Week 15 was the first time in months that all 32 teams played, and thanks to Covid-19, the slate of games lasted until Tuesday. Despite the delays, this week has set this season up for a fantastic finish. As of right now only the Green Bay Packers have clinched a playoff spot. Only five teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. That means 26 teams are still fighting for the last 13 playoff spots with three weeks to go. In the AFC, 13 of the 16 teams are either in playoff spots or are within one game of a playoff spot. In the NFC that number is only 11, but it still leaves room for late drama. Everyone has three games to save their seasons. Let’s see who did the best job this week.
Winner #1 Indianapolis Colts
Saturday night’s 27-17 win over the Patriots was a huge boost for this team for several reasons. First, the Patriots have owned the Colts for the better part of a decade now, and to finally get over that hump means something. Second, it strengthens their position in the playoff race. Oh, and they now have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC South division. Indianapolis is trending in the right direction at a crucial part of the season. Keeping this momentum will make them a dangerous opponent come playoff time. A matchup against Arizona next week is an opportunity to really make a statement.
Loser #1 Arizona Cardinals
Speaking of the Arizona Cardinals, they perhaps had the worst loss of the weekend. Losing to the Detroit Lions was a damaging blow to a team that has now lost three of their last five games. In what should’ve been a straightforward win, the Cardinals came out flat. From start to finish they were second best and once again found a way to lose to Jared Goff. Remarkably, Jared Goff has won eight straight games against the Cardinals. This team was once a strong contender for the top seed in the NFC. Now they might not even win their division as the Rams have pulled even with them. They still own the tiebreaker over the Rams thanks to a better division record. But just like last year, this team is fading fast at the worst time.
Winner #2 Cincinnati Bengals
Another twist to the AFC North race is the Bengals have now emerged on top. The Bengals defeated the Broncos on the road and moments later saw the Packers defeat the Ravens. That temporarily gave the Bengals the division lead. Then they had to sweat out the Browns vs Raiders game on Monday. Thanks to a late Raiders FG that gave them the win, the Browns were unable to take the division lead. So, after all the dust had settled on week 15, the Bengals still stood at the top. The road to a division title is simple for the Bengals: win their last three games and they win the division, which grants them a home playoff game. Easier said than done, as the Bengals still have to play Baltimore and Cleveland in two of their last three games.
Loser #2 Seattle Seahawks
Tuesday night’s defeat at the hands of the Rams just about ended their season. At this point Seattle would need to win their last three games in addition to divine intervention to get in the playoffs. Generally, teams would start looking towards the draft in this situation. While that still may be the case, Seattle doesn’t have its first-round pick. That severely limits their ability to improve through the draft. The questions surrounding Russell Wilson’s future will only continue to get louder now. Speaking of Wilson, it would appear that his finger injury is still bothering him. He looked off against the Rams and missed some potential game-changing throws. Oh, and for the first time in his NFL career, Wilson will finish the season with a losing record.
Winner #3 Jacksonville Jaguars?
It’s not often that a team that lost this past weekend emerges as a winner from the week, but here they are. The reason the Jaguars find themselves in this position is very simple. Thanks to losing to the Texans, and the Detroit Lions shocking win, the Jaguars now have the worst record. This means as things stand, the Jaguars will have the number one pick in the upcoming draft. Having the first pick gives a franchise in need of talent plenty of options. They can just take the best player available and instantly improve their weakest area. They could also trade down in the draft and gain extra picks to use across multiple areas of need. Whatever direction they decide to go in, the Jaguars can thank this week’s results for the opportunity.
Loser #3 Tennessee Titans
A few months ago, it seemed like we were destined for the top seeds to be Arizona and Tennessee. Fast forward to the present and both teams are reeling at the worst time. The Titans loss to the Steelers (who refuse to die) cost them the number one seed. As mentioned earlier, it also means the AFC South is still up for grabs. With Derrick Henry still out, the Titans will have to find a way to get their offense going. Ryan Tannehill has certainly regressed since Henry went down with an injury. All the blame can’t be on Tannehill, as he’s seen his other main targets, A.J. Jones and Julio Brown, miss time due to injuries as well. The Titans are still the favorites to win their division, but anymore slip-ups will call that into question.