The Starting 11 – Ten Teams Have Already Improved Records as NFL Prepares to Light Up New Years

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NEW YORK – SPORTS – New Year’s resolutions usually share one common thread: Be better than you were the year before.

Well, 10 NFL teams enter this week better than they were the year before, already compiling more wins than they had in all of 2022.

Included in that group are the MIAMI DOLPHINS (11-4) and BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-3), who battle for the AFC’s top seed on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Both teams have won two more games than all of last year. In fact, seven of the AFC’s 16 teams have already improved their win totals compared to last season.

One of those seven is the league’s most-improved team, HOUSTON (8-7) and rookie head coach DEMECO RYANS, who takes the Texans to TENNESSEE (5-10) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX). The Texans, who already have won a league-best five more games than in 2022, control their own destiny in pursuit of a playoff berth, which would be their first since 2019.

In 18 of the prior 20 seasons, at least one team has won its division the year after finishing last or tied for last. Houston could join that worst-to-first group this season.

No other league spawns more hope than the NFL, as evidenced by the number of turnaround teams since 2019. Ryans (plus-five in 2023) has joined BRIAN DABOLL (plus-five in 2022 with the New York Giants), MATT LAFLEUR (plus-seven in 2019 with Green Bay), KEVIN O’CONNELL (plus-five in 2022 with Minnesota), NICK SIRIANNI (plus-five in 2021 with Philadelphia) and KEVIN STEFANSKI (plus-five in 2020 with Cleveland) as one of six rookie head coaches to improve their teams’ win totals by at least five victories over the last five seasons.

Plus, in 19 of the prior 20 years, at least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs. DETROIT (11-4), which last week captured its first division title in 30 years, has already won the NFC North. NEW ORLEANS (7-8), which visits TAMPA BAY (8-7) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX), and ATLANTA (7-8), which heads to CHICAGO (6-9) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), are fighting for an NFC South title. Should either the Saints or Falcons win the NFC South, that team would join the Lions in capturing a division crown the year after missing the postseason.

Week 17 features eight matchups between teams in contention for Super Bowl LVIII, and five games between teams from the same division. So put the champagne on ice and tee up Auld Lang Syne, but before ringing in a new year, join the NFL for a full slate of New Year’s Eve games.

The Starting 11 entering Week 17…​

  1. EXTRAORDINARY ENDINGS: Only twice since the 1970 league merger has an NFL week produced six contests that featured the game-winning points in either the final minute of regulation of regulation or in overtime. Each of those individual weeks have happened in 2023, including Week 16.
      • Last week, six teams recorded the game-winning score in the final minute of regulation: BUFFALO (game-winning field goal with 28 seconds remaining), GREEN BAY (game-winning field goal with 19 seconds remaining), MIAMI (game-winning field goal with no time remaining), NEW ENGLAND (game-winning field goal with two seconds remaining), the NEW YORK JETS (game-winning field goal with five seconds remaining) and SEATTLE (game-winning touchdown with 57 seconds remaining). In Week 10 earlier this season, six teams also registered the game-winning points in the final minute or in overtime.
      • Last season, 55 games fell into this category. And including the 43 games this season decided in the final minute or in overtime, 98 of the last 511 NFL games (19.2 percent) dating to the beginning of 2022 have gone down to the wire.
  1. NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 24: The number of teams still in contention for the Super Bowl, which ties for the most with two weeks remaining over the last 20 seasons. The record with two weeks left is 26 in 2004.
  2. TOMLIN CAN SURPASS HALAS: Three individuals have held the title of Steelers head coach since 1969. In those 55 seasons, the club has gone 6-2 in Super Bowls and made 32 playoff appearances. However, what MIKE TOMLIN has accomplished since taking the reins of the team in 2007 ranks among one of the most impressive accomplishments in league annals. Over 16 straight years entering 2023, Tomlin has never coached a losing season. As early as this week, PITTSBURGH (8-7) can secure its ninth win and extend that streak to 17 when the Steelers visit SEATTLE (8-7) on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX).
      • Tomlin’s streak of 16 .500-or-better seasons is the longest to begin an NFL head-coaching career. Overall, Tomlin’s current streak trails only Pro Football Hall of Famer TOM LANDRY (21 from 1965-85) and BILL BELICHICK (19 from 2001-19) and is tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer GEORGE HALAS (16 from 1933-42 and 1946-51).
      • In last week’s win, Steelers wide receiver GEORGE PICKENS caught two touchdowns and recorded a career-high 195 receiving yards, including a career-long 86-yard score, the NFL’s longest offensive play so far this season. Then, in the second half, Pickens caught a 66-yard touchdown from MASON RUDOLPH, making Pickens one of two players this season with multiple touchdown receptions of 60-plus yards in the same game (TYREEK HILL). Pickens also averaged 48.8 yards per reception. With a minimum four catches, that’s the third-highest mark by a player since the 1970 league merger, behind DESEAN JACKSON (52.5, Dec. 12, 2010) and GARY CLARK (50.8, Nov. 10, 1991).
      • During the tenure of head coach PETE CARROLL, the Seahawks have shown remarkable resiliency. Including last week’s thriller, his 2023 team is the third NFL club since 1970 with four game-winning touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime in a season, joining the 2004 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (four) and his 2012 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (four).
      • Seahawks quarterback GENO SMITH has led four game-winning drives in 2023, tied with JALEN HURTS and RUSSELL WILSONfor most in the NFL this season. Since becoming the Seattle starter in 2022, Smith has orchestrated seven game-winning drives.
  1. SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Cowboys linebacker MICAH PARSONS and Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE are the only players since 1982 (when the individual sack became an official statistic) with 13-or-more sacks in each of their first three NFL seasons. Parsons, the 12th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, draws Lions Pro Bowl tackle PENEI SEWELL, the seventh overall choice in that draft, when DALLAS (10-5) hosts DETROIT (11-4) in an important NFC clash on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). One of the anchors on  a Lions offensive line that ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass attempt (5.38 percent), Sewell is a prime candidate for All-Pro honors this season.
      • Detroit, which last week clinched its first division crown since 1993, has not won a playoff game since 1991, when the Lions defeated the Cowboys at the Pontiac Silverdome in the Divisional round, 38-6. The Lions’ MEL JENKINS returned an interception of Pro Football Hall of Famer TROY AIKMAN for a touchdown, and Pro Football Hall of Famer BARRY SANDERS ran for a 47-yard score.
      • Dallas, the league’s only undefeated team at home (7-0), owns the NFL’s best home marks this year in points margin (plus-171), points scored per game (39.9) and turnover margin (plus-10).
      • Detroit, meanwhile, owns a share of the NFL’s second-best winning percentage in road games (.750, 6-2; tied with San Francisco). Only Baltimore (7-1, .875) has a better mark.
      • Cowboys wide receiver CEEDEE LAMB leads the NFL with 109 receptions, just three away from breaking the single-season franchise record held by Pro Football Hall of Famer MICHAEL IRVIN (111 in 1995).
      • Dallas quarterback DAK PRESCOTT leads the NFL with 30 touchdown passes. Detroit quarterback JARED GOFF is tied for third with 27.
      • The Lions have won five consecutive primetime games. Their 1.000 primetime winning percentage (5-0) since the beginning of last season is the best mark in the league over that span. Overall, Detroit has registered 20 wins over the last two seasons, a franchise-record over a two-year span.
      • Detroit wide receiver AMON-RA ST. BROWN has 302 career receptions and is the fourth player with at least 300 in his first three seasons in NFL history, joining JUSTIN JEFFERSON (324), MICHAEL THOMAS (321) and CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY (303). St. Brown has 18 career games with at least eight receptions and surpassed ANQUAN BOLDIN (17) for the second-most such games by a player in his first three seasons in NFL history. Only JUSTIN JEFFERSON (19) has more.
  1. SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: As a reward for an impressive road victory over the NFC’s best team, BALTIMORE (12-3) gets a date with the AFC’s second-best team, MIAMI (11-4), on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Ravens have given up an NFL-low 16.3 points per game. The Dolphins, meanwhile, lead the league by producing 30.9 points per contest. With a victory in Week 17, the Buccaneers would clinch their third consecutive NFC South division title.
      • In franchise history, Baltimore has led the NFL in scoring defense on two prior occasions: 2006 and 2000, when the team won Super Bowl XXXV. This year, the Ravens also rank sixth in yards allowed per game (297.3).
      • The Dolphins, meanwhile, have led the NFL in both points and yards per game – something they’ve achieved so far this season – on just two prior occasions. And in each of those seasons, they went to the Super Bowl: 1972 and 1984.
      • Miami running back RAHEEM MOSTERT has 21 scrimmage touchdowns this season and surpassed AUSTIN EKELER (20 in 2021) for the second most by an undrafted player in a season since 1967. Only PRIEST HOLMES (27 in 2003 and 24 in 2002) has more.
      • Baltimore quarterback LAMAR JACKSON last week improved to 20-1 (.952) against NFC teams during his career, the best winning percentage by a starting quarterback against a conference since the 1970 league merger. Also last week, Jackson led the team with 45 rushing yards, helping the Ravens extend their streak of games with at least 100 rushing yards to 31, the longest active streak in the league.
      • On the strength of five interceptions in last week’s win, two by safety KYLE HAMILTON, Baltimore leads the NFL with 26 takeaways.
  1. STREAK SPEAK: TAMPA BAY (8-7) has won four straight games entering a critical NFC South game at home against NEW ORLEANS (7-8) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX). The streak is the Buccaneers’ longest within a season since a four-game stretch in 2021. Tampa Bay hasn’t strung together five wins since an eight-game streak that included the postseason and Super Bowl LV to conclude the 2020 campaign.
      • The Buccaneers own a plus-10 turnover margin this season, tied for the NFL lead with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
      • Tampa Bay quarterback BAKER MAYFIELD over the team’s last three games is 3-0 with eight touchdown passes, and no interceptions. Mayfield, who has 3,598 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes this season, has an opportunity to establish his single-season career bests (3,827 passing yards in 2019 and 27 touchdown passes in 2018).
      • Buccaneers wide receiver MIKE EVANS leads the NFL with 13 touchdown receptions this season. He is the fifth player in NFL history to record at least 12 touchdown receptions in five-or-more seasons, joining four Pro Football Hall of Famers: JERRY RICE (eight seasons), TERRELL OWENS (seven), MARVIN HARRISON (six) and RANDY MOSS (six).
  1. DID YOU KNOW?: Rams rookie wide receiver PUKA NACUA had nine receptions for 164 yards and one touchdown in last week’s win. Nacua has 96 receptions this season and has surpassed MICHAEL THOMAS (92 in 2016) for the third most by a rookie in NFL history. Only JAYLEN WADDLE (104 in 2021) and ANQUAN BOLDIN (101 in 2003) have more. What’s more, Nacua has 1,327 receiving yards this season and has surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (1,313 in 1998) for the fifth most by a rookie all-time. Only BILL GROMAN (1,473 in 1960), JA’MARR CHASE (1,455 in 2021), JUSTIN JEFFERSON (1,400 in 2020) and ANQUAN BOLDIN (1,377 in 2003) have more. Nacua and the LOS ANGELES RAMS (8-7) make their fourth trip to the Eastern Time Zone, traveling to face the NEW YORK GIANTS (5-10) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX).
  2. UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: This week, head coach KYLE SHANAHAN leads his SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (11-4) into FedExField to meet WASHINGTON (4-11) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX). Shanahan and his father, MIKE SHANAHAN, were Washington’s respective offensive coordinator and head coach from 2010-13. Earlier, the elder Shanahan held the reins of the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008, leading the team to consecutive Super Bowl championships in 1997-98. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer DON SHULA and his son DAVID SHULA have more wins as head coaches among father-son families.

The seven pairs of fathers and sons who’ve served as head coaches in NFL history:

FATHER-SON FAMILY TEAMS WINS
Don ShulaHOF Baltimore Colts, Miami 347
David Shula Cincinnati 19
Total   366
Mike Shanahan L.A. Raiders, Denver, Washington 178
Kyle Shanahan San Francisco 69
Total   247
Bum Phillips Houston Oilers, New Orleans 86
Wade Phillips New Orleans, Denver, Buffalo, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston Texans 83
Total   169
Jim Mora New Orleans, Indianapolis 125
Jim Mora Atlanta, Seattle 32
Total   157
Buddy Ryan Philadelphia, Arizona 55
Rex Ryan N.Y. Jets, Buffalo 65
Total   120
Dick Nolan San Francisco, New Orleans 71
Mike Nolan San Francisco 18
Total   89
Jim Fassel N.Y. Giants 60
John Fassel L.A. Rams 0
Total   60
  1. TREND TIME: Wide receiver AMARI COOPER, who leads CLEVELAND (10-5) against the NEW YORK JETS (6-9) on Thursday Night Football(8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video), is the first Browns player ever with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He achieved that feat in exciting fashion during last week’s win, when he recorded 11 receptions for a single-game franchise-record 265 yards and two touchdowns. Among Cooper’s accomplishments so far:
      • He has seven career 1,000-yard seasons. Since Cooper entered the league in 2015, only MIKE EVANS (nine) and TRAVIS KELCE(seven) have as many.
      • Cooper is the fourth player all-time with three career games with at least 200 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer DON HUTSON (four games), CHARLIE HENNIGAN (three) and TYREEK HILL (three).
      • Cooper is the sixth player all-time with four career 200-yard receiving games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers LANCE ALWORTH(five games), CALVIN JOHNSON (five), DON HUTSON (four) and JERRY RICE (four) as well as CHARLIE HENNIGAN (four). Cooper (Oakland, Dallas, Cleveland) joined Pro Football Hall of Famer TERRELL OWENS (San Francisco, Cincinnati, Dallas) as the only players in NFL history to record a 200-yard receiving game with three franchises.
      • Cooper has five touchdown receptions this year and is the fourth player with at least five in each of his first nine seasons in NFL history, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers MARVIN HARRISON and DON HUTSON as well as MARQUES COLSTON.
      • Cleveland’s DAVID NJOKU in last week’s win reached 25 receiving touchdowns in a Browns uniform and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer OZZIE NEWSOME (47) as the only Cleveland tight ends to reach that milestone.
      • Browns quarterback JOE FLACCO has passed for 300 yards in three straight games, the first such streak of his career.
      • Jets running back BREECE HALL in last week’s win had 12 receptions, 191 scrimmage yards (96 receiving, 95 rushing) and two rushing touchdowns. Hall is the second player in NFL history with at least 10 receptions, 95 rushing yards, 95 receiving yards and two rushing touchdowns in a game, joining FRANK GORE (Nov. 25, 2007).
  1. NEXT GEN STAT OF THE WEEK: In last week’s win, Buffalo quarterback JOSH ALLEN had a 36.5-percent completion probability on his 57-yard touchdown pass to GABE DAVIS. Also on that play, Next Gen Stats determined that Allen was traveling 14.65 MPH when he released the pass, his 11th passing touchdown on the run (8-plus MPH) this season, most in the NFL.
      • Allen and the BUFFALO BILLS (9-6) host the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (4-11) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Allen has thrown a touchdown pass in 23 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Allen also has 51 career rushing touchdowns and joined CAM NEWTON (75) as the only quarterbacks with 50 in NFL history. With a career-high 13 rushing touchdowns this season, Allen is the third quarterback in NFL history with 13 in a season, joining JALEN HURTS (15 this season and 13 in 2022) and CAM NEWTON (14 in 2011). Finally, Allen (51 rushing touchdowns) has joined Pro Football Hall of Famers THURMAN THOMAS (65) and O.J. SIMPSON (57) as the only players in franchise history with 50 rushing touchdowns in a Bills uniform.
  1. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: JORDAN LOVE is attempting to become the first Packers quarterback to lead the team to the postseason in his first full year as a starter since at least 1950, when the league began recording starts for every player.
      • Love this season has seven games with multiple touchdown passes and no interceptions, tied for the most such games in the NFL in 2023.
      • GREEN BAY (7-8) meets MINNESOTA (7-8) at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). Both teams are battling for the NFC’s final Wild Card berth. A Packers win would knot Green Bay and Minnesota in overall record, head-to-head record and conference record.
      • Minnesota wide receiver JUSTIN JEFFERSON had six catches for 141 yards and one touchdown last week. Jefferson has 5,648 career receiving yards and surpassed MICHAEL THOMAS (5,512) for the most by a player in his first four seasons in NFL history. Jefferson, currently in his fourth season, has 28 career games with 100 receiving yards, tied with JULIO JONES (28) for the second-most such games by a player in his first five career seasons in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (30 games) has more.
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