NFL Week 15
So much for being Week 15’s biggest underdogs. With backup quarterback Nick Foles getting the start in place of an injured Carson Wentz, the 6-7 Eagles went into Los Angeles and stunned the heavily favored Rams, 30-23.
Philadelphia, back at .500 with two games to play, kept alive its playoffs chances yet still need to win out and get some help from the likes of the Cowboys, Vikings and/or Panthers. Los Angeles lost its second straight to fall to 11-3, but is still in position to get a playoff bye and has already wrapped up the NFC West crown.
The Rams, however, can’t be happy with their late-season struggles. While their offense looked much better than in last week’s 15-6 throttling at Chicago, they still had a hard time generating big plays. Quarterback Jared Goff averaged just 5.9 on 55 pass attempts, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, while Foles had one pick and no touchdowns but was more efficient, averaging 8.7 yards on 31 attempts.
The Eagles got three rushing scores, two by Wendell Smallwood, and can hope for a late-season surge under Foles somewhat similar to what he provided last season en route to winning Super Bowl MVP honors. Unlike that squad, this year’s Eagles still have an uphill battle just to make the playoffs, but Sunday night’s win provided the first unlikely task that needs to go right their way.
Had to have it: The Steelers needed a win over the Patriots Sunday in the worst way and they got one in just about the ugliest way. That’s fine with Pittsburgh, which stopped a three-game losing streak, stayed just ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North and — not for nothing — vanquished its chief tormentor over the past few years.
The Steelers have their defense to thank for a 17-10 triumph rather than usual suspects such as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster or James Conner, who missed the game altogether with an ankle sprain. Pittsburgh, which had given up at least 24 points to each opponent during its three-game skid, held off the Patriots’ fourth-quarter attempts for a game-tying touchdown and held Tom Brady to just one touchdown with one interception.
Brady had been 8-2 versus Roethlisberger with six wins at Heinz Field. The Patriots had won five straight games against the Steelers, including the 2016 AFC championship game, scoring at least 27 points in each of those five contests. At 9-5, New England is still in strong position to make the playoffs, but it now needs help to return to one of the top two seeds in the AFC; in related news, Brady’s Pats have never gotten to a Super Bowl without a first-round bye.
The Steelers went to the locker room at halftime with a 14-7 lead, but arguably the best play of the first two quarters was submitted not by either team’s offense or defense, but by the Patriots special teams unit. Two New England players leaped into the end zone to keep a ball from hitting the ground for a touchback, and they combined to bat it back to the 1-yard line.
Bears pick off Packers: Eddie Jackson ended Aaron Rodgers’s record interception-less streak at 402 attempts, snagging a pass in the end zone with a little over three minutes left in the game, and the Chicago Bears went on to wrap up their first NFC North title since 2010 with a 24-17 victory at Soldier Field.
The loss drops the Packers to 5-8-1 and officially ends their playoff hopes.
The day was one to remember, in particular, for Chicago offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. After his team’s win, his day got even better when his on-field marriage proposal proved successful.
Colts in control: It wasn’t Dallas’s day as the Colts solidified their status as the team no one wants to play if they get to post season. Indy jumped out ahead of the Cowboys, thanks to a blocked field goal that, upon review, was determined to have been recovered by Indianapolis. They Colts drove down the field and took a 7-0 lead on Marlon Mack’s 1-yard touchdown run and kept up the pressure.
So much for the Cowboys’ attempt to wrap up the NFC East.
Ravens do what they need to do: The Ravens smacked the Buccaneers, 20-12, keeping up the pressure on the Steelers, before the latter took the field Sunday. Baltimore’s rookie quarterback, Lamar Jackson, again did damage on the ground, rushing for 95 yards while throwing for 131 and upping his record to 4-1 since taking over for Joe Flacco.
Minnesota rolls: The Vikings stayed alive in the playoff chase, improving to 7-6-1 with a 41-17 victory over the Dolphins. They remain the leader in the race for the final NFC wild-card spot.
The loss dealt a blow to the Dolphins’ own postseason hopes, as they fell to 7-7, but they did enjoy another huge play, this one a 75-yard rushing touchdown by rookie running back Kalen Ballage. That marked the 12th Miami score of at least 50 yards this season, five more than any other team (per ESPN).
Seahawks stumble: Seattle suffered an upset loss at San Francisco, 26-23 in overtime, to fall to 8-6. Russell Wilson and Co. are still in playoff position, while the 49ers won consecutive games for the first time this season and improved to 4-10.
In other games: The Redskins moved to 7-7, beating the Jaguars 16-13 behind Josh Johnson; the Titans shut out the Giants, 17-0; the Bills edged the Lions 14-13; the Falcons beat the Cardinals 40-14; and the Bengals topped the Raiders 30-16.
Nope: Sebastian Janikowski was NOT going to stop this touchdown return.
Now, THIS is open: The Patriots’ Chris Hogan was kind of open on his touchdown play.
The playoffs may look different: There may well be a new crop of quarterbacks when the playoffs start. Spotrac notes that, of the top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks, only one is really in position to be playing in January.
How ’bout them Browns: The Browns are 4-2 under interim coach Gregg Williams, beating the Broncos 17-16 in an odd game that left both head coaches’ decisions under fire. Denver Coach Vance Joseph is being second-guessed for going for a field goal that left the team a point behind Cleveland and counting on the Broncos to get the ball back with around 2 minutes left. Except the Browns stopped the drive for a game-winning field goal with a fourth-down sack by Jabrill Peppers. The Browns ended up facing a fourth-and-one quandary of their own at the Denver 10-yard line in the final two minutes, with the Broncos out of timeouts. Williams placed his faith in his offense, hoping for a first down that would have allowed the Browns to run out the clock. It would have worked when the Broncos were called for being offside — except Williams had called a timeout. On the reprieve, the Broncos tackled Nick Chubb for a two-yard loss on fourth down.
Texans top Jets: Sam Darnold put together his best game of the season, passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets’ 29-22 loss to the Texans. Despite being sacked six times, Deshaun Watson passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns (with DeAndre Hopkins catching 10 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns) as Houston remains in the running for a playoff bye.
A (possibly) fab five: John Clayton lists five teams capable of making a surprise Super Bowl run. (Read more.)
$$$: The NFL’s salary cap is expected to increase by about $10 million per team next season. (Read more.)
About those helmet hits: The NFL expects more penalties next season for hits that involve lowering the helmet. (Read more.)
No changes: In the wake of the Kareem Hunt investigation, the NFL is planning no immediate changes to its procedures. (Read more.)
Wentz hurt: Carson Wentz has a fractured vertebrae that is expected to heal without surgery.
No Beckham: The Giants ruled out Odell Beckham Jr. days ago because of his lingering quadriceps injury.
Hilton in? The status of Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, the favorite target of Andrew Luck, is uncertain for the game against the Cowboys because of an ankle injury. “It’s still touch and go,” Coach Frank Reich said Friday.
Tannehill update: An ankle injury is not expected to sideline quarterback Ryan Tannehill against the Vikings.
Week 15 cheat sheet: All the tools you need as fantasy seasons come down to the wire. (Read more.)
Start/Sit: Starting Aaron Rodgers against the Bears will lead to disappointment. (Read more.)
Week 15 waiver wire tips: Two helpful defenses available for the fantasy football playoffs. (Read more.)
Week 15 player rankings: How the stars, who are still healthy, stack up. (Read more.)
Betting tips: The Patriots are a terrible Super Bowl bet. (Read more.)
ATS betting tips/picks
Don’t trust the 49ers in divisional games. (Read more.)