We’re in Week 15 of the NFL season and only the Eagles riveted a playoff berth while the Bears, Texans, and Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention. So 28 teams still have hopes of qualifying for the post-season tournament, and five of those teams could secure playoff spots on Sunday.
Here’s a closer look at the scenarios that finalized this week’s playoffs:
- The Chiefs could clinch the AFC West title with a win against the Texans, or a Chargers loss, or a draw and a Chargers draw. They can clinch a playoff berth with a draw plus Jets and Patriots losses – or a draw plus Dolphins and Jets’ losses or Jets draw – or a draw plus Dolphins and Jets’ losses and a Patriots draw.
- The Bills can clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Dolphins, or a draw and a Chargers loss, or a draw plus Patriots and Jets losses, or a draw plus Chargers and Patriots draws and a Jets loss.
- Cowboys do not result in a win against the Jaguars, or a draw and a loss to the Giants, or a draw and a Giants-Commanders draw, or a draw and a Seahawks loss, or a loss to the Seahawks and the Lions. loss or draw – or one Seahawks loss and one Commander loss.
- The Vikings could clinch the NFC North with a win or draw against the Colts, or a loss or draw in Detroit.
- The 49ers could clinch the NFC West with a win over the Seahawks.
So there are a lot of big games to focus on this week, and Albert and Conor will walk you through Sunday’s list, noting the best matches and story lines to watch.
Game of the Week
Dolphins (8–5) on Bills (10–3) at 8:15 pm ET Saturday: It will be cold. Wheater will be snowy. And you heard it all week because a team from Miami is going there (leave me the Florida cries about cold weather teams needing roofs over their stadiums). Buffalo can’t clinch the AFC East this week, but a win eliminates the Jets and Patriots and means the Dolphins must go 3-0 and the Bills 0-3 for the division not to be them. for the third year in a row. Sean McDermott’s team seems to be coming together at a time when the Dolphins are skating with two back-to-back losses. So everything here is shouting Bills, which should probably worry Buffalo. — Albert Breer
Lions (6–7) at Jets (7–6) Sunday 1pm ET: The Jets are trying to save their season against one of the hottest teams in the NFL. All pre-season, smart folks like my colleague Richard Johnson predicted that the Lions would play meaningful snaps in January. Smart coworkers like Gary Gramling MMQB podcast That Jared Goff would be a more accepted, borderline top passer. Is happening. Meanwhile, the Jets need to understand how healthy Mike White is after a brutal, physical loss to the Bills, especially with the vulnerable Zach Wilson in #2. — Conor Orr
Cowboys (10–3) on Jaguars (5–8), Sunday 1pm ET: Trevor Lawrence plays good ball and so does the team around him; With a pretty consistent level of play, with the exception of one day in Detroit in the last five games. Believe it or not, if the Titans go up against the Chargers and the Jags take down the Cowboys, Jacksonville will control his own destiny in the South AFC. Meanwhile, Dallas needs to keep winning to survive for the NFC East crown, and a showdown with 12–1 Philadelphia is imminent on Christmas Eve. — EU
Patriots (7–6) at Raiders (5–8), 4:05 PM ET Sunday: The Belichick Bowl may have an intriguing new face: Pierre Strong, the team’s fourth-round pick from North Dakota State. Strong looked great in a reduced workload against the Cardinals and could be one of New England’s secret weapons. I hope this is anything to save the offense from the sleepwalking they’ve been in for a better part of this season. — C.0.
Bengals (9–4) at Buccaneers (6–7), 4:25 PM ET Sunday: Joe Burrow would never have said that, and I’ll say it too – I believe Brady is the closest competitor to Tom Brady since he rose to prominence twenty years ago. In that case, Burrow has a chance to deal a devastating blow to the Buccaneers as they struggle to stay ahead of the Falcons and Panthers in the NFC South. The status of Burrow’s three goals this week (Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst) could be key to how that turns out. — EU
Fantasy bold prediction of the week
The Jets defense will keep Jared Goff under 12 fantasy points. Goff has become one of fantasy football’s hottest quarterbacks, scoring 47.7 points in his last two games and more than 17 points in three consecutive games. But all of these games were at Ford Field. On the road, Goff is much less productive. In fact, he only scored two goals and received seven giveaways in five road games. The Jets defense has been tough on the quarterbacks, so Goff could have a tough day in New Jersey. — Michael Fabiano
• Fabiano Week 15 Start ‘Em, Sit’ Em: QB | RB | CR | TE | K/DST
What’s your one big prediction for Week 15?
Orr: Desmond Ridder scored three goals against the Saints. We’re all waiting for the third round pick to falter, but what if he’s… well? Sure, New Orleans’ defense is great and has been tortured for young quarterbacks in the past, but what if Ridder is playing to schedule some skill position on this roster unlocks his abilities?
Breer: Derek Carr will shoot 300 yards in a really strong Patriots defense and get a triple-digit passer rating. Josh McDaniels knows the New England defense plan inside and out, and his staff. And because of that, I think it will create matches for Davante Adams and space for Josh Jacobs, these two things will contribute to establishing Carr to play an efficient and strong game.
Which team needs a win the most in Week 15?
Orr: Browns. Cleveland’s offense has looked overwhelmingly mundane since they made a quarterback change three weeks ago. While everyone will need time to adjust to the pace of the NFL, the Browns will need a moment’s notice for Deshaun Watson as to why they are changing the course of their franchise. Beating the Texans with special teams and defensive goals doesn’t count.
Breer: Titans. Tennessee lost three times in a row, and offensive coordinator Todd Downing received a DUI following the team’s win over the Packers. Managing director Jon Robinson is fired and questions are being asked about the big picture. A loss opens the door for Jags to recapture the division from Mike Vrabel’s team. And it won’t be easy to get a win against the Chargers in Los Angeles. So, for me, it becomes one of two things: either a foothold for the Titans, or a tick of the hour, a proud lineup of Nashville veterans. begins to form into the nucleus.
Who are the offensive and defensive coordinators who will be head coaching jobs in 2023?
Breer: On offense, give me Shane Steichen of Philly – the Eagles actually prepped for it with Kevin Patullo instead. After Steichen, I would put Ken Dorsey of the Bills and Ben Johnson of the Lions. And defensively, it’s hard not to put the 49ers’ DeMeco Ryans at the top of the list. He checks many boxes (very productive unit being coached, ex-player, experience in a successful system, diverse experience) and has the personality and temperament of an established head coach. Qualified defensive coaches (Raheem Morris, Dan Quinn, Jerod Mayo, Vance Joseph, Jonathan Gannon, Ejiro Evero, etc., etc.)
Orr: I agree with Albert. I guess I’d risk it for Steichen. I think Johnson, whom we saw as Sean McVay in September, is another interesting option. Frank Smith (Dolphins) and Kellen Moore (Cowboys) are other offensive coaches ready to climb the ladder. On the defensive, it’s all about the Ryans right now. These are jobs he will lose, especially given his access to offensive coaches on Kyle Shanahan’s roster. Others to consider: Gannon, who interviewed Texans last year; Quinn, who also had a handful of interviews; and Evero (Broncos) and Morris (Rams).
Will Tom Brady be the first quarterback in the NFL or Fox booth in 2023?
Breer: I think it’s a real debate – I don’t think even he knows if he’s going to play. But just based on history I will say he will and he should have options if he decides to try it (with all the potential suitors of the 49ers, Raiders and Giants).
Orr: I have always believed that Brady would not seek a game for the omnivorous mammal network, or any other game for that matter. I think there are too many complex wheels and deals for us to take at face value any public action he does. As he says publicly, he lies about almost everything he says in front of reporters. So how stupid would we be if we just sat there nodding our heads and saying, “Oh, yes, that’s one in three percent.”
Where will Baker Mayfield play next season?
Orr: cardinals. If Kliff Kingsbury stays next season, he’ll need a playmaker who knows the system and its principles. While he felt that Mayfield should do everything in his power to stay in McVay orbit, a McVay Lite attack with the familiar Air Raid flavor would suit him well.
Breer: Coaches. I think this is L.A.’s first real hit this year in replacing Matthew Stafford, which I believe will make him at least consider walking away due to his arm problems and concussion. In the end, I think Stafford will give him another year, but his uncertainty about his future and his alignment with McVay could have given Mayfield a chance to prove he could be the #9 successor.
Kyler Murray tore his ACL on Monday night and will likely miss a crucial time next season. Could we see big changes in Arizona next year? Coaching change? Maybe a new GM?
Orr: As Steve Keim walks away for health reasons, I’ll delay commenting on the latter. What I’m going to say about the first, and what I’ve written several times in the past, is that Kingsbury’s extension definitely knocked some people out in the coaching community. I spoke to people who expected this business to open before last year and open as the Cardinals limped into the playoffs.
Breer: As long as the Bidwills are willing to cash the checks to do so, I think there’s a reasonable chance the property will blow up the building.
We saw these two NFC East foes draw just two weeks ago but that was a lifetime ago by NFL standards. In the week between their first and upcoming second showdowns, the Giants were dispersed by 48-22 Eagles, while the Commanders took a week off to rest and recuperate. New York have lost or drawn their last four games, but they still have one of the league’s best records against the spread (9-4). The Giants score 4.5 away on Washington, where the Commanders have a 3-2-1 home record (ATS) but only a 1-3 record (ATS) against NFC East opponents. Can the Giants get back on track to save their playoff hopes? Probably not, but at least they’ll shut down the spread. Score 4.5 points with Brian Daboll’s roster in Week 15.
Orr: These are the five best Christmas albums of all time:
1. The Vince Guaraldi Trio: “Charlie Brown Christmas”
2. John Denver and the Puppets: “A Christmas Together”
3. Kenny Burrell: “Give Yourself a Sentimental Little Christmas”
4. Naked Ladies: “Naked On Vacation”
5. “Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector”
Have a good weekend.
Breer: Not sure how I got over this. Merry Christmas everyone.