What Have We Learned from Week 17 of the 2018 NFL Season

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Chris Carson, Haason Reddick

Seattle Seahawks’ Chris Carson carries as Arizona Cardinals’ Haason Reddick (43) pursues during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 17 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • For Seahawks, their playoff run started in Week 3 vs. Dallas-RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer sat together and decided with their team winless after two games there needed to be a change.

    What the Seattle Seahawks were trying to do on offense wasn’t working.

    “He and I sat down and kind of had a little heart-to-heart,” said Schottenheimer, Seattle’s first-year offensive coordinator.

    “There were things that he and I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page about. It wasn’t just the running game, it was he and I continuing to build our relationship and it was an awesome meeting. It probably lasted about an hour and we talked about a ton of different stuff. I know I came out of that meeting feeling really good just about the direction where we wanted to go.”

    The direction has been clear for more than three months as the Seahawks went from a team searching for answers to a team back in the postseason after a one-year absence from the playoffs.

    And it was the decisions made before playing Dallas in Week 3 where the switch was made and Seattle started on its path that has the Seahawks headed to face the Cowboys on Saturday night in an NFC wild-card game.

    The conversation between Carroll and Schottenheimer made clear Seattle was going back to the fundamentals of how it wanted to be offensively. They were going to make running the ball the priority and let Russell Wilson be a playmaker around the running success.

    The result: Seattle ended the season as the best run team in the NFL, and with Wilson having one of the best seasons of his career making big plays in the passing game.

    “I don’t think you’d always sit there and say we’re going to make this philosophy and go do this, and then you think you’re going to be the best in the league at it,” Schottenheimer said.

    Throughout last offseason, Seattle preached it was returning to the basic offensive fundamentals that led them to consecutive NFC titles. They were going to be bullies running the football behind the trio of Chris Carson, Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny.

    But for the first two weeks of the season, Schottenheimer and Carroll got too far ahead of themselves. They tried to see how much the Seahawks could rely on Wilson, rather than relying on the run game. The result was a pair of ugly losses to Denver and Chicago, and Wilson running for his life getting sacked 12 times in those first two games.

    When Dallas arrived in Week 3, so did Seattle’s change in approach. That was the week Carson became the workhorse in the run game. It was the week that the additions of D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy at the guard positions started to become noticeable, and Seattle’s running success meant Wilson was no longer under siege by the opposing pass rush.

    Seattle rushed for only 113 yards that day in the 24-13 win — 102 by Carson — but it laid the foundation for what the Seahawks became.

    “They were talking about it the whole time of running the ball more and being a run team,” Carson said. “They finally started getting it going against the Cowboys and it’s taken off ever since.”

    Starting with Week 3, Seattle has rushed for 2,422 yards, the fourth-most by any team since 2010 during that 14-game span. The 2014 Seahawks had 2,447 yards during the same stretch of games, one spot ahead of this year’s team.

    While it was the Cowboys when Seattle committed to its offensive identity, when it fully took hold depends on whom you ask. For Schottenheimer it wasn’t until Week 12 at Carolina when he became convinced Seattle had the ability to win in multiple ways. The victory over the Panthers came on a day Seattle ran for only 75 yards, but Wilson threw for 339. It’s the only time in the final 14 games Seattle was held under 100 yards rushing as a team.

    For offensive tackle Duane Brown, it was Seattle’s first game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5. Seattle lost 33-31, but ran for 190 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

    “It just became our norm and we had some pretty good fronts that we went against,” Brown said.

    Carroll agreed with his left tackle that it was a few games after facing the Cowboys before the commitment to Seattle’s offensive style became the norm.

    “It was a step in right direction and the commitment came through but we were just getting started,” Carroll said. “I don’t think that was the pivotal week, it took us two or three weeks after that before we started to find the stride that we wanted and started to build on that.”

 

  • With Colts’ playoff drought over, Luck takes center stage-INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck spent last January just like the previous two — watching playoff games from afar and hoping for a chance to return.

    This weekend he’s officially back.

    After a coaching change, a major roster overhaul and nearly two years removed from shoulder surgery, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback celebrated New Year’s Day by prepping for Saturday’s wild-card game in his hometown of Houston.

    “I’m having fun and that’s the most important thing,” Luck said Tuesday. “The fact that we get to play another game in the playoffs, that’s stinking awesome and I think a small part of us understands how special it’s been so far. I’ve said this before, it’s been fulfilling. But satisfied? No, not at all.”

    At least not until he wins a championship.

    Until then, proving the doubters wrong must suffice.

    While some questioned whether Luck would ever be the same after missing the entire 2017 season to rehab from a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, many believed the injury would prevent him from ever fulfilling the championship expectations applied to the top overall pick in the 2012 draft and Peyton Manning’s hand-picked replacement.

    Now, after a three-year playoff drought, a healthier Luck seems to have the Colts back on track.

    He produced single-season career highs in almost every significant passing category this season and finished second in the NFL with 39 touchdown passes — one short of his total from 2014 when the Colts previously made the playoffs.

    Traditional stats reflect only part of Luck’s tale.

    He helped the Colts (10-6) rebound from an abysmal start by leading them to nine wins in their final 10 games. Indy became only the third team in league history to reach the postseason after going 1-5.

    And for the second time, Luck made the prognosticators look silly by taking a team that was lightly regarded by some to the playoffs. Those who were around for Luck’s first act, in 2012, haven’t forgotten how it felt then or how familiar it all seems now as he prepares for his fourth playoff appearance.

    “He’s doing a great job,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “He’s having fun and after all the work he’s put into it, he’s looking good.”

    What Luck has done best this season is adapt to a continually evolving environment.

    First-year coach Frank Reich wanted Luck to get the ball out of his hands quicker and exploit the mismatches created by his cadre of tight ends. He’s done both.

    Luck also thrived behind a revamped offensive line, which regularly starts two rookies. He was sacked a league-low 18 times while running back Marlon Mack ran for more than 100 yards four times, providing Luck with the kind of balance team owner Jim Irsay long envisioned.

    Luck quickly acclimated to the rotating receivers, throwing TD passes to 13 different players. It could come in handy against the AFC South champion Texans (11-5), too.

    Hilton injured his ankle Dec. 8 and has spent more time getting treatment than practicing over the past three weeks. But he has yet to miss a game, continues to make big plays and is eager to return to Houston where he already has four 100-yard games, including nine catches for 199 yards in the Colts’ previous visit.

    “That’s probably why it’s starting to feel better,” Hilton joked before sitting out Tuesday’s walkthrough.

    He’s not the only receiver battling injuries. Ryan Grant (ankle) and Zach Pascal (knee) both sat out Tuesday while Daurice Fountain (ankle) and Dontrelle Inman (shoulder/finger) — did limited work.

    All of it could make Luck’s job more complicated Saturday.

    But with a more balanced attack, a rapidly improving defense and a chance to jump back on the postseason stage for the first time since “Deflategate”, Luck embraces the opportunity to let everyone else see what he and his teammates can do.

    “It feels like we’ve been playing in the postseason for quite a while now and I don’t think anybody’s approach will change in this locker room,” Luck said.

    “If you’ve played five, six, seven years in this league, you’ve overcome something. So there are a lot of folks who have overcome a lot. I was talking to my folks about this and it’s hard when you’re in the weeds to sort of flip the switch and zoom out and get a little different perspective and appreciate or understand what happens because if you’re in it, it’s like you’re on and you don’t want to get out of it.”

 

  • NFC North champion Bears look to keep rolling in playoffs-LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears are rolling into their first playoff appearance in eight years, with nine wins in 10 games and their sights set on a bigger prize after capturing the NFC North.

    “This is where it gets real,” coach Matt Nagy said Monday.

    From four straight last-place finishes to hosting a wild-card matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, it’s been quite a transformation for the Bears over the past 12 months. A busy offseason that started with former coach John Fox getting fired and ended with the blockbuster trade for Khalil Mack has paid off in a big way.

    Now, it seems anything is possible. But as far as Nagy is concerned, it’s business as usual this week.

    “Don’t stay up later at night just because it’s the playoffs,” he said. “Why? Just do the normal stuff that you’ve been doing. It’s been working. Why do you need to change it now, because it’s the playoffs? No, just continue to do what you do.”

    What the Bears (12-4) are doing seems to be working quite well. They more than doubled their win total after going 5-11 a year ago while posting their best regular-season record since the 2006 team went 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl.

    The Bears refused to let up in a 24-10 victory at Minnesota that knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs. They went with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky the whole way and only held out previously injured starters.

    With Philadelphia also beating Washington, the Eagles claimed the final wild card over the Vikings. That sets up a playoff matchup with no shortage of story lines, starting with Nagy going against his friend Doug Pederson. The two worked together under Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City.

    Trubisky will be making his first playoff appearance, and there will be brothers on opposite sides — Bears guard Kyle Long and Eagles defensive end Chris Long.

    “I’m happy for both of us and proud of him,” Kyle Long said Sunday, after returning from a right foot injury that caused him to miss eight games. “They’ve had a tough start and they’ve battled back and they have an incredibly talented team, so it’s going to be a tough game at home.”

    It’s been a tough road back to the playoffs for Chicago.

    The drought cost three coaches their jobs and led to shrinking crowds as fans’ frustration mounted. Chicago is making its first playoff appearance since the 2010 season, when it won the division and lost to Green Bay in the NFC title game.

    The Bears fired Lovie Smith after going 10-6 in 2012 and continued to unravel from there. Marc Trestman lasted two seasons. Fox was let go after three seasons with a 14-34 record, a .292 winning percentage that ranked as the second-lowest in franchise history.

    But look at the Bears now.

    A team that started the season by blowing a 20-point lead against an injured Aaron Rodgers in a loss at Green Bay has its sights set on a Super Bowl run.

    The Bears gave up a league-low 17.7 points per game during the regular season and ranked third in total defense. No team forced as many turnovers (36) or intercepted as many passes (27). And though the offense has been inconsistent in Nagy’s first year, there has been growth, particularly from Trubisky. He has a 109.7 rating over the past three games, completing just under 76 percent of his passes for three touchdowns without an interception.

    “I am very proud of this team,” Trubisky said. “This was a big turnaround from last year, being in the same locker room with these guys but having a whole different feeling. … Looking back, we have got 12 wins and we are playing at home in the playoffs, and we are excited for this next opportunity. If we keep doing what we are doing, hopefully we can do something special and keep rolling.”

 

Middle

  • Chargers get set to face Ravens for second time in 3 weeks-COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers don’t need much of a refresher course on their first-round playoff opponent, considering they played them less than two weeks ago.

    The Chargers will make the cross-country trek for Sunday’s AFC wild-card round game against Baltimore, which won six of its final seven games to finish 10-6 and capture its first AFC North title since 2012. One of those wins came on Dec. 22 when the Ravens rallied in the second half to defeat the Chargers 22-10.

    That loss ended up costing Los Angeles (12-4) a chance at the AFC West and home field throughout the playoffs.

    “Round two. That’s all I can say about that. It’s round two and we have to get ready to play,” cornerback Desmond King said after Los Angeles defeated Denver 23-9 in the regular-season finale.

    The Chargers will be the first team Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has faced twice. Jackson, the 32nd overall draft pick in April, was held to 39 yards rushing against the Chargers, which was his lowest in seven starts. According to SportRadar, only 20.3 percent of Jackson’s rushing yards came after contact in the first five games, but against the Chargers all but 4 yards came after contact.

    Jackson was able to win with his arm as he completed 12 of 22 passes for a season-high 204 yards. He had come into the game averaging 146.2 passing yards. His best completion was a 67-yard touchdown to Mark Andrews during which Jackson took advantage of play action as he hit his tight end in stride after he split safeties Adrian Phillips and Jahleel Addae.

    “I’m not sure how much of an advantage it is going to be because he also gets a chance to see us a second time, too. It is going to be a chess match going into the game,” cornerback Casey Heyward Jr. said.

    The Chargers will have to adjust to another injury at linebacker after Jatavis Brown suffered a season-ending ankle injury at Denver. Hayes Pullard is expected to move into the spot, but Brown was one of the team’s better run stoppers and had a team-high eight tackles in the first meeting against the Ravens.

    Another concern is trying to get the offense back on track.

    Coach Anthony Lynn said he has some concerns but isn’t overly worried since he believes it can get fixed.

    Running back Melvin Gordon, who finished ninth in the AFC with 885 rushing yards, tweaked his ankle against Denver, but Lynn said he expects the fourth-year back to be available.

    Tight end Hunter Henry will work with the offense this week despite missing the entire season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during an offseason workout in May. The Chargers have until Jan. 7 to return him to the active roster or place him on injured reserve.

    Lynn said he has liked the progress he has seen from Henry during practices and that the knee is holding up. The biggest question is Henry’s level of football conditioning.

    Los Angeles is sticking to the regular schedule it uses for East Coast games. The players are off Tuesday before practices Wednesday through Friday. They will leave Friday afternoon for Baltimore and have a walkthrough Saturday.

    If recent history serves as a guide, the Chargers have done well in their second attempt against an AFC North champion in the playoffs. They lost to Cincinnati in Week 13 during the 2013 season but beat the Bengals in Cincinnati in the first round.

    As Lynn noted, not a lot is going to change in the brief time since they last played.

    “It’s all about execution right now. We just have to stop them,” Lynn said. “They’re a physical football team that makes you play very disciplined. We have to play better than we did the first time.”

 

Downs

  • Steelers rue missed opportunities during uneven 2018-PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger didn’t want to get into hypotheticals.

    Maybe because doing so would only make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ painful late swoon all the more painful.

    “Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve,” Roethlisberger said after Pittsburgh’s season ended a half-game shy of a fifth straight postseason berth. “I can sit here and say ‘Yeah, we’d be dangerous in the playoffs.’ But we didn’t make it, so it doesn’t matter.”

    Roethlisberger’s tone was a mixture of pragmatism and disappointment with a dash of resolve. As difficult and occasionally weird as 2018 was — from the season-long absence of running back Le’Veon Bell to the occasionally erratic behavior by star wide receiver Antonio Brown to a series of losses in November and December in which the Steelers let second-half leads slip away — the longtime quarterback remains adamant the Steelers are on the right path.

    “Anytime you can kind of keep that core group, keep people together, the less turnover the better usually,” Roethlisberger said. “So, from the top down I think that is important.”

    Maybe, but there is bound to be some level of change over the next few months as a team that featured the NFL’s passing leader and six Pro Bowlers tries to reconcile all that talent with an inability to lock up a third consecutive AFC North title.

    Offensive line coach Mike Munchak could be a hot property for one of the head coaching vacancies. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s unit tied for the league lead with 52 sacks but produced just 15 turnovers, third-fewest in the NFL.

    The special teams were erratic, penalty-riddled and largely ineffective under Danny Smith.

    And still the Steelers appeared to be in good shape after a six-game midseason winning streak pushed them to 7-2-1 by Thanksgiving.

    Four losses over the final six weeks followed, each setback coming in a game Pittsburgh led after halftime.

    “There were plenty of opportunities to be made and we didn’t capitalize on them,” defensive end Cam Heyward said.

    Four turnovers in Denver , the last a pick in the end zone by Roethlisberger. A slow, methodical meltdown over the final 30 minutes against the Los Angeles Chargers, when the Steelers lost a 16-point home lead for the first time in franchise history.

    Another in an increasingly long line of pratfalls in Oakland, this one coming when the Raiders went the length of the field twice in the fourth quarter . A wrenching 31-28 setback in New Orleanstwo days before Christmas that featured a couple of questionable calls against cornerback Joe Haden and a gutsy but ill-fated fake punt attempt in the final minutes that came up a half-yard short of a first down.

    “I don’t know what the problem is,” guard David DeCastro said. “Football is an honest sport. That’s why I love the game. It’s honest. It lets you know exactly how it feels about you, what you get in and what you get out. The record is what it is.”

    And what does 9-6-1 mean?

    “Wasn’t good enough, that’s for sure,” DeCastro said.

    The issue, Heyward insisted, wasn’t coaching or the steady trickle of off-the-field headlines, be it Bell’s refusal to sign his $14.4 million franchise tender or Brown’s series of missteps.

    The only player in NFL history with six straight 100-catch seasons suggested he wouldn’t mind getting traded after a former team employee tweaked him on Twitter and threatened to harm a reporter who attempted to do an in-depth piece on Brown’s personal life. The drama continued into the final week.

    Multiple reports on Monday — citing sources — said Brown sat out Sunday’s 16-13 win over Cincinnati as punishment for skipping meetings and getting into a heated disagreement with a teammate.

    “There’s plenty of circuses that go around and everybody likes to make a big deal about my team,” Heyward said. “But you know, that doesn’t mean we shy away from it. When we were winning, (the questions were) ‘How do you guys keep doing it with the wins?’ I don’t really follow that as something that deters me or distracts me. Everybody in this locker room wants to win. When we don’t win, it hurts us bad.”

    Pittsburgh did win — extending its streak of non-losing seasons to 15 — just not when it absolutely mattered. A play here or there and the Steelers are in the postseason and a threat to play into February.

    Instead, a year that got off to a weird start with the offensive line publicly venting about Bell opting not to end his standoff with the team ahead of Week 1 followed immediately by a six-turnover tiein Cleveland and never really seemed to get to some semblance of “normal” ended with Pittsburgh watching the videoboard at Heinz Field hoping Cleveland could knock off Baltimore.

    It was strange, momentarily exhilarating and ultimately futile.

    “It’s tough but that’s the bed we made,” Heyward said. “It’s something we have to live with. We put ourselves in this situation and we can’t look at anybody’s fault but ours.”

 

  • Redskins full of uncertainty after injury-riddled season-ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — The Washington Redskins’ constantly changing personnel reminded cornerback Josh Norman of a game show.

    “It’s like watching ‘Jeopardy,'” Norman said as players cleaned out their lockers on Monday. “You watch ‘Jeopardy?’ When you watch it, do you see the same people?”

    There were plenty of new and unfamiliar faces for Washington this season. Despite racing out to a 6-3 start behind a strong defense and the steady play of quarterback Alex Smith, the Redskins eventually placed a league-high 24 players on injured reserve — including Smith and his backup, Colt McCoy, both of whom suffered broken legs — while losing six of their final seven games to finish 7-9 for the second straight season.

    Coach Jay Gruden said as of Monday afternoon, he had not yet talked to owner Dan Snyder or anyone else in the organization about his future or the jobs of his coaching staff.

    “When you’re 7-9, whether you have injuries or not, it’s not good enough for this franchise,” Gruden said. “Mr. Snyder demands greatness from his staff and his players and we didn’t deliver.”

    Gruden said he didn’t want to use injuries as an excuse, but added that it was “impossible” to fully evaluate his players, particularly at quarterback, where the Redskins had four different starters. They finished the season with Josh Johnson, who had last started an NFL game in 2011.

    Washington has missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons and in four of Gruden’s five years in charge. Gruden is the longest-tenured coach since Snyder bought the team in 1997, compiling a 35-44-1 record.

    Uncertainty surrounds veterans Norman, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, Mason Foster, Zach Brown and Adrian Peterson, among others.

    Peterson, the 33-year-old running back picked up on Aug. 20 to help ease the loss of second-round draft pick Derrius Guice to injury, was one of the bright spots for the Redskins. He led the team with 1,042 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

    “I only can control the things I can control and I felt like I’ve done that somewhat, so I’ll sit back and let the chips fall where they may,” Peterson said about his future.

    As for Smith, there’s no guarantee the 34-year-old quarterback will ever play again after he suffered a compound fracture that required multiple surgeries and a long hospital stay to fight off an infection. The Redskins acquired Smith in a trade with Kansas City after allowing Kirk Cousins to leave in free agency.

    “We’re obviously hopeful he can turn a corner and start the rehab process and possibly get back on the field,” Gruden said. “That’s all we can hope for right now.”

    Team president Bruce Allen infamously said after the 2014 season the Redskins were “winning off the field.” They had their fair share of problems once again in that department.

    The Redskins, who are 59-84-1 in Allen’s nine years on the job, finally acknowledged the end of their decades-long sellout streak as crowds continued to dwindle at FedEx Field. They also received harsh criticism for singing free agent Reuben Foster following his arrest for domestic violence, placed second year safety Montae Nicholson on the non-football injury reserve list following a late-season arrest, released Pro Bowl alternate D.J. Swearinger on Christmas Eve after Swearinger repeatedly complained about defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, and fired several business executives on Dec. 26 after less than a year on the job.

    Somehow, Washington was still in playoff contention until a Week 16 loss at Tennessee. The Redskins concluded the season with a 24-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that felt like a road game as traveling Philly fans nearly filled up the lower bowl at FedEx Field.

    As to Norman’s future with the team as a player — or contestant, as he put it — the once-coveted cornerback felt that he was better than his three interceptions showed.

    “Whenever they decide to have a meeting, we’ll see,” Norman said. “I think it’s one of my best seasons yet, and we don’t grow on trees. So we’ll see what happens.”

 

  • Vikings go back to drawing board after latest disappointment-EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — After finishing one game short of the Super Bowl last season and spending big to make Kirk Cousins their franchise player, the Minnesota Vikings were surrounded by high expectations from the start.

    That championship chase simply never picked up any steam.

    “It wasn’t what we wanted, what our fan base wanted. It’s OK to be disappointed. I think, if anything, it will sharpen us and give us an edge as we prepare for next year, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Cousins, who signed a three-year, fully guaranteed, $84 million contract to become the fourth primary quarterback in four seasons for Minnesota.

    By losing 24-10 at home to Chicago on Sunday, the Vikings fell out of the second wild-card spot in the NFC that was claimed by Philadelphia. They missed the playoffs for the third time in five years under coach Mike Zimmer. They won the NFC North in 2015 and 2017 by finishing 11-5 and 13-3 respectively, but their records in the even-numbered seasons were 7-9, 8-8 and now 8-7-1.

    “Every year’s a new year. That’s just how this league works. You’re going to have new guys. There’s going to be different coaches,” said wide receiver Adam Thielen. “You have to learn how to win with whatever you’ve got out there, so we’re going to go back to work and try to figure that out.”

    Cousins will be back, of course. His megadeal has already dictated that.

    His uneven performance in the four losses by the Vikings over the last seven weeks of the season, at New England and Seattle and twice to the Bears, has raised questions about his big-game ability. Cousins finished with career highs in touchdown passes (30) and completion percentage (70.1). The offensive line was largely in flux in front of him, and the Vikings finished with the third-fewest rushing yards in the NFL.

    Thielen and Stefon Diggs became the seventh set of teammates with 100-plus receptions each and the first Vikings duo since Randy Moss and Cris Carter in 2000 with 1,000-plus receiving yards apiece. But the offense was not good enough to complement a defense that was still top tier despite more lapses than last year, let alone take over a game in the clutch.

    Zimmer fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo with three games to go. Whether interim replacement Kevin Stefanski gets the job in 2019 or the Vikings go outside the organization, the new play caller will have to find a better way to keep Thielen, Diggs and running back Dalvin Cook from being neutralized so much.

    The Vikings were seventh in the league in rushing in 2017 under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur while also using a more effective mix of play-action, bootleg and screen passes with quarterback Case Keenum.

    “If we did have it figured out, then we wouldn’t be in here today talking about what could have been,” running back Latavius Murray said on Monday. “I think at times we played well and showed how good we can be, but then we mostly didn’t play good enough.”

    The schedule for 2019 sure doesn’t promise any respite. Five of their eight road games will be against playoff teams: the Bears, naturally, and Cowboys, Chiefs, Chargers and Seahawks. That quintet has a combined record of 56-24.

    With the 18th selection in the first round, they will have their highest draft pick since 2015, when they took cornerback Trae Waynes at 11th overall. That’s another opportunity to bolster the offensive line that was again a significant problem after some improvement in 2017. One bright spot was the development of rookie right tackle Brian O’Neill, the second-round choice out of Pittsburgh who replaced Rashod Hill in the starting lineup. But the status of guards Tom Compton and Mike Remmers is tenuous.

    Murray will be the most prominent unrestricted free agent on the offense when the next league year begins in March. But with contracts expiring for linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson there are pressing issues for the front office on the other side of the ball as well.

    Then there’s the matter of the special teams, which were problematic. Kicker Dan Bailey will also become an unrestricted free agent, and he didn’t fare well enough after replacing rookie Daniel Carlson to ensure a return.

    Zimmer, now tied for the fifth-longest tenure in the NFC, will be back. The Vikings scheduled his season-ending news conference for Thursday.

    “He’s going to tell you how it is whether you like it or not,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “He’s going to try to find ways to win, so he’s the guy.”

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