As he drifted back to field a rainy overtime punt, TYLAN WALLACE had only one thought.

Secure the football.

“The main thing for me,” said Wallace, who last returned punts as a sophomore in college, “especially with the weather, I was just like, ‘I need to catch it first before anything.’”

Catch it he did. And 76 yards, three broken tackles and a sideways summersault later, Wallace was in the end zone and the BALTIMORE RAVENS (10-3) were in the stratosphere.

Like Wallace, the rest of the NFL understands priorities. Walk-off touchdowns – in this case the fourth overtime punt-return score in league history and second this season – can’t happen without first securing the football. And playoff berths, division titles and homefield advantage can’t come until securing success in the final four weeks of the NFL season.

Well, welcome to the final four weeks of the NFL season. Each team has four weeks to carve its own path and settle the playoff tiebreakers that will determine the NFL’s future. And the only bye weeks remaining are the coveted breaks reserved for the No. 1 seeds in each conference.

Those races for the top seeds in each conference are equally as exciting as the races for the final seeds, especially when first-place teams go 2-6 as they did in Week 14. Or when TENNESSEE (5-8), led by rookie quarterback WILL LEVIS, becomes the first NFL team in 47 years to win a game in regulation after trailing by 14-or-more points with less than three minutes remaining. Or when the NEW YORK GIANTS (5-8) resurrect playoff hopes behind rookie TOMMY DEVITO, just the third non-drafted quarterback in the common-draft era to win three of his first four NFL starts.

Here’s the league landscape after the Week 14 dust has settled:

  • In the AFC, 11 teams have winning records entering Week 15. Since the 1970 merger, that’s happened only three times previously: 12 AFC clubs had winning records through 14 weeks in 2014, 11 AFC teams in 2002, and 11 NFC clubs in 2008. What’s more, six AFC teams this year are 7-6, the most 7-6 teams in a conference at this point in any season.
  • In the NFC, six teams are 6-7. That’s more 6-7 teams in either conference through 14 weeks than any other year since the merger. Two NFC teams sit tied atop the East while three teams sit tied atop the NFC South.
  • Overall in Week 14, six teams won in either the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime, and an incredible 12 of 15 games were within one score in the fourth quarter. This season, 71.6 percent of all games (149 of 208) have been within one score in the fourth quarter. And 50 times in 208 games (24.0 percent), a team has erased a deficit in either the fourth quarter or overtime to win.
  • Only four teams in the Super Bowl era (1966-present) have made the playoffs after beginning a season 1-5. This year, there could be three. In addition to the Giants, CHICAGO (5-8) and DENVER (7-6) see roads to the postseason after 1-5 starts. In fact, 30 teams are still in Super Bowl contention, the most with four weeks to play since 2018. And 24 of those clubs are either sitting in a playoff spot or within one game of that group. ​​

Are you prepared for the final four weeks? The NFL’s players and coaches are ready. No team can afford to look ahead in Week 15. Every club’s goal is as simple as it gets: Finish 1-0.

Let the turmoil begin.

The Starting 11 entering Week 15

1.   WIRE-TO-WIRE POTENTIAL PUTS MCCAFFREY’S SEASON IN PERSPECTIVE: After each week of the 2023 season, 49ers running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY has led the NFL in rushing yards. He enters this week with 1,177, 253 more than the next-closest player, Miami’s RAHEEM MOSTERT (924). McCaffrey has an opportunity to become the first in 28 years and only the fourth since the 1970 merger to lead the NFL in rushing yards after every week of a full season. And in three of those instances, the player either won a Super Bowl or garnered Associated Press Most Valuable Player honors. Pro Football Hall of Famer EMMITT SMITH in 1995 led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XXX victory, Pro Football Hall of Famer WALTER PAYTON in 1977 earned MVP and Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. SIMPSON in 1973 earned MVP. Simpson also led wire-to-wire in 1975.

  • SAN FRANCISCO (10-3), the first team to clinch a playoff berth, continues its bid for the NFC’s lone first-round bye with a division game at ARIZONA (3-10) on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). It won’t be easy. Arizona quarterback KYLER MURRAY has won two of his last three starts against the 49ers. Murray and the Cardinals are 2-2 since the quarterback returned to Arizona’s lineup in Week 10.
    • Over the last five weeks, San Francisco has vaulted to the NFC’s pole position in dominant fashion. In that span, the 49ers are 5-0 and have outscored opponents by 18.2 points per game.
    • Quarterback BROCK PURDY, who leads the NFL with a 116.9 passer rating, graduated from Perry High School, 46 miles from State Farm Stadium. In 2017, Purdy led Perry to the state championship game and set Class 6A state records with 4,405 passing yards and 57 touchdown passes.
    • In last week’s win, Purdy recorded a career-high 368 passing yards, connecting with wide receiver DEEBO SAMUEL for 149 yards and a touchdown. Samuel, who also ran for a touchdown, became the second player in NFL history with 100 receiving yards, one touchdown reception and one rushing touchdown in consecutive games, joining Philadelphia’s TIMMY BROWN (Dec. 11-18, 1960).
    • Cornerback CHARVARIUS WARD leads the NFL with 20 passes defensed.

2.   NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 7: The number of Wild Card teams that have won the Super Bowl. The last two teams to do so, the Buccaneers in 2020 and the Packers in 2010, meet this week when TAMPA BAY (6-7) visits GREEN BAY (6-7) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Battling for both a division crown and a playoff berth, the Buccaneers make their first trip to Wisconsin since winning the 2020 NFC Championship Game.

  • In last week’s win, Tampa Bay quarterback BAKER MAYFIELD threw a game-winning touchdown to tight end CADE OTTON with 31 seconds remaining, moving the Buccaneers into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC South. Tampa Bay needs a win this week to keep pace in the common-games tiebreaker; ATLANTA (6-7) defeated the Packers earlier this season.
    • Also last week, Tampa Bay safety ANTOINE WINFIELD had a sack and forced fumble. Winfield has 13 career sacks and surpassed BILL BATES (12.5) for the second-most sacks by a defensive back in his first four seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Only JAMAL ADAMS (21.5) has more.
    • Since Week 7, Buccaneers running back RACHAAD WHITE has 834 scrimmage yards (third in the NFL in that span) and six scrimmage touchdowns.

3.   MARGINS ARE TOUCHDOWN-THIN: Players have scored more than 79,000 touchdowns in NFL history. But touchdowns mean more in the present era than they ever have. That’s because games are closer than they’ve ever been. Over the full 2022 campaign, 122 games were decided by six points or fewer, more than any season in league annals. This year, no more than six points have separated 91 games, the second-most ever over a season’s first 14 weeks, trailing only 2022 (92).

4.   SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Dallas linebacker MICAH PARSONS has 12.5 sacks and can become the second player to reach 13 in each of his first three NFL seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE. Opposite Parsons this week will be two-time Pro Bowler DION DAWKINS, anchor of a Bills offensive line that has surrendered just 18 sacks this season, tied with Kansas City for fewest in the NFL.

  • DALLAS (10-3) and BUFFALO (7-6), who meet at Highmark Stadium on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX), each rank among the NFL’s top six teams in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
    • Dallas leads the NFL in both first downs per game (23.4) and third-down efficiency (49.2 percent). Buffalo ranks second in both categories (22.5 first downs per game, 48.8 percent third-down efficiency).
    • At Highmark Stadium, Buffalo is 9-2 over its last 12 games, including the postseason.
    • In Week 15 and later since the beginning of 2020, Buffalo is 10-0 in regular-season games. No other team has been better in that time. Quarterback JOSH ALLEN has won 15 of his last 17 regular-season starts in December and January (including six straight victories).
    • Cowboys quarterback DAK PRESCOTT has an opportunity to become the first Dallas player in 50 years to lead the NFL in touchdown passes, since Pro Football Hall of Famer ROGER STAUBACH in 1973. Prescott’s streak of eight games with a passer rating of 95-or-higher is the longest by an NFL player within a season since AARON RODGERS in 2020.
    • While Prescott enters with an NFL-leading 28 touchdown passes, his counterpart Sunday, Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN (25), is tied for second.
    • Allen this season also has nine games with both a passing and rushing touchdown, tied with KYLER MURRAY (nine games in 2020) for the most in a season in NFL history. Allen is the third quarterback in NFL history with at least 25 touchdown passes and 10 rushing touchdowns in a season, joining Murray (2020) and CAM NEWTON (2015).
    • Cowboys kicker BRANDON AUBREY, who hails from Plano, Texas, signed his first NFL contract this past July 10, at age 28. Following a suggestion from his wife and setting aside a software development career, Aubrey earned the Cowboys’ job in training camp and hasn’t looked back. Last week, the former soccer player who never played football prior to a two-year stint in the USFL, became the first in NFL history to convert multiple field goals of 59-or-more yards in the same game. Aubrey (30 straight field goals without a miss) has shattered the prior record of 18 consecutive made field goals to begin an NFL career. Aubrey has eight field goals of 50-plus this season and needs three to tie the single-season NFL record held by DANIEL CARLSON (11 in 2022). The NFL hasn’t seen a first-year player lead the league in scoring since MASON CROSBY in 2007. Aubrey leads all players with 129 points.

5.   SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: When MIAMI (9-4) has the ball at Hard Rock Stadium against the NEW YORK JETS (5-8) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), the NFL’s top passing offense – Miami (279.2 passing yards per game) – squares off with the league’s No. 2-ranked passing defense, the Jets (167.2 passing yards allowed per game). New York surrendered only 54 net passing yards in last week’s win.

  • And if the Dolphins aren’t already dangerous on offense, they’ve also scored defensive touchdowns in each of the last three games.
    • Miami rookie running back DE’VON ACHANE (203 rushing yards in Week 3) and second-year Jets running back BREECE HALL (177 in Week 5) own the NFL’s top two single-game rushing performances this season. Including last week’s win, since Hall entered the league in 2022, the Jets are 5-0 when he reaches 100 scrimmage yards and 9-1 when he scores a touchdown.
    • In last week’s win, Jets quarterback ZACH WILSON completed 27 of 36 attempts (70.3 percent) for 301 yards, two touchdowns and a career-high 117.9 passer rating.

6.   STREAK SPEAK: The Lions have won four straight primetime games. Their 4-0 record (1.000) in primetime since the beginning of 2022 is the best in the league, ahead of Baltimore (5-1, .833), Philadelphia (8-2, .800) and San Francisco (7-2, .778).

  • DENVER (7-6) heads to DETROIT (9-4) this week, wrapping up the NFL’s Saturday tripleheader with a showdown at Ford Field (8:15 p.m. ET, NFLN). Denver has closed the gap in the AFC West and sits just one game behind KANSAS CITY (8-5), which visits NEW ENGLAND (3-10) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX).
    • Denver wide receiver COURTLAND SUTTON, the first Broncos player since 2014 to reach double-digits in touchdown catches, is one of three players with 10-or-more touchdown receptions in 2023, joining TYREEK HILL (12) and MIKE EVANS (10).
    • According to Next Gen Stats, Sutton’s 46-yard touchdown reception from RUSSELL WILSON last week traveled 60.8 yards in the air, the NFL’s longest touchdown by air distance this season.
    • Since Week 6, Denver’s defense has allowed just 16.0 points per game, the second fewest in the league during that period behind MINNESOTA (15.0). Overall this season, Denver leads the NFL with 13 opponent fumble recoveries and is tied for first with 24 takeaways, most by a Broncos defense since the team had 28 in 2018.
    • Not only are the Broncos chasing the Chiefs, Denver also is bidding to unseat Kansas City’s historic dominance. The Chiefs have played 13 straight playoff games at home since their last postseason road trip, in 2015. That’s the longest streak of home postseason games without a road contest in league history. And the Chiefs’ current string of seven straight division titles is tied with the 1973-79 Rams for second-longest in NFL history. Only New England (11 from 2009-19) has a longer streak.
    • Speaking of New England, the Patriots this season have allowed 247.3 yards and 11.0 points per game since Week 10, each the lowest figures in the league during that stretch.
    • In last week’s win, Patriots quarterback BAILEY ZAPPE passed for a career-best three touchdowns.

7.     DID YOU KNOW?: Several things get better as they age, including fine wines, leather and, of course, JOE FLACCO, who for the first time in his career threw three touchdown passes of 30-plus yards in last week’s win. The veteran’s presence combined with a fierce Browns defense has CLEVELAND (8-5) in prime position to make a run for the AFC playoffs, beginning at home against CHICAGO (5-8) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX). Cleveland is 4-0 in games decided by three points or fewer, the best record in league with a minimum of three games. Plus, the Browns are 5-2 (.714) in games decided by one possession (eight points or less).

  • The Bears’ defense, meanwhile, ranks second in the league with 15 interceptions, trailing San Francisco (17). Chicago has produced three-or-more takeaways in each of its last three games and leads the league with 11 takeaways since Week 11.
    • Chicago’s quarterback, JUSTIN FIELDS, has gone three straight games and 93 attempts without an interception. Fields, who also has 221 rushing yards since returning to the lineup in Week 11, has 2,021 career rushing yards and became the third quarterback in NFL history with 2,000 in his first three career seasons, joining LAMAR JACKSON (2,906) and CAM NEWTON (2,032).
    • Bears wide receiver DJ MOORE recorded his first career rushing touchdown and also caught a touchdown in last week’s win. Moore has tied his single-season career best with seven receiving touchdowns this year.

8.   UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: Bengals quarterback JAKE BROWNING launched his NFL career with the Vikings as a non-drafted free agent in 2019. After two seasons (2019-20) on the Minnesota practice squad, Browning spent the next two seasons (2021-22) on the Bengals’ practice squad. Browning and CINCINNATI (7-6) host his former teammates when MINNESOTA (7-6) arrives to kick off the NFL’s Saturday tripleheader at Paycor Stadium (1 p.m. ET, NFLN).

  • Browning is the second player since 1950 with a completion percentage of 70-or-higher and a passer rating of 95-or-higher in each of his first three career starts, joining CHAD PENNINGTON (first four starts, Weeks 5 and 7-9 in 2002 with the Jets). Browning has completed 79.3 percent of his attempts (69 of 87), the highest completion percentage by a quarterback in his first three career starts since 1950, surpassing Pennington (77.4 percent).

9.   TREND TIMEBALTIMORE (10-3) owns the top seed in the AFC entering this week’s clash of first-place teams at JACKSONVILLE (8-5) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). The Ravens also own the league’s top rushing offense (157.1 yards per game). The Jaguars, meanwhile, are allowing just 92.2 rushing yards per contest, the fourth-best mark in the NFL.

  • Baltimore’s average offensive possession starts at its own 31.8 yard line this season. That’s the best figure in the league, just ahead of Jacksonville (31.1). The Jaguars have 24 takeaways, tied with Denver for most in the NFL.
    • This week, both quarterback LAMAR JACKSON and rookie wide receiver ZAY FLOWERS return to their native state, Florida. Including Flowers, Jackson’s targets this season have combined for 1,372 yards after the catch, the most in a season in the quarterback’s career, surpassing the previous high, 1,360 in 2019. In last week’s win, Jackson accounted for 386 yards (316 passing, team-leading 70 rushing), including respective touchdown passes of 54 and 46 yards to ISAIAH LIKELY and ODELL BECKHAM JR. Jackson marked his 18th career game with three-or-more touchdown passes, snapping a tie with Joe Flacco (17) for most games in Ravens history.
    • Ravens defensive tackle JUSTIN MADUBUIKE has at least shared a sack in 10 consecutive games. The last NFL player with a streak of 11 games with at least half a sack was TREY HENDRICKSON in 2021.
    • Jacksonville’s TREVOR LAWRENCE (47 straight starts) enters this week tied with PATRICK MAHOMES (47) for the third-longest active streak of consecutive starts by a quarterback. Entering this week, only JOSH ALLEN (83) and JUSTIN HERBERT (62) have longer active streaks.

10.  NEXT GEN STAT OF THE WEEK: Last week, DREW LOCK and DK METCALF connected on a 31-yard touchdown pass that had a 15.4-percent completion probability, the fourth-most improbable touchdown pass this season. This week, Metcalf and SEATTLE (6-7) host PHILADELPHIA (10-3) on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). Since the beginning of 2017, when the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, Philadelphia is 5-1 on the West Coast. Its only road loss in that span against a West Coast team was at Seattle, Dec. 3, 2017.

11.  AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: From 1990-2022, a streak of 33 consecutive seasons, at least four new teams qualified for the playoffs each year. Five teams that missed the postseason in 2022 are currently in playoff position: CLEVELAND (8-5), DETROIT (9-4), GREEN BAY (6-7), INDIANAPOLIS (7-6) and PITTSBURGH (7-6). Three of those clubs are in action during the NFL’s Saturday tripleheader, including the Steelers and Colts, who face off at Lucas Oil Stadium (4:30 p.m. ET, NFLN).