Down the stretch we go, and it’s anybody’s guess who is going to make the playoffs and where they’ll be going once they get to January. There are three weeks to go in the regular season, and this week is by far the most important one of the season to date.
It starts Thursday night in Kansas City with the Los Angeles Chargers traveling to play the Chiefs in an enormous game. We have a rare pair of Saturday games this week with Texans vs. Jets and Browns vs. Broncos taking the stage, and of course there’s a packed slate of Sunday games headlined by the Patriots heading to Heinz Field to face the Steelers. The week concludes on Monday Night Football in Charlotte with an NFC South playoff rematch between the Saints and Panthers.
To preview this week, we’ve got Stephen Byrne, David Howell, Tyler Arthur, Sam Brown, Ste Hoare, Alex Murray, and Alan Cole.
The division title, a first-round bye, and the No. 1 seed in the AFC could all be on the line Thursday Night at Arrowhead Stadium. Who wins — Chargers or Chiefs?
Stephen: The Chargers couldn’t match the firepower of the Chiefs at home earlier this season, and even if Tyreek Hill isn’t fully healthy, I can’t see them doing it in Arrowhead. Rivers will keep them in it through three, both Mahomes and co. will streak away in the fourth.
David: The Chargers are 1-10 against the Andy Reid Chiefs. And the 1 came against a team of backups. In overtime. With two zebra errors so egregious that a Steelers fan literally tried to file a lawsuit against the NFL because those errors gave the Chargers a playoff spot at the Steelers’ expense.
Yeah, I’m taking the Chiefs. And I’m a Chargers fan.
Tyler: I think the Chiefs take this one. I don’t like either of these teams as a Raiders fan, but as a football player and fan, I can’t take my eyes off of Kansas City. I think both teams will be able to score, but it’s the team in Red who are most proficient at doing so
Sam: Give me the Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid’s squadron are irresistible at the moment, with telepathic signal-caller Patrick Mahomes dropping dimes all over the field. If the defense holds up, there is no reason to think that they can’t contain Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon.
Ste: I like the Chargers but the Chiefs have owned them in recent seasons and at Arrowhead, I think the home side will get the win.
Alex: Chiefs. Showed last week despite Hunt being gone they can still do it. However, will be a hard-fought win, Chargers are good.
Alan: I think David’s on to something here. Andy Reid pretty much owns the Chargers. The only reason the Chargers have even beaten him once is the aforementioned Great Referee Mistake Of 2013™.
Mahomes is also 6-0 at home as a starter, and the Chargers rarely win these big late-season games.
I’ll take the Chiefs 31-24.
The most interesting race for the postseason is in the AFC, where the Colts, Ravens, Dolphins, and Titans are in a four-way tie for the final spot. With three games to go, who are you backing to take the playoff spot?
Stephen: The Ravens are the strongest of the bunch, and could even win their division still, but do face the Chargers on the road in week 16.
Indy and Miami face tough games against Minnesota and Dallas respectively next week, and the Titans face the Colts in week 17 which may prove important. That being said, I feel the Ravens will get it.
David: First of all, can I say right here that I’m stunned how deep the AFC is this year? If you told me one conference’s 9 seed had a better record than the other conference’s 6 seed, I would have been completely unsurprised… apart from it being this way around.
I’ll be much more confident after this week. For now, I’m taking the Dolphins based on their schedule, but they probably need to find a win in Minnesota this weekend…
Tyler: I really think that the Colts can do this. I like Andrew Luck, as does everyone, but it’s more than just his comeback which is impressing me. The team as a whole looks refreshed and if they can beat the revitalized Cowboys, they have a real chance at making it happen.
Sam: The Indianapolis Colts are my one true love. Before the season, pundits and fans alike buried the team as lacking an NFL-quality defense. Andrew Luck had a ‘noodle arm’, and there were no weapons to be spoken of either. How times change! The team has found new life under head coach Frank Reich, and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has created a unit to be reckoned with in Indiana. The team I’m most worried about are the Baltimore Ravens, given the fact they just ran the Chiefs seriously close in Kansas City.
Ste: I’m taking the Colts. Their defence is playing much better and Andrew Luck is starting to play like his old self.
Alex: Colts, somehow. I can see them grinding out wins, and getting the best out of *shudders* Eric Ebron
Alan: Schedule wise, I think Tennessee should grab this on the virtue of having favorable opponents. But I can’t look past the team playing the best football of the four right now, and that’s the Baltimore Ravens.
Lamar Jackson has completely changed that football team, and their defense was one of a select few to keep Kansas City somewhat contained last week. Already holding the tiebreaker over the Titans is crucial as well. I like Baltimore to get into the playoffs.
In the current mess that is the NFC Playoff Picture, the 6-6-1 Vikings are in as a wild card. Do you see any of the teams behind them jumping over them, or is Minnesota safe to sneak into the playoffs?
Stephen: Minnesota have a couple of tricky games left on their schedule, but so do almost all of their chasing pack, so i think they’ll go through by virtue of their current superior record.
David: I think the Vikings go 8-7-1, and that’s probably enough – of the 6-7 teams only the Eagles have a prayer of winning out.
Imagine if we got a situation where the Packers won out to go 8-7-1 and lost to the 8-7-1 Vikings on head-to-head. If you’re rooting for major reform of the roughing-the-passer rule, that’s your best-case scenario, because it’d mean that call on Clay Matthews early in the season would have changed the playoff field and that point will be hammered home in offseason meetings.
Tyler: I think the Vikings will be safe on this one. They should be able to win two of their next three (and maybe they get bailed out when Chicago visit because the Bears have clinched) but their competition to steal the playoff spot are the Redskins, the Panthers and the Eagles.
Two of those teams are gonna be using their backup QB’s (at time of writing) and Carolina have to play the Saints twice when they’re already on a five-game losing streak… Minnesota are disappointing me, but they will still make the wildcard spot.
Sam: They should be safe. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Carolina Panthers pose the biggest threats at 6-7, and if Mike Zimmer’s squad can finish 8-7-1, that could well be enough to book a ticket to January. If the offensive line can’t keep Kirk Cousins upright though, they won’t be going far!
Ste: I don’t think the Vikings are safe at all; they aren’t good enough to just presume they’ll beat any team on any week. Having said that. I do think they’ll sneak that 6th seed in the NFC.
Alex: Lions to Super Bowl. But realistically, I don’t see Minnesota going. Who goes in their place? Anyone’s guess.
Alan: I have a confession to make. I have nothing against the Vikings as a franchise. In fact, I like them as a Falcons fan for their constant antagonization of the Saints over the years. But I am beyond sick of the 2018 edition of their team. Just go away.
They’re 6-1-1 against teams below .500, but 0-5 against teams above .500. You paid Kirk Cousins the farm to beat 0 teams with a winning record. But because Carolina has to face New Orleans, Philly has to face Los Angeles, and Washington has to face their own incompetence, I think the Vikings are a playoff team.
And unless something changes quickly, they’ll get their heads ripped off on Wild Card Weekend.
The Bears, Cowboys, Chiefs, Patriots, and Texans can all clinch their respective divisions this weekend. How many of the five do you think will get it done?
Stephen: None of the five are a slam dunk, but I think the Chiefs and Patriots will get it done.
David: Probably all of them. Four of these teams are on absolute fire. The fifth are the Patriots, and they’re playing a self-destructive team who can’t beat the Patriots even when they’re not self-destructive.
Tyler: Bears, Chiefs, Patriots and Texans to clinch their divisions this week. I predict the Cowboys will lose in Indy but then win at home in Tampa to steady the ship. (Amari Cooper might win me a couple of fantasy titles in that game, oh my Lord)
Sam: Bears will, Chiefs will, Patriots will, Texans will, but the Cowboys won’t. The Colts will need to find a way to contain Amari Cooper and plug the middle to stop Ezekiel Elliott, but if this game is close in the fourth quarter I can’t see Dak Prescott out-duelling Andrew Luck.
Ste: I think they all will, as much as that pains to say me as a Packers fan!
Alex: All of them realistically can do it. I’ll take the Chiefs, Texans, Bears, and Patriots
Alan: I’ll take four out of five. I already gave my thoughts on Kansas City, and I’ll also back New England, Chicago, and Dallas. I think Houston will be blocked for the week by Indianapolis or Tennessee (or both) winning.
Pittsburgh and Carolina are both in free fall on three and five game losing streaks respectively with tough games this week. The Steelers play the Patriots, while the Panthers play the Saints. Who is more likely to pull an upset, and will either team do it?
Stephen: Both teams are definitely capable of causing an upset, but I think the Steelers have a better chance.
The Steelers have the weapons to do some damage to an inconsistent Patriots defense, but must ensure they win the battle against a tough Patriots offensive line, in order to disrupt Tom Brady.
David: I’d give the Steelers something approaching a chance, but these results feel practically preordained. This being the NFL, at least one of them will not happen.
Tyler: The Panthers will win a maximum of two more games this season, but if they do that it’ll be in week 16 and 17. The Steelers have a better chance of the upset this week but I don’t think either will achieve it (even if James Conner somehow plays).
Sam: With some of the talent the Steelers have, they certainly have the better chance. That said, their secondary is beyond dreadful, and Tom Brady could shred it like some old documentation. The Panthers will be obliterated by the Saints. Seriously, I think they score at least 50.
Ste: I think the Steelers are the most likely of the two to get a win this weekend but I’m not confident they will!
Alex: No. The Steelers are… the Steelers. The Panthers are… the Panthers. Both teams don’t look anywhere near contenders, and I’d be shocked if either of them got anything.
Alan: I think it has to be the Steelers with a better chance. New Orleans has played outer worldly football all season, while the Patriots might be a little bit vulnerable after last week’s debacle against Miami. In reality though, I think Pittsburgh and Carolina both lose again.
Finally, what game or storyline jumps out to you the most about week 15?
Stephen: How the mighty have fallen. The Eagles will travel to Los Angeles on Sunday with a 6-7 record, a banged up quarterback and a team that is a shell of the one that captured the NFC #1 seed a year ago. There they’ll face a red-hot 11-2 Rams, a far more finished product than the one that crashed out of the wildcard round in January, all under the glaring lights of Prime Time. A year is a long time in football.
David: Packers-Bears and the unfinished business for the home team after they inexplicably failed to seal the deal on that opening Sunday night.
Tyler: For me it’s all about these backup running backs who are being asked to bring home the bacon in the fantasy playoffs. I want to see Damien Williams, Jaylen Samuels, and Jeffery Wilson go to work (and maybe Justin Jackson, but Gordon might be returning this week). It’s make or break now!
Sam: I can’t look beyond Thursday night! I’m furious I won’t be able to watch this, as Chargers v Chiefs would have been one of the most watchable games in the 4PM ET slate we’d seen all year. I’ll have to make do with the extended YouTube highlights.
Ste: I really want to see how Cam Newton looks. His shoulder seems to be giving him major problems and without him playing to anywhere close to his best, Carolina have no chance of winning.
Alex: The Lions destroying their tank because they’re an inept organisation.
Alan: I think it has to come out of Indianapolis. The Colts need this one to make a run towards the playoffs, but the Cowboys are 5-1 since the Amari Cooper trade and 2-0 on the road. I think the key is if the Indianapolis defense can do to Ezekiel Elliot what they did to Lamar Miller last week, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.