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What to watch for in Saturday Week 18 doubleheader: Chiefs at Broncos; Cowboys at Eagles

Dallas Cowboys
2021 · 11-5-0
Philadelphia Eagles
2021 · 9-7-0

A pair of NFC East rivals will close out the regular season on Saturday night with both squads having already locked up playoff spots. However, there’s still plenty to play for, as the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys could move past their current No. 4 seed and the Philadelphia Eagles could likewise move north from their current No. 7 spot. Should the Eagles win and the 49ers lose on Sunday, Philly would move up to the No. 6 seed. However, Philly still has a shot at moving up with a loss if the Niners lose and the Saints win on Sunday. For the Cowboys to move up, though, they have to win on Saturday. Dallas needs to beat the Eagles and the Rams and Cardinals to lose. If that were to happen, the Cowboys could capture the No. 2 seed with a Buccaneers loss, or the No. 3 seed if Tampa Bay wins. There are plenty of moving parts in the NFC seeding and it gets started on Saturday when Dak Prescott’s Cowboys face Jalen Hurts’ Eagles.

Here’s three things to watch for:

  1. No. 1 scoring offense vs. No. 1 rushing offense. Despite the concerns over the Cowboys’ offense, which mustered nary 22 points in a Week 17 loss to the Cardinals, Dallas is still No. 2 in total offense, No. 1 in scoring and No. 3 in passing. Meanwhile, the Eagles boast the No. 1 rushing offense. Philadelphia’s climb to being the most prolific rushing team in the NFL is a rather stunning turn of events considering first-year head coach Nick Sirianni seemed so adverse to running the ball during the team’s 2-5 start. Now, Philly is one of the hottest teams in the league, having won four straight heading into Saturday and looking every bit like a team poised for a postseason upset. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are looking to get back on track entering the postseason while aiming to get their mercurial offense rolling at a pivotal time. Dallas dropped 41 points on Philadelphia in a Week 3 victory with Prescott tossing three touchdowns and Ezekiel Elliott rushing for two. As the postseason awaits both squads, Saturday offers the opportunity for each of these highly ranked offenses to build some momentum going into the playoffs and it could make for a high-scoring game. 
  2. Smith's quietly stellar rookie season. With Ja'Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle putting forth historic rookie campaigns, fellow first-round receiver DeVonta Smith has posted a stellar season somewhat under the radar. Smith is having one of the best rookie seasons for a receiver in Eagles history. Smith leads Philly with 61 receptions, 875 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions. The Heisman Trophy winner needs just 38 receiving yards to break DeSean Jackson's team rookie record of 912 yards in 2008. Beyond that, Smith can become the first Eagles player with 1,000 yards receiving since tight end Zach Ertz in 2018 and the first Philly receiver to hit 1,000 since Jeremy Maclin in 2014. The Alabama product was held to three catches for 28 yards in Philadelphia's Week 3 meeting with Dallas. If he can break out on Saturday, a few milestones could be in store -- and maybe an Eagles' win, as well.
  3. Zeke goes for 1,000. Thousand-yard seasons on the ground are few and far between in the NFL these days. Entering Week 18, there are only five players with 1,000 yards rushing, which would stand as the fewest in an NFL season with 16 or more games, per NFL Research. The previous low is seven, in both 2015 and 1991. Elliott is the only player expected to take the field in Week 18 who’s within 100 yards of 1,000. A two-time rushing champion, Elliott came up short of 1,000 yards by 21 last season. This year, he's 75 yards away. Achieving some statistical success could jump-start Zeke and the Cowboys’ rushing attack heading into the postseason. 
Kansas City Chiefs
2021 · 11-5-0
Denver Broncos
2021 · 7-9-0

As the playoffs beckon for the Kansas City Chiefs, they hit a roadblock in Week 17 in the form of a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The defeat put to a halt the Chiefs’ eight-game winning streak and more importantly took clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed out of their hands. Now, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Co. must grab a win on Saturday and get some help in the form of a Tennessee Titans loss. Standing in the way of K.C. taking winning momentum into the playoffs will be the AFC West-rival Denver Broncos. The Broncos, who will miss out on the postseason for the sixth season in a row, could have plenty at stake, as well, with head coach Vic Fangio seemingly on the hot seat and quarterback Drew Lock likely having one last chance to make a lasting impression.

Here are three things to watch for:

  1. Mahomes, Chiefs aim to rebound by continuing dominance of Denver. Though the Chiefs’ run of eight straight wins was ended in Week 17 against the Bengals, Mahomes’ run of impressive play carried on. Over the last four games, Mahomes has had a 100-plus passer rating in each outing and thrown 10 touchdowns to just one interception. He had what was likely his worst game of the season against the Broncos in a Week 13 win in which he tallied a season-low 57.3 passer rating to go with no touchdowns, an interception and 184 yards passing. However, Mahomes remained perfect against the Broncos for his career, as he boasts an 8-0 record. The Chiefs’ governance over the Broncos extends beyond Mahomes’ ascension, though. They’ve won their last 12 games against Denver, which is the longest winning streak versus a single opponent in franchise history, per NFL Research. The No. 1 seed might still be had for the Chiefs, but getting back to their winning ways ahead of the postseason is of utmost importance and, historically speaking, the Chiefs are facing the right foe to do just that.
  2. Where do Broncos go from here? Prior to the Broncos’ Week 17 loss to the Chargers that eliminated them from postseason contention, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported no decision had been made regarding Fangio’s future but it was assuredly up in the air. By most accounts, Fangio is well-liked by players and brass, but three years outside of the playoffs doesn’t bode well for a fourth season. Ending the franchise’s futility against the Chiefs and Mahomes could be a saving grace. For Lock, perhaps it’s much the same. Lock lost out in a preseason QB1 battle against Teddy Bridgewater and in fill-in work for an injured Bridgewater, Lock has largely struggled. After three seasons with the Broncos, Lock’s quest to prove he’s a viable option under center for the franchise going forward has not come to fruition. If there’s any hope to make a lasting impression in 2021, this is the stage to do it.
  3. Chiefs’ unheralded rookie standout. Kansas City has one of the most prolific rookie starters in the league, but it’s unlikely he’s gotten the notice he deserves by most. Indeed, Nick Bolton very much deserves a lot more due than he’s been getting. The second-round pick out of Missouri is turning in a terrific debut campaign. Bolton’s 106 tackles and 11 tackles for loss lead the Chiefs this season and he’s one of just two rookies with 100-plus tackles and 10-plus tackles for loss since 2015. The other was the Colts’ Darius Leonard. Not bad company.

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