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Northwestern in the NFL: Checking in on the pros as playoff picture takes shape

Will Justin Jackson and his Detroit Lions make an improbable playoff push?

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

With the seasons changing and the new year vastly approaching, so does the NFL playoff picture. That also means it’s time to find out how the Northwestern Wildcats of the past performed around the league in Week 14.

Justin Jackson RB, Detroit Lions

It would be remiss to not mention the contributions of one of Northwestern’s favorite pro running backs. Jackson signed with the Detroit Lions to begin the 2022 season and has slowly but surely found his footing in the Motor City. After plummeting to the bottom of the NFC North and the league, the Lions have made strides to remain in the division title and playoff race as the season’s conclusion draws closer.

Sunday’s 34-23 upset against the Minnesota Vikings prevented Minnesota from clinching the NFC North. The Lions have taken full-advantage of their newfound consistency, stringing together wins in five of their last six contests. While he has seen limited action, Jackson managed to find paydirt on Sunday with a 15-yard touchdown run, in which he dashed past cornerback Cameron Dantzler toward the left sideline and dove just far enough to hit the pilon for the score.

In all, Jackson contributed with 19 yards on four carries, as his time was split between Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift. He also caught a pass for 12 yards. The victory improved the Lions’ record to 6-7 and kept hope alive for another week.

Week 15 Matchup: at New York Jets (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Ben Skowronek: WR, Los Angeles Rams

Despite not finding the end zone, Ben Skowronek has continued to remain productive for the L.A. Rams in 2022. Entering Week 14, the Rams were in a win-or-go-home scenario as they took on their rivals from Las Vegas, the Raiders.

The good news is that the Rams hosted the game and tend to feed off the energy of a pro-L.A. crowd. Skowronek did just that, as he saw eight targets come his way from his new recent free agent signee, Baker Mayfield. He took full advantage of that attention to rack up a career-high seven receptions and 89 yards, leading the Rams in both categories.

To put the cherry on top, Skoworonek played a crucial role in helping Mayfield, who had only been on the team for 48 hours, lead a game-winning drive that capped off a rally from a 16-3 fourth-quarter deficit. It featured a highlight-reel catch from the former Wildcat down the right sideline.

The Rams will look to keep their playoff hopes alive with a Monday Night Football game in one of the oldest NFL stadiums and against a team with a storied history, the Green Bay Packers. One more loss and the season is on ice.

Week 15 Matchup: at Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 7:25 p.m. CT)

Mike Kafka: OC, New York Giants

While he is not a current player, Mike Kafka might be the one that helps lead the Giants to the playoffs for the first time in over six years. His offense’s numbers are staggeringly higher than the years before his arrival, as the team ranks sixth in rushing and averages over two touchdowns per game. Although it’s not flashy, It goes to show that having the same level of consistency, no matter where someone ends up, is the key to a successful rebuild.

Although the Giants should realistically make the playoffs, it’s no secret that the NFL is a different beast and that anything can happen. However, the resurgence of the Giants toward past glory is something to take note of moving forward. A critical NFC East tilt on national television awaits New York in Week 15, which could define the season.

Week 15 Matchup: at Washington Commanders (Sunday, 7:20 p.m. CT)

Godwin Igwebuike: RB, Seattle Seahawks

Due to Kenneth Walker III's injury that kept him out of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, the Seahawks elevated Igwebuike from their practice squad for the first time all season. Igwebuike didn't contribute on the ground against the Panthers, but he was a force in the return game. He returned three kicks for 104 yards, 50 of which came on a return late in the second quarter that helped Seattle score a touchdown to close out the first half. It was a career-long return for the NU alum on just his second return all season.

He immediately followed that up with a 35-yard return to open the third quarter. Although the Seahawks fell by a score of 30-24, Igwebuike made a significant impact on special teams in his first game of the season. However, with Walker returning, Igwebuike will be back on the practice squad for Thursday night's crucial divisional showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

Week 15 Matchup: vs. San Francisco 49ers (Thursday, 7:15 p.m. CT)

Injured Wildcats: OT Rashawn Slater (Chargers), LB Anthony Walker Jr. (Browns)

Other Wildcats in the NFL:

CB Greg Newsome II (Browns), DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (Colts), DL Earnest Brown IV (Rams), DL Joe Gaziano (Chargers), OL Blake Hance (Jaguars), LB Joe Jones (Titans), WR Kyric McGowan (Commanders), DE Dean Lowry (Packers)