Baltimore Ravens: Is the future near? After a promising 3-1 start, they sit at 4-4 with the division-leading Steelers coming to town. We know general manager Ozzie Newsome is winding down, so it seems unlikely that rookie QB Lamar Jackson would replace Joe Flacco until the postseason possibilities are officially exhausted. Right?
Buffalo Bills: How do they help Josh Allen? An unpolished prospect carrying a franchise’s hopes on his howitzer arm deserves better. Before suffering a Week 6 elbow injury, Allen was regularly running for his life while relying on a 30year-old running back (LeSean McCoy) as his primary weapon. Allen’s development could be in serious jeopardy without a major course correction.
Cincinnati Bengals: What if they don’t take care of business? Same old Stripes? It’s a talented bunch sitting at 5-3, good for the AFC’s second wild-card spot at present, and which will finish with at least 10 wins by beating the remaining teams on its schedule with records at .500 or worse. But Cincy has a tendency to come up small. Will there be notable repercussions if the roster’s nucleus again proves radioactive to success?
Cleveland Browns: Who’s the next coach? With Hue Jackson out, they can begin searching in earnest for his successor. GM John Dorsey surely has to find an offensive specialist who can bond with Baker Mayfield, while hoping the quarterback’s rookie season doesn’t devolve into a wasted experience.
Denver Broncos: Do they have the right leadership? It’s a sensitive question given the pandemonium at the executive/ownership level amid Pat Bowlen’s failing health and his family’s legal maneuverings. But on the football level, GM John Elway’s inability to acquire an effective quarterback not named Peyton continues, and second-year coach Vance Joseph is on the verge of leading this team to successive losing seasons for the first time since 1972.
Houston Texans: Can they absorb Will Fuller’s absence? QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins are the offense’s rightful stars. But wide receiver Fuller, who tore an ACL in Week 8, is a vital component as his deep speed maximizes Watson’s arm and, more important, opens the field for Hopkins and the running game. Demaryius Thomas’ arrival hardly offsets Fuller’s loss.
Indianapolis Colts: Should they consider shutting Andrew Luck down? Maybe it sounds like a silly thought for a team rebuilding around its resurgent star, who clearly needs reps with so many relatively unfamiliar teammates. Yet considering Luck’s rebuilt shoulder has logged a league-high 342 passes, is it worth resting him at some point — assuming Indy’s playoff viability evaporates — to potentially showcase backup Jacoby Brissett as offseason trade bait?
Jacksonville Jaguars: Time to face the Blake Bortles facts? In fairness to the quarterback, the offense’s shortcomings go beyond his issues. But there’s no sugarcoating the fact the Jags have to answer some hard questions, namely whether Bortles really is the answer. Even if the front office still believes the answer is yes, does the locker room?
Kansas City Chiefs: Is this Andy Reid’s year? He’s one of the better coaches in league history, full stop — and better still when a team winning by nearly 13 points a week doesn’t stir criticism of Reid’s clock management. These Chiefs could be something special now that Reid has masterfully woven Patrick Mahomes’ talents into this playbook. Are they special enough to finally capture the Lombardi Trophy that’s eluded their coach for so long?
Los Angeles Chargers: When will Joey Bosa play? This dude is really good — 23 sacks in 28 NFL games, or 0.82 per. (J.J. Watt’s career per-game average is 0.88.) But the mysterious foot injury that has dogged Bosa for three months continues to sideline him. Bosa’s presence could be the difference between legitimate and laughable Super Bowl aspirations.
Miami Dolphins: Whither Ryan Tannehill? The supposed franchise quarterback is hurt, again, and the Fins are left to tread water. Tannehill has two years left on his contract with significant cap hits attached to both. But this organization can’t continue operating in limbo and should probably start considering potential alternatives such as Teddy Bridgewater or even Jameis Winston — if not the 2019 draft — to clear some secondary path that allows the team to effectively move forward without Tannehill.
New England Patriots: Can they buck history? Did you know the Pats have never reached a Super Bowl the season after losing it? They’re on track for another AFC East title — yawn — but the conference competition looks a lot stronger than last year, and there has to be some worry about the ability of Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and others to make it to the finish line.
New York Jets: What’s our identity? GM Mike Maccagnan has done a nice job mining the secondary free agent market in recent years for players such as CB Morris Claiborne and G James Carpenter. But with more than $200 million in cap space available over the next two years, Maccagnan and his staff must take a hard look at their foundation to determine how to allocate resources to a rebuild that needs to accelerate around Sam Darnold.
Oakland Raiders: Where will they play in 2019? Amid all the uproar over Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Derek Carr’s phantom tears, not much handwringing — yet — given this team has no stadium lease for next year. So ... Oakland? Las Vegas? Santa Clara? San Diego? Peoria? High risk for a shiner that might necessitate a second eyepatch for Mr. Raider.
Pittsburgh Steelers: How to love Le’Veon? All-pro RB Le’Veon Bell will surely be reporting for duty by Nov. 13 if he wants to accrue the prized season toward free agent status he desperately covets. But how do the Steelers blend him back into the family, not to mention the offense, without upsetting the apple cart for a group currently atop the AFC North? These players, many miffed when Bell didn’t show up for Week 1, have done just fine with James Conner assuming the bellcow mantle.
Tennessee Titans: Is Marcus Mariota the guy? The fourth-year quarterback’s intangibles and, apparently, internal support remain off the charts — particularly as he fights through an elbow injury. But is he regressing further between the lines while trying to lead an offense that ranks as the league’s third worst? The franchise can defer the decision on Mariota’s next contract ... but not for long.
Arizona Cardinals: Is this the proper environment for Josh Rosen? The Cards unexpectedly managed to draft the quarterback they think will take them to the promised land. Yet Rosen is trying to learn the ropes under a rookie head coach and, now, a rookie offensive coordinator — to say nothing of personnel issues, namely the O-line.
Atlanta Falcons: Do they have time to rebound? They’d obviously like to be the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field. Atlanta has never reached the playoffs after a 1-4 start and must play six of its final nine games on the road. But the Falcons have won their last two, Matt Ryan’s play is near his 2016 MVP level, and LB Deion Jones and RB Devonta Freeman could return from IR if their teammates provide a reasonable opportunity.
Carolina Panthers: Can they win on the road? The Cats are 5-2, but 1-2 away from Charlotte. Five of their final nine games are roadies. Bigger picture, in the Cam Newton era, this club is 3-1 at home during the playoffs and 0-3 away from it. And, unless they can overtake the scorching Saints in the NFC South, the Panthers won’t be at home if they’re still alive in January.
Chicago Bears: Can they stay healthy enough to contend? It’s a concern that applies to any team. But a young one like this, trying to remain afloat in a brutal division, can ill afford to be without veterans such as Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson or Kyle Long — he’s definitely out for a protracted period with a foot injury.
Dallas Cowboys: Have we seen the best of Dak Prescott? Yes, another quarterback question. But this is especially compelling given Prescott, slated to make $720,000 in base salary next year, will be eligible for his first extension. Jerry Jones has given him a new No. 1 receiver in Amari Cooper and new O-line coach. Now it’s up to Prescott to prove his career didn’t plateau immediately, a la Bortles, Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.
Minnesota Vikings: Will they put it all together? One week, Kirk Cousins and the passing game have a $28 million luster, the next he and Stefon Diggs are teaming up on a fatal pick-six. One week, the Vikes get plowed by Buffalo, then they’re going toe-to-toe with the Rams. What will Dalvin Cook contribute? How about Everson Griffen? Oops, that turned into several questions.
Philadelphia Eagles: Can they overtake Washington? This is setting up as the eighth time in nine years that the NFC East will send just one team to the playoffs. If it’s going to be the reigning champs, currently 4-4, they’ll need to get healthy, stop turning the ball over and — perhaps most important — might have to sweep both upcoming games against the first-place Redskins (5-2).
San Francisco 49ers: Can Kyle Shanahan keep them competitive? Their season ended in Week 3 when Jimmy Garoppolo’s left knee buckled. But the Niners have been almost unfailingly competitive since, a forgivable blowout to the Rams in Week 7 notwithstanding, and broke through for their second win Thursday night by thrashing Oakland. With more beatable opponents ahead, Shanahan and Co. can continue cultivating winning DNA for 2019.
Seattle Seahawks: Have they successfully rebooted, or is this a smokescreen? They’re running the ball at Beast Mode levels. Russell Wilson is playing some of the most efficient ball of his seven-year career. An almost entirely overhauled defense ranks in the top five. Are the ’Hawks back? Or are they living right given they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record and should have three more freebies against Arizona and San Francisco?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What happens to Jameis Winston? The No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft, who began this season on the suspended list, now sits on the bench for his football failures. The Bucs face a franchise-defining decision in the offseason, when they’ll likely have to decide whether to keep Winston in 2019 or let him go and face the subsequent hurdles that will arise.
Washington Redskins: Can Adrian Peterson keep it up? A living legend is having a renaissance season as the league’s fifth-leading rusher despite joining his new team in late August. But as much as he tries to defy age, “AD” is still 33 and has broken down in each of the past two seasons. This limited offense simply can’t afford to lose him.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is slated to make $720,000 in base salary next year and will be eligible for his first extension.