If there is anything we learned from NFL Week 15, it’s that nothing is a certainty. Despite being doubt-digit underdogs, Nick Foles led the Eagles in a road upset against the Rams. Meanwhile, the 49ers upset the seemingly playoff bound Seahawks, and the Chiefs blew a two touchdown lead in the 4th quarter at home. With so many unexpected outcomes, we have plenty of winners and losers to dissect.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts (Won 23-0 vs DAL)
No matter what happens the rest of the way, this season has been amazing for the Colts. Now finally under a proper head coach in Frank Reich, Indianapolis is playing inspired football on both sides of the ball and has taken the pressure off of Andrew Luck. Sunday’s dominant win over the Cowboys was another example. Luck only threw for 192 yards, but that’s all the Colts needed from him. They ran the ball for 178 total yards, with 139 yards coming from Marlon Mack, who could be the long-term answer for Indianapolis at running back. They ran the ball right down Dallas’ throats, something that has been extremely difficult for teams to do against them. They also didn’t allow the Cowboys’ feared pass rush to sack Luck one, and in fact have now allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL. The defense was even more impressive. Indianapolis allowed 292 total yards, a good-not great number, but held Dallas to 33% on third down and 20% on fourth down. They played the ultimate brand of bend, but don’t break football, and also forced two turnovers. That young defensive line looks elite; they pressured Dak Prescott all game long. If they can win out, Indianapolis has a good chance of making the playoffs with the Ravens having to play the Chargers. No matter what happens though, with a significant amount of cap space and the expected improvement of their young players, my money would definitely be on the Colts to win the AFC South in 2019.
Loser: Carolina Panthers (Lost 12-9 vs NO)
Despite losing five straight, the Panthers still had a decent chance at the playoffs had they come away with a home win against the Saints on Monday Night. Instead, Cam Newton essentially threw away the game, as well as Carolina’s season. Words cannot describe how putrid of a performance it was for Newton and the offense. Newton had just a 52.5 passer rating, and threw for just 131 yards. Several missed throws to open receivers, as well as a costly interception to Eli Apple in the Red Zone at the end of the first half proved to be the difference. It was yet another terrific performance of Christian McCaffrey (120 total yards, 1 pass TD), but it was wasted by Newton’s struggles as well as a costly fumble by DJ Moore. The fact that the only points the Panthers could get was from a trick play passing touchdown by McCaffrey and a “pick-two” by Donte Jackson against a Saints defense that came in 28th against the pass is embarrassing. The defense stood their ground most of the game, forcing turnovers and key Red Zone stops. Still, they allowed 155 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry, and allowed the Saints to eat up most of the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to win when your quarterback has a 52.5 passer rating against a sub par pass defense and the opposing team has the ball for 11 more minutes. The Panthers season is now over at 6-8, and this collapse after looking like a Super Bowl contender at 6-2 will certainly raise some eyebrows in the front office.
Winner: Tennessee Titans (Won 17-0 at NYG)
The Colts weren’t the only team to shut out a NFC East team this weekend. The Titans may have shut down a far more inferior opponent in the Giants, but unlike the Colts, they did so on the road. The defense was extremely physical, held Saquon Barkley to 2.2 yards per carry, and held the Giants to 19% on third down. That is formula for success every time, and it looks like Tennessee has established their identity defensively as a physical unit that fears no one. Meanwhile, the offense also has seemed to find their identity. For the second week in a row, the Titans relied on Derrick Henry and the running game, and once again, he didn’t disappoint. Henry ran for 170 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, and two touchdowns, after his four touchdown performance a week ago. Henry’s dominance allows Marcus Mariota to do what he does best: be a game manager who doesn’t need to make any big plays. Mariota only threw for 88 yards, yet the Titans were able to put up more than 300 total yards. This Titans team has discovered who they are and are playing spirited football. Their physicality could make them a tough out in the playoffs if they can sneak in, which they easily could do.
Loser: Seattle Seahawks (Lost 26-23 at SF)
Coming into Week 15, the Seahawks seemed to be a lock for the playoffs. All they had to do was beat a previously three win 49ers team they just beat 43-16 two weeks past, and they’d clinch. Now, it’s a mystery if Seattle can even get in. It doesn’t even feel like they lost to the 49ers. In reality, they lost to themselves. The Seahawks committed 14 penalties for 148 yards and were uncharacteristically sloppy on both sides of the football. The offense continue to have success running the ball, with 168 rushing yards, and Russell Wilson was able to put together a tremendous performance (117.3 passer rating). Yet, they couldn’t put together one final scoring drive, in part due to the amount of penalties committed. On defense, Seattle made Nick Mullens look like a superstar, allowing him to throw for 275 yards and complete 69% of his passes. Blown coverages let San Francisco maneuver several big plays, and a horrible kick return coverage on a Richie James 97 yard touchdown was the icing on the cake. Seattle blew their chance to have their spot secured, as here come the angry Chiefs. (we’ll discuss them soon)
Winner: Minnesota Vikings (Won 41-17)
Are the Vikings back? Maybe not yet, but Sunday’s performance may have been an indication that they’ll be back just in time for the playoffs. That’s where Minnesota is likely heading, as the firing of offensive coordinator John DeFillipo seems to have served as a wake up call for this team. With new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, the Vikings were much more balance offensively than they had been all season. They ran the ball 40 times for 220 yards, and Dalvin Cook was able to score his first and second touchdowns of the season. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins had a bounce-back game with a passer rating of 112.2. He threw an ugly pick six, but this performance, especially with Adam Thielen only catching one pass, is still encouraging to say the least. On defense, Minnesota sacked Ryan Tannehill nine times and held him to 108 yards passing. They did allow 156 rushing yards, but they only allowed 193 total yards due to all the sacks, and the held Miami to 17% on third down. This is a great sign that the VIkings are ready to use all their talent for good, and it’s just in time for them to make a playoff push (they control their own destiny). We’ll have a better idea if this performance was for real after divisional matchups against the Lions and Bears.
Loser: Kansas City Chiefs (Lost 29-28)
With a 28-14 lead in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs looked to be on their way to clinching the division and practically clinching the number one seed. Those are both now in question. In primetime, Kansas City showed exactly why it’s so hard to trust them: their defense is too unreliable. The Chiefs allowed 407 total yards, and were actually outgained by over 100 yards. They let Los Angeles covert 60% of their third downs, and let them dictate the game with 33 minutes of possession. That put pressure on Patrick Mahomes to score constantly. He did so most of the time (243 passing yards, 2 TD, 110.3 passer rating), but the offense isn’t the same since releasing Kareem Hunt. With Hunt gone and Spencer Ware currently injured, Mahomes is forced to make way too many plays, and with that comes many mistakes and the inability to control time of possesion. In the end, when Mahomes couldn’t come through and Kansas City had to punt, the Chiefs embarrassed themselves. They allowed Los Angeles to go right through them, and then left Mike Williams wide open when the Chargers went for two. Add in 10 penalties, and it proves to show that Kansas City is a talented, yet undisciplined team that might be relying to heavily on a quarterback in his first year starting. If the Chiefs win their next two games, this loss doesn’t matter, but they may be looking at a wildcard spot if they can’t win at Seattle, a extremely difficult game to win.