Adam Schefter answers reader questions in his mailbag every Monday and Wednesday. Got a query of your own? Submit it here.
Q: Adam, what a heartbreaking loss for the Cincinnati Bengals. Did that just end their playoff hopes for this year?
-- Ruth (Ohio)
A: End them? No, Ruth. Put a serious crimp in them? Absolutely. The road to the postseason just got a lot tougher for the Bengals. But at some point, the Bengals are going to have to earn their way there, if they can make it at all. And they haven't proven this season that they can beat playoff-caliber teams. Cincinnati has won the games it was supposed to. But when it has come time to try to get a difference-making win over a team such as Pittsburgh, Baltimore or Houston, the Bengals have failed. It is a sign of where they are. They are a good team with some improving and growing up to do. But make no mistake: The Bengals are on the right track. And don't forget, they have their first-round pick and the Raiders', too. So they will have the chance to improve even more this offseason.
Q: It looks like the Green Bay Packers have a good shot to go 16-0. Do you think they should go for it or follow the Indianapolis Colts' path and rest Aaron Rodgers once they have the No. 1 seed locked up?
-- Jerry (Calif.)
A: They have an obligation to go for it, Jerry. The NFL's most historic franchise is on the cusp of history -- how could it not try to go for it? Keep in mind that Green Bay will get its chance to rest its regulars, and its entire team, during wild-card weekend. And it's never a great idea to rest players over too long a time -- sometimes they lose their mojo. But there absolutely is a risk. We already saw Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings limp off the field Sunday with just under 14 minutes left in a game that Green Bay led 31-0 at the time. But now that Green Bay is this close, it is incumbent on the Packers to try to do something no other team has done -- that is, go undefeated in a 16-game regular season and then win the Super Bowl.
Q: The New England Patriots' defense continues to be in shambles, continually letting a bad Redskins team hang around on Sunday. Can they really win a Super Bowl with that unit?
-- Frank (Ore.)
A: It's hard to like their chances, Frank. At some point, some playoff-tested quarterback -- Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers -- will be able to exploit that secondary. Yes, the other team's defense will be challenged to slow down and stop Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Co., and the Patriots will have some other factors working for them. For starters, New England might be the AFC favorite to have home-field advantage through the playoffs. If it gets cold and wintry in Foxborough, New England's defense could be helped by adverse conditions. Plus, New England will be determined to wipe away the failures of its past two postseasons. So while the Patriots are vulnerable, especially in their secondary, they're not going to be an easy out.
Q: I know the Detroit Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings, but they were handed that game and made a ton of mental mistakes -- again. Even if they make the playoffs, do you think they have the discipline to win a game in the postseason?
-- Terry (Calif.)
A: A game, sure, Terry. But it's not about winning one game -- Detroit will want to win more. Saying that, the Lions are lacking discipline, and more importantly, they're lacking a running game. QB Matthew Stafford and the rest of the offense would be so much better off with a healthy Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. With the right matchup, Detroit could win a game in the postseason.
Q: Adam, it looks like the Houston Texans made the right move by sticking with T.J. Yates [at QB]. What a win for him. Are you more convinced the Texans can make some noise in the playoffs after today?
-- Carla (Ill.)
A: A little, Carla. The Texans should be saluted for everything they have accomplished so far and they're going to be tough to beat, especially if they play at home. But the question is what to expect if Yates has to go to New England or Baltimore or Pittsburgh. That's the real test, right there. And despite the fact that Yates was impressive Sunday, and pulled out a win that will help build his confidence, he and the Texans still will be underdogs against the elite AFC teams. But don't worry about that now, Carla. Enjoy Houston's first-ever AFC South title and playoff berth.