Week 15 was one of the most exciting weeks of the NFL season thus far.
On Saturday, Buffalo witnessed the largest comeback in NFL history, as well as a fascinating snow game. On Sunday, there was a once-in-a-lifetime lateral blunder (the second game of the day ended on a walk-off defensive touchdown) and six games saw comeback victories from three-point deficits.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals have risen to first place in the AFC North, while the Tennessee Titans are in danger of losing their grip on first place in the AFC South.
Trevor Lawrence elevates the Jaguars to playoff contention in the AFC South.
The Jaguars have been a completely different team since November. Jacksonville (6-8) has won three of its last four games and four of its last six overall. Not by chance, Trevor Lawrence’s outstanding play has the Jaguars just one game back of first place in the AFC South.
Lawrence has completed 70.4% of his throws for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns with one interception in Jacksonville games since November. The most impressive aspect of his play during that stretch has been how, in each of their victories, Lawrence’s play in the second half has been far superior, assisting in the launch of comebacks. Jacksonville is plus-33 in scoring margin after halftime in victories over the Raiders in Week 9, the Ravens in Week 12, and the Cowboys on Sunday, all of which were comebacks. Lawrence has excelled at throws on the move, downfield passes, developing his receivers, and hitting players in stride. He is the starting quarterback for his team.
The Giants have an advantage (in more than one way)
This was very much a New York Giants victory, in keeping with how they’ve won this season. The numbers don’t lie, but New York (8-5-1) came through in the clutch to defeat the division-rival Washington Commanders.
Though possibly aided by officiating miscues, running back Saquon Barkley (18 carries for 87 yards, one touchdown) had a dominant fourth quarter, helping set up a Graham Gano field goal that sealed the victory. However, this was a standout defensive performance for New York. Kayvon Thibodeaux, a rookie edge rusher, had a breakout game, recording 12 tackles, three for a loss, and a strip sack that he returned for a touchdown. On third down, New York limited Washington to one of ten conversions. And the Giants, the No. 6 seed in the NFC, have a one-game lead over the team they just defeated in the wild-card race.
The Chargers have a big weekend ahead of them.
Consider this: the Chargers (8-6) entered Week 15 ranked eighth in the AFC, out of a crowded playoff picture in the conference. The Chargers defeated the Titans, who are currently leading the AFC South, and enjoyed watching teams in the wild-card race — the Ravens (9-5), Dolphins (8-6), Patriots (7-7) and Jets (7-7) — lose.
The Chargers not only made it into the playoffs, but they are now the No. 6 seed. After relying on standout performances from quarterback Justin Herbert, it was encouraging to see that Los Angeles could win even when Herbert was shaky (28-of-42 passing for 313 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions). After four sacks, the defence put together another strong performance. As defensive end Joey Bosa nears his return, the group should only improve.
There are some silver linings for the Texans.
The Texans were outgained by a score of 502-219. They allowed 33 first downs and converted only 18 of them. They controlled the ball for nearly 10 minutes less. The Chiefs, who won the AFC West for the seventh time in a row, were their opponent. Nonetheless, Houston (1-12-1) forced overtime.
This team is playing competitively for coach Lovie Smith, even if it is not always visible on the stat sheet. This is the second week in a row that two of the NFL’s top teams have failed to beat the Texans, following the Cowboys’ game-winning drive last week. When compared to Dallas and Kansas City, Houston’s roster is not good and overmatched at almost every position. Nonetheless, Houston has battled the last two weeks, thanks in large part to effort plays and sound tackling. While offseason roster improvements await, the next step is to eliminate critical errors in high-leverage situations, such as the Davis Mills fumble in overtime that set up the Chiefs’ victory.
The Patriots’ problems are more than just a bad lateral; start with Mac.
Yes, the play was terrible. But to blame the Patriots’ (7-7) loss on Jakobi Meyers’ regrettable lateral is to deny that this is an offence that has regressed and is incapable of consistency.
Mac Jones, a second-year quarterback, has seen his production drop. Jones’ interception rate (2.4%) is actually lower than it was last season (2.5%). Almost every other major metric has fallen. Yards per attempt are 6.9 this season, down from 7.3 last year; completion rate is 65.8%, down from 67.6%; and, most importantly, touchdown percentage is 2.1%, down from 4.2%. New England will remain a middling team until its passing game returns to a more consistent level of production. Another correlated statistic that could be causing all of this is the pressure Jones is under. Despite the Raiders failing to record a sack, Jones is being dropped on 7.7% of his attempts, an increase from 5.1% last season.
Brady and the Buccaneers are in danger of falling out of the playoff picture.
Tampa Bay (6-8) has lost eight of its last 12 games, including three of its last four, and is now one game behind the remaining NFC South teams, which are all 5-9. The Buccaneers led 17-0 before allowing the Bengals to score 34 unanswered points in an epic collapse that continues this team’s downward spiral.
One major reason for this was the team’s offensive ineptitude in the second half, which was caused by a rash of Brady turnovers. In fact, if you include Tampa Bay’s turnover on downs at the start of the third quarter, the Bucs ended up with five consecutive turnovers. Brady entered Week 15 with an 89-0 record, including the playoffs, at home in games where his teams led by 17 points or more. Barring a tie, the Buccaneers must win out in order for Brady to avoid his first losing season.
Dak interceptions are bad, but don’t blame him solely for Dallas’ demise.
Dak Prescott threw two interceptions (giving him seven in the last four games). To be clear, that number is far too high. But, if you’re going to point the finger at anyone for Dallas’ collapse against Jacksonville, point it at a secondary whose often reckless aggressiveness can lead to avalanches of explosive plays and points.
The Cowboys (10-4) led by 17 points with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Jacksonville’s next three possessions all ended in touchdowns. During the first of those series, the Cowboys allowed a 59-yard passing play that resulted in a Zay Jones touchdown. They gave up one for 27 in the third series. In the second of those drives, Prescott threw an inexcusable interception, setting up Jacksonville for a short field. However, Trevon Diggs and Dallas’ corners take far too many aggressive gambles that jeopardise coverage on the back end far too often. The Cowboys’ secondary needs to be more disciplined when they have a lead.
Hold Desmond Ridder rather than buying or selling it.
Consider this a hold in what amounts to a four-game audition for Falcons rookie Desmond Ridder. The first impression was far from conclusive in terms of his viability as a potential starter for Atlanta (5-9). Ridder’s numbers were not good (13-of-26 passing for 97 yards; 38 rushing yards on six carries), but he did show some signs that could point to better days ahead.
Ridder appeared to be the most vocal and present on the sideline, frequently approaching his teammates after drives. To be clear, this is not exceptional, but rather the norm for a beginning passer. It is notable when the player does it while struggling. Ridder also consoled fellow rookie Drake London after his crucial fourth-quarter fumble effectively ended Atlanta’s comeback hopes. The connection with London was promising (seven receptions for 70 yards), but 27 yards on six receptions to other players is unacceptable.