matchup with the Falcons
Sorry to steal one of the NFL's biggest clich?s, but the most important game of the Saints' season is the next one: at home against their biggest rivals, the Falcons, on Christmas Eve. The NFC South race couldn't be much tighter, with the Saints (10-4), Panthers (10-4) and Falcons (8-5) all within one loss heading into Atlanta's Monday night appearance. The Falcons already played spoiler by intercepting Drew Brees in the end zone for a 20-17 win in Atlanta in Week 14. Now the Saints have to get revenge or else there's a good chance they could be hitting the road as a wild-card team in the playoffs. — Mike Triplett
Can the Bucs save head coach Dirk Koetter's job?
The Bucs play the Falcons on Monday night, then the Panthers and Saints to close out the season. They're 0-3 in the division, so it doesn't look good. The Glazers have already shown that they have little patience, firing their past two head coaches — Lovie Smith and Greg Schiano — after two seasons each. — Jenna Laine
The future of head coach Bruce Arians, QB? Carson Palmer and WR? Larry Fitzgerald
Now that Arizona has been eliminated from the playoffs, every move the Cardinals' version of the Big Three makes during the last two weeks will be closely monitored and scrutinized for any indication of their future plans. There has been chatter that all three could retire this offseason, and there has been chatter that all three will return. Now that the postseason won't be a topic anymore, their futures will move into the spotlight. — Josh Weinfuss
Todd Gurley II's place in the MVP race
Gurley thrust himself into the conversation by rushing for 152 yards and scoring four total touchdowns against the Seahawks on Sunday, with most of his damage coming in the first half. Gurley, coming off one of the least-productive seasons for a running back in NFL history, has amassed 1,817 scrimmage yards and has scored an NFL-leading 17 touchdowns. He has been the focal point of an offense that is among the best in the NFL. And if he has a strong final couple of games, he has at least an outside chance of becoming the first non-quarterback to be named MVP since Adrian Peterson in 2012.? — Alden Gonzalez?
What will? Jimmy Garoppolo?do next?
Forget NFL draft watch and the Niners playing spoiler to postseason contenders, let's get to the question all 49ers fans have on their mind: What's the new quarterback going to do next? All he has done since taking over as the starter three weeks ago is lead the 49ers to their first three-game winning streak since 2014 and single-handedly change how this franchise's future is perceived. With difficult matchups against Jacksonville and the Rams over the final two weeks, Garoppolo is positioned to have the Niners and their faithful dreaming of big things ahead as soon as next season.? — Nick Wagoner
Can the Seahawks make it back to the playoffs for the sixth straight season?
Their blowout loss to the Rams makes winning the NFC West a long shot, so Seattle will likely need to win its final two games at Dallas and against Arizona and get some help to sneak in as a wild-card team. Those are winnable games, but you can't assume anything given how badly they were beaten Sunday. — Brady Henderson