10) When will Adam Gase get fired? It’s not a matter of if, but when for the Jets. There’s no way you can justify bringing him back next season when you may be trying a complete reboot with a franchise QB like Trevor Lawrence. The Jets have lost their first nine games and are a threat to make it 0-16. Gase’s offense, his supposed specialty, has looked lifeless for much of the season. Joe Flacco and company finally broke out against the Pats but still blew a second-half lead. Gase has been so bizarre from the opening press conference, and the results so lackluster, it’s inevitable the franchise needs to move on. So why have they held on for this long?
9) Will the Browns make the playoffs? January 5, 2003. That’s the last time Cleveland was in the postseason. That’s so long ago Butch Davis and Bill Cowher were coaching. It was before Big Ben, meaning Tommy Maddox was under center for Pittsburgh. The Browns blew a 24-7 lead, allowing their hated rivals to score 22 points in the fourth en route to a 36-33 loss. Cleveland is right now in the playoff hunt and if they take care of business down the stretch could break this painful streak. The problem is a crowded field. There are six AFC teams tied with 6-3 records. Only four of them would make the playoffs. The Browns need a push.
8) Are the Cardinals the most watchable team in the league? After the Seahawks shut them down Thursday night, maybe not. But with Kyler Murray’s electricity and theatrics like the Hail Mary to DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona had made the case as one of the most exciting teams in football. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is usually a wild ride, although Seattle found a way to quiet it. Even if the Cards are only a Wild Card this year, they’ll be must-watch TV right up through the playoffs.
7) Will Jackson get his mojo back? Last season was too much fun for the Ravens and Lamar Jackson. They cruised to the top-seed and Jackson ran away with the MVP. He was a human highlight reel every week, leaving you gasping for air at his legs and his arm. This year is totally different. Jackson is griping about defenses calling out plays at the line, and they are 0-3 versus the squads the Ravens measure themselves against. The Chiefs, Steelers and Patriots have all made Baltimore seem marginal. If Jackson finds the good stuff, the Ravens are dangerous. But will they find it?
6) Will Brees’ injury upend the Saints? New Orleans took all season to finally play a complete, dominant game against a good opponent. As soon as that happened, everything got tossed back into the blender. The blowout over the Bucs preceded a costly win over the Niners where Drew Brees left the game with a collapsed lung and multiple cracked ribs. For the second straight season, Sean Payton has lost Brees and this time turns to his beloved backup QB Taysom Hill. If he’s valuable enough to bestow a huge contract extension, he should be good enough to run the offense. He can’t simply be the most expensive H-Back in NFL history. Whether it’s Jameis Winston or Hill, the Saints have to keep winning to stay ahead of the Bucs.
5) Who will win the AFC East? For 20 years, it’s been a throwaway line in training camp. Only twice in those two decades did the Patriots not take the division, and one of those seasons Tom Brady was lost for the entire year. But a mediocre Patriots team has left the door wide open. It doesn’t feel like New England can sneak in the back door, so that means there will be a new champ for the first time since ’08. The Bills are the favorites since they’ve had some playoff experience. The Dolphins are the upstarts. The race between all three will be stressful down the stretch. Will Josh Allen or Tua play well enough to capture the division? A home playoff game is crucial in such a deep AFC playoff field.
4) Will the AFC Title Game be at Arrowhead or Heinz Field? Right now the race for home field advantage in the AFC is between the Steelers and Chiefs. If Kansas City can chase down Pittsburgh, they’d potentially host the title game for the third year in a row. That means the Steelers have to lose at least once (see #3), and the Chiefs may not be able to afford another loss. In Patrick Mahomes’ brilliant early career, he has yet to play a road playoff game. What would that look like with a Super Bowl on the line against one of the best defenses in football?
3) Can the Steelers go undefeated? There was a time in NFL history where this would be one of the only things we discussed. The lore of the ’72 Dolphins always hung there like a thick fog of smoke at a piano bar. But after the Patriots had the undefeated regular season in ’07, only to lose the Super Bowl, it’s become a little less magical. Pittsburgh’s schedule certainly sets up for a possible run at it. If they get past the Ravens on Thanksgiving night, there seems to be three more challenges: at Buffalo, home against Indy, at Cleveland. Those are playoff contenders, but not unbeatable teams.
2) Will Rodgers and the Packers figure it out? Green Bay can be a beautiful tapestry of offense when clicking. A strong ground game, plenty of weapons, perhaps the best wideout in football in Devante Adams all give Aaron Rodgers the potential for greatness. But there have been a series of no-shows by the Pack that gives you pause. The whitewash by the Bucs. The loss to a dead Vikings team. The clunky, close win over the Jaguars. When it works, boy is it wonderful to watch. When it doesn’t, the Packers look like an uninspired outfit ripe for an ugly playoff exit like last year.
1) Is Tom Brady going to do it again? The Pats’ ceiling is squeaking into the playoffs, but being an early exit. There’s just not enough talent or consistent QB play to make them any better than that. Which means the Brady vs. Belichick battle comes down to how far the Bucs can go. Can Tampa hold off the Saints and win the division? Can they pass multiple teams to grab the top-seed and get the bye? The Bucs have an uphill climb. At 7-3, they trail the Saints in the division and would lose a tie-breaker for being swept by New Orleans. But Brees’ injury keeps the door open. The Bucs will likely need to be 12-4 to win the NFC South. That means Brady must win five of his final six. He’s done it so many times before. At 43, on a new team, in the toughest division he’s ever played in, does Brady have one more ride in him?
Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 6:00AM-10:00AM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.